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Aishwarya Dhanush’s next a biopic on Paralympian Thangavelu

IANS | Chennai |

Filmmaker Aishwarya Dhanush Rajinikanth's next Tamil directorial will be a biopic on Indian Paralympic high jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu, and it was announced on Sunday to coincide with the New Year.

Titled "Mariyappan", the film will throw the spotlight on the life of the 21-year-old high jumper from Salem district in Tamil Nadu.

In 2016 Summer Paralympic games held in Rio de Janeiro, Mariyappan won gold for India in high jump in T-42 category.

The film's first look poster was unveiled by Shah Rukh Khan, and he wrote on his Twitter page: "Here's presenting the first look of the biopic on Mariyappan Thangavelu, our very own national hero. All the best Aishwarya."

The film will have music by Sean Roldan, cinematography by Velraj and dialogues by filmmaker Raju Murugan.

The poster also revealed that the film will be simultaneously shot in English as well.

The challenges facing Sasikala

Kalyani Shankar |

Chinnamma Sasikala has become Amma in Tamil Nadu and she took charge of the AIADMK on Thursday. Sasikala’s story is like a movie script as she had come to Jayalalitha as a video library owner to supply videos and had become her close companion three decades ago. But with Dame Luck smiling on her  she will be now controlling lakhs of party workers and also the Tamil Nadu government.

The million dollar question is whether she will be able to steer the party and fill the vaccuum left by  Jayalalitha. It is too big a vaccum for any one to fill as Jayalalitha was a towering personality, a charismatic leader, good orator and a shrewed politician who fought her battles – both legal and political – from the front. 

The first thing Sasikala did was to change her name from Sasikala Natarajan to V.K.Sasikala, disasociating from her husband Natarajan. Still she cannot simply wish away her family which is known as the “Mannargudi mafia”. She is perceived as corrupt, manipulative and power hungry, and a factional leader. So she has to change this image and rise above all these characteristics to become a good leader. After all politics is perception and the perception in her case is not positive.

Sasikala’s challenges are many. She is a novice in politics and the first thing is to consolidate her position within the party. Right now, it is an emotional transition and except for some murmurs here and there she has managed to become the powerful General Secretary, a post held by Jayalalitha since 1990. The first test will be the local bodies elections, due early next year. But whether she can exercise the kind of control Jayalalitha had over the  1.5 crore party members, is  a big question. She is not a mass leader nor an impressive orator. Four big caste blocs play an influential role within the party – Thevars, Kongu Vellalar Gounders, Vanniyars and Dalits. Jayalalitha was adept at balancing the interests of these groups, especially Thevars and Gounders but Sasikala is known to favour only her caste group – the Thevars.

The second challenge will be to win a possible power struggle if chief Minister O. Panneerselvam decides to emerge as his own man. OPS, as he is known,  has few friends among his colleagues but he is liked by party and officials. He is playing his cards well. Though keeping a low profile Pannerselvam had been the chief minister nominated by Jayalalitha herself twice while Sasikala had not been given any post in the party or the government. His first meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi this month is said to have gone off well and the BJP too would like to rule Tamil Nadu through him as he has political legitimacy.

During his meeting with Modi he  sought  Central assistance of about Rs 22,500 crore to meet the losses caused by the recent cyclonic storm Vardah which hit three districts in the state, including Chennai, on December 12. The Inter-Ministerial team, deputed by the Centre to assess the damage has already visited the state. He has also taken up the fishermen issue,  retrieval of Katchateevu and Cauvery water sharing already. He can implement things because Tamil Nadu has a good set of officers.  

He has already got a chief secretary of his choice by appointing Girija Vaidyanathan. The controversial chief secretary Rammohan Rao whom tax authorities had raided and seized crores of money and properties last week was Chinnamma’s choice. So OPS has already begun choosing his team. The next step may be a reshuffle as he has been carrying on with Jayalalitha’s team so far.

Thirdly, the DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi has named his younger son Stalin as his political heir and successor and he is taking over as working president on January 4. Stalin has been in politics for decades and has remained in the shadow of his father. He had worked hard during the 2016 Assembly polls and the DMK had won 98 seats to emerge as a tough opposiiton. If the DMK manages to get the support of 20 AIADMK MLAs, the Panneerselvam Government would be in trouble. The opposition is keeping a close watch on what is happening in the Tamil Nadu government as well as in the AIADMK. The DMK is not in a hurry to break up the AIADMK which won 135 seats in the 2016 polls but Sasikala may have a tough time guarding her MLAs who could be lured. The fact that it needs two-thirds to break the party may be to her advantge.

Sasikala also has her legal battles to fight on her  Disproportionate Assets case. Hearing a petiion by an AIADMK worker Joseph, a Madras High Court judge has raised doubts over the death of Jayalalitha while asking why her body can't be exhumed to understand the circumstances in which she died and the kind of treatment she was administered. Sasikala controlled access to Jaya in her last days.

It is too early to predict whether Sasikala will emerge as a successful leader as she is untested but she will certainly try her best to do so.

Recalling an era of screen

Anit Mukerjea |

The ushering in of the new millennium marked the end of an era of iconic screen legends who drew audiences to the cinema halls of Calcutta as it then was. In those days under the British, the best of Hollywood films came to the city and set the silver screen on fire. In 1939, Metro cinema now closed to the public, opened it portals with the screening of Gone With The Wind starring Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh and Leslie Howard.

