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Airport Slapping Incidents Connected To Security Screening: CISF In The Eye Of The Storm!

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Grab from CCTV footage of the slapping incident at Jaipur airport
Coming a month after the Kangana Ranaut incident at Chandigarh, the slapping of a CISF ASI by an angry SpiceJet staffer at Jaipur airport raises questions over taking law in own hands in wake of ‘provocations’

A second reported incident of slapping at an airport connected to security screening in just over a month has once again brought into sharp focus the debate over whether a person aggrieved of provocation, however grave, can usurp the right to take the law into his or her own hands in a fit of rage and justify it as a natural reaction.

After the actress-turned-politician Kangana Ranaut incident at the Chandigarh International Airport in first week of June, in which a female Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) staffer on security screening duty slapped her, angered over the actress’ past disparaging remarks against women participants in the farmers’ agitation, comes another episode of a SpiceJet female security staff member slapping a CISF officer during a heated argument over security screening at the Jaipur airport.

The woman SpiceJet staffer, identified as Anuradha Rani, was later arrested on charges of assault and sent to judicial custody by a court, on a complaint lodged by the slapped CISF Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) Giriraj Prasad. The woman, who has received full backing from her employers, also subsequently filed a counter police complaint against the CISF ASI alleging “serious sexual harassment”.

A CCTV video clip of the incident shows the CISF officer speaking to the woman in the presence of at least six others, including other SpiceJet staffers and a female CISF staffer. Suddenly, she takes hasty steps towards the ASI and delivers a stinging slap on his face.

According to the ASI’s complaint, an argument took place when the woman was entering the airport along with other SpiceJet staff through the gate meant for vehicles around 4.40 a.m. on July 11. She was stopped for not having valid permission to use that gate, as claimed by the ASI.

While SpiceJet claims she had a valid Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS)-issued airport entry pass, she was asked by the ASI to wait for screening and frisking at the nearby entrance for airline crew till a female CISF personnel arrives.

Whatever may have transpired during arguments between the female SpiceJet staffer and the CISF male ASI is a matter of investigation by the CISF internally, and the airport police, but the available CCTV footage clearly shows the presence of a female CISF staffer along with at least five other witnesses, including SpiceJet staffers, when the apparently livid SpiceJet staffer aggressively advances towards the CISF ASI and slaps him on the face.

In a written statement SpiceJet claimed: “While escorting a catering vehicle at the steel gate, our female security staff member, who had a valid airport entry pass issued by the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), India’s civil aviation security regulator, was subjected to inappropriate and unacceptable language by the CISF personnel, including asking her to come and meet him after his duty hours at his home.”

“We stand firmly by our employee and are committed to providing her with full support,” the SpiceJet spokesperson said.

Since both incidents – at Chandigarh and Jaipur airports – involve CISF personnel, a quick and serious intervention by the top hierarchy of the CISF, which is tasked among other things with the security at the airports across the country, to look at their standard operating procedures (SOPs) and their proper implementation has attained urgency.

However, it has been more than a month since the Kangana Ranaut incident, and CISF has not been transparent enough to share the outcome of its internal investigation into the episode. Will the Jaipur incident also meet the same fate!

Humanlike Robots: Shockwaves Over First Ever ‘Robot Suicide’, Yet China Unveils World’s First ‘Emotional’ Humanoid Robot

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Even as the world is grappling with the disturbing reports of the world’s first suspected ‘robot suicide’ at a workplace in South Korea, which is under investigation by the authorities there, comes news that China has unveiled the world’s first “emotional” robot that has “humanlike behaviour” and is designed to feel “happy, sad and angry”.

Though still a far cry, the continual attempts being made in the field of science and technology to inch closer to one day fulfilling the dream of ‘making’ a ‘human being’, with all traits of intelligence, feelings, emotions, etc, is only sharpening the debate around the ethical and safety aspects of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) in the future.

The ‘robot suicide’ in Gumi City Council

Recent news reports emanating from the South Korean city of Gumi suggest that a ‘robot administrative officer’, which had been in service of the Gumi City Council since August 2023, had committed ‘robot suicide’. It was recently found defunct after reportedly plunging itself down a staircase.

South Korea, known for its rapid adoption of robotic technology, has the highest robot density in the world, with one industrial robot for every ten human employees.

The robot, as part of its responsibility of performing various administrative tasks like document deliveries, city promotional activities, and providing information to residents during its regular working hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., would move between floors by calling an elevator and was equipped with its own civil service officer card.

The Gumi City Council had announced on June 26, 2024 that their premier administrative officer robot was found unresponsive and shattered to pieces after apparently falling down a six-a-half-foot flight of stairs. Eyewitnesses reported seeing the robot circling in one spot apparently in a state of confusion moments before the fall.

As speculation rose over the emotional capabilities of robots and the possibility of the robot having committed ‘suicide’, the authorities launched an investigation into the entire episode. Pieces of the robot are being analysed by California, US-based company Bear Robotics, that manufactured the robot. The company is well known for its restaurant-serving robots.

‘Guanghua No. 2’, the humanoid robot with a range of emotions

Meanwhile, China has unveiled what has been described as the world’s first “emotional” robot that has “humanlike behaviour” and is designed to feel “happy, sad and angry”.

The humanoid robot, dubbed Guanghua No. 2 displayed a range of different facial expressions at the 2024 World Artificial Intelligence Conference held in Shanghai, China from July 7-9. Developed by Fudan University in Shanghai it stands around 165 cm tall and weighs about 62 kg.

It comes with 45 intelligent joints, which allow the robot to move its hands properly and walk with an upright posture. It is also equipped to handle four emotions – happiness, anger, sadness, and joy on its facial screen.

The creators of the high-tec humanoid shared that their vision is to create a “health companion” capable of providing personalised and empathetic care for the elderly and address their emotional needs.

The robot has been in the development phase for the last two years and was designed by a team of experts from mechanics, biology, engineering, computer science, and big data. Now it will be developed further to cater to practical applications in the day-to-day lives of the increasingly ageing population in China.

 

 

 

 

Gauti It Is! Gautam Gambhir Named Team India’s Head Coach

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Collage courtesy: http://tring.co.in/
The cricket board hierarchy was so bowled over by his passionate and aggressive cricketing style & strategy that the formal interview for the advertised coach’s job was reduced to a mere formality
Will he get his way with BCCI in appointing support staff of his choice to deliver!
His handling, especially of senior players, will be closely watched

Cracking more than 10,000 runs while playing nearly 250 matches for the country in all three formats, this dependable India top-order batsman was known for belting out peak performances in big matches. His IPL exploits, first for Delhi Capitals and later Kolkata Knight Riders as batter and captain between 2008-2017, and in the latest editions as mentor, have also impressed.

So, it did not come as a surprise when the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) confirmed on Tuesday the much-anticipated appointment of Gautam Gambhir (42) as head coach of the Indian senior men’s cricket team in all three formats for a period of three years, succeeding the legendary Rahul Dravid, who capped his slightly extended three-year assignment with a World Cup winning performance by Team India in the recently concluded ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in USA-West Indies.

Following the announcement by BCCI, Gambhir took to his X handle to express his feelings thus: “India is my identity and serving my country has been the greatest privilege of my life. I’m honoured to be back, albeit wearing a different hat. But my goal is the same as it has always been, to make every Indian proud. The men in blue shoulder the dreams of 1.4 billion Indians and I will do everything in my power to make these dreams come true!”

