IAMC Weekly News Roundup - October 31st, 2011 - IAMC
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IAMC Weekly News Roundup – October 31st, 2011

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

Communal Harmony

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

Book Review

Communal Harmony

Village spreads communal harmony on Diwali (Oct 27, 2011, IBN)

Residents of the Joga Bai village in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar used the festival of Diwali to spread communal amity on Wednesday. There were notes from the Aazan and Aarati blending together in blissful coexistence. The residents of the 300-year-old village, less than a kilometer from the communally sensitive Batla chowk area, painted a picture of perfect harmony. “We celebrate Diwali with the Hindus and they visit our place on Eid,” said Haider Ali Zaidi, a local resident.

The Joga Bai village was named after a courtier in a Mughal court. The village has its own unique way of celebrating Diwali – lots of music and some cool street dancing added to the age-old tradition of bursting firecrackers. And this is not all, as the descendents of the Mughal courtier want to spread across the country.

The festive spirit was evident in the bazaar too. While some were gorging on street food, others were finishing their last minute shopping. The markets of the area witnessed as much sales during Diwali as during Eid. It was the festival of Diwali and the residents of Joga Bai showed a glimpse of what a new secular India would be like.


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Over 700 Gujarat riot victims still wait for relief (Oct 25, 2011, DNA India)

Many victims of the communal riots of 2002 are still fighting for the compensation that was announced for them by the state and the central governments. In response to a petition filed by the victims, the state government had submitted before the Gujarat high court that several applications for compensation were still under consideration and were at the verification stage.

According to the figures submitted by the state government before the high court, the government could not provide compensation in 6 cases because the victims could not be identified. Out of the 2,548 people who were injured in the riots, around 35 had not been paid compensation, the government said. Another 360 people who had sought compensation for damage to their residence and 355 for damage to uninsured commercial and industrial property had not been paid compensation so far, the government had told the court.

However, in its order of September 7, 2011, the high court directed the district collector to expedite the process of consideration of applications of the victims who had not yet received compensation. Utpala Vora, the lawyer who had filed the petition in the high court seeking payment of compensation for the riot victims, said that before disposing of the petition, the court had considered the issue and the interest of the victims. The court had then directed the victims to approach the concerned department.

“Now, the victims have to fight another battle with the state government to get compensation for their losses. The most desperate case is that of 56 shop-owners of Soni ni Chawl in Rakhiyal whose shops were destroyed during the riots. After the high court’s order, I have moved an application before the collector to expedite the process of consideration of their applications,” Vora said.

Among the other victims of the riots who are still fighting for compensation announced for them by the state and the central governments is Rupa Mody, a resident of Gulbarg society. Rupa’s 14-year-old son, Azhar, was never found after the massacre at the society during the riots. Rupa Mody, who is a Parsi, said that officials had been coming up with one excuse or another to deny her compensation. But the harassment and delay have not demoralised her. In fact, they have made her even more determined to fight for justice.



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Lokayukta Police registers FIR against Nirani (Oct 29, 2011, The Hindu)

In more embarrassment for the ruling BJP in Karnataka, Lokayukta Police on Saturday registered an FIR against Industries Minister Murugesh Nirani in connection with alleged irregularities in denotification of lands acquired for industrial purposes. Eight others, including Mr. Nirani’s brother H R Nirani, have also been named as accused in the FIR registered following a direction from the Lokayukta court.

The FIR has been registered on a complaint by industrialist Alam Pasha of the Pasha Space International, who accused Mr. Nirani of denotifying 20 acres near Devanahalli and 100 acres near Dabaspet near Tumkur, Lokayukta Superintendent of Police Shivakumar told PTI. Mr. Pasha in his complaint before the Lokayukta special court has alleged that Mr. Nirani denotified lands acquired by the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB) violating rules, which the minister has rejected.

Mr. Nirani is the second minister in the BJP Ministry led by Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda against whom Lokayukta police has registered FIR after Home and Transport Minister R Ashoka, who also faces allegations of securing denotification of government land for personal gain.

The Lokayukta Police action comes on the eve of BJP leader L K Advani’s yatra entering the State. Lokayukta Police filed the FIR against Ashoka, former Chief minister B S Yeddyurappa and two others on October 21 on a complaint against them. Mr. Yeddyurappa is already in judicial custody since October 15 following his arrest in two cases relating to irregularities in denotifying land.



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Picked up in July for ‘rioting,’ three Muslim schoolchildren still in jail (Oct 26, 2011, The Hindu)

Nearly four months after they were detained by the police, three Muslim schoolchildren are still in the District Jail here, unable to get bail for an offence their distraught families claim they never committed. The children have been charged, among other things, with rioting and attempt to murder. But now, finally, hope seems in sight with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) sending notice on the matter to the Senior Superintendent of Police of Moradabad. A key question here is whether children can be kept in jail when the law requires that they be produced before the Juvenile Justice Board and sent to a remand home.

The children, along with 35 adults, were picked up on July 6, 2011 – the day clashes broke out between the police and a section of Muslims over the alleged desecration of the Holy Koran by a raiding police party at Asalatnagar Bagah village, falling under the Mainather Police Station. Enraged by the “Koran incident,” Muslims gathered in large numbers, blocked traffic on the Moradabad-Sambhal Road and burnt down a police chowkie in the area. The police fired upon the crowds, which turned violent and attacked a senior police officer, who was admitted to hospital with a serious head injury. The police registered four FIRs in all against the alleged rioters and the charges included Section 307 of the IPC (attempt to murder).

The families of the three children claim their wards had nothing to do with the violence and were on their way home from different schools (all English medium public schools) when they found themselves stranded because of the riots. The police say they have a video recording of the violence. However, the recording has not been shown to the families or to a fact-finding team, which later met the police. The former Station in-charge of Mainather, Jitendra Kumar, told The Hindu that the children were not children but adults – meaning there is no bar on keeping them in jail. The families call this “falsification” of recorded facts. The school certificates of the children show their dates of birth as June 25, 1997; May 15, 1997; and November 10, 1995. In other words, on the day they were arrested, two of the boys had just turned 14, while the third was not yet 16. Two of the families also have copies of the attendance registers, which show their children were present in the school on July 6, 2011.

The plight of the jailed children was brought to the notice of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights and the NHRC by Syed Akhlak Ahmad, secretary of the Delhi chapter of the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights. Mr. Ahmad, who led the fact-finding team to Moradabad, concluded that the children were wrongly detained. Two recent judgments of the Supreme Court ought to go in favour of the jailed children. On August 5, 2011, the Court ruled that the school certificate was the most important document in determining the age of a child, prevailing other documents and medical tests. This demolishes the argument of the police that the jailed children are not children.

If so, minor children cannot be jailed – even assuming that they committed a crime. Indeed, last week, the Court prescribed a set of directions for dealing with “children in conflict with law” (a term far more sensitive than child accused or child offenders), including appointment of a designated juvenile/child welfare officer in every police station and the creation of Special Juvenile Police Units staffed with child welfare officers in all districts. Under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of children) Rules 2007, apprehended children have to be produced before the Juvenile Justice Board within 24 hours. The police officer who arrests them has to inform their parents and provide details of their socio-economic background to the Board. The Rules also prohibit filing FIRs against children and charge-sheeting them except in grave offences such as rape and murder.



