Monthly Archives: FEBRUARY 2016
Paranoid Nationalism Doesn’t Make Us Secure: Admiral Ramdas
27.02.16 - admiral l. ramdas, Former Chief of Naval Staff, INDIA.
I have been a proud member of the uniformed fraternity for nearly forty five years before retiring as Head of the Indian Navy in 1993. The present turbulence in our top academic institutions together with continuing manifestations of mob violence, totalitarian behaviour and intolerance, impel me once again, to speak up and share my concerns through this open letter. My two recent letters to the President and Prime Minister have not elicited more than a routine bureaucratic response. I am well aware that I may be one of the few from the fraternity of retired military veterans who continue to take public positions which might not always be in support of government policy. However, I see this is both a right and a duty of a former serviceman and a citizen like myself. I am well aware that serving members in uniform cannot express themselves as per the service conduct rules . However, we veterans out of uniform certainly can and must. If people like myself are quiet today, my grandchildren will ask me "If not you then who”, "if not now, then when”, Thatha?
I refer to the train of events that began with the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad Central University (HCU) in December 2015, and continues till today with the unresolved JNU saga. The unprecedented entry of police into the Campus, the ensuing high decibel, high voltage "trial by media”, and subsequent student arrests under serious charges ranging from sedition, anti nationalism and terrorism, has hit headlines across the country. This has created an avoidable polarisation of views thanks to the entire episode having been handled with a lack of sensitivity and blown into a full scale crisis where students are being demonised and conspiracy theories abounding. Thousands of students and civil society groups as well as journalists have been out on the streets of Delhi taking out some of the biggest, peaceful rallies seen in recent times.
Let me briefly rewind to my personal profile so as to better understand where I am coming from.
I joined the fledgling Indian Navy in January 1949 – barely 16 months after we gained our independence. It was a time of great expectations, big dreams and opportunities. The selection for entry into the Armed Forces of a resurgent India at the end of the sustained struggle against British colonial rule, was heady indeed for a young fifteen year old. Those 45 years in the Navy provided me a panoramic view of events that have unfolded across the world stage. And certainly I had a ring side view of events in an India that had been traumatised by the unprecedented brutality and slaughter of partition – the scars of which linger on in my personal and our collective consciousness on both sides of our borders.
Brick by brick, step by painful step, leaders and citizens together created and built a vision of a new and a free India. This vision, the product of long and tough debates within the Constituent Assembly, sought to encompass the huge and often conflicting diversities that had to be accommodated within the framework of a path breaking Constitutional document. Incorporating the often divergent views of an impressive range of thinkers and visionaries, the Indian Constitution firmly rejected a narrow, exclusionary monoculture in favour of a revolutionary definition of nationhood that was inclusive, confident and transformative under the guiding hand of Baba Saheb Ambedkar.
Armed Forces and the Nation
The Armed Forces of this newly independent nation were an equal part of this combined effort of nation building in a variety of ways -trained as we were to conduct ourselves with discipline and professionalism combined with compassion and a sense of our common humanity and purpose.
The unspoken and sacred credo has been that those in the armed forces will remain a-political. Indeed we forgo many of the normal rights as a citizen, enshrined in the Constitution when we join the Armed Forces. The accepted practice of honouring the principle of political control over the armed forces has been followed without exception ever since independence. However, the quid pro quo of this arrangement, unwritten as it is, implies that the government of the day will discharge its responsibilities towards the people [including the military] with honour and integrity.
After retirement each of us uniformed persons reverts to being a citizen of India, with all the implications of rights, duties and responsibilities that citizenship implies. The Regulations Navy/Army/Airforce are no longer in force. Whether in or out of uniform – we veterans have valued our right to vote – the hall mark of our democratic polity. Exercising our vote does mean that each of us would also choose a particular political position or perspective. The four decades of service in a maturing yet turbulent democracy most certainly impacted my political thinking post retirement.
Man of War to Man of Peace
After my retirement in September 1993, I moved to a village in Alibag, Maharashtra, where I practice organic farming and continue to live till today. Living in rural India has been a total re-education and one which has given me profound insights . I have shared the ups and downs of the life of an ordinary farmer – influenced by the vagaries of weather and pollution, local politics, threats of being evicted for so called development under SEZ, and much more. My years in uniform and first hand experience of two wars, together with a closer understanding of the imminent agrarian crisis which affects some 70% of our population, has directly influenced my belief that true liberation or "azadi” from poverty and hunger, will only come when and if the elites of this land demonstrate greater integrity and less greed. Recent disclosures by the RBI in response to an RTI question by the Indian Express revealed that an amount of 2.11 lakh crores of loans are still owing to the public sector banks by Industry. It has been reported that nearly half of this amount has been written off between 2013 and 2015 by the Govt as bad loans. Surprisingly neither this information nor its impact on the economy has yet been divulged by the Finance Ministry. And yet we have heard strong criticism about the petty amounts granted for education of scholars from weaker sections , in JNU and other universities, as examples of tax payers money being ill spent! We seldom question the fact that loans too come from tax payers money.
