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Maharashtra

Maharashtra: Frantic BJP still woos Ajit Pawar, pats his working style

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Not prepared to rest in peace after losing power in Maharashtra, the state BJP is still hoping for a ‘miracle’ that could resurrect it into the driving seat, after dozens of ominous deadlines to topple the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government passed away event-free.

In the latest bid, during a by-election rally, state BJP President Chandrakant Patil suddenly remembered Nationalist Congress Party’s Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and lauded his “no-nonsense” style of functioning.

Taking a swipe at Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Patil expressed desire to ‘examine’ the CM’s horoscope for the latter’s good fortune of being surrounded by stalwarts like Pawar or Eknath Shinde.

The BJP chief also concurred with the sulking ruling ally Raju Shetti, head of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) who rued that “the CM is barely visible these days and it was Pawar who calls the shots in the MVA show”.

Patil claimed that no Shiv Sena legislators are allowed to hover around the CM and they all troop down to Pawar or Shinde to get their works done or problems resolved, and warned that “the MVA is going to face a lot more” from the various probe agencies.

Earlier, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Patil had ‘invited’ Pawar to rule the state from Pune and recently alleged that earlier Thackeray’s duties were hindered by the lockdown and now hampered by his health.

Apparently flustered by Patil’s utterances, Shiv Sena MP and Chief Spokesperson Sanjay Raut hit back terming it as the BJP’s “step-motherly love for Ajit Pawar”.

“Praising good work is always welcome… We also have great appreciation for the good work done by Union Minister for Road Transport Nitin Gadkari…”, said Raut in a return-stroke.

Though the central probe agencies have gone all-out to target Sena-NCP leaders, the BJP has largely refrained from directly attacking Ajit Pawar, who had once strayed to form a two-member government headed by Devendra Fadnavis that took oath in a pre-dawn ceremony on November 23, 2019.

However, it proved to be the shortest-ever regime in the state’s history, crashing in hardly 80 hours.

Barely 48 hours later, the Sena-NCP-Congress coalition MVA government headed by Thackeray took office on November 28 that year, something that the BJP has yet to fully digest.

Yesterday (Sunday), eyebrows went up in MVA circles as senior NCP leader and ace criminal lawyer Majeed Memon paid rich compliments to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the recent sweep in four of the five states’ assembly elections.

“If Narendra Modi wins people’s (mandate) and is also shown as world’s most popular leader, there must be some qualities in him or good work he may have done which the Opposition leaders are unable to find,” Memon declared.

Patil’s fond hopes also stem from the recent admission by NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, who revealed on December 30 how Modi wanted a NCP-BJP alliance government in Maharashtra after the fractured verdict of 2019 assembly polls, but he (Pawar) had firmly rejected it.

But, barely a week later, in early-January, the NCP warmly invited Thackeray – who proclaimed that the Sena had rotted 25 years in alliance with BJP – to join the national secular Opposition alliance and help dethrone the BJP in 2024 elections.

Attempting to drive a wedge among the MVA allies, Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis alleged last week that a lion’s share of the budget (nearly 53 per cent) had gone to the NCP, while Sena-Congress had to be content with the left-over, a charge denied by Ajit Pawar, who is also the state finance Minister.

Political observers say that these “verbal duels” will continue as both the MVA and BJP are keen to score brownie points and keep their respective flocks in good humour.

Maharashtra

Mumbai: BEST announces Super Saver plans for Chalo App and Chalo card consumers

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The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking has announced new Super Saver plans that have been created to offer more choices and flexibility to passengers taking the bus.The new plans give Mumbaikars a minimum of 20% and up to a maximum of 34% discount when compared to buying daily tickets. The plans can be purchased both on the BEST Chalo App and the BEST Chalo Card.

The new plans which have been introduced includes 7-day plans offering 15 trips, 28-day plans offering 60 trips and 84-day plans offering 50 trips, across all fare tiers.

As a part of this exercise, BEST has also discontinued plans that have not see enough adoption including 14-day plans offering 50 trips and 84-day plans offering 20 trips.

“The new plans give Mumbaikars a minimum of 20% and up to a maximum of 34% discount when compared to buying daily tickets. The plans can be purchased both on the BEST Chalo App and the BEST Chalo Card” said an BEST officials.

