Stiff Sentence for Former Gujarat Minister

August 31, 2012, 10:59 am

By GARDINER HARRIS and HARI KUMAR

NEW DELHI, India — A top lieutenant of one India’s most powerful politicians was sentenced to 28 years in prison Friday for her role in a deadly attack that killed at least 94 people during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Mayaben Kodnani, a state legislator and former state education minister, was given a 28-year prison term after being convicted of murder, arson and conspiracy. The other 31 defendants were given decades-long prison terms, including one who must remain in prison for the rest of his life.

Ms. Kodnani was a confidant of Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister and a top contender to become the Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for p rime minister in national elections scheduled for 2014. Mr. Modi has long been plagued by accusations that he discouraged police from protecting Muslims during the riots, accusations he has denied.

Ms. Kodnani’s conviction and long prison sentence are a blow to Mr. Modi’s efforts to distance himself from responsibility for the deaths and could derail his campaign to lead the Bharatiya Janata Party. Since Muslims represent nearly 15 percent of India’s population, no political party can afford to alienate them entirely.

The judge in the case, Jyotsnaben Yagnik, said that Ms. Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, a member of a Hindu hard-line organization, were the key conspirators in the massacre of mostly women and children in the Muslim neighborhood of Naroda Patia.

Akhil Desai, the prosecutor in the case, said that Judge Yagnik intended the long sentences to serve as a warning. “The judge observed that the riots were very brutal and the punishment should be such th at such offenses should never occur again,” Mr. Desai said.

The Gujarat riots, which claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people, are the first in India’s history to be followed by significant prosecutions and convictions. Perhaps because of that response, there has been no communal violence on the scale of the Gujarat riots, although ethnic attacks in Assam in recent months have claimed at least 78 lives.

Protest Over Coal Spills Onto India’s Streets

By HARI KUMAR

A political fight over one of India’s most important natural resources, coal, spilled out of Parliament on Friday and onto the streets.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., the principal opposition to India’s Congress-led government, held a protest in Delhi and said they will hold dozens more around the country on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Other opposition groups, including the leftist parties and the Samajwadi Party, had a sit-in at the gate of India’s Parliament building on Friday.

The government’s ruling coalition has been the target of fierce criticism over alleged irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks, which one investigation said cost the government nearly $34 billion in lost revenue. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Congress Party leaders deny the accusations. Debate over the issue has paralyzed Parliament and brought law-making to a halt in New Delhi.

B.J.P. leaders are demanding the resignation of the prime minister and say they will not allow Parliament to function until then. Other opposition parties are calling for an investigation into the coal block allocation by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court or the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Parliament was disrupted Friday for the ninth day in a row and adjourned until Monday.

During the protest at the Parliament building gate, opposition politicians shouted slogans, demanding a judicial probe into the coal block allocation. Mulayam Singh Yadav, the president of the Samajwadi Party, protested for one hour, then announced, “Our demand is that a sitting judge of the Supreme Court should investigate the coal scam. If it is not done, we will protest throughout the country.”

Mr. Yadav’s party won a major victory in state polls earlier this year in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. His party is expected to play a major role in the next national elec tion, due in 2014.

Leaders of the B.J.P. addressed a crowd of a few hundred people who had gathered at a separate protest venue in New Delhi. Leader after leader narrated a long list of corruption scandals and their estimated monetary value.

Protestors shouted slogans like “Koyala choro gaddi choro” (“Coal thieves, leave the chair”) and “Koyale ki dalali me pradhanmantri ka muh kala” (“The prime minister’s face is blackened in the coal scam”).

Anurag Thakur, the head of the B.J.P.’s youth wing, promised that “the coal scam will be the last nail in the coffin of Congress.”

Israeli Diplomat Will Ask Narendra Modi to Confront ‘Hitler’ Store

By MALAVIKA VYAWAHARE

An Israeli official in India plans to ask Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, to pressure the owners of Hitler, a clothing store in Ahmedabad, to change the business’s name.

Orna Sagiv, the Israeli consul general based in Mumbai said Friday, she would bring up the matter in a scheduled meeting with Mr. Modi next week in Gujarat.

“I am shocked that the owner of an apparel shop would name his shop after Hitler and have the swastika as one of the emblems on the shop banner,” she said, adding that it was “totally unacceptable” and “insulting” to the Jewish community, not just in India but across the world.

