IAMC Weekly News Roundup - September 26th, 2011 - IAMC
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IAMC Weekly News Roundup – September 26th, 2011

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

‘Saffron terror’ role being probed (Sep 20, 2011, Deccan Herald)

The “saffron terror” might well be a much bigger phenomenon than previously envisaged, with the investigating agencies suspecting involvement of Hindutva activists in as many as 16 explosions across the country. A special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) is understood to have recently told the state police chiefs that the Hindutva activists have either been suspected or are under investigation in 16 incidents of bomb blasts in the country. The right wing activists’ role in four incidents of bomb blasts so far has come into public domain, but the top intelligence official’s remark during the annual conference of the Director Generals and Inspector Generals of Police from the states last week revealed that the saffron terror had assumed a much larger proportion.

Sources said that the IB official had not specified the 12 other cases in which the investigating agencies suspected or probed the role of Hindu extremists. The phenomenon of ‘saffron terror’ first came to light with the arrest of Sangh Parivar activist Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Army officer Prasad Shrikant Purohit in connection with the September 29, 2008 blast at Malegaon near Nashik in Maharashtra. The explosion killed seven people and left many other injured. The Maharashtra Police on January 19, 2009 filed a charge sheet, accusing Purohit of being the prime conspirator, who arranged explosives for the blast. It also accused Thakur of arranging the men who planted the bombs in Malegaon.

Making a presentation during the state top cops’ conference in New Delhi, the senior IB official is understood to have referred to the right wing Hindu organisations, who espoused emotive issues, leading to radicalisation of a section of majority community and thus contributing to spread of what is being called saffron terror. Thakur, who hails from Madhya Pradesh, has since long been actively involved with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Durga Vahini, Hindu Jagran Manch and other affiliates of the Sangh Parivar. Purohit, a lieutenant colonel in the army’s intelligence wing, was also allegedly involved with Abhibav Bharat – another offshoot of the saffron brigade.

Hindutva extremists’ roles in connection with the blasts on Samjhauta Express on February 18, in Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad on May 18, 2007 and in Dargah of Sufi saint Mainuddin Chisti in Ajmer on October 11, 2007 came to light during subsequent investigations, particularly in the wake of the confession of Swami Aseemanand. Aseemanand, who was arrested from Haridwar in November 2010, confessed in January this year that he and other right wing Hindutva activists had been involved with the Hindutva activists’ conspiracies to trigger blasts at Muslim shrines in Hyderabad and Ajmer, killing 10 and three people, respectively. The National Investigation Agency on June 20 charged Aseemanand and four others – Lokesh Sharma, Sandeep Dange, Ramchandra Kalasangra and Sunil Joshi – with triggering explosions on the India-Pakistan Samjhauta Express, killing 68 people. Joshi was later found dead and Thakur was being probed for her alleged role in the murder.

Dange and Kalasangra had been declared proclaimed offenders in the case and are currently on the run. Aseemanand, however, later claimed that the investigating agency had obtained the confession from him under duress. Home Minister P Chidambaram’s remark on ‘saffron terror’ during the conference of the DGPs and the IGPs last year triggered widespread criticism from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. The Congress, which leads the ruling United Progressive Alliance, too disapproved the remark, stating that terrorism had no colour. Chidambaram refrained from using the term ‘saffron terror’ in his inaugural address in this year’s top cops’ meet. However, while referring to Islamic extremists organizations like Students’ Islamic Movement of India and Indian Mujahideen, he did refer to “other Indian modules that espouse the cause of right wing religious fundamentalism or separatism”.



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CBI grills four BJP leaders (Sep 22, 2011, Times of India)

Four BJP leaders were grilled by CBI on Wednesday in connection with the Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter case. The four persons questioned were – former presidents of Sarkhej nagarpalika Kamlesh Tripathi, Ghatlodia nagarpalika Naulesh Patel, Bodakdev nagarpalika Hitesh Barot and Harshad Patel of Ranip.

Tulsiram, an aide of Sohrabuddin, was gunned down in Banaskantha in December, 2006. The case was initially probed by the CID (crime), Gujarat. Later the SC handed over the probe to CBI after the investigation agency filed an application at the apex court in this regard. CBI officials said that both the encounters were linked as Tulsiram was killed by Gujarat police because he was a witness in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter.

“All the BJP leaders were associated with former minister of state for home Amit Shah, who was arrested in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case and is now out on bail. Supreme Court has directed Shah to stay out of Gujarat while the probe is on,” said CBI officials. CBI sources added: “All questions were aimed at establishing various facets of the Tulsiram encounter and to probe their involvement in the incident. Several queries were on whether they had any knowledge on who helped take Tulsiram, who was then in illegal custody of Gujarat police, from Ahmedabad to Banaskantha.”

According to the Banakantha police’s story Tulsiram had managed to escape from a Rajasthan-bound train by throwing chilly powder in the eyes of his police escorts. The state police alleged that Tulsiram was aided in his escape bid by two of his henchmen. However, CBI investigations, revealed that Tulsiram was never taken by train.



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Gujarat gripped by fear: Mallika Sarabhai (Sep 21, 2011, The Hindu)

Danseuse and social activist Mallika Sarabhai on Tuesday alleged that Gujarat was gripped by fear as it had been run as an ‘autocratic’ State for the last 10 years. Talking to journalists on the sidelines of a function at a women’s college here, Ms. Sarabhai said people in the State were very frightened and it was difficult to hold an agitation there. Observing that the three-day fast of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was a ‘political circus’ to put himself in the limelight, she charged that he was a master of brand-management.

“Mr. Modi keeps saying that there is peace in the State. There has never been any riot in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan. Does that mean that they are all peaceful societies? “If a part of a society is frightened and people do not open their mouths, that is not communal harmony.” According to her, Gujarat had now turned into such a society. It was not only Muslims who were at the receiving end. There were over 100 villages where Dalits had been boycotted. They could not take drinking water from wells and even go to shops to buy things.

“Today there is more rape of women than ever before in Gujarat,” Ms. Sarabhai charged, claiming that they could not go out after 10 p.m. When she was growing up it was completely safe and crimes against women were unheard of. “I am not talking only about 2002, I am talking about 2011 injustices; injustices to farmers, to fisher people and to anybody who is not a corporate honcho.”

On the one hand, Mr. Modi was speaking about how he repented everything and on the other he had arrested her and others who had attempted to stage a dharna along with the victims of the 2002 violence. The proposed dharna was 10 km away from the venue of Mr. Modi’s fast and was meant only to remind the people that none of the victims of the 2002 riots had got justice, she said. It had also happened on the very day the former Intelligence officer R.B. Sreekumar filed an affidavit before the Nanavati Commission saying that Mr. Modi had handed him Rs. 10 lakh to bribe her lawyers.



