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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


30 June, 2015

Good days are not for the poor

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Considering India’s huge size and the complexity of the problems it faces, it is not surprising that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not able to work wonders in his first year in office. However, there are disconcerting signs that if and when his promise of achche din (good days) is realised, the vast poor population may be left out.

According to the disparate opposition parties, several steps the government has taken in the name of speedy development are making life increasingly miserable for the poor, who number about 300 million.

They point out that the changes made in the land acquisition law to help industrialists will deprive a large number of people, especially the farmers, of their means of livelihood.

Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who has been in a combative mood since he returned from a holiday abroad, has dubbed the Modi government “anti-farmer” and “pro-industrialist”. He has made it clear that the party would put up stiff resistance against the government’s anti-poor policies inside and outside Parliament.

He has also said Modi is paying back the loans of the industrialists – an allusion to the huge contributions they made to the Bharatiya Janata Party before the parliamentary elections.

Similar sentiments have been expressed also by the two Communist parties and the Janata Parivar parties which are in the process of reunification, realising that they will be annihilated if they don’t come together.

The government, on its part, justifies the steps it has taken saying they are part of long-overdue reforms needed to accelerate economic growth. It claims these measures will lead to increased investment which in turn will generate new employment opportunities for the poor.

This explanation has not impressed even some of the government’s supporters. A few Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh affiliates have echoed the opposition’s view that the measures are inimical to the interests of the poor. The RSS leadership can be expected to restrain them.

Modi’s economic reforms framework is no different from what Manmohan Singh laid down as Prime Minister of the United Progressive Alliance government more than a decade ago. When popular mood was not supportive of reform measures, the UPA was ready to step back and wait for an opportune moment to go forward again.

It also made conscious efforts to soften the impact of reform measures by introducing welfare schemes to mitigate the plight of the poor. These included assured employment to poor villagers for at least 100 days in a year under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and supply of rice and wheat at subsidised rates under the food security mission.

MGNREGA uses the villagers’ labour to create rural assets. Several studies have shown that the law has benefited the poor immensely. Yet Modi ran it down in Parliament as a living monument of the UPA government’s failure. Mercifully, he said the scheme will continue.

Early this year Modi launched a scheme to help the girl child with the slogan “save daughter, educate daughter”. At the same time, his government cut the budget outlay of the Women and Child department from Rs 211.9 billion last year to Rs 103.8 billion this year. The worst sufferer is the department’s flagship Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). Its allocation has been halved – from Rs160 billion to Rs80 billion. Social activists fear this will put poor children at risk.

Modi is actually attempting to replicate at the national level the development model which he evolved as Chief Minister of Gujarat state. While his party has uncritically accepted his claim that it was a great success, independent studies tell a different story.

Hemantkumar Shah, Professor of Economics at Gujarat University, in a book titled “Sacchai Gujarat ki” (The Truth about Gujarat) says the state’s economic and human development parameters worsened after Modi came to power in 2001.

Citing data, he points out that the state recorded an annual average growth of 14.97 per cent during 1980-1990 and 12.77 per cent during 1990-2000. The national average for the period was 5.5 per cent. Between 2001 and 2011, the average growth rate fell to 9.82 per cent, which was just 1.26 percentage points above the national average.

The number of families below the poverty line in the state in 1999 was 2.6 million. A government advertisement early last year gave the number of BPL families as 4 million.

Ahead of its first anniversary, the Modi government launched three insurance and pension schemes. The schemes are being publicised through radio and television and government advertisements to create a pro-poor image. But the situation calls for a hard rethink, not an image makeover.

23 June, 2015

Forebodings of an emergency

BRP Bhaskar

Veteran Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Krishna Advani created a minor sensation last week by hinting at the possibility of another spell of Emergency in India. Forces wanting to crush democracy are strong and there aren’t enough safeguards to prevent an Emergency-like situation, he said.

Advani, who was Deputy Prime Minister in the first BJP-led government, is the seniormost among the old guard whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sidelined. His veiled warning came just days ahead of the 40th anniversary of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, when the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution remained suspended.

As it happened, as Advani spoke Modi was coping with the worst crisis since he took office in May last year with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia facing allegations of helping controversial cricket entrepreneur Lalit Modi (no kin of the Prime Minister) who is abroad and evading prosecution on money laundering charges.

Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is involved in a running battle with the Modi government, endorsed Advani’s assessment, and sought to portray himself as an early victim of the coming Emergency. Rashtriya Janata Dal chief and former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad said there was already an undeclared Emergency, with “authoritarian and Hitlerian tendencies prevailing in the country”.