The clothing store is one of a handful of businesses in India named after the Nazi dictator. Recent news coverage in India Ink and other publications has brought the store international attention.

On Thursday, the Anti-Defamation League in New York, an organi zation that fights anti-Semitism, called on Mr. Shah to “heed the concerns of the local Jewish community and the voices of others from around the world by immediately changing the store’s name from ‘Hitler.’ ”

It called Mr. Shah’s decision to use the name “an affront to the memory of the millions of Hitler’s victims.”

“It is a perverse abuse of the history of the Holocaust to name a business after one of the world’s most notorious mass murderers and anti-Semites,” Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL’s national director and a Holocaust survivor, said in a press release.

Hitler holds an unusual fascination for some in India. His manifesto, “Mein Kampf,” remains a strong seller at streetside book stalls, and various businesses named after the German leader have popped up over the years, including a Mumbai cafe called ‘Hitler’s Cross.’

Ms. Sagiv said the attitude reflects “deep ignorance and insensitivity in an otherwise tolerant society,” one where the Jewish community had never suffered any discrimination, even when anti-Semitism was at its peak in the rest of the world.

The Anti-Defamation League also expressed concern Thursday about the name of the Nazi leader “seeping into India’s popular culture without any appropriate context.”

In an e-mail interview with The Times of India last year, the spokesman for the Israeli Embassy spoke of the need for greater awareness in India about the atrocities committed against Jews by the Nazi regime under Hitler, which led to the death of six million Jews during the second World War.

His comments were in regards to a pool parlor owner who had named his establishment Hitler’s Den.

In the case of the Hitler’s Cross cafe, the owners agreed to change the name to Cross Cafe and revamped the decor. The owners of the Ahmedabad clothing store have expressed no willingness to change the name unless they are compensated for it.

A Conversation With: Constitution Expert Madhav Khosla

By AAYUSH SONI

Madhav Khosla, a doctoral student of political theory at Harvard University, is the author of “The Indian Constitution,” a short introduction to the world’s longest political text, which consists of 395 articles and 12 schedules. The book is a fascinating tour through the life of India’s supreme law, analyzing its central features like federalism, fundamental rights and the separation of power. In an interview with India Ink, Mr. Khosla explained why he sees the Constitution as more than a political text and how his book isn’t just for lawyers.

Do you think Indians should be (or can be) “introduced” to the Constitution?

I think it depends a lot on what you mean by introduction. I don’t intend to make a flippant, semantic response, but I think what all of us ought to do is to, at some level, engage with some of the central debates in it. One of the interesting things is that in the U.S., it’s amazing how muc h general knowledge about the Constitution is prevalent. Somebody will have some view of the First Amendment or free speech, and I think in India the basic knowledge is far less. So the aim was to make it more central to public discourse, and I think that’s certainly possible.

One striking aspect of the book is its sophisticated yet accessible prose. Was that easy to do? What was the writing process like?

I was always trying to prevent two scenarios: one is that it’ll just collapse into a pamphlet, a book for dummies. The second is that it will be inaccessible to people who aren’t lawyers. So the aim was, at each stage, to see whether or not the point that I’m trying to make addresses a certain moment or scenario in Indian politics for people to grasp. Also, if somebody doesn’t know anything about Indian politics or about Indian law, he probably won’t get the book at all, and I think that’s also fine. So the aim was to park it in the middle of these two.

As a doctoral student, I assume you’re used to writing a lot of academic prose. Did that style ever creep into the writing process of this book?

I’m sure it did, and I kept going back at it to see if there are any other matters that are technical and showed drafts to friends. A huge challenge was also to synthesize all of this into a proper story because the book is shorter than the Constitution. You’re talking about cases that have developed over 60 years, which is a huge amount. The standard treatise of a constitution is about three or four volumes; the largest one is 10 volumes. Each of these is like a 1,000 pages. So that’s another challenge — to pick and choose what stories might be more relevant than others.

Your book is peppered with examples of such prominent cases as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the J.M.M. [Jharkhand Mukti Morcha] bribery case of 1993. Did you cite these to make the book relatable to your audience or was their presence naturally born out of the aspects you were discussing in the book?

