Terror : the US-Bengaluru connection

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Bengaluru became the target of “terror” within a fortnight of Centre’s alert to states asking them to be on “heightened vigil” against the backdrop of US President Barack Obama’s India visit next month. Top security officials do see a design in the selection of silicon city as the target of terrorists.

 The officials believe the southern metropolis could have been selected as the target as a “ripple” in Bengaluru would become prominent news in the United States.

Though investigators are yet to pinpoint the group that carried out the terror attack, they believe the choice of target is interesting as several American companies have operations in Bengaluru. Several US companies also outsource its work to firms in this southern metropolis.

US giants like Microsoft, Cisco and McKinsey have their offices in Bengaluru.

“So, if Bengaluru is the target, it could be to send a message to the United States. It is interesting that it is coming a month-ahead of the US President’s visit to India for the Republic Day celebrations,” a senior Home Ministry official said. Obama will be the Chief Guest of Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi on January 26.

Also, there were terror strikes in Bengaluru earlier also. Bomb explosions near BJP office on April 17, 2013, Chinnaswamy Stadium on April 17, 2010 and Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore on December 28, 2005 had attracted global attention.

While central security agencies remain silent on the perpetrator of the attack, sources said the fingers point at five suspected SIMI operatives who had escaped from a Madhya Pradesh jail last year. An initial analysis of the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that exploded in Bengaluru’s Church Street indicated that the bombmakers had assembled the explosive from al-Qaeda websites.

Evidences found at the blast site indicate SIMI hand, sources said adding it appeared that the bombmakers used the websites to manufacture the IED. The security establishment had also Bijnore, Pune and Chennai blasts that were similar to the Sunday’s blast near an eatery in Bangalore’s Church Road, sources said.

Agencies also have another reason to believe that the blast was a handiwork of SIMI men as the five absconders were spotted in Karnataka’s Hospet recently. “We could not catch them there. They had fled from there even before we could locate them there. Upon showing photos to locals, we found that they were there,” the official said. The five suspected SIMI men are “mobile” and it is making it difficult for the security agencies to catch them, he said.

“Once we catch these men, we can say we are somewhat safe as we have neutralised other major terror outfits like Indian Mujahideen. Another threat is Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). They are still active,” he said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 30, 2014)

Challenges before India in 2015

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Government may flash statistics to say ‘all is well’ on internal security front but emergence of new terror challenges like Islamic State (IS), not-yet defeated Maoists and a communal cauldron waiting to explode following assertion by rightwing groups are going to test the security establishment in the new year.

There were no major terror strikes, naxal violence was on the decline and communal incidents too ebbed in 2014 but the under-current does not allow the government to rejoice much as youth are lured into extreme positions on religious lines aided by social media discourse.

With more than half of the states already under the radar of terrorism and insurgency, the country now faces the challenge of spread of tension to more states as right-wing Hindu groups are getting more assertive with plans like ‘ghar vapsi’ or re-conversion programmes after the assumption of power by Narendra Modi-led BJP at the Centre.

The spread of communal tension could spiral into another challenge for the security establishment, in addition to the battle against terrorism and internal insurgencies faced in the seven northeast states and ten naxal-infested states. The security establishment will have to keep a hawk-eye vigil over such developments while the administration will have to ensure law and order.

On the terror front, 2014 brought some success for the internal security agencies. The blast in a house in Burdwan while making bombs opened Pandaora’s box as it came to light that the West Bengal town was ‘exporting’ terror to neighbouring Bangladesh.

While this case threw up the growing influence of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JuMB) in Bengal, Deccan Herald recently reported, several leads in the NIA investigations also indicated that terror theatre is expanding in southern states with Kerala and Tamil Nadu becoming major centres for generating funds for terror groups.

Another cause for worry is the youth getting attracted to radical outfits like the IS. Around a dozen Indian youth are believed to be fighting alongside IS militants in West Asia. Investigative agencies are now questioning a Mumbai youth, who have returned from Iraq, as well as an MNC executive who was tweeting IS ideology. While stepping up vigil, the government will also have to adopt pro-active and pre-emptive to ensure that youth are not radicalised. They should also ensure that such actions would not antagonise the minority community and give an easy route for disgruntled youth to go astray.

The statistics on naxal front is also giving relief to the government but Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh himself has warned against lowering the guard in tackling the menace.

