The Paris round of climate talks has begun with high expectations and hope of a workable deal. For the first time in more than two decades of climate negotiations, we have a situation in which a bulk of member countries accounting for 90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions have put on table their national plans to reduce emissions, in the form of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs. These are mere voluntary pledges. Hard negotiations are still going to be about a legally binding treaty on emission reduction. And when comes to legally binding obligations, traditional fault lines have resurfaced although with a difference.
On Monday, India made its position amply clear that while it wants a deal at Paris it should be one that “restores balance between ecology and economy” and is based on the principles of justice and equity. “The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities should be the bedrock of our collective enterprise. Anything else would be morally wrong,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emphasised in an opinion piece published in The Financial Times.
This unequivocal reiteration of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” (CBDR), which is the guiding principle of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), sets at rest speculation about India’s stand. Equity has been the main theme of India’s position in climate talks all these years, and as the prime minister has stated, it is not going to compromise on it. Modi’s statement dashes hopes of some that India might somewhat be flexible or pragmatic on this issue under him.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with French President Francois Hollande at the Paris climate change summit. @MEAIndia
The developed world, led by America and the European Union, has consistently opposed any climate deal that is based on CBDR principle. They advocate a treaty that puts equal obligations on all countries, irrespective of their historical emissions or their present state of development. Of late, there are indications that China, which has become leading carbon emitter now, too is veering around this view. If this is so, then China will be on the side of the US and EU at Paris, breaking away from the BASIC grouping of emerging economies. In case it happens, it will be a tectonic shift in climate diplomacy and may put India in a tight spot. It may be interesting to note that BASIC had emerged as a byproduct of climate talks.
By invoking the principle of CBDR, India is certainly not shirking its responsibility of initiating steps to reduce emissions and take low-carbon trajectory. India has pledged to reduce emission intensity of its GDP by at least 33 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 level and to planning generate 40 per cent of power from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, besides a slew of other measures. But it is not in a position to reduce dependence on coal to produce thermal power for some time. All that India is arguing is that industrially developed countries should shoulder greater responsibility because they have historically emitted more and that developing countries should be allowed to emit more carbon as they grow.
Taking on Western critics, who argue that advanced countries powered their way to prosperity on fossil fuel when the world was unaware of its impact and since alternative energy sources are available developing countries should bear the same responsibility as the rich, Prime Minister Modi has observed that “new awareness should lead advanced countries to assume more responsibility. Just because technology exists does not mean it is affordable and accessible.” Access to technology and availability of additional finance to least developed and developing countries have been hanging fire for a long time now. Practically no money has flowed into green funds established to help developing countries.
Modi has also hit on the Western world where it hurts the most: consumptive lifestyles. “The lifestyles of a few must not crowd out opportunities for the many still on the first steps of the development ladder,” he says. India still has 300 million people without access to modern sources of energy.
The equity argument should be seen in the light of the fact that the planet has a finite carbon budget if it wants to stay below 2 degree temperature rise by 2100 to prevent catastrophic impacts of climate change. This estimate has been at 2900 billion tonne of carbon dioxide from all sources from the dawn of industrial revolution till the year 2100.
By 2011, the world had already emitted 1,900 billion tonnes of this budget, leaving only 1,000 billion tonnes to be used between now and 2100. North America, Europe and Russia together have emitted 50 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide since the industrial revolution. In comparison, China has emitted 10.7 percent and India 2.8 percent though both of them today are among the top five emitters. If the rich continue with current level of emissions, then there will be hardly any carbon space left for those on the lower end of the development ladder.
Paris will be a test of how much carbon space the rich are willing to vacate or leave aside for others. That’s why it is often said that climate is more about economy and politics and less about ecology.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted about a talkathon on climate change on Friday morning, he was not just promoting an online event; he was actually making a strong political statement — this time for an international audience.
Criticised by many international bodies for cracking down on NGOs such as Greenpeace, the government of India decided to open itself to the public, with ministers going on the offensive and taking questions on India’s position on climate change.
Representational image. Getty
Participating in a talkathon organised by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Friday, the Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javdekar and Coal, Power and Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal took live questions via Twitter at the event that was broadcast live on Doordarshan.
Effectively, this means the government is sending out a strong message to the international community that it has nothing to hide on the issue of climate change and that it is not averse to engaging with anyone. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi departs for Paris to join the heads of over 150 nations in climate change negotiations, hundreds of environmental NGOs and activists are demanding a global deal that clears the road for 100 percent clean energy and puts an end to carbon emission in the course of the century.
The NDA government has itself launched many initiatives — including a Climate Train — to spread awareness about climate change but the telethon was the first time it took questions from the public on a live forum.
NGOs chip in
Many international NGOs are now looking to make the most of this event. Avaaz, that is part of the coalition of NGOs organising close to 2,000 climate change events worldwide ahead of the COP21 that begins on Monday, has asked its volunteers to actively participate in the Talkathon.
“We welcome the fact that the government is opening itself up to public engagement on the issue of climate and we are asking Avaaz members in India to actively participate, so the government can see the broad public support for clean energy.” says Alaphia Zoyab, senior campaigner at Avaaz.
“Already 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India. India’s kids in these pollution hot spots have lower lung capacity than kids elsewhere; Mumbai and Kolkata could be the worst impacted due to extreme weather events like floods and the government is already spending nearly 2.6 percent of its GDP on tackling climate change. So while India wants to see more action from the historical polluters — the developed countries — we also want to remind PM Modi that as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate impacts, switching to 100 percent clean (energy) is in India’s own interests too,” she adds.
Solar’s the way to go
In fact, the tone for Paris has already been set by the exchanges between Javadekar and US Secretary of State John Kerry, after the latter described India as being a challenge during the negotiations in Paris. Javadekar responded to the comment by reiterating India’s stand.
“It is in a way unfair to say that India will be a challenge. The US is our great friend and strategic partner. His [Kerry’s] comment is unwarranted and unfair. The attitude of some of the developed countries is the challenge for the Paris conclusion.”
The event comes at a time when PM Modi is looking to be positioned as a solar hero, with his high profile initiative of creating a solar alliance of more than 100 countries. The alliance, to be named the International Agency for Solar Policy and Application (InSPA), is aimed at a host of African nations and others located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
The initiative comes against the backdrop of India’s recent INDC submission where it committed to having 40 percent of its energy mix come from alternative sources by 2030. It has also targeted an ambitious 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022.
Over the course of this weekend and the coming week, history will hopefully be created with a global consensus on how to tackle climate change.
If you thought the acrimony between the government and the Opposition witnessed during the Monsoon Session of Parliament and the subsequent Bihar elections would have abated by now, you are in for a disappointment. It promises to be a winter of discontent, with the Opposition rallying and the government also rolling up its sleeves to take the battle to them.
BJP’s Winter Session strategy
The first two days of this session are a special sitting to discuss and celebrate the adoption of the Indian Constitution. The debates will be initiated by the Leaders of the House and will culminate in the adoption of a resolution, which will be moved by the chairman of the Rajya Sabha and Speaker of Lok Sabha. CPI’s D Raja says, “Discussion about the Constitution and Dr Ambedkar should not be a ritual. Parliament must reiterate its commitment to social justice.”
