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

29 May, 2014

Irom Sharmila's Open Letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Dear Honourable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modiji,

A hearty congratulation from a young woman demanding for Right to Life under the Constitution of India to the newly elected Prime Minister of India!

First of all, I seek your pardon for any lack of etiquette in addressing you as the Prime Minster of India. I, Irom Sharmila Chanu, the lone hunger striker for repeal of the AFSPA, 1958 from the whole of areas in the country that come under the purview of this act, would like to draw your kind attention to my humble appeal for getting, the innocent people numbering around 4 Crores, free from the injustice, meted out by the Parliament of India.

Why should the Indian Parliament treat us, the inhabitants of the North East Region of India differently from the rests of people in different states of India at large by declaring our region as disturbed areas, under which the Constitution provides, the Armed Forces, even to the rank of a Havildar, the power to kill with full impunity, torture and rape anyone on mere suspicion of being an insurgent in their eyes? Why should so many women be exposed helplessly to their sexual pleasures? Holding with such Licence to kill under the AFSPA, 1958, the Government of India has been committing thousands of the killings and enforced disappearance of innocent people over the last few decades. This has resulted into same number of surviving widows and thousands of lamenting parents for their love ones leaving behind thousands of women headed families!

The Chiefs of the Indian Army remain strongly against the repealing of the AFSPA only because they are too scared and insecure in their movements without excess power provided by this Act. As the consequence of their barbaric acts towards the innocent people, who are considered inferior and wild stupid beings in their eyes, and are very likely to retaliate suddenly and stealthily against the inhumanness of the Indian Armies, out of rage amongst the masses. With such mindset of the army chiefs’ tactics of controlling the insurgency and upholding AFSPA in the north east states of India and the state of Jammu and Kashmir has only been helpful in begetting more and more insurgent parties in the long run. I consider, the only solution to the liberation or separation movements in the north east region of India will be none other than changing of the mindset of the mainstream masses and power holders in politics at large to stop discriminations and step-motherly treatments meted out to at the looks of Mongoloid features.

Please, do provide us with the basic right of being a human so that we can live with self-respect and dignity. Under the disturbed areas status the State has exploited our tourism industry by restricting any tourist from abroad which should provide us large income in exchange of our traditional manual products with which we would also expand our knowledge and horizons from such interactions with advanced countries of the world.
Please don’t see me as a supporter of any insurgent party by the only notion of the way I protest against. Instead, please do see me as conscientious human being who doesn’t want to have a permanent home and food nor adopt any particular religion or citizenship like the birds in nature so that I am accessible, wherever and whenever needed. I want to wonder around in the world as long as my body and soul are in union. And, I want nothing from this mundane earth, except enjoying the feeling of Importance with my birth as a rational, social animal to the following generation after my departure from the world, In that case, the future generations who would be born after me and whose knowledge about my living past would also be from the history, only will surely be want to transform the bad side of my own being into good, owing to the glory of my good actions of which I had meted out during my living space In this world.

Do prevail over the nation with the practice of nonviolence under your leadership and ensure democracy takes roots in the country by repealing AFSPA from the whole areas inhabited by around 4 Crores of people in the North East and elsewhere. Crores of rupees which is allocated every year to eradicate insurgency can be utilized productively for the uplift of the poor peasants who feed the Crores of Indians by transforming all the armed recruiting centres and barracks in every nook and corner of our states into fertile paddy fields that once it were for the farmers so that we can live a contented and peaceful lives. Now, that you are not only the head of the State but popularly elected leader by the whole of the nation for a change, holding with the greatest power to command in your hands. Like the enlightened emperor Asoka of KaiInga after witnessing the huge devastation with heaves of deaths and lamentations that prevailed over the whole land as a consequence of historic battles, do rule your nation with the weapon of Ahimsa so that you may reap only with peace and love of your peoples to allay the fears of Anti-Modi groups since the incidents of Godra in 2002 and transform them into your beloved friends for a peaceful and vibrant society.

At my personal level, your historic victory over the recently concluded Parliamentary election and your becoming the Prime Minster of India was also envisioned in my dreams, nearly 5 years back in 2009, when I saw you standing few metres apart right in front of me with smile. I waited for this day to see you in that position, today. It has been dream fulfilling for me also.

In those very days, I knew nothing about you except with a notion of a violent leader. But, recently after hearing from the Newspapers of your pronouncement as the Prime ministerial candidate of BJP in the 16th Lok Sabha election, I did recollect myself of my past dream of your standing before me and sharing the dreams with my near and dear ones, here. So, we were hopeful and prayed for your victory. Now, it turns out that the dreams were a prophecy that came true in your assuming the highest post of the State. I now count the days of my freedom with the repeal of AFSPA, 1958 with your efforts in the Parliament. So, do be the omnipotent leader who eventually breaks my fast of 14 years by repealing the Act. You’ll be blessed by the souls of those innocent people who are no more and millions of young people like me and my intimate friends who wish to lead protected life by the law of the land with dignity or let us gain Nirvana from this crazy world of power abuse of the mundane world and liberate our souls from the body that enjoy No Right to Life guaranteed under the Constitution of the country. The choice is in your hands under your able leadership.