I think the most important factor in determining what examples to choose and what cases to emphasize is actually bench strength. The Indian Supreme Court sits across different courtrooms and the importance of a decision depends on the strength of the bench. So the most important thing was to respect the varying degrees of bench strength. So if I’m taking a case on parliamentary privileges – the 1993 case – my pool is typically limited to cases of five benches [where five judges of the Supreme Court decide the matter] or more, which are constitutional benches. Within it, I see whether one of them is raising particularly interesting issues, and then it’s a judgment call to take a newer case or an older case.
I used the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in a very specific context of how legislative power is interpreted, and it struck me as a case that might resonate with people, w hich is why I used it even though it wasn’t a five-bench case.

You also write about how the asymmetrical nature of our Constitution poses the risk of an identity crisis. Is there a way to avoid such a scenario?

What is crucial to any asymmetry is that it must have an internal logic of its own, and I think that was present in the Constitution’s founding moments. So if we decided that Dalits were to asymmetrically treated, there was a certain logic to that. It was ground in coherent argument about discrimination and unequal starting positions.
My real fear is that normative arbitrariness is creeping into constitutional amendments, and there’s no logic to the asymmetry anymore. I think the most glaring and recent example of that is the current debate of promotions and quotas. The argument was that people have unequal starting positions in society and so, at the entry level, you bring them to a level playing field. Now, I disagree with how the government identif ies backwardness. However rich you get, you’ll still be of the same caste. I think you should use economic criterion.
On the equality doctrine, there was a clear argument for asymmetry. Now, the Constitution is amended to provide quotas and promotions on consequential seniority, which basically means you get your promotion and you then use it to say you’re senior and you claim further promotions on that basis. It’s like an indefinite double promotion. The court struck this down saying, look, you do what the hell you want with backwardness, we’ll generously endorse your usage of caste, but it should fit into a more coherent structure. Our Constitution was routinely amended for that, and it’s not clear to me now what division of equality rests on.

You seem to view the Constitution as more than just a political text. It seems you’ve sought to interpret it as a document that affects a much larger society than just those who are part of its political system.

I th ink it does impact all of us. The Constitution isn’t simply about what the prime minister can do or the president can’t do. It’s fundamentally what gives us and what sustains our membership in this community. So part of my hope has been that each of us need to engage with it far more rigorously because it affects all of our daily lives in profound ways. We see that in some ways – like in politics you’ll see a [Arvind] Kejriwal saying, How can you not let me protest?
But there’s little emphasis on really what the text says. A lot of it is going at a level of generality that’s unhelpful. I certainly believe that it’s relevant to people more than just political actors. I think it’s relevant to everybody who’s in this political community.

So why do you think Indians have treated the Constitution only in terms of generalities?

That’s a really tough thing to say. It could be a limited emphasis on legal education. It could be the fact that we haven’t tried enough. There could be a range of reasons for it, but I think that that ought to change. It’s very important to realize that this is about all of us. In some sense, this is the fundamental document that gives us our identity. We are who it says we are.

(This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.)

Aayush Soni is a New Delhi-based freelance journalist and a recent graduate of the Columbia Journalism School. Follow him on Twitter at @aayushsoni.

India’s Economy Continues to Be Weak

By NEHA THIRANI

The Indian gross domestic product report released Friday for the April-June quarter showed that the economy was doing only marginally better than in the previous quarter. Growth was up 5.5 percent during the quarter from a year earlier, the lowest rise in three years, compared with 5.3 percent in the period ended in March, which was the weakest in nine years.

Analysts said high interest rates have dented investment, while the investor outlook continued to remain bleak. “High inflation, wide trade and current account deficits, bloated subsidies and a gaping fiscal deficit have all taken a toll on the real economy, while the rupee has plunged 25 percent since July 2011,” said Jyoti Narasimhan, senior principal economist at IHS Global Insight. “The investment environment remains toxic because of corruption scandals, policy inertia and fierce political opposition have stifled progress on reform.”

The report showed that the manufacturing output in the April-June quarter rose only 0.2 percent from a year prior, dashing prospects for growth. The growth in agriculture, forestry and fishing was 2.9 percent, while mining and quarrying remained nearly flat at 0.1 percent. The sectors that showed significant growth in the quarter were construction with 10.9 percent growth, financing, insurance, real estate and business services at 10.8 percent and community, social and personal services, which registered a 7.9 percent growth.

Forecasts for the coming year are less than rosy. “Weak growth is likely to remain a strong overhang on the corporate sector, and in the near-term raises chances of a sovereign downgrade, particularly in the light of the stalemate on the policy front,” said Tirthankar Patnaik, the director of institutional research at Religare Capital Markets.

