IAMC Weekly News Roundup – February 25th, 2013
In this issue of IAMC News Roundup
- Hyderabad blasts: Interruption of Hindutva organizations
- CJI expresses concern over ‘media trial’
- Indian-Americans condemn Hyderabad blasts
- No change in policy on visa to Modi: US
- IPS officer arrested in Ishrat fake encounter
- Ishrat Jahan fake encounter: Vaghela, Vanar to be CBI’s next targets
- BJP govt failed in Dhar
- Murder of popular Muslim cleric sparks clashes in Bengal
- Dowry, assault: Ex-ACP in the dock
Opinions & Editorials
- Nothing Learnt – B. Raman
- Mirage of development – By Lyla Bavadam
- Can you hear sounds of Fascist jack-boots in India? – By Amaresh Misra
- Living in fear – By T.K. Rajalakshmi
- Shamelessly shooting to kill – By Teesta Setalvad
- Weapons Payload – By Toral Varia Deshpande
Indian Americans outraged over bomb blasts in Dilsukhnagar area of Hyderabad
Thursday February 21, 2013
The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC – www.iamc.com), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos has expressed its unequivocal condemnation of the twin bomb blasts in Hyderabad’s crowded Dilsukhnagar area that has claimed over a dozen lives and wounded scores of others.
IAMC is extending its deepest sympathies to the victims and families of those affected by these blasts. Once again, innocent people have been targeted by those motivated by hate and a twisted worldview that is devoid of basic compassion for fellow humans.
“The fact that the nation continues to suffer such senseless loss of life shows that our responses to earlier terror attacks have been deeply flawed and severely inadequate,” said Ahsan Khan, President of IAMC. “Law enforcement agencies should conduct a thorough and transparent investigation before pressing charges against any individual or group,” added Mr. Khan.
The fact that some media outlets have started sensationalizing the incident by naming specific groups even before the investigation has progressed is highly irresponsible. As experience with several terror acts in recent years has shown, attempts to stereotype and scapegoat an entire community can devastate hundreds of innocent lives, ruined by having to spend years behind bars for the crimes of others, only to be found innocent later. The witch-hunts launched after the blasts in Mecca Masjid, Samjhauta Express and the multiple terror acts in Malegaon are some examples of the tragedy unleashed by inept and discriminatory law enforcement.
In this difficult hour, IAMC calls upon members of every community, especially the leadership of various organizations, to help foster communal amity and eschew any rhetoric that could build sectarian tensions.
Indian-American Muslim Council (formerly Indian Muslim Council-USA) is the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the United States with 13 chapters across the nation.
For more information please visit our new website at: https://www.iamc.com
1. 13 killed, 83 injured as twin blasts rock Hyderabad
2. Irresponsible and sensational media coverage glooms over Hyderabad twin bomb blasts
3. Two blasts rock Hyderabad, toll at least 11
4. Hyderabad twin blasts: Cries and chaos rent the air at hospitals
Indian American Muslim Council
Phone: (800) 839-7270
6321 W Dempster St. Suite 295
Morton Grove, IL 60053
Hyderabad blasts: Interruption of Hindutva organizations (Feb 21, 2013, Siasat)
Immediately after bomb explosion Dilsukhnagar, activists of ABVP, BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal assembled at the site of the bomb blast. They obstructed the investigating agencies in collecting evidences. In such cases, it is essential to keep the site of the incident safe because there is an apprehension that necessary evidences could be destroyed. This would create confusions in finding out the system of explosions and to identify the culprits.
On such occasions, Hindutva outfits exhibit their enthusiasm and without knowing the facts, start blaming a particular community Hindutva activists gathered in large numbers at Dilsukhnagar yesterday and started shouting slogans against a particular community. They also began to spread venom speeches.
Very often, it was observed that police also doesn’t bother to preserve the site of the incident. In the case of Bomb last case of Dilsukhnagar, police didn’t take care to preserve evidences. Hindutva activists obstructed the investigating officials from reaching the site of bomb explosion. These activists reached the place of bomb blast and disturbed the articles which were shattered. Taking advantage of this situation, BJP activists continued shouting slogans against the Muslims.
- Terror witch hunt begins in Hyd, Muslim youths being detained (Feb 24, 2013, Twocircles.net)
- Need to interrogate false information providers of blast (Feb 22, 2013, Siasat)
- ‘No Azamgarh link to blast’ (Feb 23, 2013, The Hindu)
- Intel agencies to be made accountable to Parliament? (Feb 23, 2013, Times of India)
CJI expresses concern over ‘media trial’ (Feb 23, 2013, Times of India)
Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir today expressed grave concern over growing practise of “media trial” and said it could prejudice against the accused. “(Media trial) it is a matter of grave concern. This should not happen,” Kabir told reporters on the sidelines of East Zone Regional Judicial Conference on ‘Administration of Criminal Justice: Issues and Challenges’ here.
“It (media trial) can prejudice against an accused in a case,” he said. “The issue should be left to the courts to decide,” the CJI added. In reply to a question on reducing the age of juvenile from existing 18 years to 16, the demand for which came from different corners in view of involvement of a juvenile in Delhi gangarape case, Kabir said, “It can be only done by Parliament and nobody else can do it.”
On the issue of witness protection, the CJI said there should be proper protection for witnesses. “Witness protection should be there,” he said. Asked if he was satisfied with the level of witness protection now, Kabir said it should be more developed. Earlier, addressing the conference, Kabir said the concept of witness protection in the country was almost not available.
“There is not even proper sitting arrangement for witness in courts…we are not providing even minimum facilities to witnesses,” he said. The three-day conference organised by Patna High Court Bihar Judicial Acadey and National Judicial Academy was inaugurated here yesterday.
- Protect minorities from harassment post-Hyderabad bombings: Amnesty International (Feb 23, 2013, Deccan Herald)
- ‘Uphold The Principles Of Fair, Independent And Unbiased Investigation’ (Feb 23, 2013, Outlook)
- Rights, secular organisations warn against presumptions (Feb 23, 2013, The Hindu)
- Hyderabad blasts: Indian Muslims concerned about the witch-hunt (Feb 22, 2013, Twocircles.net)
Indian-Americans condemn Hyderabad blasts (Feb 23, 2013, Times of India)
Indian-Americans have condemned the Hyderabad bomb blasts, demanding a speedy investigation into the incident to bring the culprits to justice. In a statement, the Indian National Overseas Congress described the blasts as a crime against humanity.
Calling the bombings as terrorist act, INOC president George Abraham urged the State and Central law enforcement agencies to conduct a speedy investigation and punish the perpetrators to the full extent of the law.
Another Indian American group NRI-SAHI demanded a CBI probe into the attack. “We offer our condolences and sympathies to the families of the people who died in the attack and pray for the recovery of those who were injured in the attack,” a statement said. Two powerful blasts in a crowded area close to a cluster of bus stands in Hyderabad killed 16 people and injured over 100 on Thursday.
