IAMC Weekly News Roundup – August 12th, 2013
In this issue of IAMC News Roundup
- Lokayukta on Modi govt: Can’t work with ‘my way or highway’ mindset
- Human Rights activist Shabnam Hashmi slams Narendra Modi’s ‘Gujarat model’ as myth
- Discrimination in Narendra Modi’s Ahmedabad
- CBI seeks MHA nod to arrest ex-IB boss
- AAP lambasts Modi govt for shielding PP Pandey
- Ishrat Jahan and Malegaon accused just scapegoats of system: Sharad Pawar
- Six injured in clashes, curfew in Bihar town
- Make Hyderabad permanent common capital: Seema-Andhra leaders tell Sonia
- 17 of the 32 Mumbai legislators linked to serious crimes: NGO
- Dalit scholar arrested for Facebook post on Durga
Opinions & Editorials
- ‘Development plus’ and saffron politics – By Badri Narayan
- Challenging a verdict – By Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta
- Tension in Tonk – By T.K. Rajalakshmi
- How Many States Do We Want? – By Ratnadip Choudhury
- Fighting Fire In Seemandhra – By Ashhar Khan and G Vishnu
- Tragic eye-opener – By T.K. Rajalakshmi
When Kishtwar’s iconic singer-poet Ghulam Nabi Dholwal aka Janbaz Kishtwari rolled out his famous chaland on life’s ironies and crisscross of joy and melancholy 50 years ago, he wouldn’t have visualised last Friday’s inferno in the wildest of his dreams. “kansi hund jinaza niwan, kansi chhai baraath yiwan; kanh chhu sada nala diwan, kansi aasan manzi raath” [someone’s funeral march passes this way, someone’s marriage band crosses that way; someone cries in grief over a death, someone sings in joy over a nuptial knot], Janbaz wrote and composed the most popular Watsun of his rich repertoire.
The contrast of a wedding in the macabre ambience of death and destruction on the colourful festival of Eid-ul-Fitr was a perfect enactment of Janbaz’s screenplay. Last Friday, the family of Dr. Ashish Sharma, who was getting married to Dr. Sonia Sharma, had to join the mandap at the bride’s home to solemnise the wedlock. “It was like crossing a hellhole,” Ashish’s father Naresh Kumar Sharma, a retired Excise and Taxation Officer, said. “We are just six Hindu families among 300 Muslim households in Shaheedi Mohalla. Hindus and Muslims were fighting pitched battles out in the town. Over a hundred vehicles, shops and hotels had been torched. A Hindu had been shot dead. A Muslim had been burnt alive. His charred body was lying near Chowgan Grounds till midnight.
“We had managed to perform the havan. As we were close to the ritual of Telwai, following which even a death can’t force cancellation of a marriage, we began requesting the pandit for postponement. But our Muslim neighbours, who were attending the function, said that the wedding should not be deferred and promised to escort the baraat through all the Muslim neighbourhoods. Thereupon, we proceeded with the remaining rituals and called up my in-laws to be ready for receiving the baraat,” Ashish, who runs an Ayurvedic clinic, told The Hindu. In the evening, 70 Muslims escorted Ashish’s baraat to protect it from possible attacks. Later, SHO Deepak Pathania escorted the caravan to its destination.
“Our classmate from Srinagar, Dr. Zahoor, made it a point to be present all through the wedding. Forty of our friends and relatives from Jammu and Delhi turned back on our request by telephone when the riots broke out. Only 25 men and four women attended the baraat. We sent back all other women under the protection of our Muslim neighbours. Our in-laws had sent a couple of vehicles to ferry us from Sarkot to Pochal,” Ashish said. After 24 hours, the just-married couple returned without being harassed or attacked by anyone from Pochal to Shaheedi Mohalla.
District Health Officer Dr. Wajid, who was among the 70-strong Muslim escort, said: “We are proud to belong to the religion that teaches us universal brotherhood. Prophet Mohammad has said the minorities are my sacred amaanat for the Muslim Ummat. It’s our religious obligation to protect them. Apart from that, we have been living together like one family for centuries. We all treat Nareshji as our brother, Ashish as our son and his sister as our daughter. How could a handful of marauders affect our relationship and strong bondage? “Whenever there’s a Janaza, they join us; whenever, there is a funeral procession, we join them. We eat, wear and live alike. They speak our language [Kashmiri]. The only difference is that they go to a temple and we go to a mosque for worshipping the Almighty. That never makes us different,” Dr. Wajid said.
In a severe moral blow to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the state Lokayukta, Justice R A Mehta, resigned from his post on Wednesday morning. The two-year-long Lokayukta episode that ended with the resignation of Justice Mehta is a murky saga of politics whereby Modi stubbornly wants complete control over all institutions and power structures in the state.
However, the sober Justice Mehta has uncharacteristically hit Modi hard in his seven-page resignation letter. Modi will never be able to forget the letter addressed to the governor, Dr Kamla Beniwal, and Gujarat Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya. The letter … leaves nothing to the imagination and blasts Modi and his government’s adversarial stance towards the institution of Lokayukta. Modi’s moral edge, whatever it was, has been eroded drastically by this brilliant recount of the events of the last two years by Justice Mehta.
Ironically, however, Justice Mehta’s resignation also leaves unquestioned the Modi government’s controversial decisions, with no independent oversight. Conversely, the Congress’s plans to highlight corruption in the government’s decisions will also suffer a setback with Justice Mehta’s resignation. The Congress, as Rahul Gandhi recently told his partymen from Gujarat, had plans to checkmate Modi on the issue of corruption before the Lok Sabha election through the machinery of Lokayukta. There are any numbers of alleged cases of corruption, from the Mundra land scandal to the favours granted to industrialists in central and south Gujarat.
Now, the new Lokayukta will be appointed under the new state law, wherein the government will have an upper hand. The Modi government will not be afraid of the new Lokayukta whoever he/she will be. Justice Mehta’s resignation, due to intimidation of various kinds from Gandhinagar, would have been a real advantage for Modi but with the former’s letter and detailed explanation of the chain of events, it has given Modi only a Pyrrhic victory.
- Hurt by Modi govt’s court cases, Gujarat Lokayukta ‘resigns’ (Aug 7, 2013, Hindustan Times)
- Mehta declines Gujarat Lokayukta’s post, blasts Modi govt (Aug 7, 2013, Deccan Herald)
- Justice Mehta refuses to be Gujarat Lokayukta, Cong backs decision (Aug 7, 2013, Indian Express)
- Why did SIT ignore statutory bodies’ reports, asks Zakia (Aug 7, 2013, The Hindu)
Human Rights activist Shabnam Hashmi slams Narendra Modi’s ‘Gujarat model’ as myth (Aug 10, 2013, Indian Express)
Human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi claimed on Saturday that the ‘Gujarat model’ of development was just a bundle of myths propagated by media managers of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, as Gujarat is lagging behind many others in terms of socio-economic indicators like literacy and infant and maternal mortality rates.
Delivering the keynote address on ‘Gujarat Model of Development: Truth vs Hype’ as part of the 12th N Narendran Memorial lecture here instituted in the name of late journalist Narendran, she said around 40 per cent of the population in Gujarat was still under poverty.
“Modi projects himself as the man who is developing Gujarat in a very fast pace. But he is pumping in huge amount of money for this publicity propaganda. Almost 40 per cent of population there is under poverty. Minority groups including tribals, Dalits and Muslims are considered as second grade citizens in Modi’s Gujarat. He is no different from Hitler”, the activist alleged.