Gambhir will officially begin his tenure this month itself, with his first assignment being India’s limited-overs tour to Sri Lanka, beginning at the end of the month. Team India is set to play 10 Test matches in the next six months before heading into the 2025 Champions Trophy. The head coach will serve until December 31, 2027, which marks the year of the next ODI World Cup.

Gambhir was recently formally interviewed along with former Indian women’s cricket team head coach W.V. Raman via Zoom by the three-member Cricket Advisory Committee, led by Ashok Malhotra, but the interview was apparently a mere formality with the BCCI hierarchy apparently having already promised the top job to Gambhir and taken his consent.

It remains to be seen whether Gambhir gets his way with the BCCI regarding appointment of support staff of his choice, a condition he is learnt to have placed before the BCCI while giving his in-principle consent to accept the coaching assignment. He is understood to be keen on having former India player and Kolkata Knight Riders’ batting coach Abhishek Nayar as his assistant coach and the great Jonty Rhodes as the fielding coach.

In a press release, the BCCI informed that the Cricket Advisory Committee comprising Ashok Malhotra, Jatin Paranjpe and Sulakshana Naik on Tuesday unanimously recommended Gautam Gambhir as the Head Coach of Team India (Senior Men). The former India batter will take charge from the upcoming away series against Sri Lanka, where Team India is set to play 3 ODIs & 3 T20Is starting July 27, 2024, it added.

About Gautam Gambhir’s cricket exploits

https://www.insidesport.in/cricket/gautam-gambhirs-career-stats-across-formats/

 

Vodafone Idea (Vi) To Get Aggressive In Punjab-Haryana, Enhance Network Capabilities

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Vodafone Idea COO Abhijit Kishore making a presentation in a press event in Chandigarh on July 4, 2024
Announces launch of L 900 band spectrum and voice over Wi-fi (VoWifi) technology for superior indoor coverage, better call quality and data experience
Is innovating for a complete digital experience via Vi App for utility payments, entertainment, games, cloud gaming and much more

Despite having lost customers in the hordes to its rivals Airtel and Jio, due to lack of adequate investment in infrastructure over the past few years, the third largest private telecom operator in the country Vodafone Idea (Vi) still commands a sizable 1.3 crore customers, and a 22-23% market share, in Punjab and Haryana.

Now the Aditya Birla Group and Vodafone Group partnership company, is poised to infuse massive network investments, in the range of Rs 50,000-Rs 55,000 crore (it successfully raised Rs 18,000 crore in an FPO recently), in the next three years across the country in an aggressive move to drive superior coverage and capacity expansion in 4G, and rollout 5G technologies, thereby majorly rebuilding on its subscriber base and drive revenues.

A substantial portion of these investments are going to be made in Punjab and Haryana, a very important market for the company, Chief Operating Officer of Vodafone Idea Abhijit Kishore revealed in a press event here on Thursday.

Creating differentiators

Apart from achieving superior coverage and capacity expansion to meet the exploding demand for data from retail and enterprise customers in 4G and rolling out 5G technologies (within next six months), Vi is laying increasing emphasis on creating differentiators for an enhanced customer experience.

Under a strategy to compel customer engagements, Vi is taking market initiatives to drive ARPU (average revenue per unit) improvement and customer retention. Among these initiatives is to drive extraction in new 4G geographies (Kishore informed that contrary to popular belief, an estimated 30-35% customers are still on 2G network), scale up share of primary SIM by delivering best in class experience and offering differentiated propositions, and lead digitalisation of customer service and distribution, supporting upsell and better retention.

Launching L 900 band spectrum

While asserting that Vi already has a strong network of 12,000 towers and Vi touchpoints, including 350 Vi stores, mini stores and shops, besides 800+ distributors and 56,000+ recharge outlets, in Punjab and Haryana and has achieved 97.7% population coverage, Kishore announced that it will be soon launching the L 900 band spectrum and voice over Wi-fi (VoWifi) technology in Punjab for superior indoor coverage, better call quality and data experience.

Unlimited data at night

Among the differentiators, Kishore claimed that Vi is the only telco to offer a daily data plan called ‘Vi Hero Unlimited’ which apart from giving unlimited calling, enables a customer to access unlimited data from midnight to 6 a.m. during which one can surf, stream, binge and repeat without any constraints. It also offers free subscription to OTT content and daily data rollover to weekends.

Additionally, ‘Choose Your benefits’ has been introduced for post-paid subscribers wherein customers get an added option of choosing benefits as per their requirements.

A ‘One of a kind’ initiative introduced recently is the ‘Vi Guarantee’ under which consumers, with a 5G or a new 4G handset, and subscribed to a daily data unlimited pack of Rs 299 or above, get 130 GB extra data free every year @ 10 GB every 28 days for 13 consecutive recharge cycles.

Cloud gaming

Kishore emphasised that Vi is among the first players to offer the unmatched experience of cloud gaming, which does not require expensive hardware like computers and consoles, and can be enjoyed remotely on pretty much any compatible device like a TV, tablet, etc. Cloud gaming also lets you save your progress midgame, then resume later with another device, no matter where you are, provided you have a subscription and an internet connection.

To drive affinity among youth and win market share, there is Vi Movies &TV – one app which gives you access to 130 OTTs & 400 TV channels.

All-encompassing Vi app

Sharing details of the initiatives taken by Vi over the past year or so in enhancing the consumers’ digital experience, Kishore said the Vi App offers entertainment like other OTT apps, with over 400 live TV channels and Video on Demand (VoD) content.

It also offers games like Free Fire and Call of Duty, and supports utility bill payments, enabling users to pay electricity, water, LPG bills, recharge FastTag, renew DTH or broadband subscriptions, and pay insurance premiums or loan EMIs.

Through Vi App, user can raise service request anytime anywhere, do easy recharge, pay bill etc., he added.

He also informed that given the popularity and growth potential of OTT services, Vi is expanding its bundling plans. Currently, Vi offers OTT bundles with Amazon Prime, Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, SonyLiv, and SunNxt. More partnerships are coming soon.

Big player worldwide in IoT

The company, being among the big players worldwide in IoT (internet of things), enterprise customers also offer it big business opportunities in cloud facilities apart from mobility offerings. Kishore said 25 crore electricity meters across the country are being converted into smart meters, out of which 2-2.5 crore have already been converted, which would also require IoT, which will also be majorly deployed with the increasing popularity of connected cars, he added.

Recent tariff hikes

The Vi COO claimed that in the recent industrywide tariff hikes, the company had taken care not to pinch the pockets of the lower strata of the society too much. The enhancements in the cheapest packs/plans have generally been in the range of 10-11% while these have been much stiffer in case of higher value packs/plans.

So, the cheapest unlimited voice plan which cost Rs 179, and offers 28 days validity and 2GB of mobile data, now costs Rs 199

Similarly, the cheapest daily data plan of Rs 269 with 28 days validity and 1GB data per day has been increased to Rs 299

However, the daily data plan of Rs 479 with 56 days validity and 1.5 GB data per day now costs Rs 579.

Nitin Kapur Installed President of Rotary Club Chandigarh Midtown For 2024-25

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Secretary Pradeep Sisodia too takes charge, along with the Board of Governors

Rotarian Nitin Kapur on Wednesday took over as the 48th President of Rotary Club Chandigarh Midtown for the year 2024-25 in a largely attended and impressive installation ceremony at the CII Northern India headquarters in Sector 31 Chandigarh.

He was adorned with the ceremonial Rotary collar by outgoing president Jeeten Bhambri in the presence of past Rotary Governor of District 3080 Shaju Peter and District Governor Nominate Rita Kalra.

Pradeep Sisodia was sworn-in as Secretary, taking over the reins from Anup Sharma, along with the Board of Governors.

