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"Gandhi is dead, Who is now Mahatmaji?"
Solar scam reveals decadent polity and sociery
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


29 January, 2013

Daunting poll challenge

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is preparing to challenge the Congress party in the 2014 parliamentary elections, has a daunting task ahead.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was in power from 1999 to 2004. In Atal Behari Vajpayee it had a popular prime minister and the economy did well. Yet it could not win a second five-year term on the “India Shining” slogan. The electorate rebuffed it again in 2009.

Now it has cause for optimism. As many as 39 per cent of those who participated in a recent opinion poll said they would vote for the NDA if elections were held now. Only 22 per cent said they would vote for the UPA.

The poll also showed that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, frontrunner in the party’s prime ministerial stakes, has a 36 per cent rating. Rahul Gandhi, whom the Congress party recently made its vice-president and is seen as its prime ministerial candidate, is way behind with only 22 per cent.

But the BJP has cause to worry too. The collapse of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s bid to secure for Nitin Gadkari a second three-year term as BJP president indicates the emergence of new dynamics in Parivar politics. This is the first time that the RSS failed to have its way in the choice of the party president.

Gadkari, a former Maharashtra minister, was little known outside the state when the RSS picked him for the top post in 2009. He became a source of acute embarrassment to the party when the media brought to light his connections with some dubious business concerns late last year, leading to an official probe. Yet the RSS pushed for his re-election. Stiff resistance by party leaders like Lal Kishen Advani and Ram Jethmalani forced it to abandon him and agree to the election of former president Rajnath Singh.

The Gadkari fiasco has come on the heels of grave corruption charges against BJP leaders in Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka. In last year’s assembly elections, the Congress wrested power from the BJP in Himachal Pradesh. Chhattisgarh and Karnataka go to the polls this year.

The BJP is in serious trouble in Karnataka, the only southern state where it is in power. Last year it eased out Chief Minister BS Yeddiyurappa, who had led it to victory in the state five years ago, following allegations of corruption. He has now floated a regional party, styled as Karnataka Janata Party, and is posing it a grave challenge.

The party faces dissension also in Rajasthan, another state where elections are due this year. A section of the central leadership wants to bring former chief minister Vijayaraje Scindia to the fore once again but there is strong opposition to her from within the state party.

Modi enjoys wide support among Hindutva elements, but his projection as prime ministerial candidate is sure to meet with strong opposition from sections within the BJP and the NDA in view of his alleged association with the anti-Muslim riots of 2002. The Janata Dal (United), the second largest NDA constituent, has repeatedly said that he is not acceptable.

The opinion poll also offers the BJP cause for despair. While it forecasts a rise in the NDA’s Lok Sabha strength from 159 to 203 and fall in the UPA’s from 259 to 157, the combined strength of other parties will go up from 125 to 183. It is they who will decide who should form the government.

The others are an odd assortment of small national parties with scattered pockets of influence and regional parties which are powerful in their respective areas. The leaders of some of these parties are known to have prime ministerial ambitions but the post-election scenario is likely to reduce their choice to one of going with either the Congress or the BJP. The moot question is who will be the beneficiary of their pragmatic approach. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 29, 2013.

28 January, 2013

Witch-hunt of human rights defender who has been exposing corruption

The following is a document circulated by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

Troubled with the tireless struggle of Ms Madhuri Krishnaswami and her Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangthan against corruption and exploitation of the marginalized sections in the area, the district administration has launched another attack on her.

In a later written to the Divisional Commissioner that found its way to the Chief Secretary of the state, the District Magistrate has accused Madhuri and the organization of having links with Maoists and of inciting the local people against the state. Ironically, the absurdity of the charges is exposed by the sheer fact that the police refuses to buy any such allegations and, in fact, the Inspector General of Police, Indore range, has categorically denied the presence of any Naxal activities in the area. Clearly, the District Magistrate has levelled these charges with some ulterior motives.

This is not the first time that Madhuri and the organization have been targeted by the administration. They have been facing a relentless witch-hunt ever since they took up the task of exposing massive corruption in the area run by the nexus of locally entrenched politicians with the administration.  The organization's continuous struggles against massive corruption in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has drawn the wrath of such interests in particular as the organization has managed to not only expose massive corruption amounting to more than Rs 150 crores but has also got the Central government to intervene in the issue, thereby upsetting the powers that be.

The organization had also relentlessly fought against the delays in the payment of MNREGA wages and has affected the supply of poor, desperate labour to the locally powerful people. But perhaps more than all this, what troubles the administration and the vested interests the most is the sense of entitlement and right the organization has been successfully instilling in the minds of Adivasis and thus destabilizing their complete control over their lives and labour. The Adivasis in the area, unlike on the past, now make their own decisions and have the courage to refuse to get exploited.