- Muslim leaders condemn Hyderabad bomb blasts (Feb 23, 2013, The Hindu)
- Released after ‘interrogation’ detained Muslim youths feel ‘hurt’ (Feb 25, 2013, Twocircles.net)
- Engineering student held for terror mail (Feb 25, 2013, Times of India)
- Don’t politicize terrorism, don’t stereotype Muslims, says Catholic Forum (Feb 22, 2013, Twocircles.net)
No change in policy on visa to Modi: US (Feb 19, 2013, IBN)
The European Union and the United Kingdom may have had a rethink on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, but the USA is certainly not warming up to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.
Speaking to CNN-IBN, US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake has said that there is no change in the American policy as far as granting visa t to the Gujarat Chief Minister is concerned.
“There is no question of changing or revising or softening. We may revise (the decision of visa to Modi) depending on Indian justice system completing cases against him only,” said the US Assistant Secretary of State.
Blake further told CNN-IBN that anyone could apply for a visa to the US, but the decision to grant it would depend on many factors. According to the US Assistant Secretary of State, a judicial exoneration would be one factor in reconsidering US policy on visa to the BJP leader.
- Narendra Modi targeted again: Katju calls development in Gujarat ‘phoney’ (Feb 23, 2013, Daily Bhaskar)
- Gujarat riot victims seek protection from ‘money-minting’ NGOs (Feb 21, 2013, DNA India)
- Implement scholarship for minority students now, high court tells state (Feb 21, 2013, Times of India)
- Printers protest Narendra Modi as chief guest, pullout from conference (Feb 25, 2013, Indian Express)
IPS officer arrested in Ishrat fake encounter (Feb 21, 2013, Deccan Herald)
In a major development in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested IPS officer G L Singhal, one of the 20 officers named in the case. Singhal, then Assistant Commissioner of Police Crime Branch, was taken into custody on Thursday while searches have been held at his residence.
Now a Superintendent of Police at State Crime Records Bureau, Singhal has been described as the prime mover in the fake encounter by the Central agency. Besides Singhal, 20 other policemen were also named in the case, including DIG Vanzara, already in jail for his alleged role in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case.
In 2004, Ahmedabad crime branch officials shot dead Jahan and three others – Javed Sheikh, Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana—in the city outskirts, alleging that they were members of the LeT and were on a mission to assassinate Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
- Two more cops arrested by CBI in Ishrat encounter case (Feb 23, 2013, Hindustan Times)
- Ishrat encounter: Two tales send Gujarat cop to jail (Feb 22, 2013, Times of India)
- Javed’s family waits for justice, wants to know complete facts (Feb 25, 2013, Indian Express)
- Ishrat case: Police officers’ custody extended till Feb 28 (Feb 25, 2013, Times of India)
Ishrat Jahan fake encounter: Vaghela, Vanar to be CBI’s next targets (Feb 23, 2013, Daily Bhaskar)
After the arrest of IPS officer GL Singhal in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is set to take into custody two more accused in the case. Retired deputy superintendent of police (DySP) VD Vanar and suspended DySP KM Vaghela may be the CBI’s next targets. The two were posted as inspectors in 2004 in the Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) and were part of the encounter team.
According to sources, Vanar and Vaghela are the key accused not only for the killing of Ishrat, but also for being part of the conspiracy and tampering with evidence. The officers were involved in bringing alleged militants Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana from Kashmir. They took a car from Madhya Pradesh to reach Jammu, picked the duo and brought them to Ahmedabad, the sources added. The two were then shown as members of a gang along with Ishrat, a 19-year-old college student from Mumbai, and Pranesh Pillai alias Javed Sheikh. All the four were killed in a fake encounter on June 15, 2004.
The militants were allegedly kept at an undisclosed place by Vanar and Vaghela, which proved the conspiracy angle in the Ishrat case. The CBI sleuths, who are busy in quizzing Singhal, are likely to arrest Vanar soon. “They may take the custody of Vaghela, who is currently lodged in Sabarmati jail for his role in the Sadik Jamal fake encounter case,” the sources said.
Vanar had served in the DCB for a longer period and was among those officers who were part of more than one encounter teams. His tenure as the inspector at Dariapur police station was recognised for his efforts to bring peace between Hindus and Muslims during the Rathyatra procession every year. Vaghela, according to police sources, was considered to be a close aide of DG Vanzara, the key accused in the Ishrat case.
- Ishrat Jahan fake encounter: Junior cop spilled the beans (Feb 22, 2013, Times of India)
- Ishrat Jahan fake encounter: Court denies CBI custody of IPS Singhal (Feb 23, 2013, Daily Bhaskar)
- Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case: Probe marred by controversies (Feb 22, 2013, Times of India)
- Sohrabuddin encounter: DySP denied bail by HC (Feb 21, 2013, Indian Express)
BJP govt failed in Dhar (Feb 21, 2013, Indian Express)
When a minister is made to wear a green gamcha to symbolise that he had betrayed the saffron (right-wing) cause, followed by his admission that he anticipated such humiliation, it reflects more on the government than an individual. The clashes on February 15 between right-wing organisations and the police at Bhojshala-Kamal Maula Masjid and the subsequent developments have proved that communal politics sooner or later acquires a life of its own.
In 2003, the disputed shrine in Dhar town had helped the BJP whip up communal passions to its advantage when the Congress was ruling the state. Now, 10 years later, it’s feeling the heat. The ASI arrangement allows Hindus and Muslims to pray on separate days at the shrine. But when Basant Panchmi falls on a Friday, Muslims can offer namaz between 1 pm and 3 pm and the Hindus before and after that. Hindu organisations, however, said this time they would have none of the ASI arrangement and rejected every suggestion to make concession for the minority community and openly warned of consequences if they were not allowed to pray the whole day.
What happened on February 15 left both the communities unhappy, the Hindus more so because activists were caned and beaten. Hindu organisations were left with deflated egos, and warned that they would make the BJP pay. Unlike 2006, when Basant Panchmi had similarly fallen on Friday, the government left everything to the local administration this time, despite knowing well that no appeals would work because tension had been building up on the ground. Saints attending the Maha Kumbh at Allahabad added fuel to fire.
If the government had been serious about implementing the ASI order, strict orders would have gone out for Hindus not to be allowed to gather in such large numbers at the shrine, at the time they were not supposed to. Once they had let that happen, there was little the administration could do to retrieve the situation. Now, given the intra-party tussle between the BJP – with senior minister Kailash Vijayvargiya on one side and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on the other – it is the administration that is being made a convenient scapegoat, with chorus growing for action against officials.
