Saturday, July 13, 2013

With love, for 'Mumtaz'!

Manoj Chaurasia/Patna

The Economic Offences Unit of the Bihar police probing a disproportionate assets case against a senior education department official here was amazed to see his show of love for his wife ~ no less than Shah Jahan’s for his wife Mumtaz, immortalised in the form of Taj Mahal. The Mughal emperor built the Taj Mahal in the memory of Mumtaz, but this Bihar official  gifted various items of jewellery to his wife!

During a raid conducted on Wednesday at the residence of the tainted official Radha Krishna Singh Yadav, who is deputy director of secondary education, anti-corruption sleuths seized as many as 230 earrings and tops, 53 finger rings, 36 bangles, 30 chains and six necklaces, all made of gold and weighing around 1.5 kg.

During extensive searches of the house lasting several hours, the investigating team also recovered silver waistbands, heavy bangles, and  anklets weighing about 9 kg. What puzzled the sleuths was that most of the gold and silver jewellery recovered were meant for his wife. Apparently, the official had gifted her wife gold jewellery every time he got a bribe, sleuths feel. 

The sleuths also stumbled upon some 22 bank accounts of the tainted official opened in various cities of Bihar and outside. However, the team is yet to assess the money stored in these accounts. Last month, the sleuths booked an official who used to eat food cooked in a silver pressure cooker at home. 

The accused official Awadhesh Kumar Mandal is posted as executive engineer in the Building Construction Department, Muzaffarpur.The sleuths seized a silver pressure cooker from the kitchen and produced it in court. The sleuths also seized 17 ornaments made of platinum and diamond.

SC ruling casts shadow over fate fate of several Bihar politicians

Manoj Chaurasia/Patna

The Supreme Court ruling disqualifying the convicted lawmakers—sentenced to two years of imprisonment or more—from holding offices or contesting elections is set to cast a shadow over the fate of scores of criminal-politicians in Bihar. A latest report of the National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms, Indian civil society groups fighting for electoral reforms in the country, says Bihar currently has 59 per cent lawmakers with criminal antecedents indicating how much the state political scene stands vitiated.

Quite a number of politicians have criminal or corruption cases pending against them, yet they managed to stay in active politics taking advantage of the slow-paced justice delivery system in the country as the court is yet to deliver its final judgment in the case. But the latest verdict in all likelihood is set to bring a pall of gloom on their political life soon.

The latest victim of the SC ruling could be RJD chief Lalu Prasad as the CBI court is soon to deliver its judgment in a fodder scam case in which he is an accused. Although the SC has temporarily given reprieve to Mr Prasad by restraining a trial court in Ranchi from giving verdict in the fodder scam case no RC 20A/96, the trial in the case has just been completed. The trial court was to deliver its judgment later this week on 15 July when the RJD chief filed an appeal in the apex court apprehending he may not get justice as the trial judge is a close relative of Bihar education minister PK Shahi who, after losing the Maharajganj LS polls to a RJD candidate, will try to settle political scores through this case. Mr Prasad is an accused in a total of five fodder scam cases. 

Like him, the JD-U’s MP from Jehanabad Jagdish Sharma too is an accused in the fodder scam case. A serious criminal case is also pending against the newly-elected RJD parliamentarian Prabhunath Singh. Apart from them, there are a number of legislators in the Bihar Assembly against whom several criminal cases are pending in the court, which means they will stand to lose the House membership the moment they are convicted. They include Mr Ranvijay Singh, Mr Manoranjan Singh alias Dhumal Singh, Mr Ajit Kumar, all from the JD-U, Mr Nityanand Rai and Mr Ashok Agrawal, both from the BJP and Mr Kedarnath Singh and Mr Tausif Alam from the RJD.

However, not all politicians are fools and they have taken “preventive” measures well in advance by fielding their wives in the election arena before the court spoils their political career. While some have succeeded, some have not but this has been described by observers as a very smart move. The first one to make this experiment was none other than former Bihar chief minister Prasad who, before going to jail in the fodder scam in 1997, had appointed his wife Rabri Devi as his successor and much to everyone's surprise, she completed two terms in office before being voted out in the February 2005 Assembly polls.