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NIA not to oppose bail of 9 arrested for Malegaon: P Chidambaram (Oct 31, 2011, DNA India)

In a decision that could come as an embarrassment to Maharashtra’s Anti Terror Squad, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram today announced that NIA will not oppose the bail pleas of the nine accused arrested by the police in the 2006 Malegaon bomb blast case.

“As far as the NIA is concerned, which is in-charge of investigating the case, they are not opposing the bail. Whether the bail will be granted or not, it is not for me to say. It is for the court to say,” Chidambaram told reporters after presenting his ministry’s monthly report card. All the nine are languishing in Arthur Road prison since their arrest in 2006.

Asked whether the move not to oppose the bail meant that the nine people arrested by the ATS were innocent, Chidambaram said “no, until any other person who is involved is actually found and chargesheeted, and until the old chargesheet is revised, we can’t come to any conclusion one way or the other.”

“But since there is a confession and investigation is in progress in some areas, in some other directions, the NIA has concluded that it is no longer necessary to keep them in judicial custody and, therefore, the NIA will not oppose the bail. But the decision is not of NIA, the decision will be court’s decision,” the Home Minister said.

The probe by the National Investigating Agency (NIA) has indicated that the ATS of Maharashtra police and the CBI allegedly acted in undue haste in filing chargesheet against the accused, official sources said.



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‘Massive public opinion in favour of revoking AFSPA’ (Oct 31, 2011, Indian Express)

Union Minister Farooq Abdullah today said there was a “massive” public opinion in favour of revoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Act but maintained that all the stakeholders should discuss the issue and take a collective decision. “If you see the people’s opinion across the country, there is a massive opinion that AFSPA should be revoked,” Abdullah, who is also president of ruling National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir, told reporters on the sidelines of a function here.

Abdullah said he was hopeful that various stakeholders including the Army and government of Jammu and Kashmir will sit together to discuss the issue and take a decision on it. “If peace has returned to the some areas of the state, this law should go from those areas. If peace has not returned, then it should be declared as such,” he said. The Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy said all opinions, including that of the Centre’s team of interlocutors, should be taken on board while taking a decision on revocation of AFSPA.

Asked about the demand for rotation of Chief Minister from some leaders in Congress, a coalition partner in the state government, Abdullah said he would not comment on the issue. “I do not want to create confrontations. We cannot move ahead by confrontationist approach.” The National Conference had said there were some politicains who prosper in chaos. “If there is no chaos, they cannot dip their fingers in honey bowls,” the minister added.



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Constable among 5 held for rioting (Oct 29, 2011, Indian Express)

Vinobha Bhave Nagar police on Thursday arrested five persons, including a head constable of the Local Arms (LA) Division in Naigaon, for rioting, unlawful assembly, attempt to murder and voluntarily causing hurt with a dangerous weapon after they allegedly assaulted a group of nine persons over an ongoing dispute. The constable, identified as Dharam Salunkhe, and others have been remanded in police custody until November 2. While the victims alleged they were assaulted by residents and claimed that the police had sided with the residents because they were migrants, the police have denied these allegations. Two other constables named in the FIR, one of whom is posted at Vinobha Bhave Nagar police station, have not yet been arrested.

The incident took place on Wednesday when a group of around 25 persons attacked Madhurkumar Singh, his brother and others around 11.30 pm. “We had performed Lakshmi puja at our shop and were going back home when this group of around 20-25 persons attacked us with swords and other sharp weapons. My brother suffered serious injuries in his right hand and was stabbed in his leg. I fractured my hand in the attack,” said complainant Madhukar Singh. “We did not even know why they were beating us. We have had trouble with these men in the past too. The police are also inclined to side with the locals whenever we approach them with complaints. One person called Gulkab Vishwakarma suffered serious injuries. He was rushed to Sion Hospital where he is recuperating in the ICU,” alleged Singh.

The group then went to lodge a complaint at the Vinobha Bhave Nagar police station, where they alleged that the policemen refused to register a complaint. “They wanted us to register a non-cognisable (NC) complaint. We have registered many such NCs against some of the accused in the past as well. That has not stopped them from threatening us. It was only on Thursday morning, when the Additional Commissioner of Police came, that the police registered an FIR,” Singh alleged.

However, the police denied the allegations. “There was a problem between two groups and that led to the fight. It was definitely not an issue of migrants versus locals and there is no question of us siding with the attackers.We registered a complaint immediately. The Additional Commissioner came to help and guide us with our investigations,” said senior police inspector Arunkumar Aaigal of Vinobha Bhave Nagar Police Station. Additional Commissioner of Police (Central Region) Vineet Agarwal said strict action would be taken against policemen who have been named in the FIR. “The case is being investigated. The two constables who have not been arrested yet will be nabbed soon.”



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Pages of Quran for crackers Muslims perturbed (Oct 27, 2011, Siasat)

By using the pages of Quran, an attempt has been made to hurt the sentiments of the Muslims. It was found that a cracker manufacturing firm in Sivakashi, Tamilnadu used papers containing Quranic verses.

On receipt of information Mr. Madhusudhan Reddy, Inspector of Police seized the stock of crackers and a police and a police picket has been deputed at sensitive places. In the same manner, in Maddur Mandal of Warangal district also, the manufacturers of crackers used papers containing Quranic verses.

There is a stock of such crackers in Jangaon. Such crackers have also been manufactured in Warashivani area of Madhya Pradesh. It is learnt that some miscreants are trying to disrupt peace. Muslims should have patience.



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Team Anna diverting attention from saffron terrorism: Digvijay (Oct 27, 2011, Indian Express)

Taking a swipe at Team Anna’s fight against corruption, Congress leader Digvijay Singh today said the civil society members were diverting attention of the people from terror activities perpetrated by saffron outfits. “I have always being saying from Day One that this (Team Anna’s fight against corruption) is a part of an overall plan of RSS-BJP combine to divert the attention from Sangh’s involvement in Malegaon, Hyderabad, Ajmer Sharif and Samjhauta Express blasts,” the AICC General Secretary told reporters at the Bangalore International Airport here.

Criticising BJP leader L K Advani’s Jan Chethana Yatra, Singh said the party’s record on charges of corruption was pathetic. “Why did not the BJP register a case against Bangaru Laxman under the Prevention of Corruption Act when he was caught accepting money on tape,” he questioned. The BJP also failed to register a case against Jaya Jaitley when she was caught on tape striking an illegal arms deal in former union Defence Minister’s (George Fernandes) house, Singh said.

“We took action against our allied members who were involved in corrupt practices or scams,” he said. The UPA government had taken all possible steps under the leadership of AICC President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to check corruption, Singh said. “The Right to Information Act was brought by us and Money Laundering Act was made stringent by us,” he said.



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Movement towards a decision on Telangana after Eid:Govt (Oct 31, 2011, Hindustan Times)

A movement towards a decision on the Telangana issue will take place after the Eid-ul-Zuha festival, home minister P Chidambaram said today. He said Congress general secretary incharge of Andhra Pradesh and union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had conveyed to different groups in the state that since the festival season was going on, there has been no movement on the issue.

“The general secretary incharge and the minister has told the groups that this is the festival season – Diwali and then the Eid – and let the two festivals pass. Movement towards a decision will take place immediately after Eid,” Chidambaram said at a press conference in New Delhi.

He was responding to questions on whether there was any forward movement in taking any decision on Telangana and when the Centre was going to convene an all-party meeting of the political parties of Andhra Pradesh. Eid will be celebrated on November 7.