- Govt’s failure to probe Dhule violence, Dalit murders upsets locals (Feb 25, 2013, Hindustan Times)
- 11 held for Jan. 6 riots in Dhule (Feb 25, 2013, Asian Age)
- Court warns CBI over delay in riots case (Feb 20, 2013, The Hindu)
- Shehla Masood murder: CBI may question senior BJP MLA (Feb 24, 2013, Times of India)
Murder of popular Muslim cleric sparks clashes in Bengal (Feb 21, 2013, Twocircles.net)
Imam of Park Circus Mosque and renowned cleric, popular for his oratory skills, Maulana Ruhul Quddus (49) was gunned down allegedly by a gang of goons, sparking violent protest. Maulana Quddus was allegedly killed by the communal force of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and ‘Hindu Sanghati’ wings at Herobhanga-Naliakhali Bazar areas under the Gopalpukur Panchayet area of Canning Police Station of the district South 24 Parganas on 19th February, around 1am. By morning as the news of his murder spread in the surrounding areas of South & North 24 Parganas, angry mobs gathered and ransacked houses and shops, and more than 200 houses were set ablaze. For a long time, his supporters refused to hand over the dead body of Maulana to the police and kept protesting, blocking the road in different places. Police had to resort to a lathi-charge to bring the situation under control. Section 144 has been imposed in the locality. Police officials had also sent Intelligence report to the Chief Minister that the incident may turn into communal riot.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee immediately swung into action and appealed for calm. “I appeal to the people to keep the peace at any cost. I assure that, administration will take necessary actions against the culprits. Government will be start a special investigation on this murder case and find out the real facts whether any groups was behind it or not,” she urged. Muslim leaders have alleged that from the past few years RSS-Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Hindu Sanghati workers have been continuously campaigning and spreading hatred against Muslims in the south and North 24 Parganas. Four month ago, Mualana Rejaul Karim was shot dead in Hatuganj under the diamond Harbour police station of South 24 Parganas, where too local residents had pointed fingers at the VHP workers. Police, however, has so far not been able to trace the real culprit or the motive behind the murder. With the murder of another Muslim cleric in the same district, the region is on boil now.
According to the TCN sources in the police and the district, after a religious conference (Jalsa) at Kachiamaria village of Kultali, near Jamtala Gopalganj, Maulana Quddus and another cleric Sirajul Islam Molla were coming back to his native village Dhoaghata, under Jibantala police station, 30 km from that area riding on a motorcycle. According to the statement of Molla, who was riding the bike, a group of four people forcibly stopped them showing arms and asked them to chant ‘Hindu Zindabad, Muslim Murdabad’. They then took the key of the motorcycle, their mobile phones and whatever money they had. Within minutes, one of them fired at Maulana Quddus, while Molla ran for his life. A police team under Prabin Tripathi reached the placed at Herobhanga Bazar as angry mob were pelting stones at the police and even tried to set their vehicle on fire. Police then had to resort to force to disperse the crowd. Several people have been injured. However, after Mamata Banrejee’s assurance of investigations and appeal for calm, the situation now is under control. Local Muslims have demanded that the WB CM should immediately visit the place; else they will not hand over the dead body of the Maulana for performing the last rites. State Minister Haider Aziz Shafwi, Jawed Ahmed Khan and many other Muslim leaders reached the spot and appealed for peace.
Hindu resistance party, ‘Hindu Sanghati’ leader Tapan Ghosh has, however, denied all cahrges. He told reporters, “In that area Muslims are always trying to hackle Hindu Community. Ruhul Quddus might have been an extremist and bearing lot of money on that night.” TCN sources confirmed that few days ago RSS backed Hindu Sanghati called a meeting at Subodh Mallick Square in Kolkata where many supporters from Canning and adjoining areas had joined the meeting. Maulana Ruhul Quddus was not only a Muslim cleric and a good orator, but he was also the Imam of a mosque at Darapara are in Park Circus, Kolkata. He was popular for his Bengali as well as Urdu speeches. In Khutba at Friday prayers he delivered his speech in Urdu, but in a gathering in the state he would speak in Bengali. He thus tried to build a bridge between Urdu and Bengali speaking people in the state, said Alam local youth of Dara Para Mosque.
His Namaz E Janaza was held on 20 February at 2.30 pm at Dhoaghata Village. More than 50000 people are supposed to have participated in his Janaza Namaz. Jamiat Ulema-E-Hind State Secretary Maulana Siddiqullah Chowdhury, All Bengal Minority Youth federation State Secretary Md Kamruz Zaman, State President of All India Milli Council Qari Fazlur Rahman, Jamat e Islami Hind State President Md Nuruddin, Welfare Party’s State President Dr Raisuddin, SDPI state President Taidul Islam, CPIML Liberation leader Dr Partho Ghosh, Pirjada of Furfura Sharif Kashem Siddiqui, Human Rights organization APCR state Secretary Masiur Rahman, State Secretary of Madrasa Students Union Ahsanul Bari and many others Muslim personalities expressed their shock and appealed to the Government to stop the communal activities of the Hindutva forces and bringing to justice the perpetrators of this heinous crime. According to police sources, the atmosphere is still tense in the area, but they are closing monitoring the situations. Although section 144 is still imposed, they may withdraw it soon, said a district police official. Local residents are scared that the incident may fuel communal tension if the ongoing anti-Muslims agitations by the Hindutva forces of the RSS- VHP are not controlled in the Canning area.
- Bengal: Muslim cleric shot dead in Canning (Feb 20, 2013, Indian Express)
- State govt denies existence of mosque at Bababudangiri (Feb 20, 2013, Deccan Herald)
- Assam: 4 boys hacked to death (Feb 25, 2013, Indian Express)
- Centre’s communal violence report creates row in UP (Feb 25, 2013, Hindustan Times)
Dowry, assault: Ex-ACP in the dock (Feb 23, 2013, DNA India)
Alleging harassment for dowry, a woman has lodged apolice complaint against her husband and in-laws on February 14. Her father-in-law happens to be a retired assistant commissioner of police (ACP). Apart from demanding dowry, the victim has alleged, her husband had also forced her into having unnatural sex with him. The complainanthas further claimed that her in-laws had been threatening her with some obscene photographs that they had taken of her. The accused have been identified as Balaji Jadhav, the ex-ACP, his wife Indumati Jadhav and their son Sagar.
According to the MHB Colony police, the complainant lived with her in-laws in Borivli (W) but their relationship started souring in 2005 when the family began demanding dowry. “She said since she failed to comply with their demands, they took obscene photographs of her on their mobile phones and threatened her. She was also assaulted,” a police officer said.
Sources said the victim’s parents, residents of Ahmednagar, had filed a complaint with the Kopar Gaon police. “The case was transferred to the MHB Colony police as the incidents had taken place in their jurisdiction,” said Madhukar Awte, senior inspector of Kopar Gaon police station.
The MHB Colony police registered a case under sections 498A (husband or relative of husband subjecting the wife to cruelty), 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 506 (criminal intimidation), 406 (criminal breach of trust), 377 (unnatural offences), 376A (intercourse by a man with his wife during separation) and 384 (punishment for extortion) of the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of IT Act.