Nitin Kapur, a well-known investment consultant, while assuming the responsibility spelled out his vision for the club, the cornerstone of which will be a 5-B programme:

  • Basta – Education, Adult Literacy and Scholarships
  • Batua – Vocational Centres and Microloans
  • Boot – School Shoes and Artificial Limbs
  • Bachaav – Medical Camps, Blood Donation Camps, Traffic Awareness
  • Basera – Schools, Asra Sarais
The Board of Governors of Rotary Club Chandigarh Midtown for the year 2024-25

Earlier outlining the achievements of the club under his stewardship, outgoing club president Jeeten Bhambri informed the gathering that the club won 23 awards, including the Best of Best Club of District 3080 and the Best President in the district.

Speaking on the occasion, Chief Guest for the occasion, Shaju Peter, a past president of the club and past district governor of district 3080, informed that this would be the last year of presidential teams throughout the Rotary International worldwide network. Though there will be a team to assist the club president but he will have no role to play whatsoever in choosing his team, which will in future be chosen by a nominated committee.

Modern Day Nalanda University: Will It Rekindle India’s Golden Era As ‘Vishva Guru’!

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A truly international university of knowledge and learning, supported by member states of East Asia Summit, and with collaborative research linkages with reputed global universities & institutions

For some 700 years, between the 5th and 12th centuries, it remained a premium centre for imparting scholarly knowledge and learning to the ancient world, attracting students and renowned teachers from across Eastern and Central Asia, including the famous pilgrim-monk Hsuan Tsang from China in the 7th century.

Widely believed to be the world’s first residential university, Nalanda, in the erstwhile kingdom of Magadha (modern day Bihar), had a sprawling campus scattered over several villages.

Though devoted to Buddhist studies, it also trained students in a variety of scholarly pursuit, including theology (study of religion and religious beliefs), philosophy, logic, literature, linguistics, fine arts, science, astronomy, mathematics, economics, architecture, medicine, politics, the art of war, etc. The world’s first encyclopaedias in these subjects were said to have been created here.

At its peak, the residential university, known to stock some 9 million hand-written palm-leaf manuscripts in its imposing nine-storey library, attracted over 10,000 students and 2,000 scholarly faculty from across Eastern and Central Asia.

It was largely on the strength of such centres of knowledge and learning that ‘Bharatvarsha’, as India was known in ancient times, could stamp its authority as the ‘Vishva Guru’ or the global teacher.

It existed from 427 CE till about 1197, when the university, already in decline on account of various reasons, primary among them being lack of patronage by successive royalties, was completely gutted by a marauding Turkish invader called Bakhtiyar Khilji.

Close to its archaeological remains, declared USESCO World Heritage Site, has come up a resurrected modern day Nalanda University with the support and voluntary contributions of nearly a score of countries from the Indo-Pacific, and beyond, including host state India, Japan, South Korea, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, United States, etc, who as members states of the East Asia Summit signed an inter-governmental agreement in support of the establishment of the university .

The sprawling 455 acres net-zero new campus (among the world’s first campuses to acquire this status), bounded by 8.3 kms wall, with 100 acres of water bodies, was formally inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently in the presence of ambassadors of these countries to India and the international students and faculty.

While upholding the philosophy, principles and some of the design elements of the ancient university, and reviving and revitalising the scholarship in academic disciplines, the new age international university also seeks to achieve global excellence in education and research in modern day disciplines.

Various schools & programmes

The university, which enrolled its first batch of students in 2014 from a temporary campus, is currently offering programmes in the School of Historical Studies, the School of Ecology and Environment Studies, the School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religions, the School of Languages and Literature/Humanities, and the School of Management Studies.

The programmes offered include Global PhD programme, MA in Historical Studies, MSc in Ecology and Environment Studies, MA in Buddhist Studies, Philosophy and Comparative Religions, MA in Hindu Studies, MA in World Literature, MA in International Relations and Peace Studies, MA in Archaeology and MBA in Sustainable Development and Management (MBA).

The university is also offering various short-term diploma and certificate programmes in Pali, Sanskrit, English, Korean, Yoga, Jain Studies, Greek Language and Heritage, and Persian Language and Heritage, etc.

Revival to start golden era for India: PM

Speaking at the inauguration, Prime Minister Modi while emphasising that Nalanda is a symbol of Indian’s academic heritage and vibrant cultural exchange, expressed confidence that its revival is going to start another golden age for India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the gathering at the inauguration of the new campus of Nalanda University

Noting that Nalanda is not just a renaissance of India’s heritage, but the heritage of many other countries of the world, and Asia is linked to it, he reiterated his mission to once again make India the most prominent centre of education and knowledge for the world.

All programmes at the university emphasise collaborative research with students and faculty from affiliated universities and institutions, study abroad experience, and foreign language training. Students are expected to pursue interdisciplinary research, choose courses relevant to their research interests in other disciplines/Schools to enhance their research skills.

Collaborative research linkages

The international university, with a growing population of select students from across the world, especially Nalanda’s partner countries, and a first-rate faculty known for its scholarship,  has also signed memoranda of understanding for collaborative research with other international universities like University of Ostrava (Czech Republic); University of Jambi (Indonesia); Dongguk University (South Korea); Otani University, Kyoto (Japan); Lumbini University (Nepal), Bronx Community College, City University of New York (USA); Kanazawa University (Japan); Universitas Sebelas Maret (Indonesia); and Deakin University (Australia).

It has also established formal linkages for research activities with Indian and foreign institutions, including Indian Council of Cultural Research; Bay of Bengal Programme-Inter Governmental Organization (India), Indian Council of World Affairs; Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar; Bihar Heritage Development Society (India); CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre (India); CSIR-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (India); and The Academy of Korean Studies (South Korea).

Nodal institution for AINU network

Besides, Nalanda University has also been designated as the nodal institution in the ASEAN-India Network of Universities (AINU), envisioned as the knowledge ecosystem forged through the linkages among the premier institutions and universities in India and ASEAN countries. The establishment of AINU was announced in January 2018 by Prime Minister Modi at the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in New Delhi, and it was launched in August 2022 at the ASEAN Headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The network offers opportunities for knowledge sharing, including exchange of skills, competence, best practices and knowhow. The collaboration is expected to ensure capacity building and creation of regional thought leaders from the Asia-Pacific in the emerging multi-polar world through joint projects in faculty exchanges, doctoral student exchange and joint PhD research supervision or joint research.

The major fields AINU is expected to explore are Engineering, Science and Technology, Policy and Law-making, Trade and Investments, Peace and Security, Sustainable Development, Humanities, Religion, Cultural Intersections and Blue Economy.

Common Archival Resource Centre

Nalanda University houses a Common Archival Resource Centre, envisaged in the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) summit in 2015, which is a digital archive aimed at preserving and sharing Asia-related information and resources that highlight its history, material culture, trade networks, heritage, religious ideas and practices, oral and performative traditions, civilization, and Asian networks of interaction.

The new campus of Nalanda University, built at a cost of Rs 1700 crore, has two academic blocks with 40 classrooms. The campus accommodates seating for 1900 students. The university also features two auditoriums. Additionally, an International Centre and an amphitheatre have been constructed, with a capacity to seat 2000 people. Furthermore, there are faculty clubs and a sports complex for the students.

The University Library

The Central Library’s six-storeyed Stupa shaped building, with a built-up area of 17,545 square meters, provides state-of-the-art facilities, houses contemplative spaces for studying, presentation and seminar rooms with access to video conferencing and podcasting facilities, art galleries, archival section and music room, cafés, student and faculty lounges, etc. Having an outer radius of 81 meters at base and the crowning height of 26 meters, the central library structure is probably the biggest stupa-shaped building in the world.

