Indian Supreme Court Weakening Indian Election Commission

3 mins read

The recent observation of the Supreme Court that the country needs Election Commissioners, who will not shirk from even taking on the Prime Minister if required and not just “weak-kneed” yes men, has sent shock waves.  Obviously, by making such sweeping observations, which appear to be hasty, Supreme Court judges give the impression that they think that the Election Commission is not discharging its responsibilities properly and independently.

It appears that the Supreme Court has assumed an “elder brother attitude” towards the Election Commission, even though both Judiciary and Election Commission are independent constitutional bodies  Constitution makers have not said or implied anywhere that Election Commission is subservient to the judiciary.

Many discerning observers wonder whether the Supreme Court has the power and authority to act like a supervisory body over the Election Commission.

The essence of Article 324 of the Constitution

 Article 324 of the Constitution provides a reservoir of power for the Election Commission to act for the avowed purpose of pursuing the goal of a free and fair election and therefore, the Election Commission is in sole charge of determining the conduct of elections.    The terms provided under Article 324 of the constitution are of wide amplitude and empower the Election Commission to take necessary recourse to address the issues.

Obviously, Article 324 of the constitution clearly indicates that the Election Commission can act independently to conduct elections in a fair and free manner, based on the exigency of the situation and the ground realities, in areas where the law is silent.

This also means that the judiciary has no authority to question the Election Commission, whatever may be decisions.

A retrograde step:

Originally, the constitution vested with the Election Commission the responsibility of appointing the election tribunals to take decisions on doubts and disputes arising, in connection with elections to parliament and legislature of the states.

However, on the recommendation of the Election Commission in 1962, the trial of election petitions was entrusted to the judiciary and the institution of election tribunal was abolished.  Article 324 (1) was amended (19th Amendment) Act 1966, to relieve the election commission of the function of appointing election tribunals.

This has proved to be a retrograde step and against the desire of the constitution makers and made the Election Commission look subservient to the judiciary, which the Constitution makers never intended.

Has the judiciary overreached itself?

While the above amendment involves surrendering of the powers of the Election Commission to the judiciary as far as the election tribunals are concerned, the other powers and authority of the Election Commission remain intact.

In the past, several decisions of the Election Commission have been overruled by the judiciary, without recognising the powers of the Election Commission as per the Constitution.

In the process, the image of the Election Commission has been brought down in the public eye by the judiciary, which is a counterproductive development.

Questioning the appointment of Election Commissioners:

Now, the judiciary has taken one more step in spoiling the image of the Election Commission by questioning the appointment of Mr Arun Goel as Election Commissioner.  This appointment has been done by the government as per the set procedure that is followed ever since India’s independence.

At the same time, the Supreme Court judges have ignored the fact that serious questions have been raised in the country about the way of Supreme Court Collegium appoints judges for the Supreme Court and High Court, without transparency. The recent protest by lawyers in a few states against the transfer of judges from one state to another by the Supreme Court pointed to the fact that there are serious misgivings about the decision of the Supreme Court in such matters.

 Can we say that the Supreme Court questioning the appointment procedure of Election Commissioners is like the pot calling the kettle black?

Tenure of Election Commissioners:

Supreme Court judges have also criticised the brief tenure of the election commissioners and said that in many cases, the tenure was too short. However, the fact is that there are many judges who have short tenures and with the recent case of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court remaining in the job only for a few months.

The tenure of judges or election commissioners need not be a matter of concern, as they can do whatever they want within their powers even in short tenure.

Supreme court judges need to reflect on their observations:

The observations of the Supreme Court judges seem to question the capability and credibility of the Election Commissioners without any basis.

If Supreme court judges were to find fault with the Election Commission, in a scenario where both are constitutional bodies, can we say that the Election Commission can also find fault with decisions of the Supreme Court?

One constitutional body criticising another constitutional body is in bad taste and needs to be avoided.

India: Journalists in Post-Journalism

7 mins read

The military-style “search and seize” raid conducted on October 31, 2022 by the Crime Branch of the Delhi police at the offices of The Wire and the homes of its three founding editors, Siddharth Varadarajan, M.K.Venu, and Sidharth Bhatia, deputy editor Jahnavi Sen, and product-and-business head Mithun Kidambi marks a new low for media freedom in India.

The police seized various devices and the hard disks of two computers used by the accounts staff under cover of investigating a criminal case. This case is based on a complaint made by Amit Malviya, a BJP leader who heads the ruling party’s national Information Technology department, that the three Meta stories published earlier in October by The Wire were a conspiracy to harm his reputation through forgery. The Wire placed on record its demand for the hash value—a unique numerical value used to ensure the integrity of a device and its data—of the mobile phones, iPads, computers, and hard disks seized and for cloned copies of the devices and hard disks seized to be kept at a neutral place. But this reasonable and lawful demand was simply ignored.

