WILL GUPTAS’ ASSOCIATE JALAN GET SECURITY CLEARANCE TO RUN AN AIRLINE? - The Daily Guardian
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WILL GUPTAS’ ASSOCIATE JALAN GET SECURITY CLEARANCE TO RUN AN AIRLINE?

Murari Lal Jalan is a close family and business associate of the Gupta brothers, who have been accused of state capture and corruption in South Africa, prohibited by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control preventing any American person from having dealings with them.

Tarun Nangia

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Will Murari Lal Jalan, family and business associate of the Gupta family, which has been accused of state capture in South Africa, get security clearance to run Jet Airways in India? It seems unlikely given that even the United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has sanctioned Ajay Gupta, Atul Gupta, Rajesh Gupta and Salim Essa, and any approval, financing, facilitation, or guarantee by a U.S. person, wherever located, of a transaction by a foreign person where the transaction by that foreign person would be prohibited by E.O. 13818, if performed by a U.S. person or within the United States. In effect, any American national cannot have business transactions with the Gupta brothers. This raises a big question about whether Murari Lal Jalan will get clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Civil Aviation to be appointed as the director on the board of Jet Airways. 

The Resolution Professional has submitted an application to the Ministry of Civil Aviation for the security clearance of three Jalan nominees for their proposed appointment. After the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the application will go to the Home Ministry. The Resolution Plan cannot be considered by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) as a court until or unless the approval does not come by way of security clearance. As per norms, the operator is to intimate any change in the board of directors, chairman and CEO to the ministry and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and provide their details. A new chairman or director can be appointed only after their security clearance. 

The United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has sanctioned Ajay Gupta, Atul Gupta, Rajesh Gupta and Salim Essa for their involvement in corruption in South Africa, pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 13818, which builds upon the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. It is now known that the Gupta and Jalan families registered three companies before Murari Lal Jalans’s brother Vishal’s daughter, Shivangi Jalan, was married to Atul Gupta’s son Shashank. Allegedly, the Jalan and Gupta families also part-own a healthcare venture and are jointly developing real estate in Uzbekistan. Jalan has also allegedly transferred funds to Agev Investments, which is owned by the Gupta family’s in-law Ajay Garg. 

OFAC sanctioned members of a significant corruption network in South Africa that leveraged overpayments on government contracts, bribery, and other acts of corruption to fund political contributions and influence government actions. OFAC specifically designated Ajay Gupta, Atul Gupta, Rajesh Gupta and Salim Essa for their involvement in corruption in South Africa. “The Gupta family leveraged its political connections to engage in widespread corruption and bribery, capture government contracts, and misappropriate state assets. The Treasury’s designation targets the Guptas’ pay-to-play political patronage, which was orchestrated at the expense of the South African people,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence in October 2019.  “The Guptas and Essa have used their influence with prominent politicians and parties to line their pockets with ill-gotten gains. We will continue to exclude from the U.S. financial system those who profit from corruption,” he had added.

The US Department of the Treasury’s release said, “As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the individuals named above, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by them, individually, or with other designated persons, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC or otherwise exempt, OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons.  In addition, any approval, financing, facilitation, or guarantee by a U.S. person, wherever located, of a transaction by a foreign person where the transaction by that foreign person would be prohibited by E.O. 13818 if performed by a U.S. person or within the United States would be prohibited.”

The Gupta brothers have been accused of using their friendship with Jacob Zuma, the then President of South Africa, to profit financially and influence ministerial appointments. Zuma was forced to resign as president in February 2018 amidst allegations of massive corruption. 

Today’s sanctions announcement demonstrates the U.S. government’s unwavering commitment to support the rule of law and accountability in South Africa.  “We support the anti-corruption efforts of South Africa’s independent judiciary, law enforcement agencies, and the ongoing judicial commissions of inquiry.  Moreover, we commend the extraordinary work by South Africa’s civil society activists, investigative journalists, and whistleblowers who have exposed the breadth and depth of the Gupta family’s corruption,” the US Treasury Department stated in a press release. 

