IAMC Weekly News Roundup - May 7th, 2012 - IAMC
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IAMC Weekly News Roundup – May 7th, 2012

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

Book Review

Modi NOT eligible for diplomatic visa: US embassy (May 4, 2012, Rediff)

The United States consulate in New Delhi has informed US Senator Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is not eligible to receive a diplomatic visa. Aziz Haniffa reports. On the urging of his Indian American constituents, led by activist Tarun Surti of Nashville, Tennessee – one of Modi’s staunchest supporters in the US – and several senior members of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, the majority of whom have origins in Gujarat and are ardent fans of Modi, Corker had contacted the US embassy in New Delhi to explore the possibility of Modi being granted a diplomatic visa to visit the US. But Surti said he had received a call from Corker’s office “notifying me that the ‘Diplomatic Visa’ is not available to Sri Narendrabhai Modi.” He said, “The US embassy in Delhi informed the senator’s office that such visa are reserved for federal government employees only and not available to state government officials.”

Surti said, Corker’s office had also been notified by “The US embassy in Delhi that it is unwilling to address the illegal revocation of Sri Narendrabhai’s visa and now wants him to reapply for visa.” “He will be insulted a third time assuming that the US embassy in Delhi again rejects his visa application,” Surti complained, and added, “Narendrabhai has been insulted twice before and does not need another insult.” An aide to Corker, confirmed to rediff.com that the senator had been informed that Modi is not eligible for a diplomatic visa and that if he applies for a visitor’s visa “it will be considered on its merits,” but that there “is no guarantee that he will be issued one.” Evidently, seeing the writing on the wall, the hierarchy of AAHOA, which had been considering inviting Modi to keynote its annual convention last week in Atlanta, Georgia, had given up on the idea, fearing that he would be embarrassed once again by being refused a visa. In March 2005, Modi was denied a visa for his alleged complicity in Gujarat’s sectarian violence in 2002 – which left nearly 2,000 people, mainly Muslims dead – when he had applied for a visa to attend the annual convention of the AAHOA, where he was to deliver the keynote address. Interestingly, the refusal at the time came just two days after the visit to New Delhi of then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and although the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance government had no love lost for Modi, it summoned Robert Blake, the then US deputy chief of mission at the American embassy in Delhi, and lodged a strong protest over Washington’s decision called it “uncalled for.”

The External Affairs Ministry at the time said, “The action on the part of the US embassy is uncalled for and displays lack of courtesy and sensitivity towards a constitutionally elected chief minister of a state of India.” The US embassy at the time said Modi’s tourist and business visa issued in 1998, had been revoked and there was no chance he would be issued a diplomatic visa either. Earlier, the US embassy said Modi’s tourist and business visa, issued in 1998, had been revoked and he would not get a diplomatic visa either. At the time, an angry Modi called the US decision “an insult to the Indian constitution and an attack on Indian sovereignty.” But the US held firm and did not issue him a visa, saying the decision had been taken under the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, “under which any foreign government official responsible for serious violation of religious freedom is ineligible for a visa.” The state department said, “The US law is clear that states or government officials responsible for carrying out serious violations of religious freedom are ineligible for a visa.” Last month, Surti had called upon AAHOA to invite Modi to keynote AAHOA’s annual convention and the past and present leadership of AAHOA has contacted several US lawmakers on this issue and urged them to prevail on the State Department to permit Modi to visit the US. It was on their urging that last month a US lawmaker, Congressman Joe Walsh had launched a campaign to prevail on the Obama administration to grant a diplomatic visa to Modi.

Walsh, who is vulnerable in his district in the upcoming November elections and needs all the financial support he can muster as he has been targetted by Democrats as one of the most vulnerable Republicans, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to “consider granting a diplomatic visa to Chief Minister Narendra Modi of the Indian State of Gujarat.” “Ten years have passed since the violence in Gujarat and much progress has been made. Mr Modi has been recognised across the world for establishing Gujarat as the most business-friendly state in India and is widely believed to be a serious contender for the 2014 election for Indian Prime Minister,” he added. Last November, Blake, while acknowledging the economic progress and the exponential growth in Gujarat, which has made it an attractive state for investment by American business and industry, said that there has been no review on the issuance of a visa for Modi to travel to America. “No, there are no new developments on that,” Blake said. “But as you say, Gujarat itself remains a very important place for American investment. It’s shown itself to be a very welcoming environment for American business to flourish. And we’ll continue to promote investment, encourage investment into that state.” An incensed Surti, on hearing of Corker’s unsuccessful attempt to get the US embassy to grant Modi a visa, said, “I do not know if Narendrabhai really needs US visa because he is busy taking care of his people and country.” “He has brought prosperity, stability and social harmony among the people of Gujarat and therefore Gujarat has become the best examples in the nation. And, now the world has recognised him as the most beloved leader of India,” he added. Surti declared, “Don’t we all wish that US embassy in Delhi will wake up and recognise the truth.” He said, “The US embassy in Delhi has insulted all of us by failing to correct a decision that was based on false accusations,” and described such action as “totally un-American.”

Surti argued, “It is wrong of US embassy to make a decision based on false allegation that is not supported by any judicial branch of India or the US. Besides, he has proven during last 10 years that he is not a monster as portrayed by the US embassy and his opponents who condone Islamic terrorists.” “Second, the current population of India, including all minorities, is in favor of him being the next prime minister of India,” he claimed. Surti warned, “It is time that US recognise this fact and correct its mistake before Modi becomes the next prime minister of India.” He called for “A day of fasting on October 2, 2012 by all India-American and people of India to protest the unwillingness of US embassy to correct their mistake by reinstating Modi’s visa.” Surti said, “As a tax paying citizens of this country we have a right to demand from our government a fair and responsible attitude. Let us all join together and hold a gathering in every town in peaceful and non-violent manner to bring this issue to the American people and politicians.” He said he was currently contacting community leaders “who are willing to take part in this event.”



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9 get life term in Ode riots case (May 5, 2012, Deccan Herald)

A special court in Anand on Friday awarded life imprisonment to nine people and acquitted 31 for killing three members of a Muslim family during the 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat. Pronouncing the judgement, Judge R N Sareen convicted 9 of the 41 accused on charges of murder, rioting and criminal conspiracy. This was the third riot case in Ode village of Anand district in which the verdict has been delivered.

Last month another special court had convicted 23 accused in a separate riot case which had resulted in the death of 23 persons. Of the 23 convicted in the case 18 were sentenced to life in prison. The case was probed by the Supreme Court appointed special investigation team headed by former Central Bureau of Investigation director R K Raghavan. Three Muslims were killed in the Malwa Vagol area of Ode village on March 1, 2002, following the Godhra train carnage. The SIT had registered cases against 41 persons based on the complaint filed by Rehana Yusuf Vohra. One of the alleged accused had died during the course of trial. Those killed in the incident were identified as Ayesh Vohtra, Nooriben Vohra and Qadir Vohra.

During the course of the trial, the court had examined 67 witnesses and almost 100 documents were scrutinised by the court. Sixteen of the witnesses had turned hostile. Public Prosecutor B C Trivedi said: “The court had upheld its argument on the criminal conspiracy charges against the accused in the case. “However, the court rejected the arguments of the prosecution that since it was the rarest of the rare case capital punishment should be handed out.”



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‘4 Maharashtra blasts, Malegaon linked’ (Apr 30, 2012, Times of India)

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing saffron terror cases, has found evidence that blasts in Purna, Parbhani, Jalna and Nanded between 2003 and 2006 are all connected with the perpetrators of Malegaon blasts, although in a peculiar way. All these blasts, in Marathwada region of central Maharashtra, were carried out by proteges of Sunil Joshi, the mastermind of the Malegaon and Samjhauta Express blasts. The agency has found that Himanshu Panse, Sanjay Chaudhari and several of their associates, all accused in the series of blasts through 2003-2006 in central Maharashtra, were actually trained by Joshi’s group that allegedly executed the Malegaon, Samjhauta Express, Ajmer Sharif and Mecca Masjid blasts.