The First Information Report (FIR) registered by the police against the journalists covers charges under the Indian Penal Code of “cheating and dishonesty” (Section 420) , “forgery for purpose of cheating” (468), “forgery for the purpose of harming reputation” (469), “using as genuine a forged document or electronic record” (471), “punishment for defamation” (500), all read along with provisions covering “punishment for criminal conspiracy”(120B) and “acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention” (34).

This is a formidable array of charges. Anyone familiar with the basic facts relating to how the Meta stories came to be published in The Wire and the role of Devesh Kumar, the technology consultant hired by the publication monthly, can understand that the criminal case registered is both unjust and over-the-top. Mens rea, “the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime as opposed to the action or conduct of the accused”, needs to be established and it is clear as daylight that everyone named as accused in the FIR lacked mens rea.

Strangely, Devesh Kumar, who has played the starring role in this affair, is not named in the FIR, although it has been reported that his digital devices have been seized and he has been interrogated by the police, raising suspicions about what the investigation is up to with regard to him. As for the charge of criminal defamation, an editorial in The Hindu calls attention to settled law: “the police should not really be investigating the defamation angle, as Supreme Court judgments are clear that prosecution for defamation should only be at the instance of the aggrieved person, and there can be no police FIR.”

From this, it appears that the targeting of The Wire through criminal prosecution at political behest is, first, to push it into a difficult situation where, as the saying goes, “the process is the punishment”; and, secondly, to make an example of it before the rest of the news media.

A clear & distinctive voice 

Now let me come to the journalistic role and responsibility of The Wire and its editors in this sorry affair. Let us first recognise that in the seven years of its existence as an independent and not-for-profit digital news media venture, The Wire has operated with limited financial and reporting resources but done sterling work that few other media organisations do in India. It has handled sensitive information, offered progressive comment fearlessly, and specialised in complex investigations, its Pegasus-India exposé as a partner in an international journalistic collaboration being an outstanding example. In a short period, this digital news venture has emerged on the Indian media scene as a player with a clear and distinctive voice, a player who counts journalistically and politically, and is followed by a growing number of serious readers, listeners, and viewers. No wonder that the far-Right Hindutva regime and its supporters regard The Wire as an adversary to be silenced or put out of action.

Unfortunately, while working on and publishing stories relating to Meta, India, and the BJP, The Wire’s editorial systems failed egregiously. Fed false information and fabricated digital proof by Devesh Kumar, against whom The Wire has lodged a police complaint, it reported that Meta’s “XCheck” programme had granted extraordinary privileges to Malviya, including immunity against review of his posts by content moderators and the right to report any post and have it taken down, no questions asked. When independent experts questioned this, The Wire, after some doubling down on what had been published by relying further on Devesh Kumar’s fabrications, conducted an internal enquiry that detected the fraud, retracted the stories, and editorially apologised to readers. The Wire’s editorial promised to learn from this and put in place robust editorial processes for checking and cross-checking documents and all source-based information, and in future have all technical evidence verified by independent experts before publication.

The criticism of The Wire’s journalism in the Meta-India stories, and in a couple of investigative articles published earlier, notably a hard-to-believe story by Ayushman Kaul and the same untrustworthy Devesh Kumar about a mysterious super-app known as “Tek Fog” developed by the BJP, is legitimate and necessary. The “Tek Fog” story has now been taken out of public view, pending internal review, and one hopes the publication will soon come out with an authoritative statement on what went wrong in that case. The criticism that the Meta stories, and possibly a few others, published by The Wire, are examples of “confirmation bias”, which is defined as “the tendency to interpret and accept new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories”, is also legitimate. In a mostly sympathetic article titled “A prominent Indian independent news site destroys its own credibility”, The Economist made good-natured fun of The Wire’s Meta-Malviya story as an example of the well-known tendency of “wanting to believe”—but also pointed to the lesson that “misinformation is generated by all sides”, that “it is often done in good faith”, and that “scepticism is more important than ever.”

With confirmation bias and “wanting to believe”, The Wire is hardly alone, and its recent discomfiture needs to be viewed in proper context. Is there any major news media organisation in India or abroad that can honestly say it has not blundered in sourcing sensitive stories or has not purveyed misinformation and false propaganda or has never been taken for a ride by bad actors? The answer is obvious. A shocking example, with calamitous impact, from 2002-2003: The New York Times, Judith Miller, WMD, and the Iraq War (look up the literature on the subject).       

When a media organisation publishes a story or a series of stories based on information that turns out to be egregiously false, it is unquestionably a serious matter. But the remedy must be found within the media organisation and within the profession. Precisely formulated and actionable codes of conduct and institutional mechanisms for self-correction are important to ensure the integrity and trustworthiness of journalism. The Wire’s editors are experienced and ethical journalists and their work is supported by an independent ombudsperson, or readers’ or public editor, Pamela Philipose. Her fortnightly column published in The Wire on November 5, 2022 is helpful for its critical and constructive reflections and the lessons it offers for contemporary journalism. An instructive citation in the ombudsperson’s column is to an article, written by chief leader writer Randeep Ramesh, that The Guardian published for its bicentennial, “What we got wrong: the Guardian’s worst errors of judgment over 200 years” . It’s an extraordinary read.