Given the fact the Constituent Assembly had discussed issues like majority and minority rights, the conversation in Parliament promises to be quite interesting given its relevance even today. The government hopes this will also, to a certain extent, quell the demand for a separate debate on intolerance.
The key task before the BJP-led NDA government is to keep the reform momentum going, because this legislative business needs to happen. The NDA’s key reform measures such as the GST have hit the Opposition roadblock in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP’s numerical strength is just 48. And thus it’s imperative that the Opposition is either split or brought on board.
At Wednesday’s all-party meeting to ensure the smooth functioning of the house, for the first time since taking office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself spoke and reached out to the Opposition. Sources say that to get the Congress on board for the passage of the GST, Modi had reached out to the former prime minister Manmohan Singh some time ago. But Singh had directed the prime minister towards Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Since then, a conversation between the Modi and Sonia has not taken place on the matter.
One should place on record that both the Left and the Congress had given dissent notes in the Joint Parliamentary Committee on GST. But negotiations are on with the government remaining positive on meeting its April deadline for the implementation of GST.
Rahul Gandhi at the Monsoon Session of Parliament. PTI
How Congress is planning its moves
The problem for the Congress is how to make the voice of its 44 relevant in Lok Sabha and continue the momentum from Bihar at the national stage. This can only happen with a united Opposition. The Congress also understands that in the court of public opinion, which is still heavily tilted towards Modi’s reform agenda, it cannot be viewed as obstructionist.
One of the party’s Lok Sabha whips, Deepender Singh Hooda says, “We will play the role of a constructive and vigilant opposition and not stall parliamentary proceedings. But being a responsible Opposition, our duty is to hold the government accountable and ask relevant questions”.
The contentious issues
If the previous session was stalled over repeated demands of the resignations of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, this session her junior minister VK Singh will be facing the Opposition’s ire over his controversial statement over the Dalit killings in Haryana.
So it’s not just the intolerance debate, but an entire 13-point agenda that Congress will bring with it. This agenda details the following issues:
-Unrestrained and provocative statements of ministers and MPs of the BJP -Price rise and food inflation -Agrarian distress and farmer suicides -Increasing communal tension -Growing anxiety about shrinking of space for democratic dissent and dialogue -Killing of Dalit children in Faridabad and Union Minister VK Singh’s subsequent insensitive remarks -Increase in excise duty of petrol -Foreign policy setbacks in Nepal and Maldives -Women’s safety and security -State of the economy -Bank of Baroda scam -Return of Black Money stashed abroad -The outcome of the PM’s foreign visits
Most of these issues are quite generic in nature and most will see an apt response from the government, but a lot of criticism will also be directed towards the prime minister himself. While the attempt began mid-way last session, once its party vice-president had returned from his sabbatical, the Congress hopes Rahul Gandhi would continue the momentum in this session and directly take on the PM. While the BJP’s strategy towards Rahul has been usually dismissive, this time though party sources say every barb or jibe will be countered swiftly.
The government has consistently maintained that it is willing to debate and discuss every issue. Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu insists, “The ruling party is ready to discuss the issues of so called intolerance. Though the matter pertains to the domain of states, but we have decided that if the opposition insists, we will discuss.” But on this issue, sources in the Opposition say they will also seek a ‘sense of the house’ resolution, with which the government might not be very comfortable.
The root of the problem perhaps lays in the fact that communication between the government and the Opposition that has recently been driven more by media soundbites than actual conversation. And for now the relation between the two remains at best, frosty. So in India’s game of thrones (read: Indian politics), winter has come and right now it promises to be a cold and bitter one.
Bhopal: Have the Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh governments hoodwinked the Supreme Court and the nation on the rehabilitation of the people displaced by the construction of dams on Narmada?
A panel of four retired judges called the ‘Independent People’s Tribunal on SSP’, which was on a fact-finding mission into the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP)-affected area of the Narmada valley since September, has exposed the fallacy of the three governments’ claim about complete rehabilitation of affected people.
Representational image. AFP
While exposing gross violation of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award and Judgements of the Supreme Court, the panel has expressed grave concern at the possible displacement of about 2.5 lakh people and “mass violation of the constitutional right to life, destruction of livelihoods, as also wiping out of an entire culture and civilization.”
Firstpost had last year reported anomalies in the claims of the governments. The Madhya Pradesh government had set apart Rs 5.51 crore to provide emergency relief to people in the submergence area of the dams. The National Alliance for People’s movement (NAPM) had then questioned the need to spend so much if all evictees were already rehabilitated as per the directions of the Supreme Court.
Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti had also glossed over the issue, saying the Social Justice ministry’s reports show the rehabilitation had been completed. Critics had disputed Bharti’s claim and demanded that these reports be made public.
According to Alok Agrawal of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), contingency funds were earmarked in the past too. Last year they were disputed after the government claimed all evictees have been rehabilitated.
The controversy gained currency after Narmada Control Authority (NCA) allowed the Gujarat government to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam in that state from 121.92 metres to 138.62 metres by installing gates on it. The Madhya Pradesh High Court later stayed the operation of the order that came less than a month of Modi government’s ascent last year.
The deficient flow in the river led to another question on whether a taller Sardar Sarovar dam could slake the parched fields of Gujarat or meet the power generation needs of Madhya Pradesh in the event of a sluggish monsoon? Was the government driven by just political greed?
Now the four-member panel endorses the view that NCA’s permission to increase height of the might be legally untenable. Justice (retired) VD Gyani (MP High Court) said the findings would be placed before the Supreme Court soon. The other members of the panel of are Justice PC Jain (Rajasthan), Justice Nag Mohan Das (Karnataka) and Justice NK Mody (MP).
During their field visit on 11 September and representations made by affected people from three states and the organisations working for them, the judges found enough evidence that rehabilitation and resettlement of people affected by the 121.92 metres height was nowhere close to complete.
At least 33 villages in Maharashtra and 193 villages and a town (Dharampuri) in MP were yet to be completely rehabilitated.
“Children are still going to same schools and people are casting votes in the same booths from years in the villages that the MP government has claimed have been completely shifted and resettled. What does that prove?” Justice Gyani said. Due to faulty assessment of backwater levels over 15,000 families that would be affected by the raised height of the dam have not even been recognised project-affected families (PAFs).
Justice Gyani said increasing in the height of the dam would affect thousands of the people and should not be allowed before the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) of all affected people was completed by the three state governments.
Medha Patkar of the NBA says, “Our demand is the withdrawal of permission for further construction and installation of a gate of SSP till all the affected families are rehabilitated and resettled according to norms,” she said. Representatives of various state government agencies concerned including the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) did not attend the tribunal despite invitation, according the NBA.
Justice Rajinder Sachchar, who was present during the media briefing over the panel’s observations earlier this week, said those who once considered SSP as the 8th Wonder of the world are disillusioned by it. Even the media has underexposed the limitations of the project and the cover up by the governments, he said.
The governments of the three states have so far maintained a studied silence on the issue.
Media baron Peter Mukerjea was charged with murder and criminal conspiracy in the Sheena Bora murder case. Peter now faces the same charges as wife Indrani Mukerjea, who was arrested by the Mumbai Police in August after the remains of her daughter Sheena were found in a jungle, 80 kilometres from Mumbai.
Peter was arrested on Thursday night and was booked under Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code, which relates to causing the disappearance of evidence of offence, or providing false information. It is interesting to note that since CBI took over the murky murder case in September, Peter went from being a person who was merely questioned by the Mumbai police to being the prime accused in the case.