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Muslims unimpressed by Modi’s fast (Sep 21, 2011, The Hindu)

Even as officials of the Gujarat government and leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party left no stone unturned to showcase Muslim support to Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s “sadbhavana mission”, the exercise not only failed to impress much of the minority population in the State and the victims of the 2002 communal riots, but also created some new critics of the Chief Minister. “We have been treated very badly and insulted,” Moulana Hazrat Sufi, better known as “Pirana Baba” being the Moulvi of a mosque in Pirana locality here, said. He and his son, Samsul Arafin, along with some of their supporters, had gone to the Gujarat University convention-cum-exhibition hall, the venue of Mr. Modi’s three-day fast, to greet the Chief Minister for launching the goodwill mission. “But we were not only treated shabbily, we were also insulted,” the Moulana said.

They were forced to run from pillar to post to secure an entry into the high-security hall, apparently because they were not escorted by a government official. The religious leader had deemed it an insult when Mr. Modi refused to wear the skullcap he offered him on stage. In clear view of all and with the television cameras clicking, the Moulana was forced to quickly put the skullcap back in his pocket. “I do not wear a cap,” Mr. Modi reportedly told the Moulana, but the delegation was not convinced. “What was wrong in his wearing a skullcap when he was wearing all kinds of headgears offered by all and sundry?” Mr. Arafin asked.

The day, however, was saved as Mr. Modi asked the Moulana to personally put the shawl he was carrying around his shoulders. It was not clear if the Moulana was carrying the shawl for Mr. Modi, but he quickly got out of the stage with a wry smile after offering the shawl to the Chief Minister. “He was perhaps apprehensive that wearing a Muslim headgear would dent his image,” the Moulana said.

The organisers of the “official fast” had taken pains to ensure that not only a large number of Muslims turned up at the venue, but that they also came in their traditional dresses – women in burqas and the men in salwars – and were seated together in such a way that the television cameras could easily pick up and display to the world the Muslims’ “overwhelming support” to the “sadbhavana mission” and Mr. Modi. An “Arab sheikh” was seen on the dais dressed in traditional Bedouin headgear but was later found to be the former Deputy Municipal Commissioner of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), Z.A. Sacha, a local Muslim who said he was fond of the Arab dress and wore it often.

However, other than the “officially-sponsored Muslims”, who were also found repeating what government officials had told them to about their support to Mr. Modi, a large majority of the Muslims living in the Juhapura locality here, considered to be one of the largest Muslim “ghetto” in Asia, were not impressed by the show, nor were the victims of the 2002 communal riots. “We have been condemned to live our lives in the ghetto without basic civic amenities, where Mr. Modi had never come to see our plight,” the Juhapura residents said. The riot victims – who were disallowed permission to sit in a protest dharna at Naroda-Patiya, the venue of one of the worst massacres of 2002, and were rounded up by the police before they could even assemble together – said Mr. Modi could not wash away his sins just by going on a fast for three days, unless he ensured justice for the riot victims. “But we know he is not interested in giving us justice.”



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Activists claim police and Hindutva hand in Bharatpur riot killings (Sep 20, 2011, India Today)

The people’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has alleged the local police of colluding with a section of the Gujjar community and some Hindutva activists in the killings of eight Muslims during Wednesday’s clash in Gopalgarh town of Bharatpur. PUCL national general secretary Kavita Shrivastava, who was part of a fact-finding team, claimed that armed police, accompanied by a section of Gujjars, opened fire inside a mosque and burnt people alive.

“It was like the Jallianwala massacre,” Shrivastava said, while releasing the preliminary report on the findings on Monday. “There was collusion between the police, an aggressive section of the Gujjar community and some local RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP leaders,” the report said. It also demanded that the case files be handed over to the CBI within the week. “There was a strong belief among the Muslim community that the district magistrate was pressured by self-styled Hindu leaders to order the firing,” the report said.

The report also found flaws in the composition of the local police force which had eight personnel from the Gujjar community and not a single Muslim. Eye-witnesses also told the PUCL team that police intervention caused the deaths, the report stated. The team also spoke to senior police officers, who found it strange that as many as 219 rounds were fired, and said, prima facie it appeared to be an excessive use of fire power, which ought to have been the last resort.

Other than the use of tear gas shells, the team did not hear about any other steps taken to disperse the crowd. The report said since most of the deaths took place inside the mosque, there was compelling reason to believe that one particular community was the target of the firing.



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Azamgarh resident missing; detained by ATS, claims Media (Sep 24, 2011, Twocircles.net)

A team of Human Rights Orgranisation, PUCL visited the house of Mahfooz Ahmed son of Akhlaq Ahmed in Rasoolbad Village of Azamgarh. Mahfooz, a class fourth employee in local college Shibli National College, has been missing since 22nd September evening. According to some media reports, he has been detained by Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) from Varanasi. It is claimed in the media reports that, he is detained by ATS while taking picture of a hotel in the Cantonment area of Varanasi though there is no official confirmation of detention yet.

According to Mohammed Shameem, an official of Shibli College Mahfooz was sent to Varanasi on 22nd Sep. morning by college authorities to bring Audit forms since audit work is going on in the college and form was neither available in the college nor in Azamgarh. He further said, Mahfooz informed in the evening that he is coming back but since then he is not reachable. College authorities and family members tried to contact him but his mobile is switched off.

PUCL- UP state joint secretaries, Rajiv Yadav and Masihuddin Sanjari have demanded production of Mahfooz before court. Talking to TCN, Rajiv Yadav said, “If Mahfooz is detained by ATS then, as claimed by media then way he is been arrested is totally unlawful and violation of basic human rights outlined by Supreme Court of India.” He also informed this correspondent, during team’s visit to Mahfooz’s village, they were told that on 23rd two unknown pain cloth man has been enquiring about Mahfooz and villagers believes it was police. The missing of Mahfooz has once again created the environment of fear and gloom in the villages of Azamgah.



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Seven ABVP volunteers detained in Pune (Sep 18, 2011, DNA India)

Seven Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists, including two female students, were detained by the police for trying to disrupt human rights activist Binayak Sen’s lecture at the Azam Campus on Saturday morning. Sen, who is in the city on a two-day tour, was speaking on the topic of ‘people’s struggle for social justice and democratic rights’ at the Azam Campus on Saturday. The function had been jointly organised by the Allana Institute of Management Sciences and non-governmental organisation (NGO) Lokayat.

Even as Sen was going to light the ceremonial lamp, three ABVP volunteers, Ram Satpote, Rashit Sinha and Vishal Purohit, tried to climb the stage shouting slogans like: ‘Chhattisgarh ki galiyan sooni hain, Binayak Sen khooni hain’ and ‘Bharat mata ki jai’. The police immediately took the trio into custody. Later, when Sen was about to complete his speech, four more activists, including two females, again began shouting the same slogans and waved the saffron flag. This action of the foursome scared the other students in the audience, who ran helter-skelter.

Shailendra Dalvi, the state secretary of AVBP who was detained by the police, addressed thr media persons from the police van and said, “Sen is creating Naxal camps in Pune, Nashik and Mumbai. We will interrupt his lectures everywhere.” Senior police inspector Sushma Chavan of the Cantonment police station told DNA, “We have detained the seven protesters, which include five college students. We have taken action against them under the relevant sections of Bombay Police Act, 1951. We will release them on Saturday evening.”