There has been more than enough gloating over The Wire’s discomfiture and legal troubles in the social media and, to an extent, in the mainstream news media, most notoriously on a couple of television channels adept at doing hit jobs. The question has been raised: was it dishonourable for The Wire to throw Devesh Kumar, its journalistic collaborator, under the bus? The answer is simple: under normal circumstances it should and would have handled the matter internally through journalistic due process; but under the present circumstances it had no choice but to file a counter-complaint for legal reasons and to protect its reputation.  Fortunately, in this fraught situation, many professional media bodies, including the Editors Guild of India, organisations of working journalists, press clubs, and individual journalists have rallied in solidarity with The Wire. Further, editorials in major Indian newspapers have come out against the police action and the criminalisation of journalism when it stumbles or takes missteps.

In the midst of all this, the focus should not be taken away from what Meta, which is besieged by controversies and is under intense international scrutiny on various counts, is up to in India. The country which has, at 330 million, the world’s largest number of Facebook users and, at 230 million, the world’s largest number of Instagram users, has a vital stake in ensuring that the harms done by disinformation and misinformation that still circulate freely on these and other social media platforms, including Twitter, are minimised, even if they cannot be eliminated. The Indian news media have their task cut out: they must do careful and rigorous investigation, applying higher editorial standards, of the ways of the social media giants and the effects of the content circulating on their platforms.

Solidarity among journalists, solidarity deriving from concrete issues and based on principles, has never been more important than it is today. Let us remind ourselves that freedom of the press, which is constitutionally guaranteed as an integral part of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, has come under increasing pressure, risk, threat, and targeted assault in India over the past eight years, after a BJP-majority government came to power at the Centre, setting the stage for a communal-authoritarian offensive that has been termed “the second coming of Hindutva.” Let us remind ourselves that in 2022, India ranks 150th (only a little ahead of 157th-ranked Pakistan) among 180 countries and territories figuring in the annual World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), a Paris-based independent organisation that dedicates itself to freedom of information.

I believe The Wire and the progressive, upstanding, and fearless journalism it exemplifies will emerge stronger thanks to the lessons learned from this serious setback.

Originally published in Front Line, India

Vintage Hawksley thriller arrives

3 mins read

A journalist can and often does become a person for all seasons: politician, diplomat, teacher, and of course a best-seller author of fact and fiction. Humphrey Hawksley — HH to some — is in that class. Besides he is a delightful person to know, a great raconteur.

What a cracker of a book- Ice Islands.

First, a disclaimer: Humphrey is a dear friend. But that notwithstanding, I have great respect for him as a reporter. His work as a BBC foreign correspondent has taken him all over the world with postings in Beijing, Hong Kong, Manila, Delhi, and Colombo. He has contributed to ABC, National Public Radio and other networks in the United States and global publication of his work includes the Financial Times, New York Times, Yale Global, Nikkei Asian Review, and others. So he’s no stranger to superpower rivalry, intrigue, and backstabbing – he’s reported on it extensively. Ice Islands may be fiction. But it has the hallmark of authenticity. The inside story of the Ukraine military campaign must have sub-plots inspired by his works.

Hawksley’s protagonist is the hard-as-nails Rake Ozenna who comes from the Alaskan island of Little Diomede right on America’s border with Russia. Little Diomede, I learnt, is a craggy, rough island with a population of around eighty Indigenous Alaskans living less than three miles across a narrow stretch of water from a Russian military base. Rake is a Major belonging to the Alaska National Guard. He is tasked with breaking into the Kato family, a Yakuza crime organization that is turning Japan against the United States. The weak link is Sara Kato, the family’s rejected daughter, whom Rake plans to turn into an informant. He is to approach her at a peace conference on the Finnish Aland Islands in the Baltic Sea. As Rake flies in, assassins murder a delegate who turns out to be the secret son of the Russian president. (We know this.) Sara is implicated. Rake is ordered to get Sara out and keep her safe. The action moves from the Baltic Sea through Washington D.C. to Hokkaido in northern Japan against a broader context of the unresolved dispute between Russia and Japan over the Kuril Islands or Northern Territories.

Sara is not the only female interest in the story: Rake’s old girlfriend, Carrie surfaces as the mental health therapist who analyses Sara (and Rake as well, much to his discomfiture). Rake’s boss Harry Lucas and his ex-wife Stephanie are also important arms of the plot, which has, as its subtext, an American President, John Freeman, who is at war with his executive. Rake has to navigate this maze, and take care of the charge under his protection, who is deeply conflicted – she has an elder brother whom she both adores and loathes. HH’s description of the murder of Sara’s twin brother Kazan – ritual murder carried out by the eldest, Michio, described in grisly detail, because Kazan is considered simply not ‘strong’ enough’ – sickens and revolts Sara. And yet, it is her family. Rake, himself from a dysfunctional family, empathizes.