After taking over the case under acrimonious circumstances, the CBI on Thursday filed a ‘1,000-page’ chargesheet in the case against Indrani, her former husband Sanjeev Khanna and driver Shyamvar Rai. It was the latter’s statement that as per Times Now reported, ‘nailed Peter’.
Former police commissioner Rakesh Maria and media tycoon Peter Mukerjea. Image courtesy: IBNLive
Peter had been ‘evasive’ when CBI started investigating the case, which eventually led to his arrest, sources were quoted as saying by The Economic Times. The CBI suspected Peter’s involvement after its investigators they figured that the media baron was giving contradictory responses on Sheena’s murder.The Indian Express quotes a CBI official as saying, “She has given enough indications… he knew of the murder.”
This also brings us to a crucial question. Is the CBI arrest of Peter a direct indictment of Mumbai Police and former police commissioner Rakesh Maria? Let’s take a look at how things changed from the time former top cop Rakesh Maria was pulled off the investigation, till Friday when the media tycoon was arrested and charged for murder.
Rakesh Maria’s sudden and swift removal from the post of police commissioner of Mumbai under the guise of him being promoted to the post of the Director General of Home Guards, raised more questions than answers in early September.
As Firstpost reported earlier, a key reason for the ouster, had seemed to be Maria’s overzealous and overprotective investigation into the Sheena Bora murder case that has been making headlines for the past two weeks and which rubbed the Mumbai Crime Branch on the wrong side.
According to sources, joint commissioner of police, Crime Branch, Atul Kulkarni, was miffed at being left out of what would have been a bread-and-butter case for his team.
This disaffection in the crack investigation arm of the city police, apparently led Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to order a discreet enquiry by Additional Chief Secretary (Home) KP Bakshi. The Crime Branch expressed its surprise over the way the case was literally hijacked by the chief. In normal course, this case would have landed up on Kulkarni’s desk within a few days. This is usually done to keep the police stations free from the burden of intricate investigations so as to look after normal law and order duties.
This convention was clearly violated in the Sheena Bora murder case. Maria took personal interest in interrogating the prime accused at the Khar police station thrice. There was heavy speculation that Maria knew Peter and Indrani from earlier, an allegation that was vehemently refuted by the former top cop. Meanwhile, former Mumbai police chief Satyapal Singh had then added meat to the speculation when he told CNN-IBN, “There has to be something, why else the transfer? I have heard he was close to Peter Mukerjea.”
Following the discreet enquiry, which need not have been discreet at all considering that Maria was making no bones of the fact that he had taken over this case, the chief minister chided Maria, in a roundabout way, of course, that he wished the police took such interest in solving all crimes.
“Police have shown a lot of involvement and attention in a case which is in the media spotlight. It should pay similar attention to other cases which do not get media focus,”Fadnavis had told the media.
Maria had himself interrogated the accused, including Indrani Mukerjea and Sanjeev Khanna, which was unusual. As an NDTV report in September 2015 said, Maria was also regularly holding press conferences about the case despite not having given any interview since he was made Mumbai Police chief.
M Subbaiah wears a forlorn look on his face. All of 36 years of age, married and with a child, he is now a farmer, despite having a Diploma in Engineering. The problem, says Subbaiah, has nothing to do with his credentials or skills. The problem is that he hails from a village called Gopalasamudram, about 25 kilometres from the bustling Tirunelveli town in southern Tamil Nadu.
“I was working as a tower supervisor in a telecom company earning Rs 25,000 a month,” explained Subbaiah. “In 2013, after the incident, my manager called me and asked casually where I was from. I told him my home was in Gopalasamudram. He then told me the company was laying off people and sacked me. I found out later that I was the only one that got sacked. It is all due to the bad name our village has now got,” he rued.
Since 2013, Gopalasamudram has seen bloodshed – an eye for an eye, one murder to avenge another. This has pitted the formidable Backward Class caste, the Thevars, against the Scheduled Caste Pallars in this village of 15,000.
Image courtesy: Sandhya Ravishankar and Devang Dave/ Firstpost
In 2013, a row began over celebrations of Thevar Jayanthi (a festival marking the birthday of Muthuramalinga Thevar, an eminent leader belonging to the Thevar caste) in a private school where children of both castes studied. The headmistress of the Pannai Venkatarama Iyer High School (PVI School) in Gopalasamudram organised Thevar Jayanthi celebrations in the school and handed a chocolate and a new pencil to all students. Dalit students took affront and refused to take these gifts. They were beaten and bruised for their stand. Anger over caste snowballed over the next few months, culminating in the murder of 21-year-old Dharmaraj on the banks of the Tamirabharani river that flows quietly behind the village. One year later, the Dalits struck back, hacking 21-year-old Karthi to death in the marketplace in 2014. Tensions are barely under the surface now but neither side feels like the victor.
“There are so many young boys of marriageable age in Gopalasamudram,” said Subbaiah, a member of the Thevar caste. “Now no one wants to give brides in marriage to our boys. They tell us openly that we are trouble makers and murderers. It is shameful,” he added.
Tucked away in a corner of the village is the area where the Scheduled Caste population has resided for decades. These people, numerically equal to the “upper caste” Thevars, belong to the Pallar sub-section of Dalits and are known as Devendrakula Vellalars.
In this area, 14-year-old Muthu Palpandi, silent and with big solemn eyes, follows his mother to the fields. Muthu has not been to school in a year. This too is a fallout of the caste related violence in the village.
“We want to give our children good education so that they at least don’t end up like us,” said a plaintive Velankanni Palpandi, Muthu’s mother. “Please help us reopen the school. We don’t want our children to suffer a fate like ours,” said the 36-year-old agricultural landless labourer as she headed out to the paddy fields.
The mood in Gopalasamudram is grim. Since the incident in 2013, all 130 Pallar students dropped out of the PVI School. With the help of NGOs and with their own contributions, the Pallars of Gopalasamudram managed to raise Rs 8 lakhs to build a school within their own area. Teachers were brought in and these 130 students managed to continue their education for a year. Funds dried up subsequently and the district administration refused permission to allow the school to run. One whole academic year has now gone by with these Pallar children running amok with little to do but play.
“We want a school now, we are desperate,” said S Jayakumar, a 47-year-old resident of the Pallar part of Gopalasamudram. “As a result of this clash, everyone here has understood the importance of education. The only way to get rid of this scourge of caste is to educate everyone. That awareness has come to our people,” he said.
In the photo: Velankanni Palpandi (in orange saree) with other women in the Dalit area of Gopalasamudram say their kids have missed out on one academic year. Check out other photos of the series here.
While the Pallars have lost out on education, the Thevars have lost jobs and prospective brides for their young men. Other castes in the village include Chettiars, Brahmins, Nadars, Pillais and Konars (Yadavs). Many of these residents, although not directly involved in the clash, have suffered due to it. A number of long time residents have moved out of the village fearing a reprisal of 2013. Many others have sent their children to boarding schools far from home so that their studies may not be interrupted. Most villagers agree that the caste related violence has destroyed much more than peace in Gopalasamudram.