The worry for security establishment is the capacity of Maoists to launch spectacular strikes in its stronghold areas like Chhattisgarh, a concern expressed by Singh’s predecessor Sushilkumar Shinde. That is why Singh said that Left Wing Extremism “still remains the biggest threat” to internal security and nation building process though Maoist insurgency is on the wane. Making states to work on a common anti-naxal plan will also be a challenge before the Centre.

Another important area where the Union Home Ministry will have to focus is the schemes for modernisation of police and prisons. It will also have to pump in more funds and personnel in paramilitary forces. With Pakistan creating trouble at the border in regular intervals, the BSF needs to be on their toes round the clock and the administration would need to augment its capacity. Similar is the case with CRPF, the fountainhead of anti-naxal operations that would need better intelligence inputs in carrying out operations.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 30, 2014)

2014 in Review. From WordPress

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,200 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Turbulent aviation sector expects policy push

The tail section of an Air India Airbus

A new airline is waiting in the wings while an old timer is struggling to keep flying as the Indian aviation sector is racing towards a new year. This bittersweet condition is going to be the tagline for the sector in 2015 too.

The start of the new year would be cheerful with Vistara, the joint venture of Tatas and Singapore Airlines’, hitting the skies on January 9 when the sector is not on its high with SpiceJet, launched in 2005, facing one of the worst crises.

However, the runway for SpiceJet is not that bumpy as it appears with its first promoter Ajay Singh, who is considered close to ruling BJP, playing the ‘Santa’ by planning to invest in the ailing airline along with some foreign equity investors. One will have to wait for some more time to see whether Singh return as promoter after the exit of Kalanidhi Maran-led Sun Group from the airline.

Despite its aggressive marketing to fill seats, SpiceJet could not avoid trouble and were forced to take measures like restructuring the fleet and cancelling thousands of flights. It even faced the ignominy of oil companies refusing fuel due to non-payment.

The good news from the passing year is the increase in the number of fliers, who did not lose time in grabbing the numerous discount sales launched by the airlines, especially by SpiceJet.

Between January and November this year, airlines flew 6.09 crore passengers, which is an increase of 51 lakh from the same period in 2013. However, this increase or breather the airlines got due fall in jet fuel prices did not provide much succour to its account books as the price wars shrunk the margins. Airlines have recorded a cumulative loss of Rs 9,737.47 crore for 2013-14 and it is unlikely to have a complete reversal this fiscal too.

A report by IATA this year also brought cheers to the sector as it said India would leap forward to become the third biggest aviation market from the current ninth position by 2031 riding on a three-fold increase in the number of passengers at 367 million.

The Civil Aviation Ministry officials say they are trying to make the business easy in the country. They are drafting a new policy and the sector is looking at the government would take up reform measures scrapping a rule that restrict airlines, which have not completed five years of domestic operations and 20 aircraft in its fleet, from foreign operations.

Industry watchers are also keen to see how the authorities fare in overturning the downgrade by the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). India expects that the FAA will upgrade it into Category 1 by March but the US agency is in no hurry.

The downgrade has affected the US operations of Air India and Jet Airways as their aircraft had to undergo additional safety checks and stringent scrutiny before entering American airspace.

It is to be seen how the sector comes out of the slump in business, as competition is getting stiffer. Aviation experts feel that the frequent flash sale that was witnessed in 2014 is not the option for them to further their business.

The industry expects a pro-active, pro-business stand from the government. Otherwise, they feel, ‘turbulence’ will remain the key word for the industry for one more year.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 26, 2014

West Pak refugees in JK can vote for LS polls but not for Assembly elections

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Jammu and Kashmir saw unprecedented participation in the just-concluded Assembly elections but members of over 5,700 refugee families from West Pakistan could not participate in the poll carnival despite residing in the state for the past 67 years.

They voted in the Lok Sabha elections just six months ago but could not do so in the November-December polls as the state Constitution does not allow them to exercise their franchise in Assembly election or local body polls, as they do not have permanent resident status.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs on Monday took up the issue of restricting voting rights of people from the families who had settled in the state in 1947 during partition and strongly recommended the Centre to take up the issue with the state government.

The Centre has written to the state on conferring permanent resident status to these refugees frequently, the last being on November 7.

According to state government records, 5,674 families consisting of 47,215 persons migrated from West Pakistan and were settled in Jammu, Kathua and Rajouri districts during partition. These refugees were not given the permanent resident status in 1947 as they came from West Pakistan, which was not under the territory governed by the Maharaja, while others were given such status.

Describing the West Pakistan refugees “very much the citizens of India”, the report prepared by the Parliamentary committee noted that they are not leading the life of free citizens” though they are living here for more than 60 years.

