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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


25 December, 2018

Big brother is watching you

BRP Bhaskar

Sixteen months after the Supreme Court declared privacy a fundamental right and the Constitutional core of human rights, the Indian government has virtually nullified it through an executive order authorising 10 agencies under its control to intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer.

The agencies authorised to tap electronic communications are those concerned with domestic and external intelligence gathering and investigation of crimes, tax evasion, smuggling, narcotics trade, foreign currency transactions etc.

The order exposes more than 500 million Indians who use computers and smart phones to snooping by officials.

The Opposition parties came down on the government, accusing it of imposing an undeclared Emergency. Congress President Rahul Gandhi, in a tweet told Prime Minister Narendra Modi: “Converting India into a police state isn’t going to solve your problems, Modi Ji. It is only going to prove to over 1 billion Indians what an insecure dictator you really are.”

Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah responded with a reminder about the 1975-77 Emergency regime of his grandmother Indira Gandhi.

In an attempt to deflect criticism, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley pointed out that the government had issued the order under rules framed by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. 

In fact the order has been issued under the power conferred on the Centre by the Information Technology Act of 2000, read with the IT Rules of 2009. The Act was brought in by the first BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government, headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The rules under the Act were framed by the second UPA government, headed by Manmohan Singh, to lay down “procedure and safeguards for interception, monitoring and decryption”. A law which confers on the government the power to intercept telegraphic and telephonic communications has been in force in the country since the colonial days.

Central and State governments have been using this law to eavesdrop on telephone conversations of political opponents. From time to time, others including media persons have been under the radar.

Two websites specialising in investigative journalism reported in 2013 that three Gujarat police agencies had tapped the telephone of a Bangalore woman four years earlier reportedly under instructions from Amit Shah, who was then Home Minister of the State.

The woman’s father, who was living in Gujarat, in a statement explained that he had requested Modi, who was then Chief Minister, to“look after” her.

When the electronic age dawned, the Central government devoted attention to devising ways of regulating communication using the new technology. The result was the IT Act which conferred wide powers on the police. 

In 2015 the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Act which placed restrictions on online speech on the ground that it violated the Constitutional provision guaranteeing freedom of speech. However, there have been reports that the police continues to slap cases against social media users under that section.

In a reply to queries under the Right to Information Act, the UPA 2 regime revealed in August 2013 that “on an average between 7,500 t0 9,000 orders for interception of telephones and 300 to 500 orders for interception of emails are issued by the Central government per month”.

Nine of the 10 agencies the Modi administration has authorised to snoop enjoyed the power under the UPA government too. The new entrant is the Commissioner of Police, Delhi. Although Delhi has a State government, the Delhi police is not under it. The Centre controls it through the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi.

The 2008 Mumbai terror attack impressed upon the Indian government the need to secure Internet space and keep track of information flowing through it. Accordingly, it asked the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT) to develop a suitable mechanism for the purpose.

C-DoT proposed the setting up of a centralised monitoring system, based on the US National Investigation Agency’s surveillance programme code-named PRISM. A provision incorporated in the licensing agreements of telecom operators made it obligatory for them to provide to law enforcement agencies any data they sought. 

A pilot project was launched in Delhi. It was subsequently enlarged and extended countrywide

Today, there are two Central monitoring stations, one in Delhi and the other in Bangalore and a score of regional monitoring centres scattered across the country which can seek data from the service providers. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 25, 2018.

23 December, 2018

Cycle Yatra for Peace in Central India. Will You Join? 

Image result for Chhattisgarh Adivasi village
A rural scene in Chhattsgarh

A  group of organisations based in Chharrisgarh, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, planning a Cycle Yatra in Central India to promote Peace in the trouble-torn areas, is inviting like-minded persons to join the programme.

Here is an appeal issued by the group.

Cycle Yatra for Peace in Central India, Will you join?

More than 12,000 people have died in ongoing violence in Central India in last 20 years. According to Govt figures 2,700 of them were security forces and rest mostly ordinary citizens. And these killings continue everyday...

With a call to stop violence, a Peace process has started. As part of the process more than 150 Adivasis and their friends symbolically walked 196 kms from Gandhi  Ashramam in Chatti village in Andhra Pradesh to Jagdalpur in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, from 2nd October 2018, the start of Gandhi’s 150th birth year celebration. 

Requesting all sides for peace, they also assembled for Bastar Dialogue-1 in Jagdalpur, capital of Bastar at the end of the 12 days Padyatra to discuss also with their supporters on what more needs to be done for a sustainable and just peace...

According to decisions taken in Bastar Dialogue-1 as next step of Peace process a Cycle Yatra for Peace has been planned from 22nd February 2019 from Jagdalpur to Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh. 

Cycle Yatra for Peace will reach Raipur on 28th February and on 1st and 2nd March Bastar Dialogue-2 will be organised also to put pressure on new Government to respect the commitments made during release of Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon in 2012.

According to a deal signed on 30th April a high powered standing committee was supposed to advise Govt on release of Adivasis and non-Adivasis jailed on Naxal charges for a long time. Chief Secretary and Director General of Police were also part of the Nirmala Buch committee. The committee stopped functioning after a few meetings.

Cycle Yatra for peace will also demand immediate rehabilitation of Adivasis who were forced to leave their homes due to violence. It will demand proper implementation of laws like PESA, Fifth schedule and FRA.

To help or join please call 8602008333/444                                   

All India Gondwana Gond Mahasabha, Chhattisgarh Sarva Adivasi Samaj, Adivasi Mahasabha, Koya Kutma, Durwa Sama, Bastaria Samaj, Bhatra Samaj, Gondwana Raj Gond Sewa Samiti, Telangana, Jagrut Adivasi Yuva Sangathan, Sabari Gandhi Ashramam, Andhra Pradesh.

