New on my other blogs

"Gandhi is dead, Who is now Mahatmaji?"
Solar scam reveals decadent polity and sociery
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen


30 April, 2018

“Suspicions” about Aswathi has makings of a put-up job

The complaint against Aswarhi Jwala on the basis of which Kerala’s Director General of Police has ordered an inquiry has the hallmarks of a put-up job.

Aswathi, a young social worker, whose humanitarian work (which includes distribution of food packets to the needy) has earned her much praise, incurred the wrath of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and DGP Loknath Behra by telling the public about the indifference of the state police to the complaint about the disappearance of Liga Skromane of Latvia who had come to Kerala for Ayurvedic treatment for depression.

Aswathi had been helping Liga’s sister Ilze and partner, Andrew Jordan of Ireland, to trace the missing woman. When they found that the police attitude was not helpful, she took them to the DGP. She said the Chief Minister did not meet them. The Chief Minister explained that he was not in town on the day they tried to meet him.

Andrew Jordan made a quick visit to Dublin and told the Irish media and the Indian embassy there about his unhappy experience in Kerala.

The crux of the allegations levelled against the Kerala police by Ilze, Andrew and Aswathi is that it did not act promptly on the complaint about the missing Liga even after they expressed fears about her safety.

One and a half months later, Liga’s body was found in a highly decomposed state in a mangrove in an area said to be frequented by drug pedlars. The police initially tried to pass it off as a case of suicide. Forensic examination has now compelled it to admit she may have been murdered.

Their indifference thoroughly exposed, the police, it appears, is now working overtime to fix Aswathi so that nobody dares to challenge it again. The CPI (M)’s cyber activists, whose task is to salvage the reputation of the Chief Minister, who is also the Home Minister, is extending the police full support in the cover-up. As part of the effort they have placed on the social media a synopsis of the complaint on the basis of which the DGP ordered the inquiry against Aswathi.

It identifies the complainant as one Anilkumar of Panangode, Kovalam, and lists the following four points said to be in it:

11.   Aswathi Jwala the social worker was with Liga’s relatives from the time of her disappearance. There is suspicion about her intervention in Liga’s murder and collection of Rs 3.8 lakhs in its name.
   2.   Aswathi’s sources of funds must be investigated. There is suspicion about her office and assets in the city. Lakhs of rupees flow into her account every day in connection with the distribution of food packets. She has collected Rs 5000 each from MLAs.
   3.  Recently an advance was given for five acres of land at Ponkulam. Aswathi’s foreign trips and cars also create suspicion.
    4. There is also suspicion about from where so much money came in three years.

If this is a fair synopsis of the complaint, the complainant has actually levelled no allegations against Aswathi. He has merely listed a number of suspicions, and that too without mentioning any ground for the suspicions.

It is easy to make out from the very first suspicion he has listed that what prompted him to come forward with the complaint is Aswathi Jwala’s association with Liga  Scromane’s relatives. He doesn’t give any information in support of his claim – rather, his suspicion -- that she collected Rs 3.8 lakhs in Liga’s name.   

He does not spell out his suspicions about Aswathi’s office and assets. How is it his – or the police’s -- business if some MLAs have given her Rs 5,000 each and people are giving lakhs of rupees for the humanitarian work she is doing?

I find it hard to believe that Loknath Behra, an IPS officer of 33 years' standing is such a simpleton that he treats a communication of this kind as a police complaint and orders an inquiry.

The only reasonable conclusion an intelligent reader can draw is that the complaint is the work of a person who suffers from paranoid personality disorder, which is a mental condition characterized by intense suspicion and mistrust of others.  

Police cooking up documents or evidence is not entirely unknown. But in all likelihood the hand behind this one is not that of the police. A policeman would have produced a  more credible document. My suspicion – yes, suspicion, not allegation – is that it originated in a political establishment of doubtful professional standard.   

As outrage against the vindictive police action against Aswathi surged in public space, party apologists, who have lately been forced to find justification for a plethora of police misdeeds, have trotted out arguments like she has not been questioned, she has not been arrested etc. Even if they don’t know it, the police must know that before acting upon a complaint it has to satisfy itself that it is a genuine complaint, not a string of suspicions of a paranoid person, and that there is sufficient ground to believe a crime may have been committed.

24 April, 2018

Left gets some elbow room

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India’s Left movement heaved a sigh of relief as the triennial congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), after prolonged discussions, adopted the political resolution drafted by the Politburo with a small but significant change.

Under the party constitution, the congress is the final authority on all matters but it usually accepts without change the formulations drafted by the Politburo and approved by the Central Committee. 

The draft political resolution was prepared by Prakash Karat, who had stepped down as General Secretary three years ago in compliance with the rule that sets a three-term ceiling on the tenure of office-bearers but enjoys more support in the Politburo than his successor, Sitaram Yechury, thanks to the support of the Kerala unit, which is the largest. 

