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April - May 2009

Political News

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General Elections for the

15th Lok Sabha

April 16 to May13

The countdown has begun. The polls will be in five phases. The first phase on April 16, involves 124 constituencies. The second phase on April 23 involves 141 constituencies. The third phase on April 30 involves 107 constituencies. The fourth phases May 7 takes 85 constituenccies; and the fifth phase on May 13 will take in 86 constituencies.

The counting of votes will be done on May 16. The 15th Lok Sabha will be constituted by 2nd June.

NDA’s choice of the Prime Minister is Mr LK Advani who will fight election from his old constitency of Gandhi Nagar in Gujarat.

The UPA, already truncated by the departure of Left parties (CPM, CPI, Forward Block) has also been deserted by RJD of Laloo Prasad Yadav and LJP of Ram Vilas Paswan. On the positive side, the Congress has Trinmool Congress in West Bengal and NCP of Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra.

The BJP has been deserted by the BJD of Navin Patnaik (Orissa); but on the positive side Shiv Sena remains aligned to BJP; So is Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) in Bihar.

Manmohan Singh

Recovering from his heart surgery, the `Prime Minister said that he was fit to take part in election campaign. “I am confident that the people of India will vote UPA back to power on our performance”.

The question is whether he will fight the election himself or stay in the upper house.

It is time that he is given a safe seat for the Lok Sabha if the Congress wants him back again.

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Varun Gandhi brings tremor to Indian political scene

The great grandson of Jawahar Lal Nehru and the grandson of Indira Gandhi, Varun, son of Maneka and late Sanjay Gandhi has been called upon to explain the tone and contents of his speeches which, the Election Commission thinks, are against the Code of Conduct. He has also been accused of distributing money in his constituency.

Varun Gandhi, in his defence, has pointed out that the CDs of his speeches were ‘doctored’ and there is a political conspiracy against him. The Election Commission is studying all the speeches given by Varun Gandhi in recent weeks.

Voters of Pilibhit have a choice which was denied to his father Sanjay Gandhi by the cruel hands of death.

His brash and bold remarks seen on TV and quoted in Indian media do not cosnstitute as inflammatory as that of Raj Thackeray in Mumbai or Digvijay Singh in Delhi or AR Antulay in the Parliament. His words, “I am proud to be Hindu, proud to be Indian and proud to be Gandhi” are no different from the words of Omar Abdullah in the parliament when he said,”I am Muslim and I am Indian”. These words were praised by all, including the members of the Congress party.

Varun should be praised for saying bluntly and boldly what he thinks has gone wrong with Indian democracy. Whether he wins or not is of little value. He has spoken his mind, loud and clear. Our readers will like to read some of his speeches (without being doctored, of course).

Send us your views on the controversy created by ‘Varun Episode’.

Your comments will be in our online

Why is Indian Premier League so obstructive?

The tug of war between the IPL and the central government about the dates, venues and security precautions has turned into a phoney war between the administrators of the IPL and the Home Minister Mr Chidambaram.

It only shows that the central government was interested in sticking to power for as long as constitutionally possible. The elections could have been held in March and finished in April. Cricket cannot be played at the height of Indian summer in May. So, April became the chosen month for the maximum attention of the people of India. Will the cricket matches reduce the importance of elections? Is the government so incompetent that it cannot provide security to IPL matches ang the elections? If the Government of India is so afraid of the terrorists, either homegrown or imported from neighbouring country, it can do what the United States and our neighbour is trying to do. Buy them out. Give a generous handout to Naxalites, Maoists, Simi, Indian Mujahidins and even Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. Perhaps you may have some peace during election month or is it IPL month?

Distributing Money during Holi

We knew that colour is thrown about during Holi. Raas Lila is manipulated in some adventurous towns. Youngmen and women find opportunity to play around with each other. But we never knew that money was also distributed. Mr Mulayam Singh of the Samajwadi Party and Govinda of the Congress party have been asked by the Election Commission to explain this violation of the Code of Conduct. The problem is that the generous handout is being done only when Holi falls during election months. Why didn’t these political flamingoes did the generous work in previous five years?


The Pakistani government must ensure it protects the human rights of nearly two million people in the Swat valley, and neighbouring Malakand district, said Amnesty International.

This follows the announcement that the government has entered a truce with insurgents, known as the Pakistani Taleban, in Swat Valley that could legitimise the human rights abuses that have been taking place in the region as Taleban influence has increased.

Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director, said:

“The government is reneging on its duty to protect the human rights of people from Swat Valley by handing them over to Taleban insurgents.

“Previously the government has launched indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against the Taleban that have mostly harmed civilians. Now the human rights of these civilians will be in jeopardy if they live under Taleban laws.”

