IAMC Weekly News Roundup - August 20th, 2012 - IAMC
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IAMC Weekly News Roundup – August 20th, 2012

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

Communal Harmony

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

Communal Harmony

Ex-teacher shows the way: Bodos, Muslims patrol jointly to keep peace (Aug 20, 2012, Indian Express)

Ali Hussain, 63, of Rangapani in Baksa district, retired as a school teacher three years ago. In the past few days, however, he has been working nights: patrolling the village. Hussain is a member of the pohora (night vigil) that includes both Muslim and Bodos from neighbouring villages. “It is important because it has so far ensured that Muslims and Bodos living in adjoining villages live in peace, without any suspicion of each other,” says Hussain.

Villagers agree. “Hussain sir’s presence in the village pohora has been very helpful. He is a respected person in six, seven villages here,” says Brojen Brahma, who runs a shop at Borghuli, where four roads cutting across seven villages meet. But the pohora has not been able to bury all fears. “We are scared some miscreants will do some mischief and we will then become enemies after having lived together for ages,” Hussain says.

“The problem is with two supas where migrant Muslims live. Anybody can attack them and then we will be blamed and attacked in retaliation,” adds Nripen Brahma. Such fears frighteningly came true Wednesday night when a car was burnt and its driver, one Sahidul Islam, reportedly killed at Nij-Gosaigaon village, not far away.

Peace has largely held on elsewhere in Baksa, one of the four Bodo districts with a sizeable Muslim population – as well. “This is because we had set up peace committees as soon as violence broke out in Kokrajhar and Chirang,” says Baksa Deputy Commissioner B C Barbarua.


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On DGP posts, Sreekumar fears ‘manipulation’ by Narendra Modi govt (Aug 17, 2012, Indian Express)

Former DGP and IPS officer R B Sreekumar has sought Prime Minister’s intervention, saying that four DGP posts in Gujarat were vacant, and the in-charge Director General of Police was “vulnerable to manipulation” by the Narendra Modi government. Sreekumar, one of the most vocal critics of Chief Minister Narendra Modi over the handling of 2002 communal riots, has written a letter dated August 15 to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Since September 2010, Chittranjan Singh, an officer of the rank of Additional DGP, is heading Gujarat Police as ‘In-Charge DGP’. In the two-page letter, Sreekumar has drawn attention to the fact that “Gujarat government has been keeping four DGP posts vacant since August 31, 2010, without any valid administrative or professional grounds”. This had generated “immense frustration and extensive de-motivation” in the top-level police officers, he said.

“Two officers with excellent performance records have retired from service since August 2010 in the rank of ADGP, and two more would be going on superannuation in December 2012 without the promotion to the rank of DGP. “The act of keeping cadre posts vacant beyond six months by the state government is in flagrant violation of Rule 10 of the Indian Police Service Rules 1954,” he claimed.

The aggrieved IPS officers were wary of approaching courts, fearing “malicious punitive action” by government, he said. “An In-Charge DGP, devoid of tenure security, rank and grade related authority, powers, status and dignity, in contrast to full fledged DGP… would be quite vulnerable to unethical manipulative machinations by the political and administrative hierarchy in the State government,” he added.



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As violence rages, Sangh fishes in troubled waters (Aug 17, 2012, Hindustan Times)

As Assam riots rage on – causing reverberations in Maharashtra and Karnataka – the RSS and the BJP have a readymade Hindutva issue: a fight between “Indians” and “illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants”. Threats to students from the north-east in the southern states are being referred to as the “anti-national” siding with the “foreigner”.

And even as the state governments geared to prevent the exodus, the RSS student-affiliate ABVP set up 24-hour helplines in 20 cities across India on Thursday for north-eastern students. Also, people from the north-east who rushed to the Bangalore Railway Station to board trains to Guwahati found about 250 RSS volunteers there to protect them, urging them to stay back.

Repeatedly under attack over the Gujarat riots of 2002, the BJP sees the Assam riots as an opportunity to attack the Congress government there and appeal to Assamese voters. For the RSS, this provides an opportunity to appropriate north-eastern tribes – the Sangh’s influence has been limited in the north-eastern states – within a wider ‘Hindu’ narrative. “Workers of the RSS have met north-eastern students and offered all help for their safety and security,” RSS joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale told the media in Guwahati.

PTI quoted BJP president Nitin Gadkari as saying, “The problem in Assam is not communal but that of Indians versus outsiders. Anti-national people are involved in this violence. In Mumbai, the crowd waved the Pakistani flag, made provocative statements and vandalised the martyrs’ memorial.” Talking to reporters in Delhi, senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj wondered why the PM had talked to the Karnataka CM but not to the Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh CMs. She, however, added that the Karnataka government would ensure peace in the state.

The BJP has said that the government must offer refuge to Hindus fleeing Pakistan due to persecution. This distinction between immigrants on grounds of faith is a fundamentally Hindutva theme which the BJP has articulated as a subtext amid the loud, secular clamour over corruption and inflation.



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Infiltration bogey to dilute India’s worst humanitarian crisis: Jamiat (Aug 9, 2012, Times of India)

The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JuH), largest body of Muslim clerics, on Wednesday said some political parties were raising the bogey of infiltration from Bangladesh in riot-hit lower Assam to dilute the gravity of the “worst humanitarian crisis in free India”. As fresh violence erupted in Assam, Muslim organizations led by JuH protested in Delhi against Assam riots, where 73 people were killed and about four lakh rendered homeless since July 18. “Never before have so many people been displaced and living as refugees in camps in independent India. What is the government doing?” asked Madani. Assam was rocked by riots several times in the past. “Not just Muslims, linguistic minorities have been attacked and tortured in Assam in the past,” said Madani.

Slamming BJP for its attempts to divide Muslims and non-Muslims, Madani said, “BJP does this every time Muslims are attacked. In Gujarat, they say Muslims are Pakistanis while in Assam the BJP labels them as Bangladeshi infiltrators. If Bangladeshi infiltrators have been coming in, what did L K Advani as Union home minister do to check it?” Infiltration was definitely an issue in Assam. “But, that can be raised in other forums. Why raise the infiltration issue when lakhs are suffering?” asked Madani. He demanded the government expedite updating National Register of Citizens so that Indian Muslims are not harassed. In a 12-point charter of demands submitted to Prime MinisterManmohan Singh, JuH demanded the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in Assam be dissolved or non-Bodo communities included in it.

They also demanded rehabilitation and compensation of all riot victims. “The government must ensure they return home safely,” said Madani. Victims of earlier bouts of violence, in 1993 and 1996, for instance, are still languishing in refugee camps. “Their land and homes were usurped by Bodo chauvinists,” the JuH spokesperson said. Muslim leaders demanded the Army and security forces seize illegal arms and ammunition from surrendered members of Bodoland Liberation Tigers (BLT), NDFB and other militant groups and also licenced arms from civilians.



