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

15 August, 2017

Rise of the nationalists in India

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

It was on this day, the 15th of August, 70 years ago that the British, unable to get the main political forces of their largest colony to come to an agreement, brought forth upon the subcontinent two states – Pakistan, conceived on the basis that the Muslims constitute a separate nation, and India, committed to the idea of common nationality of people of all faiths.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who had forcefully articulated the Pakistan demand, rejected arguments in favour of national unity based on the subcontinent’s common history. History may be the same but our heroes are different, he said.

What proved decisive in the end was not the soundness of the arguments of either side but the sick hurry of all concerned.

Britain, weakened by the war, was in a hurry to quit as it was in no position to hold on to the colony after the loyalty of the military became suspect. Soldiers who fell into the hands of the Japanese had joined Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army and naval personnel in Mumbai had mutinied after the war.

Jinnah, who was fighting a disease, was in a hurry as he feared the British might pull out without an agreement, leaving the Muslims at the mercy of the Hindu majority.

“Over my dead body,” Gandhi said when Britain announced the Partition plan but his lieutenants accepted it even as they continued to reject the two-nation theory. Some theorists have postulated that Jawaharlal Nehru and other senior Congressmen agreed to Partition as they were in a hurry to come to power.

But there were possibly other considerations too. If the British pulled out without waiting for an agreement, as Jinnah feared they would, given the prevailing highly charged communal atmosphere, a civil war was certain. The Congress, wedded to non-violence, was not equipped to face it.

The winners of the civil war would have been the extreme Right or the extreme Left. On the Right was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose chief had been advising the flock not to fight the British but conserve their energies to take on the “real enemies”, the Muslims and the Christians. On the Left were Communists who thought time was ripe for revolution.

While India and Pakistan inherited armies and bureaucracies with the same colonial traditions they moved in different directions. Jinnah’s death and Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination within five years of Pakistan’s birth paved the way for the emergence of the army and religious forces as political players.

Although Hindu fanatics eliminated Gandhi within six months of Independence, India did not slip into the hands of the army or religious forces, thanks to Nehru’s 17-year stewardship during which the country was set on the path of secular democracy.

In the early general elections, three parties subscribing to the Hindutva ideology challenged the Congress – the Hindu Mahasabha, the Jana Sangh and the Ram Rajya Parishad, the last two founded at the instance of the RSS. They hoped to benefit from the communal feelings generated by the riots of the Partition period but Nehru faced them frontally and beat them off.

It was only after the declining Congress, under his successors, went soft on communalism that the Hindutva forces were able to make headway. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was accused of appeasing Muslims in the Shah Bano matter, sought to overcome it by appeasing Hindu communalists. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao let RSS cadres pull down the centuries-old Babri Mosque to build a Rama temple.

The Jana Sangh was a part of the Janata Party cobbled together by freedom-fighter Jayaprakash Narayan to take on Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime. When Socialists raised the issue of RSS membership, the Sangh pulled out and started functioning under the name of Bharatiya Janata Party.

Since Narendra Modi led the BJP to victory in the 2014 elections, the RSS has been pursuing its concept of Hindu Rashtra (nation), which liberal opinion views as a kind of Hindu Pakistan, through a two-pronged strategy. While RSS affiliates indulge in violence targeted at Muslims and Dalits, hard-core leaders in the Central and state administrations have been pushing the Hindutva ideal in the guise of promoting nationalism.

Modi lacks a two-thirds majority in the two houses of Parliament, which is needed to amend the Constitution and declare India a Hindu Rashtra. But, then, much can be done without going through that formality. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 15, 2017.

08 August, 2017

A story of official callousness

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The long-running struggle by poor villagers displaced by the multipurpose Narmada Valley project has entered a new phase with the arrest of renowned social activist Medha Patkar and a few others who have staked their lives to pressure the callous administration to fulfil the promise to rehabilitate them.

The project, under which 30 major dams, 135 medium ones and 3,000 small ones, were to be constructed on the 1312-kilometre-long river Narmada, was one of the largest of its kind. It was promoted as one that will irrigate two million hectares of farm land and provide drinking water to 30 million people, besides generating electricity to meet the needs of agriculture and industry.

The biggest of the dams, Sardar Sarovar, was to be in Gujarat, which was the project’s main beneficiary. Successive governments of that state exerted considerable pressure on the Centre for its implementation, arguing it was necessary to irrigate the parched lands of Kutch and Saurashtra regions.

The promoters of the project hid the fact that it would inundate 37,000 hectares of forest and agricultural land in Madhya Pradesh and deprive hundreds of thousands of people, most of them tribes living in the forests, of their homes and livelihood.

Medha Patkar visited the project area in MP in 1985 to gather material as a research scholar. Moved by the plight of the people threatened by the project, she gave up her PhD ambition and committed herself to their cause.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement) which she founded has been spearheading the campaign for their rehabilitation since then.

During the last three decades the NBA mounted many mass agitations, and Medha Patkar undertook two indefinite fasts, one of which lasted 22 days, and fought a long court battle. They could not stop the project but they chalked up many victories not only for themselves but also for people elsewhere in the world who were under the shadow of mega dams.

Acting on Medha Patkar’s petition, the Supreme Court ordered that the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam must be raised in stages and that work on a new stage should be taken up only after rehabilitation of those affected by the previous stage was completed. It is another matter that the authorities circumvented this restriction by submitting false reports stating that the rehabilitation work had been completed.

In 1985 the World Bank agreed to provide $450 million towards the Narmada project’s originally estimated cost of $6 billion. After the NBA drew attention to the enormous social and human costs involved, it set up an independent committee, headed by former UN Development Programme chief Bradford Morse to review the project.

The committee said the project was flawed, resettlement of the affected people was not possible under the prevailing conditions and environmental impacts had not been adequately addressed.

Following this, the World Bank withdrew its offer of funds.

The NBA’s heroic resistance inspired groups in several countries to take a fresh look at big dam projects. This prompted the World Bank and the International Union for Conservation of Nature to set up the World Commission on Dams with a mandate to draw up comprehensive guidelines on dam building. Medha Patkar was a member of the committee.

Many of the fears voiced by critics when the mammoth project was taken up have proved to be true. The water flowing into Gujarat is used mostly in the southern regions, which already had the benefit of irrigation, and very little was reaching Saurashtra and Kutch.