Like Mr Prasad, several other politicians facing threats to their political career too have fielded their wives in politics. The list includes Veena Devi, wife of criminal-politician Suraj Bhan Singh, Heena Sahab, wife of muscle-flexing politician Mohammad Shahabuddin, Lovely Anand, wife of Anand Mohan, Ranjit Ranjan, wife of Pappu Yadav who only recently was acquitted in the Ajit Sarkar murder case, Nitu Kumari, daughter-in-law of former minister Aditya Singh who faces serious charges like murder, kidnapping and extortion, Aruna Devi, wife of dreaded gangster Akhilesh Singh and Kunti Devi, wife of former RJD legislator Rajendra Yadav.

According to a latest report of NEW-ADR, a total of 141 legislators in the  243-member Bihar Assembly have pending criminal cases that comes to nearly 59 per cent, up by 24 per cent from the past Assembly polls. In 2005, this percentage was just 35. Of 141 MLAs, 85 face serious criminal charges like murder and attempt to murder. The JD-U and BJP have the highest number of lawmakers with criminal cases, followed by the RJD, Independents and others.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Eye on polls, Nitish shifts focus to Delhi

Manoj Chaurasia in Patna

What prompted Chief Minister Nitish Kumar yesterday to announce his plan to hold a rally in New Delhi in March next year? Whom does he want to impress? Is he nursing his ambition to play a key role in the formation of the government at the Centre in the next election?

These questions are being asked here at a time when it sounded fairly “logical” when Mr Kumar decided to hold a rally in support of his party’s demand for special-category status for Bihar.

The people are wondering why Mr Kumar needs a rally in New Delhi, why he wants to keep himself busy with rally-and-yatra politics, and who he is trying to impress ~ the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre or Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who he perceives as his biggest rival in the saffron party.   

The BJP, Mr Kumar's junior coalition partner in the NDA government in Bihar, is planning a similar rally in Patna in April, a month after the JD-U expects to hold two mega rallies over the issue without its partners.  

Why is Mr Kumar keeping this distance from the partner that has helped him run his government in Bihar, and which gave him a sort of “political asylum” as a Union minister in the former NDA government when he, as a leader of the defunct Samata Party, after revolting against his mentor RJD chief Lalu Prasad, was battling for survival in his home state?   

Observers say the answer lies in Mr Kumar’s fast-growing political ambition to keep himself in the national reckoning, since the UPA and the NDA are mired in corruption controversies and facing severe credibility crises.  

They say Mr Kumar is well aware of the fact that any decision on granting special-category status to a state is made by the National Development Council and not by the Prime Minister. Thus, his demand has great political meaning.   

A rally in New Delhi, observers say, will convey to Bihar residents that Mr Kumar is serious about Bihar's development, and win him friends in industry, as special-category status will provide tax holidays to willing entrepreneurs. It will also put him in the national reckoning, with not much time left for the 2014 general elections.  

Mr Kumar has held two similar rallies so far ~ one in New Delhi and a second in Mumbai, the national business capital ~ against the backdrop of Bihar's centenary celebrations this year. Some also say Mr Kumar is trying to hide his “failures” by keeping himself busy in rallies and yatras he says are in the interests of his state.  

If his string of yatras and rallies is not enough, Mr Kumar is also planning a week-long tour of Pakistan, which is said to be a move to reach out to Muslims, whose support in his home state will be crucial in the next general election, and to refurbish his image among the minority class.   

The chief minister made his political intentions clear when he appealed to the people at yesterday's rally to give his party a “huge mandate” in the next general election, to enable him to help form a “friendly” government at the Centre to fast-track development work in his backward state. And, by keeping his partner at a distance, he has tried to signal that he holds the “secular” tag despite being in the company of the “communal” BJP.  