It was in this context that the district administration served an externment notice on her in May 2012 only to hastily retreat. It, however, kept conniving to silence her voice. The organization, however, kept fighting and exposed how the Management Information System (MIS), the most important tool to ensure transparency in the implementation of the scheme, was not being updated on the website as is mandatory and this was the reason behind the Ministry of Rural Developments' decision to stop funds till at least 60 percent of the MIS is updated. The ministry had ordered a probe sending its own team and this has irked the administration and the local interests even more.

The JADS had also exposed how the administration and local interests were siphoning off funds from the MNREGA by doctoring muster rolls. They found even the dead listed, and paid, in the muster rolls. Instead of taking action on such concrete evidence put forward by the organization, the state tried to derail the struggles by holding back the expenditure accounts of previous installments and telling the activists that the work-wise expenditure accounts are not maintained by the administration and that these will have to be collected from the panchayats and other agencies.

The administration's anger against the organization resulted in open assaults on Madhuri and others. One of the most recent incidents took place in October 2012, when JADS' peaceful rally of Adivasi women was violently attacked by goons led by the local Bhartiya Janta Party MLA, followed by illegal detention of the women, and not the perpetrators, by the police. The State Human Rights Commission had taken suo moto notice of the detention.

In this context the recent attack assumes immense significance. It is not merely an attack on an individual or an organization but an example of the current regime of persecuting even democratic dissenters with fabricated charges and scuffling all voices of resistance. Unfortunately, such persecution of Human Rights Defenders, as we have seen in the case of Dr. Binayak Sen, is becoming a norm than the exception and should be culled immediately if India wants to call itself a democracy.

This case assumes further significance for the fact that the District Magistrate is acting in his official capacity of being a public servant and is trying to "frame an incorrect document with an intent to cause injury" to the Human Rights Defender in question. Section 167 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 qualifies such actions as "whoever being a public servant, and being, as such public servant, charged with the preparation or translation of any document frames or translates that document in a manner which he knows or believes to be incorrect intenting thereby to cause or knowing it to be likely that he may thereby cause injury to any person." Such an offence calls for an imprisonment, if punished for 3 years or with fine or with both.

Further, Section 193 of the Penal Code prescribes punishment of 7 years imprisonment and fine for a government servant who intentionally gives false evidence or fabricates false evidence for the purpose of being used in any stage of a judicial proceeding. It has to be assumed that the letter allegedly written by the District Magistrate to the Chief Secretary is with an intention to charge the Human Right Defender in question on fabricated charges of anti-state activities. Section 211 mandates that whoever with the intent to cause injury to any person institutes or causes to be instituted any criminal proceeding against that person or falsely charges any person with having committed an offence, knowing that there is no just or lawful ground for such proceedings or charge against such person to be punishment that may extend to 2 years or with fine or with both.

The letter written by the District Magistrate to the Chief Secretary could be used for the initiation of a criminal case against the Human Rights Defender in question. In such a case the District Magistrate's action of writing an official letter to the Chief Secretary accusing the Human Rights Defender in question of being engaged in anti-state activities without even offering an opportunity to the accused to defend her case amounts to intentional misuse of public authority.

24 January, 2013

Civil Society activists endorse Shinde's statement on Hindutva terror

A host of civil society activists have come out in defence of Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde's statement on the terror links of Hindutva organizations and called for effective action against communal elements.

The following is a statement issued by Asghar Ali Engineer, Mahesh Bhatt, Praful Bidwai, Sandeep Pandey and others:

We the undersigned are concerned by the developments in Andhra Pradesh following the alleged hate speech by Mr. Akberuddin Owaisi recently. Many groups and organisations including many of the undersigned had condemned the speech and demanded action and also against members of some Hindutva organisations who were engaging in similar activities.

There were many instances of hate speeches and communal instigations by leaders and members of different communities in the past but the government had failed to take appropriate action in time and thereby encouraged such behavior by these divisive groups.

Even in the present case of the speech by Mr. Akberuddin Owaise, the government did not act immediately and when it did act, a number of Sections including a very grave charge under Sec.121 that deals with sedition against the state and can result in death penalty or life imprisonment were booked against him.  It is unwarranted to charge him under such very serious sections. Further, Mr. Asaduddin Owaisi, MP, has also been arrested in an old case dating from 2005 and his bail plea has been rejected twice.