The entry of Murari Lal Jalan, who had no connection with the aviation business until his audacious bid for Jet Airways, has raised eyebrows in business circles. An oft-repeated question in circles in the national capital is whether Jalan is merely a front behind which Ajay Gupta of the Sahara Group and his family, who fled to Dubai from South Africa, are calling the shots. Since the Jet Airways bid concerns a sector like aviation, which has national security implications, the deal merits a thorough investigation to find out the source of the money which will be used to fund the deal. 

ZONDO COMMISSION 

In January 2018, the formation of a commission of enquiry to probe allegations of state capture was announced by constituting the Zondo Commission by South Africa. This body, the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the public sector, including organs of state and headed by Deputy Chief Justice Ray Zondo, began its work in August 2018. The Commission is also investigating how state assets like the Waterkloof Air Force base were used by a private family, the Guptas, to land their private aircraft. Justice Zondo has also said that he doesn’t think the Gupta family would return to South Africa to testify before the state capture commission of enquiry. He also said that the Guptas have been identified as key players in the state capture project and have fled the country. 

THE GUPTA FAMILY

Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta immigrated to South Africa in the 1990s. Due in large part to their generous donations to a political party and their reportedly close relationship with former South African President Jacob Zuma, their business interests expanded.  The family has been implicated in several corrupt schemes in South Africa, allegedly stealing hundreds of millions of dollars through illegal deals with the South African government, obfuscated by a shadowy network of shell companies and associates linked to the family.  

Credible reports of these corruption schemes include the Gupta family offering members of the South African government money or elevated positions within the government in return for their cooperation with Gupta family business efforts. Public reporting has revealed the Gupta family’s efforts to garner the cooperation of a potential Minister of Finance by promising millions of dollars in return for the individual’s assistance in removing key members of the South African government who were considered to be stumbling blocks for the Gupta family’s enterprises. 

In another instance of an attempt to obtain the assistance of a member of government through illicit means, Rajesh reportedly promised a cut of a large-scale development project to a provincial minister in return for the minister’s assistance. While making this offer, Rajesh reportedly referred to two other politically powerful individuals present at the meeting as receiving large monthly payments, similar to the one being offered to the provincial minister, directly from Rajesh, in return for their assistance with a mining project.

In addition, the Gupta family was overpaid for government contracts. They then used a portion of the proceeds of those overpayments to donate money to a South African political party. Further, the family paid money to a South African government official in exchange for the appointment of other government officials friendly to the Gupta family’s business interests. As a part of their corrupt business enterprise, South African government officials and business executives discussed ways to capture government contracts and then move the proceeds of those contracts through Gupta-owned businesses, a press release issued by the U.S Department of the Treasury said in October 2019. 

AJAY GUPTA

Ajay Gupta is being designated for being the leader of an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

Ajay is the family patriarch who formulated the family’s corrupt business strategies and controlled its finances, the US Department of the Treasury’s release stated. 

ATUL GUPTA

Atul Gupta has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

Atul is widely known to have overseen the Gupta family’s outreach to corrupt government officials, said the US Department of the Treasury in its release. 

RAJESH GUPTA

Rajesh Gupta (Rajesh) has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

Rajesh cultivated important relationships with the sons of powerful South African politicians and led efforts to pursue business and relationships in a South African province where corruption was rampant.  Rajesh attempted to use at least one of those relationships to seek undue influence with additional members of a South African political party, the US Department of the Treasury’s press release stated. 

SALIM ESSA

Salim Essa, a business associate of the Gupta family, has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery. 

GLOBAL MAGNITSKY

Building upon the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, on December 20, 2017, the President signed E.O. 13818, in which the President found that the prevalence of human rights abuse and corruption that have their source, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States, had reached such scope and gravity that it threatens the stability of international political and economic systems. 

Human rights abuse and corruption undermine the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure and functioning societies, have devastating impacts on individuals, weaken democratic institutions, degrade the rule of law, perpetuate violent conflicts, facilitate the activities of dangerous persons, and undermine economic markets.  The United States seeks to impose tangible and significant consequences on those who commit serious human rights abuse or engage in corruption, as well as to protect the financial system of the United States from abuse by these same persons. 

To date, the Department of the Treasury has designated 118 individuals and entities under E.O. 13818. This figure is in addition to the numerous human rights- or corruption-related designations the Treasury has issued under other various authorities.  In total, since January of 2017, the Treasury has taken action against more than 680 individuals and entities engaged in activities related to, or directly involving, human rights abuse or corruption, said the US Department of the Treasury. 