While the two murders were of residents of Gopalasamudram itself, the violence had a cascading effect on villages surrounding Gopalasamudram. In 2014, another Pallar man was hacked to death while traveling by bus in the neighbouring Kothankulam village. A spate of almost copycat murders followed, at least six such killings according to Dalit activists, as caste became a talking point once again. Rifts deepened along caste lines in neighbouring villages, say activists in the area.
“In Suthamani village, about a kilometer from here, 20 Thevar boys moved out of the government school so that they did not have to study with Pallar boys,” said Rajavel Paramasivan, a social activist in Gopalasamudram. “They moved to a private school just because of this issue in our village,” he said.
Tamil Nadu stands second in the country currently in terms of caste clashes, pipped only by Maharashtra, according to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau. 211 caste related riots have taken place in the state in 2014. The southern districts of the state record more violence and caste related murders and honour killings than the other regions of the state. Dalit experts say that this is likely due to the fact that the Pallars who abound in the southern districts are largely a land-owning community and therefore more aware and willing to fight for their rights.
John Pandian, leader of Dalit political party Tamilaga Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK or Tamil People’s Progressive Party) says that despite caste related murders and riots reducing in numbers in Tirunelveli district in the past 10 years, the reasons behind such murders are much more mundane.
“Feelings of caste have increased across the state,” said Pandian. “The problem is that there are not enough industries here. There is no way for all castes to work together. If they all work together in the same factory, there will be no issues. Our youth are unemployed in the villages,” he said.
Subbaiah and Jayakumar of Gopalasamudram, on either side of the caste divide, agree. “Our youth have nothing to do, they are educated but unemployed,” said Subbaiah, of the Thevar caste. “They go around in groups, get drunk and then pick fights. Even a small remark or a glance can turn into an issue and ends in murder,” he said.
Pallar resident Jayakumar says that unemployed Pallar youth too consume liquor and speak of caste amongst themselves as an identity and therefore situations get out of hand. “There is no proper education for our boys, no access to higher studies for any of the youngsters here, be it Thevar or Pallar,” he said. “Without education and jobs, they sit under trees and discuss small issues and blow them out of proportion. Only education can resolve this caste issue,” he said.
A ray of hope though finds its way in the maturity of some decisions taken by middle aged members of both castes in Gopalasamudram. A peace committee comprising all castes in the village, formed in the aftermath of the two murders, came up with some positive resolutions. One resolution was to push for a government school in the village where all students would study together. The second was that no caste-affiliated political parties would be allowed to come in and campaign in the village. The third was that no flags would be raised anywhere in the village which symbolised a caste. The flagpoles of Gopalasamudram until today stand bereft of yellow, red or green, an indication of the sanity that its people are trying desperately to keep.
In the next edition of Tamil Nadu’s Caste Chronicles:
Firstpost finds out how caste is taking on a newer, more aggressive form in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, as a resurgent Dalit takes on the aggressive Thevar, the all powerful Nadar and the other so-called higher castes. We also delve into how caste identity has become crucial for Tamilians down south.
On November 12, 1936, the birthday of the young Maharaja of Travancore, Sri Chitra Thirunal Balarama Varma, he issued a proclamation in his capital, Trivandrum. The proclamation said, in its entirety:
‘Profoundly convinced of the truth and validity of our religion, believing that it is based on divine guidance and on all-comprehending toleration, knowing that in its practice it has throughout the centuries, adapted itself to the needs of changing times, solicitous that none of our Hindu subjects should, by reason of birth or caste or community, be denied the consolation and the solace of the Hindu faith, we have decided and hereby declare, ordain and command that, subject to such rules and conditions as may be laid down and imposed by us for preserving their proper atmosphere and maintaining their rituals and observances, there should henceforth be no restriction placed on any Hindu by birth or religion on entering or worshipping at temples controlled by us and our Government.’
To us today, this may seem commonplace, but for that time and place it was revolutionary. For this was Travancore, which Swami Vivekananda had called “a lunatic asylum” for the indignities heaped on its lower castes. Today, Kerala is probably the least (overtly) casteist part of the country, although it is almost certainly the most (covertly) communal part as well. But nobody questions egalitarianism. This edict was as powerful as the ideals of the French Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity. But just as the revolution had its dark side, so does Kerala’s social revolution: the egalitarianism of this proclamation brought with it a reverse discrimination, so that today the Hindus are at the receiving end of what is for all practical purposes an apartheid: in every way, they are behind the Christians and Muslims, who also benefit from official benefits for them.
At the entrance to the Travancore royal palace on the 103rd birthday of Sri Chitra Tirunal. on 10 November, 2015. Image: Rajeev Srinivasan/Firstpost
Be that as it may, a little history lesson is in order. What is now Kerala was, like most of South India around 1500 years ago, heavily Buddhist and Jain: and there are occasional discoveries of seated Buddhas by farmers tilling the fields. There is evidence from Xieun Tsang, the Chinese traveler, who described his trip to Sabarimala where he said the presiding deity was worshipped simultaneously as both Siva and the Avalokitesvara Padmapani.
And I am quoting Communist leader EMS Namboodiripad, so those of you about to outrage at me may calm down. An army of Hindus arrived circa 600CE, headed by Nambudiri Brahmins and defeated the Buddhists, imposing Hindu culture again over the area. Those Buddhists who collaborated became ‘high-caste’ sudras (eg Nairs), and those that didn’t became ‘low-caste’ (eg Ezhavas). This invasion is immortalized in the story of Mahabali, who ‘ruled over a kingdom where all were equal’, and was sent to Patala: thus exiled.
This situation continued for over a thousand years, partly because it was a stable equilibrium wherein all parties knew their roles in society, even those who were oppressed and at the bottom of the pile as feudal peasant untermenschen. There were also small groups of Christians (the first of them arrived around 345CE, contrary to popular mythology, as refugees led by Thomas of Canaan, a Syrian merchant), Jews, and Muslims.
The next big disruption was when the Portuguese, instigated by Francis Xavier, invaded and converted at gunpoint most of the coastal fisherfolk. They were annoyed to find the Syrian Christians who had never heard of the Pope (their allegiance was to the Patriarch of Antioch, Syria) and so proceeded to persecute and forcibly convert them as well.
Next came Tipu Sultan around 1790. He conquered Malabar and parts of Cochin, but was thwarted from entering Travancore by the use of a ‘river bomb’, wherein Travancore soldiers purposely burst a dam, causing a wall of water to course down the Periyar river. This flooded Tipu’s batteries and killed his troops, forcing him to retreat. But Tipu’s advance had caused a large number of Hindus to flee persecution and settle in Travancore. Many Hindus were also converted at swordpoint.
The net result of Tipu’s invasion was that Travancore became impoverished and thus dependent on the British, who took full advantage of the situation. They forced the regent queen in 1819 to donate Rs. 10,000 (an astronomical sum then) to set up the Valiya Palli church at Kottayam, and large-scale conversions of Hindus began, because they offered poor, low-caste people basic education if they converted.
In 1819, there were, according to the Travancore Manual, 6% Muslims and 6% Christians in Travancore. But under the stress of British overlordship, high tributes extracted by them, and the threat of conversion, paradoxically Hindu society turned destructively inwards and became dysfunctional, even suicidal. Lower castes bore the brunt of it, leading to extraordinary practices such as not only untouchability, but also un-seeability. Also, bizarrely precise laws of untouchability and even un-shadowability were in effect: a Nair must stand at least 5 feet away from a Nambudiri, an Ezhava 10 feet, a Pulaya 15 feet, and so on.