In fact, it was Joshi’s group that had taught Panse how to assemble bombs and arranged for his training in Pune’s Singhgadh area and other places including the Bhonsala Military School, sources said. A senior NIA official said, “There is evidence that Panse and some others from his group used to frequently go to Madhya Pradesh, particularly Dewas, and had some connection with Sunil Joshi. We have learnt that Joshi’s group was in fact training them since early 2000 as part of their larger plan to target Muslims across the country. Panse and others were Joshi’s foot-soldiers.” Despite this close connection, however, NIA says the Marathwada blasts were not sanctioned by Joshi or Abhinav Bharat. “Joshi’s group had trained these men as a sleeper module, who would be used later when the group was fully prepared to execute big attacks. However, the overenthusiastic Panse group started making bombs and attack plans on its own, much to the detriment of Joshi’s plans,” said the official.

“After the first couple of blasts, they were even reprimanded by the Joshi group for executing what the group called ‘chillar blasts’,” another official said. Sources said Joshi’s group also feared that with their reckless blasts, Panse’s group was likely to expose the larger designs of Hindu terror. “And that’s exactly what happened in the 2006 Nanded blasts in which the bomb meant to be exploded in Aurangabad went off in the house of one of the accused, killing Panse. Thankfully for Joshi, his group’s name did not figure on the radar then.” This development has now brought all Hindu terror cases, except the recent attacks and arrests in Mewat district of Haryana, under one umbrella of the Joshi group. While the Nanded blast has been investigated by the CBI, the other Marathwada blasts have been chargesheeted by Maharashtra ATS.



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Advani must be tried for Babri Masjid conspiracy: CBI to SC (May 7, 2012, Times of India)

The CBI has told the Supreme Court that it was not only against dropping of conspiracy charges against BJP leader L K Advani in the Babri Masjid demolition case but also wanted him and other leaders to face trial along with the accused kar sevaks. In the demolition incident, two FIRs were lodged. FIR No. 197/92 was against kar sevaks who allegedly demolished the mosque while FIR No. 198/92 had named Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar, Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Vishnu Hari Dalmiya and Sadhvi Rithambara for making provocative speeches to instigate kar sevaks.

The CBI in its recent affidavit said, “It is not possible to separate some of the accused persons from 197/92 because they did not have a personal hand in the actual demolition of the disputed structure and be transposed as accused in 198/92.” The agency added, “It is incorrect to state that case crime no. 197/92 and 198/92 are two different cases and facts and the place of occurrence are different. The investigations by CBI had disclosed that there was a single larger conspiracy to demolish the disputed structure on December 12, 1992 and various accused so charged in the consolidated chargesheet in all the 49 cases played their own roles in achieving the object of the said criminal conspiracy.”

On Advani’s role, the CBI said, “Before the demolition started and during the course of demolition, various accused persons including the eight named in the FIR of crime no. 198/92, made provocative slogans from the manch (dais) causing the assembly to turn unlawful resulting in rioting and storming of the structure by the kar sevaks.” In its 30-page affidavit, the CBI said, “As and when the domes fell, the accused leaders and others on the manch celebrated the same by clapping, hugging each other and distributed sweets on the manch which was at a visible distance of 175 metres from the disputed structure.

“All the offences of shouting of provocative slogans creating enmity between two communities, affecting national integration as well as the demolition of the structure and assault on media persons not to create (sic) record of what was going on, formed part of the same transaction and could not be separated from each other.” It also quoted a February 12, 2001 judgment of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court. Through the affidavit, the CBI at one go challenged the HC’s 2010 judgment putting its stamp of approval on dropping of conspiracy charges against Advani, separation of trial of the two FIRs and the dropping of charges altogether against Bal Thackeray and 12 others on the ground that they were not present in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.



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Staged shootout: Charges framed against Rajasthan IPS officer (May 1, 2012, Yahoo)

A court here Tuesday framed charges against suspended Indian Police Service (IPS) officer A.K. Jain in the case of killing of criminal Dara Singh in a staged shoot-out, a lawyer said. Jain had surrendered before a court in Jaipur on Feb 27, nine months after he disappeared fearing arrest by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). “After the cognizance of his chargesheet was taken, the district and sessions court, Jaipur determined charges against him under various sections of Indian Penal Code. Trial against him will be held under these sections,” said CBI’s special public prosecutor Sarfaraz Haider Khan.

IPC sections against Jain include section 120B (criminal conspiracy), to be read with sections 302 (murder), 346 (wrongful confinement) and 364 (kidnapping in order to murder). Jain is among the two IPS officers who are accused in the case. IPS officer A. Ponnuchami had been arrested in May last year. The CBI has also arrested Bharatiya Janata Party legislator Rajendra Singh Rathore at whose alleged behest, Dara Singh was gunned down in the fake gunfight on Oct 23, 2006.

Apart from Ponnuchami, the CBI arrested ten other policemen – Additional Superintendent of Police Arsad Ali, Inspectors Nisar Khan, Naresh Sharma and Subhash Godara, sub-inspectors Satyanarayan Godara and Munshi Lal, assistant sub-inspector Surendra Singh, constables Jagraj and Bardi Prasad and driver Sardar Singh – in the case. Three other policemen – Rajesh Chaudhary, Zulfikar and Arvind – are still on the run.



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BJP MLA booked for inciting communal violence (May 1, 2012, Times of India)

The Uttarakhand police on Monday booked BJP MLA Rajkumar Thukral for fanning communal violence in Udham Singh Nagar on October 2 last year, in which four people were killed and 35 others, including 12 policemen, wounded. In the riots that followed, several shops were set ablaze and curfew was imposed for more than a week.

“Civil judge Reena Negi directed the police to book Thukral on the basis of an application filed by one Suhel Ahmed,” said DIG, Nainital, Deepak Jyoti Ghildiyal, adding that the application was filed a few days after the communal violence broke out. Ahmed had alleged that Thukral, 45, had incited anti-social elements into firing at members of the minority community and burn their shops. Apart from the BJP MLA, 17 others were booked under similar charges. Thukral was elected from Udham Singh Nagar on January 30 this year.

A senior police officer said that the process to investigate cases against the BJP MLA has been initiated. Asked for his reaction, Thukral told TOI, “It’s strange that the cases have been registered seven months after the violence. This has been done at the ruling Congress’s behest. My image is being tarnished.” He added, “I have full faith in the police and the judiciary.” Thukral has been booked on charges of murder, inciting violence, provoking communal attacks and indulging in loot.



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Mining greed behind Rajasthan mosque demolition: report (May 4, 2012, The Hindu)

A fact-finding report on the recent demolition of a century-old rooftop mosque at Pur in Rajasthan has held “crony capitalism” and “mining greed” responsible for the incident. It demanded a judicial inquiry into the role of a corporate house, ruling Congress leaders and a section of the clergy in making the deal for sale of the place of worship. Jindal Saw Limited, owned by the O.P. Jindal Group, bought the mosque from the Anjuman Committee of Pur for Rs. 65 lakh and demolished it on April 19 to make way for mining on the Tiranga hills where it was situated. The Anjuman had stated that it had obtained “guidance” for the act from the State Waqf Board.