It articulated the Kerala unit’s position that there should be no alliance or understanding with the Congress party to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party, which wields power at the Centre and in many states. This line is predicated on the proposition that the BJP and the Congress are alike since both pursue neoliberal policies.

Kerala had created history by choosing a Communist government through the ballot box in 1957. Since 1980 the state has voted coalitions led by the Congress and the CPI (M) in alternate elections. The state party’s approach is conditioned by the fact that the Congress is its traditional rival for power. 

On several occasions in the recent past Yechury expressed himself in favour of all secular forces, including the Congress, coming together to prevent the BJP’s return to power in next year’s general elections. 

In the organisational report presented to the congress, which is not in the public realm yet, Yechury is believed to have acknowledged that there were differences among the Politburo members on the political line to be adopted towards the Congress party, and this affected political and organisational interventions needed to meet developing situations. 

As party delegates, numbering about 700, gathered at Hyderabad for the congress, there was media speculation on the possibility of the differences between Karat and Yechury leading to a split. 

Addressing the congress, Yechury said neoliberal policies needed to be fought but this could only be done if democratic rights and socialist consciousness remained.

Delegates moved a large number of amendments to the draft resolution. A growing demand for vote by secret ballot is said to have led to softening of the attitude of Karat’s supporters. 

Eventually a compromise was struck. It involved dropping the words “without having an understanding with the Congress party” and retaining the words “without having a political alliance with the Congress party”.

The change will allow the CPI (M) to reach electoral understanding with the Congress party either at national or regional level, without entering into an alliance. 

The compromise smoothened the way for Yechury’s unanimous re-election as General Secretary for a second term. Since Karat and company still dominate the Politburo he may have to look over his shoulders constantly. 

In the early years of Independence, the Communist Party of India was the main opposition group in the Lok Sabha, and it was seen as a possible alternative to the Congress party, which was then the biggest political force.

It lost its primacy in the opposition after the split in 1964 in the wake of the schism in the world communist movement. Disapproving the pro-Soviet stand of the majority of members of the party’s National Council, a minority walked out and formed the CPI (M). 

The two factions adopted contradictory approaches towards the Congress party. The parent body’s pro-Congress attitude led it into supporting Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime. The CPI(M)’s anti-Congress position made it an unwitting abettor in the rise of Right-wing forces. 

A contrite CPI eventually moved away from the Congress, and the CPI (M), which had emerged as the largest Left party, accommodated it in the alliances under its leadership. 

The CPI(M)’s long monopoly of power in West Bengal and Tripura and its large presence in Kerala helped cloud the fact that the Left has declined nationally. Loss of power in Bengal and Tripura exposed its weaknesses.

The party congress has created some elbow room for the Left in the pre-poll negotiations. But the party needs to arrest its decline and grow nationally to be able to lead a Left revival. Unfortunately, the party congress has failed to draw up an action programme to regain its place at the centre-stage of national politics. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, A-ril 24, 2018.

20 April, 2018

Squint Eye On The Postcard Boys

Can a government be serious about controlling the flow of fake news when its own supporters are among the main originators of misinformation?