19 December, 2018

Rahul has a long way to go

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Congress party, which was down in the dumps after the thrashing in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in which Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party to power, is on the recovery path.

In the Assembly elections in the Hindi states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, it ousted the BJP from power. While the Congress and the BJP have been alternating in power in Rajasthan for a long time, MP and Chhattisgarh were under BJP rule continuously for 15 years.

The electoral verdict bodes ill for the BJP. It was a spectacular showing in nine Hindi states, where it won 185 seats, that enabled the BJP to secure a majority in the 573-member Lok Sabha with a tally of 282.

MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh had given the BJP 62 of their 65 seats. If the verdict in these states reflects the current mood in the entire Hindi region the BJP will have a hard time approximating its 2014 performance in the Lok Sabha elections due in four months.

The Congress was a few seats short of a majority in the new assemblies of MP and Rajasthan. The quick offer of support by two parties, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party, which have a small presence in these States, helped it to make up the shortfall

Success in ousting the BJP from power in three States has boosted the morale of Congressmen and is widely interpreted as popular endorsement of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. He had taken over the post of party president from his mother, Sonia Gandhi, a year ago after serving as General Secretary and Vice-President for a decade.

He had started with some handicaps. He appeared to be a reluctant prince. The BJP’s social media brigade ran a vicious campaign portraying him as a dimwit who owes his position as heir apparent of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. He fought back vigorously and established himself as a leader sensitive to the problems of the poor.

Credit is due to Rahul Gandhi for the Congress party’s recovery in the Hindi belt, reflected in the Assembly election results. However, he and the party still have a long way to go to recapture Congress’s lost glory.

There is room to doubt if he is on the right track. After working for a while with a team of his own, he now relies mostly on the old Congress hands on whom his mother had relied when she stepped into politics a few years after the assassination of her husband, Rajiv Gandhi.

This restricts his ability to chart out a new strategy taking into account the vast change in the political scenario since the days of Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi, when the Congress was the only party with a national reach.

The most that can be read from the latest electoral verdict is that the Congress retains the capacity to bounce back in the States where the BJP is its main opponent. 

In the largest Hindi states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which together have 130 seats in the Lok Sabha, the Congress is today a small player. In UP, the BSP and the SP are the main opposition parties. Their traditional rivalry had helped the BJP to grab a lion’s share of its Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and seize power in the state in 2017. They are now in negotiations to take on the BJP jointly in the coming Lok Sabha elections.

Beyond the Hindi belt there are States where regional parties are the main players. In the southern state of Telangana and northeastern state of Mizoram, where Assembly elections were held recently, regional parties trounced both the Congress and the BJP.

It is in the Congress party’s interest to forge good relations with small national parties as well as regional parties as they may have a role in the formation of the next Central government. 

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam leader N Chandrababu Naidu’s recent overtures to Gandhi and Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader MK Stalin’s endorsement of him as prime ministerial timbre are indicative of goodwill towards him. 

If he had adopted a liberal attitude towards the BSP and the SP and carried them with his party in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in the Assembly elections, it would have fared better than it did. It would also have put him in a favourable position to strike a good bargain with them in UP.

Rahul Gandhi’s choice of old hands to lead the new governments in MP and Rajasthan, when promising young leaders were available, suggests that his enthusiasm for toning up the party and infusing new vigour has waned. That is not a good sign. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 19, 2018.

11 December, 2018

An exercise in futility?

BRP Bhaskar

India can be proud of its current status as the world’s fastest growing large economy. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not quite happy because he has not been able to match the record of his immediate predecessor, Manmohan Singh, who headed the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government for 10 years.

The economy was facing serious problems when Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao picked Manmohan Singh, a noted economist, for the post of Finance Minister in 1991. He initiated reforms and set the economy on an upward trajectory.

As Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh adopted a cautious approach, and the Indian economy weathered the recurrent setbacks countries across the world experienced during 2007-11. It was racing ahead when Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party to power in 2014.

Heeding calls from abroad for more reforms, Modi went ahead with steps like introduction of goods and services tax on which Manmohan Singh was moving slowly. He also undertook some measures like demonetisation of high-value currencies, without adequate preparations, causing damage to some sectors of the economy.

Within a few months Modi has to face the electorate. His campaign strategy is to run down his predecessors, starting with the illustrious Jawaharlal Nehru, accusing them of wasting the seven decades since Independence without doing anything and making questionable claims about his own achievements of the last four years.

Such a campaign may go down well with his ardent followers but there are others who are inclined to look at facts and figures.

Figures which have been in the public domain for a long time show that the GDP growth rate, which was 9.3 per cent in fiscal 2006 and 9.8 per cent in 2007, slumped to 3.9 per cent in 2008 as the US financial crisis dragged the global economy down.

Recovering quickly, India registered a growth of 8.5 per cent in 2009 and 10. 3 per cent in 2010 but the rate dropped to 6.6 per cent in 2011 and 5.5 per cent in 2012. Thereafter it started climbing again and was 6.4 per cent in 2013 and 7.4 per cent in 2014.

Under Modi, the upward movement continued, with the growth rate rising to 8.2 per cent in 2015. Thereafter it fell to 7.1 per cent in 2016 and 6.7 per cent in 2017 due, not to external developments, but to internal factors. 

The Central Statistical Organisation periodically revises the basis on which the GDP is calculated. In 2015 it changed the base year for GDP calculation from 2004-05 to 2011-12.