Available data suggests that the benefits accruing from the project are not commensurate with the huge investment.

Recently the Centre permitted Gujarat to close the gates of the Sardar Sarovar dam. This will raise the water level in Madhya Pradesh and submerge the homes of an estimated 40,000 families in four districts of the state. The current agitation is to press for their rehabilitation.

Instead of approaching the issue from a humanitarian point of view, the state government let loose a reign of terror on the protestors. The police attacked and arrested school children who had come from different parts of the country to show their solidarity with the affected villagers.

Medha Patkar and her associates had decided to hold a rally at Rajghat where there was a Gandhi statue and a memorial to the Father of the Nation before beginning their indefinite fast on July 27. The police removed the statue and the memorial the previous night.

The Madhya Pradesh government’s representatives have met Medha Patkar in an effort to persuade her to end the fast. But they have not made any meaningful proposal regarding the rehabilitation of the affected villagers.

The state must realise that it is playing with the lives of people.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah. August 8, 2017

01 August, 2017

Gaining power by other means

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought India’s second largest state, Bihar, under his belt last week, 20 months after its voters had decisively rejected his Bharatiya Janata Party in the Assembly elections.

The Constitution provides for change of government through elections. But change of government can also result from realignment of parties in the legislature.

In its heyday, the Congress party had seized power in states on some occasions by engineering defections from other parties. Now Modi does it.

Bihar is the fourth state where the BJP seized power after losing the elections. The others are Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Goa, all comparatively small states.

In Arunachal Pradesh a majority of the Congress legislators broke away and joined first a regional party and then the BJP, making it the ruling party. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, who belongs to this state, is credited with masterminding the palace coup.

Though the Congress lost its majority in the Manipur Assembly in this year’s elections, it remained the largest party. But the BJP, which had fewer seats than the Congress, seized power by enlisting the support of the small regional parties. It justified the manoeuvre by pointing out that the electoral verdict was against the Congress, which was in power.

It conveniently overlooked this logic in Goa when it lost its majority in the Goa Assembly. Here, again, the Congress was the largest party but the BJP won the support of regional parties and seized power.

Political manipulations are not the only stock in trade of the BJP which has set its mind on acquiring the dominant position the Congress once held as the party that had spearheaded the freedom struggle.

Soon after Modi took office, government agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is entitled to look into corruption charges against public servants, the Enforcement Directorate, which has the power to investigate money laundering cases, and the Income Tax department, whose mandate is wide enough to track black money transactions, initiated investigations targeted at opposition leaders.

The agencies have not been able to pin any major crime on anyone yet, but reports indicate that some investigations are in an advanced stage. They include allegedly fraudulent transfer of the shares of the National Herald by Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her son and party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, and alleged money laundering by Karti Chidambaram, son of former Union Minister P Chidambaram.

It was a case registered by the CBI against Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav for allegedly accepting bribes for some deals of the time when his father and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad was the Railway Minister that presented Bihar’s Janata Dal (United) Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with the opportunity to break the alliance with the RJD and form a government with the BJP as the partner.

All the indicted leaders have denied the charges and claimed they are victims of political vendetta. Tejaswi Yadav has said he was a 14-year-old kid when he allegedly took bribes.

Nitish Kumar was heading a JD(U)-BJP government when the BJP chose Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. He broke up the coalition citing the communal carnage in Gujarat under Modi’s watch. He justifies his return to the BJP camp saying secularism cannot be a cover for corruption.

It is disingenuous to project the choice before India as one between corruption and communalism, which are not mutually exclusive anyway. Many BJP chief ministers have attracted charges of corruption. Modi himself is no paragon. He parted with a costly suit presented by a diamond merchant only after he was widely criticised for donning it. Several BJP leaders are among those from whom large sums of unaccounted money have been seized.

One of the states now on the BJP radar is Tamil Nadu where two Dravidian parties have alternated in power for four decades. Modi espies an opportunity in the vacuum created there by the death of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa last December. Her All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has split into two. Both factions are vulnerable to pressure from the investigative agencies and both have shown readiness to align with the BJP. Modi is trying to unite them before they align with his party.

The next parliamentary elections are due in 2019. As the poll approaches the investigating agencies may come up with more cases against opposition leaders. There are reports that the BJP is trying to revive the long-dead Bofors scandal of Rajiv Gandhi’s time to embarrass the Congress.

The cases may eventually fail but they can be of use to the BJP at election time. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 1, 2017.

25 July, 2017

Doublespeak on cow protection

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke up against cow vigilantism last week for the third time in a month. On all three occasions he said too little and failed to carry conviction.

Modi spoke on the subject for the first time in his home state of Gujarat towards the end of June, ten months after pro-government gangs killed at least a score of people, mostly Muslims and Dalits, in different parts of the country alleging cow slaughter or beef eating.

He said, “Killing people in the name of gau bhakti (cow worship) is not acceptable. No person has the right to take the law in his or her own hands in this country.”

That statement came after the violent phase of cow vigilantism had invited strong criticism from within the country and outside.

He returned to the theme twice subsequently.

In the last speech on the subject, he said, “Some anti-social elements have incited violence in the name of cow protection. Those engaged in disturbing the harmony in the country are trying to take advantage of the situation.”

He went on to point out that lynchings were tarnishing India’s image. He also claimed some people were settling personal scores in the name of cow protection.

This response came immediately after a spate of “Not in My Name” protests across the country against the lynchings.

Interestingly, there was no word of condemnation of violence in the Prime Minister’s statements. He merely distanced himself from the violent incidents by declaring they were “unacceptable”. He sought to distance his party and its affiliates also from them by insinuating that the violence was the work of some people who had scores to settle. To him, the issue was not the killings but the bad name they brought to the country and to his government.

Simultaneously, Modi sought to reinforce the Hindutva position on the cow. In a series of tweets in Hindi, he said, “People see cow as a mother. Their sentiments are attached to it. We have to see that there are laws to protect cows and breaching them is not an option.”

In Parliament, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, standing in for Home Minister Rajnath Singh, replied to Opposition criticism of the violence by cow vigilantes along the same lines as the Prime Minister.

In a bid to turn the tables on the Opposition, Jaitley, who is a reputed lawyer, pointed out that cow slaughter ban was not Modi’s idea. It was written into the Constitution by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and BR Ambedkar when the BJP was not in the picture.