Had it come a day earlier, it could have been Had it come a day earlier, it could have been dismissed as an International Fools Day joke. But the ever-ebullient Smriti Irani, who now presides over the ministry of information and broadcasting, was deadly serious about the April 2 guidelines to check the spread of fake news—and she made it clear in a series of tweets.
The guidelines were brought in as amendme­nts to the rules governing accreditation of jou­rnalists. Actually, they created a law that laid down the procedure to investigate complaints relating to fake news and prescribed the punishment to be awarded to the offenders. The law was beset with several problems. One of them was it assumed, without any justification, that the offenders will be accredited journalists. It is well known that fake news originates and circulates mainly on social media platforms, whose personnel are not entitled to accreditation.
The guidelines entrusted the task of investigating complaints to the Press Council of India and the News Broadcasters Association. The PCI is a body authorised by law to look into complaints against print media and print journalists. The NBA is one of two bodies set up by electronic media organisations, in the name of self-regulation, to look into complaints against TV channels. As former PCI chairman Justice Markandey Katju has said, self-regulation is no regulation. In any case, the NBA’s authority does not extend even to the entire news television segment. Social media organisations, the fountainhead of fake news, do not have a regulatory authority, statutory or non-statutory. The government’s arm that deals with them is the cyber police.
During WW II, the Viceroy’s office in India had imposed a press censorship using a body of newspaper editors in the country.
In less than a day, the ministry withdrew the guidelines, reportedly on the orders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Editors Guild of India, Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Association and the Fede­ration of Press Clubs of India welcomed the retr­action. They conceded there was room for reform of journalistic practices, but felt a solution to the fake news problem did not lie in the government imposing restraints on the media.
The withdrawal of the amended guidelines does not mean the government has abandoned plans to introduce new game rules under the cover of fake news regulation. According to a news agency report, on April 4, the I&B ministry set up a ten-member committee, with its own secretary as the convenor, to recommend an “appropriate policy formulation for online media—news portals and online content platforms, including digital broadcasting, that enco­mpasses entertainment, infotainment and news and media aggregates”. Its members inc­lude the secretaries to the ministries of home and electronics and information technology and the departments of legal affairs, and industrial policy and promotion as well as representatives of PCI, NBA and the Indian Broadcasters Federation, the other non-statutory self-regulatory body of TV channels.
The committee’s terms of reference and composition—notably the preponderance of bur­eaucrats in it—suggest that the government is seeking a mechanism that is wider and more powerful than the PCI. Some news channels are even more enthusiastic purveyors of fake news than shady portals but that does not seem to bother the government one bit. It is quite happy to accept self-regulation in that sector. The reason is not hard to guess. Ownership of television channels is concentrating in the hands of a few corporate entities that are friendly to the government and the lions that roar in the studios are ready to purr and crawl in front of aut­hority. The rigorous exclusion of media professionals from the committee that is to evolve a mechanism to deal with news, opinion and entertainment platforms raises suspicions about the government’s motives.
Can the Modi administration be serious about controlling the flow of fake news when its members and supporters are among those who have been identified by fact-checkers as originators and disseminators of misinformation? Just four days before the I&B ministry issued the fake news regulation, the Karnataka police had arre­sted Mahesh Vikram Hegde, founder-editor of Postcard News, a pro-Modi website, on a charge of circulating a false report alleging Mus­lim youths had attacked a Jain monk in Banga­lore. Hegde also posted a picture of the injured monk in social media. Police said the monk was inj­ured in an accident.
On declaring Emergency, Indira Gandhi enlisted the support of The Hindu’s G. Kasturi, as the editors’ body had lost all authority.
Several BJP leaders, including Union minister Anant Kumar Hegde, rushed to the defence of Mahesh. Pratik Sinha of AltNews, a leading buster of fake news, in a report published last May had identified Postcard News as a mass producer of fake news. He backed up the assessment with a partial list of eight false stories it had circulated. Incidentally, Modi and several of his Cabinet colleagues are among Mahesh’s Twitter followers.

The I&B ministry had been working on the idea of regulation of all online activity—not just fake news sites—for some time. In a channel programme last month, Irani had revealed that the government was planning to put in place “a regulatory framework for social media and online content”. But she was unclear about its form and content. Irani said the government would come up with a “code of conduct or legislation” and it would be incumbent upon all agencies to follow it.
One of the grave weaknesses of the current media scene is the absence of credible profe­ssional bodies. While the good intentions of the Delhi-based organisations that come alive at critical moments are not in doubt, their representative capacity is questionable. Back during World War II when press censorship was imp­osed, the viceroy’s administration had the good sense to act in consultation with the All India Newspaper Editors Conference, headed by Kasturi Srinivasan, the widely respected edi­tor of The Hindu. It was the censorship rules of that period that Indira Gandhi activated when she proclaimed the Emergency. The AINEC no longer commanded the authority it once had, and she sought to make up for it by enlisting the support of G. Kasturi, Srinivasan’s successor at The Hindu. Shades of the colonial traditions of media regulation are once again visible with even less professional banking.
The fake news regulation that was quickly withdrawn was a half-baked item from the I&B kitchen, served as a starter. Now there may be no more starters. So we have to wait and find out what the main course tastes like.  (Outlook, April 23, 2018)

17 April, 2018

A shocking tale of depravity

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The United Nations, the World Health Organisation and the World Bank have all been looking at the issue of violence against women and girls (VAWG) lately. They all agree that it knows no social or economic boundaries. 

Shocked to the core by the gruesome details of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl, which seeped out despite a determined cover-up bid by the perpetrators of the crime and their friends, India is now exploring the political boundaries of VAWG. 

According to the charge-sheet filed by the investigators in a court at Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir the child was abducted in early January, drugged and repeatedly raped for several days by a retired government officer, his two juvenile relatives and two police officers, among others. She was later killed and her body dumped in a forest. 

The investigators found that the crime was the result of a diabolical plot hatched by the retired official to scare away members of the nomadic Muslim Bakerwal community, to which the child belonged, from the area. Her family has already fled.

With the Jammu media largely ignoring the murder and one of the cops identified as a partner in the crime handling the investigation initially, the case was set for a quiet burial. The situation changed when the government entrusted the investigation to a Crime Branch team. 

Protesters mobilised by a Hindu organisation demonstrated in the streets of in defence of the accused. They demanded that the state hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is under the Modi government. Two Bharatiya Janata Party members of the state caninet who addressed them endorsed the demand.

