New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

28 June, 2011

Consultation is the quintessence of democracy, says AHRC

The following is a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission:

The recent statement by the Human Resource Development Minister, Mr. Kapil Sibal, expressing concern over the process of wider consultation in the drafting of the anti-corruption law, the Lokpal Bill, calls for reflection and debate. The Minister has said that the government would not in the future consider involving the civil society for drafting legislations. The Minister's view against a wider consultative process also found support within the Congress Working Committee (CWC. The CWC in a meeting held on 24 July has said that the government felt as if it was held at ransom by a section of the civil society in the country concerning the Lokpal Bill. Not surprisingly other political parties in the country also hold a similar view on the issue.

The overwhelming public support the NGO representatives who lead the movement against corruption in India receives indicate how badly the general public sought for a vent to air their opinion against corruption. It is elementary that the general public uses the new platform to speak against manifest forms of corruption, that has reduced the country's government into a quagmire of institutionalised corruption. On a global index, year after year, India shares a shameful position among some of the worst corrupt places in the world. The political parties that held fort in New Delhi and at the state capitals thus far have done nothing decisive to bring a change into this unacceptable status quo. In such a circumstance when someone has come forward seeking the government's intervention to address the issue and that many have willingly joined the call is neither surprising, nor can a government, honest to its constitutional mandate, ignore such a call.

It is understandable that the government feels the pressure. It is commonsense that the pressure felt by the government is just not because some of the leading public figures are pushing the government to act sensibly, but because there is an unprecedented mass appeal for the call to act against corruption which translates into votes if it is construed within a myopic vision of vote-bank politics, which unfortunately many Indian political parties are only capable of today. To look at the mass support that the movement against corruption has garnished as mere 'holding a government at ransom' is an act of deceit which translates into what is being promised is different from what is planed to be implemented.

The most important question of the day is not which offices will come under the scrutiny of the law in the anvil, but to what extent is the government willing to pay heed to public demand. The very notion that the Indian parliament or the bureaucrats that serve the government have better wisdom that the people who elected them is sheer snobbishness, that no government worthy of the constitutional mandate that elected them to power can afford to propose. In fact contrary to what has been said, the procedure that the government was forced to follow regarding the Lokpal Bill is in fact not just the precedent, but the law and it has been the practice. Mr. Kapil Sibal being a lawyer should know that before Bills are tabled in the parliament, the respective ministry that sponsores the Bill calls for public opinions about the proposed law. It is just that in the past occasions the public were not been properly informed of such process or they did not have a vehicle to carry their opinions to the legislature than through their representatives in the parliament. Concerning the Lokpal Bill, they had an organised civil society that played this role, rather effectively. It is not surprising that the persons who pushed the same government to bring about a law that guarantees a right to be informed are also behind the Lokpal Bill.

But for the government to view this participatory approach as unacceptable implies that many in India, at least some politicians and parliamentarians, are yet to understand and appreciate what true democracy implies.

As the old Japanese proverb goes, when important decisions are made, it is better to form it after wide consultations. The process is not Western, as some members of the Bharatiya Janata Party has said seizing the opportunity to attack the president of the Indian National Congress. Administration through consultation is very much Asian. In that, the procedure the civil society has forced the government to follow thus far concerning the Lokpal Bill is the quintessence of democracy.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

27 June, 2011

Re-visiting the Emergency

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Under the shadow of a growing anti-corruption movement India quietly marked the 36th anniversary of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency proclamation during the weekend.

It was an anti-corruption movement launched by students in Gujarat and Bihar, both under Congress rule at the time, that prompted veteran freedom-fighter Jayaprakash Narayan — JP to the adoring public — to return to the political arena after a long absence with a call for ‘total revolution.’

Diverse political and social forces rallied behind him. A court verdict in an election case rendered Mrs Gandhi’s continuance as prime minister untenable. Seizing the opportunity provided by JP’s call to the armed forces to ignore unlawful orders, she declared a state of emergency and clamped down on democratic freedoms.

Dark days followed as the prime minister and her son, Sanjay Gandhi, who set himself up as an extra-constitutional authority, sought to create a regimented society with the help of a censored press. The saintly Vinoba Bhave hailed the ushering in of an era of discipline. The Supreme Court ruled that the citizen had no remedy if the state deprived him of life and liberty while fundamental rights remained suspended.

The Emergency experience taught the nation the value of freedoms. When Mrs Gandhi called an election to legitimise the regime, the people threw it out lock, stock and barrel. Displaying uncanny democratic sensibility, illiterate voters of the backward states rejected the entire Congress leadership, including Mrs Gandhi and her son.

Since the Emergency, the Judiciary has shown extra zeal in upholding its independence. If anything, it has gone overboard in the process, and appropriated for itself the last word in appointment of judges of the superior courts.

The media learnt its lesson, too. With the help of public opinion, it defeated attempts by the Centre and some states to enact new laws to curb press freedom. Stung by the experience, the Centre has refrained from bringing forward legislation to regulate the electronic media, which remains outside the ambit of enactments applicable to the press.

The Indian constitution still provides for Emergency rule. But amendments made by the short-lived Janata government, which functioned under JP’s patronage, have rendered its invocation on political considerations difficult.

Just as absence of war does not mean peace, absence of Emergency does not mean freedom. Arbitrary use of state power against those challenging its authority continues to be the order of the day.