My mother, only 19 at the time, was infatuated by the lead stars, especially Gable. Of course, my maternal aunt Baruna who was seven years older and already married, accompanied her to the premiere show at Metro. My aunt preferred Leslie Howard, the second hero. Gable of course stole the show with his romantic matinee idol screen image.
My aunt, once a brilliant student of the Presidency College, may have preferred Howard because of the British actor’s small eyes which were similar to hers in size. This difference of reaction between my mother and aunt was of course a matter of personal choice.

Another American screen icon my mother admired was the handsome Gary Cooper who looked like a Greek God with his angelic blue eyes. She would never miss a film of his whether it be For Whom The Bell Tolls, High Noon, Beau Geste, Love in the Afternoon and his last film with Deborah Kerr, The Naked Edge screened at the Lighthouse in the early 1960s. She viewed all those Hollywood movies only because of Gary Cooper. Do we have such star value in this new millennium? Are stars of today really worthy of such reverence? Today, no films whether in Hollywood, Bollywood or Tollywood measure up to more than one viewing unlike those of the past which could be seen several times.
Take for instance the 1962 Hollywood blockbuster, Agatha Christie’s murder mystery Witness for the Prosecution, screened at Lighthouse which my elder brother Amit viewed six times when he was still a student of St Xavier’s school aged 16. The film became so popular that block bookings had to be arranged weeks in advance. It was all because of the brilliant performances from Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Elsa Lancaster and of course Charles Laughton who may be deemed screen icons of yesteryears.

My elder brother was so enamored by Witness for the Prosecution that he quoted one-liners from the film such as “You habitual liar!” by the portly Charles Laughton while addressing the accused in the role of a barrister, and “Want to kiss me ducky” mouthed by Marlene Dietrich, as the wife in disguise doubling up as the blackmailer. The other two films of that iconic age that vied for attention were The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur screened at Lighthouse and the now moribund Metro in the early 60s. Charlton Heston singly carried both the films on his shoulders. Heston’s screen persona was an instant hit and, whose star value remains well ensconced as the American actor who had set the cash registers ringing. Of course who could forget the magnetically handsome Tyrone Power as the plagued husband of Dietrich in Witness for the Prosecution.

Yul Brynner, who replaced him in the lead role of the wise king Solomon in Solomon and Sheba opposite Gina Lollobrigida when he died during the shooting of the film, was no match to Power’s screen persona. I still remember the poster of the film Edi Duchin’s Story showcased at Tiger cinema where Tyrone Power was cast opposite Kim Novak.
Talking about posters while residing in Palace Court in Kyd Street, I would come across cinema posters during my childhood years just in front of GK Sports to  publicise Hollywood films screened at Lighthouse cinema.

My elder brother’s passion for western classical music drove us to view Song without End with Dirk Bogard as Franz Lizt screened at Globe cinema. He kept me spellbound with his role as the Hungarian composer-pianist. Elizabeth Taylor lent her presence as the ravishing concert pianist opposite Vittorio Gassman in the film Rhapsody which I viewed with my family and since then she has been my favourite screen icon.

Of course, who could forget Gregory Peck, Rock Hudson, Kirk Douglas, Richard Burton and Cary Grant teamed with screen goddesses like Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Ava Gardener, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and Jean Harlow. The iconic screen image of stars from both Bollywood and Tollywood such as Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand along with Madhubala, Nutan, Waheeda Rehman, Meena Kumari, Nargis, the Uttam-Suchitra pair, Kanan Devi, Pramathesh Barua, Soumitra Chatterjee and Biswajit, cannot be compared because of the superior packaging of films from Hollywood.

During those days, adult films were out of bounds for minors. My elder sister Dipa who was hardly 15 somehow managed to sneak into Come September with Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida screened during the early 1960s at Metro Cinema. She entered with her elderly uncle, with her head covered in a scarf and a thick layer of red lipstick that escaped the notice of the manager Mr Hafisjee, a strict disciplinarian.  

The scenario today with the winding up cinema halls and their replacement by multiplexes with expensive ticket prices marks the end of an era. We are left with DVDs and CDs that we can view at home to revive old memories.

Let the General now get on with his job

Rajiv Williams |

General Bipin Rawat has taken over as the 26th Chief of the Army Staff after weeks of speculative talk on ‘who is the next COAS’ and suggestive conclusions that Gen Bakshi, the senior most General was the obvious choice etc. The announcement made by the Government on 18 December that Gen. Rawat would lead the world’s third largest army, was immediately followed by serious debates in print, electronic and social media on ‘how’ and ‘shy’ Gen. Bipin Rawat, the third in the seniority line was nominated to the top post much against the usual practice of making the senior most person  the Chief.

At a personal level, it is a proud moment for me to see one of my students of the 1978 batch at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) of 64 Regular (Zojila Company) becoming the COAS. Going back in time, I am reminded of certain anecdotal incidents especially on the very close race for the ‘Sword of honor’. The two contenders were Gentleman Cadet Academy Cadet Adjutant S. S. Kundu and Gentleman Cadet Battalion Under Officer Bipin Rawat.