Polarisation between communities was growing in Gujarat and Modi continued to win elections as he could influence the upper middle class there who “stopped thinking”, she said.
- ‘Modi govt success a mirage’ (Aug 9, 2013, Times of India)
- AP CM Kiran Kumar Reddy slams Modi for telling ‘blatant lies’ (Aug 12, 2013, Deccan Herald)
- Modi govt lands in trouble over Sikh farmers’ ‘eviction’ (Aug 7, 2013, Hindustan Times)
- Wherever Narendra Modi campaigned, BJP lost polls: Digvijay Singh (Aug 11, 2013, Indian Express)
On Friday, the day of Eid, when holiday crowds thronged one of Ahmedabad’s biggest malls, its management decided to control the numbers by levying an entry fee of Rs 20, refundable if the entrant made a purchase instead of returning emptyhanded from a sojourn in air-conditioned comfort. Fair enough.
Except that the levy applied only to Muslims (The Times of India, August 10). Those discriminated against in this fashion resented this, naturally. But this act of discrimination should concern not just those who were mortified by its direct experience, but all of us who hope to build a prosperous India where anyone can live in dignity, regardless of their religious or other group identity, and enjoy equality of opportunity.
Many would think it unfair to the sadbhavna (goodwill)-seeking chief minister of the state, Narendra Modi, to hold him responsible for the conduct of the mall management. But it is precisely his politics that breeds the sensibility that underlies the mall’s decision to treat Muslims differently. That politics stems from the ideology of the Sangh Parivar headed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which believes in the primacy of Hindus in Hindustan and imputes second-class status to all non-Hindus, Muslims in particular.
That there have been no communal riots in Gujarat since 2002 is touted by the Parivar as evidence of the Modi government’s commitment to identity-blind governance. Evidently, a quiet marginalisation of Muslims has been afoot, to an extent where a shopping mall can openly discriminate against them.
In Gujarat, it is not explicit laws of the kind used by Nazis that are at work, but a silent consensus in which discrimination seems entirely normal. Politics that builds such a consensus can destroy India as we know it, and must be shunned.
- On Eid, Ahmedabad mall charges entry fee from Muslims (Aug 10, 2013, Times of India)
- Actor Raza Murad takes dig at Narendra Modi’s ‘aversion’ to skull cap in Eid meet (Aug 9, 2013, Indian Express)
- Communalism breeds terrorism: Siddaramaiah (Aug 11, 2013, The Hindu)
- Eid only after masjid is built: Kadalpur (Aug 10, 2013, Indian Express)
The CBI sought permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to arrest Rajinder Kumar, former Special Director of the Intelligence Bureau, in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case. Rajinder Kumar, who retired as the Special Director of the IB on July 31, was the Joint Director heading the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (SIB) in Gujarat in 2004 when the Ahmedabad Crime Branch killed Ishrat Jahan, Javed Sheikh and two alleged Pakistanis Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar. The CBI, that was likely to file a supplementary chargesheet in the first week of August, has now sought permission to further delay filing of the second chargesheet.
A source from CBI said, “There were differences of opinion about Kumar’s summons or arrest and MHA had maintained that the CBI has to take permission from the ministry to summon or chargesheet Kumar. The evidence against Kumar have been presented before the MHA and permission has been sought to book him in the case based on these.”
The CBI has also mentioned three other assistant intelligence officers – Tarun Mittal, Rajeev Wankhede and M K Sinha – who were also mentioned in the first chargesheet. Taking off from the investigation where the CBI stated that Ishrat Jahan and others were killed in a joint operation of the Gujarat Police and IB, the agency has presented more details on the roles played by the intelligence officers.
Sources said the CBI has stated that Kumar had grilled Amjad and Zeeshan after they were abducted and brought to Ahmedabad before the encounter. Kumar had also sent his team to Vasad toll booth in Anand to take custody of Ishrat and Javed. The SIB officers had also helped suspended IPS officer Girish Singhal in collecting the AK 47 rifle from their office.
Under Section 197 (Prosecution of Judges and Public Servants) of the CrPC, the CBI will have to seek sanction without which their chargesheet will have no sanctity in the court. If the MHA gives the nod, Kumar would be chargesheeted along with other SIB offices who aided the Gujarat police. Kumar is likely to be named for allegedly playing a “crucial role” in generating the intelligence input which led to the encounter that killed Ishrat and four others. The police had claimed that the Central IB has generated an input stating that two Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists were coming to Gujarat to kill Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
- CBI says it has more proof to nail IB’s Rajendra Kumar (Aug 7, 2013, Economic Times)
- IB rejects CBI request for ’04 logbook (Aug 12, 2013, Times of India)
- The Ishrat Jahan chargesheet: CBI makes a case for cold blooded murder (Aug 4, 2013, First Post)
- Ishrat: No relief from court for IPS officer Prithvi Pandey (Aug 7, 2013, Deccan Herald)
Aam Aadmi Party’s national executive member Prashant Bhushan on Saturday slammed the Gujarat government for allegedly shielding absconding senior IPS officer PP Pandey named as an accused in Ishrat Jahan fake encounter killing case by CBI. “Gujarat’s additional director general of police, the state’s second seniormost police official, is absconding for four months in a fake encounter case and the state government has not initiated any disciplinary action against him,” Bhushan said.
“A local court has issued non-bailable warrant against Pandey and still the state government is unable to trace him because the state offers him protection,” Bhushan charged. Lampooning the state police, he said, “Gujarat police is so efficient that they can smell the air and generate inputs that terrorists are coming to kill chief minister Narendra Modi.”
Referring to Maya Kodnani, Babu Bokhiria and Amit Shah, Bhushan said many ministers in Modi-led government were convicted while some were still facing murder charges. Shah, recently appointed as BJP national general secretary, is facing murder charges in Sohrabuddin Shaikh and Tulsiram Prajapati encounter cases, while Kodnani got life sentence in the 2002 Naroda-Patiya riot case. “On top of all this, Modi tours the entire country and says Gujarat government is the most efficient government,” said Bhushan who was in Ahmedabad for a party event.
- Pandey bail plea rejected (Aug 7, 2013, Indian Express)
- Ishrat case: Gujarat senior cop on the run (Aug 10, 2013, The Hindu)
- Ishrat Jahan fake encounter: Gujarat DGP asks state cops to trace Pandey (Aug 10, 2013, Hindustan Times)
- Airports on lookout for P P Pandey (Aug 10, 2013, Times of India)
Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar said on Saturday that Ishrat Jahan and the 17 accused in the Malegaon blast were just scapegoats of the system. Newspaper reports put the number of accused in the Malegaon blast case, who were Muslim and later released from jail, to nine.
According to Pawar, he has said even in the past that the Muslim youth arrested for the Malegaon bomb blast were innocent. But they had to face three years’ incarceration because of the system. Ishrat Jahan was innocent and it was because of this that police officials involved in her encounter had to go to jail.
Pawar’s statements are being seen in the context of the upcoming general elections of 2014. He is believed to be eyeing the Musilm vote bank.