Azad had submitted his report on his deliberations with Congress MLAs and MPs of Andhra Pradesh to Congress party high command. Four political parties of Andhra Pradesh, including Congress, have not taken a decision on the issue. “TDP and MIM are waiting to see what Congress party’s decision will be. The other party the YSR Congress has not indicated its mind either…,” Chidambaram had said earlier.



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Mirchpur killings: Life term to 3, 5 years for 5, 7 let off (Oct 31, 2011, Times of India)

A Delhi court today awarded life sentence to three persons for their role in the April 2010 killings of a 70-year-old Dalit and his physically-challenged daughter at Haryana’s Mirchpur village. Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) Kamini Lau sentenced Kulwinder, Ramphal and Rajender to life imprisonment after holding them guilty under the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

“For the offence under provisions of SC/ST (POA) Act, they (Kulwinder, Ramphal and Rajender) are sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for life and fine to the tune of Rs 20,000 each,” the court said. Besides them, the court sentenced five others – Baljeet, Karambir, Karampal, Dharambir and Bobal, convicted for rioting, voluntarily causing hurt, mischief and putting ablaze victims’ houses and provisions of SC/ST (POA) Act, to five years jail along with a fine of Rs 20,000 each.

The court said the fine recovered from the convicts would be given to the victims as compensation. The court, however, released seven convicts on probation of good conduct for a period of one year with supervision after furnishing of personal bond of Rs 10,000 each. ASJ Lau freed Sumit, Pradeep, Rajpal, Sunil, Rishi, Monu and Pradeep on probation of good conduct under the provision of Probation of Offenders Act taking into account that most of them were first time offenders and were young. The court observed that these seven convicts were not held guilty for the offences under the SC/ST (POA) Act.



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Opinions and Editorials

Fear and the farce – Editorial (Sep-Oct, 2011, Sabrang)

Even for a party that pays mere lip service to constitutional principles, it was a moment of great shame. A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India directs the Special Investigation Team (SIT) – specially appointed by the court to reinvestigate the major cases of carnage in Gujarat in 2002 – to also investigate the role of chief minister Narendra Modi and 61 others, including top BJP politicians, VHP bigwigs, civil servants and police officers, in the genocidal killings and then to file a charge sheet (also called a final report) against the 62 accused before a trial court in Gujarat. The apex court’s order was the culmination of a protracted process initiated in mid-2006 by Zakiya Ahsan Jaffri, wife of former Congress MP Ahsan Jaffri who was killed in gruesome fashion along with 68 others at Gulberg Society, Ahmedabad, on February 28, 2002. Ms Jaffri’s 119-page complaint backed by 2,000 pages of supporting evidence accused Modi and 61 others of several serious offences, including conspiracy to commit mass murder. When the Gujarat police refused to lodge an FIR (first information report), Ms Jaffri, supported by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), filed a writ petition in the Gujarat high court seeking judicial directions for registration of an FIR. After the high court dismissed the petition in November 2007, Ms Jaffri and CJP appealed to the Supreme Court.

The apex court did more than order the registration of an FIR. It asked the SIT to look into the Zakiya Jaffri-CJP complaint. As the petitioners repeatedly drew the court’s attention to the apparent cover-up by the SIT, the court asked the amicus curiae in the matter, Raju Ramachandran, to independently examine the evidence collected by the SIT and submit his report to the court. On September 12, 2011 the Supreme Court of India instructed the SIT that it may now place a final report of its own findings and inferences along with the material collected by it and the amicus curiae’s report before a trial court in Gujarat. We will know in the near future whether the SIT in its report/charge sheet implicates any or all of the 62 persons accused in the complaint or whether it absolves them by choosing to file a ‘closure’ report. The judicial magistrate will then examine the SIT’s recommendations and other material placed before it and decide whether or not the case has merit and whether any or all of those accused should be charged. However, it is clear from the Supreme Court’s order that if the SIT does indeed file a closure report, the magistrate will, before reaching a final decision, have to make available to the complainants – Ms Jaffri and CJP – all the material placed before the court. Should the magistrate decide not to take cognisance of the offences, or to absolve one or more of the accused, he/she must first provide the complainants with an opportunity to be heard. And if the complainants are in any way dissatisfied with the trial court’s final ruling, they have the right to challenge the verdict in the Gujarat high court and thereafter, if need be, in the Supreme Court.

Whether Modi and the 61 others are guilty of conspiracy to commit mass murder, and other serious offences, will finally be decided only through the due process of law, by the trial court and thereafter, if the magistrate takes cognisance of the case, by the court already hearing the Gulberg Society case or else, if the complainants choose to appeal the court’s decision, by the Gujarat high court and the Supreme Court. In other words, there is a long legal battle ahead before Modi and others are held “guilty” or “not guilty” in a court of law. But a few things can be stated with certainty. India has a shameful record when it comes to justice for the victims of recurrent state-condoned, state-sponsored pogroms against its religious minorities: Muslims, Sikhs, Christians. The perpetrators and the masterminds of the mass killings are never punished; nor are the police and other administrative officers who are guilty of partisan conduct and gross dereliction of duty. It is thanks to the dogged determination of hundreds of victims of the 2002 genocide and CJP, which has stood firmly behind them against an extremely vindictive and hostile state machinery, that this prevailing culture of impunity has been seriously challenged. Never before have the masterminds of mass murder, complicit police officers, bureaucrats or politicians from the ruling party (let alone an entire busload of them at one go) been so close to getting their just deserts.

For some years before this case, CJP’s battle for justice in Gujarat had notched up historic milestones. Its petition before the Supreme Court in 2003 in the Best Bakery case, for example, resulted in the first ever order for the transfer of a communal violence case to another state – from Gujarat to Maharashtra. All those who had been acquitted by a trial court in Vadodara (whose acquittal was upheld by the Gujarat high court) were subsequently retried and held guilty and given stringent punishment. CJP’s legal interventions brought into national and judicial focus issues such as witness protection, the need for impartial public prosecutors and the right of witnesses to be represented by their own lawyers in court. Now the Supreme Court directive of September 12 has sent out the message that the hitherto prevailing culture of impunity can no longer be taken for granted. To its utter shame, instead of introspection at this moment of reckoning, the BJP and the sangh parivar are shamelessly feigning victory, lending their weight to Modi’s farce of a fast for ‘communal harmony’ and remaining silent as the increasingly desperate chief minister targets activists and police officers such as RB Sreekumar, Rahul Sharma and Sanjiv Bhatt who adhere to their constitutional obligations.



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Yeddy’s Buddies Join The Hall of Shame – By Imran Khan (Nov 5, 2011, Tehelka)

After former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa and the infamous Reddy brothers, it’s the turn of the other ministers and Yeddy loyalists in the BJP-led Karnataka government. The state BJP, which has already seen four ministers behind bars might have to witness the embarrassment of seeing two more ministers following suit in land-related scams. The latest leader to land in trouble is Medium and Large-Scale Industries Minister Murugesh R Nirani, who has accumulated a long list of corruption charges over the past three years. These include awarding government contracts to companies he owned, illegally denotifying government land and mortgaging land that had earlier been given by the government to another company. Nirani, a Lingayat and staunch Yeddyurappa loyalist, has also been charged with awarding a three-star hotel contract to his wife, while presiding as the chairman of the state committee for project clearance. Earlier, he managed to get a power theft case against himself dropped thanks to the clout he enjoyed with Yeddyurappa. Nirani, who credits himself with bringing investments worth Rs 4 lakh crore to Karnataka through the Global Investors Meet (GIM) organised in June 2010, has been found guilty of awarding contracts to companies floated by his near and dear ones. Incidentally, when the contracts were awarded, the companies were either nonexistent or dormant. It was later discovered that huge tracts of land in the state were diverted to these shell companies.