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Bombay High court dissolves Wakf board formed in 2004 by state (Sep 22, 2011, DNA India)

The Bombay high court on Wednesday dissolved the Wakf Board which the state had formed in 2004. The court stayed the order for 10 weeks allowing the board to appeal against the order in the Supreme Court. A division bench of Justice DK Deshmukh and Justice Anoop Mohta struck down the notification of January 1, 2002, on the ground that the board was constituted without following the necessary procedure.

As per the Wakf Act, if the state wants to constitute a board to govern wakfs (Muslim charitable trust properties), it is required to set up a separate Shia wakf board, if the number or valuation of properties of Shia wakfs exceeds 15% of the total number of wakfs across the state or valuation of their properties, respectively. Accordingly, the state should conduct a survey of all the wakfs. The state government had in 1997 appointed a commissioner to undertake the survey.

However, a single (Shia-Sunni) Wakf Board was constituted before the survey report was submitted. The survey report was submitted to the government on January 31, 2002. A bunch of Muslim trusts had challenged the setting up of the wakf board, saying mandatory procedure was not followed. The state had argued that it had the discretion either to constitute a combined board or have separate boards for Shia and Sunni trusts.

The court took into consideration that the state Wakf Board has only two members. Under the law, the board should comprise at least seven members apart from the chairperson. “A board having only two members cannot be said to be properly constituted. Therefore, we hold that the constitution of the Wakf Board of Maharashtra is not in accordance with the law,” said the court. The HC discarded the submission. The court ordered that wakfs will be governed by the Bombay Public Trusts Act till a duly constituted wakf board is set up.



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‘Include Dalits, minorities in Lokpal panel’ (Sep 20, 2011, Twocircles.net)

Dalit group All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations Tuesday urged the government to give representation to backwards and minorities in the proposed Lokpal panel. Presenting his ‘Bahujan Lokpal bill’, group’s chairman Udit Raj said: “The government should give representation to these communities not only in the Lokpal committee but also in the process of its selection.”

Raj said he will Saturday submit his version of the anti-graft law to the parliamentary panel examining the Lokpal bill. He added that corporates too should be brought within the ambit of the Lokpal.

Raj said enormous funds are allocated to schemes for these communities, but development is hampered due to corruption, diversion of funds and misutilisation.



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Dalits killing: Haryana police rapped for inept handling (Sep 24, 2011, IBN)

The handling of Mirchpur Dalits killing incident by Haryana police today came in for sharp criticisim from a Delhi court which held that the possibility of implication of innocent persons in the sensational case under “political pressure” cannot be ruled out. “The possibility of false implication of many of the accused cannot be ruled out on account of political pressure only to work out the present case,” Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) Kamini Lau said.

The court acquitted 82 of the 97 accused in the case including Vinod K Kajal, the SHO of Narnaud Police station in Hissar district, saying he did not have the ultimate power to take decisions. “The manner in which the whole thing (incident) was handled was improper. If he goes in, then some senior officials will also go,” the ASJ said. Though the “possibility of extraneous interference cannot be ruled out” in the case, the court said it has acquitted Kajal because neither negligence against him has been proved nor the charge of not performing his duties.

The court orally said the fact that another official of the Haryana government could not be held accountable for his “negligence” because of the legal hurdle that a person belonging to SC/ST category cannot be booked under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. “It is related to office not caste,” the judge said.



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Opinions and Editorials

The Truth Behind The Stage Show – By Anumeha Yadav (Oct 1, 2011, Tehelka)

On 14 September, a few days after the Supreme Court order on Zakia Jafri’s plea, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi announced a sadbhavana fast “to strengthen Gujarat’s environment of peace, unity and harmony”. At the brightly-lit Gujarat University convocation hall in Ahmedabad, Modi praised his government’s efforts at upholding satya, shanti and sadbhavana since 2001, how it has managed to get investment even as vested interests attacked it constantly, and tried to evoke Gujarat’s progress and prosperity with the metaphor of a train – that mothers of youngsters coming to Gujarat sleep peacefully once they hear that the train their child is travelling on has entered the state. At the fast, dozens of Bohra Muslims – the men in white-and-golden caps and their women in ridas – filled the central row. They spoke of how they had come from Jamnagar, Surendranagar and Rajkot, taking turns to attend the three-day fast. Muslims from Juhapura and Porbandar, led by former BJP MP Baburam Bokhiria, who has been in and out of jail on charges of illegal mining of limestone, were also present. On the stage, Bohra priests, sadhus, heads of the four Swaminarayan sects, priests of churches and gurdwaras presented a picture of communal harmony. The fast is only the latest in Modi’s public posturing and coating what goes in Gujarat with the patina of good governance. A few days earlier, speaking at a function organised by the Ajmeri Education Trust in Ahmedabad on 4 September, Modi had exhorted Muslims to join the ‘mainstream’ and peppered his speech with ‘education’ and ‘inclusive development’.

His recent speeches have been in sharp contrast to 2007 when he spewed venom at Muslims in poll rallies, taunting them with phrases like “hum paanch hamare pachees”. Some commentators have analysed the shift in his stand as the compulsion of appearing palatable as a pan- India leader. Others see this as more insidious, a change of tactics in his communal politics – that beyond merely labelling any discourse on equal treatment of Muslims as ‘pseudo-secular’, he has now shifted to ‘secular-speak’. He offers ‘development’ to Muslims but with caveats – forget the past, minimise your demands for justice, and drop your religious identity. Is Modi’s claim hyperbole, or does it translate into fair governance? Is his government even delivering on what he boasts of? Do Muslims really have equal opportunities and infrastructure? Modi has won successive elections in Gujarat since 2002 even while his role in the riots was under probe by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team. How do Muslims negotiate their rights as citizens with a government that has refused to even acknowledge the extent of the pogrom? Rakhial is a lower middle-class neighbourhood located 5 km north of Maninagar, Chief Minister Modi’s constituency in east Ahmedabad. Of the three large housing colonies located here – Sukhram Nagar, Shivanand Nagar and Sundaram Nagar – Muslims live in the third. Built as a mixed colony in the 1970s, it became a ghetto after the 2002 riots.

National Highway 8 cuts through the settlement and Hindus and Muslims on either side of this refer to it as the “border”, a term common in several other Gujarat neighbourhoods where the two communities live cheek by jowl. Besides this road that cuts through the colonies, a sharp contrast of infrastructure separates the Hindu and Muslim neighbourhoods; a contrast most telling and disturbing in the condition of government primary schools for which the state provides land, buildings and funds for maintenance and facilities like libraries. A dilapidated structure with a tin roof broken at several places serves as the municipal primary school for 600 children in Muslim-dominated Sundaram Nagar. One part of this rundown building serves as a Gujarati medium school up to Class VII. At the other end, a tin-covered structure open on all sides is used as a classroom to teach Urdu to over 200 students in Classes I to IV. Less than 2 km away, in the same municipal ward of Rajpur, a three-storey building serves as a Gujarati medium school up to Class VII in Hindu-dominated Shivanand Nagar. Sukhram Nagar has a Hindi medium school up to Class VII that is a three-storey building with stone mosaic work depicting Hindu goddesses. “Those living here cannot afford to send their children to private schools and the government takes no responsibility to improve the school,” says Sheikh Ahesan, in his mid-20s, who started the Student Welfare and Education Trust in 2007. Ahesan and his friends have provided floor mats to kids in the Sundaram Nagar municipal school. “Anyone could stand a fair chance by studying and looking for work in the private sector. But how will these children reach there when they do not get to go to a half-decent primary school?” asks Sheikh Usmaan, a member of the trust.

