Vegetarian lohei to celebrate Chinese New Year
REPORT ON PAGE 6
at Hindu temple
(From left) Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) vice-chairman
R. Dhinakaran, HEB chairman R. Jayachandran, Senior
Parliamentary Secretary Baey Yam Keng and Sri Mariamman
Temple committee chairman S. Lakshmanan tossing lohei.
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MCI (P) 135/03/2018
SINGAPORE, WEEKEND OF FRIDAY,
FEBRUARY 8, 2019
A DECISIVE TURN
IN THE ROAD
PAGES 4 & 5
HAS BEEN A
Golden turmeric spray on all during
Khandoba festival in Maharashtra
Devotees of Lord Khandoba celebrated the
Bhandara festival with much fervour and
enthusiasm on Monday in Jejuri, about
50km south-east of Pune in Maharashtra.
It is a unique festival which involves
golden turmeric powder and dedicated to
the local deity, who is worshipped in
Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra
The festival takes place on Somvati
Amavasya – new-moon day.
Devotees throw turmeric on each other
and people around.
Immersed in turmeric, they sing and
dance invoking the deity in their prayers.
The procession sees thousands of
devotees waiting to touch the palanquin,
which carries the deity for a bath from the
temple on a hill to the Karha River.
Singapore Press Holdings
(English/Malay/Tamil Media group)
V.K. Santosh Kumar
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Hindu right-winger arrested for
re-enacting Gandhi assassination
A leader of a fringe Hindu right-wing
group has been arrested in Tappal,
Uttar Pradesh, after a video of her
shooting an effigy of Mahatma Gandhi
The Hindu Mahasabha had
organised an event to celebrate the 71st
anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination.
In the video, taken on Jan 30, Pooja
Pandey is seen shooting the effigy with
an air pistol after garlanding a picture
of Nathuram Godse, who shot the
The Uttar Pradesh Police arrested
Pooja and her husband Ashok Pandey
and produced them before a local court
on Wednesday. According to the BBC,
nine people have been arrested in
connection with the video.
First rapist to be hanged under
child rape law
A district court in Madhya Pradesh has
issued a death sentence against a school
teacher who was convicted of raping
his four-year-old student.
Mahendra Singh Gond will be
hanged in Jabalpur jail on March 2.
This will be the first execution under
the new law which hands out the death
penalty for child rapists.
Gond kidnapped and raped the girl
on June 30 last year. He dumped her in
a jungle assuming that she was dead.
But her family found her and rushed
her to a hospital, where she spent
months in recovery.
Sabarimala temple board reverses
opposition to women worshippers
The board of the ancient Sabarimala
temple in Kerala said on Wednesday
that it now favoured allowing female
worshippers of menstruating age to
enter, reversing its previous support for
a centuries-old ban.
The board overseeing the Hindu
temple also said it would withdraw
from efforts to challenge the Indian
Supreme Court’s ruling that the ban on
entry for women and girls aged 10-50
must be ended to uphold rights to
equality of worship.
Pro-ban activists called the temple
board’s decision a betrayal.
The temple has been the site of
tension since the ruling in late
September. Thousands of devotees
have blocked attempts by women to
High-speed train to ply
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai
Ram Thakur on Wednesday flagged off
a new high-speed train on the
narrow rail gauge line.
It will reduce travel time between
Baijnath and Pathankot towns by
nearly two hours. Earlier it took seven
hours and 15 minutes to cover the
The high-speed train is expected to
boost tourism in the state as many
tourists ride trains on the line to enjoy
the scenic beauty of the Himalayas.
Shops to be allowed to remain
open 24 hours in Gujarat
Shops in Gujarat will be able to open
round the clock, the state government
announced on Wednesday. This will
come into effect after a legislation in
the assembly session this month.
“This will not only boost the income
of the traders but will also generate
new employment and benefit the
customers who can buy at their
convenience,” said Deputy Chief
Minister Nitin Patel.
Leopard cub seized from
passenger at Chennai airport
A passenger who smuggled a
month-old leopard cub in his hand
luggage on a flight from Bangkok to
Chennai has been arrested.
The cub, weighing just over 1kg, was
found in a plastic grocery basket
hidden inside a bag after the passenger
arrived on a Thai Airways flight.
Officials said they grew suspicious
after hearing sounds coming from the
Modi to flag off Train 18
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will flag
off India’s first engine-less train Vande
Bharat Express on Feb 15 from the
New Delhi Railway station.
Train 18, as it was originally called,
became India’s fastest train by hitting
speeds of over 180kmh during a trial
run. It will eventually replace the
30-year-old Shatabdi Express and run
between Delhi and Varanasi.
February 8, 2019
Associate Editor, The Straits Times
This week in New Delhi, a fresh name
plate went up on the wall of the room
next to that of the president of the Indian
National Congress, the country’s oldest
political formation. And it reads
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
In a few days, the newest general-secre-
tary of the Congress, now run by her
older brother Rahul Gandhi, will address
her first public rally outside the two rural
constituencies in Uttar Pradesh (UP) that
she managed for Mr Gandhi and their Ital-
ian-born mother, Sonia Gandhi. This she
will do in Lucknow, the UP capital.