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Peace eludes Pune post abortive bomb blasts;NE people attacked (Aug 18, 2012, Deccan Herald)

The spectacle of fear-stricken residents from North East swarming Pune railway station in a desperate bid to head for their home states, has had a benumbing effect on the second capital of Maharashtra which is still coming to terms with what could have been a potentially catastrophic serial bomb explosions a few days back. Despite stepped up efforts by authorities, social organisations and help groups to remove the fear stalking hundreds of students and workers from Assam and Manipur, rattled by beastly attacks in the last four days in Kondhwa, Hadapsar and Cantonment areas of the city, they continued to make a beeline towards the railway station. Their only goal for the time being appeared to catch “Azad Hind Express” that leaves the city every evening for Howrah.

“We are returning as our parents are worried. I will come back but as of now I am leaving with nine of my friends from Imphal,” said a female student at the railway station. Police believe that doctored MMS and SMS were the main provocation behind the attacks since August 12 in which about 15 NE residents in certain localities were targeted. Two of the 13 persons arrested by police reportedly confessed that the MMS and SMS that depicted violent incidents in Myanmar and Assam turned them vengeful, sources said. After approaching Facebook, Youtube and Google to remove some “objectionable links” and five videos in respect of the Assam violence, city police have now filed a complaint against “unknown persons” under the IT act, accusing them of exploiting the social networking sites to spread offensive false and intimidating messages.

According to City Police Commissioner Gulabrao Pol, who has circulated a message in the city guaranteeing safety of NE people asking them not to heed rumours, the situation had been totally under control after police swung into action to book the culprit. He, however, admitted that police had not been able to stop the people from leaving the city mainly due to the fear factor stemming from unfounded rumours and threats of a backlash. Over 4000 NE residents who, in addition to students comprise workers hired by security agencies and construction firms as well as those employed with Chinese food joints, have so far reportedly left the city in the last few days, with railway authorities arranging for extra bogies to accommodate a continuously swelling number of passengers.

At a meeting held here on Friday, representatives of various organisations from the city as well as local corporators and MLAs exhorted the NE population here to stay put and ignore rumours as the situation did not warrant an exodus triggered by pressing of the panic button. Rozin Singh, an MLA from Mizoram who was one of the invitees at the meeting, also addressed by top police officers and district collector, said, “I appeal to all NE people in Pune not to leave the city as the situation is normal. Police have taken proper security measures to infuse confidence among people. There have been no fresh attacks in the city.”

In addition to police helpline, some social organisations have floated their own helpline giving the numbers to the affected NE residents and providing them with food and medicine during their journey back home after failing to dissuade them from leaving the city. A 24-hour-vigil is being maintained by police and para-military forces in Kondhwa and Cantonment localities of the city to prevent any untoward incident.



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‘No murder charges applicable on those arrested for Azad Maidan violence’ (Aug 14, 2012, Twocircles.net)

Murder charges under section 302 did not apply to any one of the 23 arrested for violence in Azad Maidan, said Adv. Khalid Azmi on Tuesday. Adv. Khalid Azmi is one of the lawyers, fighting the cases of those arrested in Azad Maidan violence case. Khalid argued, “None of the Policemen who were attacked by the mob died in the violence so there is no question of imposing section 302 of the Indian Penal Code on anyone of the arrested.”

He alleged that people have complained to him that Police have arrested indiscriminately and even Police Commissioner, Arup Patnaik, has to intervene to stop this. He said in the remand application the Investigation Officer-IO wrote that 2 SLR are missing for which we like to inquire these 23 accused. Whereas the same I Officer in the court said that we found those missing SLRs and one of my fellow advocate noted it and brought it on record.

23 accused are arrested were charged under various act of IPC including, Rioting, Dacoity, unlawful Assembly with deadly weapon, Assaulting Public Servant, promoting enmity between different group, assault on women, Attempt to murder and Murder.



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CM Akhilesh’s riot scorecard: 5 in last 75 days, 0 chargesheet (Aug 20, 2012, Indian Express)

Uttar Pradesh has witnessed riots at five places in the last two-and-a-half months during the reign of Akhliesh Yadav. Seven people died and several others, including policemen, were injured in these riots. Bareilly witnessed rioting twice in the last one month and still remains under curfew. Curfew was also imposed in Allahabad and Kosi Kalan in Mathura. In connection with these riots, police have lodged 108 FIRs and arrested 400 people on various charges, including murder, attempt to murder, rioting, damage to public property and setting ablaze police and private vehicles and houses. No chargesheets have been filed in any of the cases and police claim that the investigation is on.

The state witnessed the first riot under the new SP government on June 1, when two communities clashed over using water at a religious site in Kosi Kalan area of Mathura. Clashing groups torched vehicles and pelted stones on each other. Four persons were killed in the violence and curfew was imposed. Police lodged 50 FIRs and arrested 40 people. Nearly 400 people were held under preventive detention and arms licences of 100 were seized. Police said they are looking into the role of former BSP minister Chowdhary Laxmi Narayan, his younger brother and MLC Chowdhary Lekhraj, and his nephew Nardev, who were also booked.

Paratapgarh was the second to witness riot on June 23 when 46 houses of Muslims were torched at Asthan village following the gangrape and murder of a minor Dalit girl on June 20. People were angry over the police’s “late reaction” to the incident. Violence erupted when the body of the girl was being taken for cremation. Before the police could react, people from nearby villages came in support of the community that had gone on the offensive. Due to constant stone-pelting, it took several hours for the police to enter the village and regain control. Two FIRs were registered and 30 people have been arrested till now. Bareilly district saw rioting twice in less than one month. The first took place on July 23 after an altercation between a group of kanwarias and a tea stall vendor.

Two groups exchanged fire and also set markets and shops on fire. Soon, the tension broke out in other areas. Three people died and several others were injured. Curfew was imposed in five police station areas. Riot took place in Bareilly again on August 11 – four days after the curfew was lifted. Clashes took place at two different places at Shyamganj crossing and Jagatpur locality. This time, the trigger was pelting of stones on a religious procession. This led to heavy brick-batting and firing in which three got injured and one suffered bullet injury. The administration imposed curfew in four police station areas which is still in force. A total of 38 FIRs have been filed and 293 people have been arrested.

The latest rioting took place in Lucknow and Allahabad districts on Friday where mob smashed vehicles, stones shops and passerby, beat up mediapersons and vandalised Buddha Park in Lucknow, allegedly in protest against “atrocities on Muslims” in Myanmar and Assam. The mob armed with sticks, rods and daggers went on a rampage for two hours in both cities. In Allahabad, the violence was on a lesser scale, but the district administration had to impose curfew. In Lucknow, police registered five FIRs but are yet to make any arrest, while in Allahabad, police have lodged two FIRs and arrested 15 people.



