IAMC Weekly News Roundup - March 5th, 2012 - IAMC
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IAMC Weekly News Roundup – March 5th, 2012

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup


News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials


Gujarat still starved of justice 10 years after carnage says Indian American Muslim group

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Indian American Muslim Council (https://www.iamc.com) an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos is observing the 10th anniversary of the start of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, by renewing its call for justice and reparation for the victims. IAMC has called upon its chapters across the US to observe candle-light vigils as a mark of solidarity with the victims and survivors.

At the Gulberg Society in Chamanpura area of Ahmedabad, 69 people were burnt alive, on February 28, 2002 including former Congress Member of India’s Parliament Ehsan Jafri in apparent retaliation for the burning of the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express in which 58 people were killed. The Gulberg Society massacre was the start of a pogrom in which over 2000 people were massacred, hundreds of women were raped and thousands more were forced to flee their homes. Human rights and news organizations as well as whistleblowers have presented evidence of the state government’s complicity.

Representatives of 45 organizations, including Dr. Hyder Khan, a member of the Board of Trustees of IAMC, gathered at the Gulberg Society and resolved to continue the struggle for justice. “The viciousness and barbarism that marked the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 including the burning alive of hundreds of people, and brutal sexual violence against women, make the Gujarat riots among the worst sectarian massacres in Asia since the partition of India in 1947,” Dr. Khan said. “People of conscience cannot allow this carnage to be forgotten while the perpetrators are still roaming free,” Dr Khan added.

ANHAD organized a programme commemorating the “decade of resilience” by the Gujarat victims under the title “Dasktak”. “Dastak is an attempt to unite people and spread the message of communal harmony while establishing the fact that justice is a precondition of peace and communal harmony in the state,” said ANHAD promoter Shabnam Hashmi.

IAMC has supported Justice Hosbet Suresh’s statement at the Gulberg Memorial in which he questioned the administration’s actions while horrific crimes against humanity were being committed. “One of the components of justice is proper reparation for all the victims of the 2002 carnage. “Sadhbhavna” without truth and justice is only a farce and has no meaning,” the statement said.

Despite strictures against Mr. Narendra Modi by the Gujarat High Court and the Special Investigation Team’s findings of inaction by the State Government in the face of the carnage, the wheels of justice have yet to turn in favor of the victims. IAMC has therefore called upon the Supreme Court to take suo motu action on the faltering judicial process with respect to the Gujarat massacres.

IAMC has noted with satisfaction that Team Anna member and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan castigated Narendra Modi for communalizing the state of Gujarat through his propaganda campaigns. Mr. Bhushan was speaking after a documentary film “After the Storm” directed by noted human rights activist Shubradeep Chakravorty, to mark 10 years from the start of the Gujarat pogrom in 2002.

The documentary depicts the tragic victimization of seven Muslim men who were falsely implicated in terror incidents and continued to face discrimination and hardship long after they were acquitted. “Such documentaries put a human face to such stories and help create empathy in the public for such people,” said Mr. Bhushan.

Indian American Muslim Council is the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the United States with 10 chapters across the nation.

For more information please visit our new website at www.iamc.com.

Related Links

“Sadhbhavna” without truth and justice is only a farce: Justice Hosbet Suresh

A decade after, memories haunt Godhra, Gulberg

“We have no orders to save you” – Report by Human Rights Watch

Concerned Citizens Tribunal – Gujarat 2002, An Inquiry into the Carnage in Gujarat

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Indian American Group welcomes Congressional Resolution on Gujarat Violence of 2002

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC – https://www.iamc.com) an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, has welcomed the introduction of Congressional Resolution H.Res 569 by Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) “recognizing the tenth anniversary of the tragic communal violence in Gujarat, India.”

“Congressman Ellison’s resolution is an important effort to memorialize all those who were killed in the horrific sectarian violence of Gujarat in 2002,” said Mr. Shaheen Khateeb, President of IAMC. “It is an opportunity to renew our pledge to continue the struggle for justice and reparation for the victims and to combat the discrimination and the economic hardships that plague minorities in Gujarat,” added Mr. Khateeb.

The resolution quotes the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report of 2003 which found that the communal violence claimed the lives of an estimated 2,000 people and displaced over 100,000 into refugee camps.

The resolution cites Indian investigative magazine Tehelka’s expose wherein people who participated in the violence confessed on camera that such violence “was possible only because of the connivance of the state police and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.” Mr. Modi was denied a visa to the US by the Department of State on the grounds of egregious religious freedom violations under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

IAMC has called on all people of conscience to call upon their local Congressional representatives and urge them to become a co-sponsor of the House Resolution H.Res 569.

In observance of the 10th anniversary of the Gujarat violence, Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) as part of the Coalition Against Genocide, is organizing candle light vigils across various cities in the US during the weekend of March 3rd – 4th 2012.

Indian American Muslim Council is the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the United States with 10 chapters across the nation.

For more information please visit our new website at www.iamc.com.


Call your Congressperson to support the resolution by becoming a co-sponsor
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India: A Decade on, Gujarat Justice Incomplete – Human RIghts Watch, Feb 24, 2012

Muslims are Gujarat’s new outcastes: Survey – DNA, March 2, 2012

2008: US State Department confirms Modi will not be given visa

27 US Lawmakers want Modi’s visa ban extended; Coalition Against Genocide gets support from more congresspersons

US Congressman Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania writes to State Department

2008: Letter from Representative Betty McCollum to the US Department of State

2008: USCIRF Urges Denial of U.S. Visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi

India: Gujarat Chief Minister Endorses Unlawful Killings, Human Rights Watch, December 7, 2007

No entry for Modi into US: visa denied – Times of India, March 18, 2005

NO ENTRY FOR MODI – By Vijay Prashad, Outlook Magazine, March 12-25, 2005

2005 House Resolution H.RES 160 — ‘Condemning the conduct of Chief Minister Narendra Modi for his actions to incite religious persecution and urging the United States to condemn all violations of religious freedom in India.’

‘Did this letter stop Modi?’ – Rediff.com, March 18, 2005

‘Understanding Gujarat Violence’ By Ashutosh Varshney, Contemporary Conflicts, Mar 26, 2004

International Religious Freedom Report 2003, US Department of State

“We have no orders to save you” – Report by Human Rights Watch

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U.S. House concerned at reports of Modi’s ‘complicity’ in riots (Mar 3, 2012, The Hindu)

In 2005, the U.S. government denied a visa to Mr. Modi on the grounds of religious freedom violation under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. A resolution has been introduced in the United States House of Representatives expressing solidarity with the Obama administration’s view that the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat “has not adequately pursued justice for the victims of the 2002 violence” and that they remained “concerned by reports from journalists and human rights groups about the complicity of … [Mr.] Modi in the [pogrom].”