Politically the most important of the
vast nation’s 29 states, UP sends no less
than 80 MPs to the 543-seat national leg-
islature. The state has produced more
prime ministers than any other state, in-
cluding three from the Nehru-Gandhi dy-
nasty, starting with founding premier
Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira
Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi –
Mr Gandhi’s and Mrs Vadra’s father.
In the last parliamentary elections, the
ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and
allies, riding on a tidal wave of support
for Mr Narendra Modi, won 73 of those
seats. Although his roots are in the west-
ern Gujarat state, Mr Modi too chose to
represent the state, winning by a land-
slide in the Gangetic town of Varanasi,
holy to Hindus.
Congress had two seats – the ones held
by the Gandhi mother and son – in a to-
tal of 44 parliamentary seats it con-
tested, its lowest-ever tally.
The Congress’ morale has signifi-
cantly improved after its strong showing
in three recent state elections, where it
winkled out incumbent BJP administra-
tions, and the party is hoping that
Mrs Vadra will now boost its fortunes in
the parliamentary polls due by May.
Hence, her surprise induction into
the national campaign and subsequent
elevation as general-secretary have
gone down well with Congress-wallahs
who see it as an inspired move. Forgot-
ten is that Mr Gandhi had started out sig-
nalling that he was determined to build
the party from the ground up, including
holding elections for key posts.
In the decade past when the clamour
to draft Mrs Vadra into politics had
grown louder and louder within Con-
gress ranks, the word put out was that
her son and daughter were her first prior-
ity. But the children are now poised to
exit their teens and that frees her up to
“help out” – the favoured expression for
when the next Gandhi enters the family
business. With the winds seemingly at
the party’s back, the signs are propitious
for her political career.
Hence, there is more than ordinary
curiosity about next week’s rally, which,
in many ways, will frame the contest for
the looming battle in the world’s biggest
democracy. Having unsurprisingly
reached into the all-too-familiar quiver
of the Gandhi household for the arrow
to nail Mr Modi, Mrs Vadra’s speech will
in all likelihood reveal the contours of
the Congress’s attack strategy.
If media attention is a useful yard-
stick, she would be hugely popular. Like
eager onlookers egging on a street
brawl, India’s frenetic media is in a
lather over the prospects of the slender,
47-year-old woman given charge of the
Congress campaign in the politically vi-
tal eastern half of UP, which includes the
district from which Mr Modi was elected
to parliament and Chief Minister Yogi
Adityanath to the state assembly.
Many believe that she is much more
of a natural politician than her older
brother. Gushing parallels are drawn be-
tween Mrs Vadra and her grandmother,
Mrs Indira Gandhi, for her looks, deter-
mination and flair. Mrs Gandhi, assassi-
nated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984,
won nationwide admiration as the
tough leader who effectively ended any
threat from hostile neighbour Pakistan
by splintering that nation into two.
Commentators speak enthusiasti-
cally of Mrs Vadra’s natural charm, wit
and empathy. A Mrs Vadra visit last
week to a shanty home located just be-
hind her brother’s government bunga-
low to inquire about a polio-stricken lad
drew national headlines and was treated
as emblematic of the Gandhi clan’s abid-
ing concern for the downtrodden.
She is also adept at telling repartees.
When Mr Modi stormed around in 2014
describing the Congress as a “123-year-
old hag”, Mrs Vadra’s response was to
ask crowds: “Do my mother and I look
old to you?” Yet, when Mr Modi played
on the theme of Gandhi family nepo-
tism and called the Congress an
“RSVP” – Rahul, Sonia, Vadra,
Priyanka – organisation, she was notice-
ably defensive, responding that Indians
didn’t need schooling in “ABCD”.
Add it all up and she has, without
question, added a frisson of excitement
to the looming battle. The BJP is torn be-
tween ignoring and attacking her. But it
cannot also chance her turning out to be
a big draw in eastern UP, thus forcing
Mr Modi to focus more on the region
rather than forage for votes nationwide.
The unwritten code that top politi-
cians adopt a live-and-let-live attitude
and don’t get in the way of the individ-
ual electoral chances of their rivals was
given short shrift in the last elections.
Thus, Mr Modi may even end up having
to face Mrs Vadra in his home turf
Varanasi, electrifying the battle.
Anyone who wishes India well will
recognise that the Congress is the only
all-India outfit that reflects the country’s
basic instincts, whether it is a broadly tol-
erant attitude towards minorities or a
centrist approach to international af-
fairs. That great tradition, fashioned by
the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawa-
harlal Nehru, has visibly been under
siege under the BJP. India’s minorities,
particularly, would feel a lot more com-
fortable if the Congress were to regain
significant national influence.
The problem, though, is that those
cheering on Mrs Vadra may be allowing
their optimism to get ahead of ground re-
To begin with, the Congress may be
fancying its chances in UP a trifle over-
much. The two powerful regional
groups that now dominate the state’s pol-
itics have announced an electoral al-
liance to take on the BJP.