A rebound of the economy is expected to be a gradual process. “The pickup in growth was encouraging, but growth still suffers due to external headwinds and supply constraints,” said Leif Lybecker Eskesen, chief economist for India and Asean at HSBC Global Research. “We expect a gradual recovery from here on the back of structural reform progress and global economic stabilization, although there is a risk that it could prove more protracted.”

All eyes are now on the Reserve Bank of India, the central bank, which meets Sept. 17 to review monetary policy. While there are expectations that a low growth rate would cause the R.B.I. to cut interest rates, just last week the central bank said that lower interest rates alone were not enough to jump-start the investment cycle. “Despite ever-worsening growth data, IHS Global Insight, expects the R.B.I. to wait until October to resume its rate cuts,” said Jyoti Narasimhan, senior principal economist at the firm. “We expect only a shallow recovery in manufacturing and investment, and only a mild uptur n is expected by year-end.”

From Bihar, a New Approach to Flood Control

By RANU SINHA

The year was 2008, and I had just walked out of a meeting on flood management with the chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar. Mr. Kumar, fully aware of the challenges of annual floods in Bihar, had asked for assistance in building new flood defenses.

Unfortunately, this call for help came a little too late. Hours later, the eastern embankment of the Kosi barrage, a major flood protection infrastructure in Nepal, collapsed on its left side, resulting in one of the most devastating floods in the history of the state. In Bihar alone, over three million people were affected, with official sources reporting over 500 deaths and close to 3,500 missing.

However, this flood did not occur as a result of too much rain. In fact, the water levels in the river were much lower than expected. What caused the flooding was too little maintenance. Official reports state that much-needed repairs on the embankment s had been delayed for a number of years, severely weakening the effectiveness of the infrastructure. Eventually, the day came when the barriers of the embankment could not withstand the pressure of the river.

The business of flood management in India – the ability to predict, prepare, respond and recover from flood-related disasters – is the responsibility of state governments. Though non-state actors and the people affected can play a part in flood management, the lion’s share of the formal responsibility generally lies with state-run irrigation or water resources departments. Other agencies, like state disaster management and local governments, also play a key role.

Though research is limited on this topic, it is clear that there is a significant gap in the quality, performance and ability of these institutions to manage the complexity of floods.

As one of India’s most flood-prone states, Bihar faces enormous challenges. Bihar’s river systems and its 16 river basins are some of the most complex in the world, with a heterogeneous set of rivers flowing into the state from the Himalayas. Excessive rainfall, bursting rivers and breaching embankments are a recurring phenomenon that tend to wreak havoc on the lives of millions, with the poor usually the worst affected.

The 2008 Kosi floods were a wake-up call for the government of Bihar. Its water resources department is now trying to make sure the disaster of 2008 doesn’t happen again. I am leading a team of experts to study how the department institutionally manages floods. Our research, which is sponsored by the International Growth Center (I.G.C.) India-Bihar country program, a global research and policy center headquartered in Britain, has attempted to investigate the institutional factors that may be contributing to increased risks from floods to Bihar’s 103 million people.

Our team conducted household surveys of affected communities and staff interviews of wate r resources department engineers, from junior officers to the leadership in the state capital of Patna.

The findings were eye-opening. The water resources department is in charge of both irrigation and the management of floods, but in most cases the supply of staff in the department does not match the demand of the dual responsibilities of irrigation provision and flood management. Staff shortages tend to lead to an overemphasis on the construction of new flood protection infrastructure and little time and manpower for ensuring the quality of what already exists.

Some staff members stressed the need for further training in modern-day flood management techniques, particularly the junior members who generally bear the responsibility of being the first to protect infrastructure and communities in the event of a flood. The staff also did not have sufficient hardware and software to adequately perform their duties. Tools like vehicles and computers, as well as flood-r elated technology, are in short supply. Inefficient systems monitor the performance of staff and the quality of the maintenance of flood infrastructure.

Engagement with communities, actively involving them in essential flood-fighting activities, seems to be ad hoc and underdeveloped, while coordination with other agencies at the local and state levels needs to be severely strengthened. Essentially, the problem boils down to too much to do in too little time, with too few resources.