The Congress did not comment on Advani’s reference to the Emergency but demanded the resignation of Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje Scindia.

Advani quickly toned down his remarks to spare the party embarrassment. He claimed the reference was to the Congress government’s Emergency rule of 1975-77.

When a reporter suggested that it might be taken as a message to Modi, Sonia Gandhi or Kejriwal, Advani said that would be a wrong interpretation. “I am not referring to any individual but to a fact that the fear of losing power can breed authoritarian tendencies.”

His explanation did not remove the suspicion that Narendra Modi was very much on his mind. “When you enter politics you get enormous authority and power. But my generation of politicians believed in humility, the kind of humility that (first BJP Prime Minister Atal Behari) Vajpayee practised,” he said. “Those who can’t be humble can’t serve the country.”

Sushma Swaraj is the only Advani protégé to get a respectable place in the Modi government. When media reports that she had helped Lalit Modi, who was in England, to travel to Portugal where his wife was undergoing treatment surfaced, she said she had acted on humanitarian considerations. Two facts cast doubts on that explanation. One is that her daughter was Lalit Modi’s counsel. The other is that she kept the Foreign Secretary in the dark about her intervention.

The Prime Minister and the other senior ministers initially remained silent. Then it came to light that Vasundhara Raje Scindia had earlier helped Lalit Modi on condition that her role will not be made public. Thereafter the party closed ranks behind Swaraj and Scindia.

While the damage has been contained the claim that the Modi establishment is scam-free has been breached. The issue may come back to haunt the government when Parliament reassembles.

There have been other developments which are forebodings of an Emergency. Attempts are on to strangle non-government organisations which are exposing human rights violations by starving them of funds.

Among the NGOs targeted by the government are two groups led by Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand whose dedicated efforts led to prosecutions in connection with some of the killings which took place in Gujarat when Modi was the Chief Minister and the India chapter of Greenpeace which has been spearheading campaigns against some mega projects which threaten the livelihood of thousands of poor villagers.

New rules framed by the government require NGOs who receive funds from abroad to undertake not to use the money for activities that are against “national public, security, strategic, scientific or economic interest” – terms broad enough to cover every human rights activity. They also enjoin upon banks to inform the government within 48 hours of every transaction made by the NGOs.

The regulations will cripple about 30,000 groups which are trying to protect the environment and defend human rights. Already the government has cancelled the licences of 13,345 NGOs.

The government has refused the Central Bureau of Investigation permission to prosecute Central and Gujarat state police officials involved in fake encounter killings.
There is a critical difference between Indira Gandhi’s Emergency and Modi’s undeclared one. The former was directed against the political opposition. The latter is targeted against civil society. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 23, 2015.

16 June, 2015

Challenges to federalism

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The feud between the Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the Central government, and the Aam Admi (Common Man) Party, which runs the Delhi state government, and the skirmishes between the Telugu Desam Party, which rules Andhra Pradesh state, and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which is in power in the recently created Telangana state, are sure signs of deterioration in India’s political climate.

The conduct of the constitutional authorities involved in the fracas poses threats to the future of democracy as well as the federal polity.

The trouble in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, which is not a full-fledged state, began as an ego clash between Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, both former bureaucrats.

Kejriwal had led the AAP to a massive victory in the Assembly elections last February, foiling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to bring Delhi state also under BJP rule. He believes the BJP is now seeking to rule the state using Najeeb Jung as proxy.

Relations between Jung and Kejriwal soured when the former appointed an officer of his own choice as the acting Chief Secretary, ignoring the Chief Minister’s wishes. Kejriwal retaliated by removing the officer who had issued the appointment order at Jung’s behest. Jung asserted that he alone was competent to appoint and transfer officers.

Throwing democratic niceties to the winds, the Centre endorsed Jung’s stand that he could act without consulting the elected government. The issue is now before the court.

Last week the Delhi police, which is under the control of the Lieutenant Governor, arrested State Law Minister Jitender Singh Tomar on a charge of using forged university degrees. If the arrest had not come in the wake of the battle between the Chief Minister and the Lieutenant Governor, it could have been viewed as an act in keeping with the principle that no one, howsoever high, is above the law.

Until recently the BJP was an ardent advocate of full statehood for Delhi. Its present stance shows that it is unwilling to forgive the AAP and the capital’s voters for dashing its hopes in Delhi and bringing the Modi juggernaut to a halt.

The trouble in the South is a fall-out of the division of Andhra Pradesh state, which had come into being in 1956 as the common home of the Telugu-speaking people who lay scattered in British Indian provinces and princely states during the colonial period. The Telangana state was carved out a year ago following prolonged agitation by people of the region, which was formerly part of the princely state of Hyderabad, alleging neglect by successive Andhra Pradesh governments.