The political landscape has changed vastly since the Emergency. Parties of different hues now share power at the Centre and in the states. Sadly, no party has distinguished itself as a reliable upholder of democratic virtues.

Several cases of killings by security personnel in fake encounters have come to light in recent years. In the border regions the armed forces are able to operate with impunity under laws of the colonial era which have been re-enacted to deal with the challenges to the state.

Across the country brute force is being used to suppress the poor who, more often than not, peacefully resist the takeover of their homes and lands in the name of economic development. Their democratic rights do not extend beyond the opportunity to cast votes when elections are called.

While the corruption scandals which have surfaced in the recent past provide an element of déjà vu, the current scenario is quite different from that of the 1970s. Although the focus of the anti-corruption movement is on the Congress, which leads the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, no party in power at any level is today free from the taint of graft.

Besides, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is no Indira Gandhi, and Anna Hazare, who brought the corruption issue to the fore through an indefinite fast, is no Jayaprakash Narayan. Unlike the JP movement which set a couple of states on fire, the Hazare movement is largely confined to middle-class metropolitan youth.

The absence of dominant personalities like Indira Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan helps to put the problem in the proper perspective. The real issue is not individual corruption but the inability of the system to tackle the menace of graft, fuelled by the parties’ need for money to fight elections.

There is no getting away from the imperative of an institutional mechanism to deal with corruption at the higher levels of the administration. To adapt what Deng Ziaoping said in another context, black or white, the cat must catch mice.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 27, 2011.

24 June, 2011

Adivasi activist under CBI scanner writes to Home Minister


To
The Hon’ble Union Minister,
Ministry of Home Affairs,
North Block, Central Secretariat,
New Delhi – 110001.


Re: inquiry against me by the Ministry of Home Affairs through the CBI.

Dear Sir,

Greetings!

With due respect, I would like to bring your attention in a case of inquiry against me, which has been carried out by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), New Delhi through the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The Ministry had done the similar inquiry last year and I had given them all the required information despite that the same inquiry has been repeated to know whether I’m involved in any kind of anti-national activity and my association with the anti-national elements.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has initiated second round inquiry against me. An officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Mr. Nirmal Kumar Birua visited my resident in the afternoon at 3:15 PM on June 23, 2011 and asked me about the activities I’m involved with, the source of my income, my association with the organizations and

He also recorded about my family background including the background of my parents, brother and sisters, the present status of my family members and about my present residence and present status.

He told me that the Jharkhand Unit of the MHA has to send a bulletin in every evening and the Delhi office has been consistently asking to submit a report regarding my involvement in anti-National activities and association with anti-National elements. However, when I checked it I was shocked to know that there is no such unite of the MHA exists in Ranchi but the MHA does all kinds of inquiry in the state either through the Intelligence Bureau (IB) or the CBI. In fact, I have put everything in the public domain and I’m always available in Ranchi the capital city of Jharkhand and also appear in the media (print and electronic) very often. I have been raising the issues of human rights and social justice and the allegations of my involvement in anti-national activities and my association with the anti-national elements are baseless.

The most surprising thing is, the MHA is not even aware about my association with the Planning Commission of India. Last month, I was nominated as a member of an autonomous body “Assessment and Monitoring Authority” (AMA) under the Planning Commission (Govt of India).

Hence, I feel that the MHA has been taking actions against me with the clear intention to coerce, humiliate and suppress my voice as I’m one of the outspoken persons from the Adivasi community.

Therefore, I request you; kindly stop all kinds of inquiry against me and also to take action against those officers who are trying to defame my credibility. I hope to hear you soon.

Thanking you.
Yours Sincerely,

Gladson Dungdung
Member,
Assessment and Monitoring Authority,
Planning Commission (Govt. of India),
C/o – Mr. Suleman Oreya,
Near Don Bosco, I.T.C. Gate,
Lane – 2, Khorha Toli, Kokar, Ranchi-834001
Ph. No. 0651-3242752 Cell: 09334449335

See also May 2010 article by Gladson Dungdung “Am I a Maoist

20 June, 2011

Bid to enter Shanghai Group

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With India, Pakistan and Afghanistan lining up for membership, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a common platform of China, Russia and four Central Asian republics, is set to emerge as a regional body with increased clout.

Established in 2001, SCO member-states now cover a contiguous area of more than 30 million square kilometres spread over Asia and Europe with a population of nearly 1.5 billion. The South Asian countries’ entry will raise the area and double the population.

However, it is not area and population that will make the enlarged SCO a powerful institution but the region’s strategic significance. It will be a regional forum without the participation of any western nation, including the United States.

The tenth annual SCO summit, held at Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, last week laid down the norms for membership and negotiations for admission of India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia, all of whom are now observers. Iran’s entry has to wait as the SCO charter does not permit admission of a state facing United Nations sanctions.

There is no knowing how long the negotiation process will last but India is hoping the enlarged SCO will be in place before 2014, the deadline set for withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. The SCO is already playing a constructive role in that war-ravaged country and the inclusion of India and Pakistan will enhance its ability to ensure the country’s stability.

The Astana declaration, issued at the end of the summit, envisages a neutral Afghanistan. It was the erstwhile Soviet Union’s violation of its neutrality, which had been respected by the Tsar of Russia and the British rulers of the Indian subcontinent, that landed the landlocked country into the mess in which it is today.