Mr Kumar has also exhorted all landlocked backward states to demand special-category status. Observers say this is primarily aimed at exerting more pressures on the Centre, rather than forming a “group of like-minded states”.   

In most of the landlocked states ~ Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh ~ either the BJP or the Samajwadi Party is in power. Thus, it is unlikely they will support Mr Kumar’s move, as they feel he has grown too big for his boots in recent years. 

Chipko-like movement in Bihar invokes the divine

Manoj Chaurasia in Patna

In a novel campaign to save trees, painters of the Madhubani school of painting have taken up their brushes to paint trees with images of Hindu gods and goddesses, applying coats of vibrant colours. The movement is anchored in the belief that the images would put the fear of god in those who are armed with axes and saws to cut down trees for crass commercial gains.

The movement is in a way a continuation of what a few years back a senior official in the state did ~ paint a notoriously lawless town in south Bihar with soothing shades of pink in the hope that it would foster communal harmony. The unique campaign to conserve environment ~ a little  different from the Chipko Movement started way back in the early 1970s in the Himalayan region to protect trees from being felled by hugging them ~ has been launched in north Bihar’s Madhubani district which shares its borders with Nepal. This is the first time that the residents have turned to “divine therapy”, as it were, by using deities as a cover to discourage the public from felling trees.

Local artists from Madhubani have been roped in to paint tree trunks and leaves with images depicting various tales from Hindu epics or of deities to ensure the locals do not fell trees, for fear of incurring the wrath of the gods and goddesses. Hundreds of trees have been painted in the district so far which has not only given a colourful look to the roadside trees but boosted mass awareness about environmental conservation.

“People ruthlessly chopping trees with axes and saws always gave me a lot of pain. I tried to convince them that this is not good for environment but they never took it seriously. So I hit upon the plan to paint scenes from Hindu epics  or images of gods on tree trunks thinking it can work wonders, and, it has really begun working now,” said Mr Shashthi Nath Jha who has launched the campaign to protect environment in Bihar. He said around a hundred artists have joined the campaign painting trees with images of deities after taking time off their studies.

The basic themes being painted are Sita swayamvara, Radha-Krishna love lore, various moods of Meera etc. “Apart from strong natural colours, we are also using chemical paints to colour trees so that they can survive rain and heat and last long,” said Mr Jha, who is also working for women empowerment and child labour rehabilitation thorough his NGO, Gramin Vikas Parishad.

Local artists are voluntarily joining in and their tribe is increasing by the day. “This gives me a lot of satisfaction to be associated with such a noble cause. I have been painting images of gods and goddesses on trees so that people think hundred times before cutting down trees," said Seema
Das, who is adept in the art of Madhubani painting.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Empowerment for Mahadalit youths with English language skills

Manoj Chaurasia in Patna

For the first time, Mahadalit youths in Bihar are being provided with an opportunity to learn spoken English. This exclusive project for them aims at bettering their skills, which should help them in getting good jobs, and consequently raising their standard of living.

Mahadalits, the poorest of the poor in the society, constitute around 15 per cent of the state’s total population, and they play a significant role in politics and formation of the government.

The background to this huge step forward in the social uplifting of Mahadalits, stems from a range of initiatives put in place for this particular community by the Nitish Kumar government.

The latest project is a collaboration between the Bihar Mahadalit Vikas Mission, a commission of the government of Bihar and British Lingua, a training institute of national repute in the field of English skills and capacity building. The training module offers four-hour daily classes except on Sundays.

These are divided into four equal sessions ~ sentence formation, group discussion, language activities and feedback. The structural-cum-interactive method adopted in the programme was developed by British Lingua and has proved highly successful in imparting practical and easy-to-follow ways of using English in a variety of contexts.

Bihar’s deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi said the NDA was committed to raising the Mahadalit community out of its downtrodden position, and bringing it to the main stream of society, while Mr Vidyanand Vikal, chairman of the Bihar State Commission for Scheduled Castes, who visited and interacted with the Mahadalit youths said: "I am more than happy to see these youths who are generally more comfortable speaking their own regional language, quite at par with those who can speak fluent English. It is no less than a miracle to see their improvement in such a short space of time”.