Muslim families living in Rakhiyal narrate countless struggles to get benefits such as educational loans. “For my MBA admission, I went with my uncle to ask Dena Bank for a Rs 1.25 lakh loan. They asked for collateral and discouraged me from applying. Then I got aid from a Muslim trust,” recounts Sheikh Shehzaad. The Central scheme he is referring to is one of the key proposals adopted after the publication of the 2005 Sachar Committee report that mandates banks to give educational loans up to Rs 4 lakh without any collateral to students from poor minority families. “The bank is asking for income tax returns and PAN card. Where will we get this from?” asks Ghori Firdaus, a homeopathy student, about her experience at the State Bank of India that moved its branch from Sundaram Nagar to the Hindu-dominated Odhav area across the road after 2002. It is to help students like Firdaus, whose father is an autorickshaw driver, that the scheme has flexible rules – the family’s income certificate and an affidavit certifying religion from the Collector’s office are suffice to qualify. “We are able to pool small amounts among ourselves to help these students but some months, especially during admission time, we don’t know what to do because we cannot risk rejection by these banks,” says Shehzaad. … A key finding of the Sachar Committee report was that drop-out rates are highest among Muslims. Their mean years of schooling are lower than SCs and STs at a little over three years. In 2008, the Centre started a scholarship scheme for minorities, to be shared in a 75:25 ratio between the Centre and state to encourage students from poor families to complete schooling. Since the scheme started, Gujarat has let the funds lapse by not sending any proposal to the Centre for giving these scholarships.

At first, the state government found faults with the scheme saying this targets religious minorities and is discriminatory on “principles of equity and financial implications”. The Gujarat High Court settled this question when it recognised the Central scheme as constitutionally valid in March 2009. This April, contradicting its own stand in an affidavit filed in response to the PIL in the high court, the government cited a scholarship for minorities that has existed in the state since 1979. It said, since this scheme exists, there is no need for implementing the Central scheme. The state government added another argument in the affidavit. It said executing the Central scheme for a limited number of students – the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MMA) calculated 52,260 scholarships on the basis of population and income levels among Gujarat’s minorities – will cause “heartburn” among those minority students who do not enjoy the benefits. But who is stopping the state government from covering the remaining students using additional funds? MMA data shows that in 2010-11, a less developed state like Rajasthan disbursed more than double the year’s target of 60,109 scholarships. Bihar also disbursed more than double its target of 1,45,809 scholarships. Uttar Pradesh disbursed over 130 percent of a target of 3,37,109, and West Bengal – that has one of the highest proportion of Muslims – disbursed 400 percent of its target of 2,22,309. In all these instances, state governments have increased their allocation because of the high quantum of applications; the Centre has matched their funds bearing 75 percent of the total cost. “The matter is sub judice, I cannot comment,” says Sunaina Tomar, Principal Secretary, Social Justice and Empowerment, when asked why Gujarat, a state that this January boasted of money worth a third of India’s GDP coming in as investment, could not do likewise. …



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Modi’s Trump Card – Editorial (Sep 22, 2011, Nav Hind Times)

Despite a protest here and an unhappy cleric there, no one could be more pleased with the way the three-day fast played out than Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi. He chose his moment well, orchestrated his workers and came out with his reputation enhanced. The stated reason of the three-day fast, undertaken by him in the air-conditioned hall of the Gujarat University was to strengthen the state’s environment of peace, unity and harmony. The unofficial reason was to create a platform to catapult himself on to the national stage and set the narrative for the state elections slated to be held in 2012. The national elections are still far away, but Mr Modi fashioned a unique way of throwing his turban into the ring. The fast was apparently well-planned and went off without any major hassle, baring the topi wearing hiccup which occurred when he refused to wear a skull cap presented to him by Sayed Imam Shahi Saiyed, a cleric from the Kheda district. The incident did not blow up into a major embarrassment and Mr Modi was spared the blushes. Families of victims of the 2002 riots staged a protest march, but did not succeed in derailing the fast or shifting focus away from it.

Point to the riots and Mr Modi gets agitated and irritated, but quickly argues that not a single communal disturbance has occurred since 2002 and Gujarat is progressing in a peaceful manner. He knows that another riot would ruin his chances of setting foot on the national stage. Over the last eight or nine years, Mr Modi has strived to project himself as an inclusive administrator. He put development first and ensured that the benefits accrued to minorities as well. This eventually became the new narrative. Even his worst enemies cannot deny that the state has done well when compared with the national average. Throughout the three-day fast, he focused on the achievements of his government and development indices of the state.

The fact that the fast was also aimed at staking a claim for the top job in the country was not lost. On ending his fast Mr Modi declared, “My fast has only ended today, not my mission.” The clincher came when he said, “The Sadbhavna mission is not for Gujarat alone but for India.” But in the rest of India, Mr Modi lacks the contact he has with the people of Gujarat. He is aware that to gain national appeal he would have to shed the hard Hindutva image as the space for extreme right-wing politics is limited in the country. Mr Advani realised this too and among many measures, went to the extent of dubbing Mohammad Ali Jinnah as a secular leader in order to shed his saffron image. Even though Mr Modi is projecting himself as an inclusive politician with the mantra of development, he realises that he cannot cut himself loose from his saffron roots. He has to manage right-wing expectations and perhaps this is why he refused to swing the other way by wearing the skull cap presented to him by the Muslim cleric. The three-day fast was aimed at changing the narrative in the national media and the Supreme Court order came in handy.

Mr Modi has his share of detractors, and all of them look at him through the prism of the 2002 riots. The families of the victims can never reconcile with what happened. The Congress is more at home dealing with a Modi covered with blood than a Modi with the halo of development. It would love to keep the memory of 2002 alive. But how does the rest of India really view the chief minister. Would the riots continue to weigh on voters in Andhra Pradesh of Tamil Nadu? Or has India moved on? Morally speaking, Mr Modi owes the victims and their families, Gujarat and India an apology. Political observers say, it will never come, because to do so would leave Mr Modi open to attacks from right wing organisations. Given these constraints, the three-day fast was Mr Modi’s trump card. One has to wait and see how the rest of India reacts.



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What lies on the other side of US’ praise of Modi – By G Vishnu (Sep 19, 2011, Tehelka)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced with great pride and relief excerpts from the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report that portrayed Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a messiah of economic reforms. The report, which was released on 1 September, was made public only on 13 September, also went on to predict a “resurgent BJP” that might trounce upon hopes of UPA in the 2014 General Elections. The CRS is a bi-partisan think-tank, which provides the US senate with reports that help senators make policy decisions on wide-ranging issues including diplomacy. The US CRS report, which was released a day after the Supreme Court transferred the case of communal riots in 2002 involving Modi to a lower-court, also showered praises on key NDA leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Even as it came as another reason for the BJP to celebrate, it took little time for a fresh debate to be triggered within the Sangh Parivar on the prime ministerial candidate for 2014. “Among the party’s likely candidates for prime ministership is Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who has overseen impressive development successes in his state, but who is also dogged by controversy over his alleged complicity in lethal anti-Muslim rioting there in 2002,” says the report. To add to the joys of the BJP, the report went on to state: “Congress figures’ support for the future leadership role of Sonia Gandhi’s youthful son has resulted in the corresponding undermining of Singh’s political authority”. The report states that 2014 is going to see a “Modi Vs Rahul Gandhi” battle.