Significantly, it points out that the Afghan problem cannot be solved through military measures alone and demands that attention be paid to social and economic issues, particularly reconstruction of transportation and social infrastructure.

Formal assertion of the principle of Afghanistan’s neutrality by the group, which includes both Russia and China, is significant in the context of reported US attempts to establish military bases there under cover of a defence shield before the planned pullout. It needs to be endorsed by Pakistan and India.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who attended the summit, asked the US to respect the country’s sovereignty. With civilian casualties in western air strikes on rebel forces on the rise, he has lately been talking of the risk of allies turning into an occupation force.

Condemning the US missile defence programme for the region, the Astana declaration says one-sided and unlimited development of such systems by one state or a small band of states can damage strategic stability and international security.

Western alarm over these formulations was reflected in media reports which projected the enlarged SCO as a rival to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which serves as an arm of the US. There have also been suggestions that the group is seeking dismantlement of the western bases in Central Asia and establishment of a security system without US participation.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who was at the summit, did call for a security alliance of former Soviet republics and China against the west. However, there were no takers.

China dismissed western media reports as reflective of the mindset of the United States, which does not want anyone to challenge its position as the world’s policeman. Writing in the Communist Party newspaper, a commentator stated that the SCO charter casts no obligation on member-states to provide military assistance to one another.

However, the charter does not preclude military co-operation. The group’s proclaimed objectives include fighting the triple evils of terrorism, regional separatism and religious extremism. Since its inception 10 years ago the SCO has conducted as many joint exercises to fight terrorism, drug traffic and organised crime. Lately it has also turned attention to areas such as checking money laundering and ensuring security of major international activities.

India’s desire for full membership of the SCO stems from the hope that it can benefit from the group’s anti-terrorist programme. Such sentiments may be there in sections of the Pakistani establishment too. However, given the character of the terror groups operating in the two countries, there are limits to the benefit that can flow from it.

But there are economic and political dividends to look forward to. The SCO plans to become a free-trade area by 2020. By that time the movement towards a multipolar world may have also gained momentum. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 20, 2011.

16 June, 2011

Where Do We Go From Here? Strategy meeting of NGOs at Wardha on July 3

The National Alliance of People’s Movements convening team writes:

The anti-corruption movement around the Jan Lokpal Bill manged to energize the various struggles going on in the country at different levels. Many who came on the street didn't come only because of the Lokpal; they were somewhere dissatisfied with the systemic corruption and other problems.

Many of the democratic movements struggling for decades for democratic rights, securing justice and a dignified livelihood feel that this has brought to us a moment for wider political awakening in the country and hopefully the struggles against the corporate corruption, massive loot of natural resources and larger institutional corruption will gain strength from this.

In line with that there are also discussions around the fact that the energy generated from this agitation needs to be channelized and onus lies on the secular and democratic political forces of the country to mobilize it for a larger political reform in the country. It is with such an intention that a meeting was called to explore the future strategies on May 8 in Delhi. Later similar consultations have been held by many others in the past month or so.

We would like to invite you for a daylong meeting to discuss future alliance processes and strategies for coordinated actions in times to come. Let us sit together to see if we can create a larger, wider, diverse, plural but all-encompassing alternative political/social and economic movement nurturing a kind of peoples' power which rejects the present power politics and its accessory exploitative systems and march towards a greater unity and bonding.

Let us meet to come together in spite of our immediate commitments, campaigns to sit and strategize. If we achieve this, innumerable people who want to see the transformation to happen will come forward to lend a helping hand from different section of the society. Together, we shall reach the farmers, workers, dalits, adivasis, women and men, young and old, all across rural and urban areas. We do hope you will be able to join us for this important meeting. Please do reply and confirm your participation.

We have made arrangements for stay there and if you reach on July 2nd night then let us know beforehand.

We have also attached a small note (see below) at the end of it for your reflections and thoughts.

Warm Regards,

Medha Patkar
Sandeep Pandey
Gabriele Dietrich
Suniti S R
Sister Celia
Prafulla Samantra
Ramakrishna Raju
and others from NAPM Convening Team.

The venue is Centre of Science for Villages, Kumarappapuram, near Dattapur, Wardha Nagpur Road, Wardha. Tt is 7 or 8 kms from the Wardha station. Autos charge around Rs 60. Share rickshaws are also available.

Where Do We go From Here...

A discussion note for the meeting on July 3rd Wardha, Maharashtra

The recent outpouring of public outrage at the spate of corruption, scandals, and scams involving public money by the politicians, bureaucrats and the corporations through out the country has rocked the conscience of the nation. Two strong manifestations of these outpourings are in the form of agitations led by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev. Apart from this there are numerous ongoing struggles in the country today against the legalised loot of natural resources by the corporations and state. Anti POSCO agitation or fight against the builder mafia in Mumbai are one amongst many for the democratic control over the land, water and forest by social movements.

We all who firmly believe that the fundamental change / transformation in the society can only be heralded by peoples' movements are standing at this moment in history at a crossroad. On the one hand through our struggles we have made a significant headway in opposing the unconstitutional SEZs which encourages and fills our hearts with great hope but on the other in spite of so many movements and struggles going on across the country the bureaucrats, the capitalists and the powers that be of this country are hell bent upon displacing and looting the common masses and even callously refusing to give them their rightful share. Those of us who want to make the peoples' movements stronger and make them the real force for change sometime feel very much concerned about our own weaknesses, our ineffectiveness and inherent lack of persistence and perseverance. Even those of us who have accepted that struggle is the only way for movements to make an impact, feel that we do not give enough emphasis on re-construction programmes, and engage ourselves in searching for alternatives programmes as a result sometime we lose our balance and direction.