Ice Islands is full of impressive technical detail which gives it the ring of authenticity. Rake favors a SIG Sauer P226pistol and a smaller 938. He also has a Beretta 92 semi-automatic. His calculations, as he weighs running a police check post with Sara beside him, is masterly tactics that only a trained soldier can appreciate.

I hesitate to say more, for I don’t want to reveal the twists and turns in the plot. Suffice it to say that Hawksley is well-equipped to describe international intrigue. His earlier book, Dragon Fire, paints a nuclear war scenario involving India, Pakistan, and China. In that story, a renegade unit of a Tibetan militia maintained by the Indian Government steals a couple of aircraft and attempts an audacious assault on Lhasa to rescue an imprisoned monk. Simultaneously, General Hamid Khan grabs power in Pakistan and wants to get extreme Islamists in Pakistan to shut up so that they allow him to modernise the country. In Man on Ice (2018), Ozenna helps thwart an attempted Russian invasion of the U.S. Three Russians try to kill Rake during a presentation he’s giving at a Washington, D.C., conference without success. Meanwhile, Carrie is in peril inside Russia, where she has traveled to meet her Vice-Admiral uncle, Artyom Semenov, a specialist in submarine technology. Semenov is hoping to use Carrie to transfer some highly classified state secrets to the West. The operation is botched amid indications that the British embassy in Moscow has been compromised, leading to frantic efforts on Carrie’s part to stay alive. Rake goes to her rescue.

Comparisons are odious. But you can spot Stieg Larsson here, with flashes of Robert Ludlum (who specializes in the central theme of anarchy and chaos), Lee Child of Jack Reacher fame, and also a bit of James Bond. But running through all that is a seam of philosophy and tenderness. He describes a relationship, is not quite extinguished: ‘He rested a hand on each knee, giving her a look which even now melted something deep and undefinable inside her. It wasn’t love. It wasn’t sexual attraction. It was something magazines would find a name for one day.

Read Ice Islands. It is ….satisfying.

Exclusive: China and Pakistan are India’s two major competitors – D Jaishankar

6 mins read

“China and Pakistan are India’s two major competitors with which it has major disputes over territory and other issues,” Dhruva Jaishankar, Executive Director of the Observer Research Foundation America (ORF America) told in an exclusive interview with Sri Lanka Guardian. Mr. Jaishankar is a Non-Resident Fellow with the Lowy Institute in Australia and is a regular contributor to the media.

Jaishankar holds a bachelor’s degree in history and classics from Macalester College, and a master’s degree in security studies from Georgetown University. He has been an IISS-SAIS Merrill Center Young Strategist (2013), a participant in the ORF-Zeit Stiftung Asian Forum on Global Governance (2016), and a David Rockefeller Fellow with the Trilateral Commission (2017-2020).

Excerpts of the interview;

Sri Lanka Guardian:  You are heading ORF America; what is your mission and what are the challenges you are facing in achieving your objectives?

Dhruva Jaishankar: I joined the Observer Research Foundation in 2019 and moved to Washington DC with the intention of building up a think tank focused on policy for the United States, India, and their partner countries. I had worked previously in the U.S. at the Brookings Institution and German Marshall Fund, and in India at Brookings India (now the Centre for Social and Economic Progress), and had had affiliations with think tanks in Singapore and Australia, and hoped to build upon these experiences. I’m proud to say that in two plus years my colleagues and I have set up a small but dynamic U.S.-based institution, working on research and convening in four areas: international security, technology policy, energy and climate, and economic development. Our work is global in scope, including development in Africa, cyber security in Latin America, entrepreneurship in the Middle East, U.S.-India climate cooperation, and strategic cooperation involving the Quad and Europe, and we have a small but growing team of 10 staff. In some ways, ORF America occupies a useful niche, not just on U.S.-India relations but as the only developing world-affiliated public policy think tank in Washington.

SLG:  Who is India’s main enemy in the context of foreign policy?

DJ: I don’t think we’re in a world defined by easy ‘enemies’ and India is not in a state of war with any country at the moment. However, India does have two major competitors with which it has major disputes over territory and other issues: China and Pakistan. In the past, the rivalry with Pakistan was predominant, involving Pakistani revisionism and its support for terrorism against India. However, in recent years, differences with China have become more acute, not just over the disputed border, but on trade and technology, regional politics, and a wide range of multilateral issues. Given that China’s economy and capabilities are significantly greater than India’s, it is fair to say that India’s biggest strategic challenge today is China, not Pakistan. Pakistan remains politically sensitive, but is more an irritant than an existential challenge to New Delhi.

SLG: India, not only, is supporting Quad but an active member. Simultaneously, India is keeping a strong relationship with Russia. However, many small countries in the same region argue that India continues to maintain its hegemony and does not allow those countries to take their own decisions; for example, Chinese investments. May I have your take, please?