Jaipur-based Irada Society, working for the socio-economic uplift of Muslims, released the report here on Thursday following its president Prof. Mohammed Hasan visit to Pur. It said the demolition was the end result of a “nexus of interests” for exploitation of precarious community resources. Prof. Hasan said the lease was given ignoring the presence of religious and archaeological heritage and natural resources in the area. The report had raised questions over the controversial fatwa issued by an Imam stating that the structure was a cluster of graves and the speed with which the correspondence was conducted between the Anjuman and the Waqf Board two days before the demolition. Interestingly, Waqf Board Chairman Liaqat Ali Khan was the first to rush to the Pur site after the mosque was razed.

Prof. Hasan said there was a “marked contrast” in the language of two letters written by Mr. Khan on the issue. In his letter dated April 18, he advised the Anjuman to act “in the interest of Waqf and in accordance with the Shariah provisions.” Later, he wrote to the Bhilwara Collector on April 23 asking him to reconstruct the mosque and take stringent action against the violators. Muslim groups here have alleged that bribes over Rs. 65 lakhs had changed hands. The reconstruction of the mosque is in progress. Prof. Hasan, who taught at the Harish Chandra Mathur State Institute of Public Administration here, is a member of the State Government’s Rajiv Gandhi Social Security Mission.



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Petition filed in SC against Haraze, team members (May 3, 2012, Hindustan Times)

A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking action against anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and his team members for allegedly showing disrespect to national flag during his agitation for lokpal bill.

The petitioner LK Venkat, a Chennai resident, alleged that during the agitation in December last year the associates of Hazare had shown disrespect to the national flag and the government failed to take any action despite a complaint filed against them. He has made Hazare and his associates Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal parties in the case.

“During the course of the agitation, Hazare and his associates had flown the national flag at half mast in public and also shown the flag on the ground in public and also mutilated and defaced the flag,” Venkat said. “The petitioner had already made the representations before the concerned authorities but they failed to take any action in the matter against them.”



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Rights of tribals at the core of Maoist conflict, says mediator (May 6, 2012, The Hindu)

The conflict between the Government and the Maoists in the tribal areas didn’t start with the abduction of Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon and it would not end with his release, observed B. D. Sharma, the mediator who secured Mr. Menon’s freedom after two weeks in captivity. Addressing a Press conference here on Saturday, Mr. Sharma said: “At the core of the clash between the governments and the Maoists lies the question of ownership of jal, jangal and zameen of the tribals, who used to be the owners of the mineral-rich region, and the model of development which the governments, State as well as the Union, are thrusting upon them.”

Referring to the “understanding” reached between the Chhattisgarh Government and Maoists, he hoped the temporary ceasefire in Operation Green Hunt will lead to an era of peace. However, he added: “Only astrologers can predict the longevity of the current ‘ceasefire’.” The former District Magistrate of Bastar talked about the situation prevailing in the tribal region while highlighting the government’s failure in protecting the rights of tribals.

“When I asked a local tribal in Bastar about the difference the Maoists’ presence has made to his life, he replied that the tribals don’t get troubled by the patwari and the daroga ,” Mr. Sharma said. Talking about the “inherent contradiction” in the government’s policy on tribals, Mr. Sharma said instead of resolving core issues like rights over forests, forest produce, people’s rights over land and resources, and the trader-contractor-politician nexus, governments have signed hundreds of memoranda of understanding with foreign and domestic companies for exploitation of minerals without the consent of the local people.

“Our Prime Minister calls the tribal people poor! How can you call the community poor which historically and naturally used to own and cultivate the mineral-rich region and its resources?” he said. Mr. Sharma regretted that the Bhuria Committee’s 1996 recommendation regarding community ownership of industry had not been adopted still.

He said tribals had not been given any stake in the present model of development despite the Centre having envisaged carving out a zone to ensure the partnership of tribals in development. He highlighted the “open violation” of the provisions of the Panchayat (Extension to Schedule Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) – the PESA had envisaged that “every Gram Sabha shall be competent to safeguard and preserve the tradition and customs of the people, their cultural identity, community resources and the customary mode of the dispute resolution.”



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Constable awarded life imprisonment for rape of Dalit woman (May 3, 2012, DNA India)

A local court here has awarded life sentence to a constable for raping a Dalit woman four years ago. Constable Akhilesh Yadav has been awarded life imprisonment for the rape of a Dalit woman in Samrakhapur village under Asandra police station area of February 5, 2008.

The constable in an inebriated condition barged into the house of the victim when she was alone with her two minor kids while on patrol duty and raped her at gun point, sources said.

After hearing both the sides, Special Additional District Judge Kalpana Misra pronounced the verdict yesterday.



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Opinions and Editorials

Modi’s Gujarat: Propaganda masks below-average growth – By Neena Vyas (Apr 20, 2012, Deccan Herald)

‘Gujarat is poised to lead national reconstruction … promoting growth and development and excellence in all walks of life.’ – www.narendramodi.in. The celebrations have begun. On April 10, it was officially disclosed in court that the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team has recommended closure of the Gulberg Society massacre case finding no actionable evidence to prosecute Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Immediately, political pundits started predicting Modi’s ascent to the national political stage. The last hurdle in Modi’s path had been crossed. He could now get on with the task of doing for India what he has already done for Gujarat: make it shine. Modi has been anxious to leave behind the 2002 pogrom and metamorphose into the ‘development man.’

One could be forgiven for mistaking Modi’s new mask to be his real face, for had not ‘Time’ magazine’s Asian edition cover story on Modi last month endorsed him as the new ‘vikas purush.’ Indian media institutions have made it a habit to praise Modi for efficient governance, as have corporate honchos, who hail him as the most investor-friendly of all chief ministers. Modi was the winner of ‘best chief minister’ title in a recent Mood of the Nation survey by India Today-Nielson. He was declared the favourite for the prime ministerial position in 2014. Click www.narendramodi.in to read the long list of awards and accolades he has won over a decade. If in 2005 Advani tried unsuccessfully to play the ‘I love Jinnah, therefore I am secular’ role in the hope the country would forget his support to 1992 Talibanesque act of razing to the ground the Babri Masjid, Modi has been desperately trying to emerge as the ‘development man,’ putting behind him the 2002 carnage, even as he repeatedly trips over the many skeletons of ‘encounter’ killings that pop out of his state cupboard. The question is: has he made Gujarat shine? Is Gujarat shining more than Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Haryana or Karnataka? Has Gujarat under Modi achieved something that no other state has?

The hard fact is Gujarat has not been able to bag top position for even one of several key socio-economic indicators: life expectancy, infant mortality, nutrition, literacy and investment – although in 2001 when Modi took charge, Gujarat was already a well developed state, holding 4th state rank for per capita net state domestic product in mid-1996. Currently Haryana holds top rank, while Gujarat is at 6th position as it has mostly been since 1970s. Last year, the National Council of Applied Economic Research reached the disturbing conclusion that hunger and malnourishment levels in Gujarat were higher than in Uttar Pradesh. The 61st National Sample Survey established that 44.6 per cent children in Gujarat were malnourished and 66 per cent in 0 to 5 age group were anaemic. A larger percentage of children went to bed hungry in Gujarat than in Uttar Pradesh. Life expectancy is a good indicator of nutrition and health services. In Gujarat it was two years shorter than the all-India average of 66.1 in 2006-10 (Registrar General of India). The average Gujarati dies two years earlier than the average Indian and ten years before a Keralite, where at 73.9 years, life expectancy is the highest. Several states, including Maharashtra, Punjab and Tamil Nadu, have bettered the national average.

