IAMC Weekly News Roundup - November 25th, 2013 - IAMC
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IAMC Weekly News Roundup – November 25th, 2013

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

Communal Harmony

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

Communal Harmony

Vice president calls for communal harmony (Nov 25, 2013, Business Standard)

Vice President Hamid Ansari Monday called for maintaining communal harmony and national integration in the country. A delegation of National Foundation for Communal Harmony (NFCH) met Ansari here as part of the communal harmony campaign and fund raising week.

The group comprised NFCH secretary Ashok Sajjanhar and five children – two each from Assam and Jammu & Kashmir, and one from Maharashtra. “The vice president interacted with the delegation and called for maintaining communal harmony and national integration in the country,” said an official statement.

The campaign is observed every year from Nov 19-25 to raise funds for rehabilitation of child victims of communal, caste, ethnic violence and promotion of national integration.


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Sex CD forced Modi govt to tail woman, SC told (Nov 24, 2013, Times of India)

Suspended IAS officer Pradeep Sharma on Saturday put Narendra Modi right at the centre of the raging controversy over Gujarat government’s purported illegal surveillance on a woman by telling the Supreme Court that the young architect was subjected to hostile and intense scrutiny because the Gujarat CM was enamoured by her. In his petition to the SC seeking a CBI probe into the alleged violation of the woman’s right to privacy and the Indian Telegraph Act by Modi and his political aide Amit Shah, Sharma has alleged that he was suspended and framed in half a dozen cases between 2010 and 2012 because of Modi’s suspicion that he knew about the contents of a Video Compact Disc (VCD) allegedly showing the woman in a compromising position. This is the first time BJP’s PM candidate has been directly accused of complicity in the “snoopgate”. The original charge was directed at Shah, with two investigating websites alleging that Modi’s confidant illegally directed police in 2009 to keep tabs on the woman because of the wishes of “saheb”.

He has dismissed as an afterthought the Gujarat government’s claim that the woman’s father had approached the Modi government to ensure her safety by keeping an eye on her, and said that the tapes of Shah’s purported conversation with police officer G L Singhal make it clear that she was victim of a hostile and intrusive scrutiny in violation of her right to privacy as well as the Indian Telegraph Act. Claiming that he had introduced the architect from Bangalore, originally hailing from Bhuj in Gujarat, to Modi in 2004 when she was 27 years old. “The applicant (Sharma) verily believes that Modi and the said female architect remained in touch with each other for next several years. There was also wide spread rumours regarding the Video Compact Disc (VCD) featuring the said female architect and a man in compromising position,” his application filed through advocate Sunil Fernandes stated.

“Sharma has no concern with this VCD, But, he believes that Modi harboured a totally misconceived apprehension that Sharma is the recipient of the information regarding this VDC, the contents of which if disclosed in public would be detrimental to the carefully constructed and publicized image of Modi and consequently damage his electoral prospects,” the suspended bureaucrat said. “It is for this reason that a number of false and frivolous cases against the applicant herein were registerd with a view to implicate him and ‘punish him’,” he said. Filing and bringing on the record of the Supreme Court transcripts of the entire footage telecast by websites ‘Cobrapost’ and ‘Gulail’, Sharma said the conversations between Shah, then minister of state for home in Gujarat, and G L Singhal, then SP in Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) in Ahmedabad, was during the period August-September 2009 when Singhal was reporting to Shah.

“The transcripts of the taped conversations reveal that the said lady architect and the applicant (Sharma) were placed under an all-pervasive and intrusive surveillance at the behest of a person referred to as ‘Saheb” by Amit Shah,” he said. He alleged that the taped conversations revealed “severe and material violations” of the Indian telegraph Act, 1885, and an absolute disregard to the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in its December 18, 1996 judgment in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties case. Terming the explanation that the ‘snooping’ on the woman was being done at her father’s behest as an ‘after thought”, Sharma said, “this explanation seems absolutely incredulous and unworthy of any belief in the light of the contents of conversations between Shah and Singhal, which reveal that the surveillance was extremely intrusive and hostile and not as innocuous and benign as sought to be made”.

The purported ‘no objection’ from the woman’s father did not absolve Modi, Shah and others of brazenly violating the law and the guidelines laid down by the apex court, he said and pleaded that the truth would be buried if the Gujarat Police investigated into the matter. “It is important to note that the state intelligence bureau, the crime branch of Ahmedabad city police and the ATS were all involved in this illegal telephone interceptions and surveillance without having any role to play in the investigations relating to the case in hand,” Sharma said.



