The dusty, army-green SUV, parked on a leafy street a few hundred metres from the Mumbai skyscraper that houses India’s richest man, did not look like much.
Inside, however, police made an alarming discovery: a number of explosives and a letter that local media said warned Mukesh Ambani, the billionaire chair of conglomerate Reliance Industries, that this was just a “trailer” for what was to come.
The twists and turns that followed the bomb scare in late February have escalated into one of India’s most dramatic scandals.
The man to whom the SUV was linked was found dead, floating in a creek. A policeman said to have political ties — and an allegedly violent past — was arrested. Mumbai’s police chief was ousted and went on to accuse the state home minister of running an elaborate extortion racket in the city.
The metropolis of Mumbai has long held a reputation as a city of extremes, its gleaming offices and film studios built atop a notorious underbelly of brass-knuckled politics and gangsterism.
But analysts said there was little precedent for the way in which the latest controversy had brought the messy inner workings of India’s financial capital and the behind-the-scenes dealings that bind politics, police and crime across much of the country out of the shadows.
“The real takeaway is the gross decay of the institutions,” said Suhas Palshikar, a political scientist formerly of Savitribai Phule Pune University. “It doesn’t remain merely a story of administrative decay. It also means there’s a complete failure of politics . . . The dramatic aspect is new but all the elements have always been there.”
After Mansukh Hiren, the small-time suburban businessman to whom police had linked the SUV — and who had reported the vehicle missing — was found dead, investigators arrested police official Sachin Vaze for his alleged role in the bomb plot.
Vaze said in court that he was “a scapegoat”, according to a lawyer representing him, and was not involved in the crime.
The scandal might have died down were it not for the intervention of Param Bir Singh, Mumbai’s former police commissioner, who was transferred from his post days after Vaze’s arrest.
Singh alleged in a widely circulated letter that the home minister for Maharashtra, the state that is home to Mumbai, wanted Vaze to help collect Rs1bn ($14m) a month in payments from businesses such as restaurants and bars.
A lawyer for Singh confirmed the authenticity of the letter. A case filed by Singh, demanding a central government probe into his allegations, is being heard in the Bombay High Court.
Anil Deshmukh, the home minister of Maharashtra, responded in a letter posted on Twitter that Singh’s allegations were “absolutely false and baseless”. He called it part of “a conspiracy” to deflect attention from the bomb case and undermine the state government.
Among the many questions that remain unanswered is what, if anything, those behind the bomb plot wanted from Ambani. Reliance declined to comment but previously said it was confident police would “complete their thorough investigation quickly”.
The scandal could also have broader political ramifications. Maharashtra is run by a coalition led by the rightwing nationalist Shiv Sena party, which broke with prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party after state elections in 2019.
The events have revived memories of 1990s-era Mumbai — previously known as Bombay — when the city’s underworld was at its height. Larger-than-life police officials with a reputation for ruthless tactics, including extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals, were lauded as heroes and enjoyed political support.
Vaze, according to media reports, was reputed to be one of them. Of his alleged victims, he reportedly told the Guardian in 2011: “I don’t think about it ever. Every one of them deserved to go and they went.”
Vaze was suspended from the force in 2004 for his alleged role in a custodial death, though he called it a “false case”, according to his lawyer. But he subsequently joined Shiv Sena and was reinstated to the police last year, according to media reports. Vaze could not be reached for comment.
“This is a quintessential Bombay story,” said a journalist in the city. “It’s a typical Bollywood masala thriller. There’s as much masala as you can put into a typical Bollywood script.”
Former police officers said the scandal underscored the need to curb the politicisation of law enforcement, which allows politicians to decide appointments and transfers, leaving police beholden to ruling parties.
“In a way, it is good that it has brought out the alleged nexus between police and politicians [into the open], though an inquiry is required to prove the charges,” said Meeran Chadha Borwankar, who previously held high-level positions in the Maharashtra and national police forces.
“Political parties in power generally expect police to toe their line and act for them in grey and sometimes totally illegal black areas, as alleged in the said letter of the former commissioner,” she added. “We should pursue an independent police organisation instead of the current system where we are at the mercy of politicians.”
The grim affair could have national implications if it upsets the balance of power in Maharashtra, considered one of the country’s biggest political prizes for its size and economic heft.
The BJP has maintained a fierce rivalry with the Shiv Sena-led government, and has decried its alleged conduct. Political analysts said this could ultimately give Modi’s party another shot at power in the state if the coalition was sufficiently weakened.
“For the BJP, this is a tailor-made political opportunity,” said Milan Vaishnav, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank. “Even if they don’t get back to power, they can go to the bank on this when elections come around.”