One of the most ridiculous laws prevented lower-caste Hindus from not only going to temples, but even walking on the public roads around them. Unbelievably, they had a simple way around it: just convert, and then you can use the public roads. Thus a Sankaran merely had to become a Thomas or a Bashir, and he could automatically enjoy a lot more freedom! As a result of all this, by 1930, Travancore was 33% Christian, up from 6% in 1819: Ezhavas and Nadars converted in huge numbers (data from the Travancore Manual).
Increasing awareness of their rights by the lower-castes, especially the Ezhavas, led to agitations for more rights, including entry into government jobs and the Praja-sabha (Assembly) for them. The leadership of Sree Narayana Guru and the poet Kumaran Asan ensured this anger was constructive, and not destructive. But the Vaikom Satyagraha, 1924, about access to the roads around the Vaikom Siva temple, crystallized the anger, and Ezhavas began to discuss en masse conversion to Christianity.
It was in this situation that the wise Maharaja, supported by his brilliant prime minister C P Ramaswamy Iyer, decided that natural justice and sheer decency indicated that temple entry should be granted. Thus the events of November 12, 1936. All Hindus could now, with dignity, go to all temples. In fact, police officers were required to escort low-caste people there. A great-uncle of mine, a dentist, recounted how the very lowest caste people had been led to believe that their eyes would burst if they entered temples, and so it was necessary to demonstrate to them that no such thing would happen.
The net result of all this, unfortunately, was that the previously oppressed became enamored with the siren song of radical egalitarianism and became Communists. To this day, they remain so, thus enabling Communism to retain a foothold in Kerala.
The royals of Travancore, who ruled as regents to the real sovereign Sri Padmanabha, had defeated the Dutch (Colachel 1741) and Tipu (Aluva 1790), and remained one of the best kingdoms in the country, retrieved their lost honor by this far-sighted and bold move in 1936. It was a landmark declaration, no less remarkable than the successes of human rights movements elsewhere.
In another November, long, long ago, the Chicago Daily Tribune called the US Presidential election for Thomas E Dewey. The ‘loser’, Harry Truman, had the gloating pleasure of holding up that headline, ‘DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN’, for popping flashbulbs and grinning journalists when it turned out he had handily won the election. In a different medium, on a smaller scale, but at infinitely greater length, NDTV got the Bihar election grotesquely, mortifyingly wrong. By nine o’clock, less than an hour after the counting began, Prannoy Roy declared that the BJP had won the Bihar election and was likely to win between 145-149 seats, a comfortable majority.
It was a startling prediction, given that the conventional wisdom for electronic voting is that it takes a couple of hours for reliable trends to emerge. At around the same time, in a reversal of roles, Arnab Goswami at Times Now was counselling caution. But all the anchors continued to predict significant leads for the BJP, except one: Bhupendra Chaubey at CNN-IBN.
Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad
I happened upon CNN-IBN in a fit of channel-changing desperation some fifteen minutes after NDTV‘s moment of magisterial recklessness. I noticed that the news ticker at the base said that the two coalitions were neck-and-neck and the figures on the main screen had the NDA less than ten seats ahead at a time when Prannoy Roy and Dorab Sopariwala on NDTV had the gap at an unbridgeable thirty in the NDA’s favour. And it wasn’t just the aggregate figures; every electoral region in Bihar was being called in diametrically opposed ways by these two channels, which meant that the explanations being offered for success and failure didn’t just differ, they didn’t even overlap. To change channels was to toggle between parallel worlds. It couldn’t last and didn’t. By a quarter to ten, just an hour after NDTV‘s Dewey moment, CNN-IBN had the Grand Alliance ahead by more than 20 seats and course corrections were under way in the other channels as they strove to catch up with Bhupendra Chaubey’s team, the one that had been reporting this election from the real world.
Meanwhile, back in NDTV‘s alternative universe, the NDA’s early ‘leads’ were being garnished with little sprigs of psephological wisdom. Leads like this were irreversible, the gap would only widen because the NDA’s gains were evenly spread across Bihar, across all five phases of the election. The broad moral of the results, according to Prannoy Roy, was that the people of Bihar wanted much more than bijli, sarak, pani: they wanted vikas. They were, naturally, aspirational.
The prize for Most Irresistible Comeuppance belonged to Shekhar Gupta, once editor of the Indian Express. Gupta’s commentary is a blend of insider knowingness and vatic generalization. On Sunday morning, he surpassed himself. When the NDA had won the election (that is, before 10 am), Gupta in his usual forensic way, cut to the heart of the matter. Nitish Kumar had been humiliated (on the strength of the leads in the first half hour) on account of his arrogance in his second term. He had humiliated Jitan Ram Manjhi and alienated the mahadalit vote. He had his head turned by provincial success and began to dream of Delhi. He began to pander to Delhi’s drawing-rooms and lost touch with the Nitish Kumar of old, the grassroots political worker. Dreaming all-India dreams, he lost Bihar. This was a fine, fluent explanation; the trouble was, Nitish won.
As the head-banging wrongness of NDTV‘s reporting became evident to the panel in its studio, the mood turned from certainty to bafflement to a kind of giggling hysteria. There was a point when Prannoy Roy returned from a break and actually said that the panel would now walk back all its arguments to explain why the opposite had occurred. It was almost as if they were reporting on a bunfight in the Drones Club, not a election that had the country riveted, that actually meant something to the people watching television. Roy, Sopariwala and Gupta, arguably the most experienced team of election pundits on television, couldn’t tell the difference between pundits not taking themselves too seriously and pundits not taking responsibility for bad data and facile, frictionless explanations.
By noon when the scale of the NDA’s defeat became apparent, we were being treated to Shekhar Gupta’s explanations for its failure. Thus, the error the BJP made in ‘rallying round the cow’, the failure to polarize Bihar’s people, the hijacking, as he put it in a tweet, of Narendra Modi‘s message of kamaai, padhaai & dawaai (earnings, education and medicine) by the Giriraj/Avaidyanath idiom of dangaai, pitaai, ladaai (violence, beatings and quarrels), these were the reasons the Grand Alliance won.
Karl Popper, who was sceptical of history’s claim to the cachet of being ‘scientific’, argued that historians were no more than historicists, people who legitimized what happened by making it seem inevitable. EH Carr, who had written a history of the Bolshevik Revolution that Popper greatly disliked, argued that Popper’s objection was pointless: the historian’s job was to explain what happened, not what might have happened. This isn’t an argument that’s ever likely to be sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction, but seldom has Popper’s cynicism been more vividly borne out, live, on prime time than it was on Sunday morning. The same panel that had confidently explained defeat, now, given the benefit of hindsight, omnisciently explained victory. After such knowledge, what forgiveness?
The surrealness of the morning wasn’t confined to the NDTV studio. On the India Today channel, Rahul Kanwal had the same moment in two different movies. Early in the morning he appeared, exhilarated, in the middle of a mob of BJP celebrants; a little later in the day he reappeared, exhilarated, in the middle of a mob of Mahagathbandhan enthusiasts. It was the kind of morning when I didn’t dare step out of the house for fear of meeting a left-handed me.