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US lawmakers move anti-Modi resolution (Nov 20, 2013, Hindustan Times)

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers on Monday introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives demanding that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi should continue to be denied a visa. And to keep up the pressure on the issue, the resolution demands that the US must include religious freedom and human rights in its on-going strategic dialogue with India.

Introduced by Keith Ellison, a Democrat, and Joe Pitts, a Republican, the resolution found 13 co-sponsors – eight Democrats and five Republicans, making it a bipartisan effort. “The victims of events like the riots in Gujarat demand justice,” said Pitts. “This resolution’s strong bipartisan support shows that the rights of religious minorities in India are a priority for the US Congress,” said Ellison.

The resolution was moved on the eve of Republican party’s first ever outreach to the Indian American community on Capitol Hill, offering up party leaders for on-site schmoozing. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a co-host of the outreach, is among the leading backers of Modi, having visited him in Gujarat earlier in the year with two other Republican lawmakers.

They had assured Modi they would do everything possible to get him a visa to visit the US. On their return, they raised the issue at several platforms including congressional hearings. The Ellison-Pitt resolution intends to prevent that. “A large number of these lawmakers have been concerned by efforts under way to get Modi a visa,” said Shaik Ubaid, a leading member of the anti-Modi Campaign Against Genocide.

The chief minister was denied an official visa in 2005 because of the 2002 Gujarat riots, and a tourist/business he already held was cancelled at the same time. The state department has maintained that Modi is free to apply, but there hasn’t been any change in US position. Lawmakers want that to continue, according to the proposed resolution.



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Trouble for Modi? Damning details of Ishrat killing given to SC (Nov 25, 2013, First Post)

The Gujarat snooping row is still to die down, but another set of explosive statements could soon besiege Narendra Modi, it seems. This time, it is IPS officer GL Singhal’s statements to the CBI in connection with the Ishrat Jahan encounter killing, now part of suspended IAS officer Pradeep Sharma’s affidavit to the Supreme Court on the snooping scandal. Three sets of statements given by Singhal to the CBI earlier this year, allegedly containing “damning details” of the encounter according to a report in The Economic Times are part of Sharma’s latest affidavit. According to the report, Singhal has told the CBI he was coerced into participating in activities that obstructed the process of law. The report also said that Singhal had told CBI he had “serious objections” to killing Ishrat.

The statement to the CBI says: “I had said, we let her go, and had promised to ensure that she would not spill the beans about this operation to anyone… Despite my strong objections, Vanzara insisted on keeping the motive involving the CM and on killing the girl and branding her later as a woman terrorist…” His own interrogation of one of the men had indicated that Modi was not the target, the report says. Vanzara, also now in jail and facing trial, reportedly told him the matter had been checked with “kaali daadhi and safed daadhi”, allegedly codenames for Amit Shah and Narendra Modi respectively.

Singhal gave the statements to the CBI in April this year. His teenage son had committed suicide last year, following which, Singhal had said, he wanted to speak the truth for “inner comfort”. Expectedly, the BJP has charged the Congress with piggy-backing on “disgruntled” officers to fire a fresh barrage of allegations against their prime ministerial candidate. In a post on Facebook, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said the Congress is actually running scared of the Modi wave and is engineering scandals to discredit the BJP’s campaign for the 2014 polls.

“They are back to their old game of detecting a disgruntled police officer or a civil servant and getting him to make absurd charges. This didn’t work when Sanjeev Bhatt did it. It won’t work with Congress party’s newly discovered suspended civil servant doing it,” Jaitley wrote. The latest allegations against Modi, perhaps the strongest until now, surfaced on 15 November when investigative websites Gulail and Cobrapost aired stories saying the Gujarat government and Minister of State for Home Amit Shah had in 2009 ordered illegal use of surveillance teams and technology to keep a watch on a woman in Ahmedabad, allegedly at the behest of an unnamed ‘Saheb’. Shah is a close associate of Narendra Modi, currently handling charge of Uttar Pradesh in the run-up to Lok Sabha elections next year.