- False terror allegations have alienated Muslims, says Pawar (Aug 10, 2013, Daily Mail)
- Pawar sets off new row with ‘revenge’ for Ishrat remark (Aug 11, 2013, Asian Age)
- Sharad Pawar’s remarks seen as election strategy (Aug 11, 2013, Hindustan Times)
- State polls looming, Pawar talks of Ishrat case, Malegaon blasts to woo Muslims (Aug 11, 2013, Indian Express)
Curfew was imposed in a Bihar town where police resorted to firing Monday following a violent clash between two communities, in which at least half a dozen people were seriously injured, officials said. Police opened fire when a mob attacked the Bundelkhand police station in Nawada, about 150 km from here.
“Curfew has been imposed in Nawada town, as the situation went out of control after a violent clash between two communities,” Nawada Superintendent of Police M.S. Dhillon said. Dhillon said tension prevailed in Nawada town, and additional security forces had been deployed.
Communal tension erupted Friday when an altercation took place between a group of kanwarias (Hindu pilgrims) and another community at a roadside eatery in Nawada. District officials said clashes continued after the death of a 20-year-old youth, Kundan Kumar, who was injured along with three others in police firing Saturday.
Kundan Kumar died at the Patna Medical College and Hospital Sunday. District authorities had imposed curfew in Nawada for a few hours Saturday but later lifted it. Dhillon said Assistant Sub-Inspector Kamal Narain Singh of Nawada town police station has been suspended on charges of dereliction of duty.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed concern over the situation in Nawada, and directed officials to take stern action against anti-social elements. Nitish Kumar further appealed to people and all political parties to help the government ensure peace and social harmony in Nawada town. “I will not allow any one to flare up communal tension in the state,” he said.
- Two shops set ablaze at Nawada (Aug 12, 2013, Times of India)
- National Security Act invoked in riot-hit Nawada (Aug 13, 2013, IBN)
- Curfew imposed after clashes in Bihar’s Nawada district (Aug 12, 2013, Indian Express)
- One dead, four injured in group clash near Viramgam (Aug 7, 2013, Times of India)
Amid continuing protests over the creation of a separate Telangana state, Union ministers from the Seema-Andhra region met Congress President Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi and expressed the “sense of deprivation” prevailing in Andhra and Rayalseema regions. During the meeting on Tuesday, Gandhi told them that a committee of three senior leaders will be formed, which will look into their grievances, as the ministers told her about apprehensions among people in their constituencies. The ministers, including M M Pallam Raju, K S Rao, K Chiranjeevi, J D Seelam, Panabaka Lakshmi, D Purandheswari and Kruparani Killi, are learnt to have raised the demand that Hyderabad should be retained as permanent common capital of two Telugu-speaking states on the line of Chandigarh. Two other Union ministers from the region, K C Deo and Kotla Jayasurya Prakasha Reddy, were not part of the delegation.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, Chiranjeevi said Gandhi assured them that the grievances of the people from Andhra and Rayalaseema regions will be taken care of. “What we said that you have to take care of the interest of both. It should not be that you have taken care of only Telangana. Among Andhraites, there are a lot of apprehensions. And those people, who are having their interest, their future, their life and everybody’s life in Hyderabad and surroundings. You have to protect their interests,” Chiranjeevi said. Asked whether they are demanding that Hyderabad be made a common capital of Telangana and Seema-Andhra on the line of Chandigarh, he said “that’s what we are insisting on or a model like Delhi. It has to be there. The lieutenant governor should take care of it.
These are the things we are discussing.” He said the party is setting up a three-member committee to look into these grievances, which will be announced by All India Congress Committee general secretary in-charge for Andhra Pradesh Digvijay Singh. To pacify the leaders from the Seemandhra region, the Congress has set up a high-level committee headed by A K Antony, sources had said on Monday. The committee, of which Digvijay Singh is also a member, has been tasked to pacify the agitating members of two regions.
Asked about the issues they have taken up with Gandhi, Pallam Raju said “We went and represented about all the agitations that are going on (in Andhra and Rayalseema regions. Our people are feeling insecure because of some of the pronouncements made by Telangana leaders and there is a feeling of deprivation… We represented those matters. She (Sonia Gandhi) said that she will be announcing the committee and she wanted us to express our opinion to that committee.”
“It will be a committee of party leaders, which the general secretary be announcing…we have explained the current situation,” Raju added. The talk in the party is that the Congress central leadership is keen that its ministers from Andhra Pradesh do not press their resignation. The ministers are also planning to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss the three resolutions passed in Hyderabad on Saturday. One of the resolutions had demanded reconsideration of Telangana state decision and asked Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy to quit.
- 4 lakh Andhra staff to protest against bifurcation decision (Aug 13, 2013, Times of India)
- ‘TRS will not settle for a Telangana without Hyderabad’ (Aug 11, 2013, Rediff)
- Protests continue over Telangana, two more ministers quit (Aug 12, 2013, Deccan Herald)
- Anti-Telangana protests rage across coastal AP and Rayalaseema (Aug 9, 2013, Indian Express)
As if their poor performance wasn’t enough, more than 50% of the city’s legislators have serious criminal cases recorded against them, says a study. Data collected by the NGO Praja indicates that 17 of the 32 city legislators have been linked to serious crimes, which invite a punishment of two years or more. The study has obtained information about those MLAs that have been named either in an FIR or a charge sheet. The data reveals that some legislators, though started clean, have committed or been named in serious crimes after getting elected.
While 15 MLAs had FIRs against them before the elections, 10 got named in FIRs, which linked them to serious crimes, after the elections. Praja project director Milind Mhaske said some legislators had been named in more than one FIR, but the study had not counted it to avoid confusion. “It is entirely possible that some of these legislators have been involved in serious crimes more than once,” said Mhaske.
Overall, the average score that legislators have got for not having a criminal record has suffered. From getting 0.19 marks on 5 in 2011, the score has gone into a -0.63. Such negative marking, Praja said, indicates a higher level of serious crimes. “If they have no crimes then a legislator gets 5 marks, if there’s a crime which isn’t serious then they get 3. However, -5 indicates that the MLA has been named in an FIR or a charge sheet,” explained Mhaske.
The MLAs with most number of crimes associated with them are Samajwadi Party’s Abu Asim Azmi, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) MLAs Pravin Darekar and Shishir Shinde, who have been named the lowest. On the brighter side, 15 MLAs have no serious crimes associated with their name. Congress’s Amin Patel, Annie Shekhar, Ashok Jadhav, Baba Siddiqui, Baldev Khosa, Chandrakant Handore among others, were ranked the highest for having a clean criminal record.
Prabhat Kumar, former cabinet secretary, who was present at the report launch, said, “It is said you cannot expect good governance from bad politics. Hence, people need to make use of such information and elect good people.” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Yogesh Sagar, who was ranked number 1 for the second consecutive year, said, “It’s good to have been recognised by the study. I am trying to satisfy as many of my constituents as I can.”
- SC asks Centre to cooperate with CBI in coal-gate probe (Aug 6, 2013, Rediff)
- Fodder scam: Supreme Court reserves order on Lalu’s plea to change judge (Aug 6, 2013, Indian Express)
- Rampant illegal sand mining in Gautam Budh Nagar: Panel (Aug 10, 2013, Yahoo)
- Digvijaya Singh hints at role of Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s brother in illegal sand mining (Aug 6, 2013, Indian Express)
Kanwal Bharti, noted Dalit scholar, eminent writer and recipient of several national awards, would never have imagined that commenting on a social networking site over the ongoing IAS officer Durga Shakti’s suspension episode would land him into trouble. State urban development minister Azam Khan’s media convener on Tuesday lodged an FIR against the Rampur based writer blaming his comment communal and an attempt to breach peace. Kanwal was arrested by the Civil Lines Police from his residence-Awas Vikas Colony under Kotwali police circle. However, he has been granted bail.