Documents available with TEHELKA show that at least in three instances, the state government entered into Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with non-existent companies. An estimated 1,080 acres have been allotted to these companies, which are located in Bagalkot, the home district of the minister. The total worth of these three MOUs has been estimated to be around Rs 2,100 crore. MRN Sugars and Power Ltd, an unregistered company named after the minister, was awarded the contract by the state for setting up a Rs 300 crore sugar plant during GIM 2010. Nearly 200 acres in Bijapur district was given to the company for this purpose. When Nirani realised that the name MRN was already taken, he floated a new company – Vijayshree Sugars and Power Ltd on 24 January 2011. The state government promptly sanctioned the transfer of approval to the new company on 1 March at the 24th state high-level clearance committee meeting. Interestingly, the panel was headed by Nirani. Similar is the case of Shakti Steel and Power Industries and Sai Priya Sugars Ltd. The former, an unregistered company and the later a dormant one, went on to sign MOUs with the state government at GIM 2010. Shakti was awarded the contract for setting up a Rs 1,500 crore steel plant in Bagalkot and 580 acres were allotted for this project. Sai Priya Sugars was allowed to set up a Rs 300 crore sugar plant in Bagalkot, for which 300 acres was allotted. Dilip Desai, who owns the company name MRN Sugars and Power Ltd, says, “I had registered this name after I came to know that Nirani was trying to do the same. We have some issues with the minister, hence we wanted to see to it that he is not able to register it.”

Desai, an industrialist, has been at loggerheads with Nirani since the minister thwarted his attempt to set-up a sugar mill in Bijapur. In the end, Desai got the project cleared and is constructing a plant. Desai adds, “What surprises me is that the state government entered into a contract with an unregistered company. It is illegal and a violation of law. Even after a year, on the insistence of the minister, the state pollution control board conducted a public hearing of a fictitious company. It is a 100 percent criminal offence.” During the GIM, the minister awarded a three-star hotel contract to his wife Kamala. This project in the industrial area of Bagalkot, worth 7.5 crore, was allotted 10 acres and was cleared by Nirani himself. Details of Nirani’s illegalities came out when he shortchanged Alam Pasha, managing director of Pash Space International. In two instances, land allotted to Pasha was diverted by Nirani to other firms. “My housing project was cancelled by Nirani on the basis of a forged letter,” alleges Pasha, who had proposed to build 2,500 houses for the economically weaker sections at Devanahalli, near Bengaluru International Airport.

The 26-acre project worth Rs 600 crore, which was approved during GIM 2010, was cancelled when somebody forged Pasha’s signature on the company letterhead stating that Pash Space is not interested in going ahead with the housing project. In a complaint submitted to Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj on 28 March, Pasha alleged that the state high-level clearance committee headed by Nirani “conspired to fabricate the letter” and “passed a resolution to suit its needs”. Pasha also said in his complaint that the same 26 acres was later allotted to a prominent Bengaluru-based real estate company. In another instance, land allotted to Pash Space International in 2006 was given to Prisac Housing Constructions by Nirani. In his complaint to the Lokayukta, Pasha alleged that the minister has denotified prime land close to the Bengaluru airport. According to Pasha, land in Survey No. 124, 125 and 126 of Hoovinaikanahalli, measuring 20 acres, and 150 acres in Kengelkempohalli, Chandhanavasahalli, Averhalli and other villages at Dabaspet Industrial Area of Nelmangala Taluk, Bengaluru, were denotified by Nirani causing a loss of Rs 200 crore to the state exchequer. Based on Pasha’s complaint, the Lokayukta court has asked its police to file a report by 16 November. Commenting about all the above allegations, Nirani has just one answer: “baseless allegations”. He says, “I’ve made no mistakes and we have done everything as per procedure.”

Meanwhile, another highprofile BJP leader feeling the heat in the denotification scam is Home Minister R Ashoka. The Lokayukta police has booked a case against him for denotifying lands in prime areas of Bengaluru. The land in question is 9.73 guntas (1,177 sq yards) at Lottegollahalli in Bengaluru North taluk, which was earlier acquired by the Bangalore Development Authority. In December 2009, contrary to the rules, the above lands were denotified by Yeddyurappa to favour Ashoka. Prior to the denotification, Ashoka had purchased both these properties worth Rs 15 crore for just Rs 45 lakh, a blatant violation of law. The Lokayukta court has asked its police to submit a report by 5 November. If proven guilty, Ashoka might have to step down from his post.



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A new tragedy of the commons – By Shail Mayaram (Oct 19, 2011, The Hindu)

As the dust settles on the Gopalgarh firing in Bharatpur, in which nine Meos were killed, State and community versions have begun to unravel. Recent conversations with Gujars highlight the shocking role of the administration. This had already been pointed out by the Citizen’s Report coordinated by the PUCL to which I was signatory. It would seem that the order to fire was given under pressure from right-wing leaders and an aggressive section of Gujars. Two, it was signed purportedly on the basis of false information that the Meos, who had collected in the local mosque, were about to commit martyrdom, were armed and had already killed five persons. Whatever the flaws of the draft Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, its strength is that it clearly puts the onus of inter-communal peace on the administration. In sum, Gopalgarh only proves what we already know about ethnic conflict: that in most cases it can be prevented given administrative and political will. Further, the dispute between the Meos and Gujars of Gopalgarh was not “communal” to begin with, contrary to media and administrative versions. Instead, it approximated a feud, an essential aspect of the subcontinent’s intercommunal and intracommunal life. The conflict was over their respective claims to a piece of land that both sides saw as their respective common property resource, the Meos as a graveyard, the Gujars as a pond (jauhar). The land was levelled in order to dig graves after the administration declared that in the Revenue Settlement it had been acknowledged as Meo “commons.”

Tension heightened and the Imam was assaulted by a few Gujars on September 13 having been proactive in the legal dispute. Crowds collected on both sides the following morning from surrounding villages, again typical of the numerous feuds that Meo/Gujar/Jat/Ahir clans have fought. The term “riot” is equally questionable as eventually both the police and an aggressive segment of the Gujars seem to have turned on the Meos in Gopalgarh’s mosque, leaving nine dead and 22 injured after some 219 rounds of firing. That only 3 died of bullets and the rest of knife and other injuries is indicative of the nefarious collusion of the State and a segment of the local community and the tragic deployment of the ‘riot control’ armoured vehicle that could have been used to disperse crowds on both sides instead of being used eventually as a death van. Indeed, the judicial commission must also look into why Gopalgarh was not instead brought under Section 144 or curfew by noon of September 14.’