In Modi’s ‘garvi Gujarat,’ infant mortality rate fell 10 points from 60 to 50 from 2001-08, when the national average IMR fell 13 points from 66 to 53. States that ought to be compared to Gujarat performed better: Maharashtra IMR down 12 points from 45 to 33; Tamil Nadu lower by 18 points to 31 and Karnataka down 13 points to 45. The sample registration system showed mothers in Gujarat fared no better than their newborns. Between 2004 and 2009 maternal mortality rate in Gujarat fell by 12 points from 160 to 148. Many states did out-shine Gujarat: in Kerala MMR was down 14 points from 95 to 81; Tamil Nadu lowered it by 14 points to 97 and Maharashtra 26 points from 130 to 104. The national average came down by 40 points from 254 to 212. These statistics are a telling beam of light that dissipate the fog of Modi’s propaganda. Take literacy. The latest census figures showed Gujarat dropping one state rank over the decade: from 17th in 2001 to 18th in 2011, a far cry from Modi’s 2001 ‘vision’ of a 100 per cent literate Gujarat by 2010.

Truth has been the principal casualty of the hyper-active Gujarat state publicity departments.Surely the prize for the most bombastic claims must go to the website www.vibrantgujrat.com. This site would have us believe billions of dollars worth of foreign direct investment have flowed into Gujarat creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and wiping out hunger and poverty. In the first three Vibrant Gujarat summits: 2003, 2005 and 2007, a total of $186 billion was garnered as MoUs for FDI, the official website claimed. Of these, 84 per cent proposals ‘had been implemented or were under implementation,’ it said. In the next two biannual events, MoUs worth $240 billion and $450 billion were signed taking the total to a staggering $ 876 billion! If 60 per cent MoUs had materialised – not 84 per cent as claimed – Gujarat would have matched China’s FDI inflows of $600 billion plus! Such extravagant claims were punctured by the Reserve Bank of India: a total of $7.3 billion was all that flowed into Gujarat in this period, a mere 5 per cent of total India’s total FDI. As against this, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka cornered 6 per cent of the national pie, while neighbouring Maharashtra garnered a massive 35 per cent. The Modi PR machine is skilled at blowing its own trumpet to the orchestral accompaniment of a thrusting Gujarati diaspora.



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After Eleven Years, It Stings To Say This – By Mathew Samuel (May 14, 2012, Outlook)

Like the rest of the nation, I too sat before the idiot box and watched former BJP national president Bangaru Laxman being taken to prison last week. Wasn’t it just the other day when I was actually sitting before him and handing over those bundles of one lakh rupees in cash? He had offered to help clinch a defence deal in what has come to be known as Operation Westend, little suspecting that it was a sting operation. Bangaru’s conviction and imprisonment left me with mixed feelings though. I did feel vindicated at one level, this being the season of defence scams and scandals. But I was also disturbed by the question of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) fast-tracking the case against the BJP’s Dalit icon and not against equally or even more influential people like Jaya Jaitly, R.K. Gupta, R.K. Jain and others, all caught by me on camera, accepting bribes just like Bangaru Laxman did. The CBI was clearly in a hurry to bring the case against Bangaru to a closure. In September last year, they were desperate enough to request me to fly back from Goa for a final deposition in court. They even offered to reimburse my plane fare but afterwards, the agency denied making any such offer. I wish the CBI had shown as much urgency in pursuing the other politicians, businessmen and brokers. Why the agency has dragged its feet in the other cases, only the CBI can say. It all began on a train journey, on the Deccan Queen in fact. I was on my way back to Mumbai from Pune. A casual chat with a co-passenger – who turned out to be a supplier to army canteens – led us to plan the Westend sting operation for the portal, Tehelka, where I was then a special correspondent. The organisation, after some initial hesitation, backed and funded the operation. We created fake brochures for a fake firm in London, ostensibly dealing in equipment for the armed forces. Visiting cards were printed and I began by meeting the juniormost babus in the chain and worked up the ladder to try and sell hand-held thermal imagers. Anil Malviya, the canteen stores department (CSD) contractor who first gave me the idea, was also the one who paid the first bribe, just two thousand rupees, to a junior official of the defence ministry. He had brought an entire list of equipment that the army was looking for. We met scores of officials, in the ministry and from the army. We met wheeler-dealers and minor politicians. We called on fund-raisers of the BJP and the Samata Party and taped our conversations and used spy cams to record our meetings. Although I personally recorded 99 of the 105 tapes, nobody suspected anything. All of them told us that no defence deal could be clinched without wine, women and cash.

I met Bangaru Laxman and Jaya Jaitly because defence personnel made it clear that procurement over Rs 50 crore needed clearance by the cabinet. Jaitly was a prominent Samata Party leader and close to the then defence minister, George Fernandes. And Laxman, of course, was the BJP president. I was advised to meet both and solicit their help. I had earlier met the BJP fund-raiser, R.K. Gupta, who was close to the RSS. He had also accepted cash and promised to help. I had gifted a gold chain worth Rs 10,000 then to Satyamurthy, who was in charge of giving appointments at Bangaru’s house. The reference to Gupta and the gold chain convinced Satyamurthy of my credentials and an appointment was finally fixed with the BJP president. When I reached his house, Satyamurthy, who brokered the deal, insisted on Rs 10 lakh as initial payment to Bangaru. I offered to pay Rs 1 lakh in cash immediately and the rest later, saying truthfully that I did not have Rs 10 lakh on me. The entire sting operation, I believe, cost Tehelka around Rs 11 lakh. The money would be handed over to me by Aniruddha Bahal, then the editor (investigations) of the portal, and I was expected to actually pay the money and record the encounters. Catching Bangaru on camera turned out to be easier than I expected. I was using a briefcase device, which had a horizontal lens and a vertical one. Since he was seated and the briefcase was placed on the table in front of me, the horizontal lens was actually turned towards me as I took out the cash. So, while handing over the cash to him, I had to turn the briefcase the other way, towards him. I was apprehensive that he would notice the awkward movement but he did not react. To hide my nervousness, I asked whether he wanted the remaining cash in Indian currency or in US dollars. He asked for dollar bills.

It turned out to be more difficult to catch Jaya Jaitly on camera. Madam, I was told, would not allow any briefcase inside the defence minister’s house. But she had no problem with cash, of course. She possibly knew about spy cams and the briefcase device. I was told that an Indian cricketer may have shown her how the briefcase-camera worked. I therefore arranged for a spy cam on a tie-pin. The trouble was that the battery was tucked inside my underwear and the remote was in my pocket. And when I switched it on, the battery would start vibrating inside my underwear. The few minutes I spent in her presence were among the most uncomfortable moments I have ever had. I was spared the trouble of recording the sexual escapade of Brigadier Iqbal Singh with a high society callgirl, arranged by a former Indian cricketer. She turned out to be a good sport and offered to record her romp with the brigadier. In court, both Jaitly and Bangaru first claimed that the tapes were fake; their images had been superimposed; pictures were morphed; their voices did not match; that the tapes were doctored. Once forensic tests established that the tapes were genuine and their voice was on them, they pleaded that they were honourable persons and collected donations for the party. They fabricated receipts as an afterthought and claimed they had given receipts for what they received. They also claimed that since Westend was a fictitious firm and as I was posing as a representative of this non-existent firm, there was no real deal and, therefore, the charges against them were not tenable and should be dropped. In Bangaru’s case, the court held that the tapes showed he had taken me to be a serious vendor, had accepted real cash and had promised help in securing defence deals. And that was sufficient to convict him.