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HC slams police for not acting against Kanda (Aug 18, 2012, Indian Express)

Rejecting an application for granting anticipatory bail to former Haryana minister Gopal Goyal Kanda, the Delhi High Court on Friday pulled up Delhi Police for “delaying the investigation” and making no serious attempt to arrest him.

“This application appears to have been filed only to bring on record from the side of the police that the accused has gone underground and the police is unable to arrest him so that investigation gets delayed. This application is dismissed,” Justice P K Bhasin said.

The court said the vakalatnama, executed by Kanda on August 13, had been identified by a lawyer six days before it was signed by the accused. The court said if Kanda himself had signed the vakalatnama then there was no justification for his brother, Govind Kumar, filing the bail plea on his behalf without authorisation.

Justice Bhasin observed that though the FIR in the case was registered on August 5 and co-accused Aruna Chadha was arrested on August 7, police merely issued a notice to Kanda to join the investigation. “Because of all these actions of the police, the concerned accused appears to be sitting comfortably somewhere…” he said.



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Revenue department starts final assessment of Ramdev’s assets (Aug 19, 2012, Indian Express)

The Revenue department has begun a final tax assessment of the trusts associated with yoga guru Ramdev after service and I-T officials recently conducted special probes on these enterprises for alleged tax evasion. Both the revenue collection arms of Finance Ministry’s Income Tax and Service Tax departments have recently issued notices to these trusts which are now being contested by Ramdev. Officials of Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB) and Directorate General of Central Excise Intelligence (DGCEI) are assessing the income and service tax liability of these trusts run by Ramdev.

“An inquiry has been initiated to ascertain the Service Tax liability on Ramdev’s trusts. Prima facie, there were some commercial activities like sale of coupons to participate in yoga camps and sales of products (claimed to be of medicinal use) by Patanjali Yoga Peeth run by him. The department is assessing them,” a source said. Officials said that information related to the sponsors and the source of money used in conducting various programmes across the country by Ramdev’s trusts were being collected. When contacted, Ramdev’s spokesperson S K Tijarawala claimed the trusts are exempted from tax net as they are doing charitable activities and not running a commercial enterprise.

“We will cooperate with all the agencies in their probe. We do not have anything to hide. Yoga camps are barred from paying service tax as they are meant for providing medical relief to the people,” he contended. The I-T department, in May, has also slapped a notice of Rs 58 crore on the sale of the ayurvedic medicines by these trusts. The Service Tax department has similarly raised a demand of about Rs 5 crore on the ‘yog shivirs’ run by Ramdev’s trusts. Economic intelligence agencies are also verifying other activities done by Ramdev’s trusts to ascertain any service tax evasions.

“The DGCEI will also seek details of various activities done by Ramdev’s trusts. A letter in this regard may be issued soon,” the source said. Ramdev, who is leading a campaign against black money in the country, heads an organisation that runs the trusts which manages the manufacture and sale of ayurvedic medicines in India and abroad. The Service Tax department has already issued a notice to Patanjali Yoga Peeth for sale of entry coupons for yoga camps. Thousands of people have participated in these camps conducted across the country.

Ramdev’s trusts are also under the scanner of the Enforcement Directorate for alleged contravention of foreign exchange rules. The yoga guru had declared his business empire to be worth more than Rs 1,100 crore. The capital involving the four trusts run by him totalled Rs 426.19 crore while the expenditure incurred on them amounted to Rs 751.02 crore. While the Divya Yoga Mandir trust has a capital of Rs 249.63 crore, Patanjali Yoga Peeth trust has Rs 164.80 crore, Bharat Swabhiman trust Rs 9.97 crore and Acharyakul Shiksha Sansthan Rs 1.79 crore – all totaling Rs 426.19 crore.



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Forces refuse to help Naxal victim (Aug 17, 2012, Deccan Chronicle)

A remote village in Chhattisgarh witnessed a heartening incident of a Naxal victim’s brother being forced to turn his motorcycle into a bier to carry the body to the local police station from the nearby jungle, where the kin was killed, after the forces allegedly refused to accompany him fearing attack by Maoists, official reports reaching here on Thursday said.

Rup Singh Dhrub tied the body of his brother Rahman (42), killed by Naxals on August 14 by slitting his throat, in the wooden planks and fixed them in the back of his bike to carry the mortal remains from Jholaraw jungles to Sobha police station, in Gariabandh district to help police conduct post-mortem on it.

The body was handed over to Rup Singh by the police after the post-mortem for performing last rites. “The post-mortem was conducted in Sobha police station. Rup Singh carried the body to his village of Cholaram to perform the last rites on August 14,” a senior district police officer said, privately confiding that the police was not willing to recover the body from Jholaraw jungle fearing that the ultras might have laid a trap for them there.

The incident, however, triggered a public outrage with people here demanding action against the police officers concerned for having failed to come to the rescue of the deceased’s family members.

However, Nitin Upadhyaya, inspector-in-charge of Sobha police station claimed that by the time the police learnt about the killing, the body was already retrieved by the victim’s brother. Rahman Singh Dhrub, who was serving as a teacher in the nearby Gorgaon primary school, was abducted by a group of armed guerrillas from his home on August 7 for allowing forces to spend a night in his school last month.



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Police atrocities on dalits: High court issues suo motu notice to Gujarat (Aug 10, 2012, Times of India)

The Gujarat high court on Thursday asked the state home secretary and Rajkot police commissioner to explain the alleged police atrocities on dalit women and children.

A bench of Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala took suo motu cognizance of the issue on basis of a letter from the president of Gujarat Dalit Sangathan, Jayanti Mankadia. The bench sought a reply from the concerned officials in two weeks.

In his letter, Mankadia sought action against the policemen under the Prevention of Atrocity Act for the alleged police action in Rajkot on June 25. He also demanded protection for the victims, who were allegedly tortured by the cops. The applicant has also sought a probe by the National Human Rights Commission.

According to case details, there were clashes between two members of the dalit community and Muslims in Rajkot in June, where primary school teacher and dalit leader Gunavant Rathod was killed. The residents of Ambedkarnagar took out a procession on June 25 to protest the killing. “Immediately after the rally, police forcefully entered residences in Ambedkarnagar and assaulted people, including women and children,” Mankadia alleged.

Rupa Sondarva (16) sustained spinal injuries and is now facing disability for life, he said in the letter adding, “Residents are not only facing multiple FIRs but also fearing retribution from the police and they need protection.” The HC, which decided to treat the letter as a writ petition, appointed advocate Shalin Mehta as amicus curiae to assist in the proceedings. The state government has been maintaining, on the other hand, that the police had to lob teargas shells to disperse the mob, as it blocked the road during the protest. When it did not work, cops took to caning which resulted in injuries to various persons. However, the complaint is to the contrary.