What Newsom’s Landslide Victory Says About National Politics – New York Magazine
Photo: Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The California recall is over, and it did not provide much suspense. But while voters’ verdict was clear, the significance of Gavin Newsom’s win for the national landscape is less obvious. I spoke with national political correspondent Gabriel Debenedetti about how to interpret what went down in the Golden State.
Ben: In the end, it wasn’t close: Governor Gavin Newsom romped to victory in Tuesday’s California recall over his closest rival, Larry Elder, and a motley assortment of other Republicans. He’s up by 28 points as of this writing, so it’s very far from the close call Democrats were worried about a few weeks ago. Do you think this was ever actually a contest, or more a case of one poll leading people astray? (Or was that one scary poll the central reason this turned into such a landslide, since Democrats started paying attention?)
Gabriel: There were several distinct stages to this race. When I first wrote about it a few months ago, the prevailing feeling — even among Republicans — was, more or less, “This is ridiculous; Newsom will win easily.” All polling suggested that was the case, and there was no single dynamic on the ground hinting otherwise, even if people weren’t happy that COVID was stilllll around. No one actually thought that was Newsom’s fault!
But this summer, there was a definite concern in Dem circles, even in the White House. There’s been a bit of revisionist history already that one single poll showing the recall succeeding caused this epochal freakout that led to a surge in Dem votes. That’s not totally true; it is true that warning signs started flashing for Newsom a few months ago. That SurveyUSA poll was one thing. But there were plenty of other surveys, public and private, showing Republicans faaaar more engaged and showing Newsom failing to fully connect with Latino voters, for example, or with many base liberals in the LA area. All the coverage of those polls absolutely helped get people engaged — no one in Newsom World denies that.
But they also usually hasten to say that this is an oversimplification, and I suspect they’re right: In some ways, this pattern is only natural for a weirdly timed special election driven by right-wing partisans in a blue state. Newsom’s team started putting out organizers and ads, and things turned around. Duh.
Ben: Sorry to contribute to the revisionist history. I am not a revisionist by nature.
Gabriel: If on-the-ground reporting is the first draft of history, Slack chats for publication are the first-and-a-half draft.
Ben: Naturally, political observers are trying to figure out whether and how this result will have national implications, particularly for next year’s midterms. Some people seem to be shoehorning in a previously baked take that the recall itself is a bad sign for Democrats; others view the landslide as a warning sign for a Republican Party that has gotten used to rallying around, for lack of a better word, kooks. But is there really much to extrapolate here, or is this a local story that only seems like a national one?
Gabriel: All of the above, of course! It’s not, though, a local story. I think Newsom’s ex-campaign manager Addisu Demissie was right when he said on Twitter last night, “Before anyone starts with the California isn’t America but tonight let me preempt with the fact that 1 in 8 Americans lives here.” Which, yeah, good point, Addisu.
I’m not sure what this portends for the midterms, except that Newsom executed a pretty obvious playbook pretty effectively: If you’re in a fairly Democratic-leaning area and your opponent is willing to paint him/herself as Trump 2.0, you lean into that. Seems obvious, and Newsom did it to great effect.
I’m really struggling with all the takes that this is a warning sign for Democrats. Sorry, but the Democratic governor of California steamrolls a right-wing provocateur and we read it as “Dems in disarray?” Come on. That’s national media at its eye-rolliest.
That said, there are probably a decent number of lessons to be learned from how Californians think about COVID and Newsom’s masking and vaccination policies. This was the first real supposedly competitive state-level race where someone who was in charge of a COVID response faced an up-or-down vote since the pandemic started. And it turns out this mass backlash just … isn’t happening. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of discontent in California — over lockdowns but also over the housing crisis, homelessness, wildfires, and on and on. Just that when it comes to the undisputed most important issue of the day, Newsom won largely by saying, again and again, I’m taking this seriously.
Ben: Right. We should say that this whole recall was really made possible by Newsom’s big unforced error on COVID — dining at the French Laundry in contravention of his pandemic safety measures. But it seems a bit of personal hypocrisy wasn’t the silver bullet Republicans were hoping for. I also think this points to the difficulty in forecasting what this means for next year. Beyond the long time lag, who knows whether the pandemic will finally have receded, or whether it will still be issue No. 1?
Gabriel: Right, yes, absolutely. I’m old enough to remember when the midterms were going to be all about Dr. Seuss, or something. That said, COVID completely changed the way we live and think and consume around the world, so even if the midterm question isn’t “Did Politician X handle lockdown and mask policy the right way?,” it’s hard to conceive of a world where the experience of the past two years isn’t fairly central to voters’ decision-making.
Then again, how many voters in 2014 made their decision based on the Ebola scare? In 2018, how many were terrified by the “migrant caravan”? Which is all a way of saying: We’re still building the fundamental landscape of the midterms, not the final marginal issues.