The greater tragedy is the rupturing of the region’s inter-communal fabric. Gujars and Meos have lived together in intimacy in villages for centuries, addressing each other by kinship terms, sharing languages and mythologies, practices and pilgrimages including to the Siva temple at Jhir. They have even intermarried in the past, as their common clan names suggest. The friendship between a Meo and a Gujar chief is described by the metaphor of “dant kati roti,” i.e. sharing the same bread! If the Meos were recognised as “marginally Muslim,” the Gujars have been “marginally Hindu” in the period preceding Partition. In a folk epic from the Meo oral tradition dating to the late 19th century, a Gujar woman weeps in the hills for the tiger has eaten her only cow. The Meo brothers, Ghurchari and Meo Khan, the “good” bandits, rescue her cow and dare to kill the tiger “protected” for the kingly kill, an act of supreme defiance against the Rajput-ruled kingdom. In the rural areas of Delhi, Rajasthan and Haryana, Gujar and Meos live in mixed or adjacent villages. An everyday cosmopolitanism marks local cultures, impossible to capture in the theory of high cosmopolitanism. Without it, one cannot understand peasant-pastoral lifeworlds of bare sustenance that many Gujars and Meos share. The upward mobility of other OBC peasant castes bypassed both groups in the previous two centuries until recently, when we witness the phenomenon of “city as imperium.”

The background of a land dispute culminating in firing, vandalism and scorched bodies in Gopalgarh’s mosque is constituted by Delhi’s changing land regime and its fallout which seems to be escaping economists, urbanists, and planners. The entrepreneurial governance and spider-like agility of the “global city” has been highlighted by David Harvey and Aihwa Ong. But they fail to recognise how the mega-city in both China and India depeasantises and depastoralises. The urban corridor from Mehrauli to Mumbai – termed a “megalopolis” – gobbles land at a frenzied pace. Between Delhi and Ajmer, the industrial areas of Bhiwadi, Neemrana and Bagru thrive and are fast dissolving the cultural regions known for centuries as Gujarvati and Mewat. Gujars and Meos are both communities whose primary identity derives from land. And that land is now being sought by others willing to pay vast sums. The genocide of 1947 against the Meos was a traumatic event and Gopalgarh suggests at its continuing reverberations. The new phenomenon is a politico-cultural ethnocide as Meo and Gujar landholders increasingly join the race to make quick money from land sales. Gurgaon was built on a few Gujars and others exchanging their land for thousands of crores.

The mega-city covets agricultural land, “wastelands” and the commons including its water bodies and waqf-owned land. Stone from the Aravallis is being mined at a furious pace. Six thousand truckloads from one village alone daily feed Delhi’s limitless appetite for construction despite a Supreme Court stay order. The Aravallis are the oldest mountains in the world and responsible for the region’s rainfall, fertility and the ways in which the scarce resource of water has been maximised by communities for a millennia. Bhiwadi is one of the utopias that have mushroomed in this new landscape: Sunshine City, malls, real estate agent offices, gated apartment buildings and billboards provide incessant temptation to the capital’s middle classes. Ranajit Guha described colonialism as dominance without hegemony. In this new mode of imperialism, hegemony is absolute, based on the total consent of the governed, urban and rural. Delhi’s rise and Gopalgarh’s descent are intrinsically connected. Indeed, the very conceptions of “urban” and “rural” are being transformed. Empire and nation have been older and established modes of imperialism. The 21st century is witness to the city as imperium.



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His Lordship forgets – By John Dayal (Sep-Oct, 2011, Sabrang)

As a Malayali who was also a judge of the Supreme Court of India, Justice Kallupurackal Thomas Thomas occupies an enviable place in the Kerala Christian social pantheon. No one in his right mind would dare say he is turning senile. Far from it. That man of justice, and of peace, remains as sharp as when he was on the highest bench in the land. It therefore remains a mystery why Justice Thomas, often invited by right-wing forums in his twin identity as jurist and Christian, always ends up praising the Hindutva lunatic fringe and denouncing the conversions of new people turning to Christ. In an address in Kochi on August 1, 2011, Justice Thomas praised the RSS for its discipline and said the propaganda that the organisation was anti-minority was “baseless”. The Press Trust of India (PTI) reported that speaking at a function attended by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, he also said the “smear campaign” against the RSS that it was responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi must end. “There is a smear campaign that RSS was responsible for Gandhi’s assassination just because the assassin was once an RSS worker,” he said, adding that the organisation had been “completely exonerated” by the court. “This smear campaign must end against RSS,” he said. Gratuitously, Justice Thomas sought to expand his personal views to make it seem as if he spoke for the entire Christian community. “I am a Christian. I was born as a Christian and practise that religion. I am a churchgoing Christian. But I have also learnt many things about RSS,” he said. He said he became an admirer of the RSS in 1979 when he was posted as district judge of Kozhikode, adding that simple living and high thinking was its hallmark. During the emergency the RSS was the only non-political organisation which fought against it. “We owe very much to RSS for sacrificing many lives for regaining our fundamental rights…” “The propaganda that RSS was anti-minority was also baseless,” he said, adding that he was a great admirer of the organisation, as discipline is given importance. This writer shares some qualities with the venerable justice. Like him, I too am a Christian, a Catholic as a matter of fact. I was born a Christian and practise that religion. I am a churchgoing Christian. But I have also learnt many things about the RSS.

One may well have learnt a thing or two more about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh than his lordship. For while he was rapidly climbing the ladder of jurisprudence, one was reporting on the RSS 40 years ago, visiting their shakhas (cells), recording what their leaders said and documenting their written statements and literature. One saw the training of youngsters and college students and the excesses of pot-bellied traders in khaki shorts and white shirts an hour before they went back to their shops in Chandni Chowk and Chawri Bazaar, the wholesale market in Old Delhi. It was perhaps too early in the day because one did not see what crowds in Jhansi saw decades later – the frightening scene of RSS cadres practising with mock and real rifles and double-barrelled guns down the main thoroughfares of the town, or of RSS chief ministers themselves firing military hardware while posing for photographs. But one did see how RSS cadres were trained during early morning meetings in public parks as much as in closed-door vyayamshalas (gymnasiums), their boudhiki (intellectual) brainwashing and their war games. And “exercises” no less frightening – elaborate handwork with thick lathis, the sort policemen carry at night. One also saw “children’s games” in which boys formed a chain, holding hands, and then swooped down on a rival group, trying to “abduct” or capture persons, presumably women. The boudhikis were given to reading the editorials and main articles in those poison pen official mouthpieces of the Sangh, the Organiser in English, not read at the shakhas, and the Hindi language Panchjanya, the mainstay of the morning discourses. They would then discuss what damage the Muslims had done to India. It would all conclude with another salute not to India but to a mythical “Mother India”, more goddess than a symbol of the land which they shared with practitioners of all other religions. And therefore it is quite obvious that Justice Thomas, as is his right, looked only at the pretty saffron flowers and forgot to look at the blood which sullies the earth on which the RSS flag is hoisted. First things first. Let us get the Gandhi murder out of the way, so to say. And I am indebted to Professor Shamsul Islam, a global authority on the sangh parivar, for once again giving me this documentary evidence. He remains, with Communalism Combat, SAHMAT and the All India Christian Council, the national library on this fascist organisation.