Bihar is not alone in grappling with these challenges. In June, an embankment breach on the island of Majuli in Assam on the Brahmaputra River affected more than 200 villages and is being called one of the worst floods in the state in the last 14 years. Reports from the flood indicate that much of the early work of flood preparedness and embankment maintenance was largely nonexistent. This recent flood may have been less severe had the local irrigation department conducted high-quality maintenance work on the embankments.

It is not purely a coincidence that total flood damage in India, in terms of population affected and crops and assets destroyed, has risen from approximately 520 million rupees in 1953 to over 88 billion rupees in 2000. India, therefore, desperately needs to transform its water management agencies to address these concerns rather than pour money into more concrete.

Bihar is one of the few states in India to begin transforming its flood management practices. Data from firsthand experiences has convinced policy makers that reforms are necessary. This means hiring thousands of new staff, setting up world-class training institutes, improving the knowledge of field staff in state-of-the-art techniques of flood management and creating new quality procedures and inspection systems that can track how well an embankment is performing. It also means actively involving communities in disseminating warnings and sharing the burden of floo d protection alongside its engineers.

In Bihar’s 2011-12 budget, the government estimated it would spend close to 77 billion rupees ($1.4 billion) on irrigation, flood control and energy. This is significantly higher than the amount budgeted in 2010-11, which was close to 56 billion rupees. The increase in funds will be critical to implement crucial changes.

What India has now is more like underpaid, poorly trained firefighters fighting blazes with leaky hoses and battered trucks, and this status quo cannot adequately protect the millions of lives at stake. Reform must happen even though these are not easy changes to make. They cannot happen overnight, but they will make a difference in the way state institutions plan, manage and respond to the inevitable flood. The changes under way in Bihar may soon lead the way for the rest of country.

Ranu Sinha is the former Deputy Director of the International Growth Center India Bihar Country Program. This article re presents the author’s views and does not reflect the opinion of the International Growth Center as an organization.

BRICS in Space

By THE NEW YORK TIMES

“Let’s send a mission to Mars, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a couple of weeks ago, just as his government was fending off corruption charges and the country was still recovering from the biggest blackout since the invention of electricity,” Hartosh Singh Bal wrote in the New York Times’s Latitude blog.

Mr. Singh’s “$77 million plan did nothing to divert attention from his administration’s failings,” Mr. Bal wrote, but “it did focus some unfortunate attention on India’s space program.” It suggested, “what had been a fine endeavor to date has now been hitched to India’s dream of becoming a great power.”

But the ambition of a Mars mission “goes well beyond practical applications,” Mr. Bal wrote. “It’s about basic science research and planetary exploration, as well as a very real, and ludicrous, race to space with China.”
Read more ‘


Tata Motors Helps Jaguar and Land Rover Regain Luster

August 31, 2012, 12:55 am

By THE NEW YORK TIMES

Four years after being bought by Tata Motors, the “well-known but somewhat faded British brands” Jaguar and Land Rover “are regaining some of their lost luster,” Vikas Bajaj wrote, and “racking up big sales from Shanghai to London.”

“The success has stunned analysts and investors,” he wrote, many of whom had said that Tata Motors “was making an expensive mistake when it acquired Jaguar Land Rover from Ford Motor for $2.3 billion in June 2008.”

At the time, Ford was raising money to ensure its own survival, and it sold the brands for several billion dollars less than it had paid to acquire them years earlier.

Analysts say Tata h as done what few companies from emerging markets have been able to do – turn around and successfully run a troubled Western company.

Read the full article.

Following Pussy Riot Verdict, Christian Culture Warriors Run Riot in Moscow

By ROBERT MACKEY

Apparently emboldened by the stiff prison sentences members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot received this month for performing a profane anthem inside a Moscow cathedral, a handful of conservative, Russian Orthodox activists staged a series of audacious attacks on liberal Muscovites this week, all of them amply documented online.

As the news site Gazeta.ru reported the young culture warriors barged into a sex museum in the Russian capital late Tuesday night and left a brick and a threatening message for the staff. Alexander Donskoi, the director of The G-Spot Museum of Erotic Art, said that he had identified the activists “through their accounts on social networks” and by viewing online video of the self-styled defenders of the Russian Orthodox faith harassing supporters of Pussy Riot in recent weeks.

One of the Christians, Dmitry Tsorionov, posted security camera footage of himself and six others, including a camera crew from state television, inside the G-Spot museum on the social network VKontakte, a Russian replica of Facebook, where he blogs as Dimitry Enteo.