It can be frustrating, though, to look at this purely through that lens. We can also take more direct lessons from this for governance’s sake. Turns out voters like it when you address the pandemic head-on and don’t when you pretend it’s over. Newsom’s personal hypocrisy hurt him, obviously, but he got past it by making the race about policy and warning that if Elder were to win, California’s COVID policy would start to look like Texas’s or Florida’s, which are hands-off and scary.
Ben: What does it say about the current state of the Republican party that there were all these qualified-on-paper candidates, like former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer (as well as an international celebrity in Caitlyn Jenner), and voters rallied around a conservative talk-radio host?
Gabriel: Elder’s rise isn’t that shocking to me, after spending some time on the ground in California. He was decently well known in the southern part of the state, got a lot of play on Fox News, and enjoyed throwing Trump fans the kind of red meat they wanted. That’s enough to get ahead of the other Republicans, but clearly not enough to win over any moderates.
The Jenner story, I suspect, will be told soon. It has to be: What happened? She may not have ever been an acceptable candidate to California’s modern GOP, but there was money and buzz behind her Brad Parscale–fueled campaign and then it fizzled so quickly and embarrassingly that, clearly, there’s a bigger behind-the-scenes tale to be told.
Faulconer’s fall, though, is clearly the one that says the most. Here was a guy who was semi-openly preparing for a statewide run as a “sensible, moderate Republican” for years. He had run a huge city, and was decently well known. And then … he decided he had to go Trumpy and promptly lost all credibility. He was probably right that to win over Republicans in California, he had to take that turn, but it completely ended his chances with the moderates among whom he’d built his reputation in the first place. His attempt to turn back to some form of “I have something for everyone!” in the final weeks just came across as limp. Lots of people think he’ll now challenge Newsom in 2022. But why? And which version of Faulconer are we gonna get?
Ben: Could this cause other moderate Republicans around the country to reevaluate whether they need to go full Trump? For many, as it was for Faulconer, it’s sort of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation, electorally speaking.
Gabriel: Can I answer this after J.D. Vance loses his primary by 30?
Pope: No place for politics in Biden Communion flap – Alaska Highway News
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis said Wednesday that Catholic bishops must minister with “compassion and tenderness,” not condemnation, to politicians who support abortion rights and warned that clerics shouldn’t let politics enter into questions about receiving Communion.
Francis was asked en route home from Slovakia about the debate in the U.S. church about whether President Joe Biden and other politicians should be denied Communion because of their stances on abortion. U.S. bishops have agreed to draft a “teaching document” that many of them hope will rebuke Catholic politicians, including Biden, for receiving Communion despite their support for abortion rights.
Francis declined to give a “yes” or “no” answer, saying he didn’t know the U.S. case well enough. He repeated that abortion was “homicide,” and that Catholic priests cannot give the Eucharist to someone who is not in communion with the church. He cited the case of a Jew, or someone who isn’t baptized or who has fallen away from the church.
Most importantly, he said, was that priests and bishops must respond pastorally and not politically to any problem that comes before them. He said they must use “the style of God” to accompany the faithful with “closeness, compassion and tenderness.”
“And what should pastors do? Be pastors, and not go condemning, condemning,” Francis said.
Francis recalled cases when the church had held fast to a principle on political grounds and it ended badly, citing the Inquisition-era condemnation of Giordano Bruno for alleged heresy. He was burned at the stake in Rome’s Campo dei Fiori.
“Whenever the church, in order to defend a principle, didn’t do it pastorally, it has taken political sides,” Francis said. “If a pastor leaves the pastorality of the church, he immediately becomes a politician.”
Francis said he had never denied Communion to anyone, though he said he never knowingly had a pro-abortion politician before him, either. And he admitted he once gave Communion to an elderly woman who, after the fact, confessed that she was Jewish.
Francis repeated his belief that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect” but rather “a gift of the presence of Jesus in the church.” But he was unequivocal that it cannot be given to anyone who is not “in communion” with the church, though he declined to say if a pro-abortion politician was out of communion.
He was similarly unequivocal that abortion is murder, and that even a weeks-old embryo is a human life that must be protected.
“If you have an abortion, you kill,” Francis said. “That’s why the church is so tough on this issue, because if you accept this, you accept homicide daily.”
U.S. bishops agreed in June that the conference doctrine committee will draft a statement on the meaning of Communion in the life of the church that will be submitted for consideration, probably an in-person gathering in November. To be formally adopted, the document would need support of two-thirds of the bishops.
Despite the short flight back from Bratislava, the Slovak capital, Francis fielded an unusually wide array of questions. Among other things he said:
—That he couldn’t understand why some people refuse to take COVID-19 vaccines, saying “humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines” and that serene discussion was necessary to help them.