While many favored the former, son of a Junior Commissioned Officer, the final choice fell on the latter, son of a Lt. General and nephew of the IMA Commandant, Maj Gen G. S. Rawat. Both cadets excelled in all fields and both belonged to the same Battalion in the IMA, i.e. ‘The Manekshaw Battalion’ first under Lt. Col. Shankar Roy Choudhary (who later became the COAS) and subsequently under Lt. Col Luthra.

The two top young officers were commissioned into the two fighting Arms; while Rawat was allotted his fathers’ Infantry Battalion, Kundu was commissioned into the Armoured Corps. I am sure both worked hard to reach levels of competencies with Rawat finally becoming the Chief. It was only last month during the Infantry Day celebrations at the Manekshaw Centre at Delhi Cantonment that I met Rawat after many years and was extremely happy to see the warmth of his greetings and he reflected upon the relationship in all sincerity. That brief meet was from the heart and without either of us knowing that a month later he would be selected over two of his senior colleagues to lead the Indian Army.

The news of his selection came when I was away on travel to Australia. What was most disturbing were the debates in the media about the rift and bickering taking place between officers from the two Arms, i.e. Infantry and the Armoured Corps. Both groups were echoing views like, ‘The Government should have followed the protocol and appointed the senior most General as the Army Chief’,  ‘Gen. Rawat was more experienced than the other two officers, who belong to the Mechanised forces and lacked essential combat skill sets’ and ‘A good political choice because of the Uttarakhand elections’  etc. There were debates about experience, about understanding the complexities of counter-terrorist operations and about the current security scenario.

Such conversations were rather disheartening as I am sure competence of Army Commanders and equivalents cannot be challenged and the process followed for the selection was as per laid down practices with the Appointments Committee, presided over by the Prime Minister finally declaring the Government’s choice. Such debates therefore, were quite meaningless and the media was only keen on hype up the debate to raise TRP ratings and to get the ‘First to Report’ brownie points. To achieve their purpose they invited so-called experts and analysts for inconclusive debates; they in the process ran down the institutions they had once served. The debates on competence of the bureaucrats to recommend the selection or for that matter the politicians’ capability to announce the final selection were again I thought rather superfluous and could have been avoided.

In a democracy, we soldiers understand that the ‘Military Element of Power’, though independent in many ways, remains subservient to the ‘Political Element of power’. We may differ in various aspects and from that standpoint I believe we must put up our arguments for sound military decisions to be taken by the Government. But challenging the decision through debates does not augur well for either the military or society at large. If an individual feels aggrieved about a decision which is contrary to his thinking and it is felt that the outcome will not be good for the military, he should resign and convey a strong message to the environment. How many of our senior Generals have resorted to such steps when placed in similar circumstances? How many have demonstrated their disapproval either contesting postings from one theatre to another when they were posted out prematurely, or taken a stand on matters military. My thoughts on this are very clear; we should refrain from and toeing the line when in service and argue against it when out of uniform.

I would rather think that the discussions if at all required should take place much earlier in service and not when it comes to nominating the next Chief of Army Staff. Perhaps the Government’s interference on promotions of Major Generals and above needs to be challenged. Or, for that matter, there should be debates on whether the Government even has a role to play on issues relating to important postings or giving formal approval on military leadership, etc.
You find  aberrations even when in a number of cases the Army does not recommend an officer for further promotion, yet the Government overrides the Army’s decision and promotes him. It is at such times that the Government’s interference needs to be challenged even at the cost of the senior officer resigning his commission in case the Army’s views are not being respected.

I am informed that Lt. Gen Bakshi, having been superseded met the Defence Minister to discuss his supersession and that he may be considering next steps. My view is that if the General feels aggrieved and feels there are anomalies in the system he should resign. Alternatively, he should continue as an Army Commander or whatever appointment the Government gives him under the leadership of his once junior colleague.

General Rawat has many challenges at hand, both internal and external. He needs the support of all within and outside to carry the mantle with a firm resolve. With his outstanding qualities of leadership, he will do well for the Indian Army in particular and the country as a whole.

The writer is a retired Brigadier of the Indian Army.


Tuktuk Ghosh |

Christmas of 2014 had been christened Good Governance Day by the newly-elected NDA Government. Offices had been kept open to observe the occasion with due solemnity. It had caused some consternation and minor annoyance as it clashed with a holiday, which had never been disturbed.

Based on experience or for other undisclosed reasons, 2015 was a comparatively low-key affair. In sharp contrast, 2016 found the Day totally swamped by the unanticipated impact of the curiously termed notebandi of 8th November. It did not find even a passing mention in the Prime Minister’s monthly Mann Ki Baat, with which it happened to coincide. Mainstream media ignored it and it was left to the State Broadcaster to perform a few perfunctory rituals.

Maximum governance and minimum government had been one of the winning planks of the Government back in 2014. Much was made of how it would mark a clean break from the stifling clasp of the past. However, by an amazingly ironical pirouette, the country today finds itself at a historic milestone where maximum governance is on the verge of transmuting seamlessly into ubiquitous governance and ubiquitous government. 

It is not a quibble over mere semantics. Unless there was a major deficit in understanding, this could not have been the promised real agenda. Be that as it may, there is no turning back now. The major takeaway of 8 November and what followed has an inescapable ring of déjà vu to it.

Good Governance Day was a missed opportunity for pause and introspection. As the old adage has it, the more things appear to change, the more they remain the same. The 8th November, tsunami-like, irreversibly altered the lives of 125 crore Indians, all in the course of a public address by the Prime Minister. Almost magical, in a thoroughly unconventional sense! There was simply no choice for them but to endure it.