House Resolution 569, “Recognizing the tenth anniversary of the tragic communal violence in Gujarat,” was sponsored by Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, and it called on the Gujarat government to heed the recommendations of the State Department to “restore religious freedom for all citizens in Gujarat.” This is not the first instance where the U.S. government has marked its concern surrounding the role of the Gujarat government in the riots. In 2005, it denied a visa to Mr. Modi on the grounds of religious freedom violation under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

This week, the House noted that in 2002, the violence directed against Muslims by Hindu mobs led to an estimated 2,000 dead and 1,00,000 displaced into refugee camps, and commended the National Human Rights Commission and the Indian Supreme Court, whose actions led to some convictions in Gujarat riots cases and also the arrest of a few high-level leaders in the Modi administration. Recounting some of the details of the mob attacks, the resolution quoted a 2002 Human Rights Watch report entitled, “We Have No Orders to Save You,” in particular a section that noted that between February 28 and March 2, 2002 “the attackers descended with militia-like precision on Ahmedabad by the thousands.”

The report further described the unfolding of the targeted attacks, saying, “Chanting slogans of incitement to kill…they were guided by computer printouts listing the addresses of Muslim families and their properties…and embarked on a murderous rampage confident that the police was with them.” Alleging that portions of the Gujarati language press had printed fabricated stories and statements openly calling on Hindus to avenge the Godhra attacks, the text of the resolution further noted that “Where justice has been delivered in Gujarat, it has been in spite of the State government, not because of it.”



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Gujarat riot victims still awaiting justice: Amnesty (Mar 2, 2012, The Hindu)

Amnesty International on Thursday said that ten years after the Gujarat riots “an overwhelming majority” of the victims were still awaiting justice and urged the authorities to ensure adequate compensation to all those who lost their homes. Those who were still living in transit camps should not be evicted, it said.

“The majority of the perpetrators of the Gujarat violence walk free, assuming that they will not be punished by the State institutions which have simply failed to ensure justice for the victims. The fact that more than 2,000 people can be murdered and the lives of thousands of others shattered in Gujarat with only a small number of the perpetrators brought to justice is offensive to any notion of justice,” it said in a statement.

Investigation and trial processes made headway only in “a handful of cases,” it said adding: “The special team, which was the only one to have probed allegations that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party played a key role in facilitating the riots, referred to his speeches as ‘sweeping and offensive,’ but cited lack of evidence to proceed against him.”

At least 21,000 persons were still in transit relief camps awaiting relocation. They were now facing “forced evictions” as the State authorities were now claiming that the land on which the camps were set up belonged to the government and that they would have to vacate them, it said. “For the relatives of the victims and survivors, this has been an excruciating process of being promised justice and watching India’s institutions break their promises again and again. All those responsible for the killings and gender-based violence including rape must be brought to justice �” whether they are political leaders, police or government officials,” it demanded.

“Amnesty International calls on the authorities to improve their response to victims of gender-based violence, including witness protection. The authorities should challenge the stigma and stereotyping affecting women and girl survivors of rape. These women and girls, and the family members of those killed, should be provided with full reparation: rehabilitation, restitution, compensation, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition.”



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Ten years on, no justice for Gujarat carnage victims, says Sanjiv Bhatt (Mar 5, 2012, The Hindu)

“It has been 10 years but I do not see any justice for these people. It is a matter of shame for the Gujarat police and the administration. The State is rushing towards fascism and any form of dissent is being crushed…the people in Gujarat have built a wall of silence where nobody speaks because they are too scared of the consequences,” suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt told a convention held here on Sunday to mark the 10 anniversary of the Gujarat riots. The convention, “10 Years of Resistance,” saw the participation of 200 victims of the 2002 carnage along with political leaders, social activists, academics and other people who sympathised with their plight.

Lest we forget, a comprehensive book on the riots by P.G.J. Nampoothiri and Gagan Sethi was released along with And miles to go, an account of what the carnage, 10 years on, means to five Muslim Gujarati working women, followed by a panel discussion. The writers had an uphill task as they wrote the books based only on memories as they had no access to any records or notes. Mr. Sanjiv Bhatt, who testified against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, said: “The development of the State after Mr. Modi took over is talked about,” pointing out that Germany was the most industrialised and developed under Hitler. “But nobody talks about the development when they talk about Nazi Germany now. Ravana’s Lanka was made of gold but nobody talks about the gold in his kingdom when they talk about Ravana,” he argued.

He said justice was an uphill task especially when there was a tyrant who ruled over the people. Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said he was concerned about the infiltration of the RSS into the judiciary, civil services and likened their ideology to Nazi Germany. “Gujarat was a laboratory for their ideology and they were successful. Karnataka is next. In fact they would have been a success there too if the corruption issue had not thrown them in the limelight. When I first started talking about the Sangh outfits having bomb training, everybody called me a mad man but they have accepted that now. They have filed some defamation cases against me. I will give answers in court, not to those useless people,” he said.

Many speakers spoke about their experiences and their fears for Gujarat after all these years. “When there is a death or some other tragedy in the family, there is no cure for the hurt that follows. But, the incident in Gujarat is more than just the hurt, there was a certain politics that was involved that is dangerous as it is slowly overtaking the nation. It has invaded the judiciary, bureaucracy, the army and police,” said CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat. Film-maker Mahesh Bhatt said people had to get rid of their apathy if communal hatred and violence was ever to be stopped. “We should get rid of the attitude that even if the neighbours are dead, our shops should be safe,” he reasoned.



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High court trashes FIR against Sanjiv Bhatt (Mar 3, 2012, Times of India)

The Gujarat high court on Friday came to the rescue of suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt and quashed an FIR lodged by police against him allegedly for furnishing false information. This was the only FIR lodged by the state government against Bhatt. This happened after Bhatt implicated chief minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 riots.

On October 21 last year, the investigating officer in the FIR filed by Bhatt’s subordinate K D Panth, ACP N C Patel had lodged a complaint before a magisterial court against Bhatt under sections 172 and 177 of IPC for evading summons and furnishing false information. He claimed that Bhatt had not gone to the Nanavati Commission, though he did not turn up before police on the pretext that he had to appear before the probe panel on the particular day he was summoned. The FIR was filed a couple of days after Bhatt was released on bail. Bhatt had challenged the FIR before HC. Passing the order, Justice M R Shah observed that the registration of complaint was abuse of the process of law by the government.