My cover as the representative of the fictitious London-based firm had been blown even before the tapes were released. I had rushed to Kerala to attend to my ailing father. But there was no mobile connectivity in Kerala then and my increasingly suspicious contacts were constantly calling me for the rest of the amount. On receiving no response, they approached the service provider, secured the office address and a few casual questions there led them to my rented flat. Some of those contacts had been suspicious from the beginning. One of them insisted on learning where I lived so that he could drop by for a drink. Luckily, I knew of an eccentric recluse who lived alone in Janakpuri with as many as 20 dogs. I gave out his address and said that I lived alone in a part of that house. He visited the house only once but left quickly, thanks to the ferocious dogs. In retrospect, I now believe Operation Westend has been a wasted exercise. Nothing has changed. If anything, things have become much worse. Corruption in procurement for the armed forces has become endemic and more money is changing hands than ever before. The Tatra trucks, which is in the news following army chief V.K. Singh’s allegation that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore for clearing the purchase of 600 of the trucks, figured in many of our recorded conversations in 2001. Officials openly spoke of deficiencies in the truck and how deals were being struck and how much money was being paid. Ravi Rishi’s name also figured in several of those conversations. The CBI has been in possession of those 105 tapes for the past 11 years. I wonder why the country’s premier investigating agency ignored the evidence on Tatra all these years. Is it possible that nobody heard the tapes or failed to read the transcripts? As a prize prosecution witness, I have been forced to spend months together in various cantonments and depose before courts of inquiry. When you spend three months at a stretch in the officers’ mess in a cantonment, you hear stories. Almost every evening, someone or the other would be talking of the corruption involved in defence procurements. Sub-standard equipment, rations, medicines, arms, ammunition—the list was endless. A few senior officers actually cried and said they felt ashamed and helpless. That the jawans were being taken for a ride by some black sheep in the army and the politicians. But there was little they could do. The six serving army officers, and four retired ones, who were convicted for their crimes, were surprisingly stoical. Calm and resigned, they would sometimes chat with me and ask, with a wry smile, whether the sting would stop at ruining only their lives and careers or whether it would also expose the politicians with their dhotis down.

The CBI had registered 12 cases in all on the basis of the tapes. The case against Bangaru Laxman was just one of them. The agency had also filed cases against us in Tehelka for violating the Official Secrets Act. They also filed cases against two officials of the Central Secretariat Service, Neeraj Kumar and Thomas Mathew. Both of them were suspended and charged, possibly because they had interacted with me. But they had played no role in the sting. I am not really surprised because the CBI also linked me with Sonia Gandhi and her secretary Vincent George (remember, it was the NDA government in power then), two people I have never met or spoken to. I have not done a single sting operation since 2001. I even discourage others from undertaking any sting, citing my own experience. The day after the Tehelka tapes were released, on March 13, 2001, my landlord in Delhi’s Greater Kailash locality threw us out of his house. Police and Intelligence Bureau sleuths had turned up the heat and he could not bear it. My wife, who worked for a private firm, had to quit her job because it became impossible for her to continue, with police and the IB constantly arriving at her office to make inquiries. Sleuths from the IB even went to my village in Kerala and interrogated my father. The Tehelka portal had by then been shut down (for two years). I have not held a permanent job since then due to my preoccupation with the cases. For eight months, I worked for the portal without any payment. While the army provided hospitality and transport for deposing before courts of inquiry, the CBI paid me Rs 250 per day and Rs 25 extra for lunch. The parking fee at the courts in Delhi is Rs 50 and the rest was spent on food and transport. How was I expected to maintain my family? A labourer in Delhi receives Rs 450 per day under the NREGA. But when I met the CBI director to plead for a reasonable amount so that I could give evidence as a witness, he asked me to get the money from Tehelka. The reply was the same when I spoke to V. Narayanasamy, the minister at the PMO. The CBI director now, A.P. Singh, asked why I got involved in sting operations and advised me against doing such reports in future. I have now stopped going to the court to depose as witness. I cannot afford to do it any longer. Ironically, I cannot leave Delhi either because of the case against me. I cannot afford a lawyer and I am threatened with the prospect of a non-bailable warrant if I do not turn up to depose. It’s a Catch-22 situation from which there seems to be no escape.



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Who Strains On A Short Leash? – By Uttam Sengupta (May 14, 2012, Outlook)

It is striking that demands to regulate the media are coming from institutions like the judiciary, the executive and the legislature. Each views its privileges and privacy to be ‘in national interest’ and is rarely willing to share info or insights with the media. Now, they would like to lay down what the media can report, what they cannot and how far they can go. As it is, the media does not venture very far due to ‘reasonable restrictions’ placed on them. The meetings of the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament, to cite an example, is not public. The legislature can pull up the media for breach of privilege. The judiciary has always had issue with court reporting, invoking ‘contempt of court’ even for humour columns. As for the government and India Inc, the less said the better. They have over the years perfected the art of starving the media of information and keeping it under control.

The fuss over a ‘reckless’ media is all the more surprising since much of our serious journalism involves taking dictation from politicians, bureaucrats, industry bosses, policemen and judges. They expect stenographers in the garb of journalists and rarely welcome probing questions, much less an investigation. Who then is afraid of our media and why? The Press Council of India chairman, Justice Markandey Katju, a votary for more regulation, makes familiar points. The media, he says, has grown so powerful that it “can strongly impact people’s lives”; that while judges “can be impeached” and the licences of lawyers, doctors and accountants “can be suspended and cancelled”, why should the media shy away from being held accountable?

Somebody should respectfully point out that very few judges, accountants, doctors and lawyers have actually been punished in this country for professional misconduct. The ones that have, you can count off on your fingers and even Justice Katju would agree that the vast majority of them get away with unprofessional conduct every day. Neither the Bar Council of India nor the Medical Council of India have exactly been proactive. Action against an R.K. Anand or one Ketan Desai can’t gloss over the thousands of other cases that are overlooked as a matter of routine. Law firms cannot be sued for professional negligence and even in the worst cases, the Bar Council has suspended licences of lawyers for only a few months at best.

The nexus between lawyers and judges is hardly a state secret; its intersections are even more brazen and rampant in the lower judiciary. When lawyers are said to charge as much as Rs 25 lakh to Rs 1 crore every day for appearing before the apex court, surely the fees would cover a lot more than professional advice? Bribes are given to court clerks openly all over the country. Many of these clerks prosper by looking after the interests of judicial magistrates. The administrative jurisdiction of the higher courts has made very little or no difference to these conditions. A fairly large number of media professionals, on the other hand, lose their jobs for reasons ranging from plagiarism, soliciting favours and misquoting sources to blackmail and sexual harassment at the workplace. At any given time, the number of defamation cases against media organisations runs into the several thousands. Most are meant to harass and bleed rather than secure any specific relief. And after all, statutes and regulations do not seem to have worked with other professionals. There is nothing to suggest they will work in the case of the media either.



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The real paralysis – By C.P. Chandrasekhar (May 5, 2012, Frontline)

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-II, the argument goes, is afflicted by paralysis in policymaking, especially on matters relating to the economy. Not without reason. There are few new initiatives that are being implemented with vigour, and many that began during UPA-I, including the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), languish under the current regime. But all those who identify the government as being overcome by paralysis are not referring to the same policies. “Paralysis” of the kind that preoccupies the financial media, corporate India and international investors refers to the failure of the government to deliver fully on its explicitly or implicitly stated commitment to so-called “economic reform”. When in Washington recently to attend the spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Kaushik Basu, his Chief Economic Adviser, realised that the sources of such criticism were not just domestic. Moreover, the term economic reform means different things to different people: deregulation of various kinds, reduced taxation or more tax concessions, privatisation, public expenditure cuts, measures to curtail subsidies and reduce the fiscal deficit, a lax monetary regime with low interest rates, dilution of labour laws, and many combinations of these. The fact remains that successive governments since the early 1990s have gone a significant way down this path of liberalisation, privatisation and so-called reform of the fiscal and monetary regime. But there seems to be no end to the demands for further liberalisation. Each round is followed by a campaign for a new generation of reforms, so much so that now it is impossible for advocates to put a number on the next round. Further, since the interests of foreign investors in manufacturing, of different components of the domestic corporate sector, and of foreign and Indian finance capital differ, the specific set of reform policies being emphasised by each sectional interest also differs.