He was alluding to the mention of ban on cow slaughter in the Constitution as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy. He glossed over the fact that Nehru and Ambedkar had reluctantly agreed to the inclusion of the relevant article in the legally non-enforceable chapter as a compromise in democratic compliance with the wishes of several Congress members of the Constituent Assembly who wanted cow slaughter to be banned respecting Hindu religious sentiments.

The Constitution gives the states the power to ban slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle, not on religious grounds but in the interests of organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines. Invoking this provision, a majority of the states have already banned cow slaughter without disrupting social harmony.

Thus there is no situation warranting cow vigilantism in the country. The Hindutva elements have deliberately activated the issue with a view to targeting the Muslims and the Dalits. The beef vigilantes claimed to have caught generally turned out to be goat or buffalo meat.

The issue before the nation now is really not cow protection but the life and security of people engaged in occupations like cattle trade and skinning of dead animals. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee put it succinctly when she said gau rakshaks (cow protectors) have turned gau rakshasas (cow demons).

Even as Modi and Jaitley were trying to deflect attention from the core issue with specious arguments, Pravin Togadia, President of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, one of the largest affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, said in speeches in Uttar Pradesh that his organisation would raise, train and equip an army of gau rakshaks. This shows the VHP is preparing for more violent interventions.

The contrary messages emerging from the government and the VHP appear to be part of a well-thought-out strategy. The Indian Express quoted Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles, as saying in an interview it was all based on doublespeak. “There is an occasional, pious public message to say the authorities disapprove of certain actions, but then there is the dog-whistle by which people are also being relayed the opposite of what the official message is,” he said. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 25, 2017. 

18 July, 2017

Confrontation on the Himalayas

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Memories of the border war of 1962 came alive briefly during the past month as armies of India and China faced each other at Doklam, at their trijunction with Bhutan, nestling at a height of 8,000 feet in the Himalayas.

The standoff has not ended but after some acerbic exchanges, mostly through the media, the two sides have toned down the rhetoric and voiced readiness to resolve the issue through talks. However, the talks may not come any time soon as China, which has settled its border disputes with all other neighbours, appears to be in no hurry to demarcate its borders with India and Bhutan.

The India-China border is about 4,000-kilometres long. Of this, only the 220-km Sikkim-Tibet segment is free from dispute. While rejecting the McMahon line that separated Tibet from India’s northeast as a British imposition, China had accepted the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890 which defined the Sikkim-Tibet border.

In an agreement concluded in 1996 India and China committed themselves to peaceful resolution of the border dispute. So far there have been 18 rounds of talks, with little to show.

Bhutan, the world’s only remaining Buddhist kingdom, is a small country with an area of 38,394 square kilometres and a population of less than 800,000, which took to the path of democracy a decade ago.  While other nations seek to raise their gross national product, it seeks to boost gross national happiness.

Bhutan has an undemarcated 470km-long border with China’s Tibet region. Kuomintang China had claimed a part of Bhutan’s territory and Communist China chose to keep the claim alive. After more than 20 rounds of talks the border dispute remains unresolved.

When Britain ruled India, Bhutan and Sikkim were its protectorates. After gaining freedom India readjusted its ties with them.

Sikkim was made a state of India in 1975 at the instance of the Sikkim National Congress which came to power in the elections held the previous year.

Under an agreement with Bhutan in 1949 India virtually took over the role performed by the colonial regime and undertook to assist it in foreign relations. A friendship treaty signed in 2007 recast the relations on a new basis. In it the two countries pledged to cooperate closely on issues where their national interests are involved and not allow the use of their territories for activities harmful to each other’s national security.

While Bhutan has maintained close ties with India since the colonial period, it has avoided establishing diplomatic relations with China. After joining the United Nations in 1971 it established diplomatic relations with more than 50 countries but it has not allowed China and the four other permanent members of the Security Council to establish missions in its capital Thimpu.

It hurts Beijing’s pride that this tiny neighbour rebuffs its pleas for diplomatic relations. Also, along with India, it has kept out of China’s One Road, One Belt scheme.

Doklam, the scene of the stand-off, is a plateau which the People’s Liberation Army occupied as it swept through Tibet after the Revolution. In 2000 Thimpu belatedly pointed out that the place belongs to it.

The standoff is the result of the Indian army’s stepping in to challenge the building of a new road which will give China easy access to the miniscule Bhutan army’s base and – from New Delhi’s standpoint, more importantly – to the Siliguri Corridor, the chicken’s neck that connects India’s northeastern states with the mainland.

When Chinese troops poured down through the mountain passes in 1962, India had feared they would cut off the northeast, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had voiced his anguish on that score in a broadcast.

In the recent past India and China had made a series of moves leading to cooling of the ardour witnessed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s early meetings with President Xi Jinping. China is wary of India’s growing relations with the United States and India is wary of China’s hegemonic ambitions.

At one point the Chinese side reminded India of its painful 1962 experience. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said India of 2017 was not India of 1962. The remark invited a retort from Beijing that China of 2017 was not China of 1962.

After Chinese troops swooped down the hills in 1962, forcing Indian soldiers to retreat, Beijing had announced a quick unilateral withdrawal of forces. The pullout was dictated not so much by altruistic factors as by logistical considerations. The Himalayas are no place to fight a prolonged war but offer pressure points that can be activated in case of need. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 18, 2017.

11 July, 2017

Waltzing through the Middle East

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Narendra Modi, who has set a few globe-trotting records, last week became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. “We have waited 70 years for you,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he embraced him.

The Israeli authorities extended to Modi the kind of welcome that was given previously only to the Pope and the President of the United States, and the world media has since been trying to unravel the meaning of what one writer described as his “public love fest” with Netanyahu.

When the United Nations proposed carving the state of Israel out of Palestine in 1948, India had pleaded in vain for a two-state solution. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said Zionists had offered bribes to win India’s support and held out threats to his sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, who was the leader of the Indian delegation to the UN.

When the state of Israel became a reality India recognised it but refrained from establishing full-scale diplomatic relations with it in a gesture of solidarity with the Palestinians. However, Israel was allowed to establish an honorary consulate in Mumbai to look after commercial and cultural matters.

During the 1962 border war with China, Nehru turned to Israel for small arms and it readily helped. Today India, the world’s largest importer of arms, buys about 40% of Israel’s arms exports.