Under such circumstances and with this perspective in mind many of us who have been part of the movements for over decades believe that we are standing at a moment in history which reminds us of the pre 1975 – Emergency days, which is also being accepted by those in power. This poses to us an opportunity to rise above our ideologies, persuasions and differences and join hand to create a movement for total and fundamental transformation as aspired by the people's movements.

If it is a moment of crisis then it is also a moment of bountiful opportunities in the history for us to be organising and exploring the creative faculties of the masses and movements. The moment of reckoning has arrived and with that we urge all to rise above our own local actions, struggles and limited perspectives / visions and do some soul-searching. On the basis of this collective deep thinking let us all together begin our march towards the all-comprising goals of our movements and seek a planetary vision.

We need to dwell on certain fundamental issues and develop commonality of purpose and evolve our strategies accordingly. Hereunder, we mention some of the issues that come to mind :-

1. Do we, the spearheads of peoples movements, (jan-andolans) feel the need to go further than what we see as issues around us and our analysis there of and aim at a larger national transformation?

(Kindly note there is no Point No 2 in the document as it now stands)

3. Are the common masses (dalits, adivasis, women, the displaced, workers, farmers etc.) in a frame of mind and the conditions suitable for a long sustained struggle ahead at the national and international level which will shake the inner walls of the capitalism and the establishment?

4. Is the middle class, the intelligentsia willing to participate and stand by the side of the struggle against exploitation, oppression and inequality ? Are they willing to be a part of this process towards developing a planetary vision and secure justice and dignity for everyone?

5. Are we in a position to formulate strategies which will compel those in power to respond to the voices of a much wider social transformation ?

6. Democratic socialism is the alternative to capitalism. We do have alternatives for the present consumerist society (culture) and also technical alternatives. Can we, on the basis of this, obtain attitudinal changes in the minds of the people?

7. When the globalisation and liberalisation are in full swing, can we abolish the power of the market ? The belief that human beings and nature are for market only – Can we challenge such ideologies and thought processes?

8. Can the exploited and the distressed become the spearheads (leaders) of an independent, strong, sharp and people-oriented politics when the elected representatives of today's political set up turn out to be insensitive and devoid of all moral and ethical values ? Can such a leadership create a space for itself in the present set up, can it be a respectable entity in the current set up?

9. Can a national and international structure based on the principles of non-violence, sister-brotherhood, equality, sustainability and justice be born from such a leadership (refer to point 8), which will reject imperialism in toto? Depending upon the sovereignty of its people, space and resources can we create a nation which includes plural and diverse nationalities within itself?

We do try to find answers / solutions to such important questions, but remain encircled within the limits of our local or long-term issues and scattered campaigns. While we do find solutions to some, new ones are born and we find that inequality, exploitation, injustice, petty differences and violence surrounds us all around.

When we try to go deeper into this, some alternatives that we arrive at are as follows:

1. Let us make our organisational process deeper / stronger / reflective as far as we are able to, to achieve – (a) successes with twin simultaneous programmes of struggle and re-construction (sangharsh aur nirman) (b) stop wanton destruction, using legal avenues-intervention, if necessary, (c) seek to change constitutional framework wherever possible, (d) and to create social and political awareness of the masses. The ultimate goal of all these needs to be that of creating people's power, power of the masses. This needs to be carried on with perseverance, devoting it undivided attention.

2. The forces pitted against us are powerful, of capital and market – who loot, inflict poverty on the greatest number of people. There is violence of the state and its administration, violence at the international level of wars and within us we find politics based on castes differences, religious divides, and unequal distribution of nation's resources. Therefore, if found necessary at opportune moment, we shall not fight shy of joining the political process and defeat these exploitative forces. We shall follow the paths shown to us by stalwarts like Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan and others who struggled for ‘Total Revolution’ but also look beyond and deep inside our own struggles to develop a comprehensive programme. The sole purpose of all this is only to aggressively challenge the status quo relentlessly in all spheres of life.

3. Thirdly, the most important issue before us is the unity of all the social change movements, of those who believe in the sovereignty of people, in true democracy, justice, non-violence, and have full faith and are determined to work for Sarva Dharma Samabhav (dharma not literally in the sense of religion alone). The effort should be to bring all the above streams in one wider circle of movements, ‘assembly of movements’. We shall enlist support of respected and balanced thinkers, unblemished intelligentsia and spread ourselves as widely as possible in the far corners of the country to create an alternative to the present political process.

The main purpose of this note is to draw your attention to the need for creation of a larger, wider, diverse, plural but all-encompassing alternative political/social and economic movement. We need to nurture that kind of peoples' power which rejects the present power politics and its accessory exploitative systems and march towards a greater unity and bonding.