Kanwal, who recently got retired as president of Ambedkar hostel run by Social Welfare Department, Rampur, faced the action for his facebook post over the burning issue of Durga Nagpal’s suspension and the role of UP government in the whole issue. Fasahat Ali Shanu, Azam’s media convener in his report alleged that Kanwal’s comment was provocative and may spread disharmony among the people. The whole issue began after Kanwal in his recent Facebook post blamed the UP government for being ‘biased’ in Durga’s case.
“How come fastest? You don’t know that in Rampur an old Madarsa was bulldozed and its manager was put behind the bars for opposing the action. He is still in jail. But Akhilesh’s government didn’t suspend anybody in Rampur. Is it so that in Rampur its Azam Khan who rules not Akhilesh”, states the facebook post on which Shanu raised the objection. This the second time Rampur was the centre of attention for a similar issue within a week. Earlier, Azam Khan had issued a statement holding Gautam Buddha Nagar’s district magistrate equally responsible in Durga’s case and demanded his suspension.
Shanu further blamed that Kanwal had also mentioned that Azam Khan can do anything in Rampur which is his constituency, even god could not stop him. “There is nobody above god. Such type of comments may create disharmony among the locals during the ongoing month of Ramadan so such comments should be banned”, said Shanu. Police arrested him and produced before the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) VK Pandey where he was released on bail. Kanwal Bharti, son of a Dalit cobbler Bhagwan Das, who was raised in the slums of Rampur, is a famous poet and writer. Many of his poems have also been included in the syllabus of Post Graduate studies in various national universities.
However, his arrest has had no impact on his Facebook followers and admirers who resorted to protests on Facebook and strongly condemned the act. Kanwal’s work has also been included in the books prescribed by Delhi University, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Allahabad University, Aligarh Muslim University and Lucknow University.
- Activist files complaint with NHRC on Dalit scholar’s arrest (Aug 8, 2013, The Hindu)
- Durga’s suspension: Dalit scholar who was arrested for FB post against UP govt claims threat to life (Aug 11, 2013, IBN)
- Fearing life threat, Dalit scholar Bharti to move Allahabad high court (Aug 12, 2013, Times of India)
- SC status for Dalit Christians opposed (Aug 12, 2013, The Hindu)
Opinions and Editorials
Development sounds good as election agenda – we wish it became a reality. Sad though it may be, it fails to organise the masses. Development does not ensure that they push the buttons in electronic voting machines (EVMs) during elections. This is the grim tale of Indian democracy. Perhaps that’s why in Bihar, Nitish Kumar has to align caste equation with development. In Gujarat, Narendra Modi, despite being the ‘face of development’, falls back on power and communalism’s propaganda and fear psychosis. In Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan has to mix development with the memory of Hindutva and the backward card.
Now, with the fear of the collapse of Narendra Modi’s ‘Vikas Purush’ image, a new image is being invented. He is being linked both with the Ram Janmabhoomi issue and the backward caste that he belongs to. In BJP-ruled states, development is not just development. It’s being mixed with communalism, identity hysteria, along with power, propaganda and fear springing from it. This strange alchemy is now packaged as ‘development plus’. These days Amit Shah, the face of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, has shifted his base to Ayodhya, signalling fresh political ramifications. Plans are afoot to bring alive the issue of Ram Janmabhoomi once again and whip-up religious frenzy.
The meetings of Avadh Pranth (region), hitherto held at Lucknow, were taking place at Ayodhya, beginning last month. Ram Janmabhoomi and Ayodhya are being added to the ‘development champion’ image of Modi to convert it into the desired ‘development plus’ package. Furthermore, since Narendra Modi has been declared the BJP chief of the election committee, VHP leader, Ashok Singhal, has set up a camp at Ayodhya. He too is making every effort to rake up the Ram Janmabhoomi issue in the forthcoming elections.
A meeting of sants (seers) and sadhus, chaired by Singhal, was held on June 27. It was decided that during the Chaurasi Parikrama (84 circumambulations) of Ayodhya, beginning August 25, the issue of Ram Janmabhoomi shall be stirred up. The second plus being loaded on to the development issue, by Shah and BJP, is the backward card, with Modi at its epicentre. Modi’s backward caste and Sardar Patel as a backward caste icon is being played as a well-planned strategy by the BJP. World’s tallest statue of Sardar Patel, named as ‘Statue of Unity’, is being erected in Gujarat. In Gujarat villages, old farming implements, made of iron, are being collected from farmers as part of a strategy. BJP is trying to spread it, on the basis of the politics of Shilanayas, to the villages.
But, there is a major challenge. It needs to be seen how Modi is accepted by the masses in north India. Secondly, the myth of Ram is very different from that of Patel. Another ‘plus’ in BJP’s ‘development plus’ is the rule of Samajwadi Party in UP. During the rule of SP, fanatic Muslim elements have created skirmishes in small towns and kasbas. It was during the SP regime in the past that Ram Mandir and Babri Mosque issues gained credence. Misinformation of ‘Hindu victimisation’ is being created among the non-BJP Hindus. All attempts are being made to polarize the Hindus and thus convert it into a safe vote bank. It needs to be seen how BJP would use all its pluses, in UP and Bihar, to garner votes in its favour, in the 2014 elections.
- Skullcap politics – By Shantanu Bhattacharji (Aug 9, 2013, Business Standard)
- The Wait At The Machan – By Prarthna Gahilote (Aug 19, 2013, Outlook)
- Puppy love of a Hindu nationalist – By Jyoti Mukul (Aug 12, 2013, Business Standard)
The conviction of the alleged Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative Shahzad Ahmad in the 2008 Batla House encounter case for murdering Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma of the Special Cell of the Delhi Police and injuring two others has evoked mixed reactions. While the Delhi Police feel vindicated, several human rights activists, who had raised doubts about the police’s version of the encounter, plan to move a higher court against the decision. On July 30, the court of Additional Sessions Judge Rajender Kumar Shastri in Delhi sentenced Shahzad to life imprisonment and imposed a penalty of Rs.95,000 on him. The court declared that Rs.40,000 of the fine should be given to the family of the deceased police officer. It found Shahzad guilty of murder, attempt to murder, obstructing and assaulting public servants and grievously injuring police officers. Pointing out that it “was not a sudden confrontation”, the judge said: “The police had information, based on which a raiding party was formed well in advance. The accused had no licence to fire at police persons who came there to investigate a case. They were expected to assist the police, not attack them.”
Shahzad was being tried for murder and assault in the present case while in another court he was being tried for his alleged IM links. He is the lone accused in the case of the murder of Inspector Sharma. The Batla House encounter is one of the three most controversial encounters of the recent past, the others being the Ishrat Jahan and Sohrabuddin Sheikh killings. The Batla House encounter happened on September 19, 2008, six days after the Delhi serial blasts, which killed 30 people and left more than 100 injured. According to the police, the Special Cell received a tip-off about suspected IM operatives involved in the blasts hiding in Flat number 108 at L-18 in the Batla House area of South Delhi. An encounter ensued between the alleged terrorists and the team of the Special Cell of the Delhi Police headed by Sharma, which had gone there for a routine investigation. During the investigation, two suspected terrorists, Atif Ameen and Mohammad Sajjid, allegedly opened fire on the police but were killed. Sharma was killed in this shootout. The police claimed that they arrested two residents of the flat while two others, one of whom was Shahzad, managed to escape. Shahzad was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police in February 2010 in his hometown, Azamgarh, in eastern U.P.
