Archive for January 2016

It’s no secret that the Centre and the Delhi government are locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. But as the issues pile up, the big question is: which of the two is legally on a weak wicket? Sonia Sarkar finds out.

January 2016: The Union home ministry describes as “illegal” a Delhi government probe into the Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA). Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal says that the probe will continue.

January 2016: Delhi home minister Satyendar Jain asks deputy secretaries and additional secretaries to report directly to him and not to home secretary S.N. Sahai, appointed by the Centre.
December 2015: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government suspends two bureaucrats belonging to the Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Service (Danics) cadre. The Union home ministry overturns the decision.

April 2015: The Delhi government appoints Surender Singh Yadav as head of its Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB). In June, Lieutenant Governor (LG) Najeeb Jung appoints the joint commissioner of the Delhi police, Mukesh Kumar Meena, as the ACB chief.

June 2015: The Delhi government replaces home secretary Dharam Pal with senior IAS officer Rajendra Kumar. The home ministry revokes the decision and later appoints Sahai.


The last 11 months have witnessed a never-ending drama in Delhi starring chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and LG Najeeb Jung. One proposes, the other disposes.Who’s at fault? Under the law, it is Kejriwal.

He, however, believes that hurdles are deliberately being put in his way because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot accept AAP’s victory and the BJP’s defeat in Delhi. “Ever since we formed the government, the Centre has been determined to give us a hard time. We pass an order and they say your order is null and void,” Kejriwal recently told the press.



AAP believes that attempts are on to show Kejriwal – who has taken on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on different forums – as politically inexperienced. “The Centre wants to say that we don’t understand governance,” Kejriwal aide Ashutosh fumes.

The BJP scoffs at this. “Kejriwal is not interested in governing Delhi; he only wants to pick fights,” BJP leader Sanjay Kaul counters. “And, above all, he doesn’t understand that the chief minister has to work under the legal arrangement prescribed for Delhi.”

The arrangement, indeed, is peculiar. Once a Union Territory (UT), Delhi got a Legislative Assembly with the enactment of the National Capital Territory Act of 1991. Delhi, however, is not a full-fledged state. The 69th amendment to the Constitution states that the elected government in Delhi enjoys the powers and privileges offered to all other states in India barring subjects such as public order, police and land.

The land powers lie with the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), run by the Centre’s urban development ministry, and the police and law and order departments are with the Delhi police, which reports indirectly to the Centre.

The Delhi police commissioner doesn’t report to the elected chief minister, but to the LG, appointed by the Centre. For posting IAS officers, signatures are needed from the home ministry. Further, Parliament can legislate on any subject relating to Delhi’s governance under article 239AA(3)(b) of the Constitution. Under the law, the government in Delhi has to share powers with the “administrator”, the LG.

“Unlike the governor of any other state, the LG is the real power centre in Delhi,” holds Niranjan Sahoo, senior fellow, Observer Research Foundation and co-author of a recent paper, Statehood or Autonomy: Rethinking Governance in India’s Capital.

Kejriwal, he argues, has crossed the line in every case. “In all these cases – the suspension of Danics officers, the ACB chief’s appointment and replacing the home secretary – Kejriwal is exercising powers that are not his,” Sahoo states.

Under the law, only the LG has the right to appoint the ACB chief. The Delhi government replaced home secretary Dharam Pal with Rajendra Kumar (now the principal secretary) because the former had notified the appointment of Mukesh Kumar Meena as the ACB chief, which was done on Jung’s orders. The home ministry revoked the decision on Kumar and later appointed Sahai. The LG, under the law, has the right to appoint the home secretary in consultation with the Union home ministry.

Kejriwal, again, was wrong when he bypassed the LG’s office while appointing Arvind Ray as principal secretary (general administration). This decision requires the LG’s nod. The state government was also wrong in suspending two Danics bureaucrats because only the LG has the power to do so.

“Going by the rules, these appointments made by Kejriwal are all wrong. He is not authorised to execute these,” Sanjay Kumar, professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), a New Delhi-based research institute in social sciences. But these are matters that could have been solved amicably.