This glory, however, is largely a consequence of the brand-building exercise that Modi had adopted in 2007 through the help of a Washington-based Public Relations (PR) and lobbyist firm APCO worldwide. APCO, which is the second largest independent PR firm in America, took on the responsibility of taking care of PR for both Modi as well as the biennial industrial summit ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ in 2007. The firm, known for intensive lobbying, brought in investment commitment of up to Rs 20.83 lakh crore in the 2011 summit. The Gujarat government has been paying nearly Rs 15 lakh rupees a month to since 2009 in order to bring about the image makeover. APCO has also been managing Modi’s own behaviour and projection, for which the cost has been over $25,000 per month since 2007. Curiously, APCO was chosen over 10 other firms that also included Weber Shandwick, Grey Worldwide, Twenty-Twenty and Vaishnavi Communications owned by the controversial publicist Niira Radia. The firm, which also specialises in political PR, is notorious for having dictators such as former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha amongst its clients. The firm, which keenly observes political conditions across the world, also boasts about changing its clients’ fortunes. “We have a deep understanding of how governments make decisions and how to shape those decisions. It is through this extensive experience that we are able to advise sovereign nations on how best to tell their stories to the rest of the world,” claims the APCO Worldwide website. When asked about Narendra Modi, Steven King of APCO told TEHELKA that he could not divulge any detail on his clients.

So can it be said that the support Modi is looking for in the US comes as a result of lobbying? Apparently not. “This one (CRS report) did not require any lobbying. It’s now for everyone to see the actual progress Modi’s government has brought in Gujarat,” said a member of Gujarat BJP on the condition of anonymity. In several ways, Modi’s PR mechanism relies on a well-connected network of information. Take, for instance, the Sadhbhavana mission, which Modi just completed, was announced to the nation with a full-page ad in the form of a ‘letter to citizens’ in at least 20 national dailies to gather support and invite participation. However, despite widespread support for BJP’s poster boy, the party has hardly noticed another report that the US state department released. On 13 September, the American Department of State released its annual report on religious freedom, in which Gujarat continues to be amongst the worst states in India when it comes to respecting religious freedom and human rights. With several references to Gujarat riots, the report notes that the US continues to be concerned “about the Gujarat government’s failure to arrest those responsible for the communal violence in 2002 that killed over 1,200 persons, a majority of which were Muslim”. The same report also quotes extensively from TEHELKA’s Operation Kalank that exposed the role of key members of the Sangh Parivar as well as Narendra Modi’s complicity in facilitating the 2002 riots. “In 2007 the newsweekly Tehelka published secretly recorded interviews in which many of the accused admitted their roles as well as police and BJP leadership complicity in the 2002 violence. In 2008 the NHRC requested an inquiry by the CBI into the Tehelka tapes; the CBI concluded in November 2009 that the tapes were authentic,” observes the report. Hence, the question that arises is if the US indeed sees Modi as a facilitator of Gujarat riots in 2002—which apart from causing deaths of thousands, also made refugees of nearly 140,000 Muslims in their own land— will it choose investment prospects over justice to the riot victims? Despite the CRS pat, the US continues to be mute on the denial of visa to Modi, much to the chagrin of the Sangh, which has successfully harnessed economic favours from the Gujarati diaspora there. On Friday, senior BJP leader L K Advani even recounted in his blog about raising the same issue with US State Secretary Hillary Clinton in July 2009. “Mr. Modi does not need to go anywhere. The world is coming to Gujarat. Who knows, the world might need a visa to enter Gujarat,” jokes a BJP Member of Legislative Assembly in the state. However, jokes notwithstanding, BJP insiders say that it is a huge relief that “America has finally begun to see the other side of Modi”. “He has been in contact with Gujarati diaspora all this while from all countries and not just the US. Of course, US has a bigger population of Gujaratis who also admire Modi. If the situation permits he can extract more energy from the NRI community in US,” said Yamal Vyas, Gujarat BJP spokesperson. The ‘energy’ that NRIs can bring in, will possibly have a tremendous impact on Modi’s fortunes as there are already signs that the Modi camp is readying itself for the 2014 battle. “Hundreds and thousands of party workers want Modi to be the next Prime Minister. But that would be just speculation and individual opinions. Modi is already an important functionary and if the party requires, maybe he will be…” said a senior office-bearer in state BJP. And Wikileaks cables from 2006 also reveal that key RSS functionary Ram Madhav had told the US embassy that Modi is indeed the Sangh’s choice. The same ‘confidential’ cable (VZCZCXRO7463) also has senior leader L K Advani and others expressing hope in Modi to “rejuvenate the party” and “stop its further slide into oblivion”. Although US state officials have stated many times, off-the-record, that the US will not bar Modi if he is to become a head of State, a few issues still remain unresolved. Even if the BJP manages to do away with the infighting amongst its top leaders, and field Modi as the PM candidate in 2014, the question that remains is that will his engineered charisma win over the non-Gujarati electorate? And what about those who still await justice and closure?



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Mine of scams – By Ravi Sharma (Sep 24, 2011, Frontline)

Corrupt, more corrupt and most corrupt. This seems to have become the commonest way in which the people of Karnataka distinguish the scam-tainted politicians and bureaucrats of the State. In recent months, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has suffered major embarrassments with several seasoned and influential politicians being indicted by the Lokayukta (ombudsman) on charges ranging from corruption and misuse of office for personal gain to criminal trespass and misconduct, causing loss to the exchequer, forgery, and stashing away black money in tax havens abroad. In August, a court in Bangalore issued summons to B.S. Yeddyurappa in connection with 16 cases of corruption. Yeddyurappa was forced to quit as Chief Minister on July 31 after the Lokayukta report indicted him in a massive illegal mining scam. His two sons, one of whom is a BJP Member of Parliament, have been asked to appear in court in connection with illegal land deals. The same court sent former Minister Katta Subramanya Naidu to judicial custody on charges of irregularities in the payment of compensation for acquisition of land by the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board. His son Katta Jagadish, a Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike councillor, was also sent to judicial custody after his bail plea was rejected. Jagadish had been arrested in October last year for allegedly bribing a witness in the case, but was later bailed out. Another BJP Minister in trouble is C.P. Yogeshwar. The Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SIFO) of the Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs has accused him of corporate fraud, criminal conspiracy, forgery and cheating and has recommended criminal prosecution. The SIFO investigated complaints against Megacity (Bangalore) Developers and Builders Limited, of which Yogeshwar is the managing director. The image of the “party with a difference” has taken a severe beating since it came to power in Karnataka in May 2008. It is now associated more with corruption, internecine battles and scandals than with clean governance and development-oriented or progressive policies. What has dealt a body blow to the party’s image is the arrest in the first week of September of former Tourism Minister Gali Janardhana Reddy, one of the three influential Reddy brothers of Bellary. The mining barons – Janardhana Reddy, G. Karunakara Reddy and G. Somashekara Reddy – and their confidant B. Sriramulu have never baulked at courting controversy. They have wielded considerable influence in the State party ever since they became part of BJP leader Sushma Swaraj’s campaign team when she contested the Lok Sabha byelection from Bellary against Congress president Sonia Gandhi in 1999. From an obscure small-time financier, Janardhana Reddy, a director of the now infamous Obalapuram Mining Company (OMC), has in the past decade emerged as one of the richest individuals in the country (he recently donated a bejewelled crown reportedly worth Rs.40 crore to the Venkateswara temple in Tirupati) and, more importantly, as a politician and power-broker of immense reach and clout, to the extent of even bankrolling the BJP’s efforts in 2008 to form its first ever government in a southern State. In return, the Bellary brothers extracted from the BJP ministerial berths in the Yeddyurappa Cabinet for Janardhana Reddy and Karunakara Reddy, and also Sriramulu. They even got their sister elected to the Lok Sabha on the BJP ticket in 2008. Somashekara Reddy is the Chairman of the Karnataka Milk Federation.