Given the continually changing police versions of the event, several Congress leaders and residents of Batla House alleged that it could have been a fake encounter. In the course of the hue and cry over the encounter, the Supreme Court refused to institute a judicial probe and instead appointed the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to conduct an investigation. The NHRC report in 2009 declared the encounter genuine. However, activists rejected it as the NHRC team did not visit the spot or talk even once to the residents of Batla House or the arrested individuals. Instead, it relied completely on the documents released by the police. The Union government remained clueless about handling the case as it felt that the probe could affect the morale of the police force, which had lost one of its most decorated officers in the shootout. The judgment of the Additional Sessions Court also relied mostly on the prosecution case and human rights activists alleged that the defence case, despite being a very strong one, was ignored. The judgment relied mostly on circumstantial evidence and police witnesses as the investigating police team could not produce any solid evidence. Three pieces of evidence produced by the police in the court became crucial. One, the expired passport of Shahzad was allegedly found in the flat where the incident occurred, suggesting that Shahzad was indeed a resident of that flat. Two, police witnesses claimed that Shahzad had fired at Sharma and other policemen before escaping. Three, the police claimed that Atif Ameen, who was killed in the shootout, had been in touch over the phone with Shahzad earlier and had booked a railway ticket to Azamgarh for September 24, 2008, for him. The police claimed that Shahzad had planned his escape from the city after carrying out the serial blasts.
On July 31, the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA) released a report titled “Beyond reasonable doubt? The conviction of Shahzad Ahmad”. The report, which offers a critique of the judgment and a point-by-point rebuttal of the police version, points out that the murder weapon mentioned by the police was never recovered. It says at least the shells of bullets that Shahzad had allegedly fired could have been recovered, but these were missing in the recovery items. It notes that Flat No 108 was on the fourth floor in a heavily congested area and it was impossible for any person to escape from there when the police had surrounded the building from all sides. It further states that Shahzad was first referred as Pappu and that in different depositions before the court the police had identified Pappu with different names: Shahnawaj, Shahbaz and Shahzad subsequently. It says no independent witness of the Batla House encounter was produced by the police. All witnesses presented were police personnel, who told the court that they did not see Shahzad escaping. Questioning the veracity of the police version, JTSA president Manisha Sethi toldFrontline: “Firstly, if the police claim to have phone records of conversation between Shahzad and Atif, why were no voice records produced in the court? Secondly, no other belongings of Shahzad were recovered from the flat which could very well mean that Shahzad’s passport could have been planted there. How do the police claim that Shahzad was a resident of that flat? Thirdly, is it possible that a terrorist books a railway ticket to escape 11 days after the blasts?”
The report further notes that even the post-mortem reports of Atif Ameen and Mohammad Sajjid were not examined by the court. “The post-mortem reports could have been the most important pieces of evidence. It clearly shows bullet wounds on the back of Atif’s body. Sajjid’s body had firearm injuries only on the head. Physical wounds made by some blunt and sharp object were also found on Atif’s body,” Manisha Sethi said. The JTSA report also notes: “The entry points of each of these gunshot wounds – and the fact that all but one bullet is travelling in a downward direction – strongly suggests that he [Atif] was held down by force (which also explain the injuries on the back and leg region), while bullets were pumped down his forehead, back and head. In which genuine crossfire do people receive injuries only in the back and head region?” Describing the judgment as “riddled with tautology and obfuscations”, the report says: “All that is proved, beyond inconsistent police testimony, is that it is possible that the accused knew the deceased. And this possible association is the only ground for conviction. In sum, the judgment has merely accepted the case put forward by the prosecution. The prosecution merely gives the version provided by the police that are inconsistent. These inconsistencies are ignored. The judgment merely argues for the possibility of the police account and in a strange and twisted logic such possibility, accepted on the most flimsy grounds, provides the basis on which a conviction for the most heinous crimes is carried through.”
- Caught On Tape – Gujarat Minister And Top Officials Admit Influencing Ishrat Jahan Investigation – Rana Ayyub (Aug 3, 2013, Tehelka)
The Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in Rajasthan is hopeful of retaining its position in the State in the Assembly elections which will be held later this year. According to opinion polls conducted recently, the incumbent government may yet have a slim chance of continuing in office given the slew of welfare measures it has initiated over the past one year. However, large sections of the minority community do not feel the same way about the Gehlot government as they did when it assumed power five years ago. A spate of incidents involving extreme police action and measures against the minorities during its tenure have created a sense of insecurity among these communities and infused cynicism into the electorate at large. Memories of the police firing in Gopalgarh in Bharatpur district in September 2011 (“Targeted Attack”, Frontline, October 21, 2011), which claimed 10 young lives, were fresh in their minds when another incident of police insensitivity put the government in the dock.
On July 11, the very first day of fasting in the month of Ramzan, a skirmish broke out between two communities over the high decibel levels of the music that was played in a marriage procession. Two groups of local youth clashed with each other, a motorcycle belonging to a member of the minority community was set on fire, and some musical equipment belonging to the other side was damaged. The police claimed that the incident had the potential to become a serious issue. “It is a hypersensitive district,” said a senior police officer. The next morning, Tonk District Collector Lal Chand Aswal called a peace committee meeting where, interestingly, local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders were also present. That evening, a huge police contingent, comprising personnel of the Special Task Force (STF) and the Rajasthan Armed Constabulary (RAC), was stationed outside the Chavani mosque, where around a thousand persons, including children and old men, had assembled for the evening prayers. Members of the Keer community, a peasant caste known traditionally to cultivate on riverbeds, assembled on the road opposite the mosque.
What happened next is unclear. But what it resulted in was very visible. As prayers continued inside, the police pushed their way through, tear-gassing and lathi-charging anyone who came in their way. Not even eight-year-olds or 85-years-olds were spared. In the mayhem, a tear gas shell ripped the eye of a young man, killing him instantly. It was claimed that the police entered the premises because stones were thrown from the ramparts and roof of the mosque and adjacent homes at the Keers who had assembled there. Nearly four dozen persons sustained injuries, including fractures and injuries to the head. “The action was totally disproportionate to the incident,” said a retired major in Tonk city. The District Magistrate dismissed the matter as a “freak incident” and a “coincidence”, stating that everything was under control. Superintendent of Police S. Parimala justified the action on the grounds that there was stone-throwing and that the situation could have gone out of control. She also claimed that the dead man was a history-sheeter and had no business being there offering prayers as he was from a different area. According to police sources, he had mobilised mischievous elements in order to create trouble.
Local people and leaders of the minority community who Frontline spoke to explained that it was not uncommon for members of their community to offer prayers at any mosque, especially if they happened to be passing by. “Even if he was a history-sheeter, where does it say that he should die like this?” asked Mohammad Hasan, a retired professor of geography at the University of Rajasthan, who visited the place. Members of the minority community claimed that there was provocation from the Keers who were armed. When stone-throwing began from both sides, some STF personnel got injured and that seems to have been the trigger for the police action. They said the theory that mischievous elements were present in the mosque as part of a pre-planned strategy was false. “It was not a communal clash, a Hindu-Mussalman fight. The administration is to blame. They had no right to beat us up like this,” said Haji Ahmed Sayeed, a muezzin who sustained injuries on his hand as he tried to protect himself from the blows. Members of the community alleged that they were beaten up brutally, taken to the police station and made to stay there in their undergarments.