Let us all come together inspite of our immediate commitments, campaigns, and let us plan our responsibilities and actions for the years ahead. If we achieve this, innumerable people who want to see the transformation to happen will come forward to lend a helping hand from different section of the society. Together, we shall reach the farmers, workers, dalits, adivasis, women and men, young and old all across in rural and urban areas.
http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
Note: This discussion note was written by Medha Patkar for the meeting on July 25th 2009 in Delhi called by NAPM in post-elections scenario to discuss future alliance processes and strategies for coordinated actions. It has been modified and is now being presented for the meeting on July 3rd, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm/Centre of Science for Villages, Wardha, Maharashtra.

For more details call Madhuresh Kumar 9818905316

National Alliance of Peoples' Movements (NAPM)
C/O 6/6 (Basement), Jangpura B, Mathura Road, New Delhi 110 014
Mobile +91 9818 905316 | 011 2437 4535

email:napmindia@gmail.com
Web : www.napm-india.org

13 June, 2011

Anti-graft stir at crossroads

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Two months after Maharashtra social activist Anna Hazare put the issue of high-level corruption at the top of the national agenda through a Gandhian campaign, the movement is in the doldrums.

Hazare’s indefinite fast at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, under extensive visual media coverage, had drawn wide support from the urban middle class, and forced the government to set up a committee to draft a new bill to set up a Lokpal with powers to investigate charges against top functionaries.

Political parties were cool to the goings-on. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition, was unhappy that it had no role in it. Hazare had turned away its leaders when they went to Jantar Mantar to pledge support to him. The Communist Party of Inda-Marxist, which views the civil society with suspicion, distanced itself from Hazare’s ‘apolitical’ movement.

As the drafting committee, with equal representation for the government and civil society, started work it became evident that the two sides differed so widely on certain crucial matters that an agreed formulation was unlikely to emerge.

Hazare and his colleagues want the Lokpal to have the power to look into complaints against all top functionaries including the Prime Minister, members of Parliament and judges of the Supreme Court. The government wants to keep the PM beyond the Lokpal’s reach. Also, it favours internal mechanisms to deal with charges against members of Parliament and the Judiciary.

There is little chance of the government and Hazare agreeing on the composition of the Lokpal. The former envisages an authority which will be somewhat amenable to the Executive’s influence. The latter wants an independent authority, which, political parties fear, may become a Frankenstein.

Against this background, it is not surprising that political parties are playing games with a view to advancing their own interests. The government and the opposition are trying, in their own ways, to weaken the civil society movement. Recent statements by Kapil Sibal, a minister and member of the drafting committee, indicate that the government is preparing to announce the failure of the efforts to produce an agreed bill and place before Parliament its own draft.

Even as the drafting committee was continuing its work, Baba Ramdev, a yoga guru who has built up a cult following with the help of his own television channel, announced he would go on an indefinite fast at the Ramlila Grounds in Delhi demanding that black money hoarded abroad by Indians be declared national asset and steps taken to bringing it back.

The BJP saw in Ramdev’s plan an opportunity to carve out a role for itself with assistance from the Sangh Parivar associates. The government viewed him as a possible foil for Anna Hazare who was proving a difficult customer. As Ramdev flew into the capital in his private aircraft it gave him a grand reception at the airport with three ministers in attendance.

Ramdev’s fast and television coverage of it set the stage for another urban middle class carnival. The government realised that the saffron-clad Ramdev could be more dangerous than the khadi-clad Hazare. Late in the night a large police contingent was sent to break up the Ramlila Grounds show and fly the guru out to his ashram in Hardwar.

The opposition parties from the BJP to the CPI-M and the Maoists came together to condemn the high-handed action against the Baba and his followers. Since Ramdev continued the fast at Hardwar, he was removed to a hospital in Dehra Dun and given glucose drips.

The government will be making a grievous mistake if it imagines it can get off the hook by outwitting Hazare and Ramdev. The issues they have raised have made a deep impress and cannot be wished away. With former Communications Minister A. Raja in jail since April, pending trial, and his predecessor Dayanidhi Maran apparently set to join him there, the United Progressive Alliance government stands discredited as one reeking with corruption.

Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Arun Kumar, who has studied the black money problem, has estimated that India has a parallel economy of Rs20, 500 billion (about $500 billion), half the size of the official economy. As much as 80 per cent of the black money is generated from legal businesses.

The Executive’s inability to act except under pressure from the Judiciary has exposed it as an accomplice in illegal activity and a possible beneficiary of it. Unless it exorcises the ghosts of corruption and black money they will haunt it relentlessly.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 13, 2011

07 June, 2011

Women's group condemns police action at Ramlila Maidan

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression has strongly condemned the midnight crackdown on thousands of people staging a ‘Satyagraha’ and hunger-strike at Ramlila Maidan with Baba Ramdev for demands related to corruption and black money.

In a statement, the group said:

We are astonished at Mr Manmohan Singh's defense of police action saying that there was no alternative. The attack on the protesters was absolutely unwarranted as the ‘satyagraha’ was neither causing any law and order problems nor was it disrupting the peace of the city in any manner.

We are not supporters of Baba Ramdev but clearly see the role of dissent in upholding a democratic society.

We also condemn the secret parleys between the government and Baba Ramdev as both parties are ready to compromise with each other and show no regard for the genuine mounting anger that people are feeling towards corruption and theft by those in power for personal and corporate gains. It is the breakdown of these parleys which prompted the attack on innocent satyagrahis.