The extraordinary thing about the NDTV discussion, though, was that at least one of the participants, Yogendra Yadav, was visibly astonished by the the channel’s version of the early-morning leads. Yadav had gone on record the day before the counting to say that he thought that the exit polls were wrong, that they chronically undercounted poorer Biharis, that there would be a significant swing in vote-share against the NDA. Barkha Dutt, even as she tweeted the studio’s decision to call the election in favour of the NDA, made it clear that it wasn’t her opinion. Ravish Kumar, NDTV‘s principal Hindi anchor, had made it clear that his travels in Bihar indicated a decisive triumph for the MGB. In the face of so much in-house scepticism, how could Roy & Co get it so wrong?
Mistakes happen, but sometimes they happen because pundits mistake knowingness for realism. I bet the powers-that-be at CNN-IBN are sorry for killing the only exit poll that got the scale of the Grand Alliance’s victory right, because they just knew that a figure of 180 seats was impossible. Shekhar Gupta recently wrote an op-ed indicting two generations of faux liberals who didn’t fight the good fight, who pandered to ascriptive identity instead of standing up in a principled way for the individual citizen. The piece ends with a rousing call for a new ‘mainstream’ liberalism. That ‘mainstream’ is revealing; Gupta’s new liberalism is a form of political accommodation that conflates liberalism with centrism, that helps ‘realists’ determine where the shifting centre lies as Indian politics moves to the right.
It’s why Shekhar Gupta tweeted that Narendra Modi‘s agenda of development was hijacked by the sanghi fringe; to say plainly that it was the BJP’s supremos, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, who orchestrated a communal, divisive campaign would be too extreme, too far from the centre or ‘mainstream’ of contemporary common sense. To find the centre and call it moderation is a matter of taste; to mistake such triangulation for a new liberalism is just wrong.
The ‘caste’ arithmetic of the JD(U) and the RJD and the pluralism of the Grand Alliance’s politics, sternly described as pandering by ‘mainstream’ liberals, stopped the most starkly majoritarian political campaign in living memory in its tracks. If this doesn’t count as a net gain for the prospect of a liberal, pluralist politics in this country, it’s hard to know what does. Yogendra Yadav, who called the election perfectly the day before the results came in, once famously said that regardless of who wins the Bihar election, the people of Bihar had already lost. Opposed as he is to the BJP, he was disappointed by Nitish Kumar’s alliance with Lalu Prasad. I suspect he has put that judgment on hold for the moment. For both Bihar and the much-trashed idea of India, this was a famous victory.
This article first appeared in The Telegraph and has been reproduced with permission
The One Rank One Pension (OROP) has reached a stage with which most soldiers, bureaucrats and politicians are familiar. In military parlance this situation is called an impasse, where neither side seems to be making much headway, and now it’s a question of who has more stamina to last out the war of attrition. Despite posturing by veterans, eventually the state with its infinite capacity to linger endlessly is more likely to win. But leaving a demoralized armed forces in its wake, this will be a Pyrrhic victory indeed. It need not be.
The Indian Armed Forces have always more than earned their keep and here are some thoughts on how they can continue to do so if only stakeholders were willing to look at imaginative options instead of taking trite intractable positions.
The Indian Army is the world’s largest demographic experiment whose invaluable results can be monetised in countless ways. This 1.3 million strong standing force is mostly organised by regiments based on demographics. Gurkhas, Rajputs, Madras, Jat, Maratha and so on for over 32 Infantry Regiments, 62 Armoured regiments and several hundred battalions. In other words, we possess the data base of millions of soldiers with their annual medical records over several decades.
This includes their exact place of birth and nurturing. Add retired soldiers and this database multiples manifold. These millions of records are an incredible control group. Though the soldiers come from different districts and villages of India, their state of physical fitness, the calorific value of their diet and their physical exertions are exactly the same.
Ex-servicemen who are protesting for OROP. Reuters
In the hands of data scientists this is veritable gold. Analytics can yield genetic strengths and weaknesses of specific locations. Medicinal effects and side effects on different populace. Bone density, calcium, mineral, iodine deficiencies, water related problems and hundreds of other data points that can assist in medical and pharmacological research are just waiting to be tapped. The entire pharmaceutical industry will be an eager customer for these insights and that’s just one of the uses.
These insights can be used to steer health programs, create custom drugs for specific regions, and study the effects of pollution or contamination of food and water sources. The possibilities and potential are limited only by imagination. And for a government that advocates technology in every breath, technical imagination should not be a problem.
Or consider that one of the biggest challenges for the financial lending industry is credit rating accuracy. Companies go to elaborate lengths and costs to rate their potential borrowers as accurately as possible to ensure minimal default rate. Again the Indian Armed forces is a treasure trove of accurately mapped potential candidates for microfinance.
Which other profession diligently maintains records of its employees every single year, tracks their exact promotional growth, vets their addresses physically, records details of their next of kin and accurately maps their entire family? No other profession maintains a ‘record of service’ which objectively attests every soldier’s character and several other parameters. In addition, the former soldiers are trained, disciplined and have a peer network that can very easily vouch or even stand guarantors for each other.
Which brings out another opportunity that corporates could leverage. The need for security and safety is on the increase and large enterprises whose boundaries are expanding realise the gap between state provisioned security and its own requirements. Forward looking organisations have already been leveraging ex-servicemen in areas such as security, logistics, operations and maintenance, especially in remote and difficult to access areas.
Recent announcements by certain cab and ecommerce companies of their intention to leverage this latent talent is only the tip of the iceberg. Entire ecosystems of Medium and Small businesses (MSMEs) can be spawned using ex-servicemen as a foundation. Large corporates can simply agree to intake a certain percentage of their workforce from this ex-services pool to ease the burden on the exchequer and create win-win for all stakeholders.
The government’s intention to create hundreds of ‘smart cities’ and megacities is another opportunity where productive residual years of a retired soldier can be channelized. We often forget that even highly automated businesses like telecommunications and logistics require thousands of personnel to protect the towers, lay out the cables, refuel the generators, patrol the assets, drive the vehicles, man the warehouses, manage the inventory etc. All these are functions that servicemen have done for decades. They just need to be tweaked to civilian usage and there is a force multiplier waiting to be exploited.
All that stands between the ideation and implementation of these and several such opportunities is the intent followed by organisational & execution skills. The latter two are forte of Armed Forces. It’s in the intent where civil society and political establishment have to step up to the plate. Ironically — thinking afresh is not an option anymore. Even without the OROP, salaries and pensions are ballooning to an alarming proportion of the defense budget, leaving little for modernisation investments. Unless we start thinking innovatively we will constantly be robbing Peter to pay Paul and reinforcing the belief that not just generals – but bureaucrats and politicians also are guilty of fighting the last wars.
Raghu Raman is a defence, cyber and information security specialist. A former Army officer, he also led the Natgrid programme of the Government of India for five years. He’s currently President, Risk and New Ventures in Reliance Industries Ltd. The views are personal.
The three children aged between 6 and 14 months on whose behalf parents have raised a PIL in the Supreme Court banning firecrackers in Delhi, the world pollution capital, have made history of sorts as the youngest litigants ever to approach the highest judicial body in the country.
But they are not likely to get much joy. The central government has defended itself by submitting the Supreme Court that a complete ban on the bursting of crackers was not called for and provisions were in place to limit noise.
