New Delhi, India
The five men charged with the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old year old medical student in Delhi have been ordered to appear in court on Monday. It will be their first public appearance since being detained two days after the attack three weeks ago.
The men's full trial is due to start in a week in a new fast-track court inaugurated last week specifically to deal with sexual violence against women. A sixth accused, a juvenile, will be tried separately.
Feelings are still running high in India, with many calling for wholesale reforms of laws and policing. The incident has also provoked a fierce debate on attitudes to women. Protests have occurred in neighbouring countries, inspired by the ongoing demonstrations in India.
In his first interview since the attack, the male friend of the victim, who died in a Singapore hospital eight days ago, has described how passers-by left the pair lying unclothed and bleeding in the street for almost an hour.
The graphic account in a television interview is likely to add fuel to public anger over the death in a country where official statistics show that one rape is reported every 20 minutes and where sexual harassment of women in public places is systematic.
The woman's friend told the Zee News TV network that he was beaten unconscious with a metal bar by her attackers before the pair were thrown off the bus. They had boarded it in the mistaken belief it would take them home after an evening watching the film Life of Pi at a nearby shopping centre cinema. The women was raped for more than an hour and suffered internal injuries after an assault with an iron bar.
The pair lay on the roadside for around 45 minutes before three police vans arrived. Officers then spent a long time arguing about where to take them, the man said. "We kept shouting at the police, 'Please give us some clothes,' but they were busy deciding which police station our case should be registered at," the man said in Hindi.
Eventually, the officers fetched a sheet from a nearby hotel. The man said he himself, despite serious injuries, carried the victim to a police vehicle.
Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told Reuters that GPS records show the first police van reaching the scene four minutes after it was called. He said it left after seven minutes and arrived at a hospital within 24 minutes.
The friend described the pair's attempts to call for help during the attack. "We were shouting, trying to make people hear us. But they switched off the lights of the bus," he said, according to a transcript of the interview.
When they were finally thrown out at a roadside near the city's airport, they pleaded with passers-by for help, he added in the studio interview. A blue metal crutch was leaning against his chair.
"There were a few people who had gathered round, but nobody helped. My friend was grievously injured and bleeding profusely. We were without clothes. We tried to stop passers-by. Several auto rickshaws, cars and
bikes slowed down but none stopped for about 25 minutes. Then, someone on patrolling, stopped and called the police.," he said.
The man also criticised delays and care at the public hospital where the pair were taken. He said they were again left without clothes or treatment for a protracted period.
Neither the woman nor her friend have been named and the TV channel that ran the interview is under investigation by police who claim it has threatened their anonymity.
His revelations will fuel further criticism of authorities in India who have alternated between public statements promising future reforms and a barely disguised contempt for the largely urban middle-class protestors who have taken to the streets over recent weeks. Huge gaps in the provision of security, healthcare and other basic services supposedly provided by the state have been exposed by the tragedy, deepening public anger.
Metro stations in Delhi have been closed to prevent gatherings in the city centre. Thousands of police were deployed to protect parliament buildings and the homes of senior officials after the news of the attack spread.
Analysts point to a growing gulf between a government used to a traditional opaque and paternalist style of politics and the accountability demanded by new voters.
The victim's friend called on the protests to continue. "If you can help someone, help them. If a single person had helped me that night, things would have been different. There is no need to close Metro stations and stop the public from expressing themselves. People should be allowed to have faith in the system," he said.
He also said he wished people had come to his friend's help when she needed it: "You have to help people on the road when they need help."
According to Indian newspapers, the victim had to give a detailed statement twice because of an administrative dispute between officials. Her friend said he lay on a stretcher for four days in a police station without medical assistance after the attack.
By Jason Burke, The Guardian, January 5, 2013
New Delhi, India
With a show of strength that the put the outcome of the contest beyond any shadow of doubt, UPA’s presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee filed his papers in the company of the entire leadership - prime minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and a host of cabinet ministers and leaders from supporting parties.
After submitting the papers, 77-year old Mukherjee who is all set to enter the Rashtrapati Bhawan after the July 19th elections, expressed his gratitude to all the parties who have supported him to occupy a post that has been held in the past by stalwarts.