That there was no choice made it a non- negotiable that the pain of the enforced shock-and-awe therapy had to be made at the very least, moderately bearable and last only for a short period. For the world’s largest functioning democracy, this was a rather low bar of expectation to set in the tangled circumstances.

That the bar remained inadequately met remains uncontested. It is therefore important to attempt to understand whether the evident governance-underperformance was nothing but inevitable, given the strikingly innovative nature of policy crafting involved. This permitted Government policies, rated bold, to sidestep the standard drill of detailed consultation, advice and formal approval on unfamiliar ~ though unconvincing ~ grounds of secrecy. They could justifiably evolve through a novel process of ideation of a select, trusted few.

nce signed, sealed and thus delivered, they would be handed over to the regular bureaucratic apparatus to grapple with and skid along the tough implementation-path. Being fully cognisant that implementation has been the permanent Achilles heel of governance, it is incomprehensible that Government adopted the strategy that it did in times of disruption. The disconnect could not have been more stark and potentially damaging. A double whammy. 

The strategy was on disappointing display again when the policy rationale was given an appealingly futuristic tweak, shifting gear to a cashless, then less-cash and finally on to a digital economy. The tension-laden, breathless scramble by the bureaucracy to just about keep pace with the spate of announcements and clarifications, was so palpable as to be unnerving. Bob Dylan’s winds of change, which was found so endearing at the Global Citizens Festival, were twisting, blowing a bit too fast and threatening to carry many off their feet. That was, of course, no deterrent.

If bank personnel had to face the legitimate ire of customers queued out from their own money, they were given a compensatory, light appreciative pat for their contribution to the mahayagna. If Rules had to be changed 60-odd times in less than 40-odd days, they were appropriately repackaged as sensitivity and responsiveness, at their agile best, never mind that some went back on earlier commitments. If jugaadus, always way ahead of the game, had to be ambushed, country-wide raids were mounted by multiple Government agencies and paramilitary forces, in blazing camera glare.
If people had to suffer, they were commended, in passing, for their stoicism and immense faith in a brave new world. And if there were words of caution or criticism, they were dismissed as deliberate attempts at derailment and sabotage.
The bottom line was Government and more of Government, an overwhelming force that daunted and dwarfed citizens, far beyond the roundly trashed mai-baap syndrome of the post-Independence period. Whether this happened by design or chance remains to be determined. At least in the past 25 years there has been nothing comparable by way of citizen-experience for history to chronicle. 

The countdown to the 50 days the Prime Minister asked for on 8 November has ended. Yet, at every public forum there is a stentorian declaration that the “battle” has only begun and there will be no let-up till victory is achieved. Time-lines and action plans are alluded to. They are tantalisingly subtle, enough to keep the frenetic guessing game on. The 1988 Benami Properties Act, for which Rules have not been framed, is an interesting exception.

Government, having reached where it has, is definitely not contemplating a retreat. The unalloyed acceptance of ubiquitous governance has been taken as a given. A direct hotline has been set up with citizens who are actively encouraged to provide streaming feedback on each other to take the battle forward. In this idyllic scenario, institutional dysfunctionality as of Parliament, is reduced to a nuisance, admittedly useful to flog the Opposition with. Jan Sabha is what finally trumps. Hustling through of the Income Tax Amendment Bill, without any discussion, in a few hours flat in the Winter session washout provides a near perfect cameo.

In this unravelling, it appears paradoxical to stay invested in a bureaucracy, derisively diagnosed on 8 November as “termite-infested”, inseparable from the problem that Government resolved to end. Commentators like Lord Meghnad Desai have called for its upending. The writing on the wall is clear. A radical transformation of the basic character of governance structures is on the drawing board. It may be conjectured that primacy will be accorded to policy implementation agencies dealing with scrutiny, enquiries, investigations, probes, raids, prosecutions and all other functions related to enforcing the strong arm of the State.

In the resultant rebalancing, policy formulation will increasingly become a polished political exercise, with generalist civil servants being kept outside the charmed loop. An act of gentle felling, in slow motion, to soften the loss of inheritance. 
Contributing to the high decibel existential churn is the tirade of the Opposition branding the policy a mega scam and a monumental disaster along with fierce critiques by some of the world’s renowned economists. Most significantly, the constitutional validity of the policy-change itself stands challenged. Hearings will resume in January 2017.
Till then, in good governance we trust!