The total silence of the government for years in these matters and the sudden action in bringing up old cases and slapping of serious charges, especially in the context of the recent withdrawal of support by MIM to the Congress Government in the State is sending a very wrong message to the people that this is going beyond the requirements of justice and is being influenced by vendetta politics.  The matter becomes more sensitive when they are representatives of the people elected through the democratic process.    

We urge that any action by the government in all such matters should be immediate, impartial and commensurate with the aberration committed, otherwise it will be seen as victimization, spread disenchantment within the affected communities, polarise people and could result in social unrest and violence.

Hence, in the interest of justice and prevention of further polarisation that could have disastrous consequences for social stability and proper inter community relations, we urge the government to desist from any actions that appear vindictive and unjust or directed only against a particular community and undertake all and only such actions that are impartial and appropriate to secure justice. All people, irrespective of the community to which they belong would also welcome and endorse such actions and there would be no danger of any social disenchantment.   

Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer- Mumbai
Mahesh Bhatt- Mumbai
Praful Bidwai- New Delhi
Dr. Mazher Hussain- Hyderabad
Dr. Ram Punyani- Mumbai
Javed Anand- Mumbai
Jeevan kumar- Hyderabad
Dr. Sandeep Panday- Lucknow
Irfan Engineer- Mumbai
Bro. Verghese- Hyderabad
Jatin Desai- Mumbai
M.J. Vijayan- NewDelhi.

The foillowing is a statement issued by Manisha Sethi, Shabnam Hashmi and others:

While one may or may not agree with the terminology employed by the Home Minister in his recent speech at Jaipur, we feel that for long prejudice has ruled investigations, obscuring the role of organizations and their multiple affiliates in planning and executing of attacks and bombings in the country. The veneer of 'nationalism' -- narrow, exclusionary and based on hatred for minorities as it is-- cannot hide the violence that Sangh and its affiliates beget and peddle. 

Civil rights groups have been arguing for long that the investigations into bomb blasts and terror attacks have degenerated into communal witch-hunts. Bomb blasts are followed predictably by mass arrests of Muslim youth, raids in Muslim-dominated localities, detentions, arrests and torture; media trials, charge sheets and prosecution based on custodial confessions and little real evidence. It has been assumed, and accepted widely, that no further proof of guilt need be offered than the fact that the accused belonged to a particular community. Leads which pointed to the hands of groups affiliated to Sangh organisations and their complicity in planning and executing acts of terror were ignored, never seriously pursued. The agencies, showing their abject bias, instead chose to pursue the beaten track of investigating Islamic terrorist organizations such—despite clear evidence pointing in the opposite direction. This was true of Nanded blasts in 2006, as well as of Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif bombings.

The only exception was Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare, who had, as far back as 2008 conclusively brought into the public domain the nefarious designs of Abhinav Bharat and its foot soldiers of hate: (Sadhvi) Pragya Singh of the ABVP, serving army officer Col. Purohit, and Sunil Joshi, Indresh and Swami Aseemanand belonging to the RSS. Karkare had communicated to the Hyderabad Police the sensational claim by Col. Purohit that he had procured RDX from an army inventory when he was posted in Jammu and Kashmir in 2006. The Hyderabad Police however ignored his messages, having already detained close to 70 youth belonging to the Muslim community.
We demand that:
·         Although the Indian government has belatedly acknowledged the heinous terrorist acts of the Sangh groups we feel that a genuine probe must also perforce encompass a thorough enquiry into the terror nexus straddling Abhinav Bharat, RSS, VHP, BJP and Bajrang Dal leaders together with sections of the Indian intelligence and security agencies who deliberately subverted the probes as well as the due process of law.
·       It must also be investigated whether the network of Hindutva terrorists have been provided not just political but also financial and logistical support by various governments
·         There must be a thorough investigation into the foreign sources of funding of the Hindutva organizations.
We hope that the acknowledgement of Hindutva terror will not remain a statement only but that the investigations will be seriously and sincerely pursued. 

1.      Manisha Sethi, Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association
2.      Shabnam Hashmi, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD)   
3.      Mahtab Alam, People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL)
4.      Mansi Sharma, Activist, Delhi   
5.      Subhash Gatade, Activist and Author, Godse's Children: Hindutva Terror in India
6.      Rajeev Yadav, Adv. Mohd. Shoaib and Shahnawaz Alam, Rihai Manch, UP
7.      Amit sen Gupta, Senior Journalist, Delhi
8.      Abu Zafar, Journalist, Delhi
9.       Harsh Kapoor, South Asian Citizens Web
10.   Seema Mustafa, Senior Journalist, Delhi
11.  Ram Puniyani, Activist and Author, Mumbai
12.  Sukumar Muralidharan, Senior Journalist
13.  Syed Zafar Mehdi, Journalist
14.  Dr. John Dayal, All India Christian Council
15.  Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, JNU
16.  Navaid Hamid, Member, National Integration Council, GoI
17.  Prof Anuradha Chenoy, JNU
18.  Saba Naqvi, Senior Journalist, Delhi
19.  Wilfred Dcosta, Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)
20.  Harsh Dobhal, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)
21.  Kavita Krishnan, All India Progressive Women Association (AIPWA).   