The influence of the Pakistani Taleban has already been felt by the people of Swat Valley, with the unlawful killing of scores of government workers, as well as those whom they view as violating their edicts. They have also publicly whipped men for shaving their beards, destroyed shops for selling music and forcibly prohibited women from leaving their houses, unless escorted by a male relative.

Since 2007, when a previous peace deal fell apart, between a quarter and a half a million people have been forced to flee their homes in the Swat valley.



The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has declared the government is ready to support the Pakistani military and government, in its fight against domestic terrorism.

Speaking exclusively to Sir David Frost for Frost Over The World on Al Jazeera English he said: “Pakistan’s enemy today is domestic terrorism. Should we be supporting the Pakistani government and the military who work for it in developing an effective counter-insurgency strategy for that country? Yes. But does it have to be led by the Pakistanis? Yes. This is a Pakistani issue that needs to be led by the Pakistani government and Pakistani people and we need to support them and we’re ready to do that.”

This vow of support comes as Pakistan’s ruling government, led by President (Asif Ali) Zardari, faces protests over its refusal to reinstate judges sacked by the former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf. It also faces confrontation with the main opposition party over a court ruling banning its leaders from elected office and forcing the party’s government from power in the Punjab region.

Anti-government lawyers backed by opposition parties launched a cross-country protest convoy on March 12, which resulted in numerous arrests.

He continued: “The situation in Pakistan is extremely dangerous. I would say it’s very grave. I think Pakistan faces a mortal threat, not from India, but from domestic terrorism and that domestic terrorism is so grave that I think that politicians in Pakistan need to come together. At the moment the politicians are pointing their fingers at each other and in fact they should be coming together and pointing their fingers at those who threaten the Pakistani people and those are terrorists on the Afghan border, terrorists in the Punjab who struck with such deadly effect in Mumbai and terrorists who after all claimed the life of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.”

New consumer conversations make or break British businesses

As the recession bites and money-wise shoppers look for the best deals, consumers are doing more than ever before to share their good and bad experiences with others. New research from Consumer Focus reveals that four in five people (79 per cent) now tell friends, family and complete strangers about which companies have delivered a great deal – and which have let them down.

This is having a direct effect on company bottom lines, as consumers change their purchasing decisions – but while some businesses are responding by offering greater value and better service, consumers say other sectors seem stuck with a rip-off mentality.

Streetwise: real people, real issues shows that people are no longer prepared to put up with second best and shoddy service – two-thirds (62%) have taken their business elsewhere after being treated badly by a company. One-third (32%) of all consumers have decided not to buy a product from a particular company after hearing of someone else’s bad experience.

Canny consumers are using the power of the Internet to get the best deal, in terms of service and reliability as well as price. But the common perception that Internet conversations are marked by ranting is mistaken – slightly more consumers place positive, rather than negative, remarks on websites and blogs.

Launching the Streetwise report, Consumer Focus Chair, Lord Whitty, said, ‘In these tough economic times, consumers are doing more than ever before to share good and bad experiences of companies and to learn from other people. Some sectors are responding by cutting prices and improving service while others remain trapped in a culture of ‘the company knows best.’ The worst performers will learn the hard way that consumer talk costs bad businesses’ lives; the best will reap the rewards on their bottom line. It has never been more important for companies to get as streetwise as their customers and to offer all consumers a fair deal.’

Streetwise shows that a fair deal is hard to find in today’s Britain. Two-thirds of the British public (63%) believe companies would willingly mislead their customers if they think it will make them money. And it’s clear that businesses still have a long way to go to improve their customer service – more than half (55%) of all consumers experienced poor service at least once in the last year and three-quarters feel that big companies treat them as numbers, rather than people.

Some sectors are responding well to the recession and giving consumers a fair deal. More than half of those asked (53 per cent) rated supermarkets as treating customers well in the economic downturn. In stark contrast, fewer than one in ten people saw banks, energy companies or mobile phone companies as treating their customers well.

Consumers are generally becoming more streetwise but some social groups may be left behind – through low income, lack of access to the Internet and language barriers. In the next year, Consumer Focus will campaign for fair access for all.

Europe and South Asia Region Winners Announced

Jhumpa Lahiri beats Hensher, Lodge and Rushdie to win Best Book Award for Unaccustomed Earth

Mohammed Hanif takes Best First Book Award for A Case of Exploding Mangoes – the first winner from Pakistan

An international judging panel has awarded the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award, Europe and South Asia region, to Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (UK) beating strong competition from former Commonwealth Writers’ Prize regional winners (David Lodge and Salaman Rushdie) and Booker Prize contenders (Philip Hensher and Rushdie). The Best First Book Award was awarded to A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif, the first regional winner from Pakistan in the history of the Prize. Each author wins £1,000 and goes into the next stage of the competition to choose the overall Commonwealth Best Book and Best First Book winner, who receive £10,000 and £5,000 respectively.