Open-air roundel theatres

The several open-air roundel theatres are used as pleasant spaces for lectures, discussions, enacting or demonstration. These environment-friendly open-to-sky spaces are purposeful, and often desirable for breaking the monotony and formalism of the regular classrooms and conducting engaging class-talks.

Net-zero features

The campus combines state-of-the-art technologies with planning principles of the ancient Nalanda to create a carbon-neutral and zero-waste campus. Some of the most important and indigenous aspects and palette of concepts for passive methods operating at different scales are 6.5 MW Solar PV captive power plant, 1.2 MW Biogas plant, Desiccant Evaporative (DEVAP) technology for cooling/heating of the buildings and Solar integrated thermal storage technology for HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system.

Apart from this, the new campus features the use of Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks (CSEB) instead of kiln burnt clay bricks, thick cavity walls to increase thermal resistance, Decentralized Water Treatment (DeWAT) systems, cooling and cleaning of the air through use of selected native plants, climate appropriate landscape design to reduce potable water demand, and application of Building Management System, etc.

40 hectares of Waterbodies

The 455-acre eco-friendly, green, carbon neutral, sustainable campus, providing modern and state-of-the-art amenities and comforts, is commensurate with its international stature. The master plan and structural architecture follow the pathways of sustainability and emphasize upon environmental sensitivity at all levels. Net-zero energy, net-zero emission, net-zero water and net-zero waste have been achieved and sustained.

Separately, with a view to conserving the topsoil for horticulture, several ponds have been excavated on the campus to create 100 acres of water bodies, which were filled with rainwater through an indigenous water management system of ‘ahar-pyne’ network.

Location: The new campus at Rajgir, in Nalanda district, is about 90 kilometres from Bihar’s state capital Patna and approximately 12 kilometres south of Bihar Sharif.

Nalanda University Chancellor: Prof. Arvind Panagariya, well known professor of economics, Chairman of the 16th Finance Commission, first Vice Chairman of Niti Aayog

https://nalandauniv.edu.in/

https://nalandauniv.edu.in/admissions/

Archaeological remains of the ancient Nalanda, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Farmers’ Agitation: All Attention On PM’s Kisan Sammelan In Varanasi On June 18

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Let the Govt return to the table with clean hands and open mind, and the farmers reciprocate in the same spirit

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government has literally been on a collision course with the agitating farmers in several parts of the country, especially the more belligerent among them from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, demanding among other things legal guarantees for government procurement of crops at minimum support price (MSP).

Now, with a reduced mandate, for which the angry rural communities have apparently been partly responsible with their anger being encashed by the Opposition, what stand the new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government under his leadership takes would be closely watched.

Therefore, all attention is focussed on the Prime Minister’s address at the much-hyped ‘kisan sammelan’ in Varanasi on June 18, his first big public rally after being elected for a third consecutive term as member of Parliament from the constituency and getting a record- equalling third consecutive term as Prime Minister after Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1962.

How massively the sammelan has been planned in dual mode can be judged from the fact that nearly two crore farmers from across states are expected to join physically and virtually, Invitations had also been extended to chief ministers of all states.

According to newly appointed Union Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Minister and former four-time Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, several Union ministers have been tasked to interact with cultivators and officials simultaneously by visiting 50 chosen Krishi Vigyan Kendras across the country. Nearly 100,000 primary agricultural cooperatives have been approached to join the event virtually.

Early indicators have been emanating from the newly formed NDA government about its keenness to tackle the farmers’ agitation on priority considering that its continuation could seriously dent the NDA’s prospects in the upcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand.

The agitation has serious implications for the economy too. It has the potential to severely retard the government’s push for accelerated growth to achieve the targets of India emerging as the third largest economy in the next couple of years and ‘Viksit Bharat’ by 2047.

According to reports, the first file signed by Modi after being sworn-in on June 9 was for approving the 17th tranche of Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM KISAN), under which Rs 2,000 cash grant is being given to more than nine crore farmers every four months.

Secondly, in Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Modi has picked one of the most experienced BJP leaders to entrust the farm and farmers’ welfare portfolio.

On June 18, Modi will formally set the ball rolling for the transfer of Rs 20,000 crore directly to the bank accounts of 9.3 crore farmers under the PM KISAN scheme.

Krishi Sakhis

He will also induct 30,000 trained women ‘Krishi Sakis’ or farm counsellors belonging to self-help groups from 12 states by handing over certificates to them. These women have been trained in farm practices by the Rural Development Ministry under a memorandum of understanding inked with the Agriculture Ministry. These ‘Krishi Sakhis’ can expect to earn an additional income of Rs 60,000- Rs 80,000 a year. This scheme is another dimension of the ‘Lakhpati Didi’ scheme for rural women entrepreneurs.

The scheme has initially been started in 12 states – Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Odisha, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya.

100-day agenda

The ministry is also expected to formally release its 100-day agenda soon which is expected to make boosting output of pulses and edible oils, two items India still relies on imports to meet domestic demand, central to its future strategy to boost diversification of crops and increase farmers’ incomes.

However, given the mistrust, the negotiations between the representatives of umbrella bodies of the agitating farmers and farm labourers and the government, as and when these happen, will not be easy and cannot be expected to be wrapped up in a hurry.

The most ticklish issue of course is the farmers’ demand for legal guarantees for government to procure crops at MSP, which the government has clearly shown its unwillingness to fulfil despite having promised to do so, apart from repealing the three controversial farm laws, as part of a deal to lift the farmers’ nearly two-year siege of the National capital in 2020-21.

Farmers see in this unwillingness the Modi government’s hidden agenda of boosting the corporate sector’s involvement in agriculture, which they fear will, in the long run, destroy the livelihoods of small and marginal farmers and farm labourers.

Economists are also not exactly in favour of the government granting legal safeguards for procuring crops at MSP, as recommended by the MS Swaminathan commission, arguing that it does not make any economic sense and will not help the farm sector and the farmers grow. They contend that Swaminathan was a great farm scientist but not an economist to understand the intricacies of the impact that the implementation of his recommendations will have on the economy as a whole and the farmers in particular in the long run.

Alternative mechanism to MSP

A proposed alternative mechanism, Deficiency Price Payments (DPP), under which there is no physical procurement of crops at MSP by the government, but it intervenes to compensate the farmers for the difference between the MSPs for select crops and their market price if it rules at lower levels, is also not finding favour with the agitating farmers, especially in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.

Whether under popular pressure, or suspected partisan considerations, they are not prone to reasoning and hell bent on the easy option of procurement of crops by the government at MSP.

In latest negotiations held during the farmers’ agitation 2.0 launched ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the government team, headed by then Union Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda, expressed its willingness to offer MSP for five years on pulses, maize and cotton to farmers who shift from the wheat-paddy cycle to cultivating these three crops as part of the government’s push for much needed diversification of crops. The offer was summarily rejected by the umbrella body of the agitating farmers.

The farmers’ agitation 2.0 had triggered pitched battles between the farmers, determined to march to the National capital on tractors, tractor trolleys etc, and an equally determined Haryana Police, which used all lethal means at its disposal at several places to stop them from crossing the Punjab-Haryana border for onward passage to their destination.

The police were using disproportionate force apparently having been given a free hand by the then Manohar Lal led BJP government, which itself was clearly acting at the behest of the BJP government at the Centre.