In his order, Justice Shah observed that invocation of sections 172 and 177 of IPC was completely misplaced, as Bhatt had responded the summons. Since summons was served on him, it cannot be said that he evaded it. Moreover, with regard to section 177 of IPC, the judge observed that the information in question should be pertaining to the offence, but it is not the case here. Hence both the sections cannot be applied against Bhatt. Both the charges levelled against Bhatt are non-cognizable offences and court can make an inquiry. Of half-a-dozen cases pending against him, Bhatt had filed quashing petition in this case only.



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Shehla Masood murder: CBI quizzes BJP MLA Dhruv Narayan Singh (Mar 4, 2012, Times of India)

The CBI questioned controversial BJP MLA Dhruv Narayan Singh in connection with RTI activist Shehla Masood’s murder on Saturday. The questioning that started at noon continued till late in the evening. Singh was questioned over the soured love triangle involving him, Shehla and alleged key conspirator Zaheda Parvez, which the CBI suspects led to Shehla’s murder. CBI sources said that Singh was questioned earlier as well after his name had cropped up in the initial phase of the murder probe.

They said that suspicions over his involvement increased after the arrest of three accused, including Zaheda and the recovery of what sources claimed to be “clinching evidence”. Sources said that Singh was quizzed along with Zaheda, her assistant Saba Farooqui and Saquib Ali, a local goon accused of facilitating the killing, “to string together the evidence”. They said that after Shehla was shot dead on August 16 last year, her father had rung up Singh but he did not take the call. “He handed the phone to his friend and builder Sanjeev Gupta, who told the caller that the MLA was in a temple.

After a while, Zaheda rang up Gupta and told him that Shehla had been killed,” a source said. The CBI has also summoned Gupta, currently out of town. Sources said that Zaheda was allegedly jealous of Shehla for her proximity to Singh. “We have recovered certain evidence indicating the extent of closeness between Singh and Zaheda, from her office,” the source said. In a related development, Zaheda’s car, allegedly used to pay Rs 2 lakh to the killers has been traced. The car had been exchanged a few days back for another through a local car dealer. CBI sources said that suspicions over Singh’s involvement increased after the arrest of three accused, including Zaheda, and the recovery of what sources claimed to be “clinching evidence”



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Police in India are communalised: Prashant Bhushan (Feb 27, 2012, Times of India)

Team Anna member and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan on Monday claimed that police across the country were “communalised”. “Police throughout the country are clearly communalised. Narendra Modi has communalised the entire state through his propaganda campaigns,” said Bhushan, speaking after a documentary film show here to mark 10 years of communal riots in Gujarat.

“In August 2008 people’s tribunal, we saw a trend that police across the country systematically frame Muslims in terror investigations when they can’t find the culprits. In such cases, they pick up anyone around whom a credible story could be spun,” said Bhushan. Cautioning that such victimisation could even result in wrong convictions if the victim did not have resources to fight for justice, he claimed that even if acquitted, the victims lose five to six years fighting the case and suffer from social stigma of being labeled a terrorist.

He blamed sections of media for sensationalising such stories. “Some of the terrorism could also be result of such false victimisation. It won’t be surprising to say 2 percent of these victims turn to terrorism due to such atrocities,” Bhushan added.

The documentary, directed by Shubhradeep Chakravorty, portrays the hardships faced by seven Muslims who were wrongly accused of different terror incidents in the country, even after they were acquitted. “Such documentaries put a human face to such stories and help create empathy in the public for such people,” said Bhushan.



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India to partially boycott London Olympics (Feb 29, 2012, IBN)

India will partially boycott the 2012 London Olympics to protest against Dow Chemicals sponsoring the sports event. Indian officials will not only skip the opening and closing ceremonies, but will also boycott all official ceremonies related to the quadrennial event. However, the athletes will participate in the opening and closing ceremonies.

Indian Olympic Association Secretary General Randhir Singh said that the IOA has not taken any decision to boycott the Games. “IOA has not taken any such decision. We don’t want the athletes to suffer. We are here for the interest of the athletes. Athletes have been training for so many years, we have not taken any such decision,” said Singh.

The Indian government had on February 27 lodged a formal complaint against Dow’s sponsorship of London Olympics with the Union Sports Ministry writing to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Union Sports Ministry has strongly protested against Dow sponsoring the Games. Earlier, the IOA had also written to the London Olympics organisers and the IOC, complaining against Dow Chemicals and urging them to drop it as a sponsor.

“A false campaign has been launched by the Dow Chemicals saying that matter has been settled. It is not correct. The case is still pending in the court and no final compensation has been made. It is IOA’s considered opinion that Dow Chemical’s should be removed as the sponsors of the Games,” the letter, written by IOA Acting President Vijay Kumar Malhotra to IOC President Jacques Rogge, had said.

The IOC had, however, maintained that Dow was not responsible for the Bhopal gas tragedy as it had no ownership stakes in Union Carbide till 2000, adding that they appreciated the concern of the IOA for the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy. In a letter to IOA acting President Vijay Kumar Malhotra, IOC chief Jacques Rogge had said that “IOC recognises that the Bhopal tragedy in 1984 was horrific event for India and the world. The Olympic Movement sympathises with the grief of the victims’ families and regrets the ongoing suffering people face in the region.”



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CBI finding it hard to keep Reddys’ riches (Mar 2, 2012, Rediff)

Gali Janardhan Reddy, the mining baron from Bellary, was on Friday produced before Central Bureau of Investigation’s special court in Bengaluru and will be interrogated in connection with the Associated Mining Company scam.

While the CBI has a lot on its plate, it also has another headache – maintaining Reddy’s famous chopper, Rukmini that was seized two days after he was arrested and lodged at the Chanchalguda prison in Hyderabad.

While the CBI maintained that it was necessary to seize the chopper, as they suspected that it had been purchased with funds derived from illegal mining, Reddy’s legal team said that it was more of a show and it hardly made any sense seizing a chopper.

The Rs 12 crore Bell 407 helicopter, named after Reddy’s daughter Rukmini, is costing the CBI Rs 75,000 towards maintenance while Reddy is coughing up a monthly instalment of Rs 10.3 lakh for it.