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Opinions and Editorials

Don’t blame the immigrant – By Nilim Dutta (Aug 16, 2012, Indian Express)

When opinions expressed by high constitutional functionaries on a human tragedy tend to bolster deep-rooted prejudices, they cannot be left unquestioned. H.S. Brahma, Election Commissioner of India, expressed his opinion on what caused the Kokrajhar riots (‘How to share Assam’, IE, July 28) by not only blaming illegal Bangladeshi immigrants for the violence but also hinting that the illegal immigrants being Muslim perhaps increases the enormity of the threat. I have a few questions to ask. The EC claims, “recent ethnic clashes between Hindu Bodos and Muslim immigrants… were unfortunate. However, the clashes were not wholly unexpected. The question that is generally asked is: why did it take a few decades to occur in the first place? Assam has been virtually sitting on a huge tinderbox.”

The EC would want us to believe that the spate of ethnic violence that has erupted in the Bodoland Territorial Districts of Assam is due to illegal Muslim immigrants. If this is so, would he explain why there were recurrent clashes between Hindu Bodos and not-at-all Muslim adivasis in Kokrajhar and Chirang, which have left thousands of adivasis homeless and still living in relief camps after more than a decade, unable to return to their homes? Would he explain why a majority of the 32,613 families (as per figures provided by the government of Assam) still living in relief camps are adivasis? To the best of my knowledge, they had not been attacked and uprooted by Muslim immigrants. The adivasis were not illegal immigrants nor were their numbers multiplying alarmingly to pose a threat to Bodos. Why were they massacred then, in some of the bloodiest acts of ethnic cleansing, in the 1990s?

The EC further writes, “Any knowledgeable person in Assam knows well enough that migration into the state started during the late 1960s and early 1970s.” That the migration of impoverished Bengali Muslim peasants from East Bengal to the British province of Assam began in the late 1800s is a well-documented historic fact. The EC’s claims are as factually untenable as they are historically inaccurate. It is important to understand that the immigrants and natives have lived cheek-by-jowl for over a century and, in spite of occasional friction, hostility between the communities is not such that bloodshed is inevitable. He also says, “It has been alleged… that out of the 27 districts in Assam, 11 of them are going to be Muslim majority districts once the 2011 census figures, religion-wise, are published by the census authorities.” I do not understand why 11 districts of Assam becoming Muslim majority should be a cause for alarm, unless the EC is claiming that these districts are becoming Muslim majority by virtue of illegal immigration alone. But does he have believable evidence to make such a claim? Interestingly, the EC himself admits there are only about 1.5 lakh D-voters or doubtful voters in Assam, not really a significant total given the size of Assam’s electorate. Where is the votebank of illegal Muslim immigrants about to usurp numerical majority in 11 of Assam’s districts then?

Contrary to perception, the decadal growth rate of the population in Assam has been declining and has been lower than that of India since 1991, as revealed by census figures. Also, can we overlook the fact that the language report shows those districts that would perhaps turn Muslim majority would also show an overwhelming Assamese majority? Would it still be a problem if these districts turned Muslim majority on the strength of Muslims who have legitimately settled in Assam and have slowly assimilated into the native culture, adopting Assamese as their language? The EC is firm that the “present ethnic clashes between the two communities can be directly attributed to the aforementioned facts of illegal migration into Assam… the population in all these areas has been going up by leaps and bounds”. But if he were to check some figures provided by the census (Provisional Totals Assam Paper 1, I(I) Census of India, 2011, Annexure 2, Table 1) he would see that between 1991-2001, the decadal growth rate of the population in Kokrajhar, where the current spate of ethnic clashes begun, has been 14.49 per cent, lower than the corresponding figures for Assam and India, put at 18.92 per cent and 21.54 per cent respectively.

Between 2001-11, the decadal growth rate of the population in Kokrajhar declined to 5.19 per cent, whereas for Assam and India the decline was 16.93 per cent and 17.64 per cent respectively. Do these figures for Kokrajhar indicate population increase in “leaps and bounds”, as he claims? The population density of Kokrajhar district is one of the lowest – 266 and 280 persons per square kilometre for 1991-2001 and 2001-11 respectively (Provisional Totals Assam Paper 1, Census of India, 2011). In the geographically contiguous district of Dhubri, population densities were 941 and 1,171 persons per sq km for 1991-2001 and 2001-11 respectively. Do these figures indicate immense pressure on land due to encroachment by illegal Muslim immigrants to the extent that it would trigger ethnic clashes? The EC appears to have allowed his opinions to be coloured by prejudice.



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Hate Story Revivals – By Debarshi Dasgupta, Panini Anand (Aug 27, 2012, Outlook)

Is the communal fire from Assam spreading to other parts of India? The large-scale departure of Northeast migrants from Bangalore certainly doesn’t look like it’s going to be the last of the spillover from Bodoland. Last week, a Mumbai rally called to condemn the killings of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar ended in mob violence that left two dead and several injured. Police suspect that videos and pictures from the two restive regions were deliberately circulated beforehand to inflame tensions among the Muslim audience. Similar propaganda material is also suspected to be behind the Pune attacks on students from the Northeast. The local police have arrested several Muslim men who, they say, were behind the attacks. But there’s also been another theory doing the rounds—that it is the RSS which is circulating some of these rumours to create an atmosphere of hatred which suits the politics they support. Ahead of the two state elections this year (including Gujarat) and as many as nine next year (Karnataka, MP, Delhi and Rajasthan among them), Assam’s ethnic clashes come as a timely pretext for those out to engage in communal politics. Together with localised incidents in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere, many fear the recent developments signal a return of communalism to replace corruption as the electoral agenda.

Promptly off the blocks was Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi, who’s seeking a fourth consecutive term a few months from now. On Janmashtami day, writing on his blog, he accused the UPA of “promoting” cow slaughter and exporting beef to bring in a ‘Pink Revolution’. Modi didn’t even spare the PM for failing to make a mention of the violence in Mumbai in his Independence Day speech (Manmohan had made a reference to the Assam clashes). “Something so serious…how can the PM be quiet about it?” the CM asked. Baroda-based retired professor and activist J.S. Bandukwala says, “Modi has no choice, especially since he is facing a split in his own ranks. Creating a communal atmosphere is the only way he can tide over it.” When clashes first broke out in Assam in July, few imagined it would have such widespread communal repercussions. But developments have increasingly veered that way as entities, both Muslim and Hindu, seek to polarise and communalise the rhetoric. While the BJP has chosen to harp on illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Muslim political parties and their leaders (such as MP Asauddin Owaisi, who warned of a “third wave of radicalisation amongst Muslim youth”) have chosen to focus only on the plight of the Muslims in Bodoland.