British Lingua’s project director group captain I B Thakur said he was most gratified to see the Mahadalit youths holding conversations in English.

Words of praise for the scheme have also come from the trainees. “I had never thought that I too would be able to communicate in English one day. I'm grateful to both the British Lingua and the government of Bihar for their role in providing me with an opportunity of obtaining English Skills,” said Tulshi Rani, a student. “Now I can hold conversations in English and feel that I'm at par with those belonging to the advanced communities,” said Suresh Mahto, another student.

Mr Birbal Jha, Managing Director, British Lingua, said: “By taking English skills to the grassroots of society, we can instill a sense of worth in its members. They can benefit from knowledge of the English language as it brings parity and removes the divisions within society that hold certain sections back simply because of their ancestry.” Mr Jha, quoting Mahatma Gandhi said: “One small step leads to another and soon you have a journey”.

With Bihar taking its place as a meeting point for new investment, where English is the language of business, both nationally and internationally, the barriers are being broken down by integrating English into the lives of the state’s most downtrodden section of society.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Chief Minister trying to be a "goodwill ambassador"

In his first term as the chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar had better confined himself to the local politics but in his second term, he seems to be grabbing the national centrestage trying hard to transform himself into a "goodwill ambassador". While he has already visited China, he is scheduled to visit Pakistan the very next month. India just does not share very good relations with those two Asian countries. While tension in relations prevails with China after the latter was accused of doing military build-ups along the border, bilateral relations with Pakistan have soured in the aftermath of 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Manoj Chaurasia reports…

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may be quite hesitant about visiting Pakistan post Mumbai terror attacks but Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar looks only too eager to visit the neighbouring country. It took just an invitation extended out of sheer courtesy by a visiting Pakistan delegation to Bihar in August this year to make Kumar plan for a weeklong tour to Pakistan!

“It’s worth mentioning that a Pakistani delegation which visited Bihar recently had extended an invitation to the chief minister to visit Pakistan on behalf of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency. After completing the basic formalities, his Pakistan trip has been scheduled between 9 November and 17 November”, says an official statement issued by the state government.

The statement claims that Kumar’s visit to Pakistan will not only promote bilateral ties but also accelerate the dialogue process between the two countries. The dialogue process, it may be noted here, has been virtually got derailed in the aftermath of 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks which killed more than 150 people.

As per his itinerary cleared by the ministry of external affairs, Kumar will be visiting places like Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Mohenjodaro and Taxila during his stay in Pakistan and will also be paying courtesy visits to several top Pakistani leaders, like the President, Prime Minister and also opposition party leader Imran Khan.

Official sources said party ministers Renu Kumari, Sukhda Pandey, Rajya Sabha member NK Singh, chief secretary AK Sinha and home secretary Amir Subhani will be part of the 11-member delegation Mr Kumar will be leading to Pakistan on a “goodwill mission”.

Official sources said Kumar’s proposed tour to Pakistan followed an invitation extended to him by the 18-member Pakistan parliamentary delegation which had visited Bihar in August this year. The invitation to visit Pakistan had been extended on behalf of Punjab chief minister Mohammad Shahbaz Sharif, brother of former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

During his visit to Bihar, the Pakistani delegation had called on the chief minister and hugely praised his leadership skills for ushering in development works in his home state. And, apparently an overwhelmed chief minister just did not resist his temptation to visit Pakistan, confided an official of CM’s office.

This is the second time in past 16 months that Bihar chief minister has assumed the new role of a “peace ambassador” to neighbouring countries India does not share very good relations.

Last year in June, Kumar had led a delegation to China on a three-day “goodwill mission”. His visit to China also followed an invitation extended to him by a visiting Chinese envoy to Bihar, and Mr Kumar on his part did not let him down. Earlier, the Bihar CM had visited Bhutan and Mauritius though his goal was to lure foreign investors.