Questions sent to representatives of Murari Lal Jalan by this writer elicited the following reply: “Mr Jalan has no business association or business ties with the Gupta brothers of South Africa and it is incorrect to link Mr Jalan to them or to any of their businesses. None of them are involved in Jet Airways and you should refrain from using terms like ‘front’ for an independent businessman. The credentials of both Consortium members have been independently verified by the Resolution Professional, the Committee of Creditors and their respective advisors. As stated, the businesses of Mr Jalan and the Gupta Brothers are separate and distinct and they have no association or financial dealings between them and the existence of Gupta Brothers on any US Sanction List neither affects nor shall affect the ongoing or future businesses of Mr Jalan, including his committed investment for Jet Airways. Mr Jalan’s brother has family relationship with the Gupta brothers of South Africa (which is public information) and not Mr Jalan. Their personal relationship has no connection with their business activities. Mr Jalan is not aware of the businesses of Gupta Brothers in India or elsewhere. The Consortium will be carrying out the Jet Airways Business in India in compliance with Indian laws and after seeking all necessary approvals, which should address all doubts and concerns relating to national security.”

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AIBA YOUTH WORLD C’SHIPS: INDIA ASSURED OF 4 MEDALS

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The 2019 Asian Youth Champion Vinka and Alfiya Pathan are among the four Indian women boxers who advanced into the semi-finals on the sixth day at the AIBA Youth Men’s and Women’s World Boxing Championships in Kielce, Poland.

Gitika and Poonam are the other two boxers who entered the last-4 stage and have secured at least a bronze medal for the country. All the four boxers put up scintillating performances in their respective quarter-finals bouts. Panipat boxer Vinka blanked her Colombian opponent Camilo Camela 5-0 in the 60kg category, while the 2019 Asian Junior Champion Nagpur’s Alfiya (+81) also registered a comfortable 5-0 victory against Hungarian boxer Reka Hoffmann. Playing in the 57kg category, Poonam notched up an easy 5-0 win against Nazerke Serik of Kazakhstan to progress in the semi-finals.

Gitika (48kg) produced another strong show as she dominated her opponent Romania’s Elisabeth Ostan from the word go with precise punches and swift movement that saw the referee stopping the contest just after the first round and declaring Haryana boxer Gitika as the winner of the contest. Another Indian woman in action Khushi (81kg) lost her last-8 bout against Busra Isildar of Turkey.

In men’s section, Manish and Sumit made their way into quarter-finals in their respective categories with identical 5-0 victories against Jordan’s Abdallah Alaarag and Ladislav Horvath of Slovakia in pre-quarterfinals. WITH ANI INPUTS

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AMID CORONAVIRUS SPIKE, BJP TO USE LED SCREENS, RESTRICT GATHERINGS FOR PM MODI’S BENGAL RALLIES

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public rallies, which are scheduled on 23 April in poll-bound West Bengal, will be restricted to 500 people as against “jan sailaab” that characterises most of the rallies addressed by him. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided to change its campaign style and bring in ‘new normal’ in organising the election rallies in wake of the spike in the Covid-19 cases across the country.

“The plan is to have 500 people in audience following all the Covid protocols possible. All the people at the rally will have to wear a mask and use sanitisers. Also, chairs will be placed as per social distancing norms during the rallies,” West Bengal BJP In-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya told ANI.

The number of leaders allowed on the stage will also be restricted.

According to a senior party leader, the Prime Minister was scheduled to address the rallies on two different dates but now rallies have been clubbed together on 23 April.

“The Prime Minister is scheduled to address rallies in Murshidabad, South Kolkata, Siuri and Malda on 23 April,” the senior leader said. “LED screens will be put up across the constituencies for the supporters and voters to listen to PM Modi. We will try to maintain Covid protocols at the points where the LED screens will be setup,” he added.

Amid a record spike in Covid-19 cases in the country, the Election Commission has decided to curtail the timings of campaigns for the remaining phases and extended the silence period to 72 hours for each of the phases.

Even as political leaders cherish big crowds at landing sites of their choppers, the BJP has decided to keep the number of people coming to rallies symbolic. The party is also shifting its campaign from big rallies and road shows to ‘potho sabhas’, corner meetings with very small gatherings in order to follow ECI guidelines and suggestions on Covid-19 appropriate behaviour.