The Cobrapost expose relied basically on taped conversations purportedly between jailed IPS officer Singhal who was being investigated for the Ishrat Jahan trial and Shah. The portals claimed that Modi had met the woman who was the subject of the snooping in 2009. Meanwhile, a report in The Hindu quoted Ishrat’s sister Musarrat as saying during a conference of the All India Democratic Women’s Association in Bodhgaya, Bihar, that the “blot of terrorism” that Ishrat was carrying has been removed after the SBI investigation into the case. “The day is not far when even the conspirators will be punished. We are fighting on because we do not want another Ishrat,” Musarrat reportedly said.



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Karnataka panel orders damages to 3 held in Bangalore blast case (Nov 23, 2013, Times of India)

The Karnataka State Human Rights Commission has ordered the Karnataka government to immediately pay compensation of Rs 2 lakh each to three people from Tamil Nadu detained in connection with the Bangalore BJP office blast case. The commission took suo motu note of their plight and registered a case against the Bangalore police. The police had failed to link the three — Peer Mohideen, 39; Saddam Hussein, 24; and Mohammed Hanif, 30 — to the low-intensity blast near the BJP office at Malleswaram on April 17, 2013, and did not name them in the chargesheet filed in the case recently.

SHRC member Chandrasekhar G Hungund told TOI the commission took note of the fact that the police were unable to produce any evidence despite keeping them in custody for months. “It is really unfortunate that these men were kept in custody for so long. So, the commission ordered a compensation to be paid to them immediately,” Hungund said. The order for compensation was issued on November 5.

The three spent more than six months in prison, besides 30 days in police custody. Mohideen was released from a prison in Bangalore on October 28 while the other two are still languishing in Salem prison as formalities are yet to be completed in cases filed against them by the Tamil Nadu police.

“The investigators could not provide any evidence to substantiate the involvement of the three men when they submitted the chargesheet on October 19,” counsel for the petitioners S Balan told TOI over phone from Bangalore. Mohideen was listed as the prime accused (A1) while Saddam was named accused number 4 and Hanif accused number 17, but the chargesheet did not include their names as police did not have any evidence against them, he said.

The Karnataka police along with their counterparts in Tamil Nadu had initially built a case against 20 people, all of them hailing from Tamil Nadu, in connection with the blast. However, the final chargesheet submitted before the first chief metropolitan judicial magistrate court on October 19 mentioned only 14 accused.



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Ahead of Agra rally, UP BJP cell felicitates riot-accused MLAs (Nov 20, 2013, Indian Express)

The Human Rights cell of UP BJP Tuesday felicitated its MLAs Sangeet Singh Som, Suresh Rana, Kunwar Bhartendra Singh Som and 34 other party workers who were arrested in connection with Muzaffarnagar riots. The MLAs and workers were also given “appreciation letters”, to recognise their “struggle against the state government during the riots and the sacrifice they made and got arrested for the cause of safety of mata, bahen and betian (mother, sister and daughter) as well as Indian culture”. The function was held in Muzaffarnagar.

Party leader in UP Legislative Assembly Hukum Singh, who himself was named in a case for delivering provocative speech, was the chief guest. National convener of BJP’s Human Rights Cell Sudhir Agarwal was also present in the event. The felicitation comes two days before Narendra Modi’s Agra rally where the party state unit is to honour Som and Rana.

BJP’s Muzaffarnagar city president Mohan Tayal said, “All those felicitated were arrested in connection with Muzaffarnagar riots. While most of them are out on bail, we felicitated family members of few others who are still lodged in jail. All of them are BJP workers.” Talking to The Indian Express, Hukum Singh said, “The objective of the event was to mobilise the workers before the Lok Sabha elections. Those who were detained for at least two-hours were also felicitated today.”



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Muzaffarnagar riots: New chargesheet filed against BJP MLA Suresh Rana (Nov 21, 2013, IBN)

A fresh chargesheet has been filed against controversial BJP legislator Suresh Rana and three other party activists for rioting during a protest against a gangrape in Shamli in June. The chargesheet was filed in the court of Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Kailash Kumar on Wednesday against Rana, MLA from Thana Bhawan constituency of Shamli district, and party activists Ghanshyam and Radhey Shyam for damaging shops and vehicles during the protest on 16 June.

On 16 June, a 21-year-old girl was allegedly kidnapped and gangraped, following which hundreds of people including Rana staged a protest and damaged shops and vehicles, demanding the arrest of the accused. During the protest, 12 persons were injured.

After the violence, police booked Rana and another BJP MLA Hukum Singh along with 250 activists under Section 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 392 (punishment for robbery), 436 (Mischief by fire or any explosive substance) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC and Public Property Damage Act.