To achieve a more just society based on sustainable development, we must build peace through better neighbourhood management. This means finding political solutions to existing problems. Then alone can we reduce our spending on armaments, regulate consumption, balance energy demands, and provide citizens with food , shelter, education, health and employment. I have led and been part of a sustained movement against SEZs in Raigad, and continue to push initiatives for renewable energy. Concerns over safety, cost and waste disposal, have contributed to my active engagement with the movement for Nuclear Disarmament and to end nuclear power by finding carbon free and nuclear free solutions. Efforts to strengthen the peace dividend have led me to take on leadership of organisations like the PIPFPD [Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy]and IPSI [India Pakistan Soldiers Initiative for Peace] . Both PIPFPD and IPSI have promoted people to people contact and better relations with Pakistan. I am also totally opposed to Capital Punishment and the Death Penalty, as also the continued imposition of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act [AFSPA ] – about which I have written and spoken publicly in several fora.
In my view each of the above, constitute areas of engagement which we as citizens not only have a right but a duty to address, even if it is against the policy of any particular government of the day. Does any of the above make me or anyone else anti national? Or less patriotic ? or a Desh Drohi?
I believe not.
My stand on this derives from the principle that political parties and governments alike are bound by the Constitution of the land. Every citizen has the right and the freedom to think and express views without fear of reprisal. The obsolete colonial law of sedition has no place in a modern democracy.
Therefore the question arises : why are we arraigning a Rohith Vemula, a Kanhaiya Kumar and an Umed Khalid under charges of being anti-national, seditious or terrorist activities? From available material it appears that these three young men were only acting to further the objectives outlined in our constitution and not indulging in any anti-national activity.
Nationalism And Who Defines It
In some ways it is a good thing that the death of Vemula, the arrest of Kanhaiya and the witch hunt against Umed Khalid, have actually led to a public debate about the definition of national and anti national, as also of the deeper and more intractable issues around caste, religion and discrimination in our society. The linked question regarding who, if anyone, has the right to decide on my nationalism or lack of it, is equally vexed and needs a longer, more mature discussion. To the best of my knowledge this has not been done since Independence. The existing laws and practice on this are largely inherited from the colonial period and were never addressed in a contemporary framework. This is critical for a mature democracy. Jingoism, waving the national flag, and shouting slogans , are not equivalent to a certification of patriotism. Upping the ante and making allegations of seditious behaviour and terrorist ties – may not pass judicial scrutiny. Many have publicly disagreed with the sloganeering and forms of protest, but none of this is new or radical . Certainly it is ludicrous to think that a few students can threaten the unity of the country, as is sought to be established by some media houses and their invisible paymasters.
If anything has been a matter of deep concern to someone like me, it is the spectacle of alleged members of the legal profession being allowed to run amok in the courtroom and to both threaten and actually assault scribes, students, teachers and Kanhaiya Kumar. All this, while the large numbers of police present apparently stood by and did nothing from all accounts. This is unacceptable from a uniformed, and a so called disciplined police force.
I have been through the wide range of written reports, and audio-visual material available in the public domain on the JNU and HCU imbroglio. The real tragedy to me lies in the fact that this entire exercise of raising the alarm on foreign funded, possibly terrorist and seditious activies, has been orchestrated in order to demand the shutting down and ‘sanitising‘ such a prestigious institution. One is forced to conclude that this smacks of a ‘false flag exercise’. And this is serious. By all means investigate the matter; allow the university officials to handle the students with appropriate disciplinary action. But great discretion and caution must be exercised before calling in the police; and worse , to make serious charges of sedition.
Those who are leading the clamour for shutting down and/or "sanitisation” of JNU seem to have no idea of what this implies, and are exhibiting a frightening tendency to follow the mob blindly.
This might be a good moment to remind ourselves that in addition to being held in high esteem internationally, JNU is also among the few universities in India which recognises the courses run by Military Institutions like the NDA, NDC, the Naval Academy and others. Ties between service institutions and university departments have been carefully forged in order that our military personnel continue to benefit from these interactions and remain at the cutting edge of the latest strategic thinking. There are several service personnel who have had the benefit of attending academic courses at JNU and indeed are among the Alumnii. There are also civil servants and police officers who are in a similar category. I have intentionally mentioned this so that my band of brothers and sisters amongst ex-service veterans will carefully weigh the consequences of any hasty actions such as returning degrees and awards.
I have outlined at some length the many reasons for why I write this note today. It is imperative that senior public figures like myself and others speak out, to raise an alarm, before it is too late. Recent history has shown us that totalitarian regimes have come to power because good people chose to keep silent. Above all else it is imperative that we must preserve our democratic spaces and the freedom, indeed the right, to question, to dissent and to debate – especially in our institutions of higher learning. JNU has been a frontrunner in producing thinkers and professionals who are not scared to speak out. Frankly, after listening carefully to the speech of the young union leader – Kanhaiya – it left me with a reassuring feeling that all must be well in this complex and disparity riddled country if a young man in his twenties can speak with such compassion, intellect and passion about the real challenges and dangers we face in this land.
Far more than saluting a flag [which of course I continue to do with honour and respect] – it is the thoughts articulated by young idealists like a Rohit Vemula, a Kanhaiya Kumar, a Shehla Rashid and yes a Umar Khaled all of whom together with the many unnamed and unsung women and men across this country, embody the true spirit of nationalism and patriotism. We must collectively ensure that we not only protect those who have not yet been pushed to take the extreme steps like Rohith Vemula, but ensure that justice is promised and done to those presently in custody or forced into hiding, for fear of their lives.