Niloufar Bhagat writes:

 I endorse the statement of the Union Home Minister . The truth is never defamatory, as the organizations resorting to terror did so in the name of Hindutva. It is time a spade is called a spade as it is every day for more than a decade the media and the Sangh Parivar among other organizations and parties have fed us stories about Jehadi and Muslim Terror and continue to do so through the corporate controlled media, and were not sued for defamation when an entire cultural and religious group was being defamed nationally and internationally , yet sweeping generalizations were made . Similar sweeping generalizations were made regarding " Sikh terrorism".
 The objective was political diversion .and divide and rule by projecting the Muslims as the real enemy when in fact global financial forces in league with comprador sections of the Indian Corporate Sector closely allied with  the corporate media were controlling the country and camouflaging policies , privatizing several sectors including health care and education and profitable public sector undertakings  , taking over land of the peasantry and the tribal people , among other policies  as a consequence of which financially once again the country is facing a downhill situation as the global recession and collapse of erstwhile financial centers was deliberately camouflaged by more than one political alliance .
 Jt. Commissioner of Police Mr. Hemant Karkare with his brilliant investigations exposed the real conspirators and terrorists, who are politically fascists , for which he paid with his life , we need  to honor his memory by an annual national lecture on issues vital to our Republic by  a foundation to be constituted , a fitting memorial .
Aseemnanda's Judicial Confessions which were made before a  Judicial Magistrate and cannot be retracted disclose a great deal among other investigations .
Mr. Chidambaram was similarly harassed for exposing these forces . We may disagree with these individuals on other issues ,however when they speak up in the country's interest we support them and when they fail to protect the weak and innocent  castes and classes in our society we must condemn them .
No organization which uses and misuses the religious card is acting in the interest of the country . This is true of the pre-partition period and true now. It must not be forgotten that the Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League had alliances in Bengal and Sind during the pre-partition period .
The real agenda is development , what kind of development and the priorities  ,in terms of people, classes and sectors and the issue of economic , political and social justice for all weaker sections and for society as a whole.

22 January, 2013

Threats to peace process

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The boom of guns across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir last week, which left two soldiers dead on either side, and aroused passions — more in India than in Pakistan — revealed the precarious nature of the slow-moving peace process between the two countries.

The war the two countries fought soon after they emerged as free nations in 1947 had ended in a United Nations supervised ceasefire. The UN Military Observer Group, set up at that time, still exists but India stopped dealing with it after the two countries committed themselves in the Shimla Pact to resolve all issues through bilateral talks.

The LoC has undergone changes after every India-Pakistan conflict. What now prevails is the line that emerged after a bitter battle fought on the icy heights of Siachen in 2003. Exchange of fire across the LoC takes place from time to time, and when that happens army officers usually meet and sort out issues.

This time things took a different turn. Two Indian newspapers, citing intelligence sources, indicated that the Indian side may have provided the provocation by constructing new observation posts, in violation of the ceasefire terms, to prevent infiltration.

According to these reports, Pakistani soldiers fired warning shots. A Pakistani soldier was killed when Indian troops returned the fire. In a retaliatory raid, the Pakistanis killed two Indian soldiers. Pakistan lost a second soldier subsequently in firing from the Indian side.

The public was outraged by reports that the bodies of the two Indian soldiers were mutilated and that one of them was decapitated. Although the two sides regularly demonise each other, such barbaric conduct by the forces, both of which are descended from the British Indian Army, has been rare. Some Indian commentators suggested that non-state actors with ties to a section of the Pakistan army may have committed the brutality.

Shrill cries from a professionally weak section of the electronic media and strident calls by opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders for a strong response put the Indian government under considerable pressure. However, it did not allow the tragic event to derail the peace process.

Veteran BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee was the prime minister at the time of the Siachen conflict. Both before and after the fighting he had talked to president Pervez Musharraf, who, many believe, had plotted it, to put relations between the two countries on an even keel. Since his retirement the BJP has been without a leader with comparable qualities of statesmanship.