Police have yet not filed a case against Hukum Singh as investigation is on. Rana, who is now on bail, was arrested in Lucknow on 20 September for allegedly fanning communal riots in Muzaffarnagar by making provocative speeches. He was released on bail by a local court on 14 November.



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Uttarakhand slaps 81 cases on Ramdev, his trust (Nov 20, 2013, Hindustan Times)

The Uttarakhand government on Wednesday slapped 81 cases on yoga guru Ramdev and Patanjali Yogpeeth, the trust run by him. Of the 81 cases, 29 are related to illegal possession of land while 52 are regarding evasion of tax and revenue. Chief minister Vijay Bahuguna said the administration was also probing the role of government officials, who had helped Ramdev and his trust.

“Officials found guilty will not be spared,” the CM said, while sharing the findings of a 10-day probe conducted by the Haridwar district magistrate. Bahuguna said Ramdev’s trust had illegal possession of 7.766 acres of land at two villages in Haridwar. The probe found that Ramdev’s trust had purchased 387 acres of land for building a university, but only 20 acres was used for the purpose.

“As per rules, one has to show use of the purchased land,” Bahuguna said. “Another 84.86 acres of land was purchased in the name of a food park, but no permission was taken.” The government has decided to take legal action against the trust and Ramdev as per the Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act.

The probe also says Ramdev’s trust evaded tax up to Rs. 10 crore. When contacted by Hindustan Times, Ramdev’s spokesperson SK Tejariwala said he would comment only after looking into the details of the cases.



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Waqf council seeks action against Ahmedabad Municipal Corp. for demolition notice on mosque (Nov 24, 2013, Times of India)

A member of the Central Waqf Council has sought action against the officials for pasting demolition notice on Baba Lu-Lui’s mosque on the Sabarmati riverbank.

Iqbal Shaikh has dashed off a letter to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and the Sabarmati River Front Development Corporation Ltd (SRFDCL) and condemned the gesture of issuance of demolition notice to the 550-year-old structure for clearing 74-metre land for the proposed road widening activity.

Shaikh has also sought action from the Gujarat Waqf Board and all other competent authorities against the officers, who were responsible for issuing the notice in violation of the Ancient Monuments and Archaelogical Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act.

Following the TOI’s report, a team of AMC officials visited the place on Friday and removed the notice. Meanwhile, the ASI got into action and warned the civic body to stay away from the mosque complex.



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Aarushi-Hemraj murder case: Dentist couple Nupur, Rajesh Talwar held guilty (Nov 25, 2013, Indian Express)

Dentist couple Rajesh and Nupur Talwar were held guilty Monday of murdering their daughter Aarushi Talwar and their domestic help Hemraj, a double murder which horrified the country when it was committed five-and-a-half years back and had foxed investigators. Additional sessions judge Shyam Lal held the couple guilty under the charges of murder with common intent and destruction of evidence with common intent. Rajesh was also found guilty under section 203 for misleading the police by filing a fake FIR.

In his judgement, judge Shyam Lal said the couple had flouted the “ferocious penal code of the land” and had breached the commandment “thou shall not kill” and the injunction of the Holy Quran, “take not life which God has made sacred.” The court also directed that the arguments on the quantum of punishment will start at 2 pm Tuesday. Sources said the sentence is also likely to be announced Tuesday itself. The judgment was pronounced in-camera and lawyers said that as the judge read out the verdict, Nupur broke down and was consoled by family members.

“It is understandable that they were very aggrieved. Nupur Talwar broke down into tears and was comforted by her parents. After some documents were signed, they were escorted into a police vehicle and sent to Dasna jail,” said Satyaketu Singh, one of defence lawyers who was present inside. After the announcement, with journalists not allowed inside the CBI court compound due to security reasons, the couple released a statement which read: “We are deeply disappointed, hurt and anguished for being convicted for a crime that we have not committed. We refuse to feel defeated and will continue to fight for justice.”

Vandana Talwar, the sister-in-law of Rajesh, said those in the family were “working class people with nowhere to turn to.” “Everybody, the Noida police, the CBI and now the courts turned against us right from the start. Nobody listened to us. We were pitched against an organisation that believes in fabrication and falsities. There is such extreme prejudice from all quarters, that minds are made up. The facts and the evidence are being pointed at someone else, and this is being called a typographical error by the CBI. Unfortunately, the truth is being submerged under lies,” she said.