In the ultimate analysis , human security is the best guarantee for National Security.
Courtesy: The Citizen
This isn't ACCIDENT, We Are KILLING OUR OWN
27.02.16 - kanwar manjit singh
Imagine a Boeing 747, full to capacity, crashing everyday, every single day all through the year, in India! That is happening on our roads since more than 350 people are dying every day in road accidents.
Out of 100 road accidents in India, people die in 28. Out of 100 road accidents in Punjab, people die in 76. Punjab is now on top of the fatality rate in road accidents. This, when fatality rate is recorded very poorly. In Europe or the United States, a person succumbing to his injuries within 30 days of the accident is counted among road accident fatalities. In India, unless someone dies on the spot or in the next one or two days, the fatality data does not reflect that statistic.
Anyone with a reasonable conscience and a minimal level of sanity should find these figures shocking. Alternatively, every morning's newspapers should be shocking enough. A mobike rider being crushed under the wheels of a passing bus in front of hundreds of people on a busy road is such a common small-time staple news item that even junior reporters do not go out into the field to investigate.
Any trainee on late night duty in a newspaper office is expected to take down the details from the police chowki. A bus raming into a car and killing five people is a three-column story only if the victims are part of a marriage party or all belong to one family. Small time accidents are never news, big accidents make news if they happen on a non-newsy day in a metro, that too when a camera team can be spared.
To attract our eyeballs with a reasonable degree of certainty, a bus has to fall from a flyover. When one did recently during the morning rush hour, senior editors in most TV news rooms pulled off the story by afternoon since people had not died, or at least enough number had not died.
But then, we have often heard this question being posed by people to one another, or to the experts about why so many accidents happen. There are many answers that you would hear, and many suggestions. To quickly list them here, there would be talk of separate pathways for pedestrians, stress on public transport to reduce car density on roads, proper signals, zebra crossings, speed limits, police presence, highway patrolling, post-accident emergency response system etc.
Each one of these suggestions is valid, but does it answer the question of why do accidents happen?
As long as we think of accidents as something merely connected to an event happening on the road at that particular moment, we will not get to the right answer. ‘How do accidents happen’ should be a separate question from ‘Why do accidents happen’. It is easy to blame a tempo driver for being asleep behind the wheel, and mark it as a cause of accident, but it is more difficult to connect it to the larger political and economic forces. When a distant state, say Orissa or Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, implements social welfare programmes in a poor way, the expenses of a family on health care go up astronomically because government hospitals run out of medicines or do not have doctors, it brings new pressures on the one son working as a driver in Punjab. When he drives the tempo, does not bother about getting proper rest or sleep, plumps for some extra overtime, it leads to him falling asleep behind the wheel.
When his poor old mother is forced to go to a private hospital and the family's expenditure on her treatment increases, he is under pressure to send more money home. When the labour laws are not implemented, and he is prone to exploitation, he cannot say no to his employer even if he didn't get proper sleep.
Yet, if he runs over a pedestrian, the cause of accident will not be marked out as poor planning and implementation of social welfare policies in Bihar or Orissa or UP, but because the driver was found dozing off behind the wheel.
That is not a true cause of accident, but then we don't have the kind of media or the government that is interested in actually investigating the ‘actual’ killer.
Well meaning activists working to reduce the number of accidents need to connect their fight to larger issues facing the country. In a paradigm of society where the stature of a man is measured by the length of your sedan, accidents cannot be reduced by issuing advisories.
In a system where road policies are made only to facilitate the movement of cars, policy planners will never take into account the interests of the pedestrians, the cyclists, the labourers, the poor roadside dwellers.
We need to challenge false generalisations: Accidents do not affect everyone equally. "A speeding car being driven by a poorly trained driver makes no distinction between poor and rich,” we are told.
That is patently false. It does make a distinction.
There is enough empirical data to show that an extraordinarily large number of people dying on our roads are pedestrians, and out of them, an extraordinarily large number are poor people. The first-ever Global Status Report On Road Safety, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and covering information from 178 countries accounting for over 98% of the world’s population, said that almost half of the estimated 1.27 million people who die in road traffic crashes every year are pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists.
The needs of these vulnerable groups of road users are not being met, it said, even in rich countries.
In India, the debate is simply not moving beyond homilies about limiting speed, reducing drink-driving, and increasing the use of seatbelts, child restraints and motorcycle helmets.
The truth is that while the laws necessary to protect people are either not in place or are not comprehensive, our governments at the Centre and in states are actually creating legislation and conditions designed to increase road accident deaths.
When did you last see the initiative on giving sufficient attention to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists who end up in clinics and hospitals?
Does the Punjab government have any consistent policy of compensation for road accident victims? Have we seen any criminal proceedings ever being undertaken against any public authority after any accident?
We have become so immune to the "Bus rams into car” or "Truck runs over three pedestrians” kind of news stories that accidents now jolt us only if there is a deadbody after a hit and run outside our house. Not if it is a few hundred feet away. It is time to understand that while the "Bus rams into car” story appears only once in the newspaper for the readers, for the family concerned, it is a stor that appears in its life every moment, every day, every week when you make one cup less of tea, make a couple of chapattis less, need one chair less on the terrace, don't know what to do with the music collection of the deceased, and cry everytime you listen to a song that was the dead man's caller tune on his cell.