Security camera footage of conservative Russian Orthodox activists after they barged into a sex museum in Moscow late Tuesday night, accompanied by a television crew.

In another post on the same social network, a second activist, Andrey Kaplin, drew attention to the report on the incident produced by the crew from state television which had accompanied the protesters. The Russian news agency Interfax reported that the sex museum’s director is a former politician who “announced the creation of his Party of Love,” earlier this year “by holding a demonstration in support of Pussy Riot in which party activists swam in a fountain at the GUM shopping center next to Red Square.”

The night before that stunt, Mr. Tsorionov and Mr. Kaplin had stormed into a Moscow theater during the performance of a “documentary” play about the Pussy Riot trial, shouting “Repent!” and “Why do you hate the Russian people?” at the band’s lawyers, supporters and family who were gathered on stage. State television journalists, who arrived at the theater with the Orthodox activists, cameras blazing, captured Mr. Tsorionov turning towards the lens at the start of their video report.

A Russian state television report on Christian protesters disrupting the performance of a play about the Pussy Riot trial on Monday at Moscow’s Teatr.doc.

The event took place at Moscow’s Teatr.doc, which aims to produce “an intersection of art and actual social analysis concerning topical issues,” by crafting performances “based on authentic texts, interviews and the lives of real people.” The theater’s artistic director, Mikhail Ugarov, suggested on hi s blog shortly after the protesters burst in that the whole event had been staged by the television crew which arrived with the Christians. “That is,” Mr. Ugarov wrote, “the TV people carry with them the group of extras and shoot the conflict.”

Even without a crew from the state broadcaster, however, Mr. Tsorionov and his fellow activists are quite capable of documenting their own stunts. One video clip posted online this week shows Mr. Tsorionov running up to a man at a Moscow trains station and ripping a Pussy Riot T-shirt off his back.

Video of a Russian Orthodox activist ripping a Pussy Riot T-shirt off a man’s back at a Moscow train station.

Mr. Tsorionov also stars in another, longer clip of a confrontation with Pussy Riot supporters which took place this month on the day that three members of the band were jailed for staging a protest inside a Moscow cathedral on the eve of Russia’s preside ntial election in February. In that video, the Orthodox vigilantes can be seen demanding that a supporter of the band remove a T-shirt that quoted a lyric of the band’s song, “Mother of God, drive Putin out!”

Video of Russian Orthodox activists berating Pussy Riot supporters in a Moscow cafe.

Although the members of Pussy Riot insisted at their trial that the song they performed in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior – an obscenity-laced plea for the Virgin Mary to free Russia from Vladimir Putin’s grip – was a political stunt, not an attack on believers, they were convicted this month of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Supporters of the group have accused the Russian government of portraying the protest as an anti-religious stunt both to dilute the content of the anti-Putin message and turn Orthodox Christians against the protest movement.

Responding late last week to widespread condemnation of the verdict against the three women as an assault on free speech, a Russian diplomat in Britain insisted that the cathedral performance was a “provocation against religion,” and even compared the stunt to the destruction of the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in 2001.

After the Orthodox activists were given so much time to vent their rage on state television this week, Russia’s federal investigative committee, which answers directly to Mr. Putin, claimed that a murderer in a Russian province had killed two women and painted the slogan “Free Pussy Riot” on a wall in the victims’ blood. While supporters of the band condemned that crime, and cast some doubt on whether the state media report on the incident was reliable, the Russian news agency Interfax asked Mr. Tsorionov, the Orthodox activist, for his response. “The infernal force that drives them hates God, believers and humankind in general,” he said. “These people are capable of c ommitting any crime, and nothing but force and law can stop them.” A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church told the news agency: “This blood is on the conscience of the so-called public, which supported the participants in the action in Christ the Savior Cathedral.”

Later on Thursday, the author of the band’s @pussy_riot Twitter feed accused the Kremlin of playing with fire by whipping religious activists into a frenzy. Referring to the fact that a senior Kremlin adviser, Vladislav Surkov, was just put in charge of the state’s religious affairs office, the Pussy Riot blogger wrote: “Putin ignites the fires of revolution, and Vladislav Surkov starts religious wars.”

Путин зажигает костры революций, а Владислав Сурков начинает религиозные войны.

- группа Pussy Riot (@pussy_riot) 30 Aug 12

Ilya Mouzykantskii contributed r eporting from Moscow.