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Deaf and mute girl raped in WB, probe ordered (Feb 29, 2012, Hindustan Times)

Mother of a deaf and mute woman alleged that her daughter had been raped at the hospital premises by a doctor on Monday night and had lodged a complaint with the hospital authority. This happened at Bankura Sammilani Medical College Hospital. After receiving the compliant, the hospital authorities decided to set up a three-member committee to probe the matter.

“After the complaint was lodged we decided to make an inquiry. A three-man committee would conduct the inquiry and a two-member woman team is coming from the health department since we had also informed them of the incident,” said Panchanan Kundu, super of the hospital. According to sources, the patient from Saltora area was admitted at the female ward of the hospital on Monday.

After she was admitted, a junior doctor had taken her to a room for check-up and her mother also went with her. “But the doctor asked me to leave the room. I waited for about two hours outside and when my daughter did not come out I entered the room and found her almost nude. My daughter explained what had happened and I understood that the doctor had raped my handicapped daughter,” the mother said. On Tuesday, the girl’s mother lodged the complaint with the hospital authorities and she was informed that they had decided to start an enquiry into the incident.



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Dalit rape: SC panel summons Orissa top cop, Chief Secy (Feb 28, 2012, Indian Express)

Taking serious note of the alleged rape of a Dalit girl in Puri district and the subsequent inaction of the police and doctors, National Commission for Schedule Caste chairman P L Punia has summoned Orissa Chief Secretary and Director General of Police to appear before him on March 13 and submit an action taken report (ATR) in the matter.

“We have issued a notice to Director General of Police and Chief Secretary to submit an ATR in the rape case. The way her unconscious body was found near her home made it clear that she was raped. But the doctors who treated her did not care for medical examination. It speaks volumes about their medical competence,” Punia told The Indian Express over the phone.

The 18-year-old Dalit girl of Arjunagoda village in Pipili block of Puri district was allegedly gangraped by local youths on November 28 last year. After the gangrape, they allegedly tried to strangulate her, which damaged the girl’s cerebral cortex, leaving her in a state of coma. Doctors supervising her condition have said that she has very bleak chances of survival.

Punia said the way the doctors in Bhubaneswar and then in Cuttack treated her, violated all medical ethics. Punia said, “We will soon write to the Medical Council of India to take action against the errant doctors.”

Earlier, the National Commission for Women had also lambasted the local police over its failure in filing FIR. Surprisingly, the State Women’s Commission’s report says that the girl was not raped. The report does not blame the police for inaction, rather it blames the girl’s parents for not mentioning rape in their complaint.



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Opinions and Editorials

Gujarat’s decade of authoritarian rule – By Girish Patel (Feb 29, 2012, DNA India)

BJP president Nitin Gadkari’s projection of Narendra Modi as one of the party’s prime ministerial candidates for 2014 should be taken up as a challenge by all those who value democracy, secularism and human rights. In the 2002-12 decade, the Gujarat chief minister has presided over the worst carnage of Muslims and embarked upon a path of soulless capitalist growth. The 10 years of his rule are both a continuity and distinctive. When he became chief minister, Gujarat was already saffronised by Hindutva forces and had a fast growing economy. Modi further brutalised the process of communalisation and aggravated the nature of capitalist growth in the state. He has taken advantage of both and established himself as “dharma-rakshak” and “vikas-purush”.

Just look at the distinctive features of Modi’s style of governance. Militant Hindutva is the basic principle of that style as is evident from the manner in which he exploited the Godhra train tragedy and allowed, or failed to contain, the mass killings of Muslims. He abused POTA and raised the bogey of ‘ISI conspiracy’ to allow the murder of alleged terrorists in fake encounters. This was successful in terrorizing Muslims and keeping Hindus in a state of perpetual fear. The majoritarian communalism – euphemistically called ‘cultural-nationalism’ by the BJP – has been a permanent fixture on Modi’s agenda. He does not admit his government’s failure and would not show regret even for what was done to the Muslims in 2002. He simply does not talk about the 2002 riots as if the horrible events never happened.

The Indian constitution, for Modi, is only a form, not substance. For him, it is only an institutional arrangement for electing rulers, and not a socio-economic charter guaranteeing life, liberty, equality, fraternity and human dignity. Hence, Modi’s only focus is on how to win elections and establish his supremacy. ‘Moditva’ considers democracy as equivalent to majority rule and nothing more. The democratic values of openness, dialogue, tolerance, dissent, mutual respect and respect for human rights have no place or value for Modi. For him, winning elections is the only source of constitutional legitimacy. For every irregularity, impropriety, illegality, criminality and unconstitutionality, Modi’s answer is: “People have elected me.” He thus uses the democratic machinery to justify and legitimise violations of the constitution, collapse of the criminal justice system and denial of justice to the victims of the 2002 riots.

In a manner reminiscent of Louise XIV of France who said, ‘I am the State,’ the Gujarat CM has concentrated all power in his own hands. His ministers are dummies, the state assembly is dysfunctional and all BJP MLAs are his captive audience. The police and the bureaucracy have become ‘His Majesty’s’ most faithful servants. The total identification of six crore Gujaratis with his individual personality is yet another feature of Modi’s style of governance. “Gujarat is Modi and Modi is Gujarat” is the implicit slogan for whoever attacks or criticises the chief minister. The CM continues to spend crores to project himself through all kinds of propaganda and publicity. Modi claims to champion the cause of Gujarat’s ‘asmita’, thus arousing in the people feelings of provincialism. He seems incapable of seeing the Gujarat society as consisting of different social sections, each with real problems of its own.

By talking of the state as a homogeneous whole, he wants to bypass the problems of injustice, inequality, deprivation, discrimination, backwardness and marginalization that widespread in society. By espousing formal equality, Modi ignores substantial inequality. His model of economic growth has ensured that a few industrialists of his preference are the main beneficiaries of his policies. They are given lands, natural resources, state incentives and concessions at the cost of agriculture and social services. Now, with Gadkari’s announcement that Modi was a potential prime ministerial candidate, Moditva is already on the nation’s horizon. Shall we allow it to take over the entire country?