We also question BJP and Sangh Parivar's opposition to this act of repression. It is selective and opportunistic; whenever it has suited BJP it has deployed the same means to quash opposition and questioning. In Chhattisgarh, most recently, it is proposing to ban People's Union for Civil Liberties which has been an above board organization espousing the cause of civil liberties since the dark days of emergency leave alone frequent burning of villages, and violent attacks on the villagers.

We wish to highlight that such attacks are an everyday occurrence in large areas of Adivasi and Dalit habitats where land is being grabbed to subserve corporate greed. Except that they are more vicious and batons are replaced by automatic rifles but unfortunately they do not make the headlines though they have rendered millions homeless.

Kalpana Mehta, Rinchin, Ranjana Padhi, Indira Chakravarthy, Sudha Bhardwaj, Geeta Charusivam, Lena Ganesh, Uma Chandru, Madhuri Krishnaswami and others

06 June, 2011

Chhattisgarh minister threatens to ban PUCL

Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar has accused the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) of supplying arms to Naxalites and threatened to ban it, according to news reports.

He is also reported to be considering prohibiting Swami Agnivesh from entering the state.

There were also other reports targeting the appointment of Dr. Binayak Sen as a member of the panel on health care.

These reports have come in the wake of the arrest of Ramesh Agrawal and Harihar Patel last week and the former’s hospitalization in inhuman conditions. Today the sessions court denied them bail.

It is important that we respond collectively against these attempts to malign PUCL and oppose the continuing harassment and detention of human rights workers in Chhattisgarh as well as other states.

Individuals and organizations may endorse the following statement by sending a message to defendpucl@gmail.com and publicize this statement:

In Defence of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Chhattisgarh

Free Ramesh Agrawal and Harihar Patel!
Free Kopa Kunjam and Sukhnath Oyame!
Stop harassing Swami Agnivesh, Binayak Sen!

Hands off PUCL!
Hands off Human Rights Workers!
Defend PUCL! Defend Human Rights Workers in Chhattisgarh!
Defend the Indian Constitution! Defend the Rule of Law!


It is with grave concern and utmost urgency that we write to protest the continuing threats to human rights workers in the state of Chhattisgarh. On Saturday, June 4, 2011, Dainik Bhaskar reported the state Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar’s public statement that the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) was supplying arms to the Naxalites and that the Minister was considering banning the organization.

PUCL is a Gandhian organization founded by Shri Jayaprakash Narayan to uphold and defend the Indian Constitution. PUCL has had an illustrious track record nationally and in Chhattisgarh of ensuring that the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution are available to all the people of India. When elected and unelected public officials have usurped or attempted to usurp their powers, PUCL has often been among the few organizations that provide the only line of defense for many Indian citizens. Lacking access to normal judicial processes, it is to PUCL and other similar organizations that the poorest and the most marginalized often turn.

This is particularly true in the case of Chhattisgarh, where, in the name of fighting Maoists, the state machinery, including the police, has created for itself a documented history of acting with impunity, engaging in violence on a massive scale against defenceless people. In December 2005, the state unit of PUCL in Chhattisgarh, under the leadership of Binayak Sen, along with several other human rights organizations, has investigated and documented the atrocities - burning down entire villages, murder, rape, mutilation - committed by Salwa Judum, a vigilante force financed, armed and supported by the state. Petitions filed by Prof. Nandini Sundar and others and by Himanshu Kumar of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) have led the Supreme Court to order the state government to disband Salwa Judum and rehabilitate the displaced villagers. The state government has largely ignored these orders. Interestingly, immediately after PUCL conducted its investigation in 2005, the then Director General of Police O. P. Rathode declared to the press, Hum PUCL ko dekh lenge (we will take care of PUCL).

PUCL Chhattisgarh has been consistent in opposing violence of all kinds, including violence by the state and by private actors, whether Salwa Judum or the Maoists. PUCL has also been consistent in advocating dialogue with the Maoists as a means to end the violence in the state. It is in this context that the work of an upstanding citizen like Swami Agnivesh has to be seen. It should also be noted that Swami Agnivesh’s work has had the support of Home Minister P. Chidambaram in his attempts to initiate dialogue with the Maoists, though the attempts had to be aborted subsequently when the Maoist interlocutor was killed by the police. It was also the peace mission of Swami Agnivesh, with the support of Chief Minister Raman Singh, that led to the release of five policemen kidnapped by the Maoists last February. Sadly, when Swami Agnivesh and other activists went carrying relief supplies to the victims of a five-day long police operation in which the villages of Tarmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli were pillaged and burnt down, three men were murdered and three women raped, mobs of Special Police Officers attacked their vehicles with stones, threatened and turned them back, causing them to abandon their peace mission.

Binayak Sen has given his entire professional career to the well-being of the poorest of the people of India, particularly the mine workers and the adivasis of Chhattisgarh. As an individual practitioner, as a founder of Shahid Hospital and as an advisor to the state public health programmes in policy formulation and as an advisor to the volunteer organization Jan Swasthya Sahyog, his contributions have been immense. It is in recognition of his lifelong work and contributions that the National Planning Commission has accepted his nomination as a member of the Health Advisory Panel. However, his human rights work with PUCL angered the state officials and the police, ultimately earning him conviction to life imprisonment under false charges based on fabricated evidence. To the great credit of the Supreme Court, it has seen through all this and has granted him his freedom, while he continues to challenge his conviction in the state High Court. The reprieve given to Dr. Sen by the Supreme Court and the legitimation of his work by the Planning Commission have proven irksome to the state and have led to a series of protests by the youth wing of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state.

The Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA), under the leadership of Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar, has had a long record of working with the adivasis of Chhattisgarh on issues of nutrition, health and development, often with the support and funding of the state government. After the Salwa Judum was created, VCA found itself having to providr refuge to the victims of its violence. The state government turned against VCA when VCA started to document the massacres committed by the Salwa Judum and the state police in the villages of Singaram, Matwada, Gachanpalli and Gompad in 2009 and to file cases in a state court and the Supreme Court seeking redress for the victims and punishment for the culprits. The state police summarily tore down the Ashram buildings in May, 2009, and ultimately hounded Mr. Kumar out of the state by the turn of the year. Two of its volunteers, Kopa Kunjam and Sukhnath Oyame, are now in prison on trumped up charges.

Ramesh Agrawal and Harihar Patel are two outstanding, committed and non-violent activists who are among the latest victims of the state government. They were arrested on May 28, again on false charges. Requiring urgent medical care, Mr Agrawal was taken to a hospital where he is now being held, chained to his bed, in contravention of Supreme Court directives issued in 1995.

For many years, both Mr. Agrawal and Dr. Patel have been raising concerns about the social and environmental impact of indiscriminate industrial expansion in the Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh. They have actively participated in the public hearings mandated by the environmental clearance procedures under the law. Mr. Agrawal is also a longtime Right To Information (RTI) activist and has frequently brought to light numerous irregularities related to environmental compliance, water pollution and social impact issues of different projects being proposed in the district. Dr. Patel has been leading the Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Ekta Sangathan, which has been fighting against takeover of people’s land for industrial and mining activities in and around his village. Both Mr. Agrawal and Dr. Patel have also taken up several matters before the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) and other regulatory authorities, raising concerns about faulty impact assessment, ineffective public hearings and instances of construction before mandatory approvals. In their most recent work, they exposed corruption in the grant of clearances to the Jindal Steel and Power Company, earning them the displeasure of the government officials and their arrest and detention.

The state Home Minister Kanwar’s statement and other recent statements and actions by other Chhattisgarh government officials and BJP leaders are clearly desperate attempts to malign PUCL, Swami Agnivesh, Binayak Sen, Himanshu Kumar, Ramesh Agrawal and Dr. Harihar Patel. These and other handful of human rights workers are the only remaining independent witnesses to the lawless conduct of the state officials and the last line of defense of the people against the depredations of the state machinery. PUCL and Dr. Binayak Sen brought to national attention the horrific history of the violence of Salwa Judum. Swami Agnivesh raised public awareness of the atrocities committed by the state security forces last March. Mr. Agrawal and Dr. Patel brought to light the corruption of the state officials and their collusion with a private corporation. The state finds these witnesses getting in the way of its machinations to conduct its business without the hindrance of the law and the Indian Constitution. Arresting them or threatening to ban PUCL and prohibit Swami Agnivesh’s entry into the state is but a prelude to getting these witnesses out of its way. It is incumbent upon all those who believe in the Indian Constitution and the rule of law to speak up and come to the defense of PUCL and Swami Agnivesh, Binayak Sen, Himanshu Kumar, Ramesh Agrawal and Harihar Patel.

We dmand that the officials of the government of Chhattisgarh must cease its attempts to malign and harass PUCL, Binayak Sen, Swami Agnivesh, Himanshu Kumar and other human rights workers in the state.

We demand that Kopa Kunjam, Sukhnath Oyame, Ramesh Agrawal and Harihar Patel be released and that the charges against them dropped immediately.

Embroiled in land wars

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India is caught up in land wars. Villagers opposing forcible acquisition of farm lands for industrial and infrastructure projects are posing problems to governments all over the country. Most protests are peaceful but there have been violent uprisings too.

The involvement of small but militant groups like the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in resistance movements in some areas, especially the tribal belt, adds a new dimension to the problem.

Last month violence erupted in the Noida area of Uttar Pradesh, adjoining the national capital, forcing the state government to put on hold acquisition of land for the Yamuna Expressway designed to provide quick movement between New Delhi and Agra, the most popular tourist destination. At least 15 persons have been killed in clashes between police and protesters in the state in the last four years.

More than six decades after the country gained freedom, authorities still invoke a law enacted by the British in 1894 when they want to acquire land. That law empowers the state to acquire land for any public purpose. Taking advantage of the vague definition of ‘public purpose’ in the law, governments have used it to take over private property and hand it over to businessmen to set up industrial projects.

The most fatal flaw of the law is the absence of provisions to ensure proper resettlement and rehabilitation of the people who are dispossessed. State governments often acquire land in excess of the actual need. The land war battlefields extend from Gujarat and Maharashtra in the west to Orissa and West Bengal in the east and from UP in the north to Karnataka and Kerala in the south.

The heroic struggle waged by social activist Medha Patkar for several decades on behalf of the tribal people affected by the massive Narmada dam has brought into sharp focus the issue of the state’s responsibility to ensure rehabilitation of persons displaced by development projects. Hers has been a peaceful struggle of the Gandhian kind.

Agitators at some other places have resorted to violence. The blame for this must be shared at least in part by rapacious businessmen and recalcitrant authorities who habitually ignore the agonised cries of the victims.

In many places farmers engaged in land war have received powerful support from civil society groups whose opposition to projects generally stems from environmental and health concerns.