What do our politicians have to say to this family, and to the hundreds of thousands of such families who are today incomplete because someone was not doing his job on road safety, on putting up signals, on marking zebra crossings, on regulating driving license procedures, on highway patrolling, on administering first aid lessons?
Punjab will soon have a great majority of voters who as children grew up without a father lost in the accident, old men who remember a wife who had only gone to fetch milk for the kids but couldn’t cross the road fast enough.
We lost a minister in a road accident exactly where we later lost not just a journalist but several more lives in different accidents. But why is the reality of killer roads not jolting our collective public conscience?
Why are our politicians not immediately under a great public pressure just as they had come after Anna Hazare’s fast? Not long ago, Punjab Vidhan Sabha was being solemnly told in response to a question that nine people die every single day in the state in road accidents. It reflects on the state of the media that even a fact as shocking as this did not make for much of a headline.
Around 350 people die on India's roads every day. That makes it over 13 deaths every hour. 20 children under the age of 14 die everyday due to road crashes in the country. Annual accident figures are crossing one lakh in India. Around 1,41,526 people were killed in road accidents in 2014 alone, that is more than the number of people killed in all our wars put together. Compare the media coverage and public outcry over road accidents with coverage of terrorism in Kashmir or the Mumbai or Pathankot attacks!
Since Indian highways are expanding and getting ever wider, experts are warning of a further four fold increase in road fatalities.
As for the sociology of accidents, it also works against the poor. Roads and accidents happen to poor and rich, both, but somehow the ground rules of accidents are not very democratic. The number of urban and rural poor dying in road accidents is surprisingly high.
Empirical data suggests that most deaths involve vulnerable road users like pedestrians, bicyclists and motorised two wheeler riders. True, everyone walks and even the rich get run over by a car, but data from Institute for Road Traffic Education (IRTE), Union Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways, and Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme (TRIPP) at IIT-Delhi suggests that death comes easily to the poor, the vulnerable.
Some of life’s realities do not change even in a road accident.
And the more money goes into roads, the better the traffic flow becomes, the better the impact on economic progress, and yes, the higher the road accident deaths. In Punjab, maximum road deaths are reported from patches that cut through villages.
Our politicians are so keen to turn Punjab into another California but it will help if they simply paid more attention to what they consider mundane.
You know how little it takes at times to save lives? Simply telling people to keep their two-wheelers' headlights on during the day can bring down death rates by 15 per cent! Many countries have this law on their statute books; what's stopping us? Chandigarh police has done a remarkable job in enforcing many traffic rules; what have we learnt from that experience?
The toori-laden ubiquitous tractor-trolley cannot be allowed to continue as a road trundling deathly monster, and private bus operators cannot keep running riot trying to outdo each other to pick up passengers. But can you tell this to rulers whose own economic interests are closely linked with how well the driver of buses owned by them race down their rivals?
Do we want all our children to reach their school and then also return home every single day, to reach the other side of the road, alive, or to run an errand on a bicycle without meeting death on the way?
And if road accidents are a matter of life and death for each of us, surely those who claim to administer our affairs for us in our name and with our money must be doing a tough job. But when was the last time you heard any political party making high road deaths an election issue?
You read about deaths in road accidents everyday in your morning newspaper, every single day of the five years. Yet, when you see the manifesto of a ruling party, any ruling party, you don't see a mention of road accidents as a problem.
Imagine a Boeing 747, full to capacity, crashing everyday, every single day all through the year, in India! That is happening on our roads since more than 350 people are dying every day in road accidents.
Mumbai 26/11 killed 195 people. Imagine a 26/11 happening on our roads, twice every day. Are you sure your son or daughter will reach home alive today? What are you doing about it, dear reader?
The Criticality of the Right to Dissent
Text of the annual Rajendra Mathur Memorial Lecture organised by the Editors Guild of India in Delhi on February 12, 2016.
I begin on a self-indulgent note. "How is Amartya?” asked my uncle Shidhu (Jyotirmoy Sengupta) — cousin of my father — in a letter written from Burdwan Jail, on August 22 of 1934, before I was one. He complained about the name "Amartya”, given to me by Rabindranath Tagore, and argued that the great Tagore had "completely lost his mind in his old age” to choose such a "tooth-breaking name” for a tiny child. Jyotirmoy was in jail for his efforts to end the British Raj. He was moved from prison to prison — Dhaka Jail, Alipur Central Jail, Burdwan Jail, Midnapur Central Jail. There were other uncles and cousins of mine who were going through similar experiences in other British Indian prisons.
Jyotirmoy himself came to a sad end, dying of tuberculosis, related to undernourishment in the prisons. As a young boy I was lucky to have a few conversations with him, and felt very inspired by what he said and wrote. He was committed to help remove "the unfreedoms heaped on us by our rulers.”
How happy would Jyotirmoy have been to be in today’s India, with the Raj dead and gone, and with no unfreedoms imposed on us by the colonial masters? But — and here is the rub — have these unfreedoms really ended? The penal codes legislated by the imperial rulers still govern important parts of our life. Of these, Section 377 of the code, which criminalises gay sex, is perhaps the most talked about, but happily a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court is re-examining it.
It is, however, often overlooked that the putting on a pedestal of the sentiments of any religious group — often very loosely defined — is another remnant of British law, primarily Section 295(A) of the penal code introduced in 1927. A person can be threatened with jail sentence for hurting the religious sentiments of another, however personal — and however bizarrely delicate — that portrayed sentiment might be.