The head of Assam’s leading opposition party, the predominantly Muslim All India United Democratic Front, Badruddin Ajmal, insists that 90 per cent of those killed in the violence are Muslims. How can any meaningful reconciliation come about in such a charged atmosphere? “This is not the situation to use for political mileage and profiteering. Unfortunately, exactly that has happened,” says Akhil Ranjan Dutta, associate professor of political science at Gauhati University. “The BJP and Sangh leaders are focussed only on making illegal migrants the culprits. On the other hand, the reaction of the Muslim fundamentalists and reactionary elements has been equally disturbing. And the more the issue is taken up at the national level, the more it has become communal,” he adds. Meanwhile, the police are investigating if the latest incidents in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad are all part of an organised attempt to provoke communal riots. An sms doing the rounds before the violence in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan asked, “Burma, Assam, Gujarat, Kashmir ke baad na jaane kahan? Burma mein Musalmano ke qatl-e-aam or zulm ke khilaf Azad Maidan may Sunday ko rally hai.” It went on to criticise the media for covering the gunning of Sikhs in the US in great detail but ignoring the killings of Muslims. “Is SMS ko Sunday se pehle Hindustan ki har Musalman or mantriyo or media tak pahunchao…,” it added. Worried, the central government has now asked states to keep track of social media, where most of this propaganda is being circulated.

In Mumbai, several people were seen climbing on to local trains with rods and petrol canisters, all of which were later used in the violence in and around Azad Maidan. While the obvious finger pointing has been at Muslim fundamentalists and the underworld, Mumbai-based Asghar Ali Engineer, who heads the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, says one can’t exclude the possibility of Hindu right-wing forces provoking the clash. “Hindu right-wing groups know very well now that they can’t have a repeat of Gujarat in 2002. They tried launching terror attacks, thinking Muslims will be blamed for them, but this too failed as the Hindu terror nexus was exposed. Now the new strategy is to focus on minor riots and identity-based isolation of groups and communities,” he says. Activist Harsh Mander adds that states and local officials must be made accountable to contain the communal violence. In Bangalore, migrants from the Northeast have suddenly begun fleeing en masse, fearing reprisal attacks from Muslims. Even presuming that the Muslims are furious and ready to turn violent, the question is would they be so foolhardy to do so in a BJP-ruled state? Simultaneously, the RSS has promptly stepped into the limelight, as defenders of the terrified people. They have also claimed they are not behind the rumours which called on migrants to flee the city before Id-ul-Fitr (around August 20), after which Muslims will apparently go on the rampage. Vishwa Samvad Kendra, the RSS’s news agency, is already busy distributing pictures of khaki-clad activists crowding around railway stations in Bangalore and talking to people from the Northeast.

While nobody is sure who is behind the rumours, the fear among the Northeast migrants in Karnataka is palpable. Last week, a Tibetan youth was stabbed mistakenly in Mysore by unidentified miscreants. Home minister R. Ashoka said as many as 6,800 Northeast migrants had left the city on Wednesday and another 1,000 had fled on Thursday by the time this report was filed. (Reports also talked of around 1,000 people gathering at Pune station in Maharashtra. Reports of northeasterners fleeing have also come from Kerala and AP). A communalised atmosphere is slowly building up, which has worrying consequences for states like Uttar Pradesh, already the scene for several localised riots this year. Shahid Siddiqui, recently expelled from the Samajwadi Party in UP, claims the state has deliberately chosen not to crack down to create a communal divide ahead of the 2014 LS elections. “Any polarisation is not just going to help the BJP, it’ll also help the SP and Congress. The so-called secular parties also benefit from keeping the Muslims jittery,” he says. Congress-ruled Rajasthan too has seen several communal incidents of late, including the violence in Gopalgarh in September 2011 that left 10 dead. The question India must confront as we head into several state and general elections is whether the communal cauldron is being stirred all over again.



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An Explosive Trail: NIA’s chargesheet nails Hindutva terror – By Chandrani Banerjee (Aug 27, 2012, Outlook)

For more than one and a half years after they occurred, the blasts on the Delhi-Lahore Samjhauta Express, which claimed 68 lives, were believed to be the handiwork of Islamist terrorist groups. The attack happened on February 18, 2007, the day before Pakistan’s then foreign minister, Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri, was arriving to resume peace talks. So sleuths suspected the hand of Islamist groups intent on derailing the Indo-Pak initiative. Now, the NIA has confirmed that the terror attack was actually the work of Hindutva outfits. The agency’s latest chargesheet, filed before additional sessions judge Kanchan Mahi and accessed by Outlook, puts their involvement on record; it also rules out the involvement of jehadi groups. The perpetrators were seeking revenge for a spate of attacks “on Hindu temples and Hindus”.

It was in November 2008 that the railway police and an SIT of Haryana police, the agencies that first took up the case, got a whiff of the blasts being linked to Hindu terror groups. The name they turned up was Prasad Shrikant Purohit, a colonel in Military Intelligence, who was linked to the Hindutva group Abhinav Bharat. (He’s now in jail, as investigations of Hindutva terror plots widen.) But definitive progress on that angle came since the NIA took up the case in July 2010. The chargesheet identifies the bomb-planters—Kamal Chauhan, Lokesh Sharma, Rajender Chaudhary, Amit Hakla and Sunil Joshi—as having had RSS links. In fact, Joshi, who was murdered in Dewas in December 2007, was an RSS pracharak. The chargesheet says the “blasts in Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif were carried out by the accused in pursuance of a criminal conspiracy”. The suitcases used in the Samjhauta blasts were bought on February 14, 2007, from Kothari market in Indore and packed with explosive chemicals, fuel oil and digital timers.

A steady build-up of the case began since December 2010, when the NIA claimed evidence of Swami Aseemanand, who was formerly with the RSS, being one of the masterminds. He confessed before a magistrate, but later retracted. In February this year, the NIA arrested Kamal Chauhan, a former RSS worker, in Indore. He is believed to be an associate of Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange, two absconding accused in the same case on whom the agency has announced a Rs 10 lakh reward. Chauhan apparently took part in a training session in the Bagli forest of Dewas district, Madhya Pradesh. Joshi, Kalsangra, Sharma, Hakla and one Rajender Chaudhary attended the session. Call records confirm that they were all in touch.

Arriving in Delhi by the Indore Intercity on fake names some time in November-December 2006, Chauhan and Chaudhary conducted recces of Jama Masjid and the Old Delhi railway station. Their assessment was that security at the mosque was tight, while it was lax at the railway station, so the Samjhauta Express was an easier target. The bomb-planters then took a Delhi train from Indore the day before the blasts. Arriving in the capital, they took a local train from Nizamuddin station to Old Delhi, stayed in dormitory, and reached the platform from which the targeted train was scheduled to depart at 11:05 pm. Job done, they went to Jaipur and took a bus to Indore. Chauhan and Sharma are at the Central Jail in Ambala, awaiting trial. The rest of the accused are absconding, and Joshi, one of the key persons involved, is dead. Still, the agency hopes to be able to build a solid case. It’s awaiting comparative reports of the bombs used to see if links can be established to the blasts in Malegaon in Maharashtra and Modasa in Gujarat. That would complete the picture of the Hindutva terror story.