Jammu lawyers attempted to prevent the Crime Branch from filing the charge-sheet. Their association demanded that Bakerwals as well as Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugees accommodated in the state be removed as they pose a threat to Jammu’s demography. 

The last elections in J and K, held in 2014 had thrown up a hung assembly. With 28 seats in the 87-member Assembly, the People’s Democratic Party was the largest. The BJP, which made a virtual sweep of Hindu-majority Jammu province, was close behind with 25 seats.

After prolonged negotiations PDP and BJP formed a coalition government on the basis of a common minimum programme, which put BJP’s demand for abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution (it grants J and K a special status) and PDP’s demand for withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (which grants the army impunity) in the freezer. 

The two BJP ministers’ conduct strained the relations between the coalition partners. In a bid to contain the damage, the BJP leadership collected their resignation letters and passed them on to the Chief Minister, who accepted them immediately. Both of them said the party had asked them to join the Kathua protest. 

A rape case is haunting BJP in Uttar Pradesh too. Kuldep Singh Sengar, a BJP MLA, and his brother are the main accused in that case, which relates to the rape of a minor at Unnao.

The alleged rape, which took place last June, received media attention only when the survivor attempted suicide outside Chief Minister Adityanath’s house, alleging he was shielding the MLA. Her father, whom the police arrested after being assaulted by Sengar’s brother, died in custody.

Sensing that the situation was going out of hand, the state government suspended six police personnel, arrested the MLA’s brother and three aides and handed over the case to the CBI. Some harsh words from the High Court compelled the CBI to arrest the MLA too. 

In December 2012 India had appeared to be going through a cathartic experience when in cities across the country people poured out to protest against the gang-rape of a 23-year-old in a Delhi bus. The outrage was purely humanitarian, for the attackers and the victim were ordinary people with no known political affiliation and caste and religion played no role in the crime. The Centre responded by toughening the law on rape. 

There was no catharsis, though. Official figures show that incidence of rape in Delhi and elsewhere in the country has gone up since then. 

In the Delhi case the trial was completed speedily and the culprits punished. However, most cases drag on for a long time, causing agony to the victims and their families. Success of prosecution in rape cases is only about 25 per cent.

Shockingly, cases of depravity are on the rise and children are being targeted increasingly. These are clear signs of decadence and the authorities need to deal sternly with the evil-doers and those who shield them.

11 April, 2018

Lack of Diversity in Newsrooms vitiates Media Coverage of Dalit Issues 

The Kerala media’s coverage of the state-wide hartal on April 9, called by a group of Dalit organizations, was, to put it charitably, highly indifferent. It shows how far removed media institutions and media persons are from the problems of the marginalized sections of the population.

The state has a plethora of newspapers and news channels engaged in mutual competition, which is sometimes more imaginary than real. Decades ago, as print media competition intensified, there was a shift in emphasis from quality to quantity, and the newspapers decided they would rather be  larger than better, and raced ahead, knocking down the walls between mainline journalism and tabloid journalism. Sensationalism became second nature to them as well as to the channels which entered the scene later.  Since the state does not produce enough sensational stuff daily they not unoften feel compelled to blow up ordinary events into material of Live and Breaking News kind.

Hartals called by political parties which are a dime a dozen in the state generally receive far more media coverage than they deserve because they offer scope for sensationalization. It is, therefore, possible to make out a case, on professional grounds, for scaling down hartal coverage. But it is difficult to see the playing down of this hartal as  a result of professional rethinking. It has to be viewed in the context of the subtle manifestation of anti-Dalit, anti-Adivasi sentiments in Kerala society, which is currently in a state of regression, after registering remarkable progress under the influence of visionary reformers in the closing stages of feudal-colonial rule. 

The April 9 hartal was not just another ine of the kind that Keralites routinely  honour in recognition of the proven capacity of the lumpen elements deplotd by the sponsors to enforce it.  The CPI-M, which currently heads the state government, and powerful organizations of merchants and bus operators took the unusual step of making it known in advance that they want to defeat this hartal. The government also did some unusual things: it leaked an alleged Intelligence report about the possibility of violence and made preventive arrests of several Dalit leaders.

The bid to defeat the hartal failed. Considering the lack of muscle power of its sponsors, the response the hartal call evoked has to be rated as good. Even newspapers which consciously played down the event had to concede it was a “partial” success.

The largest circulated Malayalam newspaper, Malayala Manorama, proudly recalls that when it began publication in 1888 it had written an editorial calling upon the government of Travancore to grant educational facilities to Pulayas, the largest of the state’s Dalit groups. Sadly 130 years later it has been found wanting in its appreciation of the status of Dalits in the state. In 1888 it could identify itself with those seeking a just, inclusive society. Today, it is part of a big media cillective that stands with the official and political Establishment whose approach is characterized by renewed social exclusion.