As the LoC flare-up continued, India and Pakistan went through the diplomatic routine of summoning each other’s envoy and conveying protests but the governments tried not to allow the situation to get out of hand. Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, in a reference to the decapitation, said “we cannot and must not allow escalation of the unwholesome event” and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar reciprocated the sentiment. “I think that is the right way to go,” she said.

However, the Pakistan army forced closure of trade across the LoC in the Poonch sector and ignored an Indian proposal for a flag meet at brigadier level. The Indian air force chief hinted that his men were ready to play a role, as during the Siachen conflict, if the situation along the LoC did not improve. On Sunday, the guns still boomed but hopes of defusing the situation arose with the Pakistan army agreeing to a flag meet on Monday. Hours before the meet the Indian army chief did some tough talk.

Advice tendered by strategic experts of the two sides reveals sharp differences in perception. A former chief of India’s external intelligence agency, while stressing the need to continue the dialogue process, has called for covert action to put pressure on Pakistan. A retired Pakistani brigadier, writing in a newspaper, has advocated disengagement from the western border, making peace with internal elements like the Pakistan Taliban and the Baloch militants, and refocusing on the eastern (Indian) border.

The Pakistani terror attack in Mumbai had briefly interrupted the peace process. Members of a Hindu terror module involved in several explosions, including one in the India-Pakistan Samjhauta Express, are now in custody pending trial. The presence, on both sides, of powerful players who, for their own reasons, do not want the peace process to succeed makes it imperative for the two governments to maintain constant vigil. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 15, 2013

Old party, young leader

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Given the Congress party’s dynastic tradition, the formal installation of 42-year-old Rahul Gandhi, great-grandson of the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in the line of succession last weekend, signals nothing new. It merely confirms that he ranks next only to his mother and party president, Sonia Gandhi, in the party hierarchy.

There is, however, significance in the timing of the event. Until now Rahul Gandhi had resisted pleas by partymen to assume new responsibilities in the party and the government. By giving in ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections, he has become the party’s chief campaigner. He also becomes the natural choice for the Prime Minister’s post, replacing Dr Manmohan Singh, who is 80, if the party is in a position to lead a third successive coalition government.

Gandhi was made the party’s vice-president by the All India Congress Committee at a special meeting at Jaipur, which came immediately after a two-day brainstorming session where selected leaders discussed the current national situation and the strategies to be adopted in the parliamentary elections.

He has been in Congress politics since 2004, when he was elected to the Lok Sabha, where he has kept a low profile. Last year he oversaw the party’s Assembly election campaign in Uttar Pradesh, the original base of the Nehru-Gandhis, but failed to lift it up from the fourth position to which it had slid as the BJP, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party overtook it in the state, which sends 80 members to the 543-member Lok Sabha.  Since he has not made an impact on the poll front, the Opposition tends to underestimate his leadership qualities. The Congress’s main rival at the national level, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has written him off as a non-starter. BJP leaders who believe they have a winning prime ministerial candidate in Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi consider him no match for their man, who has three successive Assembly election victories to his credit.

Such assessments are coloured by wishful thinking. While personalities do matter, in a parliamentary set-up things do not work out in the same way as in the presidential system. Howsoever much the BJP may try, it cannot turn the elections into a Modi vs Gandhi contest.

Congressmen credit Gandhi, who, as general secretary, was in charge of the party’s youth and student wings, with having revitalised them by restoring a semblance of democracy by providing for direct election of state presidents, giving up the practice of nomination.

Addressing the AICC after taking over as vice-president, Rahul Gandhi made an emotional pitch, which evoked a favourable response. He said many good things about the party and the government it heads. He also had some not-so-good things to say about both.

He drew attention to the inherent weaknesses of the organisation and suggested that it still manages to win elections because it represents the DNA of India.

Some of his remarks have relevance not just for the Congress party but for the entire political spectrum. For instance, he spoke of corrupt people talking about eradicating corruption and people who disgraced women in daily life talking about women’s development.

He projected himself as a harbinger of change by denouncing the centralised and unaccountable system of government and calling for shifting decision-making from Delhi to towns and villages. Some party leaders immediately used these statements to cast him in the Obama mould. The fact is that system change is a slogan that has been heard in India since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, who repeatedly dwelt on the need to transform the administrative system evolved by the colonial rulers to make it a fit instrument for a democratic society. However, neither Nehru nor his successors could accomplish the task.

The BJP spokeswoman was not far wrong in saying Rahul Gandhi spoke as an opposition leader.

His speech as well as the Jaipur declaration adopted by the AICC indicate that the party will strive to attract the growing urban middle class whose dissatisfaction with the party and the government have often found expression in social networks and erupted into street protests recently.