He also invoked divine blessings for his election campaign.
Union parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Bansal, who is Mukherjee’s chief election agent, informed that in all four sets of papers had been filed, and they had the signatures of over 480 members of the electoral college that comprises of the MPs and legislators.
Bansal was not overtly worried that one of the alliance partners-Trinamool Congress has not yet lined up to support to Mukherjee.
He indicated that the Congress would continue reaching out to the TMC, but also hinted that not much would be lost in the event of its refusing to support Mukherjee.
Apart from the Samajwadi party and the BSP, its two supporting allies, the UPA candidate has already got the support of the JD(U), the Shiv Sena and the CPI(M) that is beyond the existing political alignment. This puts the election beyond any shade of doubt.
A short while after Mukherjee filed his papers, the combined opposition candidate PA Sangma also joined the race. At the time of filing his papers, Sangma was accompanied by the top BJP leaders including LK Advani, Arun Jaitley, and party president Nitin Gadkari, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, and other leaders from the NDA. However, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa one of the first sponsors of Sangma’s candidature was conspicuous by her absence. Her absence was explained to indisposition, and it was clarified on NDA’s behalf that there was not political about it.
By Daily News & Analysis, June 29, 2012
Given the arithmetic of the constituency that will elect the next President, Pranab Mukherjee is certain to win against his challenger, PA Sangma. This isn’t a general election, where the vicissitudes of voter sentiment will influence the outcome. The back-room deals that have been negotiated by the Congress to secure the support of many of its allies, and some parties from the Opposition, will almost certainly seal the deal for it.
To that extent, Pranab Mukherjee perhaps doesn’t feel the need to reach out to us, the lowly common folks, and make an appeal for why he would make a good President. He has confined himself to making discreet phone calls to leaders of allied part and the Opposition to secure their support.
Do "We, the People" count for anything at all?
The Congress party has even sneeringly rejected Sangma’s challenge to Mukherjee to an open debate Party spokesman Manish Tewari has said that since the office of the President wasn’t about managing the economy, “the suggestion for a debate is a non-sequitur and a non-starter”.
Going one step further, the Congress is persisting with its efforts to manufacture a consensus around Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature by hectoring the BJP for its decision to support Sangma.
But the Congress’ aversion to an open debate or engage us ordinary folks and to engineer a political consensus through its wheeling-dealing misses out on one of the core tenets of our polity: that the President is the defender of the Constitution, which in letter and in spirit is centred around “We, the People”.
The very office of the President, for all its pomp and ceremony that has come to characterise it, is a personification of the Indian citizen, putting him front and centre of the Constitutional scheme of things. And yet, as part of the election to that office, the Congress seems to suggest, there is no compelling need for a candidate to deal with the dirty, unwashed masses; he can ride in a horse-drawn ceremonial buggy (or a six-door sedan) to the Rashtrapati Bhavan in regal splendour.
It is an index of how far we have moved away from our Constitutional moorings.
But exactly why are Pranab-da and the Congress not keen on a public debate? After all, as argumentative Indians, we have a tradition of engaging in ceaseless debate and dialectics, as embodied in the Tarka Sastra.
And even though the office of the President will not require political or economic management skills in the way that Pranab-da’s most recent stint in the Finance Ministry did, an able defence of his record in various offices, in his long innings in politics, will offer sterling validation of the aspiration that, yes, we are electing the best man for the highest office of the land.
As Firstpost has argued earlier, Mukherjee’s record in office – right from his role during the Emergency down to the present day (where his colossal mismanagement of the Indian economy has become indefensible even for the Congress) – is fair game for scrutiny.
Of course, a debate such as this is almost always weighted in favour of the challenger and the underdog. To that extent, Mukherjee doesn’t have as much to gain – and perhaps more to lose – from a debate than Sangma.
But by appearing to run away from the challenge of a debate, Pranab-da may have already lost the larger debate over the accountability of leaders. The subliminal message that he is sending out is: “‘Why must I subject myself to scrutiny by you lowly mortals when I can take the high road to high office?”