—That states can and should pass civil laws to allow homosexual couples to have inheritance rights and health care coverage, but that the church couldn’t accept gay marriage because marriage is a sacrament between a man and woman. “Marriage is marriage. This doesn’t mean condemning people who are like this. No, please! They are our brothers and sisters and we have to accompany them.”
—That his surgery to remove 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his colon in July wasn’t easy, despite those who have marveled at how well he had recovered. “It wasn’t cosmetic surgery,” he quipped.
Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press
New Democrats’ Singh looks to dance his way to role as Canada’s kingmaker
WINNIPEG/VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Sporting dance moves on TikTok videos in his signature neon turbans, the leader of Canada‘s left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP), Jagmeet Singh, is poised to recover from a 2019 election stumble and strengthen his position as kingmaker in the country’s next government.
Singh, the first member of a visible minority to lead a major Canadian federal party, helped prop up Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal minority government for two years and could resume that role. A tight race means the Liberals or Conservatives may end up with another minority after the Sept. 20 election.
Singh, 42, a criminal defence lawyer who became NDP leader in 2017, outstrips Trudeau and Conservative leader Erin O’Toole in personal popularity, according to polls and surveys. But the NDP lags both parties in polls, with 20% support among undecided voters, compared to 32% for both the Liberals and Conservatives, according to a Leger poll on Tuesday.
The NDP campaign has been on the offensive, with Singh almost exclusively visiting districts where the party does not have seats, a party official said.
The party, which currently has 24 seats in Parliament, says it has more cash than in 2019, when it finished third, and is actively trying to capitalize on Singh’s popularity and his social media savvy.
Singh’s TikTok videos regularly draw more than 1 million views and he is quick to jump on Instagram and Snapchat with updates from the campaign trail. Last year, he squared off against U.S. Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the popular Among Us video game, in a livestreamed fundraiser.
In the campaign’s final days, the NDP plans to feature him in the Nintendo video game Animal Crossing and is considering projecting his image on the sides of buildings.
Whether that will translate into more votes is unclear. The NDP could also see its traditional youth base affected by the absence of college-based voting stations this year, due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
However, the party is trending higher in polls this time than in 2019.
“People didn’t really know Jagmeet Singh last election,” said Nikki Hill, who previously helped run federal NDP campaigns and is now an Earnscliffe political strategist. “What they’ve seen in the last couple of years is someone they actually identify with.”
During the past two years, Singh pressed for more social spending by the Liberal government and resisted previous gambits by the government to trigger an election, saying it was unnecessary in a pandemic.
Another minority government would result in either the Liberals or Conservatives relying on Singh to support the next government, giving the NDP an opportunity to push for concessions on its priority issues such as government-paid drug or dental care, higher taxes on the wealthy, hiking minimum wage and cancelling student debt.
“People are fed up with being taken for granted by the Liberals,” Singh told Reuters. “Things haven’t gotten better, they’ve gotten worse, so they’re looking forward to something different.”
Asked about areas of common ground on which the NDP could work with either the Liberals or Conservatives, he said: “I’m less interested in committing to a party (to work with). I’m committed to working on the things that will make people’s lives better.”
“If someone wants to work with me to tax the super-wealthy, I welcome people to do that,” Singh added.
Trudeau has warned that progressive votes for the NDP, instead of Liberals, may help elect the Conservatives, and he has criticized Singh’s climate plan for lack of details.
The NDP has committed C$200 billion ($158.2 billion) in new spending over five years, and promises to cut emissions 50% by 2030 from 2005 levels. But at a recent leaders debate, Singh sidestepped questions about whether he would cancel expansion of the government-owned Trans Mountain oil pipeline.
The NDP needs to pull out wins in British Columbia and in urban Toronto to cement significant gains, benefiting in part from a dysfunctional Green Party, pollsters say. The NDP could pick up six seats in Canada‘s biggest city of Toronto, according to a senior Conservative.
The NDP may have more leverage in the next government because polls indicate it may be the only losing party, other than either the Conservatives or Liberals, with enough constituency seats to pass bills, said CIBC Chief Economist Avery Shenfeld.
Winning it all may be a step too far for the NDP, which has never held power federally. In its best showing, it romped to a shock second-place finish in 2011 and became the official opposition for a few years.
In a late August campaign stop in Winnipeg, indigenous leaders appeared with Singh at a press conference before unexpectedly endorsing a Liberal in a Manitoba parliamentary constituency.
Singh looked on awkwardly.
“All campaigns experience difficulties at some point,” said Alex Marland, political science professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
(Additional reporting by Julie Gordon and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Alistair Bell)
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