The parliamentary constituency of Tonk-Sawai Madhopur is represented by Union Minister Namo Narain Meena, who people say is hardly bothered by such incidents. “We got him elected from a general seat against Colonel [K.S.] Bainsla of the BJP who led the Gujjar agitation for reservation, and this is what we get,” said a local leader. The majority of the Assembly segments here, including Tonk, are represented by Congress legislators. The Congress party’s election observer for the constituency is Brajendra Ola, son of another Central Minister, Sis Ram Ola, who, minority community members say, has rarely bothered to visit the place or inquire about the situation. Mujahid, a Congress worker, whose father, an 86-year-old, was beaten up, wonders what good staying in the party has served him. “We are unhappy that this should happen in a Congress-led regime. Whatever be the reason, the action was in excess,” he toldFrontline. Shamsuddin, a government employee with the Irrigation Department, was equally perplexed. “There were small children and old men praying. If the intention was to create trouble, then why would we bring them along? My 13-year-old grandson was also arrested,” he said. …
- Masjid Is Far: Why banking on Hindu-Muslim polarisation is a folly – By Saba Naqvi (Aug 19, 2013, Outlook)
Soon after the Congress Working Committee announced its decision to grant statehood to Telangana on 30 July, in the Northeast of the country, violent demonstrations and protests broke out on the streets. Various ethnic groups came out, demanding the formation of separate states on ethnic and historical lines. If Telangana could be carved out, they felt, why not our state? In Assam alone, five different statehood demands re-surfaced after years of uneasy calm. On 31 July, Diphu, the district headquarters of Karbi Anglong district, erupted in flames, when angry mobs took to the streets, vandalising and setting fire to more than 60 government offices, several vehicles and houses of senior Congress leaders. Railway tracks were uprooted at several places, cutting off the region from the rest of the country. Members of the Karbi Students’ Union and the NSUI feel that now is the time for the Centre to honour their 26-year-old demand for a separate Karbi autonomous state under Article 244A of the Constitution, the unique provision that allows for the formation of an autonomous state. At the time of this going to press – and despite a curfew, army flag marches, and shoot-at-sight orders – the district is still reeling under the aftermath of the violence.
In the neighbouring Dima Hasao district, the Dimaraji (Land of the Dimasas) demand for a separate state by the Dimasa tribals has gotten louder with the Hill State Democratic Party (HSDP) joining the Karbi chorus. Interestingly, the HSDP wants a separate tribal state comprising the twin districts of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao. “If Telangana can be formed,” says HSDP General Secretary Kanjang Terang, “then there is no reason why there cannot be a separate state of the Karbis and the Dimasas. Our demand is much older than Telangana and we will go to Delhi for a clear word.” The scene is not much different in the plains of lower Assam, where the Bodoland agitation has been fanned by the announcement on Telangana. From the late 80’s, the Bodos, the largest tribal group in Assam, have been demanding a separate state of Bodoland, a demand which the Centre had managed to quell with the creation of a territorial council. But, on 1 August, Bodo groups called for a 48-hour bandh in the state, leading to a situation, where the Northeast was effectively cut off from the rest of India. “The Bodoland demand is a legitimate one that dates back to 1967,” says Promod Boro, president of the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU). “We have seen two councils, one of which was an autonomous council, but the step-motherly attitude of the state government has meant that nothing has been of help and now we want a separate state. If Telangana is justified, then the Centre has to explain to us why Bodoland cannot happen.”
In 1987, under the leadership of Upendra Nath Brahma, ABSU first gave the call “Divide Assam 50:50”. The Bodo Peoples’ Front that rules the Bodoland Territorial Council, and is an important ally of the Congress government in Assam, has threatened to withdraw support, unless the Centre is pressured to pass a resolution for a separate state of Bodoland. Simultaneously, the Koch-Rajbongshi community in lower Assam led the All Assam Koch Rajbongshi Students’ Union (AKRASU) in various agitations in support of the long-standing demand for a state of Kamtapur. The region has seen violence in the past in this quest for a separate state, a demand the Koch-Rajbongshis of Assam share with their counterpart in North Bengal. In the hills of North Bengal, the Bimal Gurung-led Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) has renewed its call for a state of Gorkhaland. An indefinite bandh has been called in the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong. GJM chief Gurung has resigned as the head of the Gorkha Territorial Council (GTA) in protest and party general secretary Roshan Giri along with top GJM leaders are camping in New Delhi to push for statehood. Gorkhaland supporters have torched a few government offices and bungalows in Darjeeling, but sentiments peaked after two supporters tried to immolate themselves, one of them, Mangal Singh Rajput from Kalimpong, even succumbing to his burns.
“If Telangana happens, Gorkhaland has to happen,” runs the by now familiar strain from Gurung. “We will not compromise, we will take the fight for Gorkhaland to the streets.” Forever trying to establish a one-party rule in the Darjeeling hills, Gurung has even reached out to his political rivals to take to the streets and jointly fight for Gorkhaland. “It is time we unite,” he says ominously. So fierce and widespread have these movements been that both the Centre and the state governments have had to urge the various groups to come to the negotiating table. Assam, which has already seen three divisions in the creation of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland, could be the worst affected. West Bengal too has seen partition and would be loath to experience a similar period again. “Eastern India and the Northeast in particular has a history of separation and violence, but ethnic aspiration is the result of years of neglect by the people in power,” says Guwahati-based human rights activist Ranjan Baruah. “For the Centre, Telangana is more important because it has numbers, which the Northeast cannot offer.”
A total deadlock in North Bengal, a 3,000-hour bandh called by Karbi rebel groups, 36-hour bandh by the Koch -Rajbongshis, Bodo groups threatening to launch indefinite economic blockade and demands of other separate states – Garoland in Meghalaya, Frontier Nagaland and Greater Nagalim in Nagaland, Kukiland in Manipur and a separate Tripuri state in Tripura . Was New Delhi completely oblivious of the fallout the creation of Telangana would have, or is the east too far away from its political radar? Either way, it will now have to somehow douse these fires.
- Division spurs growth? – By Asha Sarangi (Aug 23, 2013, Frontline)
- State Of Turmoil – By Madhavi Tata (Aug 19, 2013, Outlook)
- The Telangana Tangle Begins to Unravel – By Anant Maringanti (Aug 10, 2013, EPW)
- Divide and rule – By S. Nagesh Kumar (Aug 23, 2013, Frontline)
It was obvious to the Congress high command that granting statehood to Telangana was fraught with perils. As people vented their anger in Seemandhra (the residual part of Andhra Pradesh comprising coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema) by calling for bandhs and torching statues of Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi, nervous party leaders are hoping the frenzy will die down soon. The Congress is more worried about holding on to its seven MPs from Seemandhra who are threatening to abandon the party before the Food Security Bill is tabled in Parliament. Even as Congress MPs from Telangana were celebrating that the party leadership had acquiesced to their longstanding demand for a separate state, seven Lok Sabha MPs and one Rajya Sabha MP hailing from the Andhra region tendered their resignations. More than 25 MLAs also threatened to resign. However, Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy and Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Botsa Satyanarayana pacified the MLAs by presenting a resolution to party general secretary Digvijaya Singh on 5 August. “We have requested the party high command to maintain status quo and avoid bifurcation,” says Satyanarayana. “If Telangana is indeed inevitable, then we want Hyderabad to be a Union Territory or the shared capital.”
