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Seema Sengupta



Photo: Reuters

Eyebrows were raised when former Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung emphatically asserted on television last month that India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will face defeat in Uttar Pradesh’s provincial election. I can recollect a foreign diplomat asking for my assessment of the evolving political situation, leading up to the polls, during an informal discussion on Ukraine. After all, it is a popular belief in India’s politico-administrative circle that all roads to the throne in Delhi passes through Uttar Pradesh, which sends the largest number of lawmakers to India’s parliament. My response was unambiguous. No doubt, there will be consolidation of votes against the BJP, with anti-Muslim hatred reaching an epidemic proportion in the province.

Uttar Pradesh has been consistently making headlines for violent crimes against Muslims since 2014 – the year Narendra Modi was sworn in as India’s 15th Prime Minister. A fear psychosis has gripped the province’s Muslim community, and not unreasonably too. Under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s watch, the Muslim identity is under vicious yet methodical attack. The State remote controls what Muslims eat and wear and whom they marry, thus enforcing an insidious cultural cleansing that remains beyond human perception. This apart, the Dalits – those lowly placed Hindus in the abominable caste ladder – are also disgruntled, as they are squeezed under the pressure of majoritarian identity politics.

Moreover, the Hathras tragedy is still fresh in the electorate’s mind, as it evoked global condemnation and furore after the Adityanath government forcibly cremated a raped and murdered teenaged girl’s body in the darkness of night without the deceased’s family’s consent. Even the BJP’s loyal Muslim vote bank in the Shia community is aggrieved at the endless State-encouraged Muslim bashing, which in turn is impacting the lives and livelihoods of the minority community adversely. The Muslims and Dalits, seeking respite from the Hindu nationalist high-handedness, were waiting eagerly to usher a change, using their Constitution-gifted democratic rights. Vox Populi uploaded in social media, from the ground, corroborated a groundswell of discontent against the BJP government, which was expected to favour the opposition forces’ electoral fortune in Uttar Pradesh, which did not happen eventually. But I was worried about something more fundamental and ethical – did the EVMs reflect people’s choices precisely?    



What is election all about at the end of the day? Obviously, to pick a winner, and convince the loser to go along with the outcome. But what if the very tool which hosts the people’s mandate turns out to be unreliable? The provincial poll outcomes only buttressed my suspicion that, notwithstanding the technological progress made in the voting process, ensuring accuracy of vote and preventing fraud remains a challenge. The fact is, every machine on earth is designed to be controlled by human beings and therefore remains open to doctoring. India’s EVMs are no different. Scientists at Michigan University had previously proved it by hacking a supposedly fool-proof voting gadget used in Indian elections. The EVM was fitted with a microprocessor, Bluetooth radio and imitation display and then hijacked with the help of mobile messaging to distort results. Votes stored in the machine were altered – both real time and between polling and vote counting session.

Researchers also point out that the paper and wax seals used to safeguard EVMs from tampering are imitable and can be faked easily. Besides, the manufacturing of EVMs’ micro-controllers or the memory is outsourced abroad, which in itself opens up the possibility of external manipulations in elections, similar to the 2016 presidential election fiasco in the United States which kicked up a storm. To borrow world renowned cryptographer and computer security professional Bruce Schneier’s words, technology adds more steps to a process and thus increases the possibility of error with each additional step.

A voter will remain oblivious to such lacunas, especially because EVM uses “black box software” to guard it from public access. But who will ensure that this very software will not be manipulated to produce fraudulent results, and that the machines are produced in the best interest of the electorate and the accuracy of the ballots? Schneier says, voting machine designers never understood the security weaknesses of what they are designing, because of a bureaucratic outlook. They lack a hacker’s mindset necessary to protect democracy. India’s poll body has strangely put the onus of proving malfeasance on the poor voter, with a rider of harsh legal penalty in case of failure to establish claim. I wrote to India’s Chief Election Commissioner, citing the incongruence in the 2014 general election outcome and the voting pattern, when, very weirdly, two out of three fielded candidates from BJP emerged victorious despite bagging votes of less than a third of Indians. His inability to provide an assurance summed up everything. 


Meanwhile, the BJP leadership is projecting their provincial poll victories as a writing on the wall for the political opposition. True, as India heads toward a crucial general election in 2024, the country’s grand old party, the National Congress, finds itself in a quandary. Since, the Congress will be the glue which binds the opposition forces together, the party needs a magician for revival. Rahul Gandhi certainly is no wizard with a magic wand who can lend adequate support to see the party through this crisis. He has lost the plot midway after a flying start to his political career. Why is it that a young man who was followed keenly by one and all for his disquiet and rebellion against the political status quo, suddenly found himself isolated from the masses, or for that matter is failing repeatedly to translate people’s goodwill into vote? Rahul’s political fortunes plummeted, while his party suffered huge blows in successive elections, as he went about reforming the Congress’ approach to politics by altering the benchmark and discarding traditional modes of communication with the people and workers on the ground.

