Briefing (February 23-29, 2020)

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MURSHIDABAD

Sagardighi, Kabilpur, Dhumarpahar and Chandpara villages have started a trial run of growing high-density apple by planting 1400 imported saplings. Indian Institute of Spices Research in Meerut is helping them in the trial plantations imported from Italy. The initiative is reported to be the first effort for job creation after five migrant labourers from Sagardighi’s Bahalnagar were killed in Kulgam in October 2019. They were working in the apple orchards. District officials said Kashmir’s apple orchards attract roughly 30,000 youths from Murshidabad, who earned anywhere between Rs 25,000 and Rs 35,000 in less than two months. In January, a group of farmers were driven to Meerut for getting the plants suiting tropical conditions.

Ratan Ray, the local horticulture officer, who is overseeing the pilot project believes that if Bankura can have an apple, why not Murshidabad. “Italian apples require 2,000 hours of cultivation at 10 degrees Celsius, which is possible in Murshidabad in winter,” Ray was quoted saying, adding that the variety could withstand temperatures up to 40 degrees. So far, success was visible. In late January, the first sign of an apple tree sprouting leaves was visible on the panchayat samiti’s 1.5 acres of land in Sagardighi that has been given out for farming the tree. Similar results were reported at Kabilpur’s 1-acre plot and the half-acre plots at Dhumarpahar and Chandpara, respectively. If the projects succeed, Bahalnagar resident Noor Alam and Popara resident Ainur Sheikh will be happy. They have been harvesting Kashmir apple for more than 12 years. Last year they were rescued and encouraged to go home after five of their colleagues were killed.

DEHRADUN

Nitika Kaul, 28, Major Vibhuti Shankar Dhoundiyal’s widow, has joined the armed forces as part of her “real tribute” on his first death anniversary. She has cleared the Short Service Commission (SSC) examination as well as the interview. Dhoundiyalwas killed during a gun battle with Jaish militants in Pulwama in February 2019, barely 10 months after they married. Kaul is from Kashmir, who was working with a multinational company in Delhi, will now join the armed forces as a cadet. She had appeared in the examination in September 2019. “It was a very emotional moment for me to enter that examination hall, given what I had experienced,” Kaul was quoted saying. “At the same time, I was thinking that my husband would have gone through the same situation, of clearing the first examination as a step towards joining the forces… It made me feel closer to Vibhu.”

SRINAGAR

The government has booked yet another PDP leader, Peer Mansoor, under the Public Safety Act. With him, now Kashmir has three former Chief Ministers – Dr Farooq, Omar and Mehbooba, and former ministers, Ali Mohammad Sagar, Sartaj Madni, Naeem Akhter, besides Dr Shah Feasal, and Hilal Ahmad Lone who are currently detained under PSA. Others than former Chief Ministers, all others are detained at the MLA Hostel that has been declared a sub-jail.

LONDON

British Labour Party seems to have started getting into the labour of love for Kashmir. Last week, Delhi deported a senior Labour MP, Debbie Abrahams, who flew from Dubai to meet her relatives in her two days India visit. A critic of Delhi’s Kashmir policy who heads Labour Party’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Kashmir was told that her e-visa stands cancelled. At the immigration desk, she alleged a “rude official” shouted at her and escorted to the deportation cell wherefrom she was “physically marched” to a plane taking off for Dubai. Officials said she was planning a Kashmir visit and later was planning to go to Muzaffarabad. From Dubai, she later flew to Muzaffarabad where she admitted she “just wanted to see the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir”. Insisting that her group was neither pro or anti-India, she was quoted saying that her requests for a delegation visit to Jammu and Kashmir by India was not responded by Delhi. The decision to cancel her visa was appreciated by Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi unlike others. She later tweeted: “Again, for clarity, I am PRO human rights and social justice. I will always speak up for people who are not afforded these rights including Kashmiris on both sides of the line of control.”

HUBBALI

The arrest of three Kashmiri engineering students on sedition charges for allegedly shouting pro-Pakistan slogans in Hubballi is gradually emerging a major controversy in the Bangaluru suburb. This became major news after the local 1600-member strong bar association passed a resolution against pleading the trio case in the court. The police had initially freed them after seeking an undertaking under Section 169 of CrPC due to “deficient evidence”. Later the right-wingers’ protests led to their re-arrest and a police remand till early March. In fact when the police were removing them from the court the ABVP and BJP recruits “threw footwear at them”. Photographs showing them being beaten were viral on social media. The trio Basit Aashiq Sofi from Baramulla, Talib Majeed and Amir Mohiuddin Wani from Anantnag was enrolled at the KLE Institute of Technology.

ISLAMABAD

Last week, two high profile visits to Pakistan triggered a reaction in Delhi. First, it was Turkish president who invoked Kashmir in his speech to Pakistan parliament. Later came the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who reiterated his mediation offer over Kashmir.