Vandana was referring to a CDFD report which initially found evidence of Hemraj’s blood on a pillow and pillow cover in the possession of Krishna – an ex-employee and previously an accused in the case. This, however, was later deemed a typographical error, after a clarification was sought by the CBI.



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Ambala Dalit’s ‘custodial’ death: stricter sections in FIR against cops says NCSC (Nov 19, 2013, Hindustan Times)

The National Commission for Schedule Castes (NCSC) has told the Haryana police to add strict sections in the FIR against the police personnel allegedly responsible for the custodial death of a Dalit youth in Ambala and also get the probe shifted outside Ambala. The case pertains to an alleged custodial death of 23-year-old Ram Kumar whose hand-cuffed body was recovered from railway tracks in Ambala on October 15.

The NCSC had on October 28 taken a suo motu notice of the incident and summoned the Haryana chief secretary and the director general of police (DGP) to its camp court here and asked the state government to give a compensation of `20 lakh and a government job to a family member of the deceased and submit its action taken report (ATR) within 15 days.

However, even as the Haryana Police submitted an interim report, the NCSC detected that the FIR lodged against the police personnel was without appropriate sections. The NCSC has also thus asked the DGP to get the matter investigated outside Ambala as the complainant alleged that he was being pressurised by the police to change his statement.

“Section 4 of the SC/ST (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act, 1989, has not been included in the FIR, which is a must in this case and ensures a harsher punishment up to life imprisonment to government officials found guilty of negligence while dealing with persons belonging to SC/ST,” NCSC director Raj Kumar told HT. He said a notice to the Haryana DGP had been sent to add Section 4, besides a few other sections of the SC/ST Act and the IPC, in the FIR.



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Opinions and Editorials

Is this Modi’s Watergate? – By Brinda Karat (Nov 22, 2013, Times of India)

The release of taped conversations between then home minister of Gujarat Amit Shah and superintendent of the Gujarat anti-terrorist squad (ATS), GL Singhal, relating to surveillance of phone calls and movements of a young woman during August and September 2009, raise serious questions about the state of civil liberties and the model of governance in Gujarat. BJP’s explanations lack credibility. It is not disputed that there was surveillance, nor is it disputed that the ‘sahib’ referred to in the tape is the chief minister. In most such cases, the players identified usually deny such conversations ever took place, or else claim that the tapes have been doctored. That hasn’t happened in this case.

The Gujarat government itself has made available to the press a statement made by the father of the woman concerned. He has said that it was on his request to the chief minister, ‘an old family friend, a father to his daughter’, that the surveillance was mounted since he was concerned about the security of his daughter. Subsequently, in a letter to the National and the State Commissions of Women, he has claimed that his daughter was also aware of the surveillance. One of the lessons taught to us in moral science classes in school was that an initial lie will lead to enmeshing oneself in a web of lies. This is what is happening in the present case. The tapes which are available on the website of the organisation which first broke the story show clearly that the young woman had no idea that she was being snooped on.

Here is a small sample: A man identified as being Amit Shah by those who released the tapes and not so far denied by him, says, “She is travelling Indigo from Bangalore to Ahmedabad… the people with placard ask him in advance the hotel’s name…In case she escapes we can keep a vigil at the hotel.” Subsequent conversations identify the hotel and details of her movements. Does this sound like surveillance of a person who has asked to be watched? The tapes are full of such sickening examples.

The high stakes involved, which need no spelling out, have now led to a situation where, to cover up an operation ethically repugnant and in violation of the law, powerful men claim the license to force a young woman to become their “protector” to defend them against their deeds which had made her their target, invaded her privacy and reported every move she made. In such a situation it is difficult to imagine any woman seemingly betrayed by her own family, pressured by them, to speak a language different from what they would like her to speak.

BJP claims that this is a private matter. It would indeed be a private matter if it was just a question of the playing out of consensual relationships, whatever their nature and regardless of who is involved. But this is not a private matter precisely because the most sensitive wing of government, the anti-terrorist squad under the Gujarat government, was involved in the snooping.



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Divisive agenda – By Sushanta Talukdar (Nov 29, 2013, Frontline)

The issue of “illegal Bangladeshi migrants”, which has dominated politics in Assam for more than three decades, is poised to take centre stage once again in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Political parties in the State are already polarised on the issue. The State unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced that the issue will top the party’s poll agenda. It has alleged that the ruling Congress and the Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), the main opposition party (18 legislators) in the 126-member Assembly, were moving close to each other for an electoral understanding with the objective of “protecting the interests of illegal immigrants”. The Congress and the AIUDF, on the other hand, have accused the BJP of “communalising” the issue.