The agitators have met with success in some places, overcoming the economic might of the corporate sector, sometimes with the help of enlightened official functionaries but more often in the face of ruthless repression.

The powerful Reliance group was able to get the Maharashtra government’s support for a proposal to set up a special economic zone spread over 100 square kilometres in the Raigarh district, but had to drop it because of stiff opposition from farmers.

The Union Environment Ministry recently stepped in to halt work on the Vedanta Resources’ $1.7 billion bauxite mine project in Orissa’s Niamgiri hills, considered sacred by the local tribes. Some time ago it had similarly stopped work on the South Korean industrial giant Posco’s $12-billion steel project in Jagatsinghpur district. However, under incessant pressure from the Orissa government, it later gave the company the go-ahead. The Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), which has been leading the movement against the project, has threatened to intensify its agitation.

People’s power registered its most impressive win in West Bengal where agitating farmers, who received powerful support from Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, beat back the Tata group, which wanted to set up a car project at Singur, and Indonesia’s Salim group, which planned to establish a petrochemical hub at Nandigram.

Armed cadres of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which headed the state government, had joined policemen in the crackdown on the farmers. The party had to pay a heavy price for the misadventure. In the recent elections it was voted out after being in office continuously for more than three decades.

The new government has offered to return to farmers the land acquired for the Tata project. Clearly India needs to rethink its policies. It cannot afford to alienate farmers when ensuring food security is at the top of the national agenda. It has to replace the colonial land acquisition law with one that will protect the interests of the farming community and provide for resettlement and rehabilitation of all people dislocated by development projects. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 6, 2011.

05 June, 2011

Baba Ramdev's arrest condemned

Human rights organizations and political parties have condemned the arrest and removal of Baba Ramdev from Ramlila Grounds wher he had begun an indefinite fast on Saturday.

The following is a statement issued by the People's Union for Civil Liberties:

PUCL condemns in the strongest possible terms the arrest of Baba Ramdev and use of force against the people who had peacefully assembled at Ramlila Ground to demand declaration of black money as National Asset and severe punishment to the guilty. The action is anti-democratic and is an act in defence of corruption and the corrupt. The UPA government has a record of dragging its feet to shield the corrupt till it is compelled by the Apex Court or some other circumstances, and in the future also it is not likely to act to curb corruption till compelled by the people.

The PUCL is also of the firm opinion that attacking the tip of the iceberg of corruption overlooking the its ‘Gangotri ‘(Source of origin), as is being done, will have very little impact on the evil of corruption. PUCL demands that a law should be enacted immediately to disclose and regulate the source of funding and mode of spending by the political parties on the line of such laws in the U.K. U.S.A. Canada and put a limit on donations because the rich have become virtually the master of almost all governments in the country by financing the political parties and politicians with black money and have been making them do their bidding in running the State. To save our democracy, it is necessary to break the nexus between the rich and the political class and ensure that our political system is fuelled by clean white money instead of the dirty black money as the case at present.

The PUCL further demands that all coercive action against Baba Ramdeo and the people fighting against corruption must be stopped forthwith

Pushkar Raj
General Secretary, PUCL.

The following is a statement issued by the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist):

The UPA Government’s draconian midnight crackdown on anti-corruption protestors at Ramlila Maidan and must be condemned in the strongest terms. The Prime Minister and the UPA Government at the highest levels must answer for this shameful assault on democracy and the right to peaceful protest.

While on the one hand the Government was conducting negotiations with Baba Ramdev, it launched an underhand and arbitrary police action in which sleeping protestors were lathicharged, several severely injured, the protest venue forcibly cleared, and Ramdev himself detained and flown out of Delhi. Such an assault is a blatantly unconstitutional assault on the freedom of expression and protest.

To justify the crackdown and divert from the burning issue of corruption, Congress spokesperson Digvijay Singh has launched an irresponsible and personalized attack on Baba Ramdev. Digvijay Singh’s intemperate allegations cannot explain why top Congress and UPA Government leaders rushed to the airport to placate the same Ramdev and why they have been negotiating with him?

It emerged yesterday that the public had been kept in the dark about a written agreement between Baba Ramdev and the Government, arrived at even before Ramdev’s agitation began. Moreover, the backing of communal forces for Baba Ramdev’s agitation, capped by the presence on his dais of those notorious for inciting communal violence, cannot be condoned in any way by those struggling for a democratic, corruption-free India. But this cannot justify the central Government’s unwarranted and unprovoked police assault on sleeping protestors including women and children. The Congress-led UPA Government, by conducting behind-the-scenes deals and talks on the one hand and brutal crackdown on the other, is only ending up bolstering communal forces while marginalizing the forces of democratic protest.

With the crackdown, the UPA Government (which has several Ministers and coalition leaders in jail on charges of 2G and CWG scams) is trying to sweep the issue of scams, corruption, corporate plunder and black money under the carpet. At the same time, the Government is trying to block the effort to create an effective anti-corruption law, by attempting to keep the PM out of the purview of the Lokpal. Corporate loot of land and minerals through corrupt means and violation of laws is underway at the POSCO project in Odisha, while the threat of a severe repression hovers over the protesting tribals. Such repression cannot possibly weaken the determination of the awakened people to struggle for a democratic India free from corruption.

Prabhat Kumar
for CPI(ML) Central Committee