They make garments…

Editorial |

Close to four years after the Rana Plaza collapse (April 2013)  ~ one of the world's worst environmental disasters ~ the garment industry in Bangladesh, that manufactures the top European and American brands, is in crisis again. International concern over the exploitation of child labour, expectant mothers, and almost inhuman working hours has deepened this week with the summary dismissal of no fewer than 1600 workers, who were demanding that their pay be trebled to make ends meet. With the closure of the production sites ~ to stave off the crisis ~ trans-continental supplies during the holiday season are bound to be dislocated. On closer reflection, this is of lesser moment than the fact that the  garment industry ~ thriving on the Euro and US dollars ~ is confronted with yet another humanitarian crisis… though not mortal as it was in 2013.  An estimated 1,134 people had perished in the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex; many more had groaned in pain beneath the rubble. The tragedy had ignited massive protests in glitzy Dhaka and international scrutiny of the industry. As 2017 unfolds,  it is painful to reflect that the demand for a living wage has been greeted with the firing of rubber bullets. Not unsurprisingly, the police have gone on the offensive. This counter-mobilisation by the law-enforcement authorities does not address the fundamental issue, i.e. that many or most of the garment factories, whether in Sabar or Ashulia, are illegal and are flouting almost every rule in the book. Bangladesh contends with the cruel irony that the booming garment industry offers wages that are the lowest in the world, indeed less than one-fifth of the country’s living wage. Distressing too must be reports that the authorities have muffled the protests by invoking a controversial wartime law intended to deal with threats to state security. The Special Powers Act was used  to detain union leaders and workers. This would scarcely have been possible without the Awami government’s concurrence. From almost incredible indifference in April 2013, the crisis in December 2016 has been addressed with an overdose of state action. The garment industry in Bangladesh showcases institutionalised exploitation; it has been crying out for humanitarian intervention in the truest sense of the term.

No Apologies

Editorial |

More than 70 years after World War II ended, Pearl Harbour bears witness to diplomatic grandstanding and belated expressions of pious sentiment… instead of apologies for the catastrophe that killed 2,400 Americans and prompted the US to enter the war. It sure was a historic moment on Wednesday when the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, stood next to Barack Obama at the USS Arizona Memorial to offer what he called “everlasting condolences”. The message, however, is unlikely to be as “everlasting” as the hideous memories of the war that shook the world for six years (1939-45). Just as Mr Obama did not offer an apology when he became the first sitting US President to visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial in May, Mr Abe did not explicitly apologise but instead harped on reconciliation and an alliance of hope between the two countries… clothed with the caveat that Japan “must never repeat the horrors of war again”. President Obama followed Prime Minister Abe’s remarks, saying the US-Japan alliance was “a reminder that the deepest wounds of war can give way”. Markedly, both leaders have stopped short of an apology to the handful of survivors  ~ now nudging 90 ~ to whom the exchange of pleasantries means little. Nor for that matter does the photo-opportunity with the heads of two nations that were once at war. An apology for Hiroshima and Pearl Harbour would have been a defining moment in history not least for President Obama who would have been the first President to have said “sorry” for the holocaust… while in office. Mr  Abe’s visit signified an eagerness to close the door on the post-war era, but Japan must make similar gestures to its Asian neighbours if it is to play the role to which it aspires in  the Continent. Quite the most critical aspect of the visit was that both Mr Abe and Mr Obama were  present together. After seven decades, that entente cordiale ought now to be etched in stone at the USS Arizona Memorial. There is a lesson to be drawn from the homilies of both leaders, almost echoing the response of  EH Carr to his query ~ What is History? The discipline, he had answered,  is essentially a hyphen between the past and present. The past cannot be forgotten, if today’s turbulent world is to accept the message of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Pearl Harbour. Nonetheless, the world has to move ahead. That precisely was the overriding message as Shinzo Abe and Barack Obama tossed flower petals into the Wishing Well at the USS Arizona Memorial.

‘Killer’ Kindness

Editorial |

Criminal action deserves punishment in accordance with the Indian Penal Code ~ nothing less suffices. Thus, while holding no brief for allegedly-tainted sports administrators Suresh Kalmadi and Abhay Singh Chautala, it is necessary to ask the sports minister if his outrage against both of them being declared honorary life-presidents of the Indian Olympic Association is a “cheap shot”. For it is much easier for the minister to threaten the IOA than to pressure the relevant investigating agencies into proceeding beyond the charge-sheet stage and secure the conviction of the two in courts of law. Admittedly the “honour” bestowed upon Kalmadi and Chautala caused genuine convulsions in the sporting fraternity, but the minister and his officials ~ as well as sensation-thriving sections of the media ~ cannot ignore the time-tested contention that people have to be deemed innocent until proven guilty. There are conflicting versions of how the IOA came about honouring its two former presidents who had to step down in some disgrace, but there was a blowback ~ it brought back into focus alleged misdeeds that had faded from public attention: so is it a case of kindness that killed? The public resentment has sufficed for Kalmadi to decline the IOA offer until judicially “cleared”, Chautala has laid down some conditions. Since there is no discernible political angle to the uproar (the previous sports minister in the UPA government has been as critical of the IOA action as the present incumbent from the BJP) the situation demands that the cases against Kalmadi and Chautala are processed to their logical conclusion. Kalmadi has been in the dock since the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010, the disproportionate assets case against Chautala arose in 2013 ~ time enough for both sets of cases to be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted. If Vijay Goel means genuine business, rather than to secure media attention, he must deem himself duty-bound to accelerate the requisite legal action. For far too long have governments, regardless of their political complexion, made much of “bringing the culprits to book”, but done nothing beyond having inquiries conducted, cases registered, but allowed the prosecution to stagnate, falter. This trial by innuendo is as “criminal” as the actions for which Kalmadi and Chautala have been indicted, and Vijay Goel would invite severe criticism if he does not go beyond threatening the IOA and ensure that the penal code is duly invoked.

UN Security Council unanimously backs Syria peace plan

AFP | United Nations |

The UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously approved a resolution supporting a Russian-Turkish peace initiative for Syria, including an ongoing ceasefire and talks next month in Kazakhstan.