Under the revised scheme the share of industry in the economy went up from 19 per cent to 23 per cent, that of manufacturing from 14.7 per cent to 17.4 per cent, and agriculture from 17.8 per cent to 18.5 per cent. The service’s share shrank from 24.7 per cent to 17.4 per cent.

This resulted in a general increase in the growth rate figures, starting with the UPA government’s last two years. But the figures of the Modi years still lagged behind those of the Manmohan Singh period.

Recently the CSO revised the figures of the earlier UPA years, applying the new formula with retrospective effect. The exercise brought down the growth rates of the UPA period. 

The growth rate of fiscal 2010 now fell from 10.3 per cent to 8.5 per cent and that of fiscal 2007 from 9.8 per cent to 7.7 per cent.

Several experts questioned the rationale behind the exercise. Economic journalist MK Venu pointed out that the new data went against the basic laws of macroeconomics. It showed a lower GDP growth rate during the UPA years when the gross investment to GDP ratio was 38 per cent and a higher growth rate during Modi’s four years when the gross investment to GDP ratio was only 30.3 per cent.

This time the National Institution for Transforming India, also known as NITI Aayog, the think tank which Modi set up after disbanding the Planning Commission which had been in existence since the time of Nehru, was involved in the release of the data.

National Statistical Commission Chairman Pronab Sen, who is a former CSO chief, criticising NITI Aayog’s involvement, said it amounted to politicising institutions which dealt with statistics. The newly released data “does not pass the basic smell test linked to ground realities,” he added.

What the CSO and NITI Aayog together did was to shift the goalpost long after the match was over and re-fix the results. The exercise has ruined the high reputation the CSO had enjoyed as a professional organisation working without a political motive. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 11 2018.

04 December, 2018

An Indo-Pak faith corridor

BRP Bhaskar

After four barren years, a bright patch appeared in India-Pakistan relations last week with breaking of ground for a corridor across the international border to link two sacred spots of the Sikh community and allow pilgrims visa-free travel.

The six-kilometre corridor will connect Kartarpur Sahib gurudwara (shrine) in Narowal district in Pakistan’s Punjab province with Dera Baba Nanak gurdwara in Gurdaspur district in India’s Punjab state.

Kartarpur is where Guru Nanak (1469-1539), founder of Sikhism, spent his last years. His birthplace, marked by Nankana Sahib gurdwara, is also in Pakistan. Dera Baba Nanak, with three famous gurdwaras, is a town built in the Guru’s honour by his descendants.

Worldwide there is an estimated 27 million Sikhs, of whom 83 per cent live in India, 76 per cent in Punjab state, where they are in a majority.

After Partition, the bulk of Pakistan’s Sikhs moved to India as refugees or migrated to various Western countries. Currently its Sikh population is estimated at about 20,000 only. But it has a large number of Sikhism’s holy shrines. They are looked after by the government-appointed Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Committee.

Sikh pilgrims from India visit Pakistani gurdwaras in groups on four occasions in a year: Baisakhi (spring festival), the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth of Sikhism’s 10 gurus, the death anniversary of Sikh emperor Ranjit Singh and the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.

The idea of a faith corridor was mooted by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when he undertook a celebrated bus ride from Amritsar to Pakistan in 1999.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had invited a Congress Minister of Punjab, Navjot Singh Sidhu, who, like him, is a cricketer turned politician, to his swearing-in ceremony. There Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa told him that foundation stone for the corridor would be laid soon. Overwhelmed, Sidhu, who is a Sikh, hugged the general.

When news of the hug reached India, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders branded Sidhu anti-national.

Early in his term Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attempted to cultivate good personal relations with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawas Sharif. However bilateral relations suffered with last-minute cancellation of scheduled talks on several occasions.

In 2014, official level talks to resume the peace process were called off after Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit conferred with Kashmir’s Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi.

In 2016, scheduled talks were abandoned following an attack on the Pathankot air base by suspected Pakistan-based militants.

This year, a planned meeting of Foreign Ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session was cancelled following an incident in the Kashmir valley.

The BJP’s reaction to Sidhu’s hug and the government’s unpreparedness to make any gesture when elections are near, prevented India from turning over a new leaf, taking advantage of Pakistan’s Kartarpur Sahib corridor initiative.

Although no Central minister has been to Pakistan since Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meeting in 2016, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj declined the invitation to attend the Kartarpur ceremony, citing prior commitments.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who belongs to the Congress, also declined the invitation. He gave two reasons: increasing truce violations in Kashmir and recent discovery of ISI-linked modules in his state.

Two Sikh ministers, Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri, represented the Indian government at the Kartarpur function. Sidhu attended on Imran Khan’s personal invitation.

Even as Imran Khan launched work on the corridor at the Pakistani end, Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu inaugurated work at the Indian end, with no Pakistani guest at the function. 

Talking to Indian journalists who were in Pakistan to cover the Kartarpur function, Imran Khan said the militancy problem was something he had inherited. He added the civilian and military leadership in Pakistan agreed on the need to improve ties with India.

In an apparent response to his statement, Rajnath Singh offered Pakistan help to tackle the militancy problem. Overlooking the reasons cited by the government for cancellation of bilateral meetings, he said there had been no major terrorist act in India in the last four years.

With only a few months left for the parliamentary elections, it is too late for Modi to make any new move. The government to be formed after the elections, even if it is led by Modi, will find it necessary to resume talks. For, how long can the two countries, which journalist Kuldip Nayar referred to as “distant neighbours”, refuse to talk to each other? --Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 4, 2018.