A political consensus has existed in the State – that the updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), 1951, by taking the 1971 electoral roll as the basis is the only solution to the vexed foreigners’ issue. The NRC thus updated would protect genuine citizens from harassment in the name of detection and expulsion of foreigners. The Assam Accord signed by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) with the Centre and the Assam government in 1985 to bring to an end the anti-foreigners’ agitation launched by the student body in 1979 stipulates that all illegal migrants post-March 25, 1971, be detected, their names be deleted from the voters’ list, and they be expelled from India.

Political observers say that despite this consensus, both the BJP and the AIUDF have been raking up the issue of illegal immigrants with an eye on the elections. The BJP, they say, has been playing on the fear of caste-Hindu Assamese people and various ethnic communities of being reduced to a minority by the migration of people from across the border. The AIUDF, meanwhile, has been demanding a new NRC, saying that the updated 1951 NRC might not protect minorities from being harassed in the name of detection and expulsion of foreigners. Significantly, the persistent stand of the BJP has been that Bengali-speaking Muslim migrants from Bangladesh should be pushed back to the neighbouring country, whereas Hindu Bangladeshi migrants should be treated as refugees and given shelter in India.

The Muslim population in Assam consists of indigenous Assamese-speaking Muslims whose forefathers came as Mughal warriors and settled in different parts of the State; indigenous Bengali-speaking Muslims from East Bengal who settled in Assam during pre-Partition days; Bengali-speaking Muslims who migrated from erstwhile East Pakistan in different streams; and Bengali-speaking illegal immigrants who crossed the porous India-Bangladesh border after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. However, though the Bengali-speaking Muslim migrants speak Bengali at home and among themselves, they, barring in some pockets, have got themselves recorded in successive decadal censuses as Assamese speakers and study in Assamese-medium schools and colleges.

The BJP and the rest of the Sangh Parivar, however, tactfully refrain from giving such details of the history of Muslim migration and settlement in Assam in public discourses on the theme of illegal immigrants. Because of this, at least a section of the people in the State have the wrong idea that all Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who settled on char lands (sand isles in the course of the river Brahmaputra) and encroached upon the land of indigenous people. …



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The unassailable case against Mr. Tejpal – Editorial (Nov 25, 2013, The Hindu)

The case against accused Editor-in-Chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, is straightforward and stark: alleged sexual assault and rape – grave cognisable offences punishable under Sections 354A, 354B, 376, and 376(2) of the Indian Penal Code – in addition to the non-cognisable offences specified by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The details of what allegedly happened inside a lift of the Grand Hyatt, Bambolim, Goa on November 7, 2013, the opening night of Tehelka’s Think festival, are chilling in the revulsion they produce. The victim – a young woman journalist employed by Tehelka, who was allegedly lured into, and imprisoned within, the lift, which was then manipulated by the alleged assailant to make it “stay in circuit” – showed both courage and professional precision in setting out the details in her letter of complaint to her Managing Editor and “mentor,” Shoma Chaudhury. She also had the presence of mind immediately to seek solace and solidarity from three of her journalistic colleagues and to unburden herself of what happened. “Confused, hurt and really, really scared” and not wanting to lose her job, she reported for her assigned work the next day and, incredibly, that evening, after the sessions were over, Mr. Tejpal is alleged to have attempted to reprise the sexual harassment and assault after forcing her into the lift. All this plus the harassing and aggravating texts and the emailed “apologies,” one private, the other public, that the alleged assailant and rapist sent her seem to make the criminal case against Mr. Tejpal unassailable.

The Goa Police have gone about their duty under the law of the land with professional dispatch and thoroughness. This must have been made easier by the fact that the duty, what precisely they are bound to do in respect of laying a First Information Report (FIR) “upon receiving any information relating to commission of a cognisable offence”, has been clarified in a recent judgment by a five-member bench of the Supreme Court of India. On the other side, the Tehelka editorial management has behaved disgracefully, with a mixture of obfuscation, denial, evidence-suppression, and cover-up. In an email dated November 20 to her subordinate editorial colleagues, many of whom by then were evidently well-informed on what had actually happened, Ms. Chaudhury characterised the alleged sexual assault and rape as “an untoward incident”; she went on to say that Mr. Tejpal, “though he…[had] extended an unconditional apology to the colleague involved,” would be “recusing himself as the editor of Tehelka for the next six months”.

