Archives  >  2019  >  November  >  25th

The Maharashtra Crisis

1. What’s the story?

Maharashtra is facing an unprecedented political crisis. Its state election results came out more than a month ago, but the four largest parties (BJP, Congress, Shiv Sena, and NCP) have been unable to form an acceptable Government till date. In a dramatic turn of events last Saturday, BJP and factions of NCP hurriedly formed a Government in the wee hours of Saturday — after the interim President’s rule was revoked unilaterally by the governor. BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis and NCP’s Ajit Pawar were sworn in as Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, respectively. Outraged, the other parties have now approached the Supreme Court “for justice.”

Tell me more.

Here’s how it all went down. On 24th October, the Maharashtra state election results were announced. It seemed that the BJP-Shiv Sena “Maha Yuti” alliance was all set to form the Government, with 165 out of the available 288 seats. However, the post-election power sharing conversations apparently went awry, with Shiv Sena pulling out of the alliance in the first week of November — leaving BJP without enough seats to form the Government. With no solution in sight, a temporary President’s rule was then imposed on the state. (Quick recap: In India, President’s rule is the suspension of state Government and imposition of direct central Government rule in a state.)

Now, after almost a month of discussions, when it seemed that Shiv Sena, NCP, and Congress had almost certainly arrived at a power sharing agreement, BJP pulled a “late-night coup”, changing the story overnight. The ball, it seems, is now with the Supreme Court

“A day after being jolted by the BJP’s early morning ‘coup’ in Maharashtra, the Congress, Shiv Sena and NCP were in consolidation mode Sunday evening with most of its MLAs being shifted into hotels to avoid horse-trading. The BJP, on its part, adopted a wait and watch approach.

Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to place before it on Monday morning the letters of the governor recommending revocation of President’s Rule and inviting Devendra Fadnavis to form government in Maharashtra.

“If they believe they have the support of the House, they must be directed to prove it today itself. If they have the numbers, they must prove it or allow us to prove the majority,” Sibal said, while maintaining that the combine has the support of 145 MLAs, which is the magic number in the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly. Detailing the sequence of events, Sibal said that the pre-poll alliance of BJP-Shiv Sena broke down after the declaration of election result and the current situation involves a post-poll alliance of three parties Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress which were holding deliberation on government formations.

“On 22 November, at 7 pm, a press conference was held wherein we say that Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress have agreed on a Common Minimum Programme and we are going to stake our claim to form government which will be headed by Uddhav Thackeray. What happened thereafter was bizarre,” he said. Sibal added that it appears there was some “national emergency” as without any Cabinet meeting the President’s Rule in Maharashtra was revoked at 5.17 am.”

NCP supremo, Sharad Pawar, on the other hand, strongly ruled out the possibility of any alliance with BJP — even after defecting politician Ajit Pawar’s reassurance that he was still with NCP.

“NCP supremo Sharad Pawar maintained Ajit Pawar’s statement was misleading and aimed at creating confusion while categorically rejecting having any truck with BJP. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who held a meeting with Sena and NCP MLAs at the Renaissance Hotel alongside Sharad Pawar, said, “Don’t worry, this (NCP-Sena) relationship will last long. We are going to form the government (in Maharashtra).”

So, what now?

All eyes are now on the apex court, which will probably announce a floor test to be held soon. However, all bets are off regarding its outcome.

Keep your eyes on this space. We’ll keep you updated. 

2. Where else should I be keeping my eyes on?

Rajasthan’s Sambhar Lake, that’s where. In a horrific development, nearly 17,000 migratory birds have mysteriously and suddenly died in and around the lake — leaving locals and state officials helpless. 

“Sambhar Lake, a Ramsar site of international significance, is India’s largest inland saltwater lake. Located in Jaipur district of Rajasthan, it spreads across 190 to 230 square kilometres. The lake has always attracted a host of migratory birds from various places across the globe. The government had been promoting the site as an eco-tourism hotspot, thanks to its immense scenic beauty and rich avian life.

Since November 10, however, the site has been converted into a graveyard with more than 17,000 bird deaths reported within 10 days. The shocking episode of bird deaths was first reported by a few ornithologists who went to the lake for photography November 10. Carcasses of numerous species have been retrieved including plovers, common coot, black-winged stilt, northern shovelers, ruddy shelduck, and pied avocet. Such incident of mass bird deaths is said to be the first in India, at least in recent history.

Avian Botulism is considered to be the leading cause of mortality among wild birds since the last century. The disease is caused by a neurotoxic protein produced by a bacteria named Clostridium botulinum. The infection is said to have spread over a vast area of around 65 sq km in the Sambhar Lake.

Owing to heavy rains in July, the lake became brimful with water which reduced its salinity. However, when water evaporated and seeped into dry soil, prominently across the edges of the lake bed, it increased the salinity there. The low-levels of warm, saline water in Sambhar Lake is said to have provided an ideal location for the manifestation of botulism.” 

Meanwhile, an appointed adviser for this case, Nitin Jain, outlined a number of suggestions to Rajasthan’s High Court on Sunday in order to try and get the situation under control

“ “One of my suggestions for long-term benefit is that the entire Sambhar Lake area should be declared as forest land and should be handed over either to the state’s forest department or to Wildlife Institute of India. Two-kilometre area surrounding the lake should be declared as eco-sensitive buffer zone to curb illegal activities,”said Jain while talking to TOI. The court has directed the state government and Sambhar Salt Limited to file their replies by November 27.”