27 November, 2018

Missed chance in Kashmir
B RP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi can take credit for bringing his Bharatiya Janata Party to power in Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir for the first time, albeit as the junior partner of a coalition, but his term appears set to close as one of missed opportunities.

The Peoples Democratic Party’s alliance with the BJP after the Assembly elections of 2014 was dictated by the composition of the 87-member house.

Despite calls by hardline members of the All-Party Hurriyat Leaders Conference to boycott the elections, there was a record turnout of 65 per cent voters when polling was held in the harsh winter months.

The PDP emerged as the largest party in the Assembly with 28 seats. The BJP bagged 25 seats, the National Conference 15 and the Congress 12. Three small parties picked up four seats and Independents three.

The BJP’s best ever performance was the result of a big sweep in the Jammu province, aided by the party’s sensational victory in the parliamentary elections a few months earlier under Modi’s leadership.  Jammu has a 62.5% Hindu population.

Mutual animosities prevented the PDP, the NC and the Congress from coming together to form the government. After two months of talks with the PDP on government formation, BJP President Amit Shah announced that the ideological differences had been ironed out.

The alliance between the two parties was actually a marriage of convenience. It was made possible by putting in cold storage two contentious issues: the BJP’s lifelong opposition to Article 370 of the Constitution which gives Jammu and Kashmir a special status and the PDP’s demand for withdrawal of  the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which provides impunity to security personnel deployed in disturbed areas.

On PDP founder and Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death in 2016, doubts arose about the coalition’s future and the state came under Governor’s rule. However, within three months, a new government with his daughter and PDP President Mehbooba Mufti as the Chief Minister took office.

Political stability in the state is inevitably mixed up with India-Pakistan relations. Modi’s tête-à-tête with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawas Sharif had raised hopes of an improvement in relations between the two countries but they faded fast in the absence of any follow-up measures. There has been no initiative from either side to resume the dialogue process since Prime Minister Imran Khan came to office.

Differing perceptions on the handling of security issues cast a shadow on the PDP-BJP coalition after militant leader Burhan Wani was killed in an operation and security personnel faced rain of stones in the valley.

At Mehbooba Mufti’s instance the Centre agreed to a temporary halt in security operations for Ramadan but it did not evoke a response from the other side.

When two BJP members of her Cabinet openly joined their party’s efforts to save the persons accused in the kidnap, gang-rape and murder of a young girl in Jammu’s Kathua district, Mehbooba Mufti was able to get the party to replace them. Soon, however, the BJP pulled out of the government, bringing it down, and the state came under Governor’s rule again.

The Assembly was in suspended animation, and there were reports that the BJP was trying to float an alternative government with Peoples Conference leader Sajad Lone as the Chief Minister. Since Lone’s party had only two members, the BJP needed to poach a large number of MLAs from the PDP and other parties to cobble up a majority in the house.

Mehbooba Mufti, NC  leader Omar Abdullah and the Congress leaders did not feel quite confident about their party men’s ability to resist inducements. That prompted them to forget animosities and come together to form a new government.

Governor Sat Pal Malik foiled their plan by dissolving the Assembly as soon as he received a letter faxed by Mehbooba Mufti advancing a claim to form the government with the support of 56 members.

Malik and BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav offered specious arguments to justify dissolution of the house without giving Mehbooba Mufti an opportunity to prove her claim of majority support on the floor of the house.

Conveniently forgetting the PDP-BJP partnership which lasted three and a half years, Malik cited ideological differences among the coalition partners as the reason for his action.

Madhav said in a tweet that the three parties probably had “instructions from across the border”. When Omar Abdullah challenged him to prove the charge, he beat a hasty retreat.

There is a bright side to the current situation. Dissolution of the Assembly makes fresh elections inevitable. That will give the people an opportunity to express their will. There is, however, no knowing when elections will take place and whether the verdict will be any different this time. --Gulf Today, November 27, 2018

20 November, 2018

Countering divisive politics

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Delhi Chief Minister, Arwind Kejriwal, took the Hindutva establishment head on last weekend when he arranged a concert by well-known exponent of Carnatic music TM Krishna at the national capital after a Central government outfit,  yielding to social media pressure, cancelled an event in which he was to participate.

Krishna has raised his voice against caste prejudices in the world of art and culture and endeavoured to broaden the base of classical music by introducing non-Hindu themes.  He received the prestigious Magsayay Award in 2016 for his “forceful commitment as artist and advocate of art’s power to heal India’s deep social divisions”.

The Hindutva school was enraged by Krishna’s criticism of its intolerant ways.  When the Airports Authority of India announced a programme, which included a concert by him, trolls dubbed him an anti-national and mounted a campaign against him. The AAI then dropped the programme.

Kejriwal, whose Aam Admi Party seized power in the National Capital Territory of Delhi after pulverising both the BJP and the Congress party in the 2016 elections, immediately offered him an alternative venue.

Krishna made the event a celebration of India’s diversity. From his vast repertoire, he chose for the occasion a Malayalam song on Jesus, a Tamil song on Allah, some Kannada verses of reformer Basava and Hindi bhajans, besides popular classical items.

It was a more powerful statement against hate politics than what one hears at party rallies.

Even as Kejriwal set the stage for a cultural drive against hate politics, the BJP was building up a campaign, in the southern State of Kerala, against a recent Supreme Court ruling that the ancient Sabarimala temple’s practice of barring women of menstruating age violates the Constitutional principle of gender equality.

Both the BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, had welcomed the court ruling but quickly changed their stance, sensing an opportunity to strengthen their foothold in Kerala.  

The BJP has not been able to win a single parliamentary seat from Kerala so far. It hopes to make a breakthrough by alleging interference in Hindu religious practices.