The Indian Constitution, despite claims to the contrary, does not have any such imposition. In a judgment on March 3, 2014, the Supreme Court in fact gave priority to the fundamental right of the people to express themselves, as enshrined in the Constitution. The Constitution’s insistence on "public order, decency or morality” is a far cry from what the organised political activists try to impose by hard-hitting kick-boxing, allegedly guided by delicate sentiments. The Constitution does not have anything against anyone eating beef, or storing it in a refrigerator, even if some cow-venerators are offended by other people’s food habits.
The realm of delicate sentiments seems to extend amazingly far. Murders have occurred on grounds of hurt sentiments from other people’s private eating. Children have been denied the nourishment of eggs in school meals in parts of India for the priority of vegetarian sentiments of powerful groups. And seriously researched works of leading international scholars have been forced to be pulped by scared publishers, threatened to be imprisoned for the offence of allegedly hurting religious sentiments.
Journalists often receive threats — or worse — for violating the imposed norms of vigilante groups. The Indian media has a good record of standing up against intimidation, but freedom of speech and reporting need more social support.
To see in all this the evidence of an "intolerant India” is just as serious a mistake as taking the harassment of people for particular social behaviour to be a constitutional mandate. Most Indians, including most people who are classified as Hindu (including this writer), have no difficulty in accepting variations in food habits among different groups (and even among Hindus). And they are ready to give their children the nourishment of eggs if they so choose (and if they can afford them).
And Hindus have been familiar with, and tolerant of, arguments about religious beliefs for more than 3,000 years ("Who knows then, whence it first came into being? … Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not,” Rigveda, Mandala X, Verse 129). It is a serious insult to Indians — and to Hindus in general — to attribute to them the strange claims of a small but well organised political group, who are ready to jump on others for violations of norms of behaviour that the group wants to propagate, armed with beliefs and sentiments that have to be protected from sunlight.
The silencing of dissent, and the generating of fear in the minds of people violate the demands of personal liberty, but also make it very much harder to have a dialogue-based democratic society. The problem is not that Indians have turned intolerant. In fact, quite the contrary. We have been too tolerant even of intolerance. When some people — often members of a minority (in religion or community or scholarship) — are attacked by organised detractors, they need our support. This is not happening adequately right now. And it did not happen adequately earlier as well.
In fact, this phenomenon of intolerance of dissent and of heterodox behaviour did not start with the present government, though it has added substantially to the restrictions already there. M.F. Husain, one of the leading painters of India, was hounded out of his country by relentless persecution led by a small organised group, and he did not get the kind of thundering support that he could have justly expected.
In that ghastly event at least the Indian government was not directly involved (though it certainly could — and should — have done much more to protect him). The government’s complicity was, however, much more direct when India became the first country to ban Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.
So what should we do, as citizens of India who support freedom and liberty? First, we should move away from blaming the Indian Constitution for what it does not say. Second, we should not allow colonial penal codes that impose unfreedoms to remain unchallenged. Third, we should not tolerate the intolerance that undermines our democracy, that impoverishes the lives of many Indians, and that facilitates a culture of impunity of tormentors. Fourth, the courts, particularly the Supreme Court, have good reason to examine comprehensively whether India is not being led seriously astray by the continuation of the rules of the Raj, which we fought so hard to end.
In particular, there is need for judicial scrutiny of the use that organised tormentors make of an imagined entitlement of "not to be offended” (an alleged entitlement that does not seem to exist in this particular form in any other country). Fifth, if some states, under the influence of sectarian groups want to extend these unfreedoms through local legislation (for example, banning particular food), the courts surely have to examine the compatibility of these legislation with the fundamental rights of people, including the right to speech and to personal liberties.
As Indians, we have reason to be proud of our tradition of tolerance and plurality, but we have to work hard to preserve it. The courts have to do their duty (as they are doing — but more is needed), and we have to do ours (indeed much more is surely needed). Vigilance has been long recognised to be the price of freedom.
(Economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s latest book, The Country of First Boys, is a collection of essays on an array of topics, ranging from development, justice, and education, to calendars, Rabindranath Tagore, and the importance of play)
(Courtesy : The Hindu)
The Truth about Arvind Kejriwal
25.02.16 - Markandey Katju
Many people have said that I have some personal grudge against Kejriwal, and that is why I hate him. So let me reply.
I do not personally know Mr. Kejriwal, I have never met him, and have never sought any favour from him ( this can be confirmed from him ). So where is the question of my harbouring any grudge against him ?.
Yes, I hate him, not for personal reasons, but because he is a total fraud, a charlatan, a humbug, a trickster, and a mountebank, with superlative capacity, unequalled by any other Indian politician of today, to dupe and hoodwink the people on a massive scale, and it is time now that such frauds and inveiglers be exposed, otherwise the Indian people will continue to be made suckers.
How does one explain the Kejriwal phenomenon ?
Here is a man who a few years back before the Anna Hazare agitation in Delhi was unknown, but has now come out of the blue and is in the limelight. In this article I will try to explain.
AAP came to power in February 2015 with a landslide victory because people in Delhi, as elsewhere in India, were disgusted with the prevailing politics, and wanted a new kind, with leaders honest and dedicated to solving the people's problems. Kejriwal was projected as an epitome of honesty, a messiah, a modern Moses who will lead the people of Delhi into a land of milk and honey.