While this sounds nice it is tough to figure out exactly how a partial ban is imposed. You cannot walk around telling people their quotas of crackers is over. That is impractical. Either you have a ban or you don’t. Perhaps in all the smoke and acrid fallout the dengue mosquitoes will be wiped out…or so we hope.
Just like airline pilots who ask you not to get up until the plane comes to a complete halt (as opposed to half a halt) this statement is also contradictory and absurd.
Image courtesy: Agencies
Regardless of the provisions of 2010, which put a cap on noise pollution and the ash cloud from burning sulphur, the firecrackers are not going to reduce. The one way to cut down the bonfires and the blasts is to make crackers prohibitively expensive. So much so that folks cannot afford it but it is too late for that step.
By the same token, in the current atmosphere you cannot really have a silent Diwali when the pyrotechnic element is historically intrinsic to it. Placing any controls is not on the cards.
People can always convince themselves that the high pollution levels are not their fault and why should they pay the price for bad administration and ill-conceived rules on emissions followed by past governments. Blame them, not us, we are celebrating… after all, another notch up in the dirty air stakes so big deal, we are damned anyway.
While the Ministry of Environment and Forests has blithely stated that various guidelines have been put in place a blanket ban may not be necessary, it has not gone so far as to state how much of the blanket is accepted.
Lighting firecrackers is banned in Delhi between 10 pm and 6 am. That makes no difference to anyone and most of the populace is not even aware of the rule. “Through the last amendment dated 11 January, 2010, the issues have been addressed in line with the Supreme Court orders from time to time. Stress has been laid on making the night peaceful. The ‘night time’ has been defined (10 pm to 6 am) and restrictions have been imposed on the use of horns, sound emitting construction equipment and bursting of firecrackers during the night time,” stated the affidavit, citing the Noise Rules, 2000.
This all sounds very caring but adds up to a spit in the wind. Noone goes around measuring the decibel level and our police are scarcely armed with scientific instruments to make on the spot decisions.
The Supreme court meets on Wednesday to consider the litigation. Although there is no data on the riders attached to the babys’ plea the fear triggered in pets, in the elderly and infirm and especially in little children only underscores the pollution angle.
Last heard, there were some stirrings of other parents joining the anti-crackers campaign and making it a class action exercise.
If the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, decides to ban firecrackers there will at this late stage be far too many offenders to make it possible to effectively implement the order.
The partial ban has even less chance of success because it cannot be measured.
The Supreme Court’s best bet might be to issue stern warning, create a blueprint for 2016 and ask the citizens of the capital to use their own common sense since they are the ones suffering most. Will they listen and settle for token mini-displays and save themselves and their children from sore throats, coughs, colds, allergies and a host of other ailments? Don’t hold your breath…actually do that.
Lucknow: In a move widely believed to be an attempt at reviving the sagging public image of his government, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav on Thursday undertook a major reshuffle in his team, dismissing eight ministers and withdrawing the departments from nine ministers. It’s also being seen as a move from Akhilesh to move out of the shadows of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and have his own stamp on the ministry.
Interestingly, the move was expected after the Bihar assembly elections early next month scheduled to end next month, and the sudden announcement came as a shock to the sacked ministers. The charges of all 17 ministers will vest in the chief minister till the oath-taking of new entrants and allocation of work, which will be held on 31 October.
Akhilesh Yadav. PTI
Speculations about this exercise had grown after Akhilesh met the state Governor Ram Naik in Lucknow on Wednesday 28 October to discuss the expansion of his cabinet. According to a notification from the Raj Bhawan, the Governor, on the advice of the Chief Minister, removed Cabinet ministers Raja Mahendra Aridaman Singh (Stamps, Registration and Civil Defence), Ambika Chaudhary (Backward Classes and Handicapped Welfare), Shiv Kumar Beriya (Textiles and Silk), Narad Rai (Khadi and Village Industries), Shivakant Ojha (Technical Education), Ministers of State Alok Kumar Shakya (Technical Education), Yogesh Pratap Singh (Basic Education), and Bhagwat Sharan Gangwar (Micro, Small and Medium Industries).
In a more surprising move, the departments of nine cabinet ministers have been withdrawn. These include Ahmad Hasan (Health and Family Welfare), Raghvendra Pratap Singh ‘Raja Bhaiya’ (Food and Civil Supplies), Awadhesh Prasad (Social Welfare, Scheduled Castes and Tribes Welfare), Paras Nath Yadav (Horticulture and Food Processing), Ram Govind Chaudhary (Basic Education), Durga Prasad Yadav (Transport), Brahma Shankar Tripathi (Home Guards), Iqbal Mahmood (Fisheries and Public Enterprises) and Mahboob Ali (Secondary Education).
Significantly, there has been a complete revamp in the field of education, and there will be new faces handling technical, secondary and basic education.
Whereas the talk of a major overhaul of the ministry had been making the rounds for several weeks, it was believed that it would come next month. Most of the leaders affected in the reshuffle are veterans in the ruling party, and the action against them indicates a sense of urgency on the part of the chief minister to undertake an image makeover. It also indicates that Akhilesh could finally be taking decisions on his own, since most of the individuals included in Thursday’s exercise are considered to be close to the Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav. Notable among them are Raja Mahendra Aridaman Singh, Ambika Chaudhary, Shivakant Ojha, Ahmed Hasan, Raghvendra Pratap Singh, Durga Prasad Yadav and Paras Nath Yadav.
According to party sources, most of the affected ministers were found unable to control growing factionalism in the party in their districts, while others, especially in education and industries, were facing charges of corruption. For the last several months, Mulayam Singh Yadav had been saying at public platforms that many ministers were not doing their jobs properly and had asked Akhilesh to remove them. Mulayam had also been saying that he was receiving complaints from party workers about many ministers failing to get any work done in their areas.
The exercise, it is learnt, is aimed to give Akhilesh greater say in choosing individuals of his choice for the rest of the tenure of his government. Many young SP leaders might be given ministerial berths, while some others considered close to Akhilesh could be elevated to the Cabinet level. Uttar Pradesh has a maximum permissible strength of 60 for the council of ministers. It is being speculated that up to ten members could be inducted into the Akhilesh ministry.
In a quick reaction, the state president of Bharatiya Janata Party Laxmikant Bajpai held a press conference to claim that the state Government would not get any mileage from this move as the “people have made up their minds to get rid of the government itself.” He also asked why the Minister for Mining Gayatri Prajapti had not removed despite several charges against him leveled by officers, local people and the BJP itself. He also wondered whether the chief minister agreed with the recent statements of senior minister Mohammad Azam Khan.
BJP’s spokesman Vijay Pathak said it was surprising that the ministers were dismissed whereas the Chief Minister could easily have asked them to resign. The state president of the Congress Nirmal Khatri said that it was a “half-hearted” and belated step by the chief minister. He also wondered why many other minister facing serious charges of corruption had not been removed. “It appears that the chief minister has taken this step to settle the caste arithmetic, and the people have seen through it,” he claimed.
The Monday arrest of Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje, better known as Chhota Rajan, 20 years since Interpol issued a red-corner notice for him, raises more questions than it answers. ‘Why now?’ and ‘Just what information can the Indian authorities hope to extract from him?’ are just two of the questions yet to be answered.