The poor coverage of the hartal, and indeed of all developments relating to Dalits and Adivasis, cannot be viewed in isolation from the fact that these communities are excluded from the mainstream media in the state, as in the rest of India.

After Robin Jeffrey mentioned the absence of Dalits in Indian newsrooms there was a cursory discussion of the subject in some media circles, but the editorial and managerial leaders of the media made no effort to remedy the situation. Two decades ago the state-funded Kerala Press Academy conducted a journalism course especially for Dalits. None of the successful trainees could find a job in any major newspaper.  

The apathetic attitude of the Indian media establishment to the lack of Dalit representation in the media is in sharp contrast with the manner in which newspapers in the United States have been persevering for the last four decades to ensure that their newsrooms reflect the diversity of the society.

After the problems of the black minority came into sharp focus following civil disorders, the US administration appointed a commission to look into the issue. The commission, in its report, warned that the country was moving towards two separate societies—one black and the other white. The journalists’ profession, it said, had been “shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring, training and promoting” blacks.  

This prompted the American Society of Newspaper Editors to set up a Minorities Committee. This body recommended recruitment, training and hiring of blacks. “This is simply the right thing to do,” it said. “It is also in the newspaper industry’s economic self-interest.”

ASNE decided to undertake an annual accounting of minority employment, including not just total jobs but types of position held. Accepting a proposal of leaders of minority journalists, ASNE also set a goal of raising minority employment by 2000 to the percentage of blacks in the population.
While blacks constituted more than 10 per cent of the population, in 1968 black journalists were only one per cent of the total. Thanks to ASNE’s sustained efforts, black representation rose but parity could not be achieved by 2000. The target date was, therefore, pushed back to 2025.  As new minority groups achieved visibility ASNE brought them also within the ambit of the diversity project.

In 2000, the representation of minorities in US newsrooms was as follows: African Americans 5.31 per cent, Hispanics 3.68 per cent, Asian Americans 2.35 per cent, Native Americans 0.52 per cent. (Total 11.86 per cent). There was a decline in the representation of all these groups the following year: African Americans 5.23 per cent, Hispanics 3.66 per cent,  Asian Americans 2.30 per cent, Native Americans 0.44 per cent.  (Total 11.63 per cent).
The decline in minority numbers, the first in 23 years, was attributed to the departure from the business of an unusually large number of minority journalists.

ASNE viewed this as both a disappointment and a challenge and launched major initiatives to increase flow of talented minorities into the journalism pipeline. It recognized that recruitment to the profession was not enough and decided to focus on retention of staff.

ASNE is continuing its effort to make newsrooms representative of the society. The 2017 Diversity Survey report, released last October, said minorities accounted for  16.6 per cent of joirnalists. This was higher than the percentages recorded for much of the last two decades but ASNE wasn't happy as this was a half percentage point less than in the previous year.

On the positive side, 25.5 per cent of US news organizations reported having at least one minority journalist among their top three editors. Also, minorities accounted for 24.3 per cent of online-only news organizations, an increase from the previous year’s 23.3 per cent.

Different from the previous years, the 2017 survey included open-ended questions asking news organizations to provide specific examples of stories and other best practices that showed their commitment to diversity recruitment and retention. 

Currently, the ASNE survey also covers the representation and status of women in the newsrooms.

The Neiman Reports, in a cover story, quoted Kevin Riley, Editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, as saying, “As a white man, I can avoid race if I want. I live with that white male privilege. Unless you are exposed to the idea that people of color do not have that option, and race is in front of them all of the time, you don’t have that awareness, and therefore it makes it much harder to compel yourself to act, to hear the kind of things you need to hear to take action in the newsroom.” Substitute "caste" for race,  “Caste Hindu” for white and “Dalits” for people of color and you get a fair picture of the Indian scene.

Stressing the importance of diversity in the newsroom, Riley said, “When you have a diverse staff, and people are comfortable around these topics, you get a better outcome. That’s sort of the business payoff. This is beyond just a nice idea, beyond the right thing to do, and beyond recognizing our troubled history around race. It’s a business imperative.”

ASNE's and Riley’s economic arguments may not be relevant in the Indian context. In capitalist America, promise of business payoff may make sense. In India, caste reigns over economics and politics. The ancient emperors and merchant princes submitted themselves to its rules. So do today’s political rulers and industrial barons.

10 April, 2018

Parliamentary system on trial

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The failure of the budget session of Parliament to transact any business for nearly three weeks has heightened concerns about the future of the democratic system which India prides itself on. 

Of the three limbs of the state which free India inherited from the colonial administration, the Legislature was the one that underwent the most visible transition as an instrument of democracy. Yet today it is the weakest of the three.

In place of the Central and provincial legislatures elected on limited franchise in the British period, the Constitution provided for a Lok Sabha, as the lower house of Parliament, and State Assemblies, all elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage. Elections have led to smooth and peaceful changes of government both at the Centre and in the States.