Simply download the BEST Chalo App and find the new plans in the ‘Bus Pass’ section of the app.

Select the plan of your choice, enter your details, and make an online payment via UPI, debit or credit card, net banking, etc. to purchase the plan.

Once you board the bus, press ‘Start a trip’. Tap your phone on the ticket machine for validation. On successful validation, you will get the digital receipt for your trip on the app itself. The entire transaction is cashless and paperless!

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Crime

Why India must step up its global campaign to nail Pak-sponsored terror

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 Nov 30: The 14th anniversary of the gruesome Mumbai terror attacks has gone by without its perpetrators being brought to justice. Those massacred belonged to many nationalities, including 6 Americans, yet Pakistan has escaped international pressure to try those involved in planning and committing this heinous crime. A Pakistani, Ajmal Kasab, was caught, tried and hanged, providing proof of Pakistani complicity. India was counselled, as usual, to show restraint and not retaliate by the US, the EU and Russia too, because of concerns of a conflict between two nuclear powers.

It is ironical that the nuclear overhang is not a matter of concern today when a proxy war in Ukraine is being openly conducted by the world’s pre-eminent nuclear war, the US, against Russia, a peer nuclear power, seemingly unmindful of it potentially escalating to a nuclear level. Ukraine’s leader has asked for a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Russia, without causing a public storm in the West. There is loose talk in the West about Russia using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine as a viable option. The nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia is being shelled, raising the possibility of nuclear contamination, but Ukraine is being sheltered from any responsibility by the West as not doing so would compel a change in the present narrative that paints Putin as the unqualified villain and Zelensky as the unvarnished hero.

Under the cloak of nuclear-related concerns the West has sought to dissuade India from reacting strongly to Pakistan’s terrorist attacks and give a protective cover to that country as a result of a historical bias in its favour and continuing geopolitical interests there. The West has always pushed for dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues between the two countries. For long, the West, without saying so too openly, has viewed Pakistan’s use of terrorism as a consequence of the unresolved Kashmir issue, implying that it had a cause. This was a way to obfuscate the terrorism issue, give it some “legitimacy” by linking it to the Kashmir issue, on which the West still equivocates.

This is apparent from the statements by German Foreign Minister Baerbok in June and October this year in the company of her Pakistani counterpart to the effect that the UN must ensure human rights in Kashmir and that Germany had a role and responsibility in addressing the Kashmir issue with the involvement of the UN. More recently, the UK Minister of State in the Foreign Office in a debate initiated by a Pakistani origin peer in the House of Lords said that the Kashmir issue should be resolved between India and Pakistan “taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.” This are code words for self-determination, implying that the issue of sovereignty over Kashmir is still open. Aware that Pakistan Occupied Kashmir has been the staging ground for Pakistani terrorism against India, the US ambassador to Pakistan recently visited what he called “Azad Kashmir”.

In the case of the US, its war on terror in our region has been full of contradictions and compromises. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on its soil the US attacked Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban government. It acknowledged but overlooked the safe havens and support Pakistan gave to the Taliban in its bid to take over power in Afghanistan with the liberal use of the arm of terrorism. Eventually, with Pakistan’s assistance the Americans entered into negotiations with the very Taliban that they had ousted years earlier, unchanged in their Islamist ideology and practices. The US, despite its global combat against Al Qaida, preferred to overlook the fact that Pakistan had sheltered Osama bin Laden for several years. The US had called the Haqqani group as a veritable arm of the ISI and now that group is in charge of the security in Kabul. The decision by the US to grant $450 million to Pakistan to upgrade its F 16s for counter-terrorism purposes – which our External Affairs Minister has dismissed as a valid explanation- indicates the complexity of the challenge India faces from Pakistan’s terrorist affiliations.

The Indian government in power when 26/11 occurred not only shied away from imposing a deserving cost on Pakistan, it resumed the comprehensive dialogue with it after a few months, showing weakness in signaling that it saw no choice but to engage Pakistan. This emboldened Pakistan to conduct more terrorist attacks against India in the following years, which continued till the present government, which initially also explored the possibility of reaching some understanding with Pakistan on abjuring terrorism as a weapon against India, but then conducted surgical strikes inside Pok after the Uri attack and after Pulwama inside Pakistan as a warning that India would henceforth retaliate forcefully against any terrorist attacks.