Thank you for your kind attention.

With utmost regards

Irom Sharmila Chanu
Imphal Central Jail

27 May, 2014

Modi reinvents himself

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised foes and friends alike by turning his swearing-in ceremony into an occasion to celebrate democracy and promote goodwill among South Asian nations.

For the first time, India invited the heads of governments of its partners in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to the swearing-in of a prime minister and all of them responded positively. As it happens, all Saarc countries now have elected leaders although some of them have seen violent changes of government in the past.

The Indian media has given Modi the entire credit for creating history, but Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif is also entitled to a share. He had invited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to attend his swearing-in last year. Singh did not go. While congratulating Modi on his election victory, Sharif extended an invitation to him to visit Pakistan. Modi decided to invite Sharif and the other Saarc leaders to his inaugural.

Media reports have suggested that the Pakistan Army did not favour Sharif’s India visit. His brother and Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, met Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and impressed upon him that the visit would be beneficial.

Several civil society groups urged Nawaz Sharif to accept the invitation but Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, vehemently opposed it and held a big protest rally in Islamabad. India has identified Saeed as the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. The UN has declared JuD a terrorist front and the US has put a price of $10 million on Saeed’s head.

On Friday, the Indian consulate at Herat in Afghanistan had come under terrorist attack. It did not prevent President Hamid Karzai from joining the Saarc get-together in New Delhi. According to Pakistani reports, the Herat attack strengthened Sharif’s resolve to visit India.

During the election campaign, Modi had repeatedly castigated the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government for being soft towards Pakistan. Supporters who expected him to take a hawkish line on Pakistan could not easily reconcile themselves to the swift transition from street-fighter to statesman.

Uddhav Thackeray, leader of the Shiv Sena, which is the BJP’s largest partner in the National Democratic Alliance, could not fully reconcile himself with Modi’s new avatar. He said he expected Modi to press the nuclear button if Pakistan did not change.

The Shiv Sena has resorted to violent agitations in the past in protest against Pakistani cricket team’s visits to India.

Dharmawati, wife of Hemraj, an Indian soldier who was beheaded by Pakistani soldiers near the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir last January, said at Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, that she would be on fast while Sharif remained in India.

A financial newspaper suggested that the motive behind Modi’s gesture to Pakistan was not desire for peace but desire to do a good turn to the Adani Group, which financed his election campaign. It said the Adanis want to export to Pakistan the bulk of the power from the 10,000 megawatt thermal station they are setting up in the Kutch district of Gujarat.

The invitation to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa angered the government and people of Tamil Nadu, where there is considerable sympathy for the island’s Tamil minority. Leaders of the BJP’s allies in the state went to New Delhi and pleaded for withdrawal of the invitation. Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa stayed away from the swearing-in ceremony and political parties of the state staged protests to coincide with it.

Rajapaksa, in an attempt to mollify the Indian Tamils, asked CV Vigneswaran, chief minister of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-speaking Northern Province, to join him on the India trip. Not wanting to annoy his Indian supporters, Vigneswaran refused. However, Jaffna’s Tamil Mayor, Yogeshwari Pathkunarajah, joined Rajapaksa’s delegation.

Modi took the opposition to Nawaz Sharif and Mahinda Rajapaksa in his stride. His gesture brought immediate gains from Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the form of release of fishermen jailed in these countries for alleged intrusion into their territorial waters.

Some social network users are not impressed with Modi 2.0. They see the Goa police’s case against a young man for an anti-Modi Facebook post and the Karnataka police’s case against five Muslim students for circulating an anti-Modi SMS as early indications of what life in the Modi era will be like. Modi has no direct connection with the cases, both of which are based on private complaints, the first by a pro-BJP businessman and the second by an activist of unclear political affiliation.. .

It is, of course, too early to draw conclusions about Narendra Modi’s prime ministership. He hasn’t been in office for 24 hours yet. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 27, 2014.

20 May, 2014

Will India get Modified?

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today
 
The question who rules India having been answered conclusively, another crops up: what kind of prime minister will Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi be?

When pollsters forecast a majority for the National Democratic Alliance, led by the BJP, in the new Lok Sabha the Congress thought they would be proved wrong, as on previous occasions. As it happened, the NDA and the BJP did better than the pollsters said they would.

Since the BJP secured a comfortable majority on its own, it does not need the support of even its pre-poll allies to form the government. But Modi has said they would be associated with the administration. He has gone one step further and said he wants to carry everyone with him on the development journey.