The State’s government, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has said it has a Constitutional obligation to enforce the court verdict. However, as of now, it remains unimplemented as the police is either unable or unwilling to provide safe passage to women devotees along the hill path lined by Hindutva protesters. 

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been striving to counter the Hindutva challenge with calls to recapture the mood of the Kerala renaissance which had helped create a secular atmosphere and enabled the State to achieve social progress, which, the United Nations noted five decades back, was comparable to that of the industrialised West.

Both Kejrival and Vijayan are seeking, in disparate ways, to counter the Hindutva agenda of polarising the country to make electoral gains. 

Since the BJP came to power at the Centre four and a half years ago, there has been a two-pronged drive to promote the Hindutva ideology.

At the highest level, there has been a campaign, led by Narendra Modi himself, to denigrate the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who had held Hindutva forces at bay during the Partition riots and laid the foundations of a secular state. Modi views the Nehru legacy as a stumbling block in the way of realising the BJP’s goal of a Hindu nation in which non-Hindus will be relegated to second position.

In several States, Hindutva vigilante groups have indulged in violence against Muslims and Dalits in the name of cow protection. Police were slow to respond, and when they did they generally sought to pin the blame on the victims and save the culprits.

The demand for a Ram temple at Ayodhya, which has been on the BJP’s election manifesto since 1989, and the destruction of the Babri Masjid by RSS volunteers in 2002 to clear the ground for its construction were milestones in Hindutva’s march to power. Modi’s slogan of development did not lead to a change in the political agenda.

Tendayi Achiume, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, has in a recent report noted that BJP leaders have been making inflammatory remarks against minorities and contributing to vigilantism targeted against Muslims and Dalits.  

With parliamentary elections only six months away and the economic outlook not as rosy as the government makes out, the BJP is becoming increasingly reliant on divisive politics. --Gulf Today, November 20, 2018.

13 November, 2018

Pressure on RBI to part with funds

BRP Bhaskar

The Reserve Bank of India, which is banker to the Central and State governments and regulator and supervisor of the country’s monetary system, is under pressure from the Modi administration to pass on to it a big chunk of its reserves.

According to media reports, the Finance Ministry wants the RBI to transfer to the Centre Rs 3,600 billion out of its reserves of Rs 9,590 billion, and it says no.

More ominously, the Ministry wants joint management of the reserves by the Centre and the RBI. This will not only destroy the RBI’s autonomy and inhibit its ability to perform its functions well but also allow the government easy access to the central bank’s reserves which play a critical role in ensuring the nation’s financial security.

Initially, the government did not deny reports about its differences with the RBI. On the contrary, it virtually confirmed them and offered palpable justifications for threatening the RBI’s autonomy.

It argued that the RBI had overestimated its requirements of reserves, and could do with much less than what it holds now.

It also claimed the RBI’s existing economic capital framework was determined by its board of directors at a meeting at which two government nominees were not present.

As the Opposition parties and financial experts criticised the government for attempting to erode the RBI’s autonomy and reports circulated that RBI Governor Urjit Patel was preparing to quit, the government began a damage control exercise.

Subhash Chandra Garg, a Secretary in the Finance Ministry, in a tweet, described the reports as “misinformed speculation” and said there was no proposal to ask the RBI to transfer Rs 3,600 billion or even Rs 1,000 billion.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said nothing that could reassure critics.

One of the two directors nominated to the RBI board by the government recently is S. Gurumurthy, a chartered accountant better known as an ideologue of the Rashtriya Swayamseval Sangh, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s mentor.

Reacting to the media reports, the RSS said the Governor should cooperate with the government or quit.

Set up by the colonial administration in 1935, the Reserve Bank of India’s functions include formulation, implementation and monitoring of monetary policy and laying down the broad parameters within which commercial banks must operate.

Successive Central governments have respected its autonomy, recognising the need for it to be free from political control to discharge its onerous responsibilities.

The RBI has an equity capital of only Rs 50 million but pays the Centre a handsome dividend each year. The dividend for the current fiscal is Rs 500 billion.

The RBI is one of the few central banks of the world which regularly updates its history. It has so far published four volumes which cover its working from 1935 to 1997.

Chicago University professor Raghuram Rajan, who, while serving as Chief Economist at the International Monetary Fund in 2005, had forecast the 2008 crisis in the US financial system, was the RBI’s Governor when Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. His monetary policy helped check inflation and raise foreign exchange reserves.

When Modi consulted the RBI on his demonetisation plan of 2016, Rajan advised against it and warned of potential negative effects. Although he was ready to serve another term, Modi decided to look for someone amenable. Rajan returned to his Chicago University job.

Last week, on the second anniversary of demonetisation, Rajan said the world economy had picked up last year but India could not do as well as it should have done because of the disruption caused by the note ban and the hastily introduced Goods and Services Tax.

While the government’s publicly advanced argument for seeking RBI funds is that the central bank has more reserves than it needs, the real reason maybe something else. Either it is experiencing a cash crunch, which it is unwilling to acknowledge publicly, or it is looking for funds to launch populist schemes ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.

Another indication of its urgent need to raise money is the reported decision to sell company shares which were declared “enemy property” after the shareholders left for Pakistan or China following the wars with these countries. Their current worth is estimated at more than $400 million.

Whether the government will press ahead with the plan to squeeze money out of the RBI or pull back will be known when the bank’s board of directors meets next Monday. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 13, 2018

06 November, 2018

A ghost that refuses to go away

BRP Bhaskae
Gulf Today

The Supreme Court last week rebuffed a belated attempt by the Central Bureau of Investigation to breathe new life into the three-decade-old Bofors scandal.