I have not heard anything against Kejriwal's personal financial integrity, but then one never heard anything against Hitler's financial integrity too. There was never any allegation that Hitler amassed a fortune, and in fact he died penniless. Yet he did great harm to Germany.
I am not comparing Kejriwal to Hitler in other respects. All I am saying is that being personally financially honest is not enough.
After the February 2015 elections, truth started dawning gradually on the people. It became evident that Kejriwal has a dictatorial mindset, which cannot tolerate dissent. After the victory in the Delhi elections he has developed megalomaniac tendencies, and surrounded himself with chamchas. One of the first steps he took was to unceremoniously kick out the Bhushans and Yogendra Yadav, since they objected to his giving MLA tickets to some shady elements ( perhaps because the latter contributed huge sums to the AAP coffers ). He then allocated a whopping Rs. 536 crores ( 21 times of last years allocation ) in the Delhi budget to self promoting ads.
And to keep his flock together he raised the salaries of Delhi MLAs several times.
All this resulted in a rapid drop of the popularity of AAP and Kejriwal. Many former ardent Kejriwal supporters told me that they are now totally disillusioned with AAP.
The truth is that Kejriwal has no solution to the real problems of the people--massive poverty, massive unemployment, massive malnourishment, almost total lack of healthcare, etc.
So what does our friend do to restore his sagging image and keep grabbing the headlines ? He resorts to stunts and gimmicks. He has devised a beautiful modus operandi to befool the public, which may be explained.
He starts a scheme, which is really a stunt, and people of Delhi ( who, like people everywhere, are mostly a bunch of gullible, emotional fools ), will initially clap loudly and follow him, like the children following the Pied Piper of Hamelin or a Sapnon ka Saudagar. Examples are car free day, going on bicycle ( for which arrangements are made to televise it widely, ) lokpal ( which some call Jokepal ), etc. Later, when the shine and glimmer start wearing off, and people see through the realities and start facing the difficulties caused by the scheme, and hostility to it begins, he abandons it and starts a new scheme ( i.e. a new stunt ) and the same rigmarole and drama begins again.
To give the latest example, the Delhiites, who had initially supported the harebrained odd even scheme, thinking it to be the panacea for their problem of air pollution, are now realizing the immense hardships it is causing, with no significant drop in the air pollution ( since car pollution is hardly 1 or 2% of the total air pollution, as the IIT Kanpur report points out ). So opposition to the scheme was growing day by day. People have to go for work daily, and not only on odd or even days, and public transport is woefully inadequate.
Realizing this, our Sapnon ka Saudagar has abandoned the scheme and started a new headline grabbing stunt. He has announced the end of the management quota in admissions to private nursery schools.
The people of Delhi will again clap, praise their hero and shout ' Sieg Heil ' for their Superman, just as Germans did in the 1930s. All this will of course be widely projected by our TRP driven media.
But public opinion is fickle, like the Roman mob at Caesar's funeral ( see Shakespeare's ' Julius Caesar ' ), or the bloodthirsty Paris mob at Charles Darnay's trial ( see Dickens' ' A Tale of Two Cities '), and after some time the same people who were cheering will be jeering, as the truth dawns on them, which is this :
Private institutions run for profits, not for charity. So the private nurseries may follow the new rules for a short while, but obviously not for long.
Also, if a Minister, Judge, bureaucrat, police officer, income tax official, municipal official, etc asks for an admission, can the school manager decline ? If he does,he is likely to face a lot of harassment
So in no time the management will find out a way of subverting the scheme, and it will remain on paper only
Then Mr. Kejriwal will forget it and begin some other gimmick or caper. He will keep hopping from stunt to stunt, thinking that in this way the people can be deceived for ever.
His latest stunt was his rally in Punjab, where he put on a yellow turban, obviously to look like Sikh, and began his speech by shouting ' Bole so Nihaal ', and then said he will not let a single farmer commit suicide. "Farmers in Delhi were given a compensation of Rs 50,000 per hectare when they lost their crop. I did not let a single farmer commit suicide. Here, farmers are killing themselves as they are not compensated,” . He also said he would check corruption by getting the Badals arrested and sacking those seeking bribes — "Even if my son indulges in corruption, I will throw him out.”. And I am sure many gullible Punjabis will be carried away by this rhetoric and vote for AAP.
But Mr. Kejriwal, there is a proverb in English " You cannot fool all the people all the time "
Justice Markandey Katju is the former Chairman, Press Council of India. Prior to his appointment as Chairman, Press Council of India, he served as a Judge at the Supreme Court of India
War against JNU, Fake Nationalists, Lawless Lawyers and Pseudo-Patriotism
Dictionary defines "sedition" as any action, especially in speech or writing, promoting discontent or rebellion. It also mentions that it is an "archaic" word. India is one of the few democratic countries which has a sedition law. Like many other laws, it was drafted by the British to deal with those clamouring for freedom. Its paternity can rightly be bestowed on the much-maligned Macaulay.
All the top national leaders from Mahatma Gandhi to Jawaharlal Nehru to Jayaprakash Narayan were arrested under this law. The sedition law was removed from the British statute but it was retained in India so that the government could conveniently use it against dissenters.