The BJP registered its spectacular victory by trouncing the Congress in the states where the two parties are in direct confrontation. In some of them it made a clean sweep of all seats. In the largest state, Uttar Pradesh, where the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party had earlier pushed it down to the third place, it made a remarkable recovery and picked up 71 of the 80 seats, as against a mere 10 it held in the outgoing house. In the large southern and eastern states, regional parties checkmated it but they could not deny it a small presence.

The BJP’s unprecedented performance dashed the plans of leaders like Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who were hoping to be kingmakers or even claim the crown for themselves.

Development was the main text of Modi’s election campaign. It also had sub-texts such as uniform civil code, ending the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and building a Ram temple at the Babri Masjid site. The text aimed at consensus building. The sub-texts sought to keep the Hindutva flame alive.

The best part of the election outcome is that Modi is in a position to provide a stable administration. The worst part is that there is no strong opposition. Since the Congress strength is less than one-tenth of the membership of the house, its leader does not qualify for recognition as the Leader of the Opposition. Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee are planning to join forces to claim that post.

Modi still bears the stigma of the anti-Muslim riots that Gujarat witnessed in 2002, although a Supreme Court appointed investigation team said there was no prosecutable evidence against him. Last Friday, while the votes were being counted and he was racing to victory, the Supreme Court acquitted six persons who had been charged by the Gujarat police and convicted by a lower court in connection with a terror attack. It observed that Modi, as Home Minister, had sanctioned their prosecution without application of mind.

Some riot and fake encounter cases are yet to reach the concluding stage. Even if they cause some embarrassment, the prime minister is likely to emerge unscathed.

Two vastly different images of Modi, based on different narratives, are available. Admirers look upon him as a visionary who can lead India to its destiny as a world power. Detractors regard him as an exponent of the Hindutva ideology which divides the society on religious lines. The two give rise to diferent possibilities, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Hero or villain, Modi holds a valid mandate to govern. Early indications of how he uses it hold out hope. In sharp contrast to the harsh attacks on the Congress, especially its President, Sonia Gandhi, and Vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, during the campaign, after the election he has spoken of the need for healing and for revival of the spirit of bipartisanship.

He will soon have before him IOUs from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which played a critical part in the BJP’s choice of him as its prime ministerial nominee, and from the captains of industry who financed his expensive election campaign. How he deals with them will decide the nature of his administration.

Impressive as Modi’s mandate is, it has been won with a minority of 31 per cent votes. If he wishes to carry everyone with him, he has to be mindful of the sentiments of those who did not vote for the BJP or its NDA allies.

The Lok Sabha majority has its limits. The Hindutva agenda cannot be pushed through without amending the Constitution, and the BJP does not have the two-thirds majority required for the purpose. Even to pass an ordinary law the BJP will need the support of other parties as it lacks a simple majority in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 20, 2014.

13 May, 2014

All over bar the shouting

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With the last batch of 41 constituencies in three states going to the polls on Monday, the long-drawn-out voting process in the general election has been completed. All that now remains is the counting of votes, scheduled for Friday, and the shouting.

Leaving the keenest, bitterest and dirtiest campaign behind, the nation is awaiting the answer to the question who will form the next government — the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance which ruled during the past 10 years, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance which was in power for six years previously or a third force comprising small national and regional parties as on a few occasions earlier occasions.

The BJP ran a no-holds-barred campaign under Narendra Modi, whom its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, had picked as the prime ministerial candidate. A critical element in its strategy was the generation of a Modi wave with the help of groups adept in traditional and new media marketing techniques.

It believes the strategy worked. In the closing stages of the campaign, Modi referred to himself as the next prime minister. However, the decision to keep NDA’s doors open to newcomers indicates the BJP is not sure of getting 272+ seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha.

The Congress, carrying multiple burdens of incumbency, graft charges and dampening pre-poll survey reports, claims it is still in the reckoning. It believes small parties which can play a big role in a hung parliament will be willing to back it. But they want to cobble together a federal front and force the Congress to back them to prevent the BJP’s coming to power.

A realistic appraisal of the possible combinations must wait until the electronic voting machines yield their secret and the strength of the different parties in the new house becomes known.

While the poll process was on the BJP was able to woo back into the NDA some parties which were its partners during 1998-2004, like the Lok Janashakti Party of Bihar, the Telugu Desam Party of Andhra Pradesh and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Pattali Makkal Kachi of Tamil Nadu.

However, more powerful former partners like the Trinamool Congress of West Bengal, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of Tamil Nadu and the Biju Janata Dal of Odisha stayed away. Towards the end, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and AIAMDK leader J Jayalalithaa took a strong anti-BJP line with a view to reassuring their Muslim supporters and bolstering their position in the proposed federal front.