The mining barons have run Bellary district like their fiefdom. In early August, Janardhana Reddy, Karunakara Reddy and Sriramulu were left out of the new Cabinet formed by Yeddyurappa’s successor, Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda. Sriramulu’s name figures in the Lokayukta report on illegal mining along with those of Janardhana Reddy and Karunakara Reddy. Piqued at being denied a ministerial berth, Sriramulu resigned his membership of the Assembly (his resignation has not been accepted yet). But the coup de grace was yet to come. On September 5, sleuths from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), in a pre-dawn inter-State operation (Bellary, Hyderabad and Bangalore), raided the houses of Janardhana Reddy and his relative B.V. Srinivasa Reddy, who is the managing director of OMC, and arrested them. The raid on Janardhana Reddy’s palatial house in Bellary – from where he was picked up and driven 400 km to Chanchalguda Central Prison, Hyderabad – yielded Rs.3 crore in cash, 30 kg of gold and several important documents. In the following days, the CBI also raided the premises of a number of relatives and key associates of Janardhana Reddy. The arrests sparked violence in Bellary, with hoodlums stoning buses and other vehicles and vandalising the Deputy Commissioner’s office. The CBI’s action is a corollary to cases registered in December 2009 – at the instance of the K. Rosaiah government in Andhra Pradesh – under Sections 120-B, 420, 379, 411, 427 and 447 of the Indian Penal Code and provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Indian Forest Act and the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act. The allegations are that companies owned by Janardhana Reddy, a known associate of the late Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, were spiriting away iron ore illegally, mining ore beyond the permitted boundaries, and destroying forest wealth. In its remand report submitted to the court, the CBI stated that OMC mined iron ore illegally from several locations, including neighbouring Karnataka. It used the mining licence granted by the Andhra Pradesh government as a front to export iron ore mined in locations other than those allotted to it. The company in fact did nothing new: for decades iron ore and granite mining companies in the region have secured through a licence the right to mine in a designated place. But, in connivance with officials up and down the government machinery, these mine owners have mined in adjoining areas, including forest lands, all the while keeping their own designated mine area ‘preserved’ for future use.

The material mined is, of course, shown as mined from the designated area. In the case of OMC, the CBI concluded that active mining was not done by the company in the designated leased area of 68.5 hectares in D. Hirehal mandal of Anantapur district. Rather the company illegally brought iron ore extracted in other areas, showed it as excavated in the leased area, and obtained permits on the basis of this from the district mining authorities. The CBI remand report further stated that the quality of iron ore in D. Hirehal was “very low and not of commercial grade”. Investigations also revealed that OMC, using raising contracts (by which the original lessee, in contravention of the Mineral Concession Rules, subleases his mining rights – many a time under duress – to a third party who then extracts the ore) mined ore in Karnataka, and transported it using permits issued by the Andhra Pradesh government. The CBI report – making use of satellite images of the leased area – also demolishes OMC’s claim that it lifted 29 lakh tonnes of ore between 2007-08 and 2009-10. According to the report, “there was no major mining activity (in the leased area) and no possibility of 29 lakh tonnes being excavated”. The CBI, which physically inspected the area with the assistance of Singareni Collieries and used latest techniques such as 3-D terrestrial laser scanner, established that the total volume excavated from the area since inception was only 1,56,827 cubic metres or 5.48 lakh tonnes from which the actual volume of ore could be only 1.45 lakh tonnes. Of this, just 40,387 tonnes was extracted from the leased area. The CBI report concludes that OMC obtained the lease at D. Hirehal for the sole purpose of justifying its illegal mining activities, and then conspired with State government officials to mine and transport ore from other areas. CBI officials said they were trying to establish the source and destination of the iron ore as well as the locations where the money obtained from the transaction was deposited. Several of the charges highlighted in the CBI report had been brought out in December 2008 when the first report of the Lokayukta indicated the involvement of OMC and its friends in various illegal mining activities in Karnataka. Without naming OMC, the Lokayukta report had brought out the deep involvement of a powerful personality from Bellary who has his mine in Andhra Pradesh but along with his front men was carrying on the illegal transportation of ore. Despite knowing the extent of illegal mining in Bellary, the Yeddyurappa government failed to take concrete action. It also did not act on the Andhra Pradesh government’s decision to initiate a CBI probe against the illegal activities. Investigations by the Lokayukta and the Central Empowerment Committee set up by the Supreme Court have shown that illegal mining started around 1999-2000 and that successive administrations were aware of it. It grew in size during the tenure of N. Dharam Singh and H.D. Kumaraswamy and reached its peak during the rule of Yeddyurappa.