Ahead of the Lok Sabha poll, Rahul Gandhi’s leadership will be put to test in the Assembly elections in eight states this year. About half of them are states where the Congress and the BJP are the main contenders for power. The outcome of these elections will not tell us what 2014 holds in store. Who leads the next coalition government will be determined essentially by a host of regional parties. Rahul Gandhi’s ability to deal with them remains untested. -- Gulf Today, January 22, 2013.

09 January, 2013

Communal violence in Dhule and other places in Maharashtra condemned

The following is a statement issued by a group of prominent citizens condemning the communal violence at Dhule and other places in Maharashtra:


The recent communal violence in Dhulia leading to the death of five people and injury to nearly 160 others is a matter of great shock and pain. The small incident of payment of hotel bill was used to instigate violence leading to mayhem, destruction and deaths. .Another petty incidence was also used in Akot town a couple of months ago to unleash violence in which many shops belonging to minority community were burnt. Similarly in Raver the skirmish between two communities led to violence.

We have seen the most tragic violence after the demolition of Babri mosque. Then the series of bomb blasts and riots all over the country from which our secular fabric has still to recover fully. Unfortunately, Maharashtra has suffered many a communal disturbances in these past two decades in places like Jalna, Parbhani, Malegon and others. Even 65 years after independence, our democracy seems to have failed our women and our minorities on whom violence in different forms is unleashed regularly with omissions or commissions of the state machinery. The biased role of police on most of these occasions is a matter of further worry. Communal violence is a bane of our society and is adversely affecting not just the minorities but the very progress of our country adversely.

Communal elements are trying to strengthen themselves through these activities. One is also fearful that these communal elements are stepping up their efforts as a prelude to the forthcoming elections of 2014.

While condemning these senseless acts of violence, we appeal to people to avoid provocation by communal elements. There is a need to set up Mohalla committees and increase intercommunity interactions at all levels. The prevalence of myths and biases against the ‘other communities’ has also to be overcome. The Government has to take urgent steps to ensure that the communal violence is prevented in future. The steps to sensitize the police; through workshops, lectures and literature of communal amity has to be undertaken on urgent basis.The Government should also urgently bring in the Communal Violence (Prevention) Bill as suggestd by NAC after suitable modifications and implement it as soon as possible.

We urge upon the State Government to ensure immediate and impartial action to bring the situation under control, establish fast track courts to punish the guilty and initiate long term measures, including sensitisation of the police, to prevent recurrence of riots.

Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, Mumbai
Admiral L. Ramdas- Mumbai
Mahesh Bhatt- Mumbai
Ram Punyani- Mumbai
Irfan Engineer
L.S. Haredenia- Bhopal
Dr. Mazhar Hussain- Hyderabad 

08 January, 2013

Taking the glitter off gold

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Indian government is eager to check the people’s hunger for gold as large-scale import of the precious metal is upsetting its efforts to hold down the current account deficit (CAD), which represents the gap between the value of imports and exports.

Early last year the government had doubled the import duty on gold to four per cent after the CAD rose to a record 4.2 per cent of GDP, pushed up by gold imports of $50 billion. Following this, gold imports declined: in the first quarter of 2012, they were 18.4 per cent less than in the corresponding period of the previous year and in the second quarter 30.3 per cent less. In the third quarter, imports registered an increase of nine per cent but there was no increase in 2012 as a whole.

However, the government worried since a mid-year appraisal showed the CAD had risen to 4.6 per cent of GDP in the first half of the fiscal and that gold imports of $20.25 billion were a major contributory factor.

Thanks to investment inflows — $12.8 billion in foreign direct investment and $1.7 billion in foreign institutional investment — the government could manage the CAD without dipping into the foreign exchange reserves. In fact, there was a marginal increase of $40 million in the reserves. Yet policy-makers agonised over the fact that if only gold imports had been halved the increase would have been more than $10 billion.

The United States topped the 2012 World Gold Council (WGC) table of holdings of countries with a massive hoard of 8,133.5 tonnes. Germany, with 3,396.3 tonnes, was a distant second. India was at the 11th place with 557.7 tonnes.

In private gold holdings, India led the rest of the world. The WGC estimated early last year that Indian households held 18,000 tonnes of gold. Later in the year it revised the figure to 20,000 tonnes of gold, valued at $1.16 trillion. This is equal to two-thirds of GDP and more than 70 per cent of market capitalisation of India’s listed shares.