Now that it is amply clear that the Indian electorate is willing to experiment with unique ideas and fresh face, as evident from Aam Aadmi Party’s magical rise in Punjab, Priyanka Gandhi remains Congress’ best bet for restoring its lost glory. Priyanka can also add a new dimension to the 2024 general election. She not only has a favourable public presence due to her amiability, but also closely resemble her grandmother Indira Gandhi in appearance. Like Indira – one of India’s most powerful politicians – Priyanka too is gifted with a magnetic appeal which insulates her from vicious personal attacks. Instead, the vast majority, yearning for a personalized and emotive style of leadership that Modi offers, will discover the same features encapsulated within an enigmatic Priyanka. In Priyanka, India will find a daughter, sister, wife, mother and above all a compassionate and level-headed politician capable of providing a decisive and dynamic leadership.

Those who have had the opportunity to closely watch Priyanka will acknowledge candidly that she is gifted with an amazing organizational prowess and a no-nonsense persona that Modi will find difficult to match. Besides, she can connect instantly with the womenfolk and young generation who make up the majority of the electorate in today’s India. At the end of the day, to a corruption-fatigued country seeking accountability from their politicians, Priyanka’s presence will be like a whiff of fresh air. A beleaguered Congress can ignore this reality only at their peril.   


Bill proposes allocating 33 percent of parliament seats to women





Addu Meedhoo MP Rozaina Adam has proposed an amendment to the constitution to allocate 33 percent of the seats in the parliament for women.

The bill reads that it is aimed at ensuring female representation among individuals elected to the parliament, increasing the role of women in protecting the interests of the nation and citizens and increasing the participation of women in making crucial national decisions.

It is also aimed at increasing female participation in public, increasing opportunities for women in politics and increasing the percentage of women involved in politics.

The bill proposes adding a section behind Article 71 (b) of the constitution setting down the number of members in the parliament – Article 71 (c) to state that 33 percent of the parliament’s seats should be allocated for women.

Meanwhile, the bill proposes Article 71 (d) to state that the constituencies allocated for women will be decided by a draw and would be on a rotational basis to ensure fairness.

It also proposes Article 71 (e) to state that the parliament must decide on the allocation of seats of women in the parliament during the next election once women elected to the parliament on this quota complete their terms.

There are only four female parliamentarians in the ongoing 19th parliamentary assembly.

Elections Commission (EC) has previously stated only 10 percent of candidates contesting this year’s parliamentary election are females – accounting to 41 candidates out of the total 368 candidates.


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Global call for Gaza aid convoy deaths probe; EU cuts UNRWA funds





UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wants an independent probe into the deaths of more than 100 people seeking humanitarian aid in Gaza as various countries expressed their concern over the incident. Israel has disputed the account provided by officials in the Hamas-run enclave.

Germany also demanded an investigation, while French President Emmanuel Macron said he was angered by the shooting and demanded “truth and justice” regarding the role of Israeli soldiers in the incident.

Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces on Thursday (February 29) shot dead more than 100 Palestinians as they waited for an aid delivery, but Israel blamed the deaths on crowds that surrounded aid trucks, saying victims had been trampled or run over.

At least 112 people were killed and more than 280 wounded in the incident near Gaza City, Palestinian health officials said.

Israel disputed the account provided by officials in Hamas-run Gaza, which has been bombarded by Israeli forces for months since the Palestinian militant group’s deadly rampage in southern Israel on October 7.

Guterres ‘shocked’

Speaking in St. Vincent and the Grenadines ahead of a regional summit, Guterres said he was “shocked” by the latest episode in the conflict, in which Palestinian authorities say over 30,000 civilians have been killed since October 7.

Responding to questions on the failure of a recent Security Council resolution seeking a ceasefire, Guterres said worsening geopolitical divides have “transformed the veto power into an effective instrument of paralysis of the action of the Security Council.”

“I am totally convinced that we need a humanitarian ceasefire and we need the unconditional and immediate release of hostages and that we should have a Security Council able to achieve these objectives,” Guterres said.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen Friday tweeted: “Deeply disturbed by images from Gaza. Every effort must be made to investigate what happened and ensure transparency. Humanitarian aid is a lifeline for those in need and access to it must be ensured. We stand by civilians, urging their protection in line with international law.”

‘Mass panic’

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock asked Israel to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident. She wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “The Israeli army must fully investigate how the mass panic and shooting could have happened,” and reiterated calls for a “humanitarian ceasefire.”