The announcements of all eight regional winners took place on 11 March as part of Commonwealth Week - a series of special events taking place on and around Commonwealth Day.

The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize aims to reward the best Commonwealth fiction written in English, by both established and new writers, and to take their works to a global audience.

The judging panel for the Europe and South Asia region was chaired by Professor Makarand Paranjape (India). He was joined by judges Dr Durre Sameen Ahmed (Pakistan) and Dr Alex Tickell (UK).

Professor Makarand Paranjape, Chair of the Judges, commented:

“Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth emerged as the best book after some very tough competition from some extremely gifted, even extraordinary books, including Hensher's magisterial survey of English suburbia in Northern Clemency and Rushdie's fecund and fierce imagination in The Enchantress of Florence. But in the end Lahiri's lyrical, meticulously crafted prose, with the moving and memorable treatment of the diasporic experience coupled with her significant achievement in extending the form of the short story, won the day.”

In a unique aspect of the Prize, the regional winners will be invited to take part in a week-long programme of community events and public readings during the final pan-Commonwealth judging in New Zealand in May 2009.

The two Europe and South Asia regional winners join other winners from Africa, Canada and the Caribbean, and South East Asia and the Pacific. The week's programme will culminate in the announcement of the overall Best Book and Best First Book winners in a special ceremony as part of the 2009 Auckland Writers’ and Readers Festival in New Zealand on Saturday 16 May.

Jhumpa Lahiri Unaccustomed Earth (Bloomsbury) – Best Book

Beginning in America, and spilling back over memories and generations to India, Unaccustomed Earth explores the heart of family life and the immigrant experience. Eight luminous stories take us from America to Europe, India and Thailand as they follow new lives forged in the wake of loss. Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London of Bengali parents, and grew up in Rhode Island, USA. Her stories have appeared in many American journals and in 2000 her first collection, Interpreter of Maladies, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the New Yorker Prize for Best First Book and the PEN/Hemingway Award. Jhumpa Lahiri lives in New York with her husband and two children.

Mohammed Hanif A Case of Exploding Mangoes (Vintage) – Best First Book

Why did a Hercules C130, the world’s sturdiest plane, carrying Pakistan’s military dictator General Zia ul Haq, go down on 17 August, 1988? Mohammed Hanif’s debut novel takes one of the subcontinent’s enduring mysteries and spins a tale as rich and colourful as a beggar’s dream. Mohammed Hanif was born in Okara, Pakistan. He flew in the Pakistan Air Force before pursuing a career in journalism. Hanif now lives in London and is the head of the BBC’s Urdu Service. A Case of Exploding Mangoes was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2008 and was longlisted for the Man Booker Award 2008.

The winners were chosen from shortlists announced in February 2009.

The Commonwealth @ 60

The Commonwealth Day Observance service took place at Westminster Abbey on Monday 9th March 2009. Attended by Her Majesty The Queen, His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as well as numerous diplomatic and political dignitaries from around the world, is an annual event to reaffirm the Commonwealth’s commitment to justice, peace and equality of opportunity for all.

The service was a spectacular and diverse blend of worship, music, dance, contemplation and comment, reflecting the various customs and cultures of the 53 member countries and the aims and affirmations of the Commonwealth. With never a dull moment, we were entertained by steel drums, traditional South African folk songs, a saxophone performance and a gospel choir, as well as the boys’ choir of Westminster Abbey. And we heard inspirational stories of hope and triumph over adversity from campaigners, entrepreneurs, humanitarians and the paralympic athelete, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson.

The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster, spoke of how the Commonwealth, like the Abbey, is a place where faiths, cultures and traditions meet in a spirit of understanding and friendship. TheQueen reflected on the challenges of a Commonwealth where nearly one billion people are under the age of 25, and her gratitude that as the Commonwealth celebrates its 60th Birthday, it is committed to working hard to help young people realise their aspirations. His Excellency Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth Secretary-General, spoke of the need to support young people in developing their skills and self-belief, and entrusting and equipping them to help form a new world.

Other highlights of the service included the Procession of Flags from all the countries of the Commonwealth, and statements from representatives from the Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, Jain, Sikh, Jewish, Muslim and Christian communites.

Anil Bhanot, General Secretary of the Hindu Council UK, responded to the question: Should our history inform our future? saying: -

"There are ten principles of the Hindu Dharma, one of which is self-respect and another quest for higher knowledge.

Self respect, when rooted in our true heritage, is an essential ingredient to our quest for knowledge. We can never live in the past, but we must acknowledge it fully if we are to win our own self respect. Only then can we can launch ourselves into a visionary future.

The rich history of all our cultures and communities has brought us here today. What now should inform our vision for the future of Britain and the Commonwealth? I suggest rooting ourselves in a teaching of ancient Vedas: “aa no bhadrah krutavo yantu vishvatah” – “Let noble thoughts come to us from every direction.”

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