In retaliation, the angry farmers, frustrated the BJP candidates and leaders in their attempts to campaign for the Lok Sabha elections in the rural areas in many parts of the country, especially Punjab and Haryana, by chasing them away despite heavy security provided to them.

Open-minded approach to talks

For negotiations to be meaningful and conclusive, the government needs to invite the farmers back to the table with clean hands and an open mind, and the farmers to respond in the same spirit.

Eventually, under the given circumstances, a common ground can be reached only through mutual accommodation, dovetailing the farmers’ interests (by satisfactorily addressing their concerns) into the country’s short and long-term interests.

Agriculture and allied sector is poised to grow and diversify at a much faster rate worldwide to meet the ever-growing requirement for safe and affordable food products of a rapidly growing population, including the demand for a wide variety of high value products driven largely by the young population.

Also, agriculture and allied has been identified as a key sector, along with manufacturing, services and others, to drive the country on a high growth path in line with its targets of becoming the third largest economy in the short-term and a developed nation by 2047.

Didn’t we transition from bullock-driven ploughs to tractors, combines, tillers, seeders and other modern farm implements! Now we need to look beyond the no-longer-sustainable wheat-paddy cycle towards newer horizons, keeping pace with the food demands of modern times and in the process improving the prospects for better farm incomes.

After all, change is the only constant, the earlier we accept it, the better!

LS 2024 Result Analysis: Modi 3.0 For The World, But Within, NDA Govt Could Usher Change

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Prime Minister bows before the gathering at the swearing-in of his ministry 3.0 at Rashtrapati Bhawan on June 9, 2024
  • Short of being defeated, Modi-led saffron party left severely bruised by the people’s verdict
  • Having reposed its confidence in him for a decade, increasingly impatient Nation puts Modi on final notice
  • Successes yes, but failures on some critical fronts, especially on employment generation, stings the ruling party
  • Arrogance, scorn for the Oppn, and dictatorial attitude rejected by the electorate
  • So has been targeted actions by investigating agencies against Oppn leaders to suit the ruling party’s political interests
  • Splitting parties to topple Oppn govts in states, and ‘washing machine’ actions have proved counter productive
  • Still No. 1 party: BJP is still by far the single largest party with number of seats nearly two-and-a-half times its nearest rival Congress, and greater than the entire INDIA alliance put together
  • Stability: With its NDA partners it still commands a clear majority and is geared to provide a strong and stable government
  • Results do not show any uniform trend across the country
  • BJP has suffered its biggest reverses from its LS 2019 tally, and overambitious LS 2024 targets, in the three largest states by way of seats – Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal
  • At the same time, it has again swept Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Union Territory of Delhi, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, adding Odisha to its near clean sweep
  • It also staged a near coup in the Odisha assembly elections, wresting the state after 24 long years of Naveen Patnaik’s BJD rule
  • It handsomely won, single-handedly or along with other NDA partners – all the three other states – Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim – which went into assembly elections simultaneously in various phases of the LS elections
  • The election results shut the mouths of the Opposition, which cried itself hoarse with persistent allegations of manipulation of EVMs

The results of the bitterly fought and highly vitiated Lok Sabha elections 2024 would mighty please all those who sincerely wanted to support the Modi government, perceiving it to be strong and steering the country generally in the right direction, but were increasingly getting impatient with its dictatorial ways and failures, especially on the employment generation front.

Particularly disconcerting was the arrogance and scorn with which the saffron party, and its government, was treating the Opposition and trying to destroy it, by misusing its brute muscle power to achieve its political goals.

So, here’s the largest and most powerful political party in the country, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), weakened, with a tally short of a simple majority mark of 272 by itself (it has been reduced to 240 from 303 in 2019), and having to depend for the first time ever on its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners to form a government.

While still being branded as Modi 3.0 for the world, to convey the message of continuity and stability, nevertheless the government’s critical dependence on its allies for its very survival would likely compel it to uphold the coalition ‘dharma’ of consultation and consensus.

A stronger combined Opposition in the Lok Sabha (INDIA Alliance, as it stands today, has a strength of 234 in the 543-member House, as against ruling NDA’s comfortable majority of 293) will also make it difficult for the government to push through legislations without proper debate, as had been happening in the past.

Political discourse vitiated

The political discourse during the elections, which stooped to levels that shamed the Nation, with personal attacks, distortion of facts and statements, fake news flooding the social media, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi being himself guilty of not holding back below-the-belt punches, has left such bitterness in its wake that it is sure to show its ugly face in the coming weeks and months.

The resurgent Opposition can be expected not to lose any opportunity to attack the government on every issue with the aim of keeping its momentum going. The prospects of more acrimony and more disruptions in Parliament remain high.

The diminished numbers of the ruling alliance in the Lok Sabha will probably also pose a serious challenge to the Modi government in its bid for nationwide roll out of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and push through some of the remaining controversial legislations on its agenda.

Its speculated intent to reintroduce the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) bill, governing the appointment of Chief Justice of India and other Judges of the Supreme Court (SC), and Chief Justice and other Judges of High Courts (HCs), could also run into rough weather.

Onus on government for conciliation

Under the given circumstances, the onus will lie on the government to start on a conciliatory note, put on hold any controversial decisions or legislations for the time being, open the doors for consultation with the Opposition parties on crucial issues, and allow fair time for discussion and debate in Parliament.

The changed circumstances could also create an atmosphere congenial for various autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies and agencies to reassert their independent functioning. These prestigious institutions had run into serious controversies of late for allegedly succumbing to government pressures and pushing its partisan agendas, seriously jeopardising their role as independent and impartial watchdogs.

Hopefully, the judiciary will start playing a more proactive role than it has been doing in speedily upholding the rule of law and the constitution in letter and spirit. The alleged ‘godi’ or ‘Modi’ media might also be compelled by the winds of change to adopt a more balanced approach towards the government/ruling alliance and the Opposition in the larger National interests.

Opposition assertion hard to digest

Redeeming himself: Rahul Gandhi

At the same time, taking a critical and holistic view of the elections, it would be difficult to agree with the Opposition assertions that with the reverses suffered by the BJP from its 2019 performance, and its overambitious targets set for the 2024 elections, the saffron party and Prime Minister Modi have lost the mandate of the people and the moral right to govern.

This narrative quite evidently is aimed at fuelling doubts in the minds of the people regarding the stability of the Modi led NDA coalition government and keeping its hopes alive for a likely opportunity in the not-so-distant future.

With 240 seats, BJP continues to remain the largest political party by far, eclipsing its nearest rival the Indian National Congress (INC), which is yet to reach the century mark (though it has nearly doubled its tally to 99 from 52 in 2019, when it failed to even secure 10% of the total Lok Sabha seats required to claim the post of Leader of the Opposition).

The saffron party’s tally is also greater than the combined strength of the entire INDIA alliance (240 against 234). Its national vote share, despite falling marginally from 37.3 percent in 2019 to 36.6 percent in 2024, is also nearly double that of the Congress’ 21.20 percent.

No comparison with wave elections in 2014, 2019

Overall, the 2024 outcome for the BJP is not all that bad, as projected by the INDIA alliance, considering that while in both the previous elections – 2014 and 2019 – there was a distinct Modi wave (2014 for change, and 2019 on account of the Balakot air strike on a terror camp inside Pakistan in retaliation to an audacious terror attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama area of Jammu & Kashmir), there was none in the latest elections.

The party has made up for its reverses by breaking new ground, and along with its NDA allies handsomely winning assembly elections in all four states which went to polls simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections.

Coup of sorts in Odisha

The saffron party staged a coup of sorts in Odisha, where it swept the Lok Sabha elections, winning 20 of the 21 seats, and bringing an end to the 24-year-old rule of the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government with a thumping victory in the state assembly elections.