When the Congress Working Committee announced its decision on Telangana on 30 July, jittery Union ministers hailing from Seemandhra made a beeline to their constituencies to get a first-hand assessment of the ground situation. They included Union Human Resource Development Minister MM Pallam Raju, a four-time MP from Kakinada. On 2 August, they regrouped in New Delhi and decided to convey the anti-Telanganamood prevalent in the region to the party high command. Despite burning the phone lines, all they could muster was an appointment with Digvijaya Singh. Armed with their resignations, the delegation of ministers, which also included JD Seelam, D Purandeswari, J Surya Prakash Reddy and Kruparani Killi, met Singh. The meeting lasted for two hours, where they tried to impress upon Singh that they would be committing political suicide if they failed to send a strong signal that they were against the creation of Telangana. The ministers also conveyed that apart from their own future, the party’s fortunes were also at stake in Andhra. Singh acknowledged that the party leadership was aware of their problems but was adamant that tendering resignations was no solution. Finally, it was decided that Singh will propose to party president Sonia Gandhi the setting up of a high-level committee to look into all the issues and remove imbalances.
This committee, headed by Defence Minister AK Antony, will interact with the leaders of Andhra and Rayalaseema before the new state of Telangana comes up. This move has pacified the ministers, at least for the time being. The Congress is also planning to cool the simmering anger by announcing special packages, which will include many welfare schemes and a favourable water-sharing agreement. Congress leaders believe that some resignations are inevitable. “While taking theTelangana decision, the party had taken into account the resignations that will pour in,” says a senior Congress leader, adding that the party leaders will have to work overtime to douse the fire in their constituencies. They believe that the anti-Telangana mood will subside with the passage of time. Congress insiders claim that the trouble witnessed in the Seemandhra region were in areas that predominantly are strongholds of either the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by former chief minister Chandrababu Naidu or Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress. The Congress has little hold in these areas. Dismissing rumours that some MLAs and MPs are planning to abandon ship and join Jagan’s party, a senior Congress leader from Andhra told Tehelka on the condition of anonymity that the deserters would not be more than three MLAs and two MPs, whereas leaders from other parties might join the Congress.
Five senior YSR Congress leaders from Telangana have already resigned. Konda Surekha, a leader from Warangal, her husband Konda Murali, Balakrishna Reddy, KK Mahendar Reddy, Raj Thakur and Puvvada Ajay Kumar tendered their resignation to party president Vijayamma on 31 July. Rumour has it that they will join either theCongress or the TDP. “The bifurcation of the state will improve the Congress’ chances in Andhra andRayalaseema regions,” says Congress MP Madhu Goud, who represents Nizamabad inTelangana. “Some of the MPs who are threatening to quit are the same ones who had earlier signed a letter backing Jagan Reddy as chief minister.” But YSR Congress leaders beg to differ. “The Congress did not consult any of the parties before deciding to bifurcate the state. It’s only in Telangana that some of our MLA aspirants are leaving. In coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, members of both theTDP and Congress will be joining our party soon, as we have a better winnability factor,” says senior leader DA Somayajulu. In 2009, despite being an incumbent party, the Congress won 156 of 294 Assembly seats and 29 out of 42 seats in the Lok Sabha. In Telangana, it won 12 seats, whereas the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) managed only one. Much of the Congress’ worries began after the then chief minister late YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s son Jagan started his own party and attracted renegades from the Congress and the TDP. In the subsequent bypolls, Jagan’s party won 17 Assembly seats.
The Congress received a confidence boost from the recent sarpanch elections. Much to the party’s surprise, it topped the tally with 4,342 posts, followed by the TDP (4,275),YSR Congress (2,739) and the TRS (1,117). YSR Congress’ performance was lacklustre inSeemandhra. The prevalent thinking in the Congress is that the creation of Telangana will prove to be a calculated risk. The first target is to capture all 17 Lok Sabha seats in the new state, including Hyderabad, which is represented by Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. Even though the TRS is yet to keep its promise of merging with the Congress, onceTelangana becomes a reality, the signs remain positive. “We will cross the bridge when we come to it,” says Kavita Rao Kalvakuntla, the daughter of TRS supremo K Chandrasekhar Rao. “Our terms are simple. We are willing to share Hyderabad as the capital for 10 years, not any longer. Hyderabad will be the 10th district of Telangana, and arrangements will be made for the Andhra administration to function fromHyderabad.” Behind the theatrics, has the Congress actually managed to wriggle itself out of a mess? Whereas it is too premature to draw conclusions or map out the long-term political ramifications, the party does seem to be making all the right moves – pacifying wherever it’s necessary and readying to let go of bad apples.
- ‘People in Seemandhra feel they have been cheated’ – Botcha Satyanarayana tells Ravi Reddy (Aug 23, 2013, Frontline)
- Playing politically mature: Telangana and its impact on Muslims – By Mohd. Ismail Khan (Aug 7, 2013, Twocircles.net)
- Whatever its status, Hyderabad has changed irreversibly – By Mahesh Vijapurkar (Aug 7, 2013, Rediff)
The death of 23 children after consuming a midday meal contaminated with an organophosphorus pesticide at a primary school in Mashrakh block of Saran district in Bihar on July 16 brought to the fore a range of issues regarding the midday meal programme in the country. But a few others such as the welfare of midday meal workers and the role of private sector initiatives in the midday meal scheme got scant attention. An embattled Bihar government sought to stave off criticism amid various conspiracy theories, but an inquiry report by the Additional Secretary of the Union Human Resource Development Ministry blamed the State government for “grave negligence”. The cooking was done in the open in the school, which was run from a community building. The oil used for cooking was procured from a shop owned by the husband of the headmistress. The government, stung by criticism, suspended the headmistress and directed teachers to henceforth taste the cooked food before serving them to children. These are at best superficial measures even as systemic ones like that of appointing regular coordinators to maintain accounts and supervise the system have been ignored. Corruption is a serious issue in the midday meal programme.
The midday meal programme in the country is said to be the world’s largest school feeding programme and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government does not tire claiming credit for it. However, the incident in the Bihar school has exposed not only the cavalier attitude of the Central and some State governments as far as the monitoring of the scheme is concerned but also the free hand given to private operators which allows them to flout the guidelines of the scheme. Measures like tasting the food before serving it obfuscate the real problems that bog the scheme down—for instance, the manner in which midday meal workers are treated. “The only incentive for them, working at such pitiable rates, is the one free meal they get,” said A.R. Sindhu, secretary, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). In a memorandum to Jiten Prasada, Union Minister of State for Human Resource, the All India Coordination Committee of Mid Day Meal Workers (affiliated to the CITU) pointed out that a number of schools in the country did not have proper kitchens or storage space. Supply of cooking gas was erratic and where there was no gas connection, workers had to collect firewood, it said.
The workers, all from socially and economically backward communities, are expected to provide the best of service under the worst of conditions. They have no regular wage or social security. Employed on a part-time basis, they work for more than six to eight hours a day and are paid an honorarium of just Rs.1,000 a month, and that too for only 10 months a year. Sindhu said that the honorarium was not paid in full and given after six or seven months. The government, the delegation pointed out, turned a blind eye to the unanimous recommendation of the trade unions at the 45th Indian Labour Conference that those employed under the midday meal scheme be recognised as workers and given minimum wages and other social security benefits. Most often, workers who suffered injuries while cooking could not avail themselves of first aid or proper treatment. In the case of the school in Bihar, there was no decent public health facility where the children could be administered treatment. The delegation that met the Minister also felt that it was unfair to burden the teachers with preparing midday meals.