India has since then pursued a pro-active policy in raising its concerns about terrorism bilaterally with partners and in all multilateral forums, with some gains as the phrase “cross border terrorism” has figured in our joint statements with many countries, and LeT, JeM, HuM and other jihadi organisations have been identified as terrorist organisations. Some have been included in the UN list of terrorists, but some key figures have not been because of China’s obstructionism. China, which never condemned the 2008 Mumbai attacks, protects Pakistan on the issue of terrorism by lauding its combat against it and incurring costs as a result.

Through the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which sets standards and seeks to promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing etc, Pakistan has been subjected to pressure by its inclusion in the grey list of countries that do not adequately comply with these standards and measures. In its precarious financial situation when it needs IMF financing etc, it has been compelled to satisfy the FATF on several parameters for meriting removal from the grey list. It has jailed Hafiz Saeed and some others for terror financing but not for 26/11, which means that he and others have escaped trial for master minding the Mumbai attacks, a trial that would have revealed the identity of all those in the Pakistan establishment involved in them. Pakistan has thus escaped real accountability.

In October, Pakistan was removed form the grey list. India reminded the global community that it was in its interest that Pakistan continued to take credible, verifiable, irreversible and sustained action against terrorism and terror financing emanating from territories under its control. Pakistan has been on the FATF’s grey list twice before and was removed despite maintaining its terrorist infrastructure. With the radicalisation that has occurred in Pakistan, visible in the street power of the Islamist groups that the political establishment has not been able to handle without compromises, and which is now being mobilised by Imran Khan, it would be a leap of faith to believe that the extremist groups well integrated with the society at large in Pakistan would give up their vocation for jihad and not raise funds for that purpose.

With India still serving its term on it, the UN Security Council held a Special Meeting of its Counter Terrorism Committee in India on October 28/29. India did well to expose the Committee to the 26/11 attacks in a programme in Mumbai, including exchanges with those that lived through that horror. It reminded the Committee members of the need to bring to justice the perpetrators who remain protected and unpunished (a reference to Pakistan), as well as the inability of the UN to act in some cases because of political considerations ( a reference to China). India conveyed a message on issues that still need addressing: terrorism still gets the necessary financial resources to thrive, UN efforts need to be coordinated with the FATF and the Egmont Group, the Security Council sanctions regime should function transparently and effectively on the listing of terrorist groups etc.

India rightly drew attention to the misuse of the emerging technologies by non-state actors and “lone wolf attackers” for terrorism purposes. These have thrown up new challenges for the governments and regulatory bodies. The internet and social media platforms have become potent instruments in the toolkit of terrorist groups along with the use of unmanned aerial systems against strategic infrastructure and commercial assets. In Punjab we have seen Pakistan using drones to drop weapons and drugs across the border. The Delhi Declaration of October 29 expresses these concerns in the context of the need to counter the use of new and emerging technologies for terrorist purposes.

The cause of justice in the case of 26/11 was not served by India itself by resuming our dialogue with Pakistan despite those abominable attacks, the conspiracy theories that sections of our political class in India built around what happened, the equivocation of the West on taking Pakistan to task for its own geopolitical interests and the fact that India itself seemed reconciled to what it suffered by re-engaging Pakistan, and China’s double dealing on terrorism issues in support of Pakistan.

India is doing well, however, to keep drawing the attention of the international community to the threat of terrorism, even as Pakistan seems off the hook on the issue with its changed ties with the US, outreach to it by Russia and support of China, and with the “war on terror” now off the US agenda. India remains vulnerable with Pakistan and a Talibanised Afghanistan next door, not to mention the emergence of the Islamic State elements there. By maintaining the focus on terrorism India is indirectly maintaining pressure on Pakistan to contain its terrorist proclivities.

(Kanwal Sibal is India’s former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to Russia. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)

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Maharashtra

Mumbai: Raj Thackeray’s MNS to contest BMC elections solo

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MNS Chief Raj Thackeray has announced it will contest the elections for the upcoming BMC polls alone. It won’t ally with anyone.

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