“The chief minister and the LG could have dissolved differences without taking issues to the media,” says a political expert in a Delhi think tank. “Now, it is a show of strength for the two.”

The Shakuntala Gamlin issue is a case in point. Last May, the LG proposed the name of the senior bureaucrat for the post of acting chief secretary. Kejriwal opposed the move, but the LG went ahead and appointed Gamlin – which he has the right to do.

Yet there is a growing belief that the Centre is thrusting its decisions on the state. Usually, such appointments are decided after informal consultations. “There is a lot of back and forth that happens,” the think tank member points out. In this instance, there was none.

That wasn’t the case in 2007, when then chief minister Sheila Dikshit told the home ministry that she wanted Rakesh Mehta as the chief secretary. The government – a Congress-led one, like the one in the state – complied. “Mehta superseded 11 seniors but Dikshit had her way,” a former bureaucrat says.

Negotiations and consultations, Dikshit stresses, are crucial in running a government. And while having the Congress at the Centre helped on many occasions, Dikshit points out she faced no major problems even during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime.

She refers to the NDA time when construction for the Metro rail started and some colonies in east Delhi had to be relocated. “We negotiated for land with the urban development ministry and rehabilitated the people,” she says.

On the other hand, when her government wanted to authorise some illegal colonies, she couldn’t do so because the DDA, then under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, did not give its consent. “Some hurdles will always remain but one has to keep negotiating,” she says.

At the crux of the battle, perhaps, is Kejriwal’s demand for full statehood – which has been the chief minister’s slogan from day one.

“Since Kejriwal is the face of the government, he should have all powers,” an AAP leader says. “The people who gave us 67 seats in the 70-seat Assembly want us to have all the powers of Delhi.”

A BJP leader retorts: “Chief minister of Delhi is a cosmetic title.”

The title may be cosmetic, but the battle is purely political. And Kejriwal’s target, some analysts believe, is not Jung but Prime Minister Modi, whom Kejriwal recently called a “psychopath”.

“Modi should get the message that there is someone to take him on,” the AAP leader says, pointing to the fact that Kejriwal has trained his guns on Modi’s finance minister Arun Jaitley.

Last month, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the office of principal secretary Kumar. The CBI said it was related to corruption charges against Kumar. Kejriwal countered that the raid had to do with irregularities in the DDCA, which Jaitley once headed.

“Modi targeted our principal secretary, so we got his most powerful man,” the AAP leader says.

The DDCA fracas has been kicking up a storm. The state government’s decision to set up a body for a probe has been called “illegal” by the LG’s office. However, the Union ministry of youth affairs and sports had asked the Delhi government to look into the matter in July.

Political observers point out that strained Centre-Delhi ties are not new. Dikshit’s relationship with then LG Tejendra Khanna was often stormy.

A Congress leader refers to the case of a 42-acre plot in southwest Delhi. The home ministry and the LG decided to give only 10 acres of this to the Delhi government, but Dikshit wanted more and turned down the offer. “The land remains in dispute till date,” the Congress leader says.

Such tussles are common today. But the AAP camp believes the fight has been thrust on the party. It points out that Kejriwal had earlier offered an olive branch to Modi. He has also sought an appointment with the Prime Minister, but is still to hear from him.

“Kejriwal formally met Modi on two occasions – once to seek his ashirwad(blessings) after assuming office and then to tell him he was facing problems with Jung,” a senior AAP leader says. “We told him that to serve Delhi, we needed his help. But he said: ‘Yeh toh humne suna hai, maine toh socha tha aap kuchh naya idea leke aaoge (I have heard about these things. I thought you’d come with new ideas)’,” he says.

AAP leaders, he points out, get along well with other BJP leaders such as Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh. Modi, he stresses, is the hurdle. “But people know that we want to work and the Centre is creating problems,” he adds.

Perhaps, as the Kejriwal government celebrates its first year in office next month, there will be a ceasefire. “The chief minister of Delhi has to understand his or her own limitations and the rights of the Centre,” Dikshit sums up. “It took me more than a year to understand the dynamics of Delhi.”


mams in India are using social media to reach out to young Muslims and to counter online extremism, says Sonia Sarkar

His smartphone never stops buzzing, but Maulana Mohammad Yaqoob, 67, is happy. The imam of the Khalilullah Masjid in Delhi’s Batla House is on WhatsApp, the popular site for chats and group chats on mobile phones. He is flooded with text messages too. But that’s how Yaqoob connects with young Muslims.