- Woman shot dead in Delhi just 40 metres from PCR van (Feb 25, 2013, Times of India)
- Two get life term in Haryana gang-rape case (Feb 23, 2013, The Hindu)
- Delhi gang-rape: Sheila Dikshit highlights need to rectify loopholes in police functioning (Feb 23, 2013, DNA India)
- Kanpur sex determination case: Accused sent to 14-day judicial remand (Feb 25, 2013, IBN)
Opinions and Editorials
Nothing Learnt – B. Raman (Feb 23, 2013, Outlook)
It is less than 48 hours since the two blasts in the Dilsukhnagar area of Hyderabad on the evening of February 21, 2013, resulted in the death of 16 innocent civilians. The police and the intelligence agencies are still in the preliminary stages of the investigation. They have not yet done a reconstruction of the act of terrorism. The collection and examination of the forensic evidence have not yet been completed .No arrests and interrogation have been made yet.
Instead of waiting till the investigation makes substantial progress, the police and the agencies, with the help of sensation-hungry media, have already started pointing the finger at the Muslim community, the Indian Mujahideen and Pakistan. If there is terror, it has to be a Muslim. If he is a Muslim, he has to be from the IM. If it is the IM, it must have acted at the instance of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). That seems to be the thinking reflex of the police and the agencies.
In October last, according to the Delhi Police, a Muslim suspect belonging to the IM told them during his interrogation that the IM had recced the Dilsukhnagar area as a possible target. From this, one could have reasonable suspicion that the IM might have carried out the attack. To strengthen the suspicion, one must have additional evidence which has not been forthcoming till now. Despite this, the police and the agencies in their mind have already turned the suspicion into certainty. Almost the entire investigation is now focused on the IM, overlooking other possibilities.
One cannot think of a more unprofessional way of dealing with terrorism. Very often, our initial hasty conclusions remain unproved or uncorroborated. That is why the investigation of so many of our terrorism cases has reached a dead end. Many of the cases remain undetected or unprosecuted or unsuccessful even if prosecuted. After every few months, we are taken by surprise by a new act of terrorism because we didn’t investigate professionally the previous acts of terrorism. Our track record has been one of hurtling from one hasty conclusion to another.
Instead of learning lessons from the past, we continue repeating the same mistakes. Imprecise intelligence, alerts not followed up by ground action to strengthen physical security, lack of beat patrolling by the police despite our talking about it for years, absence of professional reconstruction of an act of terrorism to determine how the terrorists managed to succeed, cover-up of the sins of commission and omission of our police and agencies – that has been our track record. Unless we get out of this unprofessional rut, terrorists will continue to strike with impunity and innocent civilians will continue to die.
- Twenty-two questions to the Police Commissioner of Hyderabad – By Advocate Shafeeq Rehman Mahajir (Feb 25, 2013, Twocircles.net)
- Repeating Bomb Blasts And Repeaed Failures Of Prevention: Why Not A Permanent Solution? – By S. Mohammed Irshad (Feb 25, 2013, Countercurrents)
- It’s Muslims again! – By Shaik Zakeer Hussain (Feb 24, 2013, Twocircles.net)
- Guts needed to apologise – By Prof. Meena Hariharan and Lateef Mohammad Khan (Feb 24, 2013, Deccan Chronicle)
Mirage of development – By Lyla Bavadam (Feb 23, 2013, Frontline)
On a hot day last November near Rajkot, Ramjibhai Patel, an octogenarian farmer, pointed to the middle distance and said, “See that lake?” There was indeed a shimmer in the dry landscape indicating water, but after a relatively poor monsoon, it seemed improbable. Chuckling, he said, “Yes, I see doubt on your face and you are correct. It is a mirage!” With this he launched into a diatribe against the government on issues that ranged from the non-availability of water and the high cost of farming to the skyrocketing prices of basic commodities and the cost of higher education of his grandchildren. “Life is a struggle for us. Whatever we have achieved, it is by our own sweat. Promises of the government for ordinary people like us are a mrugjal [mirage].” The story of growth in Gujarat mirrors Ramjibhai’s mrugjal. Social development indicators in this State of over 60 million people tell a story completely different from the one of success, prosperity and economic development that Chief Minister Narendra Modi would have everyone believe. The Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summits and Modi’s projection of himself as a vikas purush, a sort of development leader, are all part of the illusion that Modi builds around himself.
Despite the much-touted Vibrant Gujarat programmes, it is interesting to note that foreign direct investment is not the highest in Gujarat. Maharashtra leads this list while Gujarat is fifth. Vibrant Gujarat summits have not yielded as much as the State government would like others to believe. According to the government’s own “Socio-Economic Review, Gujarat State, 2011-12”, the promised investments in 2011 were over Rs.20 lakh crore, but only about Rs.29,813 crore was actually invested. In the same year, out of more than 8,300 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) signed, only about 250 became a reality. The importance given to the Vibrant Gujarat programmes is explained simply. The Gujarat model of development is focussed solely on economic growth via industrial development. For this blinkered approach to succeed, it is necessary for the government to look to private capital. A comparison of promised and actual investments in Vibrant Gujarat programmes since 2003 shows a consistent trend of investors promising more than they actually deliver.
Even though the growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the State has been significant over the past 15 years, Gujarat scores low in areas of nutrition, education, employment, wages, consumer price index, rural planning, health, the status of the environment and other indicators of the overall health of society. Indeed a look at official data gathered from the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), Census 2011 and others shows that the high economic growth rate in Gujarat has been at the expense of basic human development. Paradoxically, employment has not kept pace with the spurt in economic growth. NSSO data show that growth in employment has dropped to almost zero in the past 12 years. Rural Gujarat has been particularly hit despite the fact that there has been an increase in growth in the rural sector. The explanation seems to lie with the policy changes in the sale and purchase of land. Small and medium farmers, who make up a large part of the agricultural community, are increasingly being tempted into selling their land. The lure of a large amount ofmoney is often too much for cash-strapped farmers to resist, but the outcome of this is the sudden creation of a jobless section of people. Thus, rural residents are hit. The jobs that are created in rural areas through the construction of special economic zones (SEZ), small-scale industries and similar projects are usually unsuitable for local people.
Even though there is a slightly higher workforce participation rate in Gujarat, it is offset by the fact that it is poor-quality employment and the nature of the work is largely casual. Transport infrastructure accounts for a large number of work opportunities in the State, but since these are project based, the jobs are temporary. A high demand for casual labour combined with an increase in migrant labour from other States means that the job security of workers is low and the levels of exploitation are high. The average wages (for jobs other than those under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) are also very poor, putting Gujarat at a low 14th rank among the States. The disparity in wages speaks of exploitation and an increasing use of contract workers. According to NSSO 2011 figures, the average daily wage a labourer in the informal sector in urban areas can expect in Gujarat is Rs.106 against Rs.218 in Kerala (which ranks first). In rural areas, Punjab ranks the highest at Rs.152 a day while Gujarat stands 12th at Rs.83. About 98 per cent of the women workers and about 89 per cent of the male workers in the State are engaged in informal work (against the corresponding national figures of 96 per cent and 90 per cent).