However, faced with criticism from these economically powerful circles, the government has turned defensive. It sometimes accepts that the slow pace of reforms under UPA-II is because of the constraints set by coalition politics or by the intransigence of the opposition. Many accepted that argument when the Left was supporting the government under UPA-I, but it is less credible now. Sometimes government officials attribute the slow pace of liberalising reform to the indecision that results from repeated allegations of corruption. That is seen as constraining other officers from taking responsibility for government spending. And at yet other times, just the fact that some set of elections is imminent (which is always true) is cited as reason for tardy implementation of the so-called ‘consensus’ over reform. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has at times used such excuses to explain the inability to implement reforms. But, since the consensus among the elite that constitutes the state-capital nexus is that these reforms are good, officials like the Chief Economic Adviser who reportedly advanced such arguments sometimes come under attack and are forced to retract. The problem with this version of the policy paralysis argument is that it presumes that the neoliberal version of reform is right and that democracy (in the form of elections, coalition governments, opposition and dissent) is not all good since it constrains or slows such reform. What is missed here is the evidence that reform in India has been accompanied on the one hand by a significant worsening of income inequality and on the other by a fall in the rate at which welfare improvements for the poorest are realised. Whether it be poverty incidence, malnutrition and hunger, reasonably stable and remunerative employment or a host of other indices of deprivation, the pace of progress has slowed after liberalisation. This association between reform and inadequate advance on the human development front has challenged the legitimacy of the liberalisation process.

In the event, sections of the opposition, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which advocate similar policies when in power, are constrained to oppose the government in some form when new measures of liberalisation are pushed. The real problem is that neoliberal reform has no legitimacy in the perception of the majority of Indians. It is not surprising, therefore, that it is not just neoliberal reform but also the economic programmes of the parties that push such reform that have lost their legitimacy. They may be all for the poor on paper, but the evidence on the ground is too stark now for the electorate to ignore. That loss of legitimacy is compounded by the evidence that the growing state-capital nexus has resulted in huge transfers of surpluses in favour of capital, facilitated by associated payments to a section of the political and bureaucratic elite. Neoliberal reform has served as a mechanism for a drastic, engineered redistribution of income and wealth in favour of the rich. Hence, with two decades of reform behind us, the majority of the people in India are no longer persuaded that it can make much of a difference to their lives. Despite this, the push for reform persists because a vocal section of the middle class that has benefited from liberalisation has joined the elite’s clamour in its support, because electoral politics is increasingly influenced by money power, and because the political parties and movements that oppose such reform are yet to gather adequate voter support. But democracy does impose some constraints on parties and their programmes. There has to be a semblance of concern for the majority, even if action points to neglect. It is for this reason that the UPA has had to declare its commitment to and make a feeble attempt to implement programmes such as the NREGS. They are even showcased as flagship programmes though some of the UPA’s leaders had initially dismissed such initiatives as populist and a waste of money. But the support for such programmes has been more in rhetoric than in practice, with implementation neglected or consciously reined in. Nothing illustrates this better than the fact that real allocations of resources for the NREGS have stagnated or declined in the years when it was reportedly being geographically expanded and strengthened.

This disease of divergence between rhetoric and practice is of course not new. In terms of outcomes, a longer-term paralysis of policymaking in certain areas has characterised governments of the post-Independence period. As a result, India ranks high in the hunger index; malnutrition and stunting are overwhelming despite their being considered a national shame even by the Prime Minister; and six and a half decades after Independence we have not been able to put into school all children in the relevant age group. Official assessments harp on the slow progress with respect to most human development indicators, rather than on the persisting shortfall after so many decades of development. Rather than recognise this long-term failure in addressing deprivation and allocating additional resources and improving delivery to accelerate progress on the human development front, there has been a slowing down in this area during the reform years. What is disconcerting is that it was in periods when GDP growth had accelerated relative to the first three decades after Independence, as in the 1990s, and even boomed, as during 2003-04 to 2007-08, that success in overcoming deprivation has flagged. One obvious reason for this is that the government was not able to appropriate the resources required to compensate for the inequalising effects of growth despite rising profit shares in organised industry and services and in incomes of the rich.

Clearly, a combination of fiscal conservatism, a rising tendency to favour capital in the name of private sector-led growth and an ideological inclination against state action in support of the poor was responsible for this setback. There are many elements reflecting that ideological inclination: control over economic policy in the hands of those who are neither able nor willing to fight and win popular support in elections; celebration of a neoliberal economic policy package as technocratically correct despite its hugely adverse distributional implications; justification of engineered shifts in the distribution of income in favour of the corporate sector, finance and the rich in the name of incentivising private savings and investment; and the refusal to treat woefully inadequate progress in the battle against deprivation as a failure while arguing that the inability to push neoliberal reform is a sign of malfunction. This, then, is the true paralysis that characterises the UPA. It is a paralysis that is visible in governments across the world in the age of finance, including in Europe. In some of them austerity is being implemented by unelected governments, and in all of them ordinary citizens pay the price for a crisis engineered by finance and the rich. But the impact of such paralysis in a country with the scale of deprivation that India reflects is a shame. But that is not the paralysis that most commentators are pointing to today and which was being referred to in Washington. Rather, the paralysis they speak of is the inability of the government to push further ahead with policies that would redistribute incomes from the poor to the rich. What they implicitly lament is the fact that India’s democracy still retains some of its early representativeness and vibrancy. The challenge then is not to the Indian state but to democracy itself.



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Kidnap as strategy – By Prafulla Das (May 5, 2012, Frontline)

A group of armed Maoists kidnapped Alex Paul Menon, the first Collector of the newly formed Sukma district in Chhattisgarh, on April 21, confirming the fact that the rebels are able to strike at will wherever they have a presence. The abduction took place even as a beleaguered Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha was trying to ensure the safe release of Jhina Hikaka, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) legislator representing the Laxmipur Assembly constituency, by acceding to the demands of the Maoists, and close on the heels of the release of two Italian citizens who were abducted by another group of Maoists in Odisha’s Kandhamal district in mid-March. Alex Paul was kidnapped in a manner similar to the kidnapping of R. Vineel Krishna, the Collector of Odisha’s Malkangiri district, in February last year. A few weeks after Krishna was released, his services were sought by a Central Minister. The abduction of Alex Paul, the fourth major abduction carried out by Maoists in the region in a little more than a year, came at a time when a number of battalions of Central paramilitary forces were engaged in anti-naxal operations in both Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

Alex Paul was taken hostage when he was returning from a farmers’ meeting in Kerlapal village on National Highway 221, along with administration officials. (The farmers’ meeting had been organised as part of the Gram Suraj Abhiyaan, a village contact programme under which officials and people’s representatives hold meetings with rural residents to assess the progress of the government’s welfare schemes.) The Left extremists gunned down two of his personal security guards who tried to intervene. The Maoists ascertained the identity of the 32-year-old Collector before they took him away into the nearby forested area. The other officials were spared. Alex Menon was kidnapped just a day after suspected Maoists struck in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh. Three persons, including two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists, were killed when the rebels triggered a landmine blast as an official convoy passed through the area. A BJP legislator, Mahesh Gagda, and Bijapur District Collector Rajat Kumar escaped unhurt, but one of the eight vehicles in the convoy was blown up. Interestingly, the attack took place when the officials were monitoring the implementation of the Gram Suraj Abhiyaan project in the rural areas of the district, indicating that the Maoists are against official teams gaining entry into the areas where they have a strong presence.