DJ: Every country is sovereign and can make its own decisions, but the reality is that decisions made by neighbours do have political, economic, and security implications for each other. India has lots of natural alignments with the Quad on security and non-security issues, including over 20 active working groups. At the same time, India has important relations, particularly on defense trade and technology, with Russia. So it is natural for India to try to improve relations with the Quad partners, while preserving aspects of its relations with Moscow that are vital for national security and for its economy, such as energy costs and food security. Regarding the region, India has interests in a peaceful, stable, and prosperous South Asia, and has been taking steps to improve those relationships. These include greater diplomatic attention, improved connectivity, economic and technical assistance, and regionalism. At the same time, just as India has been sensitive to its neighbors concerns, it expects an understanding of issues that might implicate Indian politics, its economy, and its natural security. As a friend, it is important and healthy for India to voice concerns when decisions made by its neighbors might have negative spillover effects. Overall, India can always do more to treat its neighbors with respect and sensitivity, but that respect and sensitivity must be mutual.

SLG: Compare to other regions in Asia, South Asian countries in particular is having lower socio-economic unity. Many argue that it is because of the rivalry between India and Pakistan. Because of that, organizations like SAARC have become paralyzed. Why can’t these two nations come together for a serious development plan?

DJ: I think there were some integral design flaws in SAARC. In the 1980s because both India and Pakistan had concerns about the body being used to isolate them, it was agreed that it should operate by consensus. Yet on many issues – think for example about the proposed SAARC satellite – Pakistan blocked consensus. Pakistan also blocked connectivity between India and Afghanistan, including during the recent food crisis, before relenting. As a consequence, in recent years, there have been steps by India to operate regionally without relying on consensus. One example involves greater road connectivity between Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. Maritime coordination between India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives has also improved. Barring Pakistan, there have been many positive developments on regional integration and connectivity: India and Nepal enjoy an open border and special relationship, India is among the largest investors and trade partners of Bangladesh, and India has led emergency lending to Sri Lanka. The questions of Pakistan must really be answered by Pakistanis: why has there been so much resistance to normal relations with India? The expectation that normal relations can coexist with state support for terrorists against Indian targets is unrealistic.

SLG: Most Indian media houses have absolute anti-China stances. Isn’t it toxic to the bilateral relationship between the two countries?

DJ: I’m not sure that’s the case. The India-China relationship is mixed. Until quite recently there was cooperation on economic and trade issues, students, and on multilateral issues such as global governance reform and climate change. But under Xi Jinping, China has adopted a very different attitude to international affairs – and not just with India. As Chinese power has grown, its decision-making structures have become more opaque, it has engaged in non-market economic practices such as predatory lending, corporate espionage, and distortive subsidies, it has attempted territorial revisionism in the South China Sea and the disputed boundary with India, and it has made efforts to undermine many global norms and institutions, including on non-proliferation, outer space, and the law of the sea. These concerns are shared by many countries. With respect to India, we have seen China violate almost three decades of written agreements on border management, its dumping of exports while denying Indian companies market access, its undermining of India’s regional security environment, and its blocking India at multilateral forums. Obviously, China deserves greater study and understanding, but some of the frustration reflected in Indian and international commentary reflects the recent actions and behavior of the Chinese government.

SLG: Do you believe the Asian Century is an achievable reality?

DJ: It depends on what is meant by the Asian Century. It is quite clear that the future of global economic growth and international security will be decided in large part in Asia, simply because it is home to more than half the world’s population and because of regional economic dynamism. But questions of whether Asia will be more cooperative or divisive will depend in large part on China’s ability to respect other countries in its periphery. Unfortunately, that has been found wanting, and with slowing Chinese growth, other countries in the Indo-Pacific are naturally attempting to promote alternative values – freedom, openness, inclusivity – that should define an Asian Century.

SLG:  Do you think there will soon be a time when China, India and Russia will work together? If so, how do you formulate India’s strategy?

DJ: China, India, and Russia do have some areas of commonality, and these have been explored in forums such as the RIC, BRICS, and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Initially, this involved issues such as greater representation on forums of global governance and managing security in Central Asia. But the past few years have also shown limitations to such cooperation. Differences between China and India have been more acute, with China emerging as India’s most significant strategic challenge. Russia’s actions in Ukraine have presented some dilemmas to China and India. Barring security and some areas of strategic cooperation, the India-Russia agenda remains thin, largely on account of the limitations to the Russian economy. While we are likely to continue to see India engage with these forums, decisions made in Moscow and Beijing will ultimately determine how useful they will be.

India: We are not Terrorists or Killers but Victims

3 mins read

RP Ravichandran, one of the six convicts who was released on Saturday in the assassination case of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, said that the people of north India should see them as “victims instead of terrorists or killers”.

He said that time will judge them as “innocents”.

Speaking to ANI after his release from Madurai Central Prison, Ravichandran said, “The people of north India should see us as victims instead of terrorists or killers. Time and power determine who is a terrorist or a freedom fighter but time will judge us as innocent, even if we bear the blame for being terrorists.” Nalini and Ravichandran had approached the apex court seeking release from prison-like fellow convict AG Perarivalan.

This came after the Supreme Court, on May 18, had evoked its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to release AG Perarivalan, who was one of the seven convicts in the assassination case.