After the murder of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on January 30, 1948, the RSS was banned on February 4, 1948. It was banned for anti-national activities and the government communiqué banning the RSS was self-explanatory: “In their resolution of February 2, 1948, the government of India declared their determination to root out the forces of hate and violence that are at work in our country and imperil the freedom of the nation and darken her fair name. In pursuance of this policy, the government of India have decided to declare unlawful the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh” (cited in Justice on Trial, RSS publication, Bangalore, 1962, p. 64). The communiqué went on to disclose that the ban on the RSS was imposed because “undesirable and even dangerous activities have been carried on by members of the Sangh. It has been found that in several parts of the country, individual members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunition. They have been found circulating leaflets exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect firearms, to create disaffection against the government and suborn the police and the military” (ibid, pp. 65-66). Prof Islam points out that the then home minister, Sardar Patel, reputedly had a soft corner for the RSS. Patel continues to be a favourite with the RSS. However, even Sardar Patel found it difficult to defend the RSS in the aftermath of Gandhiji’s assassination. In a letter written to the head of the RSS, Golwalkar, dated September 11, 1948, Sardar Patel stated: “Organising the Hindus and helping them is one thing but going in for revenge for its sufferings on innocent and helpless men, women and children is quite another thing. Apart from this, their opposition to the Congress, that too of such virulence, disregarding all considerations of personality, decency or decorum, created a kind of unrest among the people. All their speeches were full of communal poison. It was not necessary to spread poison in order to enthuse the Hindus and organise for their protection. As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji. Even an iota of the sympathy of the government, or of the people, no more remained for the RSS. In fact, opposition grew. Opposition turned more severe when the RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death. Under these conditions it became inevitable for the government to take action against the RSS. Since then, over six months have elapsed. We had hoped that after this lapse of time, with full and proper consideration the RSS persons would come to the right path. But from the reports that come to me, it is evident that attempts to put fresh life into their same old activities are afoot” (ibid, pp. 26-28). The Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS were jointly responsible for the murder of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. This fact was further corroborated by Sardar Patel in a letter to a prominent leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, on July 18, 1948. Sardar wrote: “As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, the case relating to Gandhiji’s murder is sub judice and I should not like to say anything about the participation of the two organisations but our reports do confirm that as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible. There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in the conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of government and the state. Our reports show that those activities, despite the ban, have not died down. Indeed, as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure” (Letter 64 in Sardar Patel: Select Correspondence1945-1950, Volume 2, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1977, pp. 276-277).

Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, who was for 10 years chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, and union home minister P. Chidambaram were supported by historical data when they called for a focus on right-wing terror groups, especially the progeny of the RSS. Chidambaram has recently favoured proper research and study of the phenomenon, asking the security forces to deal with the right-wing terror groups “sternly and fearlessly”. He said that these groups were radicalising the youth in the same manner as was done by the banned SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) or Indian Mujahideen. There was no difference between the Indian Mujahideen and Hindu terror groups and both were enemies of the country “so actually, we do not have one enemy within today, we have two enemies within and hope there will not be a third or a fourth or fifth,” Chidambaram said. Digvijay Singh has repeatedly said: “I do not rule out anything. If they want evidence about the Sangh’s involvement in terror activity, I have got evidence.” Just in case Justice Thomas, and his friends such as Karnataka State Minorities Commission member PN Benjamin, whose organisation, BIRD, provides an occasional platform for the former judge’s fulminations and homilies, require judicial evidence, here is a brief summary of extracts from the reports of a series of judicial commissions that have investigated the role of the RSS in anti-Muslim violence since the Ahmedabad riots of 1969. That is over 40 years of history. “There was not only a failure of intelligence and culpable failure to suppress the outbreak of violence but [also] deliberate attempts to suppress the truth from the commission, especially the active participation in the riots of some RSS and Jan Sangh leaders” (report of the Justice Jagmohan Reddy Commission on the Ahmedabad riots of 1969). “The organisation responsible for bringing communal tension in Bhiwandi to a pitch is the Rashtriya Utsav Mandal. The majority of the leaders and workers of the Rashtriya Utsav Mandal belonged to the Jan Sangh or were pro-Jan Sangh and the rest, apart from a few exceptions, belonged to the Shiv Sena” (report of the Justice DP Madon Commission on the Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad riots of 1970). “In Tellicherry, the Hindus and Muslims were living as brothers for centuries. The ‘Mopla riots’ did not affect the cordial relationship that existed between the two communities in Tellicherry. It was only after the RSS and the Jan Sangh set up their units and began activities in Tellicherry that there came a change in the situation. Their anti-Muslim propaganda, its reaction on the Muslims who rallied round their communal organisation, the Muslim League, which championed their cause, and the communal tension that followed prepared the background for the disturbances… That is what the rioters who attacked the house of Kunhammad asked him to do. “If you want to save your life, you should go round the house three times repeating the words ‘Rama, Rama’.” Kunhammad did that. But you cannot expect the 70 million Muslims of India to do that as a condition for maintaining communal harmony in the country. This attitude of the RSS can only help to compel the Muslims to take shelter under their own communal organisation” (report of the Justice Joseph Vithayathil Commission on the Tellicherry riots of 1971).

“The RSS adopts a militant and aggressive attitude and sets itself up as the champion of what it considers to be the rights of Hindus against minorities. It has taken upon itself to teach the minorities their place and if they are not willing to learn their place, to teach them a lesson. The RSS methodology for provoking communal violence is: a) rousing communal feelings in the majority community by the propaganda that Christians are not loyal citizens of this country; b) deepening the fear in the majority community by clever propaganda that the population of the minorities is increasing and that of the Hindus is decreasing; c) infiltrating into the administration and inducing members of the civil and police services by adopting and developing communal attitudes; d) training young people of the majority community in the use of weapons like daggers, swords and spears; e) spreading rumours to widen the communal cleavage and deepen communal feelings by giving a communal colour to any trivial incident” (report of the Justice Venugopal Commission on the Kanyakumari riots of 1982 between Hindus and Christians). “The dispute on the route of the procession became sharp and agitated reactions from a group of persons calling themselves the Sanyukt Bajrang Bali Akhara Samiti who systematically distributed pamphlets to heighten communal feelings and had organisational links with the RSS. A call for the defiance of the authority and the administration when it refused permission for one of the routes led to a violent mob protesting and raising anti-Muslim slogans and thereafter an incendiary leaflet doing the rounds of Jamshedpur that is nothing short of an attempt to rouse the sentiments of Hindus to a high pitch and to distort events and show some actions as attacks on Hindus that appear to be part of a design. A survey had already established that all policemen, havaldars, home guards, etc were at heart ready to give support to them [Hindu communalist organisations]” (report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Communal Disturbances at Jamshedpur in April 1979 ). “Even after it became apparent that the leaders of the Shiv Sena were active in stoking the fire of the communal riots, the police dragged their feet on the facile and exaggerated assumption that if such leaders were arrested, the communal situation would further flare up or, to put it in the words of the then chief minister, Sudhakarrao Naik, ‘Bombay would burn’; not that Bombay did not burn even otherwise” (report of the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission on the Mumbai riots of 1992-1993). Justice Thomas is invited to look up the full reports if he wishes to. It would help the church leadership too if it were to read these reports.



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Not just idle worship – By Rajdeep Sardesai (Oct 21, 2011, Hindustan Times)

At a time when Mayawati’s Dalit memorials have sparked off a raging debate, it might be instructive to consider what the original Dalit icon Babasaheb Ambedkar would have done in a similar situation. What is almost certain is that, unlike the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, he would not have ordered the construction of his own statues. A fierce rationalist, Ambedkar disliked all forms of political idol worship. “In politics, hero worship is a sure road to degradation and eventual dictatorship,” he said in a seminal speech before the Constituent Assembly in 1949. Sixty-two years later, there is little doubt that Mayawati has emerged as the great dictator of Uttar Pradesh, someone who controls India’s most populous state with an iron fist. Which is why she can insist on having her own life-size statue alongside an Ambedkar, Phule, Shahu and Kanshi Ram. Which is also why she can brazenly claim that the Rs 675 crore spent on the Dalit Prerna Sthal has come through party donations when the fact is the UP government has budgeted a whopping Rs 3,000 crore on Dalit memorials and parks across the state. This, in a state where 38% Dalits have never attended schools, where 70% is still the estimated school dropout rate among Dalits, and where hundreds of children die of encephalitis every year because of a lack of healthcare facilities.