The scandal broke in 1987 when a Swedish radio reported that arms maker AB Bofors had bribed Indian politicians and officials to get the Rs 14.37 billion contract for the supply of 35 mm field guns the previous year. It had cast a shadow over Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Mr Clean image.

The government conceded the Opposition’s demand for a parliamentary probe. The joint parliamentary committee in which the ruling Congress had a majority cleared the Prime Minister’s name but an Opposition member appended a strong dissenting report.

A sustained Opposition campaign built around the scandal did immense damage to Rajiv Gandhi and to his party. When a little boy, participating in a children’s programme broadcast live from an All India Radio station, was asked to sing a song he broke into a ditty in Hindi which ran like this: “In every lane, they are screaming Rajiv Gandhi is a thief!” 

The names of some friends of Rajiv Gandhi cropped up in media speculation on the middlemen who got the kickback but there was no material with which to pin anything on them.   

Later Indian mediapersons, following up the Swedish radio report, obtained documents which helped track the flow of funds from Bofors to suspected beneficiaries.  They won laurels for their labours but the material they unearthed was not sufficient to drag anyone to court.

The government had claimed that no Indian or foreign middlemen were involved in the deal. This turned out to be untrue.

Win Chadda, who had worked earlier for Bofors and some other arms manufacturers, was apparently involved in this deal too.

Bofors documents showed that in the closing stages of the negotiations, a London-based company AE Services Ltd suddenly entered the picture. It was not clear what role it played but Bofors rewarded it handsomely.

The money paid to AE Services travelled swiftly through several bank accounts before disappearing without leaving a trace.

The identities of those behind AE Services were never established but media reports linked it to Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian who came to India as a representative of Snam Pragotti, a fertiliser firm, and became a family friend of Rajiv Gandhi and his Italian-born wife Sonia.

Presuming that the kickback may have gone to Sonia Gandhi’s parents, a Delhi newspaper sent a reporter to Italy. Its hopes of finding signs of her parents living in opulence did not materialise. It found them living middle class lives.

The Bofors scandal played a part in the Congress party’s defeat in the Lok Sabha elections of 1989. A coalition government headed by VP Singh and supported from outside by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) took office.

Singh, who was Defence Minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s government, had fallen out with him over a probe into kickbacks in the purchase of submarines from Germany. In his time, the CBI registered a complaint on the Bofors payoffs but the agency could make little headway in the investigation.

On a plea by one of the persons named in the complaint the Delhi High Court quashed it. However, the Supreme Court overruled the decision and restored the complaint.  

In 1997 after Swiss authorities furnished some secret documents relating to bank accounts of suspected Bofors payoff beneficiaries the CBI constituted a special investigative term for the probe.

While the investigations were on, Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a suicide bomber sent by the Sri Lankan outfit, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and a few other accused died of natural causes.

The CBI’s sporadic efforts collapsed when the Delhi High Court quashed the charges against Rajiv Gandhi in 2004 and acquitted all the other accused the following year.

The agency’s readiness to act in the interests of the government of the day in politically sensitive matters is well-known. But, then, even during the six years under BJP Prime Minister AB Vajpayee it could not conduct a successful prosecution.

The High Court verdict came early in the first term of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, the CBI appealed to the Supreme Court only this year at the instance of the Modi government, against the advice of Attorney General KK Venugopal.

The Supreme Court’s rejection of the appeal does not mean the ghost of Bofors has been finally laid to rest. The apex court still has before it a partly-heard appeal filed by Anil Agarwal, a BJP leader. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 6, 2016.

31 October, 2018

Court clips parrot’s wings

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Supreme Court of India, acting with great finesse, last week clipped the wings of the Central Bureau of Investigation’s interim head whom the Narendra Modi government had installed in office in a midnight operation after sending the agency’s topmost officers on forced leave.

The CBI, established in 1963, had established an early reputation for professionalism by solving some sensational crimes the state police could not unravel.

Its stock fell later as political meddling dented its professionalism. Five years ago, a Supreme Court judge, exasperated by its submissiveness towards political masters, dubbed it “a caged parrot”.

To enable the CBI to function fearlessly the court stipulated that its Director must have an assured tenure of two years.

Under the law the Director is appointed on the recommendation of a selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, the leader of the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India or a judge nominated by him. The Chief Vigilance Commissioner supervises the agency’s work

On becoming the Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi brought Rakesh Asthana, an officer of the Gujarat cadre who was a favourite of his when he was the state’s chief minister, into the CBI and manoeuvred to pitchfork him into a key position.

In 2016, before Anil Sinha’s retirement as Director, his deputy was moved out as Special Secretary in the Home Ministry and Asthana appointed interim head although he lacked the seniority to be considered for the Director’s post.

The three-man committee picked Alok Kumat Verma for the job . Modi then promoted Asthana, who was Additional Director, as Special Director, and started dealing with him, bypassing Verma when he deemed it necessary.

There were now two centres of power in the agency and inevitably there was feud at the top. The first indication of a rot came last month when the CBI stated that Asthana had made a malicious complaint against Verma to the Chief Vigilance Commissioner.

It came to light last week that the Cabinet Secretary also wrote to the CVC. It is not clear whether both made the same allegations againt Verma. 

Matters came to a head when the CBI filed a first information report in a court alleging Asthana had taken a bribe of Rs 30 million for favouring a meat exporter whose activities were under investigation.

It said an extortion racket was operating in the agency under cover of investigation.