When Narendra Modi came to power, his government made a statement that thousands of archaic laws that remained part of the statute would be consigned to the dustbins. I thought the sedition law would also be included among them. Far from that, it is being wielded against some students in Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
Under the law, sedition is a serious crime in that the person accused of it can be given life imprisonment. Now what happened at JNU? There are as many versions of the event as there are television channels. In the worst-case scenario, some students and non-students shouted anti-India slogans somewhere on the JNU campus.
Let me make it clear that I do not approve of such slogans but then wishes are not horses. The point is, is the Indian state which has a 1.21 billion population so fragile that it would crumble under the weight of the slogans raised at JNU? No, it will not. They could be dismissed as a looney fringe group.
And that is precisely what the Delhi Police did. Its representatives were there to keep an eye on the students. The Intelligence Bureau was also there. They might have got bored and had gone away with nothing to write home about. This was the situation on the first day of the event.
As it happened, a break-away faction of a group of students professing Maoism had sought permission to hold a discussion on Agha Shahid Ali's (1949-2001) anthology of poems entitled The Country Without A Post Office. There was no mention of observing the third anniversary of the hanging of Afzal Guru.
I read some portions of the anthology which I found very powerful and evocative. Says the poet in his prologue, "Each fall the women gather Chinar leaves, singing what the hills have reechoed for four hundred years, the songs of Habba Khatun, the peasant girl who became the queen.
"When her husband was exiled from the Valley by the Moghul king Akbar, she went among the people with her sorrow. Her grief, alive to this day, in her own roused the people into frenzied opposition to Moghul rule. And since then Kashmir has never been free". This is the broad canvas of the poem. The author was inspired by the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, who was "killed" by the Stalinist regime.
The Country Without A Post Office is an imaginary nation which the poet names as Petersburg where all those who were exiled are destined to assemble. In fact, the poet quotes the Russian dissident when he says, "we shall meet again, in Petersburg".
The event would have passed off as uneventfully as any other. That is when the ABVP, which belongs to the Sangh Parivar, complained to the university authorities and the permission for the event was withdrawn at the eleventh hour. However, the students went ahead with the meeting.
Many agent-provocateurs also stepped in to make the atmosphere vicious. Now who shouted anti-national slogans is a matter of dispute. There are also videos which show the ABVP supporters shouting such slogans. Such tactics are common.
Last fortnight some people were arrested in Karnataka for raising Pakistani flags. They were promptly arrested and they turned out to be members of a three-letter organisation. When a confrontation between the ABVP and those celebrating a country without post office appeared imminent, a group of students led by JNU Students' Union President Kanhaiya Kumar intervened.
He gave an extempore speech which I heard on YouTube. It was a great speech, hard-hitting and to the point. He might have been merciless in his criticism of the Sang Parivar but there was not a single word which could be described as seditious. For once I realised how a student from the CPI, which is fast disappearing from India's political map, could get elected in JNU, a citadel of the Marxists.
If he is around, he could be elected president again like CPM Politburo member Prakash Karat who was elected twice. In a way it explained why he was specifically targeted. Mark the point that the policemen who were present on the campus did not deem it necessary to file an FIR against the "anti-national sloganeers", forget Kumar.
The police swung into action only when East Delhi MP Maheish Girri, who is the right-hand man of Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, complained to the police about the "anti-national meeting". The ABVP also knocked on the doors of the police.
Soon, the police swung into action and arrested Kumar and slapped charges of sedition on him. He was definitely more sinned against than sinning. A doctored video that showed him repeatedly demanding azadi (freedom) became viral in social media.
Any person with some common sense could conclude that it was a doctored video. I saw the full video, again, on YouTube which showed Kumar demanding "azadi" from injustice, from corruption, from Manuvadis etc. The police could have struck against the fabricators who were out to foment trouble.
Instead, the ABVP workers and those supporting them tried to threaten all those who rose to defend Kumar. Political leaders like Binoy Viswam, a former minister of Kerala, were manhandled. They met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh who repeated that he had evidence that all this was the handiwork of terrorists. He was not prepared to listen to leaders like Sitaram Yechury.
Worse things were enacted in Patiala Court premises where Kumar would have been lynched to death by a gang of the black-gowned. They even attacked the group of lawyers sent specifically by the Supreme Court to report about the situation there.
For once the nation saw the sad spectacle of the officers of the court, as the lawyers are called, taking the law into their own hands. The police were also found to be hand-in-glove with them. They could not even protect Kumar from the desperadoes who were able to kick and punch him.
I wondered, was this how patriotism and nationalism were expressed? I could dismiss those who shouted slogans at JNU as a looney lot but at the court premises those who took the law into their own hands included an MLA. Their conduct was far more unbecoming of the profession they represented than that of the students.
One name that often figures in the discussions is that the students observed the third death anniversary of Afzal Guru. In a country where the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi is venerated by those professing faith to Hindutva and in whose memory temples are to be constructed, it is surprising that they object to any memory of Afzal Guru.
I do not consider him a leader, let alone a role model for the youth even in Kashmir. Yet, I was one of those who wrote against the manner in which he was dealt with. Among the MPs who sought clemency for him was the BJP's Shatrughan Sinha. The People's Democratic Party with which the BJP is in alliance in Jammu and Kashmir had opposed the hanging of Afzal Guru.
