New on my other blogs

"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


24 March, 2015

Problems of affirmative action

BRP Bhaskar

The Supreme Court recently struck down the Centre’s decision to place the powerful Jat community of northern India in the “Other Backward Classes” category to make its members eligible for reservation in the services and in educational institutions. The decision was taken by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government last year with an eye to the Lok Sabha poll.

Also last year the Congress-led government of Maharashtra, through an ordinance, gave the powerful Maratha community of the state and the Muslims reservation of 16 per cent and five per cent respectively. The Bombay high court, acting on a writ petition, stayed the decision, pending detailed scrutiny. The BJP-led state government, which came to power last October, scrapped reservation for Muslims but retained it for the Marathas.

Reservation in educational institutions and government service for socially disadvantaged communities, introduced by Shahuji Maharaj, who was Maharaja of Kolhapur from 1900 to 1922, is the first known instance of affirmative action in the world. Under pressure from the South Indian Liberal Federation, better known as the Justice Party, the British introduced reservation for non-Brahmins in the Madras presidency. Princely states like Baroda, Mysore and Travancore also took affirmative action.

Initially the beneficiaries of reservation were determined solely on the basis of caste since social disabilities were a direct consequence of the caste system. The Constitution adopted after the country became free limited such privileges to Dalits and Adivasis. Two Brahmin petitioners from Madras challenged reservation for non-Brahmins in the court on the ground that it is against the equality provision of the Constitution. The Supreme Court upheld their contention. Thereupon the Centre amended the Constitution to permit special provisions for socially and economically backward classes of people.

Successive governments at the Centre and in most northern states took no steps in pursuance of this provision until Prime Minister VP Singh decided in 1989 to grant 27 per cent reservation to other backward classes (OBCs) on the basis of the Mandal Commission report, which had been gathering dust for a decade. The decision led to widespread protests by students belonging to the so-called upper castes and the BJP brought the government down by withdrawing its support.

The Supreme Court upheld the extension of reservation to OBCs. It frowned on caste-based reservation but said caste could be a factor in determining the backwardness of a group. While deciding other related cases, it set a 50 per cent ceiling on reservations and ordered exclusion of the creamy layer, comprising second generation of families which have benefited from reservation and families with incomes above a prescribed limit.

There are no data to determine the level of backwardness of any group. Since collection of data on caste was stopped after the 1931 census, even the number of persons belonging to different caste groups is not known. Following widespread demand, the UPA government ordered a caste count but its results have not been published.

In the absence of reliable data, it has been easy for leaders of caste organisations, which serve as vote banks, to make exaggerated claims either to secure benefits for themselves or to deny them to others. The grant of reservation to Jats, who are a major force in the politics of half a dozen states, and to Marathas, who have dominated Maharashtra politics since the state’s formation in 1960 and provided more than half of its 18 chief ministers, are examples of wrong decisions taken to appease large groups.

While reservation has helped disadvantaged groups to move forward, few communities have reached the level where they can do without the crutch. The primary responsibility for this rests on the lack of sincerity of the bureaucracy, which is still dominated by erstwhile caste supremacists.

In Tamil Nadu, where reservation has been in force for nine decades, Dalits have made remarkable progress by taking advantage of reservation in educational institutions, but intermediate castes which have achieved a dominant position through the anti-Brahmin Dravidian movement are denying them a legitimate share in the power structure.

The Judiciary is one limb of the state which has not come under the affirmative action regime. Some of its decisions have attracted criticism from supporters of reservation policy.

There is a legitimate fear among the forward castes that the beneficiaries of reservation may seek to perpetuate it. The remedy for the problem lies in gathering hard data periodically and progressively reducing the reservation quota of each beneficiary group in keeping with the social and educational progress it has achieved. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 24, 2015.

17 March, 2015

Coal block corruption

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A Delhi special court last week asked former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to appear before it next month, along with industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla, to answer charges of conspiracy and impropriety in coal block allocations. Is this a case of upholding the majesty of law? Or is it one of judicial activism? Time alone can tell.

The coal scam came to light three years ago when the Comptroller and Auditor General reported that during 2004-09 the government had allocated coal blocks to various companies without competitive bidding. He estimated that the government’s inept handling gave the companies an estimated windfall gain of Rs10,673 billion. He later scaled down the figure to Rs1,856 billion.