Under the law enacted for the bifurcation, Hyderabad will serve as the capital of both Telangana and the residuary Andhra Pradesh state for 10 years. This arrangement was made to give AP time to build a new capital since Hyderabad is now part of Telangana. The two states also have a common Governor, who is in charge of law and order in the joint capital during the interim period.

A piquant situation arose when Telangana’s Anti-Corruption Bureau arrested A Revanth Reddy, a Telugu Desam Party MLA, on a charge of bribing a nominated member of the Assembly to vote for a TDP candidate in the Legislative Council elections. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao later released the tape of an alleged conversation between Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and the nominated member to show that he (Naidu) was aware of the bribery.

Naidu said the tape was a fabricated one. He accused Chandrasekhar Rao’s party of encouraging defections from the state unit of TDP. Workers of the TDP filed complaints at several places in Andhra Pradesh against Chandrasekhar Rao and the Telangana Home Minister on charges of tapping Naidu’s phone.

Any step taken by any government against corruption deserves to be welcomed. But the developments in Hyderabad have to be viewed in the broad context of attempts by the two regional parties which hold power in the neighbouring states to settle political scores. An ugly situation involving a serious challenge to the federal structure can develop if the two Chief Ministers persist in the present course.

The Constitution is resilient enough to deal with tricky situations. But it can work smoothly only if constitutional authorities rise above petty politics and display statesmanship when the occasion demands it. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 16, 2015.

09 June, 2015

A fraud on the Constitution

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

In a democracy, normally, the Legislature alone legislates. In India the Judiciary and the Executive also legislate.

The Judiciary’s power to legislate flows from a clause in the Constitution which says the Supreme Court’s decisions have the force of law. The court has, through judgments, written new laws and even made changes in the Constitution.

The Executive’s power to legislate is derived from the articles that authorise the President and the Governors of States to promulgate ordinances to deal with urgent matters when the legislative bodies are not in session. The President and the Governors are required to act on the advice of the council of ministers.

The Executive cannot make laws in the United Kingdom which has a parliamentary system, or the United States which follows a presidential system. Law-making by the Executive in India is a colonial legacy. The British-enacted Government of India Act of 1935 had a provision to that effect.

An ordinance issued during a recess of the legislature lapses automatically six weeks from the start of its next session unless replaced by a regular law. DC Wadhwa, former Director of the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune, while working on the issue of sugarcane production, discovered that since 1967 Bihar and some other states were reissuing ordinances repeatedly. An ordinance relating to sugarcane was kept alive in this manner for about 14 years without being placed before the legislature.

Over the years Bihar started relying primarily on the ordinance route. Between 1967 and 1981, the state legislature passed only 180 laws. The ordinance tally for the period stood at 2,014. As many as 50 ordinances were issued on a single day.

Wadhwa brought out his findings in a book titled: “Re-promulgation of Ordinance: A fraud on the Constitution of India”. He also took the issue to the Supreme Court.

Frowning upon Ordinance Raj, the court declared that re-promulgated ordinances could be struck down. However, it took an indulgent view of the government’s conduct. If there was too much legislative business in a session and a law could not be enacted to replace an ordinance, it could be re-promulgated, it said.

Governments continued to use the ordinance route with abandon. According to Shubhankar Dam of the Singapore Management University School of Law, the Centre promulgated 651 ordinances between 1950 and 2009, an average of close to 11 in a year. Of these, 177 were issued within 15 days before or after a Parliament session. Indira Gandhi nationalised 14 major banks through an ordinance a day before a session.

Ironically, abuse of the ordinance provision is as old as the Constitution itself. On January 26, 1950, the very day on which the Constitution came into force, Jawaharlal Nehru’s government issued three ordinances. Eighteen more followed during the year. GV Mavlankar, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, told him the house felt that it was being ignored, and resort to ordinances was not conducive to the development of the best parliamentary traditions. But the situation did not improve.

Nehru, who commanded the support of the majority in the two houses of Parliament, had no need to avoid them. His successors took advantage of the precedent he had set. Some of them headed coalition governments and were wary of facing the houses.

Charan Singh, who was Prime Minister for 170 days without having enjoyed majority support in the Lok Sabha even for a day, issued seven ordinances.

The issue of rule by ordinance came to the surface early this year when Narendra Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party commands a majority in the Lok Sabha but is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, issued eight ordinances in his first 225 days in office.