The Covid-19 situation in the country continues to deteriorate with another highest single-day spike of over 2.73 lakh cases and 1,619 deaths in the last 24 hours.

Meanwhile, ahead of the sixth phase of West Bengal Assembly elections, BJP national president J.P. Nadda on Monday urged the voters of the poll-bound state to vote for the BJP to “end the ‘Tolabaji, Tushtikaran, Tanashahi’ prevailing in the state under the rule of Mamata Banerjee”.

Nadda who was addressing a gathering while holding a roadshow in support of the party’s candidate from North Dinajpur, Krishna Kumar Kalyani. Nadda said, “This election which is happening in West Bengal is happening for ‘asol parivartan’ (real change) and to make the state ‘Sonar Bengal’. The Tolabaji (extortion), Tushtikaran (appeasement), tanashahi (dictatorship), which is prevailing under the rule of Mamata Banerjee has to be stopped by making the lotus bloom and make Krishna Kalyani victorious. Friends, before taking your leave I would like to take this promise from you that you will vote for the BJP and make it victorious in Dinajpur and in Raiganj just as it is winning in the rest of West Bengal,” said the BJP president amid chants of Jai Shree Ram from party workers who accompanied him during the roadshow.

The first five phases of the eight-phase Bengal Assembly elections have already been completed. The sixth phase of the state Assembly polls is scheduled for 22 April. Polling for the seventh and the eighth phase will be held on 26 April and 29 April. The counting of votes will take place on 2 May. ANI

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BATTLE FOR BENGAL: A REPORT ON FIRST FOUR PHASES OF ELECTIONS

After the provocative campaigns and speeches which have been a staple this election season in West Bengal, the contest between CM Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party is heating up. Here is an overview on the progress made in the first four phases of the massive eight-phased polls.

Debaroopa Bhattacharyya

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As a short spring metamorphoses into the mighty summer, West Bengal’s air is warming up to the potent political currents and cross-currents that promise to drive the windmills of change this electoral season. The Assembly elections have kicked off with a bang in the state and unfolded in a mosaic of narratives and counter narratives laced by violence and sanctions by the Election Commission.

CM Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata on Sunday. (ANI Photo).
Home Minister Amit Shah during a roadshow.

Although the Trinamool Congress (TMC), once perceived as invincible, seems to have developed major chinks in its armour, thanks to misgovernance, corruption, the highhandedness of its leaders, extortion or “cut-money”, widespread unemployment and a major anti-incumbency wave, it would still take the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a lot more to hit the ball out of the park.

The eight-phased election is half way through. The first four phases have been conducted fairly peacefully (except the fourth phase where five people lost their lives). Various political developments capable of causing pronounced vicissitudes in the outcome of this mammoth polling exercise are analysed below.

PHASE 1

The polling for phase one was held on 27 March in five districts, Paschim Midnapore Part-I, Purba Midnapore Part-I, Bankura, Jhargram, and Purulia. West Bengal reported 84.3 percent voter turnout, which can influence the other phases and has kept hopes alive for both the ruling TMC and main rival, BJP.

The 30 Assembly constituencies where voters have already exercised their franchise can be divided into three pockets, each with a character of its own.

In pocket one, the 11 Assembly constituencies, mostly in Purulia district, betrayed a distinct trend and had the lowest voter turnout. In this region, till the 2016 Assembly election, the Left was the force to reckon with after Trinamool, which was in the lead position. Things changed dramatically in the Lok Sabha elections of April-May 2019 and a large chunk of the CPI(M) and Congress’s vote went to the BJP. This shift has given the BJP a major impetus. Here, if the vote share transferred by all the parties in 2019 is retained by the BJP, then the voter needs to go out and participate to keep that level of turnout ratio. If this fails to happen and the vote transferred goes back to the respective party, even if partially, the BJP will suffer a major beating and the whole premise of BJP’s 40 percent vote share in 2019 will be reversed. The BJP can expect a because of the less than 78 percent turnout, which means nobody voted enthusiastically for anybody, while the TMC is expected to retain its vote share or even get more.