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A Beast Asleep? – By Saba Naqvi, Smruti Koppikar (Mar 5, 2012, Outlook)

India is a nation that was born in the bloodshed and displacement of the Partition riots. In its DNA, it inherited the schizoid gene of being a large Hindu nation with one of the world’s largest Muslim populations. It was a historical faultline that was exploited for politics time and again. Ahimsa was the Gandhian ideal we paid lip service to but the reality far too often was mass violence. In urban ghettos, in the old cities across the land, small riots were part of the cycle of life. A religious procession would be taken out, a skirmish would take place, curfew would be clamped, a minor riot would have just taken place or been barely averted. But the Gujarat riots of 2002 marked the apogee of communal hatred. Ten years after the Sabarmati Express coach was set afire in Godhra on February 27, and after the bloodbath that followed, we must pause and ask: can it happen again? Many would argue that it cannot because, in the long term, Narendra Modi has had to pay a price for presiding over a bloodbath after the advent of 24-hour television. In the immediate aftermath of the riots, however, he gained enormously. Modi ran a communally charged election campaign six months after the violence, when he would famously use “Mian Musharraf” as a rhetorical term for the entire Muslim community. Modi had been sent to Gujarat in October 2001, at a time when the BJP under Keshubhai Patel was doing badly and had lost a byelection. He began his first term as CM on Oct 7, 2001; five months later, the carnage happened; later in the year, in December 2002, he won the state election with a huge margin and began his second term. He has now been the longest-serving chief minister of Gujarat and will contest later this year for a fourth term.

He most famously used communal polarisation as a political technique and it worked within the boundaries of Gujarat. Sociologist Ashis Nandy says that the problem also arose because for “months afterwards, Modi celebrated the riots. He appeared to be showing off”. Even the Shiv Sena, which had a decade before Gujarat orchestrated vicious riots in Mumbai, looked like relative amateurs at the riot technique compared to the systematic method that was applied and revelled in inside Gujarat. Nandy points out that the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 actually claimed the largest toll. But it’s a blot the Congress always tries to live down and not celebrate. “The whole psychology was different as Sikhs were a prosperous community that people admired and envied,” says Nandy. The Hindu-Muslim equation is another story. As for Modi, he has become the development man, the business-friendly leader, but his image makeover as an acceptable national figure has not worked. Even BJP president Nitin Gadkari says, “What happened in Gujarat was an unfortunate incident. I don’t think it can or should happen again.” Modi is stuck with the taint because Gujarat was the first mega riot in the age of 24-hour TV. There were victims in Mumbai, Surat, Bhagalpur, Jamshedpur, Hyderabad, Moradabad, Bhiwandi, earlier riots in Ahmedabad, a city that actually recorded one of the first big post-Partition riots in 1969. But they were just numbers, death tolls, the faceless victims of communal carnage.

But in Gujarat 2002, the stories were documented in heart-wrenching detail and etched in our collective memories. How Bilqis Bano’s daughter was snatched from her hands, flung against a rock, killed, and the pregnant woman raped repeatedly; how Zahira Sheikh survived the grisly burning of the Best Bakery in which her family was roasted alive; how limbs of children were hacked and little boys flung to their death in Naroda Patiya; how Ehsaan Jafri begged for the life of those who had sought his protection in Gulberg Society; how his widow Zakia Jafri still fights for justice and says her husband called the CM’s residence for help. The photograph of Qutubuddin Ansari begging for his life epitomises the plight of an entire community in Gujarat; thankfully, Ansari survived. The 2002 Gujarat riots also marked the coming of age of anti-communal activism. Several citizens, activists and lawyers who live within Gujarat have consistently fought against a state administration determined to block any probe. On the national stage, individuals like Teesta Setalvad have never relented, losing one legal battle to come back with another. Although Modi has been able to stay one step ahead of the legal snare, he is certainly bogged down by it. Outside Gujarat, he may have appeal for the BJP cadre, but regional parties want to keep a distance from him. If the big players of any regional front in the future are to be Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik and Nitish Kumar, the CMs of Bengal, Orissa and Bihar would not like to share a platform with Modi even if realpolitik were to force any sort of arrangement with the BJP. Indeed, one can argue that the political price of riots is now too high. Modi is quite stuck.

The perpetrators of riots are long-term players in the political landscape. The Thackerays have again bounced back in the local polls in Maharashtra. But the city of Mumbai has changed under their watch. The ferocity and cruelty of the violence that ripped right through Bombay (which became Mumbai later) in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition, in two phases in December 1992 and January 1993, came to symbolise the worst face of a seemingly inclusive city. Till then the city would be described as a cosmopolitan megacity where caste, class and religion were not the dominant markers of public life. Bombay was the city of dreams, its streets offered anonymity, its pavements could turn into homes, its constant whirring machine of enterprise and entrepreneurship played the great equaliser. Surely, such a place could not be derailed by communal violence? This belief turned into a shattered myth in those two spans of ’92-93 when nearly 850 people were killed, 575 of them Muslims; over 2,000 injured and nearly 1,00,000 displaced. After that, Bombay became Mumbai and no one really calls it a cosmopolitan place any longer. Resilient, yes, but not cosmopolitan. Bombay had its Hindu- and Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods but they were not community-insulated as has happened in the post-riots era. The ghettoising effect of 1993, which continues even today, has made the divisions sharper. In fact, it’s easier now to target this or that community and in many areas the “other” is not welcome at all, says Farooq Mapkar, who was witness to five namazis being shot in Hari Masjid by policemen, was wrongly accused of rioting and acquitted after 16 long years. A bank employee now, he says, “There is now a Muslim Mumbai and a Hindu Mumbai.” …

What this story illustrates is that an attempt to trigger a riot is a political tactic. Paul R. Brass, author and political scientist from the University of Washington, who’s studied India’s communal tension and violence, calls it the institutionalised riot system or IRS. This IRS, he says, was created largely in northern and western India and it can be activated by politicians during political mobilisation or elections, and “the production of a riot involves calculated and deliberate actions by key individuals, like recruitment of participants, provocative activities and conveying of messages, spreading of rumours”. There are frequent rehearsals until the time is ripe and the context is felicitous and there are no serious obstructions in carrying out the performance. Does such an IRS still prevail in Mumbai, or Bhiwandi, Malegaon, Aurangabad, Nashik, Moradabad, Ahmedabad? Recently, activists of the Hindu right were arrested in Karnataka trying to raise a Pakistan flag in a Muslim area. They presumably hoped they would trigger a riot and blame it on Muslims. One must conclude that small riots can and in all likelihood may continue to happen (there was recently a Gujjar-Muslim clash in Mewat not far from Delhi), but it would take a certain conjunction of politics, intent and regime to trigger anything on the scale of the Gujarat riots. Meanwhile, the political saga of Modi continues, with his national ambitions all too obvious. As things stand now, he can be a national player only if the BJP gets a majority on its own. As that currently seems unlikely, Modi can perhaps examine his predicament from a philosophical, moral or literary viewpoint. He could ruminate over that quote of Lady Macbeth’s who kept washing her hands. “Out, damn’d spot! out, I say”!