These included one for acquisition of land for industries, one for auction of coal blocks and one for allowing foreign direct investment in insurance. Failing to push through the land acquisition measure during the winter session due to the stiff opposition of the Congress and other parties in the Rajya Sabha, the government re-promulgated it after the house went into recess.

Government spokesmen justify re-promulgation of the ordinance on the ground that this was necessary to ensure continuity and move forward with the reform agenda. With farmers up in arms against the new law and several parties vowing to block it, the government is not in a position to put the measure on the statute book through the normal process and it is well aware of this. In these circumstances, re-promulgation of the ordinance is an act that falls within the purview of Wadhwa’s expression “a fraud on the Constitution”.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 9, 2015.

02 June, 2015

Academia’s meek surrender

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Political opposition and civil society have raised their voice against a perceived attempt by the Narendra Modi regime to impose its Hindutva ideology on institutions of higher learning. The real issue is academia’s readiness to surrender meekly to political masters.

The cause of the uproar is the decision of the elite Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (Chennai), to derecognise the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, a year-old campus forum that upholds the principle of social justice.

The action followed a complaint sent to the central government by casteist elements operating surreptitiously.

APSC bears the names of national Dalit icon BR Ambedkar (1891-1956) and Dravidian ideologue Periyar EV Ramaswamy (1879-1973), the foremost advocates of social justice in the last century. Additionally, Ambedkar is revered as the Father of the Indian Constitution.

After APSC marked its first anniversary in April with a lecture by a distinguished speaker on the contemporary relevance of Ambedkar, the Union Human Resources Development Ministry received an anonymous complaint levelling a number of allegations against it, including “trying to create hatred against the Honourable Prime Minister and Hindus”. An Under Secretary forwarded the complaint to the Director of IIT-M and sought his comments.

A week later the Dean of Students informed APSC that it had been derecognised and would not be allowed to use campus facilities for its activities.

Political parties condemned the action as a wanton attack on free debate in the campus. They pinned the blame squarely on the government. Demonstrations were held outside the residence of Human Resources Minister Smriti Irani in Delhi and near the IIT campus in Chennai.

IITs, set up under a scheme initiated by Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1950s, are supposed to be autonomous institutions. Their governing councils are headed by eminent persons. However, those in charge of the day-to-day administration look upon themselves as minions who must pay heed to the ministry’s wishes.

Customarily the government ignores anonymous communications. The complaint against APSC received attention because its contents were in tune with the thinking of the ruling establishment. Yet there was no directive to act against APSC. All that the government did was to seek the Director’s views on the complaint.

The IIT authorities used the occasion to demonstrate their loyalty to the masters in Delhi. They took punitive action against APSC without even giving it an opportunity to reply to the charges.

The views propagated by APSC are those that were articulated by Ambedkar and Periyar in their lifelong campaigns against casteism in Hindu society.

The move against APSC needs to be viewed against long-standing complaints of caste-based discrimination in the IITs.

IIT Delhi expelled 12 Dalit students in 2008 on grounds of low academic performance. Following the intervention of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, it revoked the expulsion of two students, making some relaxation in grade requirements, and appointed a committee to look into complaints of discrimination. The IIT later claimed the students did not place before the committee any case of discrimination, but the students said the committee did not entertain their complaints.

In a survey conducted among students of IIT Bombay, following the death of a Dalit student in mysterious circumstances last September, more than half of the Adivasi, Dalit and other backward classes respondents said they experienced discreet discrimination and were subjected to higher academic pressure than other students.

Ten years ago, IIT Madras had a faculty of 480 staff members, of whom 462 belonged to the advanced communities, prompting activists to characterise it as a Brahmin enclave. Ten Dalits, one Adivasi and seven OBC members made up the rest. In 2008, the government ordered reservation of 15 per cent of the faculty positions for Dalits, 7.5 per cent for Adivasis and 27 per cent for OBCs. The staff strength has now risen to over 500 but the reservation targets remain a distant goal.

MS Ananth, who became its Director in 2001, quit in 2011 following allegations of caste bias and corruption. Dr E Muraleedharan, an alumnus, said Ananth had denied him a teaching post because of caste bias. Dr WB Vasantha Kandasamy of the Mathematics department, who belongs to a backward caste, vigorously pursued the case of a Dalit candidate, SR Kannan, and foiled the bid to deny him a staff position.

In the process, Vasantha Kandasamy invited the ire of her superiors. She secured overdue promotions as Associate Professor and Professor only after a court battle that lasted 16 years. While deciding the case in her favour, the Madras high court ordered a CBI probe to determine the legality of all appointments made in IIT Madras between 1995 and 2000. The authorities appealed and got a stay on the probe order. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 2, 2015.