Captain steps down
Chief Minister Captain (retd.) Amarinder Singh stepped down from his post handing over his resignation to Governor Banwarilal Purohit. Perhaps, after 40 MLAs wrote to the All India Congress Committee to convene a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party, and with Congress President Sonia Gandhi speaking to the Captain, it was just a matter of time before the Captain stepped down. Once considered among the most powerful Congress leaders, the decline of support for the Punjab Chief Minister has been swift and almost overnight. I have resigned from the post of Chief Minister. I spoke to the party president and conveyed that I shall be resigning in the morning itself. The point is that it was the third time in the past few months that MLAs are being summoned to Delhi (by party central leadership); it gives an impression of element of doubt upon me for not being able to run (the government), but I feel humiliated the way things have gone, Capt. Amarinder told the media after submitting his resignation. I decided to quit, and they can elect anyone as Chief Minister who they trust, he added. On his next course of action, Capt. Amarinder said he would decide after talking to his supporters. He reiterated the same answer when asked if he would support the new chief minister. Earlier, Congress President Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have put a call to the Captain, asking him to step down, after nearly 40 MLAs wrote to the party’s central leadership, expressing lack of faith in the leadership of the Chief Minister in fulfilling the party’s 2017 Assembly election promises. The MLAs are alleged to have said that hardly anything was being done towards fulfilment of the 18-point programme issued by the party high command and demanded a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party. While appearing before the Mallikarjun Kharge-headed panel in June, set up to resolve the factionalism in the State, several MLAs had complained about the Chief Minister’s inaccessibility and complete control over the administration by bureaucrats. Though the Mallikarjun Kharge panel had given an 18-point agenda for the Punjab government to focus on and deliver, not much progress could be made. Those who raised the banner of revolt against Capt. Amarinder include four Ministers — Sukhjinder Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Bajwa, Sukhbinder Sarkaria and Charanjit Channi — apart from other MLAs. Saturday’s dramatic resignation is certainly not the last chapter in the power tussle between Capt. Amarinder and former minister and PPCC chef Navjot Sidhu. The latter was appointed on July 18 as president of the PPCC in an apparent attempt to resolve the crisis. Capt. Amarinder and Sidhu have been at loggerheads since the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. Future politics is always an option and I’ll use it at an appropriate time, the Captain said after his resignation. Among the list of probables likely to don the mantel of CM, former PCC chief and Gandhi family loyalist Sunil Jakhar is considered a frontrunner. In fact, both AICC observers — Harish Chaudhary, a minister in the Rajasthan government, and Ajay Maken — are considered close to former party chief Rahul Gandhi.
Actor under siege
Days after the Income-Tax Department conducted searches on the premises linked to Bollywood actor Sonu Sood, a move criticised by human rights organisations worldwide as the actor had earned praise for his philanthropic work during the Covid pandemic, the agency on Saturday issued a statement, without naming him, claiming it had detected tax evasion of more than ₹20 crore so far. The Income-Tax Department conducted a search and seizure operation on various premises of a prominent actor in Mumbai and also a Lucknow-based group of industries engaged in infrastructure development. A total of 28 premises spread over Mumbai, Lucknow, Kanpur, Jaipur, Delhi and Gurugram have been covered in the search operation, it said. According to the agency, during the searches on the premises of the actor and his associates, incriminating evidence pertaining to tax evasion was found. The main modus operandi followed by the actor had been to route his unaccounted income in the form of bogus unsecured loans from many bogus entities, said the Department. Investigations so far have revealed use of 20 such entries, the providers of which, on examination, have accepted on oath to have given bogus accommodation entries. They accepted to have issued cheques in lieu of cash. There have been instances where professional receipts have been camouflaged as loans in the books of accounts for the purpose of evasion of tax, it said. The agency said these bogus loans were used for making investments and acquiring properties. The charity foundation incorporated by the actor on July 21, 2020, had collected donations to the tune of ₹18.94 crore from April 1, 2021, till date, of which it spent around ₹1.9 crore towards various relief work and the balance of ₹17 crore was found lying in the foundation’s bank account. Funds to the tune of ₹2.1 crore have also been raised by the charity foundation from overseas donors on a crowd-funding platform in violation of FCRA [Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act] regulations, said the agency. The simultaneous searches on the Lucknow-based infrastructure group, in which the actor had entered into a joint venture real estate project and invested substantial funds, resulted in detection of tax evasion and irregularities in the books of account, said the I-T Department. It was alleged that the group was involved in bogus billing of subcontracting expenses and siphoning off funds. Evidence of such bogus contracts found so far are to the tune of over ₹65 crore…the said infrastructure group/company has entered into dubious circular transactions to the tune of ₹175 crore with an infrastructure company based in Jaipur, said the agency.