The abduction of Alex Paul came soon after the release of the two Italians who were abducted on March 14, Bosusco Paolo and Claudio Colangelo. The Maoists reportedly demanded that the Odisha government stop Operation Green Hunt, a combing operation by Central paramilitary forces in the naxal-affected areas of the State, and initiate a dialogue with them. They wanted the Odisha government to act on long-standing demands such as the release of political prisoners. The Maoists first released Claudio Colangelo on humanitarian grounds. They set free Bosusco Paolo, who had been running an adventure travel agency for the past 19 years in Puri, after the Naveen Patnaik government accepted some of their demands. The Italians were freed after the Odisha government agreed to release several persons who had been jailed for their alleged links with the Maoists. The government accepted the Maoists’ demands for the release of the hostages after negotiations were held between three government officials and two social activists, B.D. Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty, whose names were suggested as mediators by the Maoists. The 37-year-old tribal leader Jhina Hikaka was kidnapped in the dead of night on March 24 when he was returning home from the district headquarters town of Koraput. The Maoists released Hikaka on April 26 although no negotiations were held between government officials or any interlocutors named by the Maoists. In fact, no dialogue was held between the government and the Maoists for Hikaka’s release as right from the beginning the abductors had refused to hold any talks. While the government did keep the media informed about its stand, the Maoists released information about their demands through the media and through Nihar Ranjan Patnaik, a Koraput-based lawyer who had been fighting the cases of Maoist cadre as well as activists of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS). The Maoists finally released Hikaka on the outskirts of Balipeta village in Narayanpatna block of Koraput district after extending the deadline for the release of 29 political prisoners.

Before Hikaka’s release, the Andhra-Odisha border special zonal committee of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist) had said that the legislator would be released as per the decision taken at a people’s court held at an undisclosed location in the district. The Maoists had said that the decision to release Hikaka had been taken after he had given an undertaking before the people’s court that he would try to get their demands fulfilled and that he would resign from his post if he failed to keep his promise. It may be recalled that the Maoists had organised a similar people’s court before releasing Collector Vineel Krishna. The abductors of Hikaka had demanded the release of 29 prisoners, but the government agreed to facilitate the release of 25 persons. But none of the 25 prisoners has been released so far despite the government reiterating that it is taking the necessary steps to facilitate their release. The Odisha government had not made any commitment to release the remaining four persons, including Gananath Patra, adviser to the CMAS. Interestingly, the different groups of Maoists who abducted Vineel Krishna, the two Italians and Hikaka had demanded the release of Patra. The Patnaik government faced severe criticism from the opposition parties for its alleged failure to handle the twin cases of abduction.

In the case of Alex Paul, the Raman Singh government acted promptly and started the process of negotiations to facilitate his release. First, it sent essential medicines for the Collector, who is an asthma patient, to the Maoist hideout through former Communist Party of India (CPI) legislator Manish Kunjam, when negotiations were about to begin between Nirmala Buch and S.K. Mishra, the former Chief Secretaries of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh respectively who acted as the government’s negotiators, and B.D. Sharma and G. Hargopal, the two mediators named by the Maoists. Sharma is a former Chairperson of the National Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Commission, while Hargopal, a social activist, was one of the three mediators who held talks with the Patnaik government for the release of Vineel Krishna. The abductors of Alex Paul have demanded the release of eight of their jailed leaders, including two women prisoners; a halt to Operation Green Hunt; and the withdrawal of the paramilitary forces from the Bastar region. The immediate fallout of the recent abductions is that the anti-Maoist operations in the three contiguous States of Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have been hit badly. While the combing operations were carried out in the forested districts of Koraput, Malkangiri, Ragayada, Gajapati and Kandhamal in Odisha, the exercise was affected in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, one of the major hotbeds of Maoist activity.



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India’s Battle Over Beef – By Tripti Lahiri (May 2, 2012, Wall Street Journal)

In recent years, political pundits have been saying that voters are tiring of religious partisanship. Issues like the Babri Masjid verdict, in which both Hindu and Muslim groups laid religious claim to a particular spot, no longer appear to have the political weight they used to, judging by the muted reaction to the court decision to split the disputed land. But while the temple-versus-mosque quarrel at Ayodhya may be receding, the sectarian battle seems to be shifting to another ground: beef. In recent years, several Indian states have, well, beefed up their cow protection laws. The southern state of Karnataka, led by a government of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, passed a cow slaughter ban in 2010; it still has to tweak the law in order to get presidential assent. In January, meanwhile, the President gave her assent to a Madhya Pradesh amendment that increased jail time for those found guilty of cow slaughter. In Gujarat, which will hold state assembly elections by the end of this year, a law that increased jail time for killing a cow, or even transporting a cow to the slaughter, from six months to seven years went into effect in October.

Prakash Sharma, a spokesman for the right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), says a sustained campaign around the cow, which is considered sacred in Hinduism, has been underway since 1996 and is now paying off. A key part of it involved setting up an institute to develop and promote health products from cow milk, dung and urine. “Slowly this issue is progressing,” he said. “In the last 15 to 20 years people’s awareness has been raised.” A previous attempt to enact a nationwide ban on cow slaughter failed, but Mr. Sharma says he is hopeful that one will eventually be passed. Dalit activists and other groups aren’t happy about the trend. Two weeks ago, students at Hyderabad’s Osmania University organized a beef-eating festival on campus to stake their claim to steak. Or rather, beef biryani. (Taking it a step further – since most universities or state-run institutions serve neither beef nor pork, to avoid offending either Hindus or Muslims – students at the left-wing Jawaharlal Nehru University have set up a “beef-pork eating campaign.”) The Hyderabad beef eaters met, predictably, with opposition from members of a Hindu student political outfit, leading to violent clashes between both sets of students. Dalit poet Meena Kandasamy, who participated in the event, criticized the Hindu protesters.

“There is no point getting offended if someone enjoys beef in all its juicy glory,” she wrote in the April 30 issue of Outlook Magazine criticizing what she calls “food fascism.” “Since nobody is being force-fed, tolerance means digesting the idea that just as cows are meant to be milked, cows are also meant to be meat.” In her piece, Ms. Kandasamy cited an essay of the father of the Constitution B.R. Ambedkar, who theorized that upper-caste Hindus who owned cattle designated those who disposed of dead cattle – and ate their meat – as untouchables. Eating beef, she says, is “an act of Dalit assertion.” Ms. Kandasamy’s piece and tweets on the topic met with such irate and threatening comments online, that one women’s group issued a statement of outrage on her behalf. In a phone interview, Ms. Kandasamy said that if Hindus in countries like the United States and Australia are able to make peace with abstaining from beef while those around them consume the meat, they should be able to do the same in India. She also said she disagreed with Hindu groups who equate their stance on beef with the Muslim prohibition on eating pork, noting that Muslims don’t demand that all Indians give up pork. In addition, she said that in several cases Dalits and Muslims have faced attacks from cow protection vigilantes.

Retired history professor Dwijendra Narayan Jha, whose book “The Myth of the Holy Cow,” upset Hindus with his findings that beef eating wasn’t uncommon among Hindus prior to the arrival of Muslim rule, says there isn’t as clear a stance among Hindus on beef eating as right-wing groups insist. Mr. Jha had to go to class with a police escort after his book was published in India in 2001. “In my view one has to draw a line between Dalit stance and Hindu stance on beef; for not all Hindus are averse to eating beef,” he said, via e-mail. “Seventy-two communities in Kerala eat beef openly and regularly and they call themselves Hindu.” But those who would like to prevent beef consumption by other people have a potent tool on their side – the Indian Constitution includes the prevention of cattle slaughter as one of the directive principles of state policy, although this is ostensibly for agricultural purposes, not religious ones. The cow slaughter laws pretend not to be about religion either, one law blogger has noted. The Gujarat law, for example, is called The Gujarat Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 2011.