The U.S. State Department said it was urgently seeking information on the incident, as did the French foreign ministry. The White House said President Joe Biden discussed the “tragic and alarming incident” with the leaders of Egypt and Qatar.

The strongest reaction from major Western leaders came from Macron, who tweeted: “Deep indignation at the images coming from Gaza, where civilians have been targeted by Israeli soldiers. I express my strongest condemnation of these shootings and call for truth, justice, and respect for international law.”

Macron said it was imperative for an immediate ceasefire in the war to be put in place.

Speaking on France Inter radio on Friday, Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said Paris would back the United Nations’ call for an independent investigation.

“The humanitarian situation has been catastrophic for several weeks now and what happened is indefensible and unjustifiable. Israel needs to be able to hear it and it needs to stop,” Sejourne told France Inter.

Israel dismisses Palestinian explanation

The Israeli military said the trucks were operated by private contractors as part of an aid operation that it had been overseeing for the past four nights.

One Israeli official said there had been two incidents, hundreds of meters apart. In the first, dozens were killed or injured as they tried to take aid from the trucks and were trampled or run over.

He said there was a second, subsequent incident as the trucks moved off. Some people in the crowd approached troops who felt under threat and opened fire, killing an unknown number in a “limited response”, he said. He dismissed the casualty toll given by Gaza authorities but gave no figure himself.

In a later briefing, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari also said dozens had been trampled to death or injured in a fight to take supplies off the trucks.

He said tanks escorting the trucks had subsequently fired warning shots to disperse the crowd and backed away when events began to get out of hand. “No IDF strike was conducted towards the aid convoy,” he said.

“The IDF was there conducting a humanitarian operation to secure the humanitarian corridor and allow the aid convoy to reach its designated distribution point.”

The loss of civilian lives was the biggest in weeks. Hamas said the incident could jeopardise talks in Qatar aimed at securing a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages it is holding.

Abbas condemns ‘ugly massacre’

Medics in Gaza said they could not cope with the flood of serious injuries, which came as the death toll in nearly five months of war passed 30,000, according to Palestinian health authorities.

Hamas issued a statement rejecting the Israeli account. It said the Health Ministry had presented “undeniable” evidence of “direct firing at citizens, including headshots aimed at immediate killing, in addition to the testimonies of all witnesses who confirmed being targeted with direct fire without posing any threat to the occupying army”.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was an “ugly massacre” by Israel.

One video shared on social media, whose location Reuters was able to verify, showed trucks loaded with many dead bodies as well as wounded people.

Another, which Reuters could not verify, showed bloodstained people being carried in a truck, bodies wrapped in shrouds and doctors treating injured patients on the hospital floor.

UNRWA funds held back by European Commission

The European Commission said on Friday it would hold back part of a payment of $89 million for the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) but increase overall aid to the Palestinians by $74 million this year.

UNRWA provides aid and basic services to Palestinians caught up in the war in Gaza but was thrown into crisis after Israel alleged in January that 12 of the agency’s 13,000 staff in the enclave were involved in the Hamas attack of October 7 last year.

Like many of the agency’s other big donors, the EU’s executive body reviewed its funding of UNRWA after Israel made the allegations.

The Commission said in a statement on Friday it now would “proceed to paying” a first tranche of $54 million of the $82 million due to be paid around the end of last month.

It said it would pay two further tranches of $17 million “in line with” an agreement with UNRWA to address concerns raised by the Israeli accusations.

UNRWA dismissed all the accused staff following the allegations. But many major donors, including the United States, Britain and several European Union countries, suspended payments to the agency or said they would not approve new funding until the matter was resolved.

The agency said a total of $450 million in funding was at risk and warned its operations across the Middle East would be “severely compromised” from March

Source(s): CGTN

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Air ambulance service to be available 24 hours





Health Ministry states air ambulance service will be available 24 hours for emergency cases across all Maldivian regions.

The Ministry added that the air ambulance is equipped with resources to provide emergency care for patients during their transfer to the nearest tertiary hospital from various areas in the Maldives. They also noted the allocation of 15 trained medical professionals in the provision of air ambulance service including doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians.

As per the Health Ministry, the purpose of this service, introduced under President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu’s policies, is to ensure the provision of air ambulance in the Maldives in a sustainable manner.

A DHC-8-200 aircraft is utilized for the air ambulance, said the Ministry.

The Ministry added that the inclusion of air ambulance service in medical services will expand emergency care services.

Health Minister Dr. Abdulla Khaleel has said a maximum of two patients can be carried at once on the air ambulance at the commencement of the service.

According to Minister Khaleel, two Island Aviation aircraft; a domestic plane and a seaplane, will be utilized for the air ambulance services.


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