Day after Erdogan’s comparison of with Turkey’s fight against foreign domination during World War I (a reference to Çanakkale), Delhi summoned his Ambassador Sakir Özkan Torunlar and issued him a strong demarche. MEA said that his remarks reflected “neither an understanding of history nor of the conduct of diplomacy” and would have “strong implications” on India’s ties with Turkey. Terming its interference in India’s internal matters, Raveesh Kumar, the MEA spokesman said Erdogan’s “distorted” events of the past to advance a “narrow-minded” view of the present.

“I am deeply concerned about the increase in tensions that we have witnessed last year,” Guterres said during his 3-day visit. “I have repeatedly stressed the importance of exercising maximum restraint and taking steps to de-escalate, both militarily and verbally, while reiterating my offer to exercise my good offices, should both sides ask.” While Pakistan was happy over the pleasing utterances, Delhi ruled out any possibility of a third party.

DELHI

When Kashmiri Pandit delegation comprising Utpal Kaul, Col Taj Tikoo, Dr Surinder Kaul, Sanjay Ganjoo and Parekisht Kaul, met Amit Shah to express gratitude for abrogating Article 370 and 35A, they returned with a promise that the government will build ten special townships for them in Kashmir and will renovate and rebuild the temples “destroyed and desecrated by terrorists”. Besides, they were promised special provisions in government jobs and restoration of the property that has been encroached upon.

SRINAGAR

As the health of ailing separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani deteriorated, Kashmir witnessed visible tensions for a few days. Authorities also got into top gear to ensure that any eventuality should not get things out of control. It sent top SKIMS doctors to his residence who did his health check-up and suggested them to remove him to the hospital for better health care, which, according to officials was rejected by his family. It was during this uncertainty that a couple of video clips appeared on social media. These clips showed the ailing separatist talking incoherently and with great effort. A few days later, however, Geelani’s conditions started improving again. It was then that the police detained two of his aides for questioning. Identified as Siraj and Imtiyaz, one of them is this cook. Reports suggest that they are being asked about the video. Family sources said the access to Geelani’s residence is now regulated and only an authorised team of government doctors is permitted to examine him.

DELHI

Ahmer Khan, a Srinagar based freelance multimedia journalist has bagged France-Presse (AFP) Kate Webb Prize for 2019 for his on the ground coverage in Kashmir post-August 5, 2019. He has written and also created some videos. The Kate Webb Prize is named after a crusading AFP reporter who died in 2007 at the age of 64, after a career covering the world’s trouble spots.”Reporting from Kashmir at this time has been extremely challenging for everyone, including the established foreign media,” AFP’s Asia-Pacific regional director Philippe Massonnet was quoted saying. “For an independent, local journalist those challenges have been far greater, and it is to Ahmer’s enormous credit that he managed to provide accurate, high-quality journalism when it was so sorely needed.” Khan has dedicated the award to his colleagues back home. “This is a real honour and a huge motivation to carry on my work with enthusiasm and determination. I want to dedicate this award to the courageous and resilient journalists from Kashmir who have been reporting in extremely difficult conditions for the past six months. This is a collective award.”

MUZAFFARABAD

Forget February 5, that Pakistan has been observing as ‘Kashmir Day’. Now Muzaffarabad’s tourism department is observing February 19 as Pheran and Kangri Day to “promote Kashmiri culture”. Pakistani media quoted Information Secretary of PaK saying: “The purpose of dedicating a day to this traditional winter dress and the portable fire-pot is to reconnect our new generation with our rich culture and identity symbols.” Dawn reported that in Muzaffarabad, “cabinet members, civil servants, political leaders, academics, students, traders and civil society activists first gathered in KH Khurshid Football Stadium, wearing the traditional dress and earthen fire pot and then took out a rally through the main road.” The rally concluded in Lal Chowk – even Muzaffarabad has it, where a replica of Shikara and Kangri were at display. The attraction was the stall by Kashmiri chef, Ghulam Mustafa Lala, where he served people the famous noon chai, the slat tea. Culture apart, the event might have triggered some business for the tailors and the Kangri weavers.

JAMMU

Political parties shad stated setting pre-conditions to their participation when Shailendra Kumar, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) announced the postponement of the 8-phase, March 5-20, 2020 by-polls for 12,650 seats of Sarpanchs and Panchs. Unexplained security-related issues were the official reason for the postponement. The announcement came within hours after Kumar presided over an all-party meeting in which National Conference, PDP, Congress and Nationalist Panthers Party (NPP) linked their participation with the release of detained leaders. With political leaders detained, those free neither having security nor permission to move around and ban on public gatherings in vogue, the participants asked: what is the emergency for the by-poll? They said only BJP has everything available for going to the polls. Later, parties welcomed the “sensible” decision of delaying the by-polls for the Panchayat berths that were left vacant in 2018.

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