The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the fountainhead of the Hindutva ideology which is the driving force behind Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, was initially an ardent admirer of Hitler and Mussolini. After World War II, impressed by the high-handed measures Israel took for survival in an extremely hostile environment, it switched its admiration from Fascism to Zionism.

Over the last four decades, relations with Israel have grown steadily, more rapidly under non-Congress governments than under those led by the Congress, which is more alive to the sensitivities of the Arab world and of India’s own Muslim minority.

When the Janata Party was in power and AB Vajpayee was the External Affairs Minister, Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan visited India secretly. That government fell before it could take any meaningful step to boost bilateral relations.

In 1988, the Rajiv Gandhi government granted recognition to the state of Palestine and four years later the Narasimha Rao government raised diplomatic relations with Israel to ambassadorial level.

While improving relations with Israel, the Indian government reiterated its commitment to Palestine. It also extended continued support to the Palestinian cause in international forums. Indian leaders visiting Israel included the Palestinian Authority headquarters at Ramallah also in their itinerary.

A year ago India abstained on a UN Human Rights Council resolution critical of Israeli actions against Palestinians. Some observers have interpreted this and Modi’s failure to go to Ramallah as clear signs of a pro-Israeli shift in India’s position in tune with the RSS thinking.

International media quoted a Palestinian official as saying India’s relationship with Israel appeared to be developing at the cost of its moral, humanitarian and historic commitment to Palestine.

Indian officials, however, maintain that decoupling of Israel and Palestine does not make any material difference to India’s traditional policy. They point out that Modi had received Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New Delhi in May. On that occasion he had reaffirmed India’s unwavering support to the Palestinian cause and expressed the hope “to see the realisation of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine coexisting peacefully with Israel”.

Modi has waltzed through 49 countries so far. He has chosen his destinations with due regard for traditional ties as well as new realities. 

Hindutva’s ideological affinity apart, military and economic considerations are driving India and Israel closer together. Since Modi came to power, India has reportedly bought $662 million worth of arms from Israel. It has also signed several defence deals, including one for the purchase of a missile defence system costing $2 billion.

India, which is facing the prospects of acute water shortage, hopes to benefit from Israel’s farming and water technology innovations. One of the agreements signed during Modi’s visit envisages the setting up of a $40 million fund for joint research and development projects.

Israel appears to be looking to India for a political dividend in the form of greater respectability for itself. --Gulf Today, July 11, 2017.

04 July, 2017

Indian common market is born

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With the catchy slogan “One Nation, One Tax, One Market”, the Indian government ushered in a new national tax regime at a midnight ceremony last week.

Unlike demonetisation of high-value currency, undertaken eight months ago without adequate preparations, the tax reform was launched after long deliberations.

The new tax regime is essentially a continuation of the reforms initiated by Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister in PV Narasimha Rao’s government a quarter-century ago. It will benefit foreign firms setting up facilities in the country by providing a uniform tax structure regardless of where they are located.

The first step towards introduction of a national goods and services tax (GST) scheme was taken by Prime Minister AB Vajpayee in 2000 when he set up a panel to design a suitable model. Strong opposition from state governments, which feared loss of revenue as well as limitations on their taxation powers, made the going tough.

Modi, who, as Chief Minister of Gujarat state, had stood against the Manmohan Singh government’s bid to introduce GST, changed his stand on becoming the Prime Minister and decided to push it as part of his economic reform package. Replying to Opposition taunts about the shift in his position, he said he had some misgivings about the scheme. As a Prime Minister who had been a Chief Minister he could address the states’ concerns on the issue, he added.

In 2015 the Modi government set April 1, 2016 for rolling out GST. The Constitution needed to be amended to introduce it. The ruling coalition could easily get the amending bill through the Lok Sabha, where it has a majority. It was not until August 2016 that it could enlist the support of the Congress which was necessary to push the bill through the Rajya Sabha.

The Centre still had to conduct tricky negotiations with the states to work out details of the new tax regime. It is entitled to credit for completing the process speedily and making GST a reality by July 1.

Conceived as a multi-stage, destination-based tax, GST is levied on every value addition. The final consumer, it is claimed, will bear only the GST charged by the last dealer in the supply chain.

Does that mean the consumer will pay less for goods and services? Or will he end up paying more? There is no simple, straight answer to the question.

Contradictory trends are already in evidence. Some items now cost more and some others less. The biggest automobile producer announced a three per cent cut in the prices of some models, supposedly to pass on GST benefits to the customers, but hiked the prices of some other models by Rs 100,000.

With an estimated population of 1.34 billion, India constitutes a big market. As the national economy is growing rapidly, the market bids fair to be even bigger. But the “one nation, one tax” bit is not quite true.

There are actually three GSTs – a Central GST, a State GST and an Integrated GST – levied by the Centre on inter-state supply of goods and services. Also, there is wide variation in the tax rates.

There is no levy on several items and bullion attracts a low three per cent tax. Four slabs, of five per cent, 12 per cent, 18 per cent and 28 per cent, have been fixed for other goods and services. There is also a cess to raise money to compensate the states for revenue loss.

No other country with a GST regime has so complex a tax structure and such high rates as India has opted for. The rate is six per cent in Malaysia, seven per cent in Singapore, seven and a half per cent in the US, 15 per cent in New Zealand, 17 per cent in China and 19 per cent in Germany. Brazil has two rates: seven per cent and 12 per cent.

Economic analysts have said that the GST scheme is full of imperfections. One of them is the compromise with the states which has resulted in the exclusion of petroleum products, liquor and real estate development from GST.

The coming weeks will show if the preparations made for the switch to the new tax regime were adequate or will bring needless suffering to the people, as happened with the demonetisation programme. It did not yield the anticipated benefits but caused immense hardship to the people, especially the poor. --Gulf Today, July 4, 2017. 

27 June, 2017

Lynch mobs on the loose

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

On the night of Laylat al-Qadr, while the devout were listening to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s words in Srinagar’s Juma Masjid, a few metres away a group of youths lynched to death Mohammed Ayub Pandith, a deputy superintendent of police. Six hours earlier Junaid, a teenager from Ballabhgarh in Haryana, who was returning home with his brothers after a shopping trip to Delhi, was stabbed to death in a train.

The two incidents are symptomatic of the culture of violence which has spread across India in the recent past and assumed menacing proportions in some states.