The first Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was in power at the time and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself was in charge of the Coal ministry for a while. Acting on a complaint filed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, then in the opposition, the Central Vigilance Commission directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe the matter. The CBI registered first information reports against a dozen companies and, apart from company officials, some officers, including Coal Secretary PC Parakh, were cited as accused.

Last year the Supreme Court ordered the setting up of a special CBI court to hear the coal scam cases and appointed a special prosecutor to conduct them. It also cancelled all but four of the 218 coal blocks allotted since 1993, covering the periods of Prime Ministers PV Narasimha Rao (Congress), AB Vajpayee (BJP), and HD Deva Gowda and IK Gujral (both Janata Dal).

The CBI was on the point of closing the case relating to Hindalco Industries Limited and its chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla when special court judge Bharat Parashar asked it to record the statement of Manmohan Singh, who was holding charge of the ministry when the company was allotted coal block. Accordingly, CBI officials interrogated him at his residence and filed a status report.

Former CBI director RK Raghavan said the judge’s order reaffirmed the position that a Prime Minister – in office or outside – had no immunity from criminal prosecution. That a Prime Minister is not above the law was established years ago when Narasimha Rao faced three criminal cases, all of which were conducted by the CBI. Trial courts acquitted him in two cases for want of evidence. In the third, relating to bribing of MPs to buy support for his minority government during the voting on a no-confidence motion, the trial court found him guilty and sentenced him to three years’ rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs100,000. On appeal the high court set aside the conviction.

While the principle of supremacy of law has thus been asserted, there is room to doubt the reliability of the legal processes.

Created in 1963, the CBI traces its origin to the Special Police Establishment which India inherited from the British regime. It established an early reputation with its success in some sensational cases in which the role of the state police was suspect. However, in sensitive cases, like the Bofors scandal of Rajiv Gandhi’s time, it too failed miserably.

In 2013, on finding that the CBI had amended a coal block case affidavit at the instance of the Law Minister, Justice RM Lodha of the Supreme Court dubbed it “a caged parrot”. The court thereafter took certain steps to help it to function without political interference. However, few believe it is now a free bird.

There is something curious about the coal block cases. The CAG only accused the government of inefficiency. He did not allege corruption.

The conspiracy charge levelled against Manmohan Singh rests on the CBI report about a meeting between him and Birla before his firm was allotted the coal block. Neither the CAG nor the CBI has suggested that Manmohan Singh derived financial benefit from the allocation or that there was any quid pro quo.
Former Confederation of Indian Industry president Adi Godrej expressed surprise at the citing of Manmohan Singh and Birla as accused on the basis of their meeting. “It is not uncommon for senior industrialists to meet a minister or even the Prime Minister when an important matter needs to be discussed,” he said in a television interview. “If you keep summoning everybody as an accused, businesses will get disheartened and wouldn’t want to invest in the country.” --Gulf Today, March 17, 2015.

10 March, 2015

Rape film touches a raw nerve

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The cry of a young woman who fought back a gang of sexual predators in a Delhi bus on a cold night two years ago is reverberating throughout the world again, thanks to an hour-long documentary.

News reports of the gangrape outrage in India prompted Leslee Udwin, maker of the award-winning British film East is East, which deals with the life of South Asian immigrants in London, to confront her own past. A rape survivor, she had kept her teenage experience a secret and harboured a sense of guilt for decades. She came to India to find an answer to the question why men rape. The documentary, “India’s Daughter”, is the result of her effort.

The film was to be released on BBC 4 and the Indian channel NDTV 24x7 and shown at various other countries on March 8, International Women’s Day. Clips from the documentary and news reports about its contents alarmed the Narendra Modi government, which is already having an image problem. A commercial rival of NDTV launched a virulent campaign against the documentary, and the government, in a kneejerk response, banned the documentary without even seeing it.

On a plea by the government, a Delhi court issued an injunction restraining channels and websites from showing the film, also without seeing it. The BBC responded by telecasting the documentary immediately. Within minutes it was on YouTube too.

Bowing to the Delhi court order and BBC’s copyright claim, YouTube blocked the film but it kept reappearing as intrepid Netizens kept posting it again and again.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh asked the External Affairs Ministry to alert Indian missions abroad to prevent the exhibition of the film in other countries. Few foreign governments obliged.