Surely, Ambedkar, for whom education was the biggest weapon of empowerment, would have chided Mayawati for her misplaced priorities. He would have been equally critical of the personal wealth which the CM seems to have acquired through questionable means, and might have winced at reading that Mayawati spent Rs 51 crore of public money in renovating her official bungalow, apart from acquiring prime properties across the national capital. Not that Ambedkar lived a frugal lifestyle. His wealth was acquired through legal and scholastic prowess, not through treating the political system as a vehicle for self-aggrandisement. As his biographer Dhananjay Keer writes, “Ambedkar’s house was not a detached villa that gave you the appearance of seclusion. His vast library, his rich clothes, his enormous pens, his grand car, the numerous varieties of shoes and the rare collection of pictures were the living marks of his conquering personality.” Mayawati is unlikely to share Ambedkar’s love for books, but if handbags are her fashion accessory, then so was the fountain pen in the case of Babasaheb. If for Gandhi the loin cloth symbolised his asceticism, the three-piece suit was Ambedkar’s style statement to tell the world that his origins were no hindrance to rising up the social ladder.

To those who are critical of the manner in which Mayawati celebrates her birthdays, it needs to be stressed that Ambedkar’s birthdays too were occasions for public celebration with his followers taking out processions with his pictures in palanquins. In a sense, the need for such public ceremonies stems from a conviction that it is necessary to show that if caste Hindus can have their own gods and ceremonies, then so must Dalits. Ambedkar may not have been comfortable with idolatry, but he did not entirely reject its symbolic value either on such occasions. Which is why the personality cult that Mayawati has built around herself cannot be entirely scoffed at. The Indian super-elite – many of whom will not think twice before spending crores on weddings – may be contemptuous of Mayawati’s millions, but there is a distinct method in the seeming madness of the Bahujan Samaj Party leader. If the fortress around Sonia Gandhi’s personal life heightens her mystique, then the imperious style of functioning of Mayawati gives her an empress-like status among her followers. If there are dozens of memorials in the name of the Congress’s first family and freedom heroes, then Mayawati appears equally determined to create her own pantheon of Dalit legends. And if the Sangh parivar can aspire to build a Ram mandir in Ayodhya as a symbol of religio-political identity, then Mayawati, too, sees her Ambedkar parks as an assertion of Dalit identity.

Seen from that competitive political perspective, it is possible that Ambedkar may even have grudgingly approved of Mayawati’s grand projects. Ambedkar’s great dream always was to acquire political dominance for the Dalits even while seeking an end to caste discrimination. But the keys to the gates of power remained firmly locked during his lifetime. The Independent Labour Party that he formed had only limited success and he lost the first general election in 1952 as an independent. That he became the country’s first law minister was only due to the vision and generosity of Mohandas Gandhi, but his political fortunes never matched his intellect. Indeed, it was his frustration with an upper caste dominated socio-political system that eventually led him to embrace Buddhism. Contrast that with Mayawati who has clearly shown that it is possible for a Dalit woman to make it to one of the most powerful political positions in the country entirely on her own terms. If Ambedkar was the ultimate constitutionalist, Mayawati, guided in her early years by the equally redoubtable Kanshi Ram, has been the consummate politician, breaking and striking alliances with ease. The ethical standards employed in achieving power may be deeply troubling, but in the political akhara of UP, norms and rules have been routinely bent by the principal players. Which is why Mayawati’s achievement of being the daughter of a post office clerical employee who rose to becoming a four-time chief minister of the state is quite remarkable. A Mayawati statue next to the architect of the Constitution may seem incongruous today. But many years later, it may well become a place of pilgrimage and inspiration for millions of Dalits.



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Don’t judge the fudge – Editorial (Oct 24, 2011, Hindustan Times)

Uber policewoman Kiran Bedi has fudged a few bills and put a bit aside into her own NGO. Not done, says the government and everyone who is not part of Team Anna. Ms Bedi, it would appear, travelled the way the rest of us do in economy class and then asked her donors to cough up for business class. The difference, she says, did not go into her own pocket but to greater causes like educating the girl child. Now, we see no reason for her to be so defensive about all this.

Given half the chance, we would do the same, except that we are not invited to give speeches as many times, if at all, as Ms Bedi. But cutting corners is part of Indian tradition. How many times do we have to berate our grocer who will keep just a little off the weight, no doubt to keep his home fires burning, as Ms Bedi did. Those of you who have tried to sell your old newspapers will find a remarkable lightness in the kilos that you have stored up, when the kabadiwallah weighs them at your doorstep.

But, do not get upset, he is clearly keeping a few papers to himself so that he can while away his evenings reading the wonderful prose that we write. It now turns out that the redoubtable Arvind Kejriwal, too, parked a bit of cash for the cause in his NGO’s account. All we ask is that everyone should hold their fire.

If you were confronted with a few lakhs floating about, what would you do? Turn it into the nearest tax office, or park it in your account and hope that at some point of time, there will be a will written by your aunt whom you never really liked saying that this amount had been kept for you to do as you please. These things don’t happen to people like us, but it is possible. So Ms Bedi should just carry on, and let the rest of us carry on with our fudge, fudge, wink, wink.



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Book Review

A Living Faith: My Quest for Peace, Harmony and Social Change

Author: Asghar Ali Engineer
Reviewed by: Lyla Bavadam
Available at: Orient Blackswan Private Limited, 3-6-752 Himayatnagar, Hyderabad 500 029, Andhra Pradesh, India. http://www.orientblackswan.com
Faith and reason (Oct 22, 2011, Frontline) When Vice-President M. Hamid Ansari released Asghar Ali Engineer’s autobiography, A Living Faith, he described the author as a modern-day Spinoza. Comparisons of the two thinkers march side by side. Both are radical and free thinkers, grounded in moral philosophy and steeped in democratic political thought. Like the 17th century Dutch philosopher, Engineer has offered rational critiques of formalised religion. Asked about his work, Engineer said, “People have asked me why I wrote this autobiography. My only answer is that I felt like sharing my experiences, and I wanted to reach out to people who matter and who are concerned. I have three aims in life – peace and communal harmony, social reform, and gender justice. “Sixty-three years after Independence we are still lagging far behind in all these. Our society suffers from exploitation in the name of religion. Religion is supposed to make you humane and compassionate, but people kill in the name of religion. I discovered they kill because of vested economic interests, political interests. It is a clash of interests that causes violence – not a clash of religions as is commonly believed. I have given an account of all this in my book.” Born in 1939, Engineer graduated in civil engineering and worked for 20 years as a sanitation engineer in the Bombay Municipal Corporation before he retired prematurely to work for the Bohra reform movement. He has authored more than 50 books and innumerable articles. He is the director of the Institute of Islamic Studies, the head of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, and the founding chairman of the Asian Muslim Action Network.