The resolution aims to pave the way for the new talks under the aegis of key Syria government backers Russia and Iran, and of Turkey, which backs rebel groups.

The text of the measure "welcomes and supports the efforts by Russia and Turkey to end violence in Syria and jumpstart a political process."

Putin congratulates Russians, reveals New Year secret

IANS | Moscow |

Thanking all Russians for their "victories, achievements, understanding and trust" in 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday wished "peace and prosperity" for all citizens and that they will be able to fulfil their dreams and "good intentions",

In a televised New Year's address, he also revealed the secret of how all may become something of a magician on New Year's Eve for those nearest and dearest to them, EFE news reported.

"We simply need to treat our parents with love and gratitude, care for our children and families, respect our colleagues at work, nurture our friendships, defend truth and justice, be merciful and help those who are in need of support. This is the whole secret," the Russian leader explained.

Putin acknowledged that 2016 was "a challenging year" in reference to the economic difficulties that his country is experiencing, in addition to sanctions imposed by the West on Moscow due to the Ukrainian crisis.

"It was a challenging year, but the difficulties we faced have brought us together and allowed us to discover our enormous resources for moving forward," the Russian leader said.

LPG, jet fuel prices hiked in Delhi

IANS | New Delhi |

State-run oil marketing companies (OMCs) on Saturday hiked the price of subsidised cooking gas, or LPG, along with kerosene and aviation turbine fuel (ATF).

The three state-owned OMCs revise rates of LPG, Kerosene and ATF on the first of every month, based on global oil prices and the foreign exchange rate.

This is the seventh straight month of increase in cooking gas cylinder prices — a subsidised 14.2 kg cylinder will become expensive by Rs.2 to Rs.434.71 in Delhi, as against Rs.432.71 earlier.

In a move to reduce its LPG subsidy outgo, the government, in July, had decided on small hikes of around Rs.2 per cylinder every month.

The price of non-subsidised LPG, which consumers buy after exhausting their quota of 12 cylinders in a year, was also hiked on Saturday by Re.1 to Rs.585.

Meanwhile, kerosene will became dearer by 26 paisa to Rs.19.43 per litre in Kolkata.

The ATF, or jet fuel, will be hiked by 8.60 per cent to Rs 52,540.63 per kl in Delhi. Prices vary at airports depending on local taxes.

RBI to announce facility for NRIs to exchange old notes

IANS | New Delhi |

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Saturday said that it will introduce a facility for exchange of old specified bank notes for Indian residents and NRIs, who were abroad from November 9 to December 30.

According to a RBI notification, Indian residents, who were abroad during November 9 to December 30, 2016 can avail the new facility up to March 31, 2017, while NRIs can avail it up to June 30.

"While there is no monetary limit for exchange for the eligible resident Indians, the limit for NRIs will be as per the relevant FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act) regulations," said the RBI notification. 

"They can avail this facility in their individual capacity once during the period on submission of ID documents, such as Aadhaar number, Permanent Account Number (PAN) etc, and on submission of documentary evidence showing they were abroad during the period and, that they have not availed the exchange facility earlier."

The country's central bank elaborated that third-party tender will not be accepted under the new facility.

"On fulfilment of the terms and conditions and the genuineness of the notes tendered, admissible amount will be credited to the tenderer's KYC (know your customer) compliant bank account," the notification said.

"The facility will remain open for residents from January 2, 2017 to March 31, 2017 and for NRIs from January 2, 2017 to June 30, 2017. This facility will be available through Reserve Bank offices at Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, and Nagpur."

The notification added that Indian citizens residing in Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and Bangladesh cannot avail this facility.

Happy New Year 2017, India sets sight on new goals

SNS | New Delhi |

As we enter the New Year 2017, wishes all its readers a happy and prosperous year ahead.

The year 2016 was a pack of delight for some, while others saw it as a start of revolutions that promised a change they eagerly awaited from a long time. From Colombia striking a peace deal, to Brazil and South Korea impeaching their presidents and to the fall of Eastern Aleppo, the world witnessed an upside-down during this season.

In India, the demonetisation of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to spark a fire against the fuming issue of black money.

In the midst of all the hardships and people’s struggle, stood tall in support of Indian citizens.

Through our thought-provoking reportage of real time events, we tried to keep our motto 'People’s parliament always in session' intact, contributing in the making of the glorious nation.

India seems ready to step into the New Year with a bang and all its projected goals looks well in shape when we sneak peak into 2017. Subjects like the growth of GDP, besides other long-term benefits of the demonetisation, now looks reachable. 

We, the people of India, saw a few essential bills, like Payment of Wages (Amendment) Bill, Constitution (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Orders (Amendment) Bill, and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill), finally getting passed in the parliament this year.  

The New Year 2017 promises to get the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill passed by the parliament to lighten the burden of the common man of the society.

So the year 2017 appears welcoming at this point, let's roll in with all the joys to celebrate a new beginning. 

Year-Ender 2016: From Leicester’s title triumph to the rise of Rosberg

Let us take a trip down memory lane to cherish the very best of every month in 2016.

Akash Khanna | New Delhi |

Sports have always been a lifeline for many. No matter how stressed one is, playing sports or watching a play may heal every bit of hassle.

Calendar year 2016 witnessed a lot of sports happening all across the globe and saw many sportsperson turning larger than life. As the year is about to end, let’s take a trip down memory lane to cherish the very best of every month in 2016.