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Cause to Celebrate – Peace and prosperity after bloodshed in Gujarat – By Swapan Dasgupta (Mar 2, 2012, The Telegraph)

It may sound callous, but there was something patently disgusting about the way the media and activists colluded to turn a grim 10th anniversary of the 2002 Gujarat riots into a celebration of victimhood. From star anchors rushing to Ahmedabad to hug victims to the overuse of the photograph of the unfortunate Qutubuddin Ansari pleading for his life, every tear-jerking potential was cynically exploited. What should have been a solemn occasion of remembrance, perhaps leading to a pledge to make sectarian violence a thing of the past, was, instead, turned into an all-too-familiar Indian tamasha, culminating in riotous television discussions. The reason for this ugly turn of events should be obvious. Ten years after the arson attack on the Sabarmati Express in Godhra became the trigger for murderous violence throughout Gujarat, the issue of ‘justice’ has been transformed into a political blame game. The activists who have doggedly kept the issue alive, despite the apparent lack of responsiveness in Gujarat, have shifted their priorities markedly. The issue is no longer one of securing the punishment of the rioters and those responsible for inhuman conduct, but the political targeting of one man: the chief minister, Narendra Modi. The unspoken assumption is that justice will be served if Modi can be prosecuted for personally facilitating the carnage. As an additional bonus, the framing of charges against Modi is calculated to ensure his exclusion from the political arena and consequently bring to an abrupt end any possibility of him being in the reckoning for the prime minister’s post. In short, if you can’t beat him, disqualify him.

Had Modi shown himself to be electorally vulnerable, the need to fight him judicially would have evaporated. A Modi defeat in either 2002 or 2007 would have prompted the self-satisfied conclusion that “Gujarat has redeemed itself” – in the same way as, it is proclaimed, Uttar Pradesh redeemed itself by rejecting the Bharatiya Janata Party after the demolition of the Babri shrine in 1992. However, the prospects of the clutch of activists moving on to the next available cause have dimmed following the realization that not only has Modi strengthened himself politically but that the Congress in Gujarat lacks the necessary qualities to mount an effective challenge. Consequently, the only way they see to fight Modi is to remove him from politics altogether. There is another factor at work. Over the past 10 years, Modi has transformed Gujarat spectacularly. After winning the 2002 assembly elections in a communally surcharged environment, he has deftly shifted the political focus of Gujarat from sectarian identity issues to rapid economic development. Gujarat was always an economically vibrant state and entrepreneurship is deeply ingrained in the DNA of the average Gujarati. Modi has played the role of a great facilitator by creating an environment that is conducive to the double digit growth of the state’s gross domestic product. He has toned up the administration, improved the finances of the state exchequer, brought down corruption markedly and made every rupee expended on government-run schemes a factor in economic value addition. Modi has been the model rightwing administrator pursuing the mantra of minimal but effective governance. His election victory in 2007 wasn’t a consequence of Hindu-Muslim polarization; it was based on his ability to deliver good governance.

Secondly, Modi successfully shifted tack from Hindu pride to Gujarati pride. This meant that hoary grievances centred on sectarian hurt were subsumed by a common desire to take advantage of the dividends flowing from a prolonged period of high economic growth. The popular mentality of Gujarat has undergone a discernible shift in the past decade. In the 30 years since the Ahmedabad riots of 1969, which left nearly 650 people dead in just five days of mayhem, Gujarat had become a riot-prone state. With its sharp communal polarization, Ahmedabad epitomized that trend. After the 1969 flare-up, there were riots in 1971, 1972 and 1973. Then, after a period of lull, rioting resumed in January 1982, March 1984, March to July 1985, January 1986, March 1986, July 1986, January 1987, February 1987, November 1987, April 1990, October 1990, November 1990, December 1990, January 1991, March 1991, April 1991, January 1992, July 1992, December 1992 and January 1993. This chronology, assembled by the political scientist based in the United States of America, Ashutosh Varshney, in his Ethnic Conflict and Civil Life (2002) tells a story of unending curfews, social insecurity and escalating hatred affecting the two communities. It was a story replicated throughout Gujarat, including the otherwise integrated city of Surat that witnessed fierce riots in 1993.

Since March 2002, Gujarat has been riot-free. Curfews have become a thing of a distant past. What has occasioned this exemplary transformation? The facile explanation, often proffered unthinkingly by secularists anxious to find fault with Modi, is that Muslims have been too cowed down by the sheer intensity of the post-Godhra majoritarian backlash. Such an explanation presumes that riots are invariably begun by a section of the Muslim community – a problematic proposition and not always empirically sustainable. More compelling is the explanation that factors in the larger administrative and economic changes in Gujarat over the past decade. First, both the civil administration and the political leadership have internalized the lessons from their inability to control mob violence in 2002. The police have been given a free hand to operate without the interference of small-time politicians attached to the ruling party. There has been a crackdown against the illicit liquor trade and the underworld that gained its muscle power from its proceeds. At the helm, there is an unspoken understanding that another riot, with its attendant TV coverage, would extract an unacceptably high political cost. That is why there is special attention paid to curbing Hindu extremism – a phenomenon that will affect Modi most adversely.

The biggest change has, however, been at the societal level. Gujarat today is a society that is obsessively preoccupied with making money and taking advantage of the economic opportunities that have presented themselves. With the end of boredom, a happy present and an appealing future, the belief that riots are bad for dhanda has seeped into society. This is not to suggest that the bitterness of the past has been replaced by idyllic bonhomie between communities. Far from it. Sectarian conflict persists in cities such as Ahmedabad, and less so in Surat. But there is a distinction that Varshney makes between sectarian conflict and sectarian violence. One need not necessarily lead to the other if contained within the parameters of economics and politics. The Muslims of Gujarat don’t possess the political clout they enjoyed earlier under Congress rule. But this has been compensated for by growing levels of prosperity. Those who argue that the economic development of Gujarat has bypassed Muslims should look at the economic empowerment of communities such as the Bohras, Khojas and Memons. To many, Gujarat’s obsession with economic betterment may seem an expression of denial for the larger societal involvement in the 2002 riots. This may be partially true, since Gujarati Hindus view the post-Godhra troubles as something they don’t want to be reminded of incessantly – a point which the state Congress has grudgingly acknowledged. But it doesn’t distract from Modi’s undeniable success in changing the agenda dramatically in 10 years to the point where hardened Hindutvawadis now regard him as an enemy of the cause. The riots of 2002 were horrible. But the important thing to note is that 10 years after the butchery, Gujarat is basking in peace and unprecedented prosperity. Now, that is something to celebrate.