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Quit India Movement And INA vs. Hindutva – By Shamsul Islam (Aug 14, 2012, Countercurrents)

…Most of us know that the then Communist Party of India opposed the QIM thus betraying a great phase of mass upsurge in the history of the freedom struggle. However, what role the then Hindutva camp consisting of Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Sawayamsevak Sangh remains in wrap for reasons unknown. The Hindutva camp together not only opposed both the QIM and INA but also provided multifaceted and multi-dimensional support to the British rulers in suppressing these movements. In this connection shocking documents are available to be read and believed. Hindutva brigade continues to pretend to have great admiration for Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose who attempted to organize a military campaign to force the British out of India. But very few people know about the terrible betrayal of his cause by Hindu Mahasabha under the leadership of Veer Savarkar. When Netaji during World War II was trying to secure foreign support, specially of Japan, for liberation of the country and trying to organize a military attack on the northeast of the country it was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar known as Veer Savarkar who offered full military co-operation to the British masters as early as 1941. While addressing 23rd session of Hindu Mahasabha at Bhagalpur, he said: “So far as India’s defence is concerned, Hindudom must ally unhesitatingly, in a spirit of responsive co-operation with the war effort of the Indian government in so far as it is consistent with the Hindu interests, by joining the Army, Navy and the Aerial forces in as large a number…Again it must be noted that Japan’s entry into the war has exposed us directly and immediately to the attack by Britain’s enemies. Consequently, whether we like it or not, we shall have to defend our own hearth and home against the ravages of the war and this can only be done by intensifying the government’s war effort to defend India. Hindu Mahasabhaits must, therefore, rouse Hindus especially in the provinces of Bengal and Assam as effectively as possible to enter the military forces of all arms without losing a single minute.”

When the British government in the wake of the World War II decided to raise new battalions of its armed forces, it was Hindu Mahasabha under direct command of Savarkar which decided to enroll Hindus in a big way in this venture. This is what Savarkar reported to the delegates at the Hindu Mahasabha session at Madura: “Naturally, the Hindu Mahasabha with a true insight into a practical politics decided to participate in all war efforts of the British government in so far as they concerned directly with the question of the Indian defence and raising new military forces in India.” It was not as if Veer Savarkar was unaware of the strong resentment which was brewing in the ranks of common Indians against such an approach. He brushed aside any criticism of Hindu Mahasabha decision of co-operating with the British in war efforts as, “political folly into which the Indian public is accustomed to indulge in thinking that because Indian interests are opposed to the British interests in general, any step in which we join hands with the British government must necessarily be an act of surrender, anti-national, of playing into the British hands and that co-operation with the British government in any case and under all circumstances is unpatriotic and condemnable.” While Congress under the leadership of MK Gandhi declared World War II as imperialist war and gave slogan ‘naa ek bhai, naa ek pie’ (not a single brother as recruit, not a single pie as contribution), Veer Savarkar strongly criticized this stand in the following words: “let it not be forgotten that those who fancy that they can claim of not having co-operated with the government and helped the war-efforts either on account of the demoralising and hypocritical fad of absolute non-violence and non-resistance even in face of an armed aggression or as a matter of policy simply because they do not join the fighting forces, are but indulging in self-deception and self-complacency.”

His call to the Hindus had no ambiguity: ‘Let the Hindus therefore come forward now and enter the army, the navy and the air-forces, the ordnance and other war-crafts factories in their thousands and millions.’ Those who declare Veer Savarkar as a great patriot and freedom fighter will surely bow their heads in shame when they read the following instruction from Veer Savarkar to those Hindus who were to join the British forces: “One point however must be noted in this connection as emphatically as possible in our own interest that those Hindus who join the Indian [read the British] Forces should be perfectly amenable and obedient to the military discipline and order which may prevail there provided always that the latter do not deliberately aim to humiliate Hindu Honour.” Astonishingly, Savarkar never felt that joining the armed forces of the colonial masters was in itself a great humiliation for any self-respecting and patriotic Hindu. Hindu Mahasabha under Savarkar’s leadership organised high-level War Boards in different regions of the country to help the Hindus seeking recruitment in the British armed forces. 7 Moreover, the Viceroy accommodated persons of Veer Savarkar’s choice in the National Defence Council to which Veer Savarkar thanked in the following telegram to the Viceroy and General Wavell, the Commander in-Chief of the British forces. “YOUR EXCELLENCY’S ANNOUNCEMENT DEFENCE COMMITTEE WITH ITS PERSONNEL IS WELCOME. HINDUMAHASABHA VIEWS WITH SPECIAL SATISFACTION APPOINTMENT OF MESSERS KALIKAR AND JAMNADAS MEHTA.” [As per the original text.]

In the wake of Quit India call to the British rulers on August 8, 1942, the British rulers dismissed the Congress led governments in many Provinces. The British rulers also unleashed a general reign of state terror and repression. While Congress cadres and large sections of Indian masses were facing immense repression of the colonial rulers and decided to boycott the state institutions, Hindu Mahasabha decided to cooperate with the British rulers. While addressing the 24th session of Hindu Mahasabha at Cownpore (now Kanpur) in 1942, Savarkar outlined the strategy of Hindu Mahasabha of co-operating with the rulers in the following words: “The Hindu Mahasabha holds that the leading principle of all practical politics is the policy of Responsive c o-operation. And in virtue of it, it believes that all those Hindu Sanghatanists who are working as councillors, ministers, legislators and conducting any municipal or any public bodies with a view to utilise those centres of government power to safeguard and even promote the legitimate interests of the Hindus without, of course, encroaching on the legitimate interests of others are rendering a highly patriotic service to our nation. Knowing the limitations under which they work, the Mahasabha only expects them to do whatever good they can under the circumstances and if they do not fail to do that much it would thank them for having acquitted themselves well. The limitations are bound to get themselves limited step by step till they get altogether eliminated. The policy of responsive co-operation which covers the whole gamut of patriotic activities from unconditional co-operation right up to active and even armed resistance, will also keep adapting itself to the exigencies of the time, resources at our disposal and dictates of our national interest.” …

The other flag-bearer of the Hindutva, RSS was not different in its attitude towards QIM and INA. It openly sided with its mentor Veer Savarkar’s campaign for recruitment in the British armed forces in early 1940s. It organized meetings with Veer Savarkar as main speaker calling upon Hindu youths to join the British forces. The RSS attitude towards the QIM can be known by the following utterances of its second chief and most prominent ideologue till date, MS Golwalkar. While talking about the outcome of Non-Cooperation Movement and QIM he said: “Definitely there are bound to be bad results of struggle. The boys became unruly after the 1920-21 movement. It is not an attempt to throw mud at the leaders. But these are inevitable products after the struggle. The matter is that we could not properly control these results. After 1942, people often started thinking that there was no need to think of the law.” Thus the prophet of Hindutva, Golwalkar wanted the Indians to respect the draconian and repressive laws of the inhuman British rulers! He admitted that this kind of negative attitude towards QIM did not go well even with the RSS cadres. “In 1942 also there was a strong sentiment in the hearts of many. At that time too the routine work of Sangh continued. Sangh vowed not to do anything directly. However, upheaval (uthal-puthal) in the minds of Sangh volunteers continued. Sangh is an organization of inactive persons, their talks are useless, not only outsiders but also many of our volunteers did talk like this. They were greatly disgusted too. ” It would be interesting to note what Golwalkar meant by ‘Routine work of Sangh’. It surely meant working overtime to widen the divide between Hindus and Muslims thus serving the strategic goal of the British rulers and the Muslim League. The failure of the QIM and INA was a tragedy for India’s freedom struggle. No doubt the British were the main culprits but there were other culprits too who need to be exposed.