3. What more?

Swami Nithyananda, one of the most “colourful and talked-about godmen” from India, who was once a friend of Prime Minister Modi, has reportedly fled the country “under a cloud of intrigue and scandal.”

“However, Nithyananda will remain the subject of a heated yet mirthful discourse for some time, given the reputation he has built for himself over the past few years, especially the criminal affairs he was allegedly involved in. The ascetic has been accused of kidnapping and abusing children at his ashram (the residential and ritual precinct of Hindu godmen and women) in Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat. The police now say he has fled the country.

The 41-year-old spiritualist joins the ranks of other such “godmen”—Asaram Bapu, Rampal, and Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan—all charged with serious sexual offences in recent years. And, interestingly, all strong proponents of pseudo-science “miracles.”

From claims of getting animals to talk in human language to taking up the safekeeping of Bill Gates’s wealth till the tech billionaire is reborn in the future, Nithyananda’s antics and claims have evoked ridicule among millions of Indians. Yet, he also heads an empire worth billions of rupees, according to media reports, and commands a huge following of devotees and fans.”

According to current reports, the Gujarat Police believes that Nithyananda might currently be hiding somewhere in South America. Earlier reports had indicated that he might be in Ecuador. 

“Nithyananda has been booked for child abuse and kidnapping by the Gujarat police after three minor children (a boy and two girls) were rescued from his ashram in the outskirts of Ahmedabad. This is the second case filed against him, in addition to the rape case that was filed against him in 2010.”

4. Anything else?

“Can anything that grows under the Sun be pickled? In India, possibly yes. Here’s a look at the staple household condiment — and its long history in the sub-continent.

“Can everything that grows under the sun be pickled? Even a cursory survey of Indian pickles indicates that this may indeed be the case. Unripe mangoes? Of course. Limes and lemons? But, obviously. These are some of the most popular types of pickles that the Indian subcontinent produces, consumes and exports. Then there are the only slightly less popular pickles made of red chillies, green chillies, Indian gooseberry (amla), garlic and some that use a medley of seasonal vegetables, such as the staple north Indian winter pickle made of cauliflower, carrots and turnips (gobhi, gaajar, shalgam ka achaar).

But these are, one might say, merely the protective layer of oil that tops the pickle; to truly understand the Indian achaar tradition, one needs to plumb deeper. One needs to, as is the case with nearly everything in Indian food, sample pickles specific to certain regions because even if they’ve been reduced to mere condiments on the modern Indian menu, good pickles speak eloquently about what the people making them eat and what they value. And so you have the stunning array of Indian pickles made of ingredients such as roselle leaves (gongura), bamboo shoot, fiddlehead fern, bhut jolokia, fish, banana stem, pork, prawns, elephant yam or any of the thousands of other kinds of foods that find their way onto the Indian plate.

Pickling, as a way of preserving food, is almost as old as cultivation.

Whenever there was a glut of a particular kind of food, whether a fruit or a vegetable or a kind of meat, it was pickled so that it could be eaten during the lean months of the year. Different produce was pickled at different times of the year; for example, mangoes in summer and root vegetables like daikon radish (mooli) and carrots in winter. No pickling was done during the monsoon months because the humidity and inadequate sunlight would make it difficult to keep the pickles from spoiling.”

5. Is that all?

In a concerning development, koalas have been declared “functionally extinct” by experts following the destruction of 80% of its natural habitat in Australian bushfires. (Quick recap: Functional extinction of a species means that the reduced population no longer plays a signficant role in ecosystem function and/or the population is no longer viable.)

“As Australia experiences record-breaking drought and bushfires, koala populations have dwindled along with their habitat, leaving them “functionally extinct.”

The chairman of the Australian Koala Foundation, Deborah Tabart, estimates that over 1,000 koalas have been killed from the fires and that 80 percent of their habitat has been destroyed.

Recent bushfires, along with prolonged drought and deforestation has led to koalas becoming “functionally extinct” according to experts.

While some individuals could produce, the limited number of koalas makes the long-term viability of the species unlikely and highly susceptible to disease.

Deforestation and bushfires destroy the main nutrient source of koalas, the eucalyptus tree. An adult koala will eat up to 2 pounds of eucalyptus leaves per day as it’s main staple of nutrients. While eucalyptus plants will grow back after a fire, it will take months, leaving no suitable food source for koalas and starvation a likely scenario for many.”

6. Before you leave…

Take a look at the leaked documents that have exposed China’s vast prison camp network — allegedly the “largest mass incarceration of an ethnic-religious minority since second world war.

“The internal workings of a vast chain of Chinese internment camps used to detain at least a million people from the nation’s Muslim minorities are laid out in leaked Communist Party documents published on Sunday.

The China Cables, a cache of classified government papers, appear to provide the first official glimpse into the structure, daily life and ideological framework behind centres in north-western Xinjiang region that have provoked international condemnation.

Obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and shared with the Guardian, the BBC and 15 other media partners, the documents have been independently assessed by experts who have concluded they are authentic. China said they had been “fabricated”.

However, the documents are consistent with mounting evidence that the country runs detention camps that are secret, involuntary and used for ideological “education transformation”.”

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