Early this month, Prashant Bhushan, a prominent activist-lawyer, and Arun Shourie, a former leader of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, submitted to Verma a memorandum seeking a proble into the alleged scam relating to the Rafale jet fighter deal. Modi, during an official visit to Paris, had re-negotiated the deal to drop the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and bring in a newly formed Anil Ambani firm as the French arms makers’ Indian partner.

Later there were reports that Verma had called for papers relating to the deal from the Defence Ministry.

When the CBI arrested an officer working under Asthana for allegedly forging documents to implicate Verma, and Asthana’s arrest appeared imminent, Modi called both of them to his office. He could not bring about a rapprochement between the two. Then came the midnight operation.

The Cabinet’s appointments committee sent both Verma and Asthana on leave and appointed M. Nageswar Rao as Interim Director, on the CVC’s recommendations. The whole process, including takeover by Rao, was completed at the dead of night, evidently to prevent Verma securing a court order to maintain status quo.

The CVC’s report states that its recommendations are based on the complaint received from the Cabinet Secretary in July. It offers no explanation for the long delay in initiating preliminary action on the complaint. It makes no mention of Asthana’s complaint against Verma.

Both Verma and Asthana approached the Supreme Court with pleas to quash the actions against them. It, however, took up immediately only Verma’s petition, which alleged political interference in some extremely sensitive matters which were before the CBI and accused Asthna of stymieing certain investigations.

Faced with a fait accompli and needing time to hear all the parties and comie to conclusions, he court ordered interim measures designed primarily to limit the scope for mischief under the interim set=up.

It asked Nageswar Rao not to take any policy decisions. It also told him to provide it in a sealed cover all decisions taken by him after taking over as Interim Director.

The court directed the CVC, who is looking into the complaint against Verma, to complete the inquiry within two weeks under the supervision of retired Supreme Court judge AK Patnaik.

The final outcome of the Supreme Court proceedings in this case will have a bearing on the issue of political control over investigative agencies.-- Gulf Today, October 30, 2018

24 October, 2018

Congress can’t afford to ignore smaller parties

BRP Bhaskar
The Tribune
THE Congress leadership may be inclined to view the decision of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party to not have any alliance with it in the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh as a minor matter as they are small players in these states and the grand old party alone is in contention with the Bharatiya Janata Party for power.
Currently, all the three states are under BJP rule. Rajasthan has lately voted the BJP and the Congress to power in alternate elections, but the BJP has had three successive wins in both MP and Chhattisgarh. Early pre-poll surveys have indicated that the Congress can come back to power in Rajasthan and take at least one of the two other states in the November-December Assembly elections. The survey results must not delude the Congress into believing that it can afford to ignore small parties.
The Assembly elections in the three states must not be viewed in too narrow a framework. They are crucial in the context of their common desire to keep Hindutva at bay.
The key to stopping the Hindutva juggernaut in next year's Lok Sabha elections lies in denying the BJP the opportunity to consolidate its position in the Hindi region. Ten states of the region accounted for 180 of the 282 seats which gave the BJP a majority in the Lok Sabha in 2014. Rajasthan, MP, and Chhattisgarh gave it 62 of their 65 seats.
The BJP had gained power in all three states in 2013 with a minority of votes — 45.17 per cent in Rajasthan, 44.88 per cent in Madhya Pradesh and 41.18 per cent in Chhattisgarh. The Congress polled 33.01 per cent in Rajasthan, 36.38 per cent in MP and 40.29 per cent in Chhattisgarh.

In the Lok Sabha elections the following year, the BJP made a big surge, thanks to the noisy campaign its prime-ministerial candidate Narendra Modi mounted and the quiet work the cadres deployed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh did at the grassroots level. It took all of Rajasthan's 25 seats with 55.61 per cent votes, 27 of MP's 29 seats with 54.78 per cent votes and 10 of Chhattisgarh's 11 seats with 49.66 per cent votes.
The lesson to draw from these figures is that these states have a substantial number of people who are liable to be swayed by a focused campaign which creates a winning air.
In the last Assembly elections there was a wide gap between the vote shares of the Congress and the BSP and an even wider one between those of the Congress and the SP.  Small as these parties are, they are known to draw support from specific social groups and an alliance with them may help the Congress to create a winning air in these states.
Seat-sharing in elections is a ticklish issue. It can become extremely difficult when larger parties overestimate their strength and smaller ones are overambitious.  Rarely do parties approach the issue with a sense of realism.
A rule-of-thumb formula which can smoothen the process is for the parties to accept the vote share in the previous elections as a measure of their strength in a state and divide all the seats in that state among them in that proportion. It may be a good idea for the two largest parties to first divide all the seats between them and then part with some from their shares to accommodate other, smaller parties which they wish to bring into the alliance.  
In Rajasthan, this formula will require the Congress and the BSP, which had secured 33.01 per cent votes and 3.21 per cent votes respectively, to share the state's 200 seats in the ratio of 33:3. This will give the Congress 183 seats and the BSP 17.
In MP, the Congress had a vote share of 36.38 per cent and the BSP 6.29 per cent. When the state's 230 seats are shared in the ratio of 36:6, the Congress will get 197 and the BSP 33.
In Chhattisgarh, the Congress polled 40.29 per cent votes and the BSP's 4.27 per cent.  Division of the state's 90 seats in the 40:4 ratio will give the Congress 82 and the BSP eight.
As the largest opposition parties of Uttar Pradesh, it will be for the SP and the BSP to take the lead in seat-sharing in that state for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Quite often different considerations weigh with the voters in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. It will, therefore, be appropriate to use the'2014 Lok Sabha vote share as the basis for division of LS seats.
The BSP and the SP are parties which grew up in opposition to the Congress. The history of past hostility and the fear of possible future hostility are bound to cast a shadow over their efforts to reach an electoral understanding with the Congress to forge a united front against the Hindutva forces. They must realise that while the Congress is down, it is still the largest party in the secular camp and at this stage it is in their interest to work hand in hand with it.
The Congress leaders, on their part, must realise that the social forces which sustain the BSP and the SP moved away from their party because it had failed to fulfill their legitimate aspirations. Now its best chances of attracting these sections lie in working with these parties.
Such a realisation on both sides will clear the way for working out suitable adjustments ahead of next year's elections.
It is still not too late for the non-BJP parties to review their election strategy in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. As a first step, the Congress and the BSP should explore the possibility of seat-sharing on the basis of their strength, as reflected in the Assembly vote shares. Thereafter, they should try to bring the SP also in even though it does not have a single seat in the outgoing Assemblies and its vote share in the last elections was in the low range of 1.20 per cent to 0.29 per cent. That may encourage the SP and the BSP to be generous to the Congress while sharing the Lok Sabha seats next year. -- The Tribune, October, 23, 2018.