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Orphans of Bhopal – By N.D. Jayaprakash (Aug 11, 2012, Frontline)

The survivors of the world’s worst chemical disaster, the Bhopal gas tragedy, which happened on December 3, 1984, continue to remain victims of apathy and neglect, mostly because of utter indifference on the part of the Madhya Pradesh government and the Centre towards their well-being. The man-made disaster resulted from the escape of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas from one of the three partially underground storage tanks, which contained about 42 tonnes of the highly toxic and reactive chemical, from the premises of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), a subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), United States. Institutions under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which initially took an active interest in unravelling all the ramifications of the disaster, have failed to live up to their potential in this regard. The brazen manner in which the ICMR discontinued all medical research relating to the disaster as early as 1994 speaks volumes about the indifference of the premier health research institution in the country towards the health needs of the gas victims. (In 2010, the organisations fighting for the cause of the victims succeeded in forcing the ICMR to reopen its Bhopal centre, now named the National Institute for Research in Environmental Health, or NIREH.) However, the ICMR is frantically trying to limit the commitment of the NIREH to health issues arising from environmental contamination caused by UCC/UCIL before the 1984 disaster and is, therefore, making every attempt to ensure that the NIREH refrains from tackling health issues relating to the 1984 disaster. While efforts at proposing ways and means to remediate the contaminated environment are most welcome, to use the issue of environmental damage as a cover for glossing over the impact of the MIC disaster is wholly unwarranted.

What is equally bad is that a period of nearly three decades has apparently not been enough for the judicial system – both at the lower and higher levels – to dispense justice to the hapless victims. As far as the national media are concerned, they highlighted the plight of the victims for the first time ever in 2010. But thereafter the fate of the victims has practically remained a non-issue, unworthy of media attention. In short, for all practical purposes, the more than five lakh survivors of the disaster continue to remain orphans within the Indian polity. Despite causing the death of over 20,000 innocent people, the perpetrators of the tragedy seem to have hardly lost any sleep over it. The maximum discomfiture the accused have had to suffer in the past 28 years was detention for a period ranging from barely six hours to 12 days – way back in December 1984. It has been business as usual for them ever since. Immediately after the disaster, UCC and UCIL did everything within their powers to underplay the gravity and implications of the disaster. Not only did their officials fail to forewarn the local population of the precautionary measures to be taken in case of an accidental release of MIC, but after the disaster they tried to mislead local doctors about the grievous impact of exposure to MIC. Says a report published in 1985: “As victims crowded into the Hamidia Hospital, L.D. Loya, the company’s medical officer, told the frantic doctors: ‘The gas is non-poisonous. There is nothing to do except to ask the patients to put a wet towel over their eyes.'”

In fact, “…local Carbide officials… kept on insisting that MIC is only an irritant and not lethal”. Apparently, a section of the local medical fraternity and the local administration, too, actively colluded with Carbide officials in misleading the public. Later, when post-mortem reports started revealing that many of the deaths may have occurred because of “cyanide” poisoning, the insidious propaganda to conceal the truth further intensified. The underlying reason for this was that since “cyanide” was well known as a highly poisonous chemical, Carbide officials did not want people to associate MIC with “cyanide”. The concerted attempts at spreading such misinformation had serious repercussions. For example, it resulted in non-administration of sodium thiosulphate – the only known antidote to cyanide poisoning – to the vast majority of the exposed victims when timely administration of the same may have saved many lives and prevented aggravation of injuries. The pro-Carbide lobby also managed to scuttle the attempt at assessing the overall impact of the disaster on the people. It so happened that in collaboration with the State government, a voluntary initiative was made by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, in this direction through a house-to-house survey in the gas-affected areas of Bhopal with the help of over 500 student and teacher volunteers from several schools of social work across the country. However, after a considerable volume of data was collected in January-February 1985 from about 25,000 households, or about one-fourth of the total affected population (as per ICMR estimates), the State government arbitrarily disbanded the TISS survey.

As a result, the opportunity to make a comprehensive assessment of the impact of the disaster immediately after it had occurred was lost. It was left to individuals to prove that they (or their kin) were victims, by filing individual claims for compensation – a tedious process that began only after September 1985 with the promulgation of the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Registration and Processing of Claims) Scheme. Earlier, following public pressure, the State government had instituted a public inquiry three days after the disaster. It set up the Bhopal Poisonous Gas Leakage (1984) Inquiry Commission under the chairmanship of Justice N.K. Singh, who was then a sitting judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. To the utter dismay of the gas victims and all concerned, the government, after having dithered in its submissions before the commission until December 12, 1985, terminated the commission on December 17, 1985. In short, while every attempt was made to underplay the magnitude and grievousness of the disaster, very little effort was made either to compensate the victims adequately or to ensure that the guilty officials of UCC, Union Carbide Eastern (UCE) and UCIL were punished for their horrendous crime. Initially, it did appear that the Central government was totally committed to the cause of the gas victims when in para 6 of the complaint against UCC, which was filed before the New York Southern District Court on April 8, 1985, it had stated as follows: “Because of the massive unprecedented magnitude of the Bhopal disaster…, the Union of India brings this action as parens patriae by virtue of its interest and duty to secure the health and well-being, both physical and economic, of all victims of the disaster (including future generations of victims), almost all of whom are physically and/or financially or otherwise incapable of individually litigating their claims against the defendant, a monolithic, multinational corporation.”