The workers’ low wages and poor purchasing power result in poor nutrition or malnutrition among them and their children. According to statistics from a report of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, “Children in India, 2012—A Statistical Appraisal”, between 40 and 50 per cent of children in Gujarat are underweight, which bursts one more myth in Gujarat’s story of growth. Other States in this low weight category are Meghalaya, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha. Human Development Report 2011 said around half of Gujarat’s children were malnourished. Infant mortality, one of the basic indicators of the success of a government, is high in Gujarat, which ranks 11th countrywide in the rate of decline of infant mortality. According to “Children in India, 2012”, the infant mortality rate in Gujarat was still high, with 44 fatalities of infants per 1,000 live births. And with fewer health care facilities in rural areas, it is no surprise that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, both of whom are kept at the bottom of the social ladder, have a higher mortality rate. In its 2012 State-wise report, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said, “Almost every second child in Gujarat under the age of five years is undernourished and three out of four are anaemic. Infant and maternal mortality rates have reduced very slowly in the last decade…. One mother in three in Gujarat struggles with acute under-nutrition….” The issue of children’s health is further compounded by the continuance of child marriage. Gujarat ranks fourth in reported cases of child marriage. …
- The monarch and the mask – By Vidya Subrahmaniam (Feb 23, 2013, The Hindu)
- Hype and hard facts – By Anupama Katakam (Feb 23, 2013, Frontline)
Can you hear sounds of Fascist jack-boots in India? – By Amaresh Misra (Feb 20, 2013, Times of India)
… Made famous by Hitler and Mussolini, the fascist ideology killed democracy in the 1930s and 40s in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Poland, and several East European countries invaded by Germany during World War II. Fascism led to the incarceration and death of such noted European intellectuals asAntonio Gramsci and Frederico Garcia Lorca to name a few; it also forced Freud and Einstein to flee from Continental Europe to the USA. On 10th May, 1933, in a state-sponsored frenzy presided over gleefully by Hitler, Goebbels and other top Nazi officials-the first of its kind in modern human history-thousands of Nazi-fascist students burned over 25,000 volumes of classical and contemporary German literature (Nazi book burnings). Carried out all over Germany especially in University towns, the act presaged decades of illogical censorship and maniac, linear control of culture that destroyed German modernity and the country’s 2000 year old intellectual-cultural heritage. Thus, fascism destroyed both tradition and modernity-old and new-humanism and liberalism-religion and agnosticism-in one stroke. … Hitler justified colonialism and British rule over India. In the 1930s, he was admired by quite a few anti-communists and anti-liberal figures. MS Golwalkar, the RSS chief from 1940 to 1970 was one of them. … I hate to make comparisons-it reflects poorly on India. But truth-however ugly-has to be told; this much Mahatama Gandhi has been able to inculcate in us writers. Isn’t it incredible that what Saadhvi Rithambara and Babu Bajrangi type figures threatened Muslims with-the stripping of their citizenship rights in an imagined Hindu Rashtra-respectively-during LK Advani’s Rath Yatra for a Ram temple in Ayodhya and the 2002 Gujarat riots-was not part of some extreme right-wing fringe? Rithambara and Bajrangi both took their lessons straight from a mainstream RSS leader like Golwalkar! What a discovery! No difference between Golwalkar, Advani, Modi, Rithambara and Babu Bajrangi! What do so-called sophisticated and ‘liberal’ leaders of the BJP-and their intellectual-right wing apologists like Swapan Dasgupta and Tavleen Singh-have to say now in their defence? Will they come out openly and admit that they support a convict like Bajrangi who waxed eloquent over ripping open a Muslim mother’s womb-and that he felt like Rana Pratap committing a heinous crime-on camera-in the Aaj Tak expose? Till date, the RSS has not refuted lines written by Golwalkar. On the contrary, they form part of the core RSS ideology. …
People should wake up – Jaitley’s attack on Justice Katju should not be looked at in isolation. Digvijaya Singh, the Congress general secretary, rightly said that Jaitley owes Modi his Rajya Sabha Sabha seat – and by attacking Katju, Jaitley is returning the favour. Singh also went on to elaborate Sangh Parivar’s fascist mind-set, which rarely tolerates dissent (Digvijay Singh slams Jaitley’s remarks on Katju). The Jaitley-Katju spat represents the beginning of an open fight between Hindutvawaadis and liberal Hindus, a real life drama that will unleash with full fury in the 2014 elections. Indians have to decide whether they want a India where Bajrang Dal and Sangh Parivar activists go on a rampage attacking liberal Hindu, largely upper caste, judges, professors, media heads, senior journalists, respected intellectuals-members of the Dalit-OBC intelligentsia-as well as esteemed women personalities in social life-and the like; or they would like a peaceful India where the rule of law, liberty and freedom of speech and religion prevails. If voted to power, fascists will launch a smear campaign against modernity, pluralism, diversity, democracy and liberalism. As under Hitler, women will suffer the most under fascist-Hindutvawaadi rule. Since they supported the British in the pre-Independence era, RSS inspired forces will not hesitate to undermine Indian sovereignty in the interests of US led western block. Historically, xenophobic-fundamentalist-fascistic nationalism has always favoured the big over small, domination of superpowers over regional powers. Liberal-left nationalism on the other hand, usually fights in the interest of the people and the country. Modi’s developmental model excludes benefits to OBCs, Dalits, the middle and the small peasantry, Adivasis, organized and unorganized labour, small and medium businesses, entrepreneurs, and the lower middle classes whether Hindus or Muslims. Under the Indian fascist utopia, people are supposed to remain bogged down in inter-religious or inter-ethnic conflicts while big business corporate interests loot precious Indian resources in Indian tribal and forest regions, displace peasants in the name of development and muzzle all voices that disagree-a fascist victory in 2014 would imply an end of India’s 5000 year old civilization and culture.
Five years of NDA rule failed not only to build the Ram temple; apart from unscientific posturing on ‘Vedic Mathematics’-that too inconsistent-the BJP led government made no effort to highlight the great scientific-philosophical-cultural-artistic-moral-political achievements of Indian society before the advent of Muslims. On the contrary-the NDA regime-including senior leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi-persecuted Gandhians and liberal Hindus-and forced several Gandhian institutes-to shut down. Many erstwhile VHP-Bajrang Dal members-and former MLAs like Pawan Pandey-one of the prime accused in the Babari Masjid demolition case-left the BJP in disgust after seeing the moral degeneration of Ayodhya based BJP leaders such as Vinay Katiyar. If nothing else-this-the deliberate neglect of the very Hindu heritage the Sangh Parivar claims to protect-should persuade people to see the other side of the Sanghi moonlight. Who is going to stop Hindutvawaadis from burning Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayan, Arthashastra, Kamasutra-as well as ancient, medieval and modern Indian works on science, art and humanism-if they are in power and a wave of puritan-paranoia takes hold of their political persona?