Given that the BJP is reckoned to
have a solid third of the vote base, a
three-way fight could only splinter the
anti-BJP vote. Expecting the Congress
to repeat its 2009 performance, when it
won 18 of the 40 seats in eastern UP,
would seem a stretch.
Second, Mrs Vadra’s supposed resem-
blance to Mrs Gandhi – a major pull with
voters – is overstated. Aside from wear-
ing her hair short and wrapping herself
in cotton saris, like her grandmother
did, the two do not look all that similar.
At 1.73m, Mrs Vadra is a full 10cm taller
than her petite grandmum. If anything,
she goes more on her late father.
Even if she does resemble
Mrs Gandhi, so what? Two-thirds of Indi-
ans are below age 40 and have no real
memories of Mrs Gandhi.
Indeed, Mrs Vadra may be better off
staying focused on the two family con-
stituencies rather than spreading herself
too thin. With its grassroots organisation
in tatters across the Hindi-speaking
heartland, the Congress is on the ropes
even in seemingly secure Rae Bareilly
and Amethi, the seats she has managed
for her mother and Mr Gandhi.
Unlike the tireless Mr Modi, who has
visited Varanasi no less than two dozen
times since his election, the Gandhis
tend to nurse their bailiwicks less assidu-
ously. Voters have been taking note.
In 2014, Mr Gandhi’s victory margin
in Amethi slumped to a quarter of what
he tallied in the 2009 elections. Today,
among the five state assembly segments
that constitute the parliamentary con-
stituency, the Congress controls not
even one. In Mrs Sonia’s Rae Bareilly
next door, the Congress has just one of
the five state seats.
Sure, some voters may be fired up by
Mrs Vadra’s personality. Equally, others
will agree with the BJP refrain that her
induction is also a sign of Mr Gandhi’s
“weakness” as leader.
The name board that just went up in
the Congress headquarters with
Mrs Vadra’s married name holds clues to
another family predicament.
Mr Robert Vadra, her husband, is a
controversial businessman whose for-
tunes significantly improved during the
decade that a Congress-led government
held power in New Delhi from 2004. The
High Court in Rajasthan state, where he
apparently has business interests, re-
cently lifted a stay on the questioning of
Mr Vadra and his mother, Maureen, in a
case filed under the Preventing of
Money Laundering Act.
This week, Mr Vadra appeared before
the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for
questioning, his wife dropping him off at
the ED offices in a meaningful gesture.
Still, it is not that Prime Minister
Modi is entirely invincible from the
“Priyanka” effect. His popularity rests
on a solid phalanx of support from
women voters who, no doubt, could be
swayed by the charisma of the attractive
woman and eye her with sympathy. As a
keen student of political history, he
would also be aware that it does not pay
to underestimate the Gandhi women.
In the late 1960s, not long after Pan-
dit Nehru’s death, an old-boy herd of
Congress elephants, dubbed the “Syndi-
cate”, tried to capture the Congress, dis-
missing Indira Gandhi as a “dumb doll”.
Her decisive response was to split the
Congress and emerge to dominate party
and nation. Likewise, the late
Mr Narasimha Rao, handpicked for the
prime minister’s job by Mrs Sonia in
1991, paid a massive price for not paying
court subsequently to the widow griev-
ing over her assassinated husband.
And, finally, there is the question
about Mrs Vadra’s personality.
Outside the five-year election cycle
when she morphs into her gregarious,
sassy self, she is a private person, often
spotted shopping alone.
Of the two Gandhi siblings, she has
had more difficulty exorcising the ghosts
that haunt them, particularly the assassi-
nations of their grandmother and father.
Finding comfort in Buddhism, she once
travelled to a prison in Tamil Nadu state
to meet one of the women who had plot-
ted her father’s assassination.
Perhaps, as her nest empties, it might
be different this time and she will find
the stamina for a sustained involvement
in national affairs. Like it or not, one
thing is clear: There is a new soldier in
the fight and this is one continuous war.
There now can be no going back for
A decisive turn in
the road for Priyanka
Mrs Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (left) arriving at
the Directorate of Enforcement in New Delhi
with her husband Robert Vadra (above).
Mr Robert Vadra was questioned
for about two hours yesterday by
the Enforcement Directorate (ED)
in New Delhi.
A day earlier, he was
questioned by ED officers for
hours in connection
with a probe into alleged money
laundering and illegal possession
of foreign assets.
His wife Priyanka Gandhi
Vadra accompanied him in a
white Toyota Land Cruiser and
dropped him outside the ED
office in Jamnagar House.
She said in a show of support:
“He is my husband, he is my
family...I support my family.”
The main ED cases against
Mr Vadra as listed by Business
Money laundering in the
purchase of a property worth
£1.9 million in London.
Allegedly owning two more
properties and six flats worth
£12 million in London.
Acquiring land in Kolayat,
Bikaner, which was meant for
rehabilitation of poor villagers.
Receiving kickbacks in a 2009
petroleum deal when a Congress-
led government was in power.
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