The Editor-in-Chief attempted to lighten the situation for himself by admitting to “a bad lapse in judgment, an appalling misreading of the situation,” for which he awarded himself the penalty of “atonement…the penance that lacerates me,” recusance from the editorship of Tehelka and from the office for six months. The latest instance of an appalling misreading of the situation and worse is for a member of Mr. Tejpal’s immediate family to barge into the house of the victim’s mother and put emotional pressure on her, harass her with a demand for sensitive information and also for some kind of internal settlement so as to escape from the clutches of the law. The victim herself has stepped forward to protest, in an email sent to this newspaper and to some other media organisations, against this flagrant attempt to harass and intimidate her and her family. This also amounts to tampering with evidence, a serious offence. The law must and will take its course but meanwhile there are practical issues to be attended to in the wider media world. The most vital among them is the protection of the identity of the young woman journalist, the victim of alleged sexual assault and rape. Her letter of complaint and other sensitive communications have been leaked from within Tehelka and are in the public realm, and we must assume that all this has been done for a very good reason, to defeat the obfuscation and the cover-up. The expressions of solidarity with the victim, from across the board, following the leak are heartening. But on the other hand, all the relevant players – the mainstream media, the bloggers, and the social media folk – need to exercise greater restraint and care than they have shown so far to protect the victim’s identity, as the law requires them to do.

Then there is the fate of Tehelka as a multi-media organisation, a spirited and irreverent venture with an investigative and muckraking focus. It may be in a process of unravelling, considering the exodus of talented journalists that has been reported in the social media. Fresh, and surely some investigative, attention will be paid to the ownership of the venture, its political connections, and so forth. Legal troubles aside, it will need a particularly thick hide for the Tehelka management to allow Ms. Chaudhury to continue in her job. But fairness demands that there should be no open season on the news organisation itself. All that we know suggests that many of the victim’s colleagues, young, middle-ranking, and senior journalists, have stood by her, and in doing so, have helped to set public conscience and the law in motion. They have acted as good professionals, journalists with integrity – and more important in this case, as good citizens. Contrary to what some shrill voices in the social media insinuate, this is decidedly a case of the news media not resorting to ‘double standards’.



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An opportunity to free CBI – Editorial (Nov 12, 2013, The Hindu)

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court described the Central Bureau of Investigation as a ‘caged parrot’. Far from setting it free, the Gauhati High Court sought to exterminate it. The court’s judgment holding that the CBI is not a legally constituted police force has been stayed by the Supreme Court for now. The absence of a clear legal link between the establishment of the CBI and the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, the law under which the agency has been functioning for half a century, is indeed an irresistible point of law that was bound to be raised by someone some day.

However, the moot question is whether the High Court ought to have taken such a hyper-technical view and struck down the Union Home Ministry Resolution of April 1, 1963, by which the agency was formed. While there could be some merit in the contention that the CBI’s legal basis was somewhat unclear, the High Court could have highlighted any legal infirmity it found and sought the government’s views on how it could be cured – instead of invalidating the CBI’s very existence. The Supreme Court will have to decide whether to accept the CBI’s legality as a fact established by five decades of existence and functioning with judicial recognition, and how any infirmity, if that exists, is curable.

The Special Police Establishment (SPE), formed in 1941 under the War Department to curb corruption, got statutory status under the Delhi SPE Act, 1946. Its work was transferred to the CBI as soon as it was formed in 1963 by a Resolution. The High Court has now said it was a mere executive instruction with no sanction from the Cabinet or assent from the President. It has been generally assumed that the CBI is synonymous with the SPE, and the High Courts and the Supreme Court have passed orders from time to time transferring to it sensitive investigations from out of the hands of State police departments. The constitutional basis for the CBI’s formation is traceable to Entry 8 in the Union List, ‘Central Bureau of Investigation and Intelligence’, but the High Court did not find it good enough.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has promised to do everything necessary to establish the agency’s legality and protect its past and future work. It may be an opportune moment to provide a firmer statutory framework for the CBI, one that grants it the functional autonomy that the Supreme Court mandated in the Vineet Narain case in 1997. The Lokpal Bill, stalled due to political bickering despite being passed in the Lok Sabha, also provides for measures to insulate graft investigation from interference and envisages an independent role for the CBI under the Lokpal’s supervision. Strengthening this bill and ensuring its early adoption would be the right course.