The WGC estimates of non-governmental holdings do not include the gold content of the vast treasures of religious institutions. The enormous wealth hoarded by Hindu temples in the northern parts had attracted looters from across the border in the medieval period. Until recently the Venkateswara temple at Tirumala in Andhra Pradesh, which possesses gold, coins and other valuables worth Rs320 billion, was believed to be the richest shrine. It lost the honoured place recently when some vaults of the Padmanabhaswami temple at Thiruvananthapuram, capital of Kerala, opened on court orders, revealed a dazzling collection of gold and other valuables. Some observers believe its assets may be worth Rs1.2 trillion. How much of it is in gold will be known only when an inventory which a team of experts is preparing is ready.

India’s infatuation with gold has a long history. There was a continuous flow of gold into the country through trade surpluses until the 17th century, when colonial plunder began. As economic uncertainty gripped the society, the appeal of gold as a means of ensuring security grew. Apart from economic factors, cultural and religious traditions also drive the demand for gold.

The government wants to take away the glitter of gold with a view to depressing demand and reducing imports.

Last year the Reserve Bank of India, the central bank which supervises monetary affairs, set up a working group to ascertain whether large-scale gold imports are a threat to external stability. It was also asked to look into the working of non-banking finance companies, which lend against gold, and check if they posed a threat to the financial system.

The working group saw no systemic issues but recommended dematerialisation of gold. It proposed that gold-backed financial instruments be designed to reduce the demand for gold. Its recommendations are now in the public domain and the RBI has given the public time till January 18 to respond to them.

The government is keen to give effect to its proposals. Its stance can be seen in the context of the current push for economic reform. The WGC has been asking countries hit by the economic downturn to use a portion of their gold reserves to back sovereign debt. With WGC support Indian corporate giant Reliance has drawn up a plan which offers people the opportunity to accumulate physical gold using a daily price averaging methodology. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 8, 2013.

02 January, 2013

Life and Times of a Journalist

The Scribe Remembered: N. Gopinathan Nair, His Life and Times (Janayugom Gopiye Orkumbol) edited and published by K. Saradamoni; 2012; pp. 482; b&w plates 14, colour plates 10; Rs 450, US $ 25; ISBN: 978-93-5087-055-6

A few years ago the editor of an English language newspaper claimed he was the second most powerful man in India. Such exaggerated claims define the character of celebrity journalists today. When a media superstar writes the story of his life, it turns out to be a contemporary history of India. But journalists of the old school, like old soldiers, simply faded away without telling their story even when there was much to say. The Scribe Remembered, put together by the immediate family, provides an account of the life and times of one such journalist.

N. Gopinathan Nair was active in English and Malayalam journalism and the book, appropriately, is bilingual. It has three parts: one outlines the story of his life, another presents recollections of his friends and colleagues, and the third features his selected writings.

Gopinathan Nair belonged to a generation that grew up in the closing stages of the freedom struggle and set its sights on the task of economic liberation that lay ahead of political liberation which was at hand.  He saw communism as the end and journalism as the means to achieve it. After a short spell in the Indian Express at Madras, he returned to Kerala and joined the staff of a Malayalam newspaper. Motivated by the Communist Party of India leader M.N. Govindan Nair, who was underground at the time as the party was banned, he, along with a few like-minded youths, launched Janayugom, a political weekly, from Kollam to propagate the ideals of the movement, with himself as the Editor. It was later made into a daily and became the official organ of the CPI.

Departing from the tradition set by Deshabhi-mani, the party’s newspaper in the Malabar region, Janayugom, under his leadership, eschewed political jargon and used simple and direct language. This made it possible for the paper to gain wide acceptance beyond the party ranks and make a substantial contribution to the party’s growth in the Travancore region and its coming to power through the ballot box in Kerala in 1957, a year after it came into being under the scheme of linguistic reorganisation of States.

In 1962 Gopinathan Nair moved from Kerala to New Delhi and from Malayalam journalism to English journalism.  It was a critical period in the country’s history with the China border coming alive and Right-wing elements challenging the Nehru Government. When Aruna Asaf Ali and Edatata Narayanan, who were already publishing a Left-wing weekly, Link, started Patriot, an explicitly pro-Left daily, he joined its founding team. The newspaper, priced low to be within the reach of the lower middle class, quickly became the third most widely circulated daily in the national Capital. However, aberra-tions in the newspaper’s labour policy prompted Gopinathan Nair and some others to quit. He later worked with the United News of India.