The Srinagar incident was part of the renewed violence in trouble-torn Kashmir. The youths raising pro-Pakistan slogans apparently mistook Ayub Pandith, who was in civilian clothes, for an informer.

The holy month of Ramadan was a deadly one for the valley with official reports putting the death toll at 42-27 militants, eight policemen, six civilians and one army man.

Junaid was a hapless victim of the violence unleashed by Hindutva groups created or inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological parent, after Narendra Modi led the party to power in May 2014.

The Hindutva elements have targeted three categories of people: students of institutions of higher learning where Left-wing and Ambedkarite organisations have held the BJP-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad at bay, members of minority communities, particularly Muslims, and Dalits.

The ABVP stirred up trouble in the campuses accusing rival student bodies of anti-national activities. The Hindutva outfits began hounding Muslims and Dalits alleging cow slaughter, beef eating etc.

Organised Hindutva violence actually began before the 2014 elections. The victims included three prominent rationalists, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, both of Maharashtra, and MM Kalburgi, of Karnataka, who were killed between 2013 and 2015.

Violence directed against Muslims in the Meerut area of Uttar Pradesh led to communal polarisation in the state and benefited the BJP in the 2014 parliamentary elections as well as this year’s assembly elections. Quite recently there was targeted violence against Dalits in the Saharanpur area.

The RSS, which was under ban thrice after Independence – after Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, during the Emergency in 1975-77 and after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 – has now assumed an active role in matters of governance. Modi and the new crop of BJP chief ministers like Yogi Adityanath of UP, are erstwhile RSS pracharaks (promoters). Their presence in the citadels of power has emboldened communal outfits to take the law into their own hands. The police force has been slow in acting against the Hindutva elements even in non-BJP states.

Under Modi’s rule, lynching has emerged as Hindutva’s favourite modus operandi. There is no official data on the incidence of this horrendous form of violence. One of the early lynchings which attracted national attention was that of Mohammed Akhlaq, at Dadri in UP, just about 40 kilometres from Delhi, in 2015 on a false charge of cow slaughter. Unofficial tabulations indicate there has been at least a score of such incidents since then. Barring three Hindus who were among seven cattle traders killed in Jharkhand, all known lynch victims are Muslims or Dalits.

Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi claimed that lynchings were over-hyped and over-reported. However, he gave no figures to substantiate the claim.

Official figures do not bear out the popular impression that there has been a spurt in violence since Modi took over. In fact, the National Crime Records Bureau’s reports show that fewer crimes were registered in 2015, the first full year of Modi rule for which data is available, than in 2014. Cases of murder dropped from 33,981 to 32,127, rape from 36,735 to 34,651, rioting from 66,042 to 65,255, atrocities against Dalits from 47,064 to 45,003 and atrocities against Adivasis from 11,451 to 10,914.

There are two possible explanations for the divergence between the popular perception and the government data. One is that while the Hindutva gangs went on a rampage other miscreants were unusually quiet, leading to an overall decline in crime. The other is that just as production figures are fudged to present a rosy picture of the economy the crime data may be tweaked to yield a bright picture of the law and order situation.

Modi, who is a tireless social media campaigner, has not written one word against the lynchings. The RSS, which has a reputation for maintaining high discipline, too has not said anything. Their silence and the police’s passivity are tending to aggravate the situation. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 27, 2017.

20 June, 2017

Privacy concerns over ID card

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Over the past eight years the Indian government has gone ahead with a scheme to issue a unique identity card to all citizens, brushing aside widespread concerns over their right to privacy. On more than one occasion the Supreme Court said it cannot be made mandatory but the authorities are pushing ahead with it.

The United Progressive Alliance government created the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) in 2009 and charged it with the task of issuing unique identification numbers, to be known as Aadhaar, to all residents of India. It said Aadhaar would help check leakage in various welfare measures resulting from the prevalence of fake ID cards.

Several civil society organisations objected to the scheme, fearing it would lead to surveillance of citizens. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which was then in the opposition, shared their concern. It called the scheme a fraud and blocked the passage of a law to give the UIDAI statutory backing.

Nevertheless, the UPA government went ahead with the scheme. Not many people applied for Aadhaar. The government got over the problem by deciding to issue Aadhaar to all those who had provided personal particulars and biometric data for preparation of the National Population Register under the Citizenship Act of 1955.

The process was going on when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government came to power. Reversing the position his party had taken earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to go ahead with the Aadhaar scheme.

He gave the UIDAI statutory status by pushing through Parliament a measure styled as Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act. To overcome the disability resulting from the NDA’s lack of a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the measure was labelled as a money bill. The upper house has no power to make changes in a money bill.

As the government linked Aadhaar with various welfare schemes, citizens sought intervention by the courts. So far there has been no conclusive court ruling.

On several occasions the Supreme Court said Aadhaar should not be made mandatory. Once it asked the government to advertise widely that it is not mandatory to obtain an Aadhaar card. At the same time it let the government link various schemes with Aadhaar.

In 2015, the apex court said the Aadhaar scheme is purely voluntary and “cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this Court one way or another”. It has set up a constitution bench to take that final decision but it is yet to hear the matter.

Early this month the government issued a notification making linking of Aadhaar with bank accounts and the permanent account number cards issued by the Income Tax department mandatory. It also made Aadhaar mandatory for making bank deposits of more than Rs 50,000.

The government claimed these steps would help weed out fake and fraudulent transactions.

The Supreme Court let the notification stand but ruled that it would not be applicable to those who do not have an Aadhaar card or have not applied for one until the constitution bench decides the privacy question.

The Aadhaar Act prohibits sharing, publishing, displaying or public posting of the core biometric information collected under the project except in the interest of “national security”, which remains undefined. However, some recent reports have raised doubts about the way the government handles the information in its possession.

The Centre for Internet and Society, a non-profit interdisciplinary research organisation, recently revealed a few instances in which agencies under the Centre and the Andhra Pradesh government published on their websites data which could potentially compromise the interest of more than 130 million Aadhaar cardholders and 100 million bank account holders.

According to media reports, the Jharkhand government has made public personal details of 1.4 million persons who have linked their Aadhaar numbers with bank accounts to facilitate direct transfer of their monthly pensions. A private and two firms are currently facing charges of cyber crime for hacking and breaching the privacy of Aadhaar data.