RSS uses terms like ‘Hindu race’ and ‘Hindu nation’- of course both these terms have no rational-scientific basis. There is no one Hindu-Aryan race-and surely no Hindu nation-the Vedas and Puranas mention nothing of that sort-Puranas use ‘Bharat’ to denote a shifting, geographical entity. Even rational RSS sympathisers concede that different castes and tribes living in India-peoples of a modern nation-state-welded in its present form initially by the great Mughals, then the colonial British, and finally Independent India’s State power-consist of men, women and children of diverse racial origin. The concept of a single, dominant ‘Hindu race’ is not only false-it is dangerous as it allows any small group to lay claim to that status and then use it to suppress democracy and the vast majority of the Indian people. Puranas mention different kingdoms, not a ‘Hindu nation’-this does not mean that the idea of India did not exist in ancient times. It just did not exist the way the fascists want it to exist-Mughals carried forward the initial efforts of empire building by Mauryas and Guptas-and beginning from the 1857 war, the Indian Independence movement gave a modern, nationhood status to that idea.
The other aspect of course, is the use of violence for political ends, something that all fascists exercise to attain power. After all, even the most reverent Narendra Modi supporter concedes that the extremely violent Gujarat 2002 riots made possible the rise of their self-styled Hindutva icon. Fascist violence carries an abnormal strain-it reflects a mind-set that is sadist, inherently cruel and cowardly-as well as eccentric-whimsical-in the ugly sense. Killing babies and children and raping women has always been a special fascist prerogative. If some day, a crazy bout of psychosis grips a fascist in power, he can also sever facets of the fascist-big business alliance. Hitler persecuted businessmen also because they had some remote Jewish connection or the colour of their hair was not to his liking. True horror stories from Gujarat-of capricious mistreatment of even well placed individuals by Modi-will start appearing only after BJP’s defeat in the state. Don’t be surprised if suddenly, a Sangh Parivar leader takes a disliking to Ratan Tata or Cyrus Mistry for being Parsees, or to Kumar Mangalam Birla for his hair style or to the Ambanis for not contributing enough to fascist coffers-once unleashed, weird politics of paper tigers carries untold destruction.
- How Autonomous Are the Branches? A Study of Narendra Modi’s BJP – By Sylvie Guichard (Mar 2, 2013, Economic & Political Weekly)
Living in fear – By T.K. Rajalakshmi (Feb 23, 2013, Frontline)
The vacant faces told the story of the wanton destruction. On January 25, a day before the Indian republic completed 63 years, 37 shops, including kiosks, belonging to members of the minority community in Asind tehsil in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district, were set ablaze even as a helpless district administration watched, busy as it was controlling another conflict in the adjacent Gulabpura tehsil. The incident occurred when the Congress, perceived to provide a safe environment for the minorities, was in power. Seventy persons were arrested, the bulk of them from the majority community of Hindu Gujjars, including a district leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). What began as a dispute over the route of a procession taken out by Muslims metamorphosed into a strategy of arson in which the livelihoods of the minority community were systematically targeted by the Hindu Right.
Bhilwara is represented by Union Minister C.P. Joshi; but no one even from the State Cabinet made a visit to the place. Sources in the Chief Minister’s Office told Frontline that Ashok Gehlot had promptly convened a meeting on January 25 and deputed the Inspector General of Police, the Divisional Commissioner and two DIG-level officers to make a quick assessment and for damage control. But the damage, it seems, had already been done. Sentiments raged against ruling party representatives. “We would just like to know how long we must remain like this in perpetual fear of being attacked. It is better that we sit across a table and discuss openly what is expected of us. If it is going to be an unequal relationship in democratic, secular India, then so be it, but tell us where we stand,” said Abid Hussain, a property dealer. The day of the arson was Bara-wafat, celebrated both as the birthday and the day of demise of the Prophet Muhammad. Permission was sought by the community’s leaders to take out a procession-a ritual they have been undertaking for years-in the tehsils of Asind and Gulabpura, both with sizable Muslim populations. However, organisations of the Hindu Right, which included the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the Shiv Sena, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, insisted before the administration that the procession would not be allowed to pass through temple areas.
It had so transpired that the administration had not given permission to an earlier programme, a path sanchalan (route march) of the RSS, to pass through Muslim areas. The path sanchalan, planned a year earlier, was to be a show of strength, and was to coincide with the 1,101st anniversary of a Gujjar deity, Devnarayan. The chosen date was January 13. The idea was to converge on one point from three corners of Asind town, passing through areas with Muslim homes and places of worship. Asind is no stranger to communal violence; the demolition of a medieval Kalandari masjid in 2001, located on the premises of the Sawai Bhoj temple, had vitiated relations between the two communities. The masjid was never rebuilt. The administration was unprepared for the request for the “Triveni Sangam”, which appeared to be a ploy to foment tensions. Muslim leaders approached the administration, which in turn called a meeting of all community representatives on January 8 to amicably settle the matter. At the meeting, a section of the Muslim community agreed to the Sangam’s route while another did not. Given the turbulent history of Asind, District Magistrate Omkar Singh declined to oblige the Sangh.
The VHP gave a call for a bandh in Bhilwara from January 23 to 25, keeping in mind that January 25 was Milad-un-Nabi or Bara-wafat. According to Ravindra Kumar Jajoo, Vibhaag Sampark Pramukh of the RSS at Bhilwara, the administration had not allowed the earlier Janmasthami procession on the pretext that it would create tensions. Permission was not granted because the Janmasthami procession was to go past a mosque. At Gulabpura, armed mobs began gathering from 6 a.m. onwards on January 25, local people said. They retreated only at 3 p.m. when the police resorted to a lathi-charge. Had the Muslims decided to take out their procession, there would have been loss of lives, district administration officials told Frontline. Around 2,500 people armed with swords had gathered in front of a temple at Gulabpura. “The crowd was determined not to allow the Bara-wafat procession through,” said an official. That food packets were distributed to members of the armed crowd and petrol bombs were hurled at the police showed that adequate preparations had been made for a full-fledged conflict. But minority community members stayed indoors both at Gulabpura and Asind. At Gulabpura, there were skirmishes between the police and armed members of the majority community. At Asind, shops were set on fire. “There wasn’t a shortage of police force. Our focus was on protecting the residential areas,” Nitindeep Singh, Superintendent of Police, told Frontline.