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Close encounters of the troubling kind – Editorial (Feb 25, 2012, The Hindu)

“Fake encounters,” said Justices Markandey Katju and C.K. Prasad in a ringing Supreme Court judgment last August, “are nothing but cold-blooded, brutal murders by persons who are supposed to uphold the law”. They went on to prescribe the death penalty for those involved – a punishment which policemen ought to keep in mind whenever their superiors seek to involve them in an act of extra-judicial killing. Such instances, as the cases piling up in the Supreme Court demonstrate, are far from infrequent.

As a way of dealing with the perceived pressure of public opinion following terror strikes or violent crimes, police forces across India sometimes resort to the custodial murder of prime suspects, often with a nudge and a wink from the top. Thanks to the judiciary’s intervention, policemen who take the law into their own hands can no longer be assured of impunity. This is not to say genuine encounters never happen. They do, and the police, like ordinary citizens, enjoy the right of self-defence. What must be demonstrated each time deadly force is used, however, is the necessity of the police response in the face of violence by their victims.

The police in Chennai deserve praise for quickly identifying the suspects thought to be behind two recent bank robberies in the city. But the manner in which the five men died in an encounter in the early hours of Thursday raises a host of questions about the nature of the operation. Little about the official account, from the time of the operation to the details of the killing, neatly adds up. While the Police Commissioner claimed the force got a tip-off around midnight and that his men knocked at the door of the suspects at about 1 a.m., area residents said they were asked to remain indoors by the police as early as 10 p.m. on Wednesday.

Other contradictions include the absence of aural and visual effects normally associated with several minutes of “indiscriminate” firing: neighbours heard only a few individual shots and just two bullet holes were visible to reporters who got a peek at the crime scene. None of this necessarily means the encounter was fake. Only an independent judicial probe can help establish what really happened. Such a probe must be conducted in a speedy, transparent and professional manner so that public apprehensions can be allayed. If the official story checks out, the city will heave a sigh of relief. But if there is any evidence that the five suspects were in custody at the time they were killed, all those involved must be charged with murder. If the law does not deter criminal acts by those in authority, we are in deep trouble as a society.



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Idol Worship Sparks Buddhist Fury – By Imran Khan (Mar 10, 2012, Tehelka)

A historical Buddhist site near Gulbarga, 584 km from Bengaluru, where the first inscribed image of Ashoka was discovered, has become the latest communal flashpoint in Karnataka. For the past two weeks, Dalit organisations and a Buddhist monk have been protesting against what they claim is an attempt by Hindus to appropriate the monument by placing a Durga idol. Four Dalits and a Buddhist monk have been arrested for removing the idol. However, the protesters claim that they had removed the idol only to take it to the deputy commissioner’s office when they were arrested. In 1986, a Buddhist stupa dating back to 1st century BC was discovered in Sannati, around 70 km from Gulbarga. It is believed that Ashoka sent his son Mahindra and daughter Sanghamitra as emissaries to spread Buddhism in this region, which is now considered the most backward district in Karnataka. Subsequent excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have established Sannati as an important historical site.

“On 5 February, a group of Dalits led by a Buddhist monk tried to forcibly take away the Durga idol,” says R Vishal, deputy commissioner of Gulbarga city. “The area is a protected monument and ASI is conducting excavations there. When ASI men tried to stop them, they pushed them and ran away. Before the situation could get out of control and communal tension could be created, we caught them. A case has been lodged.” Buddhist monk Bodhidhamma Banteji, who is in judicial custody, says, “A sinister plan has been carried out all over India. Look at the cases of Khaneri, Elephanta and Mahalakshmi in Mumbai and Karla and Mansari in Nasik and Nagpur. Efforts have been made to ascribe a Hindu connection to Buddhist places of worship.” “I have been coming to this place for the past 10 years as part of my dissertation on Sannati. I never found this idol or any Hindu relic at this place. Suddenly we saw rituals taking place and this idol sprouting up,” says Banteji.

Banteji and four Dalit leaders have been booked under various IPC sections for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace, unlawful assembly intended to outrage religious feelings. Surprisingly none of the accused have been booked for trespassing, theft or damaging a historical site. When contacted, DK Ravi, assistant commissioner of Sedam taluk (where the complaint has been lodged) and administrator of Sannati Budhha Stupa Development Authority, refused to comment. The accused allege that the complaint was filed based on Ravi’s insistence.

“When I saw this idol, I immediately informed the local authorities and the district administration. Even after my constant reminders, they didn’t take any action. I couldn’t have just sat back and watched the cultural heritage of Buddhism being destroyed,” says Banteji. “Look at the absurdity of this case. The complaint has been lodged by a Muslim (ASI worker Azeem) against Buddhists and Dalits for hurting his religious sentiments. Whereas the deity in question is a Hindu idol,” says the defendants’ lawyer Mazhar Hussain. He claims Banteji has been targeted specifically as he’s been instrumental in converting over 15,000 Dalits to Buddhism since 1995.

ASI Deputy Superintendent Dr JK Patnaik rubbishes the claims. He cites a study conducted by ASI in 1989 to prove that the practice of Durga worship was prevalent at the time when the government acquired the place in 2002, and subsequently declared a protected site in 2003. “The idol dates back to the 9th century AD – Rashtrakutas period – and had not been installed there,” he says. He admits that ASI is allowing rituals to take place as discontinuing the practice would incur “the wrath of locals”. Local Hindu groups led by BJP MLA Valmiki Nayak have been demanding puja to be allowed at the site. “Twenty years ago, the site belonged to a villager who used to worship Durga. Hence we demanded that puja should be allowed. Those who say that the place only belongs to Buddhists and that this place is only Buddha Vihar are troublemakers,” he says.