Earlier, Nalini Sriharan, one of the six convicts in the case, expressed her gratitude to the Tamil Nadu and central governments for extending “help” to her during her punishment of 32 years and said that she wants to be with her family.

Sriharan, who is the longest-serving woman prisoner serving a life sentence in the country, was released from the Vellore jail on Saturday following an order from the Supreme Court on Friday, freeing all six convicts, including RP Ravichandran, in the case.

Upon walking out of the jail, she thanked the people of Tamil Nadu, who she said, supported her for 32 years.

Speaking to ANI, Nalini spoke about her future plans whether she will live in India or shift abroad and said that all her family members have been waiting for her for a long time and she now wants to be with them.

“I want to be with my family. All members of my family have been waiting for such a long time. I want to thank the State and Central govt. They helped us a lot during this period,” she said. When asked if she would meet anybody from the Gandhi family after her release, Nalini said that she is not planning to do so while also adding that she will go “wherever my husband goes”.

“I will go wherever my husband goes. We were separated for 32 years. Our family kept waiting for us… I am not planning to meet anyone from the Gandhi family. We are under the case. There is no possibility of me meeting them. I want to thank the State and Central governments. I thank the state government for giving me parole, so I could go to the Supreme Court and try my level best,” she said.

She remarked on the order passed by the two-judge bench of Justice BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna who took into consideration the good conduct of convicts in the prison, and said that the judges have studied their cases and they know “what is wrong and what is correct”.

“Our judges know everything. They have studied our case. They know what is wrong and what is correct and what they can do, they have done it,” she said.

The Tamil Nadu government had earlier recommended the premature release of convicts saying that its 2018 aid and advice for the remission of their life sentence is binding upon the Governor.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin on Friday welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to release six convicts including Nalini Sriharan of the assassination case of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

“I welcome the Supreme Court Verdict on the release of six persons,” Stalin said in a tweet on Friday.

“This judgment of the Supreme Court is proof that the decisions of the government elected by the people should not be shelved by the governors in the appointed positions,” he said.

Nalini Sriharan and five others were serving life sentence terms in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. They were set free by the SC on the grounds of having good conduct in jail.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group during a public rally.

The seven convicts were sentenced to death for their role in the killing. They included Nalini Sriharan, RP Ravichandran, Jayakumar, Santhan, Murugan, Robert Payas, and AG Perarivalan.

In the year 2000, Nalini Sriharan’s sentence was reduced to a life term. Later in the year 2014, the sentence of the other six convicts was also reduced, and during the same year, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalitha recommended the release of all the seven convicts in the case.  

Source: Asian News International

India: Top Court Releases all Convicts in Rajiv Assassination

1 min read

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that all six convicts of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case’s should be released early. Criminal defendants Nalini Srihar, Robert Pais, Ravichandran, Raja, Shriharan, and Jaikumar were ordered to be released.

The order was issued in response to the directive issued on May 17 that granted relief to Perarivalan, another defendant in the case, by a bench made up of Justices BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna.

The appellants are directed to be set at liberty if not required in any other matter”, the bench ordered.

The bench observed that the present applicants are subject to the Perarivalan order. The Court observed that the Governor had not followed the Tamil Nadu Government’s recommendation to release all prisoners.

The bench also noted that the prisoners had served more than three decades in jail and that their behaviour there had been acceptable. The Supreme Court ruled in the Perarivalan case that the State cabinet decision obligated the Governor in the question of remission.

“In the case of Robert Pais, it is seen that his conduct is satisfactory and that he is suffering from various illness, he has obtained various degrees,” the court observed.


Delhi Pollution: Embarrassing and Humiliating

3 mins read

During the last Glasgow Meet, many countries promised that they would achieve zero emissions and indicated different target dates.  India promised that it would achieve zero-emission by the year 2070, while China’s target was the year 2050.

Now, another annual climate ministerial at Sharm El-Shaik (Egypt) would take place on November 6 to 18.  During this meeting, there would be a review of progress achieved subsequent to the Glasgow Meet. During the review, it would be seen that nothing substantial has been achieved in the interim period. On the other hand, countries including India have been taking steps to expand the coal mining operation and fixing higher targets for coal utilization for use as fuel, which is a polluting fossil fuel.

With the ongoing Ukraine war, several European countries have also started increasing the coal production and utilization.

While this is the overall situation internationally, the present happenings in the capital city Delhi in India, where air quality has deteriorated to the alarming level of severe category, gives an impression that all the talk and discussions have been taking place in a vacuum, with little commitment of the concerned governments to the goal of climate protection. The pollution level has increased by around 36%, making Delhi look like a “gas chamber”.  According to the analysis by the National Clean Air  Programme tracker, the average PM 2.5 levels in October, this year was higher as compared to 2021  in the capital city of Delhi.  

 Air pollution has been caused by burning stubble in Punjab state (it is reported that there have been 3634 fires on a single day on 2nd November 2022).   Punjab has seen a 19% increase in farm fires in comparison to last year.