The forms of democracy are intact. But there is a woeful lack of substance as their chief instruments of the Executive, the bureaucracy and the security forces, have not been transformed into fit tools of democracy. Their colonial traditions often get reflected in their day-to-day work.

There was no serious effort to democratise the Judiciary. Over the years, ambitious judges, exercising the Judiciary’s exclusive right to interpret the provisions of the Constitution, have virtually turned it into a self-perpetuating entity. The total absence of members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and the scant representation of women in the higher courts show how far removed the Judiciary remains from the constitutional ideals of social justice and equality nearly seven decades after they were proclaimed. 

The weakening of the Executive and the Legislature as a result of fragmentation of the polity in the post-Nehru period have rendered them incapable of performing their legitimate roles in the system of mutual checks and balances.

In a democratic set-up, a strong Executive and a strong Legislature go well together. A strong Executive and a weak Legislature make a combination that can breed autocracy. Viewed in this light, the decline of Parliament is a matter of concern. 

Both the government and the opposition share the responsibility for this situation. 

In the early days of Independence the Congress enjoyed overwhelming majority in both houses of Parliament. Conscious of the Opposition’s role in the fledgling democratic set-up, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was attentive to its needs. The standards of democratic practice started deteriorating under his successors. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power four years ago with the slogan of “Congress-free India”. Interestingly, his ideological mentor, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagat recently distanced himself from that slogan, saying it was political. 

There has been a fall in the duration of the sessions of Parliament since Nehru’s days. Both the Central and state governments now tend to limit the length of sessions of legislative bodies to the minimum required to stay on the right side of the Constitution.

Elected representatives of the people have been making their own contribution to the continuing decline. Instead of using the parliamentary forum to present their views on issues of interest to the people, they often disrupt the proceedings to air their feelings or those of groups whose causes they champion. 

During the budget session of Parliament, which ended last Friday, the Lok Sabha lost 127 working hours and the Rajya Sabha 120 hours as members of small regional parties adopted disruptive tactics. Statistical data shows that loss of working time due to disruptions is increasing. 

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan refused to take up the no-confidence motions against the government, for which notices had been given by several parties, including the Congress, saying she could consider them only when there was order in the house. 

A section of the Opposition believes that a regional party disrupted the proceedings of the House at the instance of the government to prevent consideration of the censure motions. One opposition leader insinuated that the disruption was sponsored by the government.

Since the government continues to enjoy majority support in the house there was no possibility of a no-confidence motion succeeding. However, the debate on a censure motion could have provided an opportunity for increased opposition unity. 

The decline of the Legislature puts the parliamentary system on trial. The development has to be viewed also against the fall in the standards of elected representatives. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, an NGO which regularly analyses the affidavits filed by candidates at the time of fling of nomination papers, one-third of the members of the current Lok Sabha were facing criminal charges when they stood for election. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 10, 2018.

07 April, 2018

Innocent human rights defenders in jail, gaurakshas walk free

Who is harassing Teesta Setalvad and why: Sabrang's Official Statement on latest false FIR

CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad is being attacked once again, this time with a barrage of false allegations pertaining to her education NGO KHOJ. Rais Khan, a disgruntled ex-employee of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), has filed an FIR against Setalvad alleging that Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand used fraudulent means to get funds to the tune of Rs 1.4 crores from the Ministry of Human Resource Development under the UPA Government. However, CJP would like to state that these are baseless and false allegations.

Teesta Setalvad

Khan's plans fell flat when the court granted transit bail till May 2 to both, Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand, two key functionaries of both CJP as well as Sabrang Trust. We welcome the transit bail and stand by the integrity of both Setalvad and Anand.
We also deplore the near desperate measures adopted to by the Crime Branch of the Gujarat Police to harass, intimidate and threaten the personal freedoms of both Setalvad and Anand. We believe that this latest attempt, in which too the original complainant was a former employee of CJP, Rais Khan Pathan is nothing short of a coercive method to prevent Setalvad from going on a long planned trip for human rights lectures abroad. Setalvad has been invited to Canada by Sikhs of Indian Origin to commemorate the 100 years of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Setalvad's great grandfather, Chimanlal Setalvad was part of the Committee that cross examined and interrogated General Dyer after the massacre. Thereafter, Teesta Setalvad is scheduled to deliver lectures at Harvard and several other cities of the United States.

A Brief Background of how Rais Khan has been harassing Setalvad

Khan has, since 2010, thirty two months after he was discontinued from services of field coordinator of CJP, a renumerative post where rental accommodation was also provided, literally been forum shopping and at the root of several malicious and false cases against first Setalvad alone, then both Anand and Setalvad. Setalvad was first targeted in 2004 through wings of the Gujarat state who induced star witness, Zahira Shaikh. A Supreme Court appointed Registrar General report completely exonerated Setalvad and CJP of baseless charges and found Zahira guilty of inducement by influential politicians. She was sentenced to one year simple imprisonment in 2006. Allegations against Setalvad have ranged from kidnapping to perjury now financial embezzlement.