23 October, 2018

Political battle on the hill

BRP Bhaskar

The small Sabarimala hill shrine in Kerala, which attracts about 20 million devotees annually, received worldwide media attention last week as a few young women joined the pilgrimage and goons, donning the role of protectors of tradition, blocked them.

The women were exercising their right to visit the temple, upheld by the Supreme Court in a recent judgment. Orthodox elements, led by erstwhile caste supremacists, oppose the judgment, claiming a long-standing tradition bars women of menstruating age from the shrine as the deity is an eternal celibate.

Four of the five judges on the Supreme Court bench declared the ban violated the Constitutional guarantee of equality of sexes. Ironically, the lone woman judge dissented, viewing the issue as one of religious practice in which the court should not interfere.

Discrimination against women at places of worship is not entirely a new issue. Shrines of different faiths which barred women have ended the practice recently following public pressure and court orders.

The trustees of the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai threw open its sanctum sanctorum to women two years ago. The Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district lifted the ban on women last year.

The Sabarimala deity is referred to variously as Ayyappa and Dharma Shastha, both of which are names used to denote the Buddha. It is believed to be a part of the large Buddhist centre in the Western Ghats to which Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang (Huan Tsang, in earlier renderings) refers in his seventh century travel accounts.

A 1931 official document of the erstwhile princely state of Travancore mentions that all Shastha temples, including the one at Sabarimala, were originally Buddhist shrines. 

The current tussle between pro-form and anti-reform groups over Sabarimala is not so much a battle over religious practice as one for supremacy by political parties with an eye to next year’s Lok Sabha polls. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which now heads the Central government, has not won a single Lok Sabha seat from Kerala so far. Even an Assmbly seat had eluded it until 2016. 

The BJP was unable to make headway in the state as its Hindutva ideology is widely seen as one that runs counter to the secular ethos of the renaissance movement which swept Kerala in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Muslim and Christian minorities account for about 45 per cent of the state’s population. The comparatively low proportion of Hindus in the population has also limited the BJP’s growth.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological parent, has said it is not against women’s entry into temples. It modified its position last week to allow the BJP’s state unit to spearhead the agitation against the Supreme Court verdict.

In the last four decades, two alliances, the United Democratic Front led by the Congress and the Left Democratic Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), have alternated in power in the state.

During the 12 years the Sabarimala issue was before the Supreme Court UDF and LDF governments filed contradictory affidavits, the former opposing women’s entry and the latter favouring it. Both the UDF and the LDF have found it necessary to mollify the faithful to safeguard their electoral interests.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who welcomed the Supreme Court judgment, has allowed his party’s Kerala unit to sing a different tune. While Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has affirmed the LDF government’s commitment to implement the court verdict, CPI(M) State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has made nuanced comments to pacify those protesting against it.

The President of the Devaswam Board, who is a CPI(M) leader, has been flip-flopping in a bid to please both sides. Since last year the BJP was trying, with little success, to whip up a national campaign against the LDF government with focus on the recurrent clashes between the RSS and the CPI(M) in the Kannur district, which has claimed many lives. It views the Sabarimala issue as one which can bring all Hindus together and propel it forward.

The temple is located three to five hours of trek away from the nearest road. Goons mobilised by Hindutva elements are camping along the route to prevent women, including media persons covering Sabarimala developments, from reaching the temple. 

The Central government has asked the state to provide women pilgrims a safe passage. However, eager to avoid a major law-and-order incident, the state police has been playing it safe. It provides security to women devotees on the trek but dissuades them from entering the shrine.

Various steps taken by both the Congress and the CPI(M) in the last few decades to appease caste and religious vote banks have eroded the renaissance spirit considerably. It is, however, not clear to what extent this will benefit the BJP. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 23, 2018.

18 October, 2018

The Sabarimala Story in Pictures

Motorcycle-borne goons roaming the roads to enforce Brahminism's order superseding Supreme Court judgment allowing women of all ages to offer prayers at Sabarimala

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and outdoor

Hindutva's masked foot soldiers

New York Times reporter Suhasini Raj trekking to Sabarimala shrine

New York Times reporter Suhasini Raj returning, escorted by police,  after failing to reach the temple

Libi from Cherthala who was forced back by goons said police advised her to return

Madhavi of Andhra Pradesh, who came with her family, returning without being able to proceed to Sabarimala. DGP Loknath Behra declares if Madhavi wants he is ready to arrange police protection to go to Sabarimala!