In a shocking move that discriminated against midday meal workers, the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand governments issued a circular stating that only those women would be retained as workers whose children studied in the same school. “What if the worker has older children who have got married? Why isn’t a similar conditionality placed for the teacher?” a worker asked. There have been regular protests by midday meal workers against their arbitrary retrenchment. On July 29, the Udupi district unit of Akshara Dasoha Workers Association submitted a memorandum to the Karnataka Chief Minister demanding the regularisation of their work and an end to the privatisation of the midday meal scheme. The association said the move to privatise it would deprive at least one lakh women of their livelihood. Rather than outsource it to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the government should monitor the scheme, it said. While the focus has been on the poorly run scheme in government schools, the situation in the privately managed, centralised kitchens run by corporates and large NGOs has not been any better. Many child rights organisations that castigated the government over the tragedy in Bihar failed even to mention that the midday meals provided by private agencies also needed to come under the scanner. The delegation that met Jiten Prasada told him that the job of preparing food by agencies such as The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the Akshay Patra Foundation, the Naandi Foundation and corporates such as Vedanta needed to be stopped immediately. The Haryana government has given the ISKCON Foundation the contract to run the midday meal scheme in four districts through its centralised kitchen.
Jai Bhagwan, general secretary of the midday meal workers’ union in Haryana, told Frontline that there were innumerable cases where lizards and other insects had been found in the food cooked in the centralised kitchens run by private entities. “There should be government fair price shops that supply raw materials locally. In a centralised system, there is a lot of corruption. As it is made in bulk, a lot of raw materials can be siphoned off. Often the food is prepared early in the morning, packed in tiffin boxes, and by the time it reaches schools by noon, it becomes stale. There are 16 items listed by the State government that should be part of the midday meal diet. But private entities like ISKCON that run centralised kitchens in some districts in the State provide only six items. The number of people that are hired in the centralised kitchens are also small as compared to those who prepared the food locally,” he said, listing some of the concerns. The midday meal scheme, Sindhu said, should be included in the Food Security Act as it was an issue concerning the food security of children. It also needed to be extended to cover children studying up to class 12, she said. “Instead of taking measures to fill the gaps in the inputs and the implementation of the scheme, there is a very conscious move from many quarters, taking advantage of the fear and anger of the beneficiaries, to malign the scheme and privatise it,” the delegation told the Minister. …
- Mid-Day Meals: Looking Ahead – By Reetika Khera (Aug 10, 2013, EPW)
- Schools for scandal – By Anil Sadgopal (Aug 23, 2013, Frontline)
- Dignity, Not Mere Roti – By Editorial (Aug 10, 2013, EPW)
Author: Gyanendra Pandey
Reviewed by: Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed
Available at: Oxford University Press, Ground Floor, YMCA Library Building, 1, Jai Singh Road, Post Box 43, New Delhi – 110001, India, 2012, Pages: xxxiv + 318, Price: Rs.445. http://global.oup.com/
A subaltern view (Aug 23, 2013, Frontline)
Recognising the enduring legacy of Gyanendra Pandey’s The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India, Oxford University Press has brought out the title under its Oxford India Perennials series. This is the third edition of the book, which was first published in 1990. … Pandey is a founder member of the Subaltern Studies Collective, an informal group of historians and scholars that introduced a new paradigm into the historical thinking of South Asia when it burst on the intellectual scene in the 1980s. … Pandey’s work needs to be understood in the context of his association with the Subaltern Studies Collective as a founder member. His research on the construction of communalism stands out among other works on the same theme for its reconceptualising and reworking of the notion of communalism as he tries to wrench it out of its traditional and parochial “elite” understanding while also questioning the way in which the term has been used in colonialist and nationalist historiography.
He provides a caveat early on when he says that the book is not a “comprehensive history” of Hindu-Muslim relations in north India but is “…an attempt to examine what we accomplish when we apply the term ‘communalism’ to this history…”. Pandey writes that for the colonialist, communalism emerged as a valid form of nationalism in the South Asian context. On the other hand, communalism represented the opposite of nationalism for Indian nationalists, and the concept itself was moulded in the 1920s and 1930s through the tumultuous decades of religious strife. The interesting point that Pandey makes here is that there is some overlap in the interpretations of communalism by both nationalists and communalists. According to him, both the colonialist and the nationalist positions derive from the same liberal ideology in which “rationalism and secularism operate as adjacent elements of thought”. At the same time, these interpretations, whether they are rooted in “essentialist” or “economistic” reasons, are elite understandings of communalism.
Pandey disagrees with the work of some prominent historians such as Bayly, whose work on the prehistory of communalism emphasised continuities in Indian history. He sees this as a reiteration of an older colonialist position. He also critiques the work of Francis Robinson, who has acquired a reputation as one of the foremost authorities on South Asian Islam. Robinson’s work on sectarian strife (Separatism of Indian Muslims, 1974), according to Pandey, draws a sharp line between elite and mass mentalities and does not take into account an important part of the historical experience. Pandey shows how the colonialist construction of Indian history incorporated religious bigotry and conflict as a distinctive feature of Indian society. This was an essentialist understanding of Indian history as religious conflict was accepted as a valid part of Indian society. Pandey’s close examination of the various colonial accounts of the Banaras riots of 1809 demonstrates this essentialist reading of an event. The reductionist tendencies of the colonialist discourse made it appear as if the disturbances were part of a continuum of Indian society and, thus, provided justification for colonial rule. He establishes how the British created a “master narrative” of communalism to understand sectarian strife. …
Pandey then turns to the question of the formation of the Hindu community, which he says has not been as adequately researched as the formation of the Muslim community. He does this by examining the action that was taken to protect the cow as a symbol of the Hindu religion in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. He concludes that while it cannot be said that the notion of a “Hindu” community or a “Muslim” community had no meaning for the vast majority consolidations were more local and happened on the basis of caste and kinship groups. According to Pandey, colonialism was responsible for the creation of an all-India Hindu community. In another interesting chapter, the author discusses the contradictions of the nationalist thought as there was tension between the post-Enlightenment ideas of a “nation” and the pre-colonial “community” that had prevailed in India. Before the 1920s, the Indian nation was constructed as a “collection of communities”, but as the notion of a nation began to alter to mean a “collection of individuals”, the concept of communalism also began to be articulated in nationalist thought. Nationalism and communalism were simultaneously articulated in the imagination of the Indian nationalist.
It was also during this time that the communitarian mobilisations that were accepted earlier by nationalists came to be regarded as a distorted and distorting tendency. For the nationalists, this distortion stretched to the point where the politics of religion began to be seen as not real politics at all. In this nationalist version of the Indian nation, history was used to emphasise the essential unity of all Indians before the British disturbed the peace. Pandey says that this oversimplified reading suffered because it ignored “any sense of the common people as historical agents”. In the new afterword that accompanies this edition, Pandey discusses the problems in writing a history of religious violence when the term “communalism” does not apply as readily as it once did. A significant point he makes here is that the nature of the state has changed from colonial India as there is clear evidence of the power of the centralised state, and the state appears far less neutral as it has been reinvented in a chauvinist Hindu image. He calls this “statist chauvinism”. …