According to reports, including this one in The Times of India, Interpol was tipped off by Australian authorities about Rajan’s request for a visa extension. Later the Interpol in Canberra alerted Indonesian authorities, who arrested Rajan ‘at the request of Indian authorities’, The Indian Express reports.
The operation to nab Rajan — believed to be living in Newcastle, New South Wales — had reportedly been in progress since around a month ago, when Rajan applied for a visa extension. It was during the process of verification that Australian authorities realised that this was a fugitive wanted by the Indian government, according to the Indian Express report.
At first, there was some confusion, in the media, as to whether the man arrested was indeed Rajan or Mohan Kumar, also known as Cyanide Mohan who has been housed in a Karnataka jail since receiving the death sentence in December 2013. It later transpired that Rajan’s passport was in the name of a ‘Mohan Kumar’, a generic enough name, but clearly not generic enough.
Chhota Rajan. Reuters
As with the identity of the arrested man, there was a sense of confusion about whether there was even a provision for New Delhi to bring Rajan back to Indian soil to presumably answer for his crimes over the years. And so, while the Indian Ministry of External Affairs website clearly mentions the signing of an extradition treaty between then external affairs minister SM Krishna and his Indonesian counterpart Dr Marty Natalegawa in 2011, something this video also shows, the treaty was never ratified by the Indonesian parliament.
The exchange of letters ratifying the treaty will reportedly take place during Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s visit to Indonesia and Brunei between 1 and 6 November. So does this mean India will have to hold tight until then? Probably not.
As per Chapter II, Article 2(2) of Indonesia’s Law on Extradition of 1979, “In the absence of a treaty… extradition may be granted on the basis of good relationship and if the interest of the State of the Republic of Indonesia so requires”. In other words, the process to extradite Rajan could feasibly be kick-started long before Ansari lands in Jakarta.
On a sidenote, India actually has a ratified extradition agreement with Australia, so if Indian and Australian authorities were in contact for a month before the actual arrest, it stands to reason that he could just as easily have been detained before takeoff.
But, wait a minute
After the ‘how’ regarding Rajan’s extradition, comes the inevitable ‘why’.
Why bother with an ‘old and sick’ gangster whose ‘gang is also not that active’, asks former Mumbai top cop MN Singh, in an interview with DNA. Pointing out that gang rivalries are a ‘thing of the past’, the former Mumbai commissioner of police says, “I don’t see much help from his arrest… Rajan was not much useful in the past 20 years as his information has not taken us anywhere close to Dawood.”
A view taken by Singh and also being put forth in numerous reports is that the arrest of Rajan may not have been the tactical masterstroke it is being called. In fact, NDTV quotes a source as saying that Rajan actually planned his own arrest.
“He (Rajan) shared his travel itinerary (Passport no: G 9273860 registered under the name of Mohan Kumar, Garuda Indonesia flight GA715 from Sydney to Bali on October 25) to the Indian agencies, who shared the said information with a Red Corner Notice to Australian intelligence agencies,” the source is quoted as saying.
The Indian Express points out that Rajan has been unwell for the past five years, and with a large percentage of his gang either dead or in jail, the threat from Dawood Ibrahim’s men was palpable.
In fact, it was in July this year that Rajan was attacked by some of Dawood’s henchmen in a Sydney café after a ‘betrayal’ by some of Rajan’s own men, say reports.
According to some of Rajan’s associates quoted by the The Daily Mail, brothers Ravi and Vimal Rattesar — reportedly closest to Rajan at one point — were responsible for the tip-off.
“Based in Mumbai’s Chembur, Ravi and Vimal wanted to open a hotel in Dubai and Chhota Shakeel assured help. So they leaked Rajan’s whereabouts, which was finally confirmed by his cook Mitwa who gave away the address of the café which Rajan used to visit once a week,” Rajan’s associates told The Daily Mail.
So, what next?
According to Mumbai Mirror, neither Rajan nor India appears to be in a tearing hurry to bring him back here. The report contends that Rajan is still very useful and can be instrumental in getting hold of the much-wanted Dawood Ibrahim and adds that it is for this reason that the Intelligence Bureau has kept him alive all these years with ‘protection, intelligence and resources’.
What’s new about the observation of ML Fotedar, once a key member of the Congress inner circle, about Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi? In his as-yet-unreleased book The Chinar Leaves, he says Rahul Gandhi has serious limitations as a leader and that the possibility of in-house revolt looms large in the Congress. He also mentions that Sonia Gandhi, the AICC president, is caught between the coterie which does not want Rahul to succeed and her inability to shake off her dependence on it. None of this is a revelation. Congress leaders have been discussing this off and on for some time now.
Fotedar’s views, however, calls for a look on the state of the Congress and the visible absence of a sense of urgency in the leadership to revive the party. In Bihar, where the Assembly election is in progress, it’s only a bit player. That it is contesting 40 seats is not a reflection of its strength on the ground; it’s a largesse extended by bigger partners in the state. In Uttar Pradesh, the biggest state in terms of Lok Sabha seats, it’s positioned fourth after the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP. It has lost almost the whole of the East and the North of the country. With Andhra Pradesh gone, Karnataka and Kerala are the only states in which it has a respectable presence. In the South, it has been losing ground steadily.
File image of Rahul Gandhi. PTI
Now, none of this is a recent development. It’s a process that has been on since the early 1990s, when the twin issues of Mandal and Kamandal threw up new political forces and alignments and ripped apart piece-by-piece the social support base of the party. The Congress lost the upper castes to the BJP, the middle castes shifted to regional parties, the Dalits and tribals found their own options and Muslims preferred parties like the SP and the RJD. The party is still clueless on how to recover these lost bases.
In addition to letting go of the traditional support bases, it has lost the new, emerging ones too. The new middle class and the aspirational young — the product of its own economic policies in the early 1990s — no longer stands by the Congress. In fact, the party has stopped conversing with urban India. It has nothing to offer for the youth. And the intellectual class is wary of it.
If Rahul’s speeches today appear silent on these classes, blame it on the confusion in the Congress on ideological repositioning. When in trouble go back to the poor — this has been the Congress’ tried-and-tested success formula since the days of Indira Gandhi. However, while repeatedly talking about the poor, Rahul tends to forget the definition of the poor has been changing over time. It’s much more than basic needs like roti, kapda aur makaan now. A family with a two-wheeler and television at home can be poor too. He appears out of touch with reality and the times.
That is the reason he is earning goodwill points by showing up at all the trouble-spots but the goodwill has not translated into votes for the party. The fault lies as much with him as the Congress as a whole. Neither has grown beyond the 1970s worldview and neither feels it’s important to do that. That the party is merely surviving and not thriving has a lot to do with that. Its being in power several times in the last two decades has a lot to do with circumstances of wider polity than any inherent strength or resilience.
However, while Fotedar is correct in suggesting that Rahul may not be the leader the Congress wants at this juncture, he is wrong about the in-house revolt. The Gandhi family name no more brings in votes for the Congress, but it still serves as the glue that holds the faction-ridden party together. The party may want another Gandhi — Priyanka is the obvious choice — to take over but it would never let go of the family. It simply lacks the confidence to experiment.
For all practical purposes, the Congress is on the sick bed now. Its revival hinges on how it develops a new language of communication with people, finds new leaders, wins back lost constituencies and brings energy into its state units. With no effort visible in all these areas, its future is bleak.