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Thy Foreign, Lying Hand, Great Anarch – By Pranay Sharma, Debarshi Dasgupta, Pushpa Iyengar, Lola Nayar (Mar 12, 2012, Outlook)

“The world has changed, and the country must also change,” Manmohan Singh famously said on becoming finance minister two decades ago, in June 1991. The man who welcomed foreign investment into India has now, as its prime minister, invoked that old chestnut of a “foreign hand” working via civil society organisations (NGOs) to dismiss opposition to the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu. This has attracted (for the large part) criticism, concern, even wry chuckles at the irony of it all. For starters, a man who has always had to battle a pro-US image is pushing for a nuclear plant being built by Russia and, in the process, accusing US-funded NGOs (though not naming any) of blocking it. If that wasn’t enough, Outlook learns there is also a Russian ecological group, EcoDefence, somewhere at work here. Civil society is clearly upset. Many say Manmohan’s statement reflects a disturbing trend of government tackling genuine dissent by means more foul than fair. They stress the government reacted the same way to the Anna Hazare campaign, imputing motives to the NGOs that led it rather than meeting them on the turf of ideas. So the recent CBI and police action against four NGOs for alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (and reported plans for action against several more) has hardly been a PR coup for the Centre. But it’s evidently a carefully thought-out strategy. In an interview to American journal Science last week, Manmohan blamed US- and Scandinavian-funded NGOs for not being “fully appreciative of the developmental challenges that our country faces”. Was the PM trying to give out a signal to a wider audience that would be heard well beyond the country? What is the significance of invoking the “foreign hand” bogey-well-worn through use by successive generations of Indian PMs-at this juncture? Clearly, the pressure, both personal and external, to deliver on the nuclear deal (the only big feather in Manmohan’s cap) is showing. The failure to push through the deal on the ground-there have been protests at proposed reactor sites-undermines his, and indeed India’s, position.

“It is unfortunate that the prime minister of the largest democracy should have to lament about foreign-funded NGOs influencing the course of events,” says Nikhil Dey, a member of the National Advisory Council (NAC). Most large NGOs-a “powerful lobby”, all things considered-agree with this view. Complicating matters is an edgy game of politics being played out in Tamil Nadu, where protests against the Koodankulam plant have been raging for months. The leading agitator S.P. Udayakumar, coordinator, PMANE, told Outlook that the Centre had unleashed a “psychological war” against activists behind the stir. And soon after meeting CM Jayalalitha on February 29, he said she was “positive” and “cordial and patient” and “we have full faith in her”. But Jayalalitha is not letting on which way she’ll swing. For one, she has to tackle Tamil Nadu’s acute power crisis. And there’s also a bypoll to the Shankarankoil assembly constituency in Tirunelveli district (where Koodankulam is located) coming up on March 18. For now, she’s playing the pro- and anti-plant lobbies against each other. Recently, there were howls of protests when she appointed former Atomic Energy Commission chairman M.R. Srinivasan (seen as “pro-nuclear”) to head a committee constituted to probe the safety of the plant.

“The whole thing has been blown out of proportion,” says the prime minister’s former advisor and journalist, Sanjaya Baru. He feels it is necessary for governments to engage with civil society. But that should not call for glossing over “irregularities” – if any – committed by NGOs. In this instance, Baru claims information about “irregularities” was with the Union home ministry (MHA) for at least six months. “It would have been better if the MHA took a proactive role in sharing it with the media, rather than let the PM talk about them,” he added. In normal circumstances, bold action against NGOs for misusing foreign funds would have been decent PR-generating positive, nationalist vibes-but it has had the opposite effect. Faulty media management? No. Experts say Manmohan’s tack ran contrary to a changed pecking order in India-instituted largely by the PM himself. Many top bureaucrats (and some politicians) are foreign-trained. Policymakers, scholars and researchers interact with global agencies. This has led to piquant situations. Take The Asia Foundation. It was banished from India by Indira Gandhi, on charges of being a CIA front. Now it sends Indian diplomats to the US for crash courses on foreign policy. This “foreign hand” also extends to NGOs, who are funded by a host of multilateral agencies and think-tanks abroad. The Ford Foundation alone farms out about `70 crore a year to top Indian civil society and advocacy groups.

Ultimately, the PM’s gambit failed because a bogey of Cold War vintage didn’t sit well with a man who actually pulled India out of that mindset. Journalist and environment activist Praful Bidwai describes it as a “prelude to a campaign of crackdown”. He says, “Manmohan Singh is trying to tell the world that India will push the work at Koodankulam no matter what the opposition to it.” Bidwai, who has been a strong anti-nuclear campaigner, recalls how he was vilified by the establishment for his views when India went nuclear in May 1998. But sceptics also raise questions about the NGOs and the way they function. Devesh Kapur, who heads CASI in University of Pennsylvania, blames NGOs for lack of transparency, something they keep demanding from the government. However, it has to be accepted that for NGOs foreign funding is a fact of life. Pushpa Sundar, author of an in-depth book on NGOs, says most often they have to look abroad for funds. “With government providing very little funds and very few people donating, civil society has little option but to seek foreign donors, who provide funds with their own agenda, not necessarily evil,” says Sundar. The PM evidently also doesn’t have a problem with all foreign funds, especially from groups like USAID, PATH, GAVI and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Many, in fact, argue he has actually modified development programmes to bring them on board. For example, the government, on prodding from GAVI, has begun introducing into the national immunisation programme a pentavalent vaccine that includes a shot for a disease caused by Haemophilus influenzae type B (HiB) bacteria. The prevalence of this disease, many public health experts have argued, is too low (around 0.07 per cent) to merit universal dosage of a vaccine against it. But the government has dismissed concerns, including those that raise a doubt on the vaccine’s efficacy. “Often aid for public health programmes come with strings that require us to buy a specific vaccine of a specified firm or with advance purchase commitments,” says Y. Madhavi, a principal scientist and vaccine policy researcher at New Delhi’s National Institute of Science, Technology & Development Studies. “In fact, many believe the push here is part of a strategy to bring down prices of the HiB vaccine in the US,” she adds.

Neither does the government resist foreign funds being used for pro-nuclear and pro-GM causes. Recent instances include the World Nuclear Association’s nuclear energy promotion symposium in New Delhi last month, attended by top government scientists, and USAID’s deep involvement with the government through its Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project to promote genetically modified crop technology. Many anti-GM campaigners have argued against the inclusion of Monsanto and Wal-Mart on the US-India Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, which is ultimately aimed at reworking the country’s whole agricultural policy. The opposition to yet another high-stakes nuclear power project, the 9,900 MW Jaitapur project in Maharashtra, too has suddenly been swept into the debate under the same terms-framed in the “foreign-motivated” category. The state Congress pounced on the cue offered by the PM and sought “answers” from around a dozen protesting NGOs, as well as its rival Shiv Sena, which is also opposing the project, about their sponsors. Congress sources admit they have no evidence, not even a tipoff, that there’s funding by foreign (or objectionable) agencies. “It was a good issue to put the Sena on the defensive, after their recent win in local elections. It’s a political game,” says a Congress general secretary in Mumbai. Indeed, at its core, the whole thing might turn out to be just that.



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