Stubble is the basal part of herbaceous plants and especially wheat, paddy, and cereal grasses remaining attached to the soil after harvest.

 Obviously, Punjab and Delhi governments have not been doing enough to protect the region from the negative effects of noxious gases like carbon dioxide caused by stubble burning and exposing the citizens in both states to serious health issues.

As Delhi is the capital of India and all foreign embassies are located in Delhi, the pollution level in Delhi now has received international attention and perhaps, during the forthcoming meeting in Egypt, the delegates from India have to answer many questions on Delhi’s pollution from other countries.

This would be a great embarrassment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is a big champion of climate management and has initiated significant efforts in India to promote eco-friendly renewable energy projects, ethanol blending with petrol, promotion of e vehicles and so on.  

The question uppermost in the mind of everyone is what is really the big deal in handling and managing the stubble without causing environmental issues.

 There are plenty of things to be gained by pollution control apart from public health and profit is one of them.

Stubble is a valuable biomass and several value-added products can be produced from stubble.

By fermentation of stubble biomass, ethanol can be produced, which is a strong building block and is also extensively used for human consumption.  The government of India is now placing considerable emphasis on ethanol production, as it is targeting 20% ethanol blending with petrol to reduce emissions and also to reduce import dependence on crude oil / natural gas.

Stubble is also an important energy source, as it can be made into pellets and used as fuel. India is now facing a huge problem on the energy front, as around 80% of Indian requirements of crude oil and 50% of Indian requirements of natural gas are imported, which are largely used as fuel sources. With the skyrocketing price of crude oil and natural gas in the global market, the use of stubble as a fuel source can considerably help India in reducing its import dependence on crude oil and natural gas.

Pellets, provide much more heat and emit less particulate matter and only a fraction of the ash from burning an equivalent amount of coal.

Also, pellets constitute a reliable source of income for farmers who can sell their agriculture byproducts for making pellets, instead of merely burning them and causing pollution.  About 800 kg of pellets can replace a tonne of coal.

It is estimated about 270 million tonnes of agricultural waste is annually available in India that can produce 28,000 MW of power. By comparison, about 818 million tonnes of coal was consumed by thermal power plants for producing electricity in 2021-22, according to figures from Coal India Ltd.

Pellet making is a well-known technology and a number of pellet plants from biomass and wood chips are operating all over India, mostly in the small-scale sectors, which are operating profitably and such pellets are well used by cement and other industries as fuel.

Recently, the government of India announced a scheme to incentivize entrepreneurs to manufacture pellets from stubble.  This should have been done much earlier.  

Why such pellet projects have not been set up adequately in Punjab is a question that is arising in everyone’s mind all over India.  

Further, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in Delhi has developed Pusa bio decomposer, which is a microbial liquid spray that decomposes stubble into manure. The bio decomposer, when sprayed onto paddy stubble, breaks it down in a way that can be easily absorbed into the soil, whereby farmers then have no need to burn the stubble.  This bio decomposer has been successfully tested for over two years. However, the Punjab government is reported to have refused to use this bio-decomposer spray for whatever reasons. This is irresponsible.

The burning of stubble and consequent huge pollution in Delhi is clearly due to the inadequate governance of the Punjab government and the Delhi government.

In a democratic country like India, it appears that even inefficient rulers can get away by offering vague excuses and shifting blame to others.

India’s Moment in West?

2 mins read

When the announcement was made that Indian origin Rishi Sunak has been elected as the next Prime Minister of Britain, the euphoria was seen in India with Indian media and several Indians hailing the event, as if an Indian citizen has achieved this feat.  Ridiculous comments have been heard such as ” India was ruled by the British earlier and Britain will now be ruled by India”.

Similarly, when Indian origin Kamala Harris was elected as Vice President of the USA, many celebrations happened in India and residents of the village in Tamil Nadu, which was supposed to be native village of the family of Kamala Harris, even organised thanksgiving offerings in the local temple.  One is not sure whether Kamala Harris has visited this village at all at any time in her life.

There are so many other Indian families and individual Indians who have migrated to the USA, Canada and European and other countries in the last several decades and have surrendered their  Indian citizenship and become full-fledged citizens of the countries to which they migrated.  Quite a number of them are occupying top positions in governments, and corporate undertakings and a few of them have even been awarded the  Nobel Prize.

 It is often heard in India that the success of the former citizens of India who have migrated to other countries and who are termed and described in India as persons of Indian origin, proves the capability of Indians. 

When someone becomes a full-fledged citizen of another country by giving up Indian citizenship, obviously their loyalty and duty is to the country to which they have migrated and in effect, they have cut off their bridge with India. It also reflects the mindset of such persons that the value of the citizenship of the countries to which they have migrated are much more than the value of citizenship of India, which they once held.

As a number of such families of migrated persons have been living in the migrated countries for several decades now, the second and third generation of people in the families may not have visited India at all and may not have much information about India and most probably may not care about the culture and traditions of India any longer.

