The Latest: Top stories of the day
1. After the backlash, the government will look to review the budget move to tax 60% of employee-built EPF.
2. The Delhi Police have filed a 1,400-page charge sheet in the sexual harassment case against the Energy and Resources Institute executive vice-chairman RK Pachauri.
3. Karnataka: Bhatkal town was tense as Muslim groups protest against Bharatiya Janata Party MP Anantkumar Hegde’s inflammatory statements.
4. In the Asia Cup, India breezes past Sri Lanka to book a spot in the final.
5. An army exam in which candidates were asked to appear in only their underwear has sparked off outrage across the country.
The Big Story: Encounter politics
Two years after the United Progressive Alliance lost power in the 2014 elections, its administration ‒ specifically its Home Minister, P Chidambaram ‒ has come under intense media and political fire over the 2004 Ishrat Jahan encounter killing in Gujarat.
Jahan, a 19-year-old student from Mumbai, was shot dead by the Ahmedabad Police in 2004. They claimed that she and three men were on a mission to kill Narendra Modi, who was Gujarat chief minister at the time. In 2009, the Ahmedabad Metropolitan court ruled that the killing of Ishrat Jahan was a fake encounter. Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah was accused in this case, and was even sent to jail for this. In 2014, however, after the BJP government was sworn in at the Centre, the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a report before a special court in Ahmedabad that it did not have prosecutable evidence against Shah.
Last week, former home secretary GK Pillai hit out against his former boss Chidambaram, accusing the UPA government of changing its affidavit in the Ishrat Jahan case in order to remove references to the college student’s alleged links with the Pakistan-based terror group, the Lashkar-e-Toiba.
The BJP's accusations rest on the fact that this change was done for political reasons and was driven by the Congress High Command.
While the Congress has been receiving a barrage of criticism over this both on the news channels as well as on social media, in all this din, one rather crucial point has been missed: whether Jahan was killed in a fake encounter has nothing to do with what the Congress did. Any extra-judicial killing by the police is illegal ‒ even of a person with suspected Lashkar links. Once Indian society is on placed on the slippery slope of justifying one police killing, the possibilities of abuse of state power are immense.
Indeed, while Pillai’s statements put Chidambaram in a spot, they also virtually confirm that Jahan was killed illegally. In an interview with Times Now, Pillai called the operation a “trap”, leading to demands by Jahan’s lawyers for the bureaucrat to be made a prosecution witness.
The Big Scroll
David Headley’s depositions and the breathless media coverage around it last month also failed to answer this core question: was Ishrat Jahan’s killing actually a fake encounter? Additionally, putting the blame on the Modi government of Gujarat might seem convenient but is also inaccurate: the judiciary must also step up.
Politicking and policying
1. How Arun Jaitley went from neo-middle class to farmers, jobs to welfare in Budget 2016.
2. Has Budget 2016 changed the BJP from a Congress + cow to a comrade + cow party?
3. Mahishasur event: Jawaharlal Nehru University says that the documents Smriti Irani quoted in the Lok Sabha were authentic.
4. Maharashtra proposes to make caste-based social boycotts a crime.
5. The Law Commission of India will study the abuse of India’s colonial-era sedition laws.
1. We need to allow government shareholding in public sector banks to come down below 51%, argues Ashok Lahiri in the Business Standard.
2. In the Indian Express, Jayati Ghosh points out that the budget recognises the crisis in rural India, but even then allocations do not match the talk.
2. Nationalism does not allow Hindus in India to claim primacy, claims historian Romila Thapar in this interview with Ziya us Salam in the Hindu.
4. An Indian Express edit argues that the government must present a more convincing case for doing away with tax exemption on EPF corpus withdrawals.
As Prashant Kishore moves from the Bharatiya Janata Party to the Janata Dal (United) to the Congress, Ajaz Ashraf asks if he's merely a political mercenary?
But, largely because of his own past, it is hard to perceive Kishor as a steadfast ideological opponent of the Sangh Parivar and Modi. It was his group, the Committee for Accountable Governance, which is said to have conducted a community-wise mapping of constituencies, identified issues relevant to different sets of them, and provided Modi with talking points as he zipped through the country during the 2014 campaign.
This isn’t to say Kishor is a Hindutva adherent, even of the closet variety. However, it can be said that Hindutva doesn’t worry him unduly. Since he is said to claim credit for scripting Modi’s victory, Kishor can’t but have played a role in designing his 2014 campaign in which development and Hindutva were coupled together.