He was a frequent contributor to Mainstream, the Left-wing weekly founded by Nikhil Chakravartty.  Even when he was away from Kerala, he closely followed developments in the State, which was making the transition from being one of the poorest in the country to one of the richest. A few articles reproduced in this volume bear witness to his deep understanding of the economic and political complexities of the State, which has always presented paradoxes. As the land reform measures, initiated by the first Communist Government in 1957, became a reality more than a decade later, he wrote enthusiastically about the transfer of ownership of land from feudal and religious elements to the tillers, paving the way for fundamental changes in the social structure.  Writing in the Mainstream Annual of 1975 he drew attention to the “cancerous growth of religious revivalism, superstition and intense communalism that is eating into the vitals of this so-called enlightened and Left-oriented State”.

Gopinathan Nair was one of the earliest to point out that Kerala’s land reforms were not succeeding. A 1987 article he co-authored with his wife, Dr K. Saradamoni, who, incidentally, has edited this commemorative volume, contains this critical observation: “According to Marxist understanding land reforms can only be the first and basic step towards restructuring of society. Increase in agricultural production should be an essential follow-up of successful land reform measures. But in spite of their good record of implementation of land reforms, the Communists in Kerala are now confronted with a paradox: declining agricultural production, particularly food.”

He was an affable person, and a valuable feature of the book is the section where friends and colleagues recall his qualities. As one of the contributors puts it, he was quiet but not timid; his mild exterior concealed a steely mind. A news agency colleague notes that he never allowed his personal likes and dislikes to colour his reports. Not surprisingly, some of them dwell on the striking contrast between the kind of journalism to which he was committed and its present-day variation. Truly, the book evokes pleasant memories of an era of journalism which, alas, is no more. (Mainstream, VOL L, No 51, December 8, 2012)

01 January, 2013

Attitude towards tragedy: A tale of two democracies

Exclusive to The Gulf Today
BRP Bhaskar

As the year 2012 ended, millions of Indians were mourning a young woman whom few of them ever saw. They knew neither her name nor what she looked like. Yet they had accepted her as a sister or daughter in distress and prayed for her — alas, in vain — as she bravely battled with death after being gangraped and brutalised in a bus in New Delhi.

Doctors at the hospital where she was first admitted said they had never seen a patient in such battered condition before. Her valiant struggle against heavy odds won headlines on news channels and newspapers for days together, but the media kept her name out even when it became known, with scrupulous regard for the law that prohibits identification of rape victims.

Even without a face and a name, she came to symbolise Indian women seeking a just place in the society. As people identified themselves with her, the state was gripped by a siege mentality.

The gangrape took place immediately after the United States was shaken by the shootout at Newtown, Connecticut, where a man killed his mother and then went to the elementary school where she taught and mowed down six other teachers and 20 children. Both were senseless crimes, and united the people in grief — and possibly anger and shame too.

The similarities end there. One occurred in the nation’s capital, the other in a small town with barely 500 families. One was a sex crime, the other a massacre. The starkest contrast, however, lay in the way administrations in the two countries responded to the tragedy.

One was open and empathetic, the other was secretive and betrayed a sense of guilt.

Within hours of the shootout the White House said President Barack Obama, as a father, felt enormous sympathy for the affected families.

He told the Governor of Connecticut he would have every single resource that he needed to investigate the heinous crime, care for the victims, and counsel their families. He was seen fighting back tears as he addressed the nation.

Obama visited Newtown within three days, met the victims’ families privately and spoke at a candlelight vigil in the school where teachers and children were killed. He ordered that flags be flown at half-mast, and a day of national mourning was designated.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not associate himself with the popular sentiments as protests continued for several days and the police kept pushing the demonstrators away from New Delhi’s Central Vista where the president’s mansion, Parliament House, the Secretariat and major government departments are located. When he spoke, it was too late and too little.

The police in the capital is directly under the central government, and outside the control of the Delhi state government. The chief minister, who belongs to the Congress, disapproved of the police’s handling of the protests. When Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde spoke, it was mainly to defend the police conduct.

The protest was largely peaceful but small groups did attempt to break the police cordon.

A policeman collapsed at the protest site and died in a hospital later.

The government said protesters had beaten him up but its version was disputed by an eyewitness who had provided the cop first aid.

The rape victim died in a hospital in Singapore, where she was flown in an air ambulance secretly in a move which many doctors believe was taken on other than medical grounds.

Her body was flown to Delhi at night and cremated early in the morning. Police barred access to the place to all except her close relatives. The prime minister and Congress President Sonia Gandhi were at the airport to receive the body but there was no official mourning.

The media is trying to use the heightened awareness of gender issues, generated by the tragedy, to push for some long-delayed laws. The real problem, however, is not absence of laws but lack of enforcement.

The nation gives the appearance of going through a process of catharsis, but so far there is no sign of the public outcry and media glare making a difference to the ground situation. Politicians continue to make sexist remarks, and crimes against women continue to be reported daily.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 1, 2013.