In pocket two, the 11 Assembly constituencies, mostly in Bankura and West Midnapore districts, saw the BJP get an increase in the vote share in 2019, but it was a lot moderate, as compared to pocket 1. Also, the Trinamool did not lose its vote share here. So, in this region, it was a simple transfer of votes from the Left and other parties to BJP. So, any dip in the turnout ratio in this region shall affect the BJP negatively. However, this region has historically commanded higher voter turnouts.

Pocket three comprises eight Assembly constituencies, mainly in East Midnapore district. This region had been a Trinamool stronghold traditionally, even in 2019, but with the exit of Suvendu Adhikari and his family from the ruling party, the contest here has become interesting. The BJP is working on the simple equation that if its voters remain intact and the Adhikari family brings its own chunk of votes, it will give the BJP an upper hand in the region. But traditionally, Bengal votes for the party rather than the candidate, and Mamata Banerjee’s popularity is still strong, as demonstrated by some opinion poll surveys. 

To conclude, for all the three pockets collectively, a turnout ratio of less than 82 percent is not good news for the BJP.

PHASE 2

The voting for phase two was held on April 1 in four districts, South 24 Parganas Part-1, Bankura Part-2, Paschim Midnapore Part-2, and East Midnapore. In 2016, BJP could secure only one of the 30 seats in this region, with a cumulative vote share of 7 percent, almost double from 2011, while the TMC had won 21 of the 30 seats. However, faced against a resurgent BJP this time, the TMC may have a tough time retaining these seats.

The battle for Nandigram, where TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee is up against confidante-turned-adversary Suvendu Adhikari, pretty much sums up the contest here. CPI(M)’s Minakshi Mukherjee is contesting as the Sanyukt Morcha candidate. BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari wields considerable influence in the region and had won this seat for the TMC, securing over 67 percent votes, in 2016. The Left received nearly 27 percent votes, while the BJP was a distant third, getting only a little over 5 percent. However, things changed dramatically in 2019 when the BJP secured 37 percent votes. Suvendu’s brother, Dibyendu, won the Lok Sabha seat for TMC with a little over 50 percent votes, but both of them, along with father, Sisir Adhikari, a sitting MP in the same region, are now with the BJP.

In many other seats too, the contest is primarily between TMC and erstwhile Left or Congress leaders now being fielded as BJP candidates. Three other combustible seats are Haldia, Bankura and Kharagpur Sadar.

Most seats in phase two are in rural areas. Tamluk, Barjora, Bishnupur, Bankura, Panskura Paschim and Panskura Purba may be the trickiest seats in this phase, as the winning margins were very narrow in the last Assembly election, with the victory margin less than 1,000 in 2016 in Tamluk and Barjora.

PHASE 3

The voting for this phase was held on April 6 in Howrah, Hooghly, and South 24 Parganas. The Trinamool Congress has an edge over the BJP and the Left-Congress-ISF alliance, Samyukta Morcha, in the majority of the 31 Assembly seats in this region.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC had comfortable leads over the BJP in all seven Assembly segments in Howrah and the 16 in South 24 Parganas and a significant lead in the eight seats in Hooghly.

The key seats in this contest include Tarakeshwar, from where the BJP has fielded journalist-turned-politician Swapan Dasgupta, who resigned from the Rajya Sabha to contest in this election, and is considered part of the BJP’s think tank for Bengal.

Amta in Howrah is also being keenly watched as it is all set to witness a three-corner contest between the Congress’ two-term MLA Asit Mitra, known for his simplistic living, BJP’s Debtanu Bhattacharya, who heads the Hindutva organisation Hindu Samhati, and the TMC’s Sukanta Pal, whose main strength is his party’s organisation.

Meanwhile, in South 24 Parganas, Kultali and Joynagar are expected to see four corner contests, with SUCI(C) as the fourth force.

However, the most-keenly-watched contests are expected to take place in seats like Canning, Canning West, Magrahat East, Magrahat West, where the Samyukta Morcha seemed to have gained some momentum due to the Indian Secular Front, a newly launched party floated by the Islamic cleric Abbasuddin Siddiqui. The Left and the Congress’ alliance with the ISF had raised quite a few eyebrows, but Siddiqui’s rallies in these areas have so far drawn significant crowds. The TMC-BJP-Samyukta Morcha battle in these seats with a pronounced polarised propensity may play a crucial role in determining the political outcome in the district. 