Aadhaar may not spell the end of fake identities. India’s population, which stood at 1,210 million at the time of the 2011 census, is currently estimated at close to 1,342 million. UIDAI has issued more than 1,155 million Aadhaar cards so far. By March 2015 as many as 13 states and union territories had already issued cards in excess of the 2011 population. - Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 20, 2017

13 June, 2017

A chilling message to media

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “a day to reiterate our unwavering support towards a free and vibrant press.” The weeks that followed revealed the wide gulf between this pious wish and his administration’s practice.

A few days before that tweet, the Central Bureau of Investigation had received a complaint alleging fraud in a transaction between NDTV, a leading media organisation, and the ICICI Bank, both private companies. The complainant, Sanjay Dutt, was a shareholder of both the companies and had been pursuing allegations against the media company and its promoters, Prannoy Roy and his wife, Radhika, in various forums for four years with little success.

On June 2 the CBI registered an 88-page first information report on the basis of Dutt’s complaint and two days later it conducted searches at four places belonging to the Roys. It was not the first time that an investigating agency had acted against media owners but the attendant circumstances suggested that this one was intended to send a chilling message to the entire media.

NDTV is one of the earliest private news television companies and played a major role in bringing to national attention the enormity of the anti-Muslim riots that swept Gujarat in 2002 soon after Modi became the state chief minister. Just a few days ago, one of its anchors, Nidhi Razdan, had asked Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman Sambit Patra to apologise or leave her show as he alleged the channel had an agenda.

Two central government agencies, the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax department, had started looking into NDTV’s finances soon after Modi became the Prime Minister. They served notices on the Roys in connection with certain transactions, and they moved the courts with regard to some of them.

Last November the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ordered the group’s Hindi channel, NDTV India, to go off the air for a day for revealing sensitive information in its coverage of the attack on the Pathankot airbase in violation of the rules regarding reporting of terror incidents. Media organisations had protested against singling out the channel for action sparing others who, too, had shown similar visuals.

Last week, at a largely attended meeting of journalists in New Delhi to demonstrate solidarity with the Roys, eminent jurist Fali S Nariman pointed to infirmities in the CBI conduct. It had acted not on the basis of any crime-related discovery but on a lone private complaint. The criminal conspiracy and cheating alleged in the complaint had taken place during 2008-09 and it did not say why the matter was not brought to the agency’s attention earlier.

Instead of instituting a criminal inquiry and conducting raids, the CBI should have asked Dutt to file a complaint in a criminal court, Nariman said.

Veteran journalists who spoke at the meeting likened the current situation to what prevailed during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime and called upon the media fraternity to stand together to safeguard press freedom. Prannoy Roy asserted he and his wife had done no wrong, and the action against them was a signal to the media that the government could get them even if they had done nothing.

A majority of the media has been uncritical of the government and there is in the electronic media a group of fawning fans ready to fight Modi’s and his party’s battles as if they were their own. But Modi remains distrustful of the media and avoids press conferences.

The CBI’s uncalled-for action on a private complaint with regard to transactions involving private companies has once again turned the focus on the functioning of that agency.

Set up by Jawaharlal Nehru’s government in 1963, the CBI established an early reputation as a competent investigative agency. That reputation now lies in ruins. After reviewing the way it handled a scandal of the United Progressive Alliance government, a Supreme Court judge had dubbed it a caged parrot repeating its master’s voice.

Ranjit Sinha who headed the CBI at that time said the court’s assessment was correct. The agency later appealed to the court to free it from governmental interference but nothing came of it.

The BJP, then in the opposition, had lambasted the UPA government using the judge’s remarks about the CBI. Last month leading lawyer and former Congress minister, Kapil Sibal said the CBI was now the long arm of the Modi government and it was holding out threats to people to secure favourable statements. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 13, 2017. 