“That’s the best way to catch the interest of the young,” Yaqoob says. “To remain connected to them, we have to use their ways of communication.”

The Indian Muslim preacher is at a crossroads today. The mosque is not where the young like to congregate – they’d rather connect with ideologues on the Internet. As a section of Muslim youths gets attracted to radical thinking propagated on the Internet, religious leaders are looking at ways of bringing the young back into their fold. And the tool for that, they believe, is the Internet.

Like Yaqoob, many imams – who lead prayers in mosques – have been using social media to reach out to young Muslims. They are active on online platforms such as WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Efforts, clearly, are on to preach in a language that appeals to the young.

Take the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind. One of the largest organisations of Indian Islamic scholars, it is planning to produce animated videos with lessons from the Quran.

“We have a lot of reading material but the effect of audio-visual material is always stronger. We plan to build a studio where a trained person will be appointed to make animated films carrying messages from the Quran. We can circulate those videos on social networking sites later,” says Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind general secretary Maulana Mahmood Madani, whose Facebook page has over 8,700 “likes”.

There is a growing belief that online extremism has to be urgently countered. Over 18 months or so, the police have arrested at least 20 Indian Muslims who were said to have been keen to join the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Concern has been expressed that young Indian Muslims are showing an interest in the ISIS and are mostly being radicalised on the Internet. The online magazine of the ISIS, Dabiq, is said to be popular among a section of Indian Muslim youths.

Many of those being lured by ISIS, the Delhi police say, are not madrasa-educated men, but educated professionals such as computer engineers, doctors and MBAs with easy access to the Internet.

“The problem is that the Internet is their imam and Google is their mufti (Muslim legal expert),” says imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, chief imam, All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques.

Islamic scholars believe that the young have to be steered away from what they see as dangerous propaganda. Take the word jihad, says Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. “The word has nowhere been used in the Quran to mean war in the sense of launching an offensive. Instead, it is used to mean peaceful struggle with oneself to control one’s negative and undesirable feelings. It also means to communicate the message of God to all human beings with full compassion and well wishing,” he says. “It is important to tell the youth this.”

In many parts of the world, this is exactly what scholars and other experts are doing. Young Muslims being indoctrinated on the Internet is a worldwide phenomenon that some nations are already seeking to counter.

“There is a rise in ‘freelance’ religious figures who often have little depth in traditional religious disciplines but are charismatic speakers and often use modern communications tools to propagate their messages to wider audiences,” says Alejandro Beutel, a researcher at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, University of Maryland, US.

That’s one of the reasons Indian imams feel that the youth have to be addressed through platforms that they access, with a language that counters that of the extremists.

These concerns came up at a two-day conference on “Opportunities for Public-Private Partnership in Countering Online Extremism and Recruitment”, organised by a Delhi-based think tank in November. Religious leaders who attended the meeting urged Facebook to help them use social media for counter-speech – a term used for logically countering extremist positions.

“Counter-speech is an important part of responding to terrorism and we work hard to protect it,” says Monika Bickert, global head of product policy, Facebook, who was also present at the Delhi conference. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of non-government organisations (NGOs), community groups and student groups interested in creating and promoting positive speech against extremism,” she adds.

India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is supposed to keep an eye on extremist activities within the country, believes that it is important for religious leaders to approach young Muslim men and women. “We cannot work in isolation. If the imams take a step forward to connect with the youth of the community, they can be dissuaded from joining radical groups,” an IB officer says.

It’s already happening elsewhere. A group of imams in London started a website,, and an online magazine, Haqiqah (The Reality), in March to “reclaim the Internet” from extremists. Imams and working professionals in the US and Canada started a website called The imam of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, Suhaib Webb, is on Twitter with over 81,000 followers, and seeks to engage young audiences with practical religious teachings.

Madani says that his organisation is now reaching out to a group of imams in the US to know more about the use of the social media.