Modi set the tone and tenor of the campaign, which soon turned abusive, and leaders of other parties responded in kind. His prime targets were Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Priyanka Gandhi, who was chief campaigner for mother Sonia in Rae Bareli and brother Rahul in Amethi, described Modi’s politics as “neech” (meaning low), a term often used to denote those at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. Modi complained she had called him low-born. Mamata Banerjee called Modi donkey.

Television channels picked up every word that should not have been said. They played it repeatedly and took it up for discussion in the nightly shows.

The Election Commission too had a taste of Modi’s wrath. When it upheld the District Collector’s decision to deny him permission to hold a rally in Varanasi on grounds of security, he accused it of match fixing. A cartoonist presented the situation differently. He depicted Modi as a boxer who leaves his opponent and punches the referee. There were 8,163 candidates for the 543 seats, an average of 15+ for every seat. While the number of multimillionaire candidates rose from 1,249 in 2009 to 2,208, that of candidates facing serious criminal charges like murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and crimes against women jumped from 608 to 889.

The people, the parties and the Election Commission can pat themselves on the back for completing the process involving an electorate of 814.5 million more or less peacefully. So far the highest turnout in a Lok Sabha election was 63.56 per cent registered in 1984. This time, when eight of the nine phases were completed, the poll percentage stood at 66.27. It must have gone up further in the last phase.

The Aam Admi Party, which made its parliamentary debut with 427 candidates, holds out some hope for the future as it is the first secular national party to come up in a long time. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 13, 2014.

Follow on Twitter

06 May, 2014

Manmohan Singh's decade

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has said history will judge him more kindly than contemporary media, steps down later this month after having headed two successive Congress-led United Progressive Alliance governments.

He certainly has a place in history as the third longest serving of the 14 prime ministers who held office during the past 67 years. But his name is unlikely to be mentioned in the same breath as those of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, both of whom served longer than him.

Manmohan Singh was repeatedly put down by Lal Kishen Advani, the tallest leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in the outgoing parliament, as the weakest prime minister the country had seen. The BJP’s prime ministerial nominee, Narendra Modi, picked up the line early in the election campaign but dropped it soon, keeping all vitriol at his command for use against the “mother-son regime,” a term he employed to drive home the point that under the UPA all authority was vested in Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-President Rahul Gandhi.

Sanjay Baru, who had served as Manmohan Singh’s media adviser during UPA I, dubbed him Accidental Prime Minister in a book which was released as the election campaign got under way. It was an unkind cut inasmuch as Baru was fully aware of the fortuitous circumstances in which Manmohan Singh got the post when he went to work for him.

It is absurd to suggest, as some critics have done, that Manmohan Singh abdicated power to Sonia Gandhi. The fact is that power was always with her. She was the one who commanded the Congress party’s loyalty and she was its choice for the post of prime minister.

She decided not to accept the post because the issue of her foreign origin, which the BJP had been hammering on, had started echoing within the Congress too. A few leaders like Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar and former Lok Sabha Speaker PA Sangma had quit the party on the issue.

Manmohan Singh began life as an academic and spent two decades as bureaucrat, planner and monetary regulator before taking up his first political job as Finance Minister in PV Narasimha Rao’s government. In that capacity, he pushed ahead with economic reform, which was initiated by a previous government but was moving too slowly to make a visible impact.

With a crafty politician like Narasimha Rao backing him to the hilt, Manmohan Singh had no reason to worry over his own lack of political experience, and missed the opportunity to develop skills in that department. But the prime minister’s job is a political one. He needs political skills as he has to mediate between contending political, economic, social and cultural forces.

Manmohan Singh’s hope of a kind judgment by history rests on the good performance of the national economy under his watch. Last week, the World Bank’s development data group, which compares national economies on the basis of purchase power parity, reported that India, which was the world’s tenth largest economy in 2005, had risen to the third position by 2011.

Political failure was built into the circumstances in which Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister. Sonia Gandhi had picked him for the post, avoiding leaders with political experience who were available in the party. What appealed to her was probably not his economic expertise, which could be used to carry forward the reform process, but his political inexperience, which lessened the chances of his emerging as an alternative power centre in the party.

Staying put as prime minister for 10 years at a stretch can ordinarily be taken as implied proof of political skill. But, in Manmohan Singh’s case, it is only proof of his strong survival instinct. No one has accused him of personal corruption but he stands exposed as one who did nothing as ministerial colleagues indulged in questionable acts.

The civilian nuclear agreement with the United States was the only issue on which he displayed political grit. He could have his way on it as Sonia Gandhi was willing to go along.

As Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi was the repository of political authority during Manmohan Singh’s prime ministerial years. She, therefore, shares with him responsibility for the political mismanagement which provided Narendra Modi with the opportunity to argue that the country needs a Rambo-like prime minister.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 6, 2014.