It is common knowledge that the cost – including lease fee, extraction, loading, transport, cess and labour – of mining a ton of medium-to-good grade ore, hardly amounts to Rs.1,000. Payments to officials – called “keep quiet allowance” – to ensure that the ore is smoothly mined and transported accounts for another Rs.1,000. The ore fetches between Rs.5,000 to Rs.6,000 a tonne, which means the miner gets a profit of Rs.4,000. Each truck is overloaded beyond its capacity of 10 or 20 tonnes, and today there are even double or triple axle trucks that can carry 30 tonnes of ore. Every day and night hundreds of these trucks trundle up and down from the pits to the steel plants, rail heads or docks. Each truck fetches a profit of at least Rs.80,000. According to the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, the Sadananda Gowda government will have to initiate action against those indicted in the illegal mining scandal within three months. As such, the State has set up a high-level official committee headed by Additional Chief Secretary K. Jairaj. The committee has started deliberations on the action to be initiated against those indicted in the report and will look into the connivance of as many as 787 officials of various departments with the mining mafia. The Chief Minister has also referred the Lokayukta report to the Advocate-General. Many officials connected with the investigations into the illegal mining, including the former Lokayukta N. Santosh Hegde, opined that the State government should seek a CBI probe into the mining activities so that the full extent of the illegalities could come to light. The CBI does not have the jurisdiction to do so in Karnataka and it is unlikely that the BJP government – whose response over the past two years for a CBI inquiry has been dilatory at best – will ever agree to it. H.D. Kumaraswamy, whose name also figures in the Lokayukta report for flouting rules while renewing a mining lease, has defended himself saying that he was only obeying the court orders. Congress leaders indicted in the report include V. Muniyappa, an MLA, and Anil Lad, MP. Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president G. Parameshwara said both Muniyappa and Lad had recorded their statements before the new Lokayukta, Shivraj Patil, replying to the notices served on them by him. He said Muniyappa had explained to the ombudsman that he had acted in accordance with court orders in taking decisions pertaining to mining and had caused no loss to the State exchequer. Lad told the Lokayukta that he had committed no illegality. The Congress has demanded that the State government entrust to the CBI investigations into the whole gamut of illegal iron ore mining, its export, under-invoicing and encroaching of forests lands in Bellary district. According to Parameshwara, the CBI is in possession of documentary evidence of income tax evasion to the tune of over Rs.83 crore by Janardhana Reddy, who is the director of OMC.

Contrary to their public pronouncements, many senior BJP leaders secretly feel that the arrest of Janardhana Reddy and the legal travails of Yeddyurappa have given the party the breather it needed to regroup and refocus. A senior Minister described the arrest of Janardhana Reddy and the resignation of Sriramulu as “a stroke of good fortune” and said that there was no threat to the survival of the BJP government. Sadananda Gowda, State party president K.S. Eshwarappa, Yeddyurappa, Rural Affairs Minister Jagadish Shettar and even BJP national president Nitin Gadkari have all made the right political noises by criticising the arrest of Janardhana Reddy and alleging that it was a politically motivated move by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, and that the CBI was a puppet in the hands of the Congress. But scratch the surface and the views are quite different. A senior Minister told Frontline that the time had come for the BJP to make a clear distinction between the party and those associated with corruption, adding that “apart from these individuals, their corruption and antics, there [was] a party”. There is also the feeling that with both the Reddys and Yeddyurappa tied up in legal knots, the BJP’s national leaders can now boldly maintain that the “people accused of corruption are being questioned or are facing legal issues”. While there may not be any threat to his government at the moment, Sadananda Gowda is aware of the battering the party’s image has taken in recent times. “I am trying to set an example. I have taken the pledge that I will live only out of my salary. Also, I will not entertain any person who tries to influence me. And no file will stay pending in my office for more than 15 days.” The Reddy brothers at one point commanded the loyalty of around 40 legislators. But within days of being out of power, the number has dwindled to single digit, as can be seen by the number of visitors Janardhana Reddy has entertained at the Central Prison in Hyderabad. The brothers’ demand (before Janardhana Reddy’s arrest) to be re-inducted into the Cabinet was rejected by Gowda. “The Reddys still have an element of hope [to make it into the Cabinet], but it is diminishing by the day,” a Minister said. For Sadananda Gowda, the choice is either to clamp down on the Reddys by asking the CBI to inquire into the numerous transgressions listed in the Lokayukta report and ensure that their political base in Bellary is seriously damaged, or to continue to support openly a group that can otherwise create trouble for him and the party. So far he has played it safe. A senior Minister told Frontline that the Chief Minister was preoccupied with keeping the factions led by Yeddyurappa and BJP general secretary Ananth Kumar united, and trying to emerge out of the former’s shadow. “The fight between these two leaders is still on with both wanting to lead the party. Also, since 1985-86 when our strength in the Assembly was just two, Yeddyurappa has been the de facto leader of the party. It will take time for him to understand that he is no longer No. 1,” the Minister said. The Ministers are happy with the way Sadananda Gowda has been conducting himself, which is the antithesis of the absolute power Yeddyurappa exemplified.



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Reactions to terror – By Bhaskar Ghose (Sep 24, 2011, Frontline)

Another terrible explosion, this time in Delhi, just as we were recovering from the three bombs that went off in Mumbai in July. More people killed, many more maimed and dreadfully hurt. Fear, grief and anger among ordinary, peaceable people who only want to get on with their lives but cannot do so because other people, filled with vicious hatred, get great pleasure in killing and maiming them. This is, however, no time to whip oneself into a lather of rage, nor is it a time to vilify the police and other security agencies. For all we know, they may have, covertly, prevented many such attempts. But it is a time for all of us – not just the security forces – to consider where we live and what we can do about it. We live, to put it simply, in a dangerous, volatile neighbourhood. Within the country, too, there are groups that have enough hatred to make up for whatever those in neighbouring countries may lack.

The common objective is clear enough: make India unstable. The economic prosperity that has come to the country and will, inevitably, continue despite temporary setbacks is something they find intolerable. India cannot be allowed to prosper or develop, not if these people can help it. I believe we would have had many more instances of violence had it not been for the fact that our security forces received intelligence in time, which the perpetrators either realised or sensed. Sneak attacks like the Delhi bomb blast indicate that they find it impractical to do anything bigger, more hideous. But these bomb attacks are bad enough and it will not do for us to sit back and assume they will not happen again. And let us not turn our ire on the security forces. While things are being done to improve matters, there are certainly mistakes, shoddy work in key areas, and so on, but on the whole, I for one think, the authorities are trying to improve their watchfulness, intelligence-gathering capabilities and capacity for deterrence. What we need to change is, I believe, our inability to focus single-mindedly on a few key issues. Those issues are well known; what seems to be lacking is the ability to focus on them. That attribute is something every single agency of the state, not just the security agencies, must have.

Consider for example, the provision of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras. If they have not been installed where they need to be, that should be done. Then, the footage recorded by the cameras needs to be watched by people who are alert and know what to look for. Since it is physically impossible for one person to remain alert and watchful for a long time, there have to be frequent changes in personnel, which means more people need to be employed. More people means more money, more posts, more training, and so on. This has to be agreed to by all those involved in the process, quickly, and carefully. Somewhere there needs to be a great amount of planning, gathering of information, and rational decision-taking. We have read or seen on television examples of hasty, panic-driven action, like the purchase of a lot of fast patrol boats without providing for an adequate number of trained personnel to man them. Well, instead of getting into angry arguments over this, one just needs to set this right – get the personnel and get the boats operational.

We have no shortage of intelligent, experienced persons to handle the situation at the micro and macro levels. Look, for example, at the way the defence forces plan and build their forces. An aircraft carrier is going to be inducted into the Navy two years from now; but for a number of years, naval personnel have been training to be able to operate it and naval pilots have been training on the aircraft they will fly off it. Perhaps there have been mistakes. The Comptroller and Auditor General says the weapons to be fitted on the aircraft being acquired for the carrier have not yet been finalised. That mistake will certainly be rectified. We have had tanks being tested for use by the Army that have proved to be less than effective in desert conditions or mountainous terrain. Those shortcomings will be set right. What we must realise is that our neighbourhood and the complex nature of our people will never change, at least not in the foreseeable future. We have consequently to live with that and ensure that the country’s development is not jeopardised.