As it happened, the government could scuttle only the NDTV telecast. The channel left the screen blank during the hour set for the telecast.  

The documentary divided Indian political parties and civil society.  The government described the documentary as part of an attempt to tarnish India’s image. It said the interviews with the accused and their lawyers included in it were objectionable as the legal processes in the rape case were still not over.

Kavita Krishnan, Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association, who is one of the persons Leslee Udwin interviewed for the film, rejected the government’s arguments for banning the film but said it did not address the problem of rape culture. A group of women activists, led by well-known lawyer Indira Jaising, while opposing the ban, wanted its screening to be delayed until the legal processes are completed.

The public outrage over the gangrape had forced the government to refer the case to a fast-track court. Within nine months of the crime, four accused were sentenced to death. This was a record in rape trials. The high court disposed of the convicts’ appeals in just six months, which, too, was a record.

Fast-tracking ended there. The convicts’ appeals against the high court judgement confirming the death sentence have been pending before the Supreme Court now for a year.

The argument that telecast of the film before completion of the legal processes may prejudice the rights of the victim and the convicts is based on a sound principle. However, it is disingenuous to suggest that it may influence the Supreme Court, which has stated that pendency of a matter is no bar on intellectual debate.

The anti-women statements of Mukesh Singh, an unrepentant convict, and ML Sharma and AP Singh, the defence lawyers, in the documentary touched a raw nerve. All three blamed the victim for her tragic end. Singh said on camera that he would burn his daughter alive if she had sex outside marriage.

The Bar Council of India has asked Sharma and Singh to show cause within three weeks why disciplinary action should not be taken against them for their misogynistic remarks.

Official statistics show that sex crimes are on the rise and the state is failing to send the culprits to jail. Rape cases in Delhi shot up from 706 in 2012 to 1,646 in 2013 and more than 1,789 in 2014, molestation cases from 727 to 3,515 and to more than 3,674, and lewd taunt cases from 236 to 916 and to more than 1,092. Courts returned a guilty verdict only in 6,892 of the 25,386 rape cases decided in India in 2013.

“Our heads hang in shame,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a Women’s Day speech. That statement explains the government’s ham-handed efforts to ban the documentary.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 10, 2015

05 March, 2015

Western media's doublethink on crimes against women

Reproduced below (in italics) is a message I received today from a former media colleague, who is now working abroad, in the context of the controversy generated by the BBC documentary ‘India’s Daughter’:

Look at it from the perspective of global media. Why wouldn't the BBC do a similar interview with a British rapist? One of these men could be fitting subject:
Or they wouldn't have to go far for this:

They could go the US and do an interview with a college rapist. The most dangerous place for a woman is not the streets of Delhi, but US college campuses. One in five women students are raped during their college career.

When US media -- and activists -- denounce India as a society of violence towards women, what they are trying to do is divert attention away from the US situation to India (and make themselves feel better by venting against Indians). After all, the college rapists are not hoodlums from the ghettos, but the brothers, sons, nephews and cousins of the media and social elite and their friends and house guests. Would they, in any case, want to taint with a broad brush the student population made up of people like their own.

Street harassment of women is quite widespread in the US, too.
But does the western media treat it the way they do harassment in India?

And US politicians? Todd Aiken, a US Congressman said there are legitimate rapes.

Richard Mourdock, a Republican Senate candidate, said that rape and rape-induced pregnancies are part of God's (I presume he means the Abrahamic God) plan.

(No, they didn't belong to an Indian Khap Panchayat but were members of a mainstream US party -- not even on the fringe, but with wide party base.)

Indian media and civil society have done an excellent job of covering and violence against women in their society. Can that be said of the US media and civil society -- if you compare them to their attitudes towards similar problems in the US and in India, and how they and Indian media cover and condemn the issues in their respective countries.

When was the last time an Indian newspaper wrote a caustic editorial on rapes on US campuses or British rapes of children?

I am not denying the problems and in no way suggesting that they be hushed up -- the very active Indian media and civil society do an excellent job. I can't but notice, though, that western media is just trying to avoid criticizing their own by turning attention away from them. They don't need to raise conscience on this, when Indian society is doing a better job.

I am fully in agreement with my friend’s assessment that the Indian media has a better record of addressing the issue of crimes against women than its western counterparts. That, however, should not blind us to the fact Indian society is far more impervious to the idea of gender equality than western societies.