On May 12, 1986, the New York court dismissed the Indian government’s plea while directing UCC to submit to the jurisdiction of the Indian courts. Consequently, on September 5, 1986, the Government of India filed an almost similar suit (No.1113/86) for damages in the Bhopal District Court. However, UCC had no intention of facing trial in India and, therefore, it attempted to sell off its global assets as a way of evading liability. After the government brought this reported move on the part of UCC to the attention of the Bhopal court, it issued a temporary injunction on November 17, 1986, barring UCC from selling assets, paying dividends or buying back debts. After the Centre indicated that its claim for damages from UCC would exceed $3,000 million, the Bhopal court passed an order on November 30, 1986, lifting the injunction on the condition that UCC would maintain “unencumbered assets of a fair market value of 3 billion dollars to meet the decree if any that may be passed by this court”. Later, in response to a proposal from victim groups and at its own initiative, the Bhopal court ordered UCC on December 17, 1987, to pay an interim compensation of Rs.350 crore (then $270 million) to the victims. However, on UCC’s appeal, on April 4, 1988, the High Court modified the order of the Bhopal court and ordered UCC to pay an interim compensation of only Rs.250 crore. After both UCC and the Government of India opposed the decision, the Supreme Court, on September 8, 1988, admitted both UCC’s and the Union of India’s special leave petitions (SLPs) against the High Court’s order as civil appeals (C.A. Nos.3187-3188 of 1988). What is most intriguing is that during the hearing in the Supreme Court on the civil appeals, on February 14/15,1989, the court ordered settlement of the main suit itself, which was then pending before the Bhopal court. As is evident from the article titled “The Crime of Union Carbide” published in Counterpunch, the biweekly American newsletter, the settlement took place on the very day the U.S. government granted permission to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to inspect UCC’s pesticide manufacturing site at Institute in West Virginia, U.S. But the abrupt settlement effectively prevented the CBI from inspecting the safety systems installed at the plant, which would have proved beyond doubt that UCC had installed substandard safety systems at its Bhopal plant.…



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Gopal Kanda’s can of worms – By Brijesh Pandey and Sai Manish (Aug 25, 2012, Tehelka)

From hawaii chappal to hawai jahaaj (flip-flops to aeroplanes), Gopal Goyal Kanda’s meteoric rise is a classic rags-to-riches story. The wheeler-dealer from Sirsa was touted to be one of the rising stars of Haryana politics until a suicide note sent him on the run from the state police. Kanda, 48, an independent MLA who held the home, urban bodies and the commerce portfolios in the Haryana government, was reportedly planning to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in a bid to step on to the national stage. But he has already grabbed national attention after Geetika Sharma, 23, who worked as an air hostess at Kanda’s now-defunct MDLR Airlines, committed suicide on 5 August, leaving behind a note blaming him for her death. So, who is Gopal Kanda, the mystery man who has managed to give the police the slip for more than a week?

Kanda’s origins were extremely humble. His father Murli Dhar was a lawyer at the Sirsa district court and was not known to have a flourishing practice. Some neighbours recall that he primarily used to deal in petty criminal cases. Gopal was the eldest among three brothers and a sister – and perhaps the most ambitious of the lot. A school dropout, Kanda started off doing odd jobs such as renting novels, repairing radios, even running a kaleidoscope shop. Soon, he used his savings to start Shoe Camp, a footwear store in Sirsa, which was upgraded to a small shoe factory in 1994. Kanda’s business acumen was inversely proportional to his ambitions. His stock started plummeting in the trading circles because he would often default on borrowed money. In a small town like Sirsa, with its closely-knit trading community, he soon became an outcast. During his trading days, Kanda got close to Abhay Chautala, the son of Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Om Prakash Chautala, and became his lackey. “Kanda has the ability to read your mind and conjure up exactly what you want,” says a close associate who wished to remain anonymous. “Sirsa was just a small town with 2-3 lakh people. Gopal Kanda was a nobody and Abhay Chautala was the prince of Haryana. Soon, Kanda became Abhay’s stooge, which in itself was quite an achievement.”

In the meantime, Kanda also became friendly with a powerful IAS officer, who took him along to Gurgaon when he was posted there in 1997-98. It was he who arranged the first tranche of cash (Rs 25 lakh) and a list of few properties that were disputed. Kanda opened an office in Sector 14, Gurgaon, where he dabbled in a readymade garments business as well as real estate. The garment business failed but realty turned out to be Kanda’s calling in life and he never looked back since. Kanda acted as the front man for the IAS officer. His modus operandi was to buy disputed land for a low price, settle the dispute with the help of the IAS officer, and then sell the property for a premium. “The IAS officer was not the only one. When Kanda came to Gurgaon, the Bansi Lal government was in power and his relative Ajit Singh was the local tehsildar. Kanda became close to him. You cannot dabble in such business without support from powerful people. Kanda worked with him for close to two years,” says former Haryana deputy speaker and INLD leader Gopi Chand Gehlot. In 1999, when Om Prakash Chautala became the chief minister, fortune smiled on Kanda. He rose to dizzying heights during this period under the alleged protection and tutelage of Abhay Chautala. The senior Chautala’s tenure also coincided with the property boom in Gurgaon. The IT sector and the call centre industry came to Gurgaon at around the same time.

Kanda made a killing in influencing the change of land use, from agriculture to residential and commercial, which was the single biggest reason behind the astronomical growth in the wealth of politicians and landholders. For example, land that was bought for Rs 25 lakh per acre in 2002 became worth more than Rs 5 crore in just three years. Till 2005, it was alleged that Kanda was Chautalas’ front man, who took care of almost every big deal that happened in the satellite city. However, INLD leaders look away in disgust at the mere mention of Kanda’s name now. From Om Prakash Chautala downwards, they all deny that he was close to them. “He was never a member of the INLD,” says Chautala. Prod another senior INLD leader a bit and he agrees that Kanda must have reaped some benefits through the Sirsa connection. “Our government came to power in 1999. People allege that he rose when we were in power. To the best of my understanding, he took advantage of the Sirsa connection. People like him very easily develop closeness.” Kanda’s proximity to the Chautalas can be gauged from the fact that when the Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led Congress government came to power in 2005, the intelligence wing of the Haryana Police was asked to investigate the source of Kanda’s wealth. According to police sources, the real purpose of the investigation was to trap the Chautalas through Kanda, who was widely known as the Chautalas’ Man Friday. In 2007, this dossier was handed over to the internal security division of the Union home ministry.

According to the dossier, “Till five years ago, Gopal Kanda and his family did not own much property. When his assets were looked into, it was found that Kanda and his family has now amassed properties worth hundreds of crores.” … According to this dossier, Kanda and his family are associated with many companies. Sources say that Kanda either owns or is a director in at least 36 companies. It was based on this dossier that a team of Income Tax officers raided Kanda’s office and residence in 2008 to assess the value of his properties. The officers were assaulted by Kanda’s supporters and 18 of them were later arrested. Meanwhile, Kanda ploughed back a portion of his Gurgaon riches into Sirsa. He pumped in crores for refurbishing the ashram of the late godman Baba Tara, who had a huge following in Sirsa. Kanda’s father was a devotee of Baba Tara.Thanks to Kanda, the festival of Mahashivratri became a major attraction at the ashram in Sirsa. Every Mahashivratri, celebrities were flown in from Mumbai to perform at the ashram. In 2005, actress Hema Malini re-enacted conversations of Shiva and Parvati in a dance form. Her husband Dharmendra paid a visit to the ashram after he won the Bikaner Lok Sabha seat on a BJP ticket. Singers such as Anuradha Paudwal, Nishta Sharma, Gurdas Maan and Narendra Chanchal have also performed at the ashram. …



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