He is also one of the founders of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. He was awarded the Communal Harmony Award in 1997 and the Right Livelihood Award (widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’) in 2004. For the past three decades, Engineer has been fighting for reforms in his Bohra community and has had to pay a heavy price for it: he was excommunicated and he faced physical assaults. He believes that “to be a truly religious person one has to have four qualities. A quest for truth. Humility. Compassion. Being anti-establishment. The reforms I am fighting for in the Bohra community… I am up against a very powerful establishment. I have met five Prime Ministers to try and get them to intercede in what is happening among Bohras, but they all told me they were helpless.” His understanding of Islam is deep and uncomplicated and at the same time unsparing. Yet, as the historian Mushirul Hasan, who wrote the Foreword for A Living Faith, said, “… he argued for reforms and innovations within the inherited traditions.” There is a wonderful innocence in Engineer. A complete believer and follower of his faith, he cannot fathom the authoritarian manner in which it is being applied. The majority of the community acquiesce to the absolute authority of the high priest, Syedna Burhanuddin, who controls the community with an iron hand. A handful of people do not. Engineer is one of them. His earliest experience with the diktats of the high priest was when he, as a young boy, was told that he would have to perform sajda (prostrate oneself) before the Syedna. He refused, saying it was un-Islamic since sajda is performed only before Allah. A marshal who noticed his refusal caught him by the neck, called him a shaitan (devil) and forced him to prostrate himself.

The haplessness of his father in that situation must have served to keep the memory alive in the young Engineer. Many years later, when he wrote an article in support of Bohras in Udaipur who had challenged the Syedna, Engineer again felt the heat of the powerful priests. A group of angry Bohras surrounded the building of The Times of India in which the article appeared and threatened to burn it down if an apology was not printed. The newspaper banned future articles by Engineer, but that was not the end of his tribulations. His relatives and friends pressured him to apologise. In all clarity and innocence of belief, he writes, “I maintained that there was no question of apologising as I had not done anything wrong. I was against exploitation in the name of religion and not against religion per se. I was fighting against exploitation and restrictions on freedom of expression which is both my Islamic as well as constitutional right.” But his relatives would not accept these arguments. “They prefer to buy their way to peace rather than fight for any principle, much less the principle of freedom,” he writes. Finally he was presented with an ultimatum. “They said that if I wanted to maintain any relationship with them I would have to withdraw myself from the reform movement or they would never see my face again. I said I would prefer their absence than give up my fight for freedom. No one from my family ever met me thereafter.” That last line, so powerful in its reality, is written with a moving simplicity, and is typical of Engineer, who has never dramatised his life even though there is enough material in it for a thriller. His mother, torn between her loyalty to the Syedna and her love for her son, chose the former but was still taunted by the community. Engineer writes of how she would sometimes come to his office and “weep before my colleagues…”.

When he and other reformists launched the democratically elected Central Board of the Dawoodi Bohra Community at an all-world reformist Bohra Conference in 1977, stories of oppression began to flow from among the one lakh delegates who attended. Engineer writes: “In one case in Udaipur, a father who was with the reformists died of acid burns and his son who was Shabab (an orthodox Bohra organisation) was forced to marry on the day his father’s funeral procession was held. He was even asked to curse him.” Unlike the rest of his community, many of whom acknowledge that greed is the driving force behind the tyranny, Engineer has refused to tolerate it. This is actually a refusal to be cynical, and to that extent he is truly a revolutionary, albeit a non-violent one. Interestingly, Engineer is himself the son of a priest and was brought up with strict and deep religious training. This makes his arguments all the more strong as he is completely capable of a serious debate on religious knowledge. The establishment recognised this and saw him as enemy number one. His work in garnering support for the reform movement was tediously slow. The Bohra establishment wielded power by fear, and this prevented many from supporting Engineer. But small things such as the gathering of 64 signatures from the staff of the Aligarh Muslim University, assistance from Jayprakash Narayan, and the overwhelming support of almost all sections of the media furthered the cause of reform. But regardless of all this and despite the fact that Engineer made the movement an international one, he feels sad that the community is still in the grip of the high priest. Social and religious reformer, linguist, intellectual, writer – there is no all-encompassing label that describes the author. He is as much a student of Marx as he is of Farman Fatehpuri, the Urdu scholar who authored seminal works on the poets Mirza Ghalib and Muhammad Iqbal. Marx guided him to take an objective view of religion while he still remained grounded in the essential teachings of Islam. In his book he writes, “Although I remained a believer, I too was converted to Marxism. In my opinion it is not necessary to be an atheist to be a Marxist.” Taking his cue from Christian liberation theology which originated in South America, Engineer learnt to take the best of all knowledge from diverse streams. This thirst for combining faith and reason – what perhaps can be called pure knowledge – is something of a trademark. Being open to all influences is particularly valuable in the current age where exists, as Kumar Ketkar, editor of Divya Marathi, says, a “dangerous trend of middle class and intellectual conviction that justifies communalism”. Engineer’s endeavours for communal harmony began in the post-Emergency days when the Janata Party was in power. Communal violence broke out in Aligarh, Varanasi and Jamshedpur. When Indira Gandhi returned to power, the dangerous trend continued, with the politicising of communal tensions. After a number of riots in Biharsharif in the early 1980s, Engineer went to investigate them. He found that the “RSS machinery was well oiled in the area and it spread rumours in villages which were instrumental in spreading the violence”.

Then came the Shah Bano case, the conversion of Dalits to Islam in Meenakshipuram (Tamil Nadu), riots in Meerut and Bhagalpur, and the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Throughout, Engineer attempted to gather information, prepare reports and keep passions low on both sides, but the voice of moderation was not heard. He says he had the distinct feeling that Indian secularism was being shredded. His involvement with secularism and anti-communal work is a natural corollary of his reformist work. The obvious common bond is that he is committed to building an inclusive society, one in which humanity overrides all else. If there is any criticism of the book, it is that it does not reflect adequately the dangers, the violence, the struggles and the tireless striving that have been a part of Engineer’s life. It is not that he avoids these aspects of his life – he cannot because they are what have made the man – but he describes them with a blandness that is almost disappointing to readers, especially those who have followed his work via newspaper reports. For instance, take the case of the very first attack on his life; an incident that most other people would describe in minute detail is dismissed in a couple of lines by Engineer. It happened in Calcutta [now Kolkata] in 1977 when Engineer had hired the Muslim Press Club for a press conference to further the reformist cause. The Syedna had heard about the press conference and paid a large amount of money to the club to cancel the reservation. Of what must have been a tension-charged atmosphere, Engineer writes, “I found the premises locked and waited with a journalist friend for someone to come and open it. Suddenly some people began gathering around us. I became suspicious but stood there. Soon a large number of Bohras and some goondas collected there and attacked me. I could not run. But my journalist friend knew some young people from the area and summoned them to help me. They lifted me bodily and fighting their way out, took me to a nearby building which was a safe place. I escaped death very narrowly.” A striking quality about Engineer is his rationality and his calm approach to whatever comes his way. This equanimity is what comes across as one turns the pages of the book. On reflection, even though there seems to be a disconnect with the turbulence of his life and his manner of relating it, it is actually a fitting style for Engineer to tell his own story. “It is difficult to write an autobiography because in our society to come out with the truth is a very challenging thing to do,” said Engineer. “I have tried to be honest and truthful… as much as a human person can be.” There is no doubt that the book is a perceptive commentary on society written with unassuming scholarliness. It is an accurate representation of the author and his life and hence a true autobiography.