And the Congress’ airy dismissal of even the suggestion of a debate perhaps offers a peep into the mindset of our leaders, and particularly what they really think of “We, the People.”
By Venky Vembu, First Post, June 22, 2012
New Delhi, India
Cracks began to appear within the BJP-led NDA and the leading opposition party itself on whether to support or oppose Pranab Mukherjee, barely a day after the ruling UPA chose him as its candidate for the presidential poll. A group of BJP leaders — LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari and Ananth Kumar — met ahead of the NDA’s meeting on Sunday. But they could not reach any conclusion in the absence of clear numbers to work for them.
The BJP leaders seeking a contest were also opposed by a section within the NDA — particularly the JD(U) and Akali Dal. They said it could be embarrassing for the opposition alliance.
Sources said Advani told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday evening – when the latter called to seek support for Mukherjee – that the request had come “a little late”. The PM responded by saying that it was never late to make amends.
On Saturday evening, Singh reportedly spoke to TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu for getting support for Mukherjee. But Naidu has also been approached by AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa and BJD leader Naveen Patnaik.
Leaders close to Advani insist on opposing Mukherjee even if it means supporting former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma.
For, APJ Abdul Kalam, whose name was propped up by Mamata Banerjee, has not agreed so far to contest.
But Sangma’s will to contest began to show signs of strain. His party boss, NCP president Sharad Pawar said, "I am confident that he would withdraw his candidature and listen to the request from the party.”
Within the BJP, Gadkari and other BJP leaders did not appear enthusiastic about a fight, as they did not see any candidate of Mukherjee’s stature. Also, the RSS, the parent wing of the BJP, is not against Mukherjee. Sources said it considered Mukherjee to be neither a Gandhi family loyalist nor its first choice.
Some BJP leaders talked of the possibility of striking a hard bargain with the UPA on the post of the Vice-President, election for which is scheduled for August.
But others dismissed such a prospect as “wishful thinking” as the electoral colleges for choosing the President and the Vice-President were different.
For choosing the VP, the UPA has enough numbers as the electoral college consists of only Parliament members. There is talk that Hamid Ansari could get a second term as VP.
Meanwhile, BJP member Ram Jethmalani added to the drama by saying he would contest against Mukherjee because he failed to act against black money. He did not seem to have any takers.
By Shekhar Iyer, Hindustan Times, June 16, 2012
New Delhi, India
The race for the Rashtrapati Bhawan has gathered more steam. The Election Commission is expected to issue a notification on Monday. The chances of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee becoming UPA's Presidential candidate are high. Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has conveyed that she isn't opposed to any candidate and it's up to the Congress to decide, according to sources.
The chances of a consensus on Pranab may also virtually boil down to whether the Centre will allow a special package for West Bengal. West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra will meet Pranab on Monday for a financial package for the state.
Amit Mitra is in Delhi for a crucial round of talks with the Union Finance Ministry. Both the Prime Minister and Pranab Mukherjee had told Mamata when she visited the capital that an interest waiver was not possible as other states would ask for similar exceptions.
This comes after the Congress in West Bengal appealed to the Trinamool on Sunday to back Pranab Mukherjee as the President. Congress leader and minister in West Bengal Manas Bhuniya had appealed to Mamata Banerjee to support Pranab if the High Command makes him the candidate.
On why he made the appeal, Bhuniya said, "We are worried about the Trinamool Congress' non-committal attitude, it is significantly quiet in this matter."
NCP's Supriya Sule has said that her party would back a consensus UPA candidate. This comes even as NCP leader PA Sangma seeks support from various parties for his candidature.
Meanwhile, the Opposition has also not yet arrived at a consensus on a candidate for the President's post. Last week, former Lok Sabha Speaker and NCP leader PA Sangma met BJP leader LK Advani to seek the party's support for his candidature.
Sangma's candidature has been endorsed by BJD chief Naveen Patnaik and AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa. However, the BJP has said that it will arrive at a consensus after consulting all its allies.
By CNN-IBN, June 11, 2012
(With additional information from PTI)