It was learnt from various sources that activities of the Sangh in the region had been stepped up over the past few years, particularly in the past six months. Membership drives were on. The frequency of path sanchalans and the visits of top Sangh leaders had gone up. VHP leader Praveen Togadia had visited the district at least three times in the last six months, said a senior official. The mobilisation of the Gujjar community in activities of the Sangh was a novel phenomenon. An organisation called the Dev Sena, after the Gujjar deity Devnarayan, was part of the overall mobilisation against the minority community and an active component of the path sanchalan. District officials observed that a call for a three-day bandh was unprecedented. “There was a time when flowers used to be showered from the rooftops of Hindu households on the Bara-wafat procession,” said an elderly man at Gulabpura. A good proportion of members of the minority community in Gulabpura eke out a living as tailors. Others work for daily wages. Muslims of Asind are either petty shopkeepers or are employed in vehicle repair shops. Of the total population of 25,000 here, Muslims have around 3,500 votes. “These votes make a difference. We vote for the Congress but do not feel protected under its rule. Maybe we are safer with the BJP in power. We saw our friends from the majority community, with whom we used to sit and chat, wield swords that day,” said a Muslim youth. The legislator from Gulabpura, Ram Lal Jat, was yet to visit his constituency. Both parties, said a former mill worker, were two sides of the same coin. “One abuses us openly; the other does it quietly. There is no third alternative.” The social fabric of Bhilwara, known as the Manchester of Rajasthan, is under strain. The interdependence of Hindus and Muslims living here will be a thing of the past soon. A good section of the trading community seems to be backing Sangh activities. A fact-finding report by activists from Jaipur and Bhilwara observed that the Sangh had a tradition of organising path sanchalans for mobilisation and social consolidation. With less than nine months to go for the State Assembly elections, it is time the government acted against communal forces. …
- Raw, Rowdy Appeal – By Saba Naqvi (Jan 21, 2013, Outlook)
- The Lakshman rekha – By Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed (Feb 23, 2013, Frontline)
Shamelessly shooting to kill – By Teesta Setalvad (Feb 20, 2013, The Hindu)
Images of the Delhi police lobbing tear gas shells at and using water canons on protesters at India Gate on a Sunday, December 23, 2012, who were agitating against the gang rape of a young girl are embedded in the nation’s psyche, courtesy of our omnipresent, 24×7 news networks, images sharpened further by the ever-prescient discussions on the 9 p.m. Newshour. Not 14 days later, also on a Sunday, about a thousand kilometres away, in faraway north Maharashtra, the town of Dhule saw a distinctly more brutal police action; the rapid firing of SLR bullets to kill six young Muslims. It was a case of being caught at the wrong place at the wrong time. They paid heavily with their young lives. In a similarly brutal and uncalled for police action at Thangadh in Surendranagar district, not far from Ahmedabad, four Gujarat officers using AK-47s had shot dead three Dalits, including a 17-year-old, on the night of September 22-23, 2012. The tragedies, at Thangadh and Dhule, that had cost these precious lives, were however reduced to media sideshows, though the print editions of English language national dailies did spotlight some issues. The police, in Dhule, were caught on mobile phone videos in shameful acts. Yet, despite the availability of such sensationally thrilling clips, the normally avaricious and greedy eye of the television camera looked away. The shots slipped into late afternoon or midnight bulletins, cleverly bypassing the noisy news hour.
One of the Dhule clips shows a constable taking a self-loading rifle from his senior officer and aiming to shoot high above the waist. Bullet marks have been found in the market place and gullies of Macchipura a kilometre deep into the Muslim area, away from any groups that had gathered. Three such shots fired in quick succession got Imran Ali in his collarbone, eventually leading to his death. Of the 23 other young Muslim men who were critical, one had a bullet fired into his cheek, narrowly missing his eye, another rupturing a liver. Another clip shows a policeman ignoring calls for protection. Yet another shows policemen in uniform looting Muslim establishments that were being destroyed and burnt by some rioters. In Thangadh, the four policemen later absconded. The murder, in 1993, of a black youth Stephen Lawrence, in the United Kingdom, and the publication, in 1999, of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report led to the critical acknowledgement that hate crimes are committed even by men in uniform and that such deeds demand institutional sensitisation and correction. What emerged was a Hate Crimes Manual that warned what constituted such practice. Since the late 1980s, when evidence of deviant conduct by men in uniform surfaced from several bouts of targeted violence countrywide (Nellie, Assam, 1983 – 3,000 Muslims massacred; Delhi, 1984 – over 3,000 Sikhs systematically killed; Hashimpura, Uttar Pradesh, 1987 – 51 Muslims shot dead by the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC); Bhagalpur, Bihar, 1989 – a massacre that left thousands dead and evidence buried below a hastily planted cauliflower field; Mumbai, 1992-1993 – over 1,200 dead; Kandhamal, Odisha, 2008 – nearly 100 Christians and Gujarat, 2002 – over 2,000 Muslims massacred), courts and judicial commissions have strongly indicted India’s police for harbouring a distinct anti-minority bias, committing crimes through a manifestation of this hatred and not being punished for it.
In 1995, I had interviewed a senior IPS officer, V.N. Rai, who taken a year’s sabbatical to complete a research study, “Combating communal conflicts: Perception of police neutrality during Hindu-Muslim riots in India.” This interview was published in over 30 Indian publications. Among other things, Rai’s interviews with hundreds of riot victims from across the country (as part of his study) produced the startling finding that in all riot situations, Hindus consider policemen as their friends while, almost without exception, the minorities – Muslims and Sikhs – experience them as their enemy. This piece of work ought to have initiated the kind of self-reflection that the Stephen Lawrence murder had led the British police to. Instead, Rai’s study was ignored by the Indian police establishment. He had to find a private publisher to publish it as a book. What it did do however was lead to the issue being flagged by senior stalwarts. The founder and former chief of the Border Security Force (BSF), K.F. Rustomjee, and DIG Padma Rosha were quick to lend their voice to this issue of crucial concern, stressing that unless the Indian police confronted the issue of deep, communal (and caste) bias, they were sowing the seeds of bitter alienation. If Rai had conducted this study today, perceptions among the minorities would reflect alienation several degrees worse.
My interview covered several sensitive areas. I asked Rai specifically about the police’s criminal dereliction of duty on December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid was demolished as 3,000-4,000 men in uniform watched. His reply was a chilling recall of another fateful Sunday 21 years ago: “The video cassette recording by the Intelligence Bureau clearly documents that not more than 3,000-4,000 ‘kar sevaks’ were within close proximity of the mosque. In such a scenario, could no effective action have been taken? The reason why no action was taken lies elsewhere. The same cassette shows policemen rejoicing, with their hands held high in victory, when the Babri Masjid was destroyed. The district magistrate and other officials were dancing with delight. That is why the ‘kar sevaks’ could not be stopped. There was no desire to do so.” None of these offenders were punished. Pitching strongly for the application of the principle of command responsibility when large-scale violence results following the failure to prevent or contain communal violence, Rai narrated the quotation “There are no bad soldiers, only bad generals.” So, leadership not only makes a substantial difference, it is the most vital, the most decisive factor in the functioning of a force whether we are talking of the police, the paramilitary or the army.
Two decades after much soul-searching – that followed the cataclysmic events before and after the demolition of a 400-year-old mosque at Ayodhya – we are still only debating (and the establishment resisting) the chain of command responsibility being applied to men in uniform when it comes to serious offences, including sexual violence. Worse, there is a shrill resistance to enact legislative protection against the systematic outbreak of communal and targeted violence through a law that will penalise policemen who fail to preserve the peace. Rai, in 1987, was the man who filed the First Information Report of the crimes committed by the PAC at Hashimpura. Fifteen years later, in 2002, in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district, it was SP Rahul Sharma who charged ahead, firing to disperse a murderous Hindu mob when his men refused to act to prevent them attacking a madrassa . His prompt action saved the lives of 400 Muslim children. Today, he is at the receiving end of blows from a vindictive State government, facing every day harassment, charge sheets and worse. Rai or Sharma are unlikely heroes for Republic Day bravery medals nor are they the likely face or voice of discussions on television channels. Their raw deeds and searching reflection spotlight a raw nerve, a deep-rooted prejudice that India at 65+ unfortunately lives quite comfortably with.