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The Case (That Wasn’t) Against Lalu Yadav – By Ajit Sahi (Nov 16, 2013, Tehelka)

If only politicians had the patience for details. There has been much hand-wringing among them since the Supreme Court ruled in July that an MP or an MLA/MLC would be unseated immediately upon conviction in a criminal case. Infamous attempts have been made by the men in white to write a new law and even bring an ordinance to restore status quo ante that allowed an elected representative to continue in office until an appeal against his conviction was disposed off.

The parliamentarians can, however, spare themselves the embarrassment of such clumsy acts if only they take the pains to read a 30 September ruling by a trial judge in faraway Jharkhand, who has found former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadavguilty of patronising an intricate scheme of corruption that ran unchecked for years. As television news flashed those findings without bothering to dive into the 568-page judgment, millions of citizens wearied from decades of corruption felt vindicated by Lalu’s comeuppance.

Lalu’s conviction in one of the 54 cases of the ‘fodder scam’, the popular name given to widespread embezzlement of government funds in the early-to-mid-1990s in the purchase of medicines and fodder for the livestock of the poor, is no small irony for him. His rule of Bihar for 15 years is remembered less for the immense and irreversible empowerment his socialist politics brought to the backward castes and more for the utter lawlessness and crime it spawned, allowed and even patronised. That assessment only grew starker in comparison with the reign of his arch-rival, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has ruled the state since 2005 and is credited with having vastly improved the state’s law and order.

Be that as it may, the imperatives of justice are clear beyond doubt, as the ‘Blackstone Ratio’, quoted above, enumerates. It is not this correspondent’s claim that Lalu bears no culpability in the massive fodder scam, for that can be revealed only by a thorough investigation of thousands of documents and the questioning of hundreds, which India’s premier sleuthing agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), failed to carry out.

But the devil in the details of the judgment is revealed by its in-depth reading as well as of courtroom testimonies, cross-examinations of prosecution and defence witnesses, and, not the least, the documents brought to the court. It leads to but one inference, that the case against Lalu is untenable. In times to come, this ruling would certainly bolster the politicians who make their case against unseating legislators immediately upon conviction in a criminal case by pointing at the record of trial courts in delivering justice. …



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Rationales for separation – Editorial (Nov 20, 2013, The Hindu)

Telangana is almost a fait accompli now, but both pro-Telangana activists and anti-bifurcation protesters know there is still a lot to fight for: the status of Hyderabad, the demarcation of boundaries, the sharing of water resources, and the reallocation of government personnel. With the Group of Ministers looking into issues relating to the bifurcation completing its consultations on Monday, the focus is now on the details of the bifurcation, and not the creation of Telangana itself. The violent agitations leading to and following the Cabinet approval for Telangana were in part engendered by the indecisiveness of the government at the Centre, and the absence of any structured dialogue among the various stakeholders on the bifurcation. The Centre heard views from all sides, but could not force anyone to consider compromises or scale down from maximalist positions.

The discussions so far have been random exercises held in the hope that a consensus would magically emerge. But now that these efforts have predictably failed, they are shown up as justification for a hurried, unilateral approach by the Centre. No resolution on the Telangana issue was introduced in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. While this is not mandated by the Constitution, the bypassing of the Assembly is certainly a departure from the precedents in the bifurcation of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh in 2000. Of course, in these instances the creation of the new States – Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh – were not as contentious as the carving out of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh is. Telangana remains an instance of how not to go about creating new States.

Almost inevitably, the Cabinet approval for Telangana has revived demands for new states in eastern India, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Clearly, the Telangana tangle has reinforced the need for setting up another States Reorganisation Commission to examine various demands for new states and lay down broad principles and guidelines in deciding new boundaries. At present, many of the demands are based on loose, largely imagined, identities.

The struggle for Telangana was based on its political past, and not linguistic or ethnic identity. Without some rational, practical basis for the creation of new states, statehood demands would be conceded as the Centre seems politically expedient. Governance issues and administrative convenience should also be among the decisive factors in the creation of new states. Otherwise, statehood demands would be sustained by narrow, sectarian agendas that ignore the larger interests of the community. The end result of such demands can only be internal displacement of people.



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