The centre of focus in NDA 3.0: Chandrababu Naidu

With Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by Chandrababu Naidu back in the NDA fold, together with Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party, the three alliance partners swept the Lok Sabha polls in Andhra Pradesh, winning 21 of the 25 seats from the state, and registering a landslide win in the state assembly elections to dislodge YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP from power.

BJP’s another NDA partner Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) won the lone Lok Sabha seat in Sikkim and scripted a landslide victory in the state assembly polls to consolidate its hold in the state.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP won both Lok Sabha seats and retained power with an overwhelming victory in the state assembly elections.

The ruling BJP also held sway in Assam, winning 9 of the 14 seats, with the Congress settling for 3.

Overall, in the eight North eastern states of Assam, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram, most of which have one or two seats because of sparse population, BJP won 13. The Congress tally of seven included both the seats in strife-torn Manipur, one each wrested from the BJP and its ally.

Keep me out of this! ‘Ram Lalla’s’ divine message!

Played his cards well: Akhilesh Yadav (right)

While BJP was able to maintain its hegemony in states like Madhya Pradesh (29 out of 29), Gujarat (25 out of 26), Himachal Pradesh (4 out of 4), Uttarakhand (5 out of 5) and the Union territory of Delhi (7 out of 7) during the Lok Sabha elections 2024, its biggest setback came from the state it had taken for granted for being the highest grosser to its national tally, Uttar Pradesh.

It’s tally in the state, which has the highest number of seats (80) in the country, nearly halved from a high of 62 seats in 2019 to 37, with a drastic fall in its vote share as well, from 49.6% to 41.4%.

Here Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), which spearheaded the INDIA alliance with its partner INC, outsmarted the ruling BJP-led alliance in social engineering by galvanising the non-Yadav OBCs, Dalits and minorities behind the alliance with its narrative that in aiming for 400-par for NDA, the BJP had a hidden agenda of subverting the Constitution and withdrawing the reservations for Dalits and OBCs.

In its overconfidence, following the perceived groundswell of popular support for the party over the ‘pran pratishtha’ of ‘Ram Lalla’ at the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the BJP and its allies failed to counter this narrative and paid such a heavy price that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi should consider himself lucky to have managed a third term from Varanasi, by a margin less than one-third of the 4.79 lakh victory margin in 2019.

In contrast, his arch-rival and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi won handsomely by 3.90 lakh votes from Rae Bareli, a seat vacated by his mother and Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi. The contrast in their victory margins was made even more stark by the fact that Rahul Gandhi decided to contest from a second seat, after Wayanad in Kerala, at the nick of time on the last day of filing nomination papers.

The shocking results for the party in the state also sunk the giant killer of the 2019 elections, Union minister Smriti Irani, who had then defeated Rahul Gandhi in the earlier Congress bastion of Amethi by 55,000 votes. Seeking re-election to the seat, Smriti in her arrogance kept challenging Rahul Gandhi to a rematch but was tamed by a first-time contestant and Gandhi family loyalist Kishori Lal Sharma, losing by 1.5 lakh votes.

In a near horror finish, the BJP could not defend the Ayodhya turf as well. It lost the Faizabad seat, which encompasses Ayodhya, to the Samajwadi Party by a margin of nearly 55,000 votes.

The INDIA alliance was also by far the largest beneficiary of the slide in vote share of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) from 19.2% in 2019, when it was in alliance with the SP and won 10 seats, to 9.39 % in 2024 when it contested alone all 80 seats in the state but could not win a single.

Bad politics in Maha

The real men in Maharashtra: Sharad Pawar (left) and Uddhav Thackeray

Maharashtra, another big state with 48 seats, proved to be BJP’s undoing due to its bad politics. The unpopular way in which the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance government of Shiv Sena, National Congress Party (NCP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) was dethroned by engineering break-ups in the two regional parties and having their election symbols snatched from them, apparently created a sympathy wave in favour of the alliance. As a result, MVA got the better of the ruling Mahayuti alliance of Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena, Ajit Pawar’s NCP and the BJP by 30 seats to 17.

Citadel unscathed despite unrelenting attacks: Mamata Banerjee (left)

Among other setbacks to the BJP’s targets was West Bengal, the state with the third highest number of seats (42), where it was expected to make major inroads into the Mamata Banerjee citadel, but lost ground instead. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo weathered the Sandeshkhali storm and the numerous corruption charges against her government to improve the party’s Lok Sabha tally from 22 seats in 2019 to 29 seats, with the BJP reduced to 12 seats, down by six seats from 2019, and INC squeezing in one seat.

Apart from Uttar Pradesh, the BJP suffered reverses in other Hindi heartland states like Bihar, Rajasthan and Haryana as well.

Man of all seasons: Nitish Kumar (left)

In Bihar, the resurrected NDA alliance comprising the BJP, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Bilas) and others, though it triumphed the INDIA Alliance 30 to 9 seats, fell short of its tally of 39 out of the 40 seats in 2019. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejaswi Yadav failed to weave the same magic for the INDIA alliance in the state as Akhilesh Yadav did in adjoining Uttar Pradesh even though the alliance had much higher hopes from Bihar.

Things also did not work out well for the BJP in Rajasthan, where it lost 11 seats from its 2014 and 2019 landslide of 25 out of 25 seats despite wresting the state from the Congress in the assembly elections just seven months ago.

In Haryana, the resurgent Congress led by former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda sliced off half of the 10 on 10 BJP tally in 2019, compelling the BJP government, with a new chief minister, to scramble in view of the assembly elections around the corner in October.

Warning bells for Cong in Karnataka

The saffron party received eight seats less than its 2019 tally of 25 out of 28 in Karnataka, when it was in power in the state. But the 19 seats the BJP-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance won this time, despite the Congress having stormed back to power in the state with a massive mandate in the May 2023 assembly elections, has sent shock waves in the grand old party. The stark message is that its various welfare schemes have not resonated well with the electorate.

Among other southern states, the BJP doubled its tally in Telangana, matching the ruling Congress’ performance with eight seats.

In adjoining Andhra Pradesh, the re-stitched NDA alliance led by Chandrababu Nadu’s TDP swept the polls, winning 21 of the 25 seats, decimating the ruling YSRCP led by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy (4 seats) and the INDIA alliance, which drew a blank. Among the NDA partners, TDP won 16 seats, BJP three (it drew a blank in the 2019 polls) and Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party won two seats.

In the backdrop of former chief minister and ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s (JMM’s) executive president Hemant Soren’s arrest in a corruption case, the BJP suffered a backlash from the tribal communities and lost all five Lok Sabha seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in Jharkhand.

Having won 12 out of 14 seats in the state in 2014 and 2019, the BJP and its alliance partner All Jharkhand Students Union Party (AJSUP) bagged three fewer seats this time (BJP 8, AJSUP 1) with the JMM-INC alliance gaining as many, to take their tally to five (JMM 3, INC 2). The state goes into assembly elections in six months.

This is in sharp contrast to BJP’s performance in another tribal dominated state Chhattisgarh, where it won 10 out of the 11 seats months after it won the assembly elections and made a tribal the chief minister.

A foothold in Kerala

The BJP created history by opening its account in Kerala. Its celebrity candidate, veteran actor Suresh Gopi, avoiding a hardline Hindutva agenda and pursuing a liberal campaign, made a giant kill in central Kerala constituency of Thrissur, defeating his nearest opponent from Communist Party of India (CPI) by nearly 75,00 votes. Congress stalwart K Muraleedharan was relegated to the third spot on his home turf.