11 June, 2017

Former civil servants decry hyper-nationalism and religious intolerance

A group of retired civil servants has questioned the idea that “those in authority should not be questioned”, and expressed concern over “growing hyper-nationalism that reduces any critique to a binary: if you are not with the government, you are anti-national”.
The following is the text of an open letter bearing signatures of more than 50 of them:
We are a group of retired officers of All India and Central Services of different batches, who have worked with the Central and State Governments in the course of our careers. We should make it clear that as a group, we have no affiliation with any political party but believe in the credo of impartiality, neutrality and commitment to the Indian Constitution. A sense of deep disquiet at what has been happening in India has prompted uFormer s to write this open letter to chronicle our reservations and misgivings about recent developments in the body politic. What has gone wrong?
It appears as if there is a growing climate of religious intolerance that is aimed primarily at Muslims. In Uttar Pradesh, in the run-up to the elections, an odious and frankly communal comparison was made between the relative number of burial grounds and cremation grounds. The question was also asked as to whether electricity was being supplied equally to different communities during their religious festivals. All this without any basis in fact or evidence. The banning of slaughter-houses targets the minorities and affects their livelihoods as well. Such intolerance breeds violence in a communally charged atmosphere - even to the extent of a local leader in UP provoking an attack upon the residence of a Superintendent of Police, whose family was terrorized.
Vigilantism has become widespread. An Aklaq is killed on the basis of a suspicion that the meat he has is beef and a Pehlu Khan is lynched while transporting to his place two cows he had bought and for which he had the necessary papers. Nomadic shepherds are attacked in J and K on some suspicion as they practice their age-old occupation of moving from one place to another along with their cattle and belongings. Gaurakshaks function with impunity and seem to be doing so with the tacit complicity or active encouragement of State machinery. Punitive action against the perpetrators of violence does not take place promptly but cruelly, the victims have FIRs registered against them. The behaviour of vigilantes – who act as if they are prosecutor, judge and executioner rolled into one – flies in the face of law and jurisprudence. These actions undermine the rule of law and the Indian Constitution since only the State – through its various organs and institutions - has the power to enforce the law.
Vigilantism has become popular as ‘anti-Romeo’ squads threaten young couples who go out together, hold hands and are perhaps in love with each other. A thinly-veiled effort to prevent a Hindu-Muslim relationship or marriage, there is no justification in law to harass these couples, particularly when there is no complaint from the woman of being ill-treated.
Student groups and faculty members on campuses like Hyderabad and JNU, who raise troubling questions about equality, social justice and freedom are subject to attack by the administration, with a supportive government to back them. In Jodhpur, a planned lecture by a renowned academic was cancelled under pressure and the faculty that organized the event subjected to disciplinary action. What happened in Jodhpur has happened at other institutions as well.
Argumentation and discussion about different perspectives – the life-blood not only of institutions of learning but of democracy itself – are being throttled. Disagreement and dissent are considered seditious and anti-national. Such attitudes have a chilling impact on free speech and thought.
Several reputed NGOs and civil society organisations are being charged with violating the provisions of the FCRA and the Income Tax Act. While we agree that genuine violators should be identified and penalised, we note with dismay that several of the targeted groups are those who have taken stands against government policies, expressed dissent or supported communities in cases against the state.
We are also seeing an ugly trend of trolling, threats and online intimidation of activists, journalists, writers and intellectuals who disagree with the dominant ideology. How does this square with free speech?
There is a growing hyper-nationalism that reduces any critique to a binary: if you are not with the government, you are anti-national. Those in authority should not be questioned – that is the clear message.
In the face of a rising authoritarianism and majoritarianism, which do not allow for reasoned debate, discussion and dissent, we appeal to all public authorities, public institutions and Constitutional bodies to take heed of these disturbing trends and take corrective action. We have to reclaim and defend the spirit of the Constitution of India, as envisaged by the founding fathers.
Signatories:
1) Dr.N.C.Saxena, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Planning Commission, Government of India (GoI)
2) Ardhendu Sen, IAS (Retd.), former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
3) KeshavDesiraju, IAS (Retd.), former Health Secretary, GoI
4) J.Hari Narayan, IAS (Retd.), former Chairman, Insurance Regulatory Authority, GoI
5) G.Balagopal, IAS (Retd.), former Resident Representative, UNICEF, North Korea
6) AnupMukerji, IAS (Retd.), former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Bihar
7) Sundar Burra, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
8) VibhaPuri Das, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI
9) AmitabhaPande, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI
10) K.K. Jaswal, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
11) Aruna Roy, IAS (Resigned)
12) Niranjan Pant, IA&AS (Retd.), former Deputy Comptroller and Accountant General of India
13) UmraoSalodia, IAS (Retd.), former Chairman, Rajasthan State Roadways Transport Corporation, Govt. of Rajasthan
14) E.A.S. Sarma, IAS, (Retd.), former Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, GoI
15) Arun Kumar, IAS (Retd.), former Chairman, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, GoI
16) Brijesh Kumar, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
17) WajahatHabibullah, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, GoI, and Chief Information Commissioner
18) LalitMathur, IAS (Retd.), former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI
19) Surjit K. Das, IAS (Retd.), former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Uttarakhand
20) S.N.Kakar, IAS (Retd.), former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Surface Transport, GoI
21) Sayeed Rizvi, IAS (Retd.), former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, GoI
22) R.Chandramohan, IAS (Retd.), former Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Transport, Govt. of NCT of Delhi
23) PranabMukhopadhyay, IAS (Retd.), former Director, Institute of Port Management, GoI
24) K.P.Fabian, IFS (Retd.), former Ambassador, GoI
25) Kalyani Chaudhuri, IAS (Retd.), former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
26) Meena Gupta, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, GoI
27) M.G. Devasahayam, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary to Govt. of Haryana
28) SonaliniMirchandani, IFS (Resigned)
29) Deepak Sanan, IAS (Retd.), former Principal Adviser (AR) to the Chief Minister of the Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
30) Harsh Mander, IAS (Retd.), Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
31) Dhirendra Krishna, IA&AS (Retd.), former Financial Controller, Irrigation Department, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
32) SudershanK.Sudhakar, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Govt. of Punjab
33) RuchiraMukerjee, P&T Finance Accounts Service (Retd.), former Adviser, Telecom Commission, GoI
34) K. John Koshy, IAS (Retd.), former State Chief Information Commissioner, West Bengal
35) Sunil Mitra, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
36) C.Babu Rajeev, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, GoI
37) JawaharSircar, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, and CEO, PrasarBharati
38) VivekAgnihotri, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary General, Rajya Sabha
39) BhaskarGhose, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, GoI
40) Dr.K.R.Punia, IAS (Retd.), former Principal Secretary, Govt. of Haryana
41) Lalit Mehta, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Poverty Alleviation, GoI
42) Ishrat Aziz, IFS (Retd.), former Ambassador to Brazil, GoI
43) Manab Roy, IAS (Retd.), former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
44) S.K.Guha, IAS (Retd.), Chief, Institutional Development and Planning and Programme Guidance, UN Women
45) V.Ramani, IAS (Retd.), former Director General, YASHADA, Govt. of Maharashtra
46) Anna Dani, IAS (Retd.), former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
47) Dr. Raju Sharma, IAS (Retd.), former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
48) HarMander Singh, IAS (Retd.), former Director General, ESI Corporation, GoI
49) Ajai Kumar, Indian Forest Service (Resigned), former Director, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI
50) GeethaThoopal, IRAS (Retd.), former General Manager, Metro Railway, Kolkata
51) N.Balachandran, IPS (Retd.),former Director General of Police and Chairman, Tamil Nadu Police Housing Corporation
52) Deepa Hari, IRS (Resigned)
53) Hirak Ghosh, IAS (Retd.), former Principal Secretary to the Govt. of West Bengal.

06 June, 2017

A tale of judicial misadventures

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Eighteenth century Swiss political theorist Jean-Louis de Lolme said Britain’s Parliament “can do everything except make a woman a man and a man a woman”. If any limb of the Indian state can be attributed such wide powers it is the Judiciary.

The Constitution provides for a system of mutual checks and balances, but over the years the Judiciary, exercising its exclusive right to interpret the provisions of the statute, has enlarged its powers to a point where virtually it is answerable only to itself.

Under the Constitution, a judge of the superior courts can be removed for misbehaviour or incapacity, but only through a cumbersome process of impeachment in which one house of Parliament acts as prosecutor and the other as judge. Neither the Judiciary nor the Legislature has devised a scheme to deal with infractions that may not amount to misbehaviour.

In 1991, the Bombay High Court Bar Association dubbed four judges as corrupt and its members refused to appear before them. Parliament and the Supreme Court did nothing, and the judges stayed put until retirement without hearing any case.

