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Mukesh Ambani bomb scare brings Mumbai’s dirty politics into the open – Financial Times

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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.

Sachin Vaze, a police official, was arrested for his alleged role in the bomb plot. Vaze said in court he was a ‘scapegoat’ and not involved, according to his lawyer © Reuters

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.”

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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