Babul Supriyo joins Didi
After Mukul Roy defected to the Trinamool Congress, it was the turn of former Union Minister and two-time BJP MP from Asansol Babul Supriyo on Saturday to join Didi. On July 31, Supriyo in a Facebook had said that he would stay away from active politics. He later said he will continue to be MP. After joining the TMC, Supriyo told journalists that a great opportunity has been extended to him by the party leadership and he has decided to take it up. It was with great disillusionment that I had announced that I will quit politics. A great opportunity has been extended by Didi [Mamata Banerjee] and Abhishek Banerjee and I am happy to accept that, he said. Speculation is rife in political circles that Supriyo may be nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the Trinamool as replacement for Arpita Ghosh who had quit the Upper House on Wednesday. Supriyo lost the 2021 Assembly poll from Tollygunj on the BJP ticket. He had to resign as Union Minister of State during the Cabinet reshuffle in July. Since then, he has been expressing discontent towards the party leadership saying he was not given enough responsibility. I was expecting something more after seven years as a Union Minister of State. Then differences started growing with the party. Supriyo was elected to the Lok Sabha from Asansol in 2014 and 2019. The defection comes weeks before the crucial Bhabanipur bypoll where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is contesting. Interestingly, the BJP had nominated Mr. Supriyo among the star campaigners for the seat. Mamata Banerjee needs no campaign but if the party considers me, I will be happy to campaign in Bhabanipur, Supriyo said. The BJP had earlier received a jolt when Mukul Roy joined the TMC. At least four MLAs of the party have joined the TMC in the past four months. Babul Supriyo has cheated the people of Asansol and also proved that his entire aim was to remain a Minister and enjoy power, State BJP spokesperson Shamik Bhattacharya said. A section of party leaders like MP Jagannath Sarkar said the BJP should give tickets only to those who are committed to its ideology and not outsiders. The TMC leadership said the BJP, which organised mass defections from the party before the Assembly polls and sent a charter plane to ferry them to Delhi, cannot take the moral high ground.
A tragic strike
A top U.S. military commander has apologised for the drone strike last month in Kabul killing 10 civilians including seven children. Briefing reporters on the results of the investigation of the August 29 strike, General Frank McKenzie, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, took responsibility for the tragic outcome of the drone strike and said it was unlikely that the vehicle and those who died in the drone strike were associated with ISIS-K or were a direct threat to U.S. forces. Gen. McKenzie said that having thoroughly reviewed the findings of the probe and supporting analysis, he is convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that drone strike. It was a mistake, and I offer my sincere apology. As the combatant commander, I am fully responsible for this strike and this tragic outcome, he told reporters at a Pentagon news conference. Gen McKenzie said that 48 hours before the strike, sensitive intelligence indicated that the compound was being used by ISIS-K planners to facilitate future attacks. In the 36 hours preceding the strike, our leaders at the airport and in the strike cell received more than 60 different pieces of intelligence related to imminent threats, with some corroborating and some conflicting with events observed from our UAVs flying above Kabul throughout the day, the commander of the U.S. Central Command added. While the team conducted the strike did so in the honest belief that they were preventing an imminent attack on our forces and civilian evacuees, we now understand that to be incorrect, he said. I’m here today to set the record straight and acknowledge our mistakes. I will end my remarks with the same note of sincere and profound condolences to the family and friends of those who died in this tragic strike, Gen McKenzie said, adding the U.S. is exploring the possibility of ex-gratia payments for the tragic outcome of the drone strike.
Girls excluded as secondary school reopen in Afghanistan
Girls were excluded from returning to secondary school in Afghanistan on Saturday, after the country’s new Taliban rulers ordered only boys and male teachers back to the classroom. The hard-line Islamist group ousted the U.S .backed government last month, promising a softer brand of rule than their repressive reign in the 1990s, when women were mostly banned from education and work. But the diktat from the Education Ministry was the latest move from the new government to threaten women’s rights. All male teachers and students should attend their educational institutions, a statement said ahead of classes resuming on Saturday. The statement, issued late on Friday, made no mention of women teachers or girl students. Secondary schools, with students typically between the ages of 13 and 18, are often segregated by sex in Afghanistan. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have faced closures and have been shut since the Taliban seized power. Primary schools have already reopened, with boys and girls mostly attending separate classes and some women teachers returning to work. The new regime has also permitted women to go to private universities, though with tough restrictions on their clothes and movement. In a further sign that the Taliban’s approach to women and girls had not softened, they appeared to have shut down the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and replaced it with a department notorious for enforcing strict religious doctrine during their first rule. In Kabul on Friday, workers were seen raising a sign for the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice at the old Women’s Affairs building.