January – Tennis transcripts the beginning

The year 2016 started on a stellar note for tennis enthusiasts as Serbian tennis icon Novak Djokovic outshone Andy Murray 6-1, 7-5 and 7-6 (3) to equal Roy Emerson’s record of six Australian Open titles.

However in the women’s single event, a shock defeat awaited Serena Williams and billions of her fans glued to their TV sets. Defending champion Williams lost 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to German tennis professional Angelique Kerber, who lifted the first Grand Slam of her career.

February – Sports for Peace, Progress and Prosperity

"Play for Peace, Progress and Prosperity," with this motto, the Indian PM Narendra Modi inaugrated the 12th edition of the 2016 South Asian Games in Guwahati and Shillong, India.

The hosts, India, being the sporting giant of the region, continued its dominance in the medal's tally with an astonishing 308 medals, including 188 gold.

Staggering perfrmence in the South Asian Games, ahead of the Rio Olympics 2016, was enough to ensure India's fans of a strong performence from its athletes in the Olympics as well.

March – West Indies wonder

Four consecutive sky-scraping sixes by Carlos Brathwiate ensured West Indies win their second title at the ICC World Twenty 20. The four-week tournament was concluded on April 3.

Marlon Samuels scored unbeaten 85 runs to pile up pressure on England and Brathwiate hammered the final nail in coffin, contributing with 34 runs (not out) as West Indies win by four wickets with two balls remaining in the final.

Besides men, West Indies women cricket team also lifted the World Cup to double the celebration. Opener Hayley Matthews smashed a stunning 66 off 45 balls to help the Windies beat Australia by 8 wickets to claim their maiden World T20 title.

Earlier in February, the Under-19 West Indies team also crowned as the Champions at the ICC Under-19 World Cup (50 over format).

April – Golf to shine the summers

English golfer Danny Willett stole the limelight in the year’s first major golf championship at Augusta, Georgia. Willett scored 5-under-par 67 in the final-round to become the first Englishman in two decades to win the Masters Tournament.

The 28-year-old golfer finished at 5-under-par 283, outshining home favourite Jordon Spieth and UK’s Lee Westwood by a winning margin of three shots.

Spieth’s close defeat cost him a thousand shattered dreams as he was bidding to create history at the Masters Tournament. The US golfer was awfully close of becoming just the fourth player in the 80 years of the tournament history to successfully defend his Masters title.

In the 80 years history of the Masters Tournament, only three players, Jack Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Tiger Woods (2001-02), have defended their title, winning two consecutive editions.

May – Leicester City's, Djokovic’s dream came true

The man with six Australian Open, three Wimbledon and two US Open, Novak Djokovic had a well-decorated trophy shelf. However, one trophy — French Open — was something that still far from his sight till the month of May.

Just like the Australian Open, Djokovic routed Andy Murray in the final, this time with 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, to complete his career Grand Slam at the age of 29.

Djokovic became the first tennis professional since Rod Laver in 1969, to win all four Grand Slams at once.

May brought some luck for the English football club Leicester City too, who won their maiden title at the English Premier League.

Defeating the odds, Leicester, who were on the verge of relegation last year, emerged as the champions to script the biggest sports story of the year.

Amidst the fall of mega clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, Claudio Ranieri-managed Leicester played astonishing throughout the league. En route the triumph, they lost just three matches out of 38 in all.

June – Mighty Australia brace hockey dominance

Australian men’s hockey team Kookaburras have been a dreaded rival for every team across the globe. Having won nine medals at Olympics, which include one gold and three silver medals, Australia also rule the Hockey Champions Trophy.

In the biennial tournament, which was earlier an annual event, Australia have won the maximum number of titles (14).
In the 2016 edition of the tournament, Australia beat India by 3-1 in a shootout game after the 60-minute game concluded with a 0-0 scoreline.

July – Much awaited title for Ronaldo’s Portugal

“No one believed in Portugal, but the truth is we made it,” Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo said in the locker room, with a lump in his throat. 

Portugal outclassed the hosts France 1-0, thanks to the substitute striker Eder, who undoubtedly deserved to be named as the hero of the match.

Eder scored with eleven minutes of extra time remaining and the Portugal to win the European Championship. The victory was even more touching for the star striker Ronaldo, who suffered injury during the match, however, he was the one with the biggest hands over the glittery trophy in the end.

“I am very happy. This is one of the happiest days of my life. Forget the individual trophies, the Champions League, this one right here is the happiest moment of my life. I have cried three or four times already. My brother had to tell me to calm down and I said Hudo, ‘I can’t’,” Ronaldo said in a video he shared after the much awaited triumph.

August – Sindhu’s Silver to bring back smile 

Despite driving fast in the beginning on the road to Rio, India missed the path in between and many of the largest athletes contingent (118), started collapsing like dominoes. 

It was Indian girls, Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu, who bring back smiles on the faces of Indians, who waited for a medal form the Rio Olympics desperately.

Shuttler Sindhu won India's first Silver medal in the badminton sport, after losing 21-19, 12-21, 15-21 to Spain's Carolina Marin. Earlier, Malik had won Bronze in the women's 58kg freestyle wrestling to end India’s medal draught in the sports’ life-size event.