“We have a saying, ‘you snooze, you lose’. Those who reject modern communication technology will lose out to those who embrace them. Sadly violent extremists have embraced these technologies,” says Jennifer S. Bryson, director of the US-based think tank Zephyr Institute, which works for religious freedom. “So it is very urgent for Muslim religious leaders to be, or become, familiar with the pulse of young Muslims.”

Imams in India admit that they have failed to do so, or capture the imagination of the youth. “Our popularity is going down and the gap between imams and the youth is increasing,” Madani rues.

The prayer leaders point out that there was a time when Muslim youths went to mosques regularly. But in recent years, technology has given a new platform to new-age preachers. The Mumbai-based televangelist Zakir Naik, for instance, became hugely popular with his television appearances and videos uploaded on the video-sharing platform, YouTube.

While other religions may also feel the need to reach out to the young through social media sites, Muslim religious leaders feel the pressure more because of the growth and spread of Islamist groups – and anti-Muslim sentiments – across the world.

“There is a sense of insecurity among Muslim religious leaders because of growing Islamophobia across the world,” contends Rakesh Batabayal, professor at the Centre for Media Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. “Imams are using social media sites to assert that they exist, and that they can fight growing radicalism.”

But the gap between the youth and their religious leaders hasn’t happened overnight, experts point out. For long years, the youth have been seeking answers to questions about their identity, the importance of Islam vis-à-vis the world, Islamic state, role of a minority in a democratic country, and moral and human values of Muslim society, says Khwaja Iftikhar Ahmed, principal advisor, All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques.

“But these questions have never been answered. The traditional clergymen do not have the knowledge required to address such issues,” he says.

Yaqoob points out that just 10 or 12 young men attend Friday prayers in mosques these days. “Also, not many have the patience to listen tokhutbah (Islamic preaching before Friday prayers),” he says.

  • The Internet is their imam and Google is their mufti
    — Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, Chief imam, All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques, on young Muslim men

But then, as Madani admits, imams speak in a language and style that is not popular among the youth. “They feel that the imams are trying to impose their thoughts upon them,” he says.

To counter the dwindling numbers and interest, the imams are now planning to make their speeches available to the young (and others) through social media sites. “We could record the khutbah and send it to young people through WhatsApp groups to ensure that they listen to it even if they are not physically present in the mosque,” Maulana Mohibullah Nadvi, imam of the New Delhi Jama Masjid, says. “Tele-conferences on burning issues could also be organised using the social media.”

The moves are being welcomed. Delhi student Ramiz Abdul Wadood calls the move “progressive” and says these will create space for conversation and debate. “It is important that the imams motivate us and fill the void that we have been feeling currently,” Wadood, 17, says. He is a fan of Pakistani religious and Islamic scholar Tariq Jameel, whom he watches on YouTube.

What impact has all these had so far? It’s perhaps too early to assess this. Some imams opened Facebook accounts two years ago, some still don’t have any but are planning on opening accounts. Says Ashum Gupta, professor, department of psychology, Delhi University, “Young Muslims who have moved away from the ideologies and teachings of traditional clergy would, at least, acknowledge their existence now. But it is early to say if they will accept them in their current form.” Adds Farhan Ali, a Class XII student at a south Delhi school, who follows Madani on Facebook, “If we have any queries, we know that there is someone to answer them. Also, I listen to his video-recorded speeches, which may not be possible otherwise.”

But, of course, there is concern that the situation won’t change merely on the strength of the Internet. Islamic scholar Khan, for instance, stresses that imams’ attitude and mindset have to change, too. “Imams need to correct their self-righteousness and be more open. The young mind is reason-based and wants objectivity. Imams should keep that in mind,” says Khan, who heads the Delhi-based NGO, Centre for Peace and Spirituality.

Social scientist Zubair Meenai of Jamia Millia Islamia has a word of caution for the preachers. “They should learn how to deal with trolls. They should be ready for public abuse, too,” the professor in the department of social work points out.

Yaqoob looks concerned. ” Kabhi kabhi Internet aafat lagta hai(Sometimes, the Internet seems like a menace),” he says. “We have to be careful.”