The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) swept the polls, winning 18 of the 20 seats.

However, despite a strong push, the saffron party with its alliance partner S Ramadoss’ PMK failed to open its account in Tamil Nadu. The ruling DMK along with other INDIA alliance constituents, including the Congress, made a clean sweep of all 39 seats in the state and the lone seat in the Union territory of Puducherry.

Warring Omar, Mehbooba suffer personal defeats

The first Lok Sabha elections, held after the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state of Jammu & Kashmir into two independent Union territories, saw two big guns, both former chief ministers, fall silent.

Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JK-NC) Vice President Omar Abdullah lost to independent candidate and former MLA Sheikh Abdul Rashid, also called Engineer Rashid, in Baramullah. Rashid is currently incarcerated in Tihar jail in a terrorism funding case.

Jammu & Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (JK-PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti fell to JK-NC candidate Mian Altaf Ahmed in Anantnag-Rajouri.

The third seat in the Kashmir region, Srinagar, was also bagged by JK-NC.

BJP did not put up any candidate in the region. It won both the seats in the Jammu region – Jammu and Udhampur.

The INDIA alliance, which also included the Congress, fell apart in the state after Farooq Abdullah’s JK-NC and Mehbooba’s JK-PDP failed to agree on a seat-sharing deal, resulting in the two regional parties putting up candidates against each other in all three seats in the Kashmir region.

Both parties supported the Congress in the two seats in Jammu region, but the grand old party could not open its account.

Agitating Ladakh choses independent

The incumbent BJP suffered an expected defeat in the lone seat in the Union territory of Ladakh, becoming a casualty of the protracted agitation in favour of the demand for Sixth Schedule rights for Ladakh to protect its fragile ecosystem and restoration of its statehood.

The main contest in the largest Lok Sabah constituency in the country, with a spread of 1,73,266 sq kms but with just 1.82 laakh voters, was expected to be between the BJP and the Congress, but eventually an independent candidate and a ‘haji’ from Muslim-dominated Kargil area, Mohammad Hanifa Jaan emerged victorious, defeating his immediate Congress rival with a comfortable margin. Haji is associated with the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) which joined the agitation spearheaded by environmental activist and Ramon Magsasay award winner Sonam Wangchuk.

AAP among biggest losers

Among the biggest losers in the elections has been the embattled Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Though it increased its strength in the Lok Sabha from one in 2019 to three this time, its dream for a clean sweep in the two states it governs – in alliance with its INDIA partner in Delhi (4-3 seat sharing formula in favour of AAP) and singularly in Punjab – stands shattered.

While its top leadership, including party supremo & Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and former deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, being in jail in a money laundering case associated with the Delhi liquor policy may have been one of the major factors for the ‘jharu’ party’s disappointing performance in Delhi, the incident of alleged beating up of party’s Rajya Sabha MP Swati Maliwal at the Chief Minister’s official residence by his trusted associate while the chief minister was on bail for electioneering also slurred the party’s image.

Similarly in Punjab, from where it won its three seats, the party’s confidence of grabbing all 13 seats was shattered by the Congress’ unexpectedly impressive showing with seven seats. The two seats won by Sikh hardliners, including a jailed ‘Khalistani’ activist, should also serve as a warning signal for the Bhagwant Singh Mann led AAP government which needs to urgently take strong and decisive steps to address the simmering extremism in the border state.

Earlier in a byelection, necessitated by the resignation of Bhagwant Mann as Member of Parliament from Sangrur following the AAP’s landslide victory in the 2022 assembly elections in the state and his ascendancy as chief minister, another Sikh hardliner Simranjeet Singh Mann of the Akali Dal (A) had surprisingly been elected MP from the seat. AAP wrested back the seat this time.

Giving credit where it’s due

Jumbo council of ministers: Modi 3.0 after the swearing-in ceremony

The BJP’s compulsion of forming a coalition government for the first time with the help of its NDA partners, following the electoral reverses suffered by it, can be compared to market corrections in stocks.

Narendra Damodardas Modi cannot be denied credit for emulating India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru’s feat in 1962 of being sworn-in as head of government for a third consecutive full five-year term.

Given that the BJP still is the goliath that dwarfs its allies, the transition from a single party government to an alliance government has been rather smooth, with none of the hectic and arm-twisting prolonged bargaining that goes with coalition government formation.

Two berths each for the two largest partners – Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP with 16 LS seats and Nitish Kumar’s JDU with 12 LS seats – and 11 berths in all for all allies in Modi’s 72-strong jumbo council of ministers appears to have satisfied all sides, at least for the time being.

The allocation of portfolios has also not kicked up any controversies within the NDA even through Prime Minister has retained the core ministries like Defence, Home, Road Transport & Highways, Health, Agriculture, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Commerce & Industry, Petroleum & Natural Gas, Education, Railways, etc. with the largest ruling party.

To signal continuity, he has allocated these portfolios to the same ministers as in Modi 2.0, barring Agriculture, which goes to former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, and Health, to which outgoing party president JP Nadda returns after his Modi 1.0 innings at the helm of the ministry.

Some of the immediate tasks ahead

  • Shedding the path of confrontation, and adopting one of consultation and consensus
  • Doubling down on efforts to find an amicable solution to the burning more-than-yearlong Meitei-Kuki ethnic strife in the Northeastern state of Manipur, which has claimed scores of lives and resulted in displacement of hundreds. Despite its complete failure the BJP-led N Biren Singh government continues in office, and PM Modi’s absolute silence on the issue is worrying.  Had it not been a BJP-led government, it would probably have been dismissed by now. This has raised serious questions over the government’s political will to quell the violence.
  • Negotiating an early and lasting solution to the belligerent farmers’ agitation by restoring mutual trust and returning to the table with clean hands and an open mind; finding a balance between the farmers’ and the country’s long-term interests
  • Chalking out a clear roadmap for targeted skilling and re-skilling of the workforce on a massive scale keeping emerging trends in mind, and taking focussed and determined steps to ensure accelerated employment generation
  • Removing the flaws in the ‘agniveer’ scheme of recruitment to the armed forces in the wake of its nationwide opposition in its current form. The process is already under way and bearing finalisation.
  • Not appeasing or alienating entire communities, but building trust through persistent and constructive engagement with them
  • Greater focus on education, health and environmental protection; massively scaling up the nationwide monitoring and regulatory apparatus for guaranteeing pollution-free air and water, and adulteration-free food and drugs
  • Continue to strengthen the government’s efforts and initiatives in the civil and defence fields to achieve the goal of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’
  • Keep exploring opportunities for improving ties with neighbouring countries, especially India’s hostile relations with Pakistan, China and Maldives with new approaches

 

Kangana Embroiled In Another Controversy; Claims Woman CISF Official Hit Her At Chandigarh Airport

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Video grab from Kangana Ranaut's X account
The woman CISF official was reportedly angry over Kangana’s past disparaging remarks against women participants in the longstanding farmers’ agitation

Actor-turned-politician Kangna Ranaut’s keeps getting dragged into controversies because of her social media outbursts on a diverse range of issues and developments, especially her strong personal seemingly nationalistic views.

She got embroiled in another controversy on Thursday when she alleged that a woman constable of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) apparently from Punjab, deployed at the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Chandigarh International Airport, hit her on the face and verbally abused her apparently without any immediate provocation.

Kangana, who recently won the Lok Sabha elections from Mandi constituency in Himachal Pradesh on the BJP ticket, is reported to have arrived at the airport to board a flight for Delhi to attend a party meeting.