That is the focus that must inform every level of our policy- and decision-making processes. Errors, sometimes costly, may, and will, be made. The answer is to rectify them as quickly as possible instead of getting into acrimonious arguments on who was responsible. One always believed that all this depended on the quality of leadership. Increasingly, though, one is beginning to realise that it is not leadership that counts so much as the strength of the country’s institutions and the collective will of people. We talk too much, we indulge in stupid jingoism, we abuse one another, we argue and we fight among ourselves. Yet, when we are attacked, we pick ourselves up and carry on. There is resilience here, an unexpressed inner strength that most people may not even be conscious of. But it has kept us going. That is what we need to draw on, to use to focus our energies, to develop a watchfulness that has become crucial to our existence.



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Targeting Dalits – By S. Dorairaj (Sep 24, 2011, Frontline)

When Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, who also holds the portfolios of Police and Home, made this announcement proudly in the Budget session of the State Assembly on August 24, little would she have imagined that within 20 days her government was to face the embarrassment of ordering a judicial probe into a police firing at Paramakudi town in Ramanathapuram district. Six Dalits were killed and several others were injured in the incident. The government suffered further humiliation when the National Commission for Scheduled Castes sought detailed reports from the Collector and the Superintendent of Police of Ramanathapuram on the incident. The Chief Minister initially appeared reluctant to order a judicial inquiry into the incident and announced a probe by the district revenue officer (DRO). However, she relented after K. Balabharathi, deputy leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the legislature, pointed out that the DRO, being subordinate to the Collector and the Superintendent of Police, would find it difficult to conduct an inquiry. Ruling out a judicial probe by a sitting judge, Jayalalithaa agreed to set up an inquiry commission headed by a retired judge of the High Court. The police action against Dalits who had gathered at Paramakudi on September 11 to pay homage to their icon Immanuel Sekaran has left indelible scars in the minds of the oppressed people all over the State. Sekaran was brutally murdered by a group of caste Hindus 54 years ago in the same town.

In another incident on September 11, two persons sustained bullet injuries when the police opened fire on agitating activists of the Tamizhaga Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) at Chintamani on the outskirts of Madurai. In Paramakudi, the police swung into action when a group of Dalits staged a road-roko at “Five Point Junction” on the Madurai-Rameswaram highway, demanding the immediate release of TMMK leader John Pandian, who was arrested in Tuticorin district. Pandian was on his way to Paramakudi to pay homage to Sekaran. A large number of people on their way to Sekaran’s memorial and back were stranded in the town because of stone-throwing, setting of fire to vehicles and throwing of petrol bombs by a group of miscreants. Things went from bad to worse as the police resorted to a lathi-charge and later opened several rounds of fire. According to local residents, gunshots were heard from 12-40 p.m. to 5-15 p.m. People who ran for their lives and those who were injured in the lathi-charge were taken into custody. Some of the policemen were also injured and several vehicles were damaged in the incident. In view of Sekaran’s memorial day, according to official sources, around 4,000 police personnel, including officers, were deployed at different sensitive villages and hamlets in the district. But in Paramakudi, the police were not deployed in adequate strength at the time of the incident, informed sources said.

The victims of the police firing are R. Ganesan (65) of Pallavarayanendal, T. Panneerselvam (50) of Veerambal, P. Jayapal (20) of Manjur, S. Vellaichamy (65) of Paramakudi, Theerthakani (25) of Keezhakodumalur and Muthukumar (26) of Sadayaneri. Almost all of them were farm workers or labourers in the unorganised sector. Among the Dalits who were undergoing treatment for multiple injuries sustained in the police lathi-charge were I. Israel and M. Thanikodi of S. Kavanur, G. Senthil of Ammankoil, K. Vellaichamy of N. Pethanendal, S. Chandran of Pambur and K. Pandi of Ponnaiyapuram. Pandi, a 60-year-old construction worker, said a group of lathi-wielding policemen beat him up when he was bathing at a place close to the scene of protests. He has fractures in his left arm and left leg. Vellaichamy, a 70-year-old retired headmaster of a primary school, said he had been visiting Paramakudi for the past 20 years to pay his respects at the memorial of Sekaran. He recalled that the police had never before used such brute force during Sekaran’s death anniversary. Even after taking them to the police station, the injured persons were humiliated, he alleged. Even after a week, there were telltale signs of the violence – charred remains of vehicles, glass pieces and stones that lay strewn on the streets, and damaged hoardings. Schools and business establishments in and around Paramakudi remained closed, as were the roads. Bus services in the southern districts of the State were affected.

Though officials claimed that the situation had started returning to normal in Ramanathapuram and some other pockets in the southern districts, it appeared to be far from the truth. Interactions with Dalits in different villages and towns in the southern districts revealed that beneath the calm there was simmering anger at the attempts to suppress the rising Dalit assertion. They were upset at the way their plan to pay homage to their respected leader was scuttled. In many villages, the residents, particularly Dalits, are in the grip of fear as the police have registered a case against 1,000 unidentified persons. The police have registered cases under Sections 307 (attempt to murder), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage), 427 (mischief causing damage), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon) and 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code and under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. “Don’t be carried away by the officials’ claim that the situation has started returning to normal. Our problems are far from over. We have to take care of the children and the aged, as the menfolk have fled the habitations in and around Paramakudi fearing arrest,” said a woman, echoing the sentiment in the Dalit colonies. The day coincides with the death anniversary of the national revolutionary poet Subramanya Bharathi, who envisioned the emancipation of the oppressed masses, particularly Dalits. It was while returning home after addressing meetings to pay tributes to the poet that Sekaran was murdered by an armed gang in 1957.

On the previous day, September 10, Sekaran, a Congress sympathiser and Dalit leader, had participated in peace talks to end the violence that had broken out in the wake of a by-election to the Mudukulathur Assembly seat vacated by U. Muthuramalinga Thevar, All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) leader and acclaimed leader of the Mukkulathor community. The alleged kidnapping of nine Dalits close on the heels of AIFB candidate Sasivarna Thevar’s victory in the by-election resulted in riots involving the two communities, claiming the lives of 42 Dalits. Objecting to Sekaran’s participation in the talks on an equal footing with him, Muthuramalinga Thevar reportedly expressed reluctance to sign the peace agreement. For the past two decades, Dalits have been observing Sekaran’s death anniversary as “guru puja” at his tomb in Paramakudi just as Thevars do on the anniversary of Muthuramalinga Thevar at Pasumpon on October 30. Dalits from several villages and towns in the southern districts visit Paramakudi every year. The number of participants has steadily increased in the past five years. Dalit organisations have been demanding that Sekaran’s anniversary be declared a government celebration as has been done in the case of Thevar Jayanthi, but the government has not paid heed. This time, police action pre-empted the participation of a large number of Dalits who had started pouring in from different districts to take part in the guru puja, said V. Kasinathadurai, secretary of the Tamil Nadu Federation of Loadmen Associations. Only some leaders of political parties, residents of Sekaran’s native village, Sellur in Ramanathapuram district, and a few Dalit activists were able to pay homage at the memorial, he pointed out. …



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