Noting that they have right to vote, the panel said that this has “not earned” them any special benefits. It urged the Centre to impress upon the state to consider the demand of these refugees to grant them permanent resident status so they “live as state subject in a dignified way with all legal rights, including the right to vote in state Assembly”.

During their submissions, representatives of refugees informed the panel that they do not have voting rights in the state and cannot purchase land. They are also not eligible for state government jobs or social welfare schemes.

Due to non-protection of their rights, they alleged, they were living as “slaves” in the states.

The Parliamentary panel recommended the amendment of Jammu and Kashmir constitution to grant permanent resident status for conferring the status of state subject on West Pakistan Refugees at the earliest.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 24, 2014)

Par panel finds fault with JK on disaster mgmnt

Srinagar_flood_PTI

Finding fault with Jammu and Kashmir for “lapses” in dealing with the recent massive floods, a Parliamentary panel on Monday asked the Centre not to shrug off its responsibility in rebuilding the state, which has seen a loss of public infrastructure worth Rs 7,000 crore.

In its report tabled in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs said states like Jammu and Kashmir are “not well prepared” to combat natural disasters and such states “should not be caught on sleeping mode” at the time of calamities.

The panel headed by Congress MP P Bhattacharya was critical of the state government for not taking sufficient pre-emptive steps to deal with the floods in September though there was “forewarning” from the Meteorological Department about “heavier rainfall than the normal”.

“The disaster management apparatus could have done a much better job in the recent calamities in Jammu and Kashmir…the committee believes that there have been some lapses on the part of the government,” the report said reminding the state that its duty has not ended as there is a “huge task” of rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Reminding the Centre that the state has “strategic and sensitive” importance, the panel said that the state needs to be rebuilt “without any procrastination”.

“The Committee wishes to point out that the paradise on earth has collapsed due to the flood and the government has to rebuild the paradise in order to attract tourists not only from the country but also from abroad,” the report said.

Recommending a close coordination between the Centre and state government, it said, “the central government should not shrug off its responsibility in re-building the state by taking the plea that activities concerning the long term rehabilitation programme fall within the jurisdiction of the state government.”

The committee noted that the damages to public infrastructure and private property were “very large”.

The state government’s preliminary assessment showed that the loss to the public infrastructure was about Rs 7,000 crore while the loss to private property are being assessed by insurance companies.

The state government representatives also told the panel that they have received “excellent cooperation from the Government of India”.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 23, 2014)

Is ‘Godse’ unparliamentary?

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Can an MP refer to Nathuram Godse in Parliament? The answer is ‘no’.

At a time there is a debate raging over Godse, none of the MPs can use the name Godse during House proceedings as the word finds a place among “unparliamentary expressions”.

Much to the amusement of some of the MPs, the issue was raised during Rajya Sabha proceedings on Friday when CPI(M) MP P Rajeeve raised the issue seeking clarification from the Chair after he found his mention of Godse expunged from the records of the debate.

On Thursday while demanding a discussion on religious conversion and a reply by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rajeeve had referred to media reports about Hindu Mahasabha’s plans to erect statues of Godse. He referred to Godse twice while speaking and both times, the word was expunged while retaining other parts of the sentences.

“I found it amusing while checking the verbatim of the proceedings that the word Godse was expunged. Is the word Godse unparliamentary?” he told Deccan Herald.

On Friday, Rajeeve raised the issue with Deputy Chairman P J Kurien, who said, “I will go through the record and come back to you.”

Interestingly, his mention of Godse on Friday was also expunged. He said he wanted to know whether this word Godse is unparliamentary or not but in the verbatim the word is shown as expunged.

Godse is among hundreds of words that find a place in “Unparliamentary Expressions”, compiled and published by Parliament. Nuisance, marketing and fascist are among the words, which find a place in the list.

Godse had become a debate point in Parliament after Lok Sabha MP Sakshi Maharaj describing Godse as a patriot. “Godse was an aggrieved person. He may have done something by mistake but was not an anti-national. He was a patriot,” he had said outside Parliament but it enraged MPs.

In Lok Sabha when the issue was raised, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu spoke about the issue without naming Godse and informed the House that the government has no issues in Maharaj expressing regret. The MP then expressed regret.

As per the handbook, one cannot club the name of Godse with an MP or say are you proud of Godse. According to the rules, words containing insinuations and offensive and unparliamentary expressions should be avoided.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Dec 21, 2014)

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