Clearly, today Khan who enjoys the patronage of the regime in Delhi having been appointed to the Central Wakf Board also has senior counsel closely associated with the ruling party appearing for him. Since September 2010 his forum shopping has meant him approaching five trial courts specially hearing the Gujarat 2002 cases, the Nanavaty Shah Commission, the SIT and now the Crime Branch of the Gujarat police. In two judgments, in the Sardarpura matter and the Naroda Patiya matter, the judgments have passed remarks against Khan labelling his conduct as interference in the administration of justice.

Clearly the path-breaking work by CJP, spearheaded by its Secretary, Setalvad that has ensured the conviction of 172 persons -- 124 of which to life imprisonment-- is the single most significant reason for her being singled out by a vindictive regime. The continued historical legal battle in the form of the Zakia Jafri case too, is a serious thorn in the flesh for the powers that be.

Khan has now, in a new FIR, made a series of baseless allegations suggesting Setalvad and Anand got this funds for their education NGO KHOJ under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, but the funds so obtained were utilised for personal purposes. The complaint also states the fund were used for creating and distributing printed materials that could cause communal disharmony. Khan first tried to get CBI, then MHRD to lodge this complaint. When that did not work, his allies in the crime branch have come to his aid.

So far, Teesta Setalvad, a human rights defenders with three decades of courageous work behind her, has had to seek anticipatory bail in false criminal cases eight times already. Curtailing her personal freedoms and threatened incarceration is clearly the preferred way of this regime. Anand too, has now been falsely implicated three times.

Now, CJP would like to set the record straight by presenting a summary of the facts of the case:

In 1994, Setalvad and Anand started a programme for school children which was christened as ‘KHOJ: Education for a Plural India’. As a project of Sabrang Trust, the KHOJ innovative educational modules evolved by them have been successfully implemented in both privately run and civic corporation-run schools in Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra over the years.

Prior permission for a team of KHOJ teachers to run these classes in the Mumbai Municipal Corporation run schools, for example, was granted by the BMC’s Education Officer, year after year. KHOJ has been active since 1994 and has been working on the crucial area of Education Policy related to Democratization of the Social Studies and History Syllabus and Text-books.

Teesta Setalvad’s work in the field of education has been widely recognized and she was appointed to the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) Committee (CABE is a board constituted by the Parliament) in 2004 and served on the board till the year 2014. Teesta Setalvad was appointed as a member of the CABE on ‘Regulatory Mechanisms for Textbooks and Parallel Textbooks Taught in Schools outside the Government System’.

The terms of reference (TOR) of the Committee were:
  • To study and report on textbooks in government schools not using the CBSE syllabus;
  • To study the textbooks and curriculum of schools outside the government system, including those run by religious and social organizations;
  • To suggest an appropriate regulatory mechanism for institutionalizing the issue of preparation of textbooks and curricular material.

In the course of their work, Setalvad came to know about the grant by the Ministry of Human Resource Development for Scheme of Assistance under Innovation and Experimental Education Programmes (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan). On behalf of Sabrang Trust, Setalvad submitted the proposal for grant from the Ministry of Human Resource Development to the then Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Human Resource Development Ms. Anita Bhatnagar on 8th March 2010. The said proposal was in the prescribed form along with the necessary Application Form.

Sabrang Trust sought 100% grant from the Ministry of Human Resource Development for a period of three years i.e. 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12. Through the infusion of the grant in the said project the Trust sought in order to reach out to 6000 students in 75 schools, which would include the 2000 students in 33 schools across Maharashtra where KHOJ classes were already being conducted. The said Application Form also laid down the budgetary details of the Trust’s spending on the said project for the fiscal year 2009-10 and the total estimated expenditure for the fiscal year 2010-11. The total amount of grant requested for the fiscal year 2010-11 stood at Rs. 1,00,55,400/- (Rupees One Crore Fifty Five Thousand Four Hundred only).

After Sabrang’s proposal was examined and scrutinised, the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Department of School Education & Literacy released the first installment of the grant for the first year of the approved project amounting to Rs. 58,72,500/- by a letter dated 03.02.2011. A Joint Evaluation Team (JET) comprising of Ms. Venita Kaul (Member, Grant-in-Aid Committee), Mr. A. K. Tewari (Government of India Representative) and Mr. Nandan Nangare (State of Maharashtra Representative) under-took and evaluation of the project’s progress on 09-10.02.2012. This was favourable and some changes were suggested which were accepted by Sabrang.