Since early this year the Supreme Court has been seized of an unusual problem: a serving high court judge, a Dalit, was accusing some of his colleagues of being corrupt and casteist.

The constitutional provisions which permit reservation for the Scheduled Castes (Dalits), the Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis) and other backward classes have never been extended to superior court appointments. As a result, they are grossly under-represented in the judiciary.

KG Balakrishnan, a Dalit from the educationally advanced state of Kerala, became the Chief Justice of India (CJI) in 2007. That was an exceptional case. Neither the Supreme Court nor the Department of Justice keeps a count of persons belonging to the socially and educationally backward classes inducted into the judiciary. At present there is no Dalit in the apex court, and it is believed not more than five per cent of the high court judges, numbering about 650, are Dalits. The community has 15 per cent reservation in the Central services.

CS Karnan, who was appointed a judge of the Madras high court in 2009, became a thorn in the flesh of the establishment when he started complaining that some fellow judges are discriminating against him since he is a Dalit. In 2011, he took his complaint to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. There was no action.

Stung by the bee of caste prejudice he encountered, Karnan has been on a judicially incorrect path since 2015. He initiated contempt proceedings against the chief justice of the Madras high court for allegedly belittling him since was a Dalit. When the Supreme Court decided to shift him to the Calcutta high court he stayed the order for his transfer. However, he later apologised for his conduct and took up the new assignment.

The apex court was infuriated when Karnan sent to the Prime Minister last January an “initial list of corrupt judges” which contained 20 names. It initiated contempt proceedings against him, found him guilty and gave him a six-month jail term, the maximum prescribed under the law.

The court ordered the West Bengal police to arrest Karnan forthwith. But he had moved to his home state of Tamil Nadu by then. After a brief meeting with media persons in Chennai he vanished.

A Bengal police party is camping in Chennai to implement the court order but Karan remains untraceable. According to a media report, he is under the protection of a Dalit politician.

Karnan is due to retire on June 12. Retirement will make no difference to his status as a convict. By staying out of sight until then he can spare the nation, which has already witnessed some judicial misadventures, the unedifying spectacle of a serving judge being hauled to jail.

The directives by the Supreme Court and the rebel judge cancelling each other’s orders could have been dismissed as a comic interlude but for the grave damage they have caused to the Judiciary’s image. That Karnan acted without regard for judicial propriety is evident. But, then, so did the seven-judge bench which tried him.

Both were acting as complainant, prosecutor and judge at the same time. While native crudity exposed Karnan’s infirmities, cultivated sophistry effectively hid the other side’s.

Alok Prasanna Kumar, a Fellow of the think-tank Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, described the court order in the contempt case as an “unconscionable disgrace”. The court had caused much more damage to its dignity and reputation than Karnan could ever manage, he wrote. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 6, 2017.

30 May, 2017

Stage set for more social strife

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Narendra Modi government’s attempt to regulate cattle markets across the country appears to be a thinly disguised project to promote the Hindutva agenda of cow slaughter ban through the back door.

Last week the Environment Ministry, which oversees animal welfare, issued a notification imposing stringent conditions on the sale of cattle. While it does not prohibit cow slaughter, it forbids sale of cows, bulls, steers, heifers, buffaloes and camels at animal markets for slaughter.

India had edged past Brazil two years ago to become the world’s largest meat exporter. Last year meat production exceeded Rs 1,300 billion, and beef exports totalled Rs 263 billion.

Since the meat industry gets 90 per cent of its requirements from animal markets the regulations are bound to hit the farmers as well as the meat sellers.

Orthodox Hindus of the Vedic school profess to vegetarianism but the Vedas and other early texts testify that their ancestors ate different kinds of meat, including beef.

Hindus constitute 79.80 per cent of India’s population. However, according to the findings of a recent official survey, only 28 per cent of Indians are vegetarians.

Since some sections venerate the animal, cow slaughter became an issue of contention in the closing stages of the colonial period. In a concession to them, a provision was included in the Directive Principles of the Constitution permitting the state governments to take steps to prohibit the slaughter of milch and draught cattle.

Most states have already enacted legislation to prohibit slaughter of milch cows. However, Kerala, West Bengal and the north-eastern states have not done so.

Since Modi became the Prime Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party started picking hard-core Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh activists as chief ministers, cow vigilantes have gone on the rampage in several states, attacking and killing Muslims and Dalits.

Mohammad Akhlaq of Dadri in Uttar Pradesh and Pahlu Khan, a dairy farmer of Alwar in Rajasthan were lynched to death. Dalit youths were thrashed at Una in Gujarat while skinning a dead cow. In all these instances, the BJP protected the criminals and pressured the police into instituting false cases against the victims and their families.

Under the newly notified rules, which are to be enforced within three months, only farmland owners can buy or sell cattle at animal markets. Both the seller and the buyer have to prove their identities and establish their status as farm owners. The seller has to obtain an understanding from the buyer that the animals are not for slaughter.

The rules have laid down cumbersome procedures which farmland owners with little education cannot easily cope with.

The government claimed that the rules had been prepared in compliance with a directive the Supreme Court had given in a recent judgement to improve the condition of animals in the markets. Political observers believe it used the opportunity to extend the Hindutva’s cow agenda and fear it may lead to more attacks on Muslims and Dalits.

While most opposition parties and state governments under their control were muted in their response to the Centre’s action, Kerala Chief Minister and Communist Party of India-Marxist Politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan roundly condemned it as an attempt to implement the RSS agenda. In a letter to the Prime Minister he said the rules were impractical.

Youth wings of the CPI-M and the Congress conducted beef festivals at many places in the state to demonstrate their resolve to resist interference in the people’s food habits.

The constitutional validity of the new Central rules is bound to be challenged in the courts. Many legal experts are of the view that the courts are liable to strike them down as they go beyond the purview of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act under which they have been issued.

The economic and social consequences of the rules may be more disastrous than the political fallout. Inability to sell cattle which have outlived their utility will upset the fragile economy of farming families which is already driving them to suicide in large numbers.

Some critics feel the government’s real objective is to put an end to the traditional cattle markets and clear the path for big business interests to enter the trade.

The new rules may embolden Hindutva elements to intensify attacks on the minorities and the Dalits, leading to increased social strife. The emergence of the Bhim Army at Saharanpur in UP is a sign of growing Dalit resistance to Hindutva violence. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 30, 2017.