In a video shared on her X account, Kangra claimed that the incident reportedly happened when she was coming out of a cabin after a routine security check. She alleged that a woman CISF official from an adjoining cabin moved close to her, hit her on the face and started hurling verbal abuses at her.

She claimed that when she asked the woman CISF official why she did that, the official asserted that she supports the farmers’ protests.

“I am safe, but my concern is that the terrorism and extremism which is breeding in Punjab, how to tackle that,” she remarked.

The woman CISF official, later identified as Kulwinder Kaur, was reportedly angry over Kangana’s past disparaging remarks against women participants in the longstanding farmers’ agitation shared on her X account along with a picture of some women protestors which she later deleted.

The official has reportedly been placed under suspension with immediate effect and a departmental inquiry initiated into Kangana,s claims.

On reaching Delhi, Kangana is reported to have lodged a complaint with CISF director general Nina Singh.

This is a developing story, and the facts of the matter will become clearer after further investigation by the CISF authorities.

Question-Mark Over Functioning Of EVMs: First Hand Account By Polling Agent Of Opposition Candidate

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Greater awareness of digital footprint of vote polled on VVPAT unit raised voter confidence

Manipulation of electronic voting machines (EVMs) to alter the outcome of elections at various levels has been an oft repeated charge by the Opposition parties whenever they lose the battle to win the people’s mandate, and its echo is only getting louder.

So, when an opportunity came to volunteer as a polling agent of Manish Tewari, the joint Congress, AAP and INDIA alliance candidate for the Chandigarh Lok Sabha seat, for one of the polling booths in the southern sectors, I grabbed it with both hands.

Having already had a taste of contesting the 2021 Municipal Corporation Chandigarh (MCC) general elections as a candidate of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which in its very first foray, quite unexpectedly emerged as the largest party in the 35 member House, I was keen to closely observe the proceedings inside of a polling booth and try to figure out how the EVM could be manipulated, at least at the booth level.

So, on D-day (June 1), after collecting my authorisation letter and voters’ lists etc. from the temporary local office of the Congress party, here I was reporting to the presiding officer for the specific polling booth exactly at 5 a.m., as instructed by the local election in-charge of the party.

The presiding officer was ready for duty but other polling officers were still getting ready (there were tell tale signs of the entire four-member polling party having slept the night on the floor in the polling booth itself with only fans to help them beat the oppressive heat wave sweeping the region and the mosquitoes). The presiding officer asked me to come back at 5:30 a.m., which I did. Eventually polling agents of only two candidates reported to the presiding officer (the other representing BJP candidate Sanjay Tandon).

We were both allowed to match the serial numbers of the three machines being used – the control unit, the twin voting machines with 20 voting options, including one for NOTA (none of the above), and the VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) unit.

Mock voting & paper trail

Following this the entire setup was completed and the mock voting exercise was undertaken with both of us polling agents taking turns to press the button against each of the 20 options to complete the mandatory 50 mock votes. We were witness to the paper trail of each of the mock vote polled dropping into the box compartment of the VVPAT unit.

All these paper slips were also shown to us for further confirmation. The mock polling was then officially closed from the control unit. Thereafter, the total number of mock votes polled (50) flashed on the display screen of the control unit, followed by the number of votes polled against each of the 20 options, including NOTA.

On satisfactory conclusion of the mock voting drill, the control unit and the VVPAT unit were duly sealed under our watchful eyes. The twin voting units were already sealed.

The setup was again readied for the actual voting, which began dot on time at 7 a.m.

I sat in the polling booth right through the entire polling process. My BJP counterpart, however, took a few hours break in-between by availing the services of a ‘relief agent’ only to return late afternoon to oversee closure of voting at 6 p.m.

Thereafter, the polling officers displayed on the control unit the number of total votes polled to match with our own count, which we confirmed. They also gave us a break-up of number of male and female voters before again sealing all the three machines in their respective boxes.

Total number of votes polled, out of 1069 votes assigned to the polling booth, were 670, making it 62.68% voting percentage. Female voters (357) outnumbered their male counterparts (313) by 44.

All nature of voters on sultry day

On an expectedly sultry day, with intermittent clouds and wind providing some respite, we got to meet and interact with all nature of people, men and women, young and old, some very old and frail needing constant assistance, and some very enthusiastic first time voters.

Despite braving the high 40s temperature, there were many optimists who joked and laughed with others to while away their time while waiting in long queues in the first half of the long polling hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. which saw bulk of the polling.

There were also not-so-optimistic people, some blaming the politicians for all the ills of the country and airing their intent to press the ‘NOTA’ button, the last of the 20 options on the twin EVMs, and others rubbishing the entire voting process through EVMs as “farcical”.

An odd angry young man was even heard saying that he will demand of the polling staff to give him a paper trail as proof of him having availed his voting option. There were no voices of support. But when he did vote, and apparently saw the digital trail of his vote on the VVPAT unit before the beep sounded, he left not so angry, though not exactly smiling.

Anger over slow pace of voting, reasons thereof

The voting process was taking its own time, with on an average one minute being spent on each voter, leaving the voters waiting in long queues, separately for ladies and gents, agitated.

After satisfying us two polling agents that a voter bearing a certain voter number had come to the right polling booth and has not already cast his or her vote (this took just a few seconds), each voter subsequently went through two poll officers sitting next to each other to verify antecedents before he or she was allowed to vote.

There were also delays in the process of verification due to various reasons. Voters, especially the elderly and the unfamiliar, were taking time to understand how and when to press their desired button on the EVMs and how to confirm that the vote had indeed been recorded. Watching this happening quite often, an initiative was taken to brief voters inside the booth and those waiting outside about what to expect and do on approaching the voting and VVPAT units. This helped hasten the process a bit.

There were scores of cases of voters being flagged in the voters’ list for not being found at their voter addresses during the process of verification of their residence status by election officials. These cases required intervention by the presiding officer of the polling booth, who cleared them for voting after taking a signed written undertaking from them along with their thumb impression.

A lot of voters were carrying mobiles, despite these being prohibited inside the polling centre/booth, and insisting on showing digital proof of identity, which the poll officers quite obviously declined to accept because of the prohibition on carrying mobiles.

Not carrying voter slips

There were also a few very casual voters, who did not carry their voter slips (mentioning their voter number) to the polling booth. We, as polling agents, were required to verify their voter numbers from the voters’ list with the help of their residential address, again a time consuming exercise.

One senior citizen, who was requested to go get the voter slips which he claimed to have forgotten in his car, started flaunting the high positions held by several of his family members to impress on us to trace their voter numbers from the voter lists. Half a dozen of his family members were voting at the polling booth. Not inclined to oblige the overbearing voter, we still did, considering the oppressive heat, but at the cost of precious time being wasted and holding up others in the queue.

Keeping bubbly little girls happy

Some of the bright and bubbly little girls, mostly accompanying their mothers, insisted on voting too. To make them happy, the obliging polling officers put an indelible ink mark on their finger too and allowed them to accompany their mothers to the twin EVMs to vote.

All in all, despite the heat and the sweat, it indeed was a worthwhile learning and engrossing experience interacting with all nature of people.

Suggested Key Learnings For Election Commission of India

  • Look after the polling staff much better by vastly improving their working and living conditions, which are currently pathetic, to say the least
  • Relook at basic amenities for the voters at polling centres especially in inhospitable weather conditions like the oppressive heat wave this time around
  • Need to further cut down on paperwork and  equip the polling officers with more digital tools to speed up the process of voting
  • Aggressively keep exploring the possibilities of shifting the entire electoral process online, with a view to making it a reality some day in the future