If the BJP can break bread with a party like the PDP which opposed the hanging, why should it bother about someone shouting slogans in his favour? They want attention and by taking action against them, the government has played into their hands.
Guru was convicted for his involvement in the "conspiracy” to attack Parliament, though all the others similarly accused by the police were found to be innocent and released. Since the highest court of the land found him "guilty” and worthy of capital punishment, let it be assumed that justice was done in his case.
While awarding the severest punishment for Guru, the Supreme Court said, "The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender.”
It was the first time in Independent India’s history that a person was hanged to satisfy the "collective conscience of the society” and not in accordance with the law of the land. In all civilised societies there are certain traditions followed before and after the hanging of a person.
It is customary to inform the family about the timing of the execution so that it can receive the body. But in Afzal Guru's case, the jail authorities sent a letter by "Speed Post” to his wife, informing her about the President’s rejection of his mercy petition and the date and time of the execution.
In these days of instant communication, the purpose of informing the family by "snail mail” was questionable. As was only to be expected, the letter reached the family two days after the hanging. This was to facilitate burying the body in the Tihar Jail premises on the specious plea that the family had not turned up to receive it.
While those who planned the dubious strategy have certainly succeeded, it has not shown the Indian state in a good light. The heavens would not have fallen if Guru was allowed to spend a few minutes with his wife and child a day before the execution. Similarly, they should have been allowed to carry the body to Srinagar. Disrespect to dead body is considered sinful.
Why did the state maintain so much secrecy? It probably thought that if the body was allowed to be carried to Srinagar or Sopore, his native place, it would have inflamed passions. What it does not realise is that in the main graveyard in Srinagar, there is an area dedicated to the "martyrs” and he would at best have been buried there.
India behaved like the US when it buried the body of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden deep in the Mediterranean Sea. Surely, it could have conducted itself better by strictly following the jail manual that describes the way in which a condemned prisoner should be treated.
Amnesty International could not be faulted when it said the "execution indicates a disturbing and regressive trend towards executions shrouded in secrecy and the resumption of death penalty use in India”. After quietly suspending the practice of execution for several years, the nation has placed hanging, instead of justice, on fast track.
In doing so, it did not go by any chronological order. For instance, the ‘killers’ of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who had also been sentenced to death could not be hanged because of political protest from Tamil Nadu. The charge against Guru is that he took part in a "conspiracy”.
There is another ‘conspiracy’ case related to the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992. It resulted in riots in which hundreds of people were killed but the Indian criminal justice system has not succeeded in bringing the guilty to book.
The state should at all times uphold the rule of law, irrespective of the political, religious or caste affiliations of the accused. Alas, it failed in the case of Afzal Guru.
HRD Minister Smriti Irani, whose intervention in Hyderabad University, led to the suicide of Rohith Vemula has struck again. This time she wants all Central Universities to have a national flag fluttering at all times on their campuses. She does not know that there is a flag code which has to be followed every time the flag is hoisted and brought down.
In the Army it is the regimental flags which are flown at all times. The national flag is flown only on occasions like the Independence Day and the Republic Day. In the government school where I studied, the flag was hoisted on such national holidays. Not otherwise.
The government and the ruling party seem to believe that JNU is an alien territory. It is one of India's most prestigious universities whose alumni include Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Seetharaman and foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. The admission process is such that there are students from all corners of the country belonging to all strata of society.
The students have traditionally been left liberals. JNU has a certain quality which makes the students the "argumentative Indians" to quote Prof Amartya Sen. It is the only university where the students respond to events like the Jasmine Revolution with as much favour as when they protest against the legless chicken curry served at the canteen.
Most of the so-called revolutionaries are the ones who quietly use the scholarship money and the facilities for research to secretly appear for the Civil Service examination. In fact, I was amused to read that Kumar also wanted to become an IAS officer.
The way the spokesmen of the ruling party were describing the university gave the impression that it was an enemy territory. It is far from that. It has produced some of India's greatest minds.
One of my friends Satheeshna Babu, an alumni of JNU, had this to say about his alma mater: "I was part of that generation of JNU which had seen an unprecedented transformation on the campus coinciding with many crucial happenings in the country.
"The collapse of the Berlin wall, the disintegration of the USSR, the rollout of the new economic policy in the country, the great Tiananmen killings, the Iraq-Kuwait war and the capture of Saddam, Mandal Commission and self-immolation, the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the waxing and waning of the Rao regime.
"The Tiananmen killings and the Mandal agitation literally split the campus vertically. My memory is still fresh on the month-long passionate debate on these issues. Ideological views and differences were too sharp and nobody gave any scope for the other to hit and run! We all have relished those debates. No one raised the muscle nor the kind of bullying that we are witnessing these days. I would consider that phase as the most challenging in JNU's trajectory".
There was a time when the ABVP members were ashamed of admitting their Sanghi connection. Many of them preferred the nomenclature of Free Thinkers to hide their khaki knickers. Now that power is in their hands, they want to browbeat anybody who opposes them into submission. Hence the war against JNU, aided and abetted by suit-boot-wearing television anchors who shout down dissent.
The real anti-nationals are those who earn thousands of crores of rupees through corruption, create riots claiming to avenge historical wrongs and seek police help to terrorise students. Alas, they escape while Kanhaiya Kumar has to cool his heels in a jail.
The writer, a senior journalist, can be reached at email@example.com
Courtesy: Indian Currents