September – Paralympians pick the pulse

Indian Olympians didn’t so wonders in the Rio Olympics, though the Paralympians shone to the fullest in the following event – 2016 Rio Paralympics. 

From just two medals in the Olympics, that too in the dying days of the event, Paralympians brought home four medals, two gold, a silver and a bronze medal.

Mariyappan Thangavelu, Devendra Jhajharia clinched gold in high jump and javelin throw respectively, while shot putter Deepa Malik won silver. 

Besides Thangavelu, Varun Singh Bhati claimed bronze medal in the high jump event.

October – Success story of India’s rural sport

Kabaddi, our own sport, remained a subject of flaunt for many in the year 2016 as India retained their supremacy in the rural sport, winning the Kabaddi World Cup 2016.

Under the captaincy of Anup Kumar, Indian national Kabaddi team beat Iran by 38-29 to claim their third successive title in the standard style Kabaddi World Cup. 

Raider Ajay Thakur was the marquee man for India with 12 points, though he was well supported by Nitin Tomar who contributed with causative six points. 

November – Rosberg’s silent rise and retirement

Mercedes’ driver Nico Rosberg clinched the 2016 World Championship, denying his teammate Lewis Hamilton, who was bidding for his fourth crown.

Despite finishing on the top at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Hamilton failed to secure the F1 2016 title, while Rosberg who finished on second was crowned world champion for the first time.

The 31-year-old races under a German licence and has now become the third German driver to win the world championship after Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel, who won first time in 1994 and 2010 respectively.

December – Double delight besides Indian cricket supremacy

The month of December can be precisely defined in a phrase: “All's well that ends well.”

Indian sports fantics were full of the joys of spring in winters, as first India Test cricket team routed England 4-0 to finish on the top of the ICC Test team rankings and later the junior hockey team brought home the much-awaited World Cup title.

Leading by an example, star of all-three formats, Virat Kohli powered Indian Test side to best against visiting England side, who was trounced for a cleansweep victory.

On the other hand, Indian hockey registered a clinical 2-1 victory over Belgium to win the FIH Junior Hockey World Cup after a gap of 15 years. 

Gurjant Singh (8th minute) and Simranjeet Singh (22nd) were the celebrated heroes behind the close carnival of the year.

Trump tweets New Year’s greeting to his many enemies

PTI | Washington |

Donald Trump sent New Year's greetings to his "many enemies" in a backhanded tweet on Saturday in which he gloated over his political conquests.

"Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love!" the US president-elect wrote.

The message on Twitter, Trump's preferred mode of communication, caps a year in which he overcame long odds to vanquish 16 other Republicans vying to become the party's White House nominee.

He then upended Democrat Hillary Clinton in last month's general election — her formidable political machine and bigger campaign coffers notwithstanding — in a shock election upset.

Trump takes the oath of office on January 20, when he will become the 45th US president.

Yuki wins opening round of qualifiers in Chennai Open

PTI | Chennai |

Yuki Bhambri breezed past Italy's Marco Cecchinato in the opening round of the qualifiers in the Chennai Open here on Saturday.

The former top-100 player and a quarterfinalist in 2014 in Chennai Open, Yuki has returned to the circuit after a long injury lay off. But he displayed a lot of aggression as he romped to a 7-5 6-1 victory in one hour and 10 minutes.

Yuki will next take on Argentina's Nicolas Kicker, who got the better of Sasi Kumar Mukund of India.

Mukund bowed out of the first round of the qualifiers after losing 7-6(7) 3-6 5-7. He seemed to have gained a measure of his 24-year-old opponent as he fought tooth and nail to win the tie-breaker but suffered an early setback in the next set, getting broken in his second game itself.

Mukund tried to power his way back, riding on his big serve and powerful forehand strokes, but Kicker drew the sting out of his own shots by imparting massive top spin into them.

The third set was a hard-fought affair with the games going with serve till 5-5. Kicker broke through in the critical 11th game and held on to his serve to beat Mukund 7-5.

"It was a close match. The third set was tight and could have gone either way. May be I was a bit passive. He took his chances," Mukund said.

PM warns of tough action against dishonest, announces sops

PTI | New Delhi |

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday set out a stern warning of tough action against the "dishonest" people even as he announced a slew of sops for senior citizens, farmers, rural housing, women and small entrepreneurs to soften the blow of demonetisation.

He also assuaged the honest people that the government will act as a friend to them so that their difficulties are eased.

Among the sops announced in his address to the nation at the end of 50-day demonetisation period, Modi said senior citizens will get 8 per cent interest on deposits of upto Rs.7.5 lakh for 10 years and deposit of Rs.6000 into accounts of pregnant and lactating women in rural areas to meet medical expenses.

For farmers, he announced that banks will not charge interest for 60 days on loans taken from district cooperative central bank and primary societies for rabi crop.

For construction or expansion of a rural house, 3 per cent interest will be waived on loan of upto Rs.2 lakh.

Announcing two new schemes under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, he said 4 per cent interest subvention on loans upto Rs.9 lakh and 3 per cent on loan upto Rs.12 lakh.

"The law will take its course with full force. The government will help the honest and protect them and see their difficulties are eased. How honest will gain from the government. This government is a friend of good people and wants to build on the good environment for the people to return to goodness," he said.

Acknowledging that "serious offences" have been committed by some bank and government officials taking advantage of situation, he said "they will not be spared".