In recent years, the VHP, on its website, has urged Hindus to vote for politicians who say they’ll support a nationwide cow slaughter ban. “Let every voter calmly and with understanding scrutinize the past performance and present promises of every person and party and exercise his right judiciously so as to be able to achieve the cherished goal of full protection of the cow species,” says the site. But Mr. Jha says that the beef issue could be a double-edged one for politicians. Since the beef that is eaten in India often comes from old, scrawny cattle that are past their prime, it can be fairly cheap. S. Anand, head of caste-focused publishing house Navayana, wrote recently in a piece called “The Right to Eat” that beef prices are comparable to the prices of some vegetables. If Hindu groups “oppose eating beef by a large section of the Indian people, they will be alienating themselves from them,” said Mr. Jha. “Alternatively, if they approve of eating of beef, which is poor man’s food, they will violate the dietary norms developed by the Brahmins over centuries.”



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Book Review

Lives of Muslims in India: Politics, Exclusion and Violence

Author: Abdul Shaban, Ed.
Reviewed by: Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed
Available at: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Books India Pvt Ltd, 912 Tolstoy House, 15-17 Tolstoy Marg, New Delhi, India. http://www.amazon.com/
On the margins (May 5, 2012, Frontline)

Ever since its publication in 2006, the Sachar Committee Report has been a rich source of raw material for studies on Muslims in India by academics and policymakers. It provided, for the first time, detailed data on the social, economic and educational status of Muslims. It also comprehensively demonstrated the backwardness of Muslims in India vis-a-vis followers of other religions. Lives of Muslims in India: Politics, Exclusion and Violence, an edited volume of 12 chapters, cites the report several times, highlighting its importance. Abdul Shaban, the editor of the volume, has brought together a wide variety of essays that deal with issues confronted by Indian Muslims. There is a vehement concurrence among the 12 essayists that the Indian Muslim is a marginalised citizen (when he is treated as one), lags behind others on all indices of development, and is vulnerable to a variety of threats, both physical and emotional, that need to be specially addressed. One of the strengths of the book is the balanced mix of contributors that it has managed to line up – journalists, activists and academics from disciplines across the social sciences. This makes the work a truly interdisciplinary exposition of many of the concerns of Indian Muslims. The first essay, by M.J. Akbar, provides an entry point to the subsequent ones. Laying out the historical context of the status of Indian Muslims, Akbar succinctly reiterates many of the theses that he has discussed more extensively in his other works. Considering its short length and the broad scope of the subject, the essay does become a bit sketchy as he skims quickly over several themes, ranging from the meaning of “minority” to the modern history of Muslims in the subcontinent to the loose connections between Islam and modernity. Akbar excels as a raconteur, as a weaver of narratives and as a pithy epigrammatist (for instance, “The idea of Pakistan is weaker than the Pakistani and the idea of India is stronger than the Indian”).

This essay is followed by a discussion on the idea of analysing the “Muslim in India as a representative of India itself”. In this essay, Markha Valenta nudges the boundaries of conventional thinking about Muslims in India and provokes readers into reassessing their understanding of Indian Muslims. She does this by extending the scope of religion beyond its social and political role and writes that “religion in India is as much an economic activity as a social and political one”. Commenting on the diversity within Indian Islam (a point that many other contributors also make), she states that the category of Muslims in India is sustained by politics rather than facts. She also comments extensively on the “significance of globalisation in shaping the analysis, politics and lives of India”, an area that is generally ignored in our understanding of Indian Muslims. In the third essay, Ranu Jain argues that the Indian modern liberal framework does not provide adequate space for “… critical multiculturalism or recognising cultural rights of those minorities who resist assimilation or hegemonic integration”. Calling this a failure of the modern Indian state, Ranu Jain argues that liberalism, the guiding ideology of modern Indian democracy, denies social recognition to the individual’s identity. This attitude extends to the proposed Equal Opportunity Commission, the setting up of which was recommended by the Sachar report as well, which, while having great potential, is still limited by its approach to addressing Muslim grievances.

Ram Puniyani’s essay on “Muslims and the Politics of Exclusion” dwells on Indian Muslim history through the 19th and 20th centuries. Discussing the incidence of communal riots, he writes that the nature of communal violence has changed, with even affluent Muslims being targeted after the 1990s. On the pattern and effect of the riots, he writes: “The trajectory of violence is as follows – it begins with pre-violence biases, stereotypes, then violence, post-violence neglect, isolation, ghettoisation and finally leads to the partitioning of the national community at the emotional and physical levels.” He laments the worsening condition of Indian Muslims at the economic, social and political levels. Irfan Engineer’s essay looks at the question of how the Muslim leadership has fared in India, the various trajectories it has taken and how it has responded to the crises of identity faced by the community in India. In a similar vein, Nistula Hebbar, a senior journalist who has covered the Bharatiya Janata Party for several years, analyses that party’s engagement with Muslims. She does so by profiling and interviewing two senior Muslim members of the BJP, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Shahnawaz Hussain. Examining their motivations for aligning with a party that is perceived to be anti-Muslim, she evaluates their role in the BJP.

Taha Abdul Rauf’s paper examines the reasons for the pervasive backwardness of Muslims in India and locates this in the continuing violence against them leading to their exclusion and subsequent marginalisation. He classifies violence against Muslims to be structural, cultural and direct and shows how consent is manufactured for such violence, including through notions of a demographic paranoia and the alienness of Muslims encouraged by right-wing groups and parties. R.B. Bhagat provides a detailed demographic breakdown of the incidents of Hindu-Muslim riots in India. With the introduction of the census in India in 1872, the notions of “minority” and “majority” became clearer. His findings reveal some interesting features of communal riots. He writes that Hindu-Muslim riots mainly occur in urban areas, that communal riots have erupted more often in medium-sized cities than in metropolitan cities, and that riots happen more often in cities where Muslim artisans and businessmen have achieved a relative degree of economic prosperity. Interestingly, Bhagat points out, “Cities with lower female-to-male ratio are more violent, meaning that the masculinisation of cities as a demographic process has influenced Hindu-Muslim violence.” Jyoti Punwani’s essay looks at the conduct of the police during the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai. Drawing extensively on the Sri Krishna Commission Report on the riots, she makes a strong point about the inherent prejudice in the police against Muslims. Another essay on Mumbai, by Abdul Shaban, looks at how the gradual spatial segregation of communities has led to Muslims being consigned to ghettos, which are pejoratively described as “Pakistans” in Mumbai. Littered with interviews and poignant anecdotes, Shaban’s essay looks at how urban spaces are gradually divided between castes and communities.

Sanjukta Sattar looks at the relative backwardness of Muslims in Kolkata. Since 1977, when the Left Front government led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) came to power in the State, Muslims in Kolkata have not suffered from communal riots as much as Muslims in other big Indian cities have, but in economic terms they lag far behind their non-Muslim counterparts in the State. Plotting their status historically, Sanjukta Sattar brings out how prejudice against Muslims remains a serious hindrance to their development. Ghettoisation is one of the banes of their existence in Kolkata. The last paper, by Noorjehan Safia Niaz and J.S. Apte, looks at the lamentable state of Muslim women in India, who “… suffer from the triple burden of their class, community and gender”. Delineating the legal history of legislation affecting the rights of Muslim women, the authors make an interesting point about how Muslim women are caught in a bind between the interests of their gender and the interests of their community when it comes to the implementation of the uniform civil code. While the uniform civil code will give Muslim women greater autonomy in the domain of family law, the beleaguered Muslim identity resists any effort at its implementation. Lives of Muslims in India is an important book not only because it adds to the literature on Indian Muslims but also because it confronts head on many of the issues facing Indian Muslims. The immense importance of the Sachar report in this context also becomes evident.