We often hear such first-generation migrated persons claim that they are emotionally attached to India, but this should not be as they are no more Indians and are the citizens of migrated countries to which they should be emotionally attached.

It appears that some people in   India think that Rishi Sunak being the Prime Minister of Britain and Kamala Harris being the Vice President of the USA would provide several benefits to India.  This can never happen, as they are not Indians anymore.

There is nothing wrong in Indians migrating to other countries of their choice and becoming full-fledged citizens there. Some Indian citizens may consider such people as privileged and think that   Indians should be proud of them.   Then, in such cases, it may create suspicion about the mindset of such Indians and their thought process. 

Let those who migrated to other countries as full-fledged citizens be loyal to the migrated country and let them not claim that they are proud of India and its value systems. Obviously, they should not be, since they have given up their Indian citizenship voluntarily, preferring another country for citizenship.

Indian Industrialists Ambani and Adani Are Sinned Against

3 mins read

The news that Ambani and Adani have emerged as among the top rich persons in the world have provoked derisive laughter amongst some political and leftist groups in India. The rapid rise of Ambani and Adani as wealthy industrialists have been mischievously interpreted as an example of widening the gap between rich and poor in India. To add insult to injury, it is also freely said by the antagonists that Ambani and Adani could become so rich only due to the patronage that they received from the Government of India and from some state governments.

What is conspicuous is that none of the critics of Ambani and Adani have recognised their business initiatives, dynamic management approach, capability to identify appropriate investment opportunities, implement their project plans efficiently in time bound manner,  competently operating the completed projects and finally their capability to take on international competitors in India and globally.

Ambani and Adani group have invested thousands of crores of rupees in various fields including petrochemical, oil and gas exploration, coal mining, renewable energy,  infrastructure projects as well as information technology and communication such as 5G and so on.

Both these dynamic entrepreneurs have created thousands of jobs at various levels directly and indirectly all over India and their contributions to the overall industrial and economic growth of the country is significant and praiseworthy.

What is particularly noteworthy is that the industrial groups led by Ambani and Adani have started their activities from scratch and have reached the present level by sheer perseverance.  They are not known to have exploited labour and the satisfaction level of those working in their group companies seems to be high or moderate. Thousands of shareholders in these companies, with a considerable number of them belonging to the middle-income group, have been benefited.  Further, Ambani and Adani group companies have not defaulted in repayment of debt as per the schedule, in spite of their large level of operations and financial institutions too have benefited.

Of course, there is a difference between Tata group and Birla group on one side and Ambani and Adani group on the other side.  The real difference is in the rate and speed of growth.

Whether it is the case of Tata, Birla, Adani or Ambani, there have been incidents of failure of some of their projects but none of them have been distracted by such failures.  This certainly indicates their confidence in their capability and decision taking acumen, which have benefited the country’s growth immensely.

What is particularly surprising is that while the critics of Ambani and Adani  are so severe  in criticising them and questioning them, they seem to be much more charitable in viewing the activities and progress of Tata group and Birla group

To explain this, can we say that Tata group and Birla group have been much more “humble” and less demonstrative, compared to Ambani and Adani groups?

The accusation that the wealth of  Ambani and Adani reflects the glaring inequality between the rich and the poor in the country is absolutely baseless and motivated.  Everyone in India has the liberty to pursue their dreams and involve themselves in starting and running their ventures.  Many rich industrial groups have been founded by persons from scratch with little income and even with little supportive strength.  Why do critics ignore this fact about Ambani or Adani?

There is considerable evidence that the inequality in income and opportunities between citizens in India are steadily coming down. In such circumstances, the expectations and hopes from people belonging to the lower-income group are rising which is a healthy sign.  Various welfare measures introduced and implemented by central and state governments to support the people in the lower income group are yielding results.  All that is required is that the critics have to keep their eyes open to see such improving ground realities and refrain from denouncing the hard-working project promoters, who contribute to the industrial and economic growth of the country.

To alleviate poverty, wealth generation is absolutely necessary and in a developing country like India, the task of wealth generation has to be accelerated as much as possible. When such wealth generation takes place, many people from different walks of life and living in different economic strata have a role in such a wealth generation process and therefore would be beneficiaries of the wealth generation process. The benefits do not go only to the initiator of the projects and wealth generation process.

Such wealth generation is possible only by setting up more industrial and commercial ventures as well as projects in the services sector.  For such objectives, initiatives from individuals are much needed and Ambani and Adani are certainly showing the way.

An apology to Our Readers

1 min read

Regarding Bangladesh and its current government, it has been confirmed that there were many flaws in the two reports, first India’s Top Spy Agency Forms New Brigade to Protect Sheikh Hasina and second Bangladesh: True Architects of Brigade75, published by Sri Lanka Guardian a few days ago. Accordingly, as a media organization that respects people’s right to information and truth-based journalism, we have decided to remove them. We express our deep regret if any party has to face any inconvenience due to the contents of those two reports. Responsibility is not our choice but habit.

– Editorial Team

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