- Under the scanner: Cops & riots – Aamir Khan (Feb 25, 2013, Asian Age)
Weapons Payload – By Toral Varia Deshpande (Mar 4, 2013, Outlook)
They are usually the ‘invisible men’, but with Choppergate all over us, arms dealers are again the talk of the town. The question is, with India now the largest arms importer in the world, can we wish them away? Are they unrealistic, the policy guidelines laid down by the government vis-a-vis the arms agents? After all, international trade continues to flourish in other sectors with the open participation of agents, why keep the arms pliers in the shadows? Gulshan Luthra, editor of defence and trade magazine India Strategic, says, “The rulebook says no serving personnel can interact with a foreign supplier. But navigating the bureaucracy and negotiating and balancing policies and procedures is far from easy. Which is why, whether the government accepts it or not, these men who purportedly don’t exist actually do.” Twelve years after it was made mandatory in 2001, even today nobody has come forward to register as a defence agent with the Union ministry of defence (MoD). This is because any commission paid to an Indian citizen for an arms deal is automatically a criminal offence, forcing suppliers and agents to look for ever more devious ways to account for such payments.
The guidelines requiring the agents to register, explained an unofficial ‘defence agent’, were too intrusive and arbitrary. Full disclosure of the commission paid, bank details etc may even expose them to extortion, he says. And with defence deals often taking a decade or more to wrap up, the agents will in any case be vulnerable to changing policies, investigations and litigation. Defence analysts says the current position is absurd because international arms deals almost never happen without agents. The latest report by leading think-tank on global arms, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), says the number of arms agents working on India is at an all-time high now. So, with no official avenues open, networking is the name of the game. A trade magazine insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, says, “We’ll never officially admit to it but if you take a close look at the parties hosted by us and the guest list, you will realise that we are in fact setting the ground for future interactions. An informal introduction with a service chief by a retired chief, and the stage is all set.” As insider status is crucial; agents or conduits tend to be related to high-level politicians, bureaucrats, senior defence officers, even entertainers- perhaps also the reason why the CBI routinely fails to crack defence deal cases. For example, one of India’s most high-profile arms agents now, Abhishek Verma, comes from a leading Congress political family and is said to be close to the CBI top brass too.
Once upon a time, a certain Sudhir Choudharie was the most powerful middleman in India. In the last couple of decades, though, a new crop has risen. Almost all major overseas defence firms now have offices or liaison bureaus in India, with local representatives to push their case. The latter, in turn, have on their rolls a full retinue of retired military officers and civil servants. Among the new breed are, of course, the Tyagi brothers from the latest AgustaWestland chopper scandal. They have been operating in the power sector for a while now. Rajeev Tyagi, known in power circles as ‘Docsa Tyagi’, is a doctor by training but doesn’t have a practice. He operates out of an office in Ferozeshah Market in Delhi. Unlike other ‘agents’, Rajeev is usually seen in kurta-pyjamas. It is through him that the other two brothers started operating in power circles, brokering deals. An insider who knows them well says, “The three brothers-Sanjeev, Rajeev and Sandeep-are close to several top bjp leaders too. In fact, Rajeev Tyagi’s proximity to former PM A.B. Vajpayee was well known. He was even an unofficial interlocutor between Muslim leaders upset over the Babri mosque demolition issue and the then BJP government at the Centre.”
Arms agents are candid – commissions on deals are paid everywhere, but they are among the highest in India. A normal commission ranges between 2-5 per cent of the total contract value but in India it fluctuates from 5-15 per cent. This is because, as one agent puts it, “the risks are higher and the recipients many more”. They also claim to be even-handed while dealing with political parties, cultivating and paying off politicians across the spectrum, both in the ruling coalition and the opposition. Defence deals, especially high-value ones, take a long time to be finalised and often span over a decade. No agent can afford to take a chance and needs to keep everyone in good humour, taking into account the possibility of a change of guard and government. The SIPR 2012 yearbook observes that “India’s efforts to expand its military capabilities have made it the largest importer of major arms…but the Indian defence industrial policy requires major reforms”. With this sort of a lucrative market, a cosy relationship has endured between agents and officials and nobody wants it disturbed. Approvals from at least 18 related departments and agencies is needed (see infographic) to acquire any defence equipment. This provides ample scope for corruption. “The procurement process is so long and complicated that bribes are paid at every step to merely keep the ball in play and push the process,” says an analyst.
In the past 10 years, India’s defence forces have been on a buying spree. Close to $50 billion in purchases were made in the last decade, while this decade will see defence acquisitions worth some $100 billion more. With the elaborate checks and balances in place, it is difficult to say that greed, and not need, prompted the purchasing spree. But precisely because of the elaborate processes, the procurement process also slows down and encourages bribes at every step to speed it up. The situation has also accrued due to the inability of domestic players like DRDOs to keep pace with the modernisation of our forces. “Our ordnance factories have failed to satisfy our defence requirements,” admits Dr Laxman Behera of the official defence ministry think-tank IDSA. Talking about the new-age arms agent, defence analyst Rahul Bedi says, “The omnipresent agent is essentially an entrepreneur with a flair for public relations and man-management, and has become almost indispensable to the procurement process. Through experience, patience and tenacity in dealing with the Indian bureaucracy and the MoD’s hidebound systems, he unravels for his principals the complex procurement matrix.” In return, he gets a handsome monthly retainer and working expenses, and a hefty commission disbursed overseas on deal closure. Retainers ensure comfortable lifestyles and expensive offices whilst commissions could run into crores. Bedi recalls that “before the Bofors scandal, service officers were grateful for the odd Scotch whisky bottle, a carton of cigarettes or, for the more discerning, an expensive fountain pen or Havana cigar box from vendors or their local representatives”. Nowadays, other than cash, major enticements include jewellery, property, top-end cars, overseas education for the children of military and MoD officials and often the paid lavish wedding, anniversary or birthday parties. Other enticements include sex, premium alcohol, fully paid-up overseas family holidays, golf sets, even rare pets or antique furniture for the memsahib. Bribes aside, the arms agents do have people batting for them. Major general (retd) Mrinal Suman argues that they perform a necessary and useful task. With their domain knowledge, they can provide useful inputs on technological advancements, qualitative requirements and price-fixing besides providing after-sales support. Treating them like dirt, he adds, has not really helped.
- Is The Defence Ministry In Sleep MoDe? – By Brijesh Pandey (Mar 2, 2013, Tehelka)
- New Institutional Economics: Its Relevance to Curbing Corruption – By Murali Patibandla (Mar 2, 2013, Economic & Political Weekly)