PHASE 4

The voting for phase four was held on April 10, in Howrah (Part-2), South 24 Pargana (Part-3), Hugli (Part-2), Alipurduar (all five constituencies), and Cooch Behar (all nine constituencies). It was the first phase where polling took place in the northern half of the state, in districts like Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri. Seven seats in Jalpaiguri district and six in Darjeeling voted in the next phase on 17 April. 

The TMC saw a big decline in its seat share in this region in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Its wins were reduced to 2/3rd of its 2016 share, as it won in only 25 constituencies. What is worrying for the party is that the decline of 14 constituencies happened with a vote share decline of just 1.3 percentage points. This was possible because while the vote share of anti-TMC parties was divided between the BJP, Left, Congress and others in 2016, a large part of it consolidated behind the BJP in 2019. Anti-TMC parties won 19 constituencies here in 2019, up from five in 2016, and the BJP won all 19.

However, the Left played spoilsport in 18 of the 44 constituencies voting in 2019. In these 18 constituencies, the BJP finished second in 11. Hence, if the BJP is not able to win over more Left voters, it could still end up behind the TMC.

In the hill regions, the TMC faced a much bigger decline compared to the south Bengal region, where it was still a strong player even in 2019. In the 14 constituencies of the former, the TMC’s 2019 seat share was 0.17 times that in 2016, whereas in the 30 constituencies of the latter, it was 0.85 times that in 2016.

Both the BJP and TMC campaigns also faced the litmus test in the fourth phase. BJP leaders had attacked the TMC for its alleged pro-Muslim policies while the TMC has criticised BJP leaders as outsiders or “bahiragata”. Jalpaiguri has the third-lowest Bengali-speaking population among the 19 districts of the state, according to the 2011 census, and the second highest Hindi- and Nepali-speaking population. This phase and latter rounds will likely test Mamata Banerjee’s “outsider” attack.

The BJP, on the other hand, has had to contend with the high share of Muslims in Cooch Behar, Howrah, and South 24 Parganas. Even the Hindu population is not homogeneous in the districts that voted in the fourth phase. In Cooch Behar, Scheduled Tribes (STs) comprise almost 2/3rd of the population, while Scheduled Castes (SCs) constitute over 40% of the population in Hooghly and Jalpaiguri.

Phase 4 was also marred by the violence which took place across polling booths in Cooch Behar. Four people died in CISF firing at poll booth number 126 in Sitalkuchi and another was killed in a separate incident at poll booth number 285. Both these booths will see repolling.

In the aftermath of the Sitalkuchi incident, the Election Commission has pulled up its socks and taken stern steps to restrict and forbid inflammatory statements by politicians. The EC also restricted Mamata Banerjee from campaigning for 24 hours on 13 April (preceding which she had been served notices to explain her stance) and Rahul Sinha of the BJP for 48 hours the same day. It also restricted any politician from visiting Sitalkuchi for 72 hours following the shooting. West Bengal BJP President Dilip Ghosh was served a notice as well by the EC seeking an explanation for his statements on the unfortunate incident. 

Irked by the ban on her by the EC, Mamata Banerjee called it “undemocratic and unconstitutional” and staged a sit-in protest near the Gandhi Statue at Mayo Road for three and a half hours on 13 April.

CONCLUSION

Many veterans from opposing parties like the Left’s Sujan Chakraborty and the Congress’ Adhir Chowdhury have alleged that Mamata used the restrictive order against her to create a narrative of martyrdom and victimhood. However, Banerjee is a seasoned politician who is adept at turning the tide in her favour and the silent dharna she staged, perched on her wheelchair, both for the optics as well as an appeal to sentiments of Bengalis, could be a master stroke which catapults her and the TMC to victory, riding on the sympathy of the proletariat. Conversely, if the public eye is able to see through the dramatics, it might be the last nail in the coffin for a desperate incumbent. The twist in the tale should be something to watch out for.

The writer is founder and editor-in-chief of Tribe Tomorrow Network. The views expressed are personal.

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COURT DISMISSES DELHI POLICE’S PLEA OVER FOUR-DAY CUSTODY OF DEEP SIDHU

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A Delhi court on Monday dismissed the plea of Delhi Police seeking four days custody of actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu, in another Republic Day violence case.

Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Gajender Singh Nagar remanded Sidhu to 14-day judicial custody. Meanwhile, Deep Sidhu moved his bail application before Delhi Court in the Republic Day violence case. His bail plea will be heard on 23 April.

Earlier on Monday, the Delhi Police urged the Court to grant four days police custody of Deep Sidhu, in the another Republic Day violence case. During the hearing, the Delhi Court questioned police for arresting Sidhu in another case just after he got bail in a separate case saying ‘kya aapko ye ajeeb nahi lagta’ (Don’t you feel strange).

The Public Prosecutor responded that it is the prerogative of the investigating agency and law is clear that Investigating Officer has the right to take police custody of the accused to conduct proper investigation.

Delhi Police also told the Court that from the investigation conducted so far from the perusal of the available CCTV footage and videos, it has revealed that the accused Deep Sidhu was an active member of the larger conspiracy and he is one the main instigator.

The police said that the custodial interrogation of Sidhu was required to unearth the conspiracy behind the offence, to trace the other co-accused, to get pointing out of the place of incidents and to collect further evidences in the case such as mobiles and SIMs used at the time of incident.

The police said that it want to identify the other conspirators who and question him over his videos with Jugraj Singh, the man who hoisted the flag on the Republic Day at the Red Fort.

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Hospitals almost full, Srinagar city yet to come under lockdown for Covid spike

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With Covid-designated hospitals in Kashmir getting almost full, the government has decided to increase the bed capacity and provide oxygen supply to them on a regular basis. Rumours were making rounds on Monday that Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir would come under lockdown, especially the Srinagar city. However, on Monday afternoon, the administration refuted such rumours, saying no decision had been taken so far.

In the past one week, Covid positive cases have increased manifold and among the thousands of patients, hundreds are tourists and travellers who have been in direct contact with the hotel and houseboat staff.

Doctors from the Covid-designated hospitals have appealed to people to bring only those patients who have complications as they have almost exhausted their bed capacity.

“We appeal people to treat Covid positive patients in quarantine at homes and only bring those patients who need hospitalization,” one of the senior doctors from Covid-designated Chest Disease Hospital Srinagar told reporters on Monday.

The district administration of Srinagar said that the government has not taken any decision to impose lockdown and appealed people not to bank on rumours.

Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Muhammad Aijaz Asad told reporters here that they have not received any decision on lockdown in view of spike in Covid-19 cases. “Whenever a decision in this regard would be taken, we as an implementing agency will take necessary steps accordingly,” he was quoted by the local news agency.

Meanwhile, the government has already decided to close down all the educational institutions including universities and colleges for the physical classes till 15 May. Already the administration has closed down all the private coaching institutions and schools due to the spike in Covid cases.

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PM MODI RESPONSIBLE FOR SECOND COVID WAVE: MAMATA BANERJEE

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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday launched a blistering attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi when she alleged that he was responsible for the second wave of Covid-19 in the country.

Addressing a public meeting in Kaliganj, the CM said, “Why did not you (Prime Minister) make plans to stop corona in the last 6 months?… You have to answer this. The Prime Minister is responsible for the second wave of Covid-19. If he would have taken responsibility at the right time then this would not have happened.”

Mamata Banerjee urged the Election Commission to club the remaining phases of the West Bengal Assembly polls into a single round in view of the surge in the Covid-19 cases.

“With folded hands, I request the Election Commission to hold three phases of polls on a single day or in two days. Please do not play with the lives of people,” she said at a public meeting in Chakulia in Uttar Dinajpur.

The chief minister later on Monday held a press conference in Kolkata to brief the state government’s measures against the intensifying pandemic situation. Asked about whether to impose night curfew, Banerjee said, “The night curfew is not the solution. We should remain alert. There is nothing to panic about. We have increased 20 per cent beds in hospitals. We have decided to start summer vacation for all schools from tomorrow till June.”

The poll-bound West Bengal reported 8,419 fresh Covid-19 cases and 28 deaths on Saturday, the state health department informed on Sunday. “There are 49,638 active Covid-19 cases in West Bengal, while with 28 new, deaths the death toll in the state has gone up to 10,568,” the health department said.

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