Under the said scheme, 16 teachers were employed during the duration of the project. The said project benefited 192 schools through direct teaching and teacher training programmes. 10 Libraries were setup across Maharashtra and most of the books for the libraries were procured from Government publishing houses. An online project was set up, the same is still in existence 7 short films were made and one book was conceptualized and published as curriculum for 5th standard students. Through this curriculum which was a child centric pedagogy India’s constitutional values and pluralism were imparted to around 6000 students across the State of Maharashtra.

In fact, the JET said,
Overall, the objectives and efforts under the KHOJ project are undoubtedly laudable since not only do they cater to the need to promote secularism and peace education, which should be a priority, but also since there is hardly any effort otherwise in mainstream schools to address these aspects. How crucial it is to reach out to the children especially of the urban poor from the slum areas comes across very strongly in the anecdotes shared by KHOJ teachers with the JET.”
Over the period of three years the Ministry of Human Resource Development released grants worth Rs. 1,42,23,797/- (inclusive of bank interest) of which the Trust utilized a total of Rs.1,36,31,686/- and the un-used funds which amounted to Rs. 5,91,871/- was duly returned to the Ministry of Human Resource Development in 12.06.2014. The Ministry of Human Resource Development released grants worth Rs. 58,72,500/, Rs. 26,66,570/- and Rs. 54,20,848/- in the fiscal years 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 respectively and the Applicants furnished relevant utilization certificates.

The entire procedure was above board an in line with the law. CJP therefore requests the media to check their facts before reporting on the case. CJP would also like to warn readers against some outright hateful articles in some publications. We have nothing to hide and all facts have been laid clearly in this statemen

03 April, 2018

Towards a truly federal polity

Gulf Today

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has come forward to promote the idea of a united front against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance in the parliamentary elections due next year.

She is the head of the All India Trinamool Congress, which ousted the Communist Party of India (Marxist) after it wielded power in West Bengal continuously for 33 years.

Beginning life as a Congress woman, she became an MP at a young age and was a junior minister in PV Narasimha Rao’s government. She quit the party as she found it was unwilling to go the whole hog with her in the campaign against the CPI(M) and formed the Trinamool Congress. The Election Commission recently recognised it as a national party but it is essentially a regional party of Bengal, with marginal presence in neighbouring states with a significant Bengali population. 

When the BJP emerged as the largest party in the Lok Sabha in the 1990s, the Trinamool Congress, along with several other regional parties, joined the NDA and she was appointed as minister in AB Vajpayee’s government. 

In 2011, riding the anti-CPI (M) wave generated by the violent attempts to seize farm lands for industrial projects, the Trinamool Congress came to power in Bengal and she became the Chief Minister. In 2016, she won a second term.

Last week, in New Delhi, Mamata Banerjee met leaders of several parties which can possibly come together to take on the Modi juggernaut. They included National Congress Party Chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, Telangana Rashtra Samithi MP and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s daughter K Kavitha and jailed Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad’s daughter and Rajya Sabha member Misa Bharti 

She also spoke to Samajwadi Party leader and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav on the phone.

The Shiv Sena shares the BJP’s Hindutva ideology and is its partner in the Central and Maharashtra governments. It suspects that the BJP is trying to undermine its base and has criticised Modi on several occasions. However, it is not clear if it is ready to break the alliance with the BJP. 

Chandrasekhar Rao and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu had talked of a front that does not include the BJP and the Congress, reviving memories of the united front governments of an earlier era.

Mamata Banerjee’s meeting with Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, indicates she is thinking not in terms of the old formula of a “non-Congress non-BJP” government. She wants to end Modi’s rule and realises this calls for a joint effort by all opposition parts and the Congress has to be a part of it.

In the meeting with Sonia Gandhi, Mamta Banerjee pit forward her “one to one” formula which envisages the opposition putting up a common candidate against the BJP and its allies to prevent division of non-BJP votes. It makes sense since the BJP had won last time with a vote share of only 31 per cent. 

The national election scene presents a variegated picture. In some states –Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka are among them – the contest is essentially between the BJP and the Congress. In states like West Bengal, Orissa, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, the main political force is a regional party. In Tamil Nadu, the main contenders are all regional parties. 

In Uttar Pradesh, the largest state, the BJP was able to overcome the separate challenges posed by the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in the Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections. In the recent by-elections, the BSP and the SP put up a united front, and the BJP lost. This showed that if the opposition parties can set aside rivalries and come together they can beat the BJP.    

Mamata Banerjee has suggested that the regional parties should form a Federal Front. In her meeting with Sonia Gandhi she pleaded that where there is a dominant regional party the Congress should let it lead the fight against the BJP.

The Federal Front will appeal to the voters as a credible national alternative to the BJP only if it is able to present before them policies which are different from those of the BJP and address the needs of the poor and marginal sections.

The regional parties must gather courage and demand devolution of powers from the Centre to the states so that there is a truly federal set-up in the country. That is the surest way to safeguard the hard-won freedom and prevent the emergence of a dictatorial Centre. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 3, 2018