I have no hesitation to admit that, in my judgment, there is a good side to western media intrusions like ‘India’s Daughter’, whatever their motive. It is that they often handle the issue more professionally than our media.

As for the western media’s tendency to ignore similar developments in their own countries, the answer is to develop non-western international media institutions which will, hopefully, redress the imbalance. 

The chart below shows that the national outrage of December 2012 did not lead to a fall in the incidence of sex crimes in Delhi. On the contrary it shot up. 

Obviously we needed to be reminded of that horrendous crime, and the unchanged mindset of the criminals and their political and legal defenders. The BBC documentary has done that.  

03 March, 2015

Final call for Congress party

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who led the Bharatiya Janata Party to a sensational victory in last year’s parliamentary elections, frequently talks of a Congress-free India. Since the Congress, which the BJP has pushed down to the second place, still has the widest national reach, its disappearance may weaken the democratic character of the polity.

The standard bearer of the freedom movement, the Congress was in power at the Centre and in the states, at the dawn of Independence. It has been going downhill for several decades now. Unless it reinvents itself and regains lost ground, it may soon be a party of the past.

Of the 10 largest states, which together account for nearly three-fourths of the population, only one, Karnataka, is under Congress rule now. The BJP wields power in four – on its own in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat and in alliance with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

Regional or state parties are in power in the remaining five states – Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, Trinamool Congress in West Bengal , Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh.

The Congress has not been in power in Tamil Nadu since 1967, in West Bengal since 1977, in Uttar Pradesh since 1989, in Bihar since 1990 and in Gujarat since 1995. In all of them, except Gujarat, it has slid to the third or fourth position, with no sign of recovery.

After 1990, the Congress has formed the government in Madhya Pradesh only once and in Rajasthan twice.

The BJP and the Congress are the main contenders for power in these states. With Modi breathing new life into his party, the Congress’s prospects appear bleak.

In the Delhi assembly elections, the fledgling Aam Admi Party showed that the BJP is beatable. But, then, it also showed that the Congress is more vulnerable to attack than the BJP.

Political pundits attribute the Congress’s plight to its dependence on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Dynastic succession was broken when former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Italian-born wife Sonia refused the party’s nomination as his successor on his assassination. She stepped in several years later under pressure from leaders to rescue the party from the mess in which Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and Congress President Sitaram Kesri had landed it. The party needed the family more than the family needed it.

Aided by the sympathy wave generated by Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the Congress mopped up 47.6% votes and came to power in 1991. Narasimha Rao’s scandal-ridden regime pulled its vote share down to 28.8% in 1996. In the next elections in 1998, it fell further to 25.8%. With 25.6% votes, the BJP secured more seats than the Congress, and the National Democratic Alliance, which it led, came to power.

After the NDA’s five-year stint, Sonia Gandhi led the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance to power, and nominated Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister in deference to the sentiments whipped up by the BJP against a person of foreign origin assuming the top post. She held the party together but failed to revitalise it and shore up its base. Most of her advisers were leaders with no popular support.

Her son, Rahul Gandhi, who entered the Lok Sabha in 2004 and was made party general secretary in 2007 and vice-president in 2013, was initially a reluctant heir. He has been widely derided as a lacklustre leader but party men who have known him well affirm he has leadership qualities and sound understanding of issues. Last week he went on two weeks’ leave, leading to speculation that he is sore at having to share the blame for the party’s reverses even though effective control over still vests in his mother.

The Congress’s vote share, which hovered between 25% and 29% in the five Lok Sabha elections held between 1996 and 2009, fell to 19.3% last year and the party’s strength in the house dropped to 44. It is clearly on the edge of the precipice. When its votes in the Delhi assembly elections fell from 40.3% to 24.6% in 2013 it was reduced to the third position in the house and when it fell further to 9.8% it was wiped out altogether.

Since Sonia Gandhi has had health problems lately, the Congress will do well to settle the succession issue early. Whatever Rahul Gandhi’s weaknesses, at present there is no one in the Congress who has a wider national appeal than him. There are Congressmen who consider his sister Priyanka Vadra more charismatic than him but her entry is bound to raise questions about her husband’s reported land deals which the party, already seen as corrupt, will find highly embarrassing. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 3, 2015.