Friday, June 14, 2013
Why the talk of a Third Front will fail to excite...
Neither the Congress nor the BJP will win a majority in the general elections due in summer 2014. This, however, does not mean, in any way, a non-Congress-non-BJP (a third front) emerging the winner. What began as a coalition against the Congress in the 1960s (and making it to power in nine States in 1967), remained a strong force in the national political discourse for at least a couple of decades until the collapse of the V.P.Singh government in November 1990.
This anti-Congress coalition formed the basis for what came to be known as the third front in the aftermath of the BJP, riding on the Hindutwa and the anti-Mandal wave, supplanted the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere in the Gangetic region. Unlike the V.P.Singh-led National Front Government (1989-90), the Deve Gowda-led United Front of (1996-98) was conceived and carried out to keep the BJP out.
There was one common thread in these two coalitions: The quest for power in the leaders who controlled regional parties and factions within those. They detested ideology; but were not averse to pretending otherwise as long as they could use it to gloss their games. In the post-1998 phase, these leaders have chosen to be `honest’ in the sense that they do not pretend any ideology. And this is what makes the `third front’ a mere rhetoric.
The Congress and the BJP, together, are relevant in less than 300 out of the 544 Lok Sabha seats. It is also true that these two parties are a force, predominantly, in those parts that were known the Indian States – where the colonial administration retained the princes as rulers – and have lost out in those parts of the country that were directly under British administration and hence the parts where the struggle for independence took place.
The BJP, for instance, is in battle with the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh and these states were all carved out of regions where the princes ruled on behalf of the British. It is not different in parts of Gujarat Karnataka and Maharashtra while it is a different story in Hyderabad, Travancore and Tripura (also states ruled by princes but where there was a strong people’s movement against the system).
In other words, neither the Congress nor the BJP is strong enough to win in those parts where the struggle for independence had dominated and impacted the political discourse and turned it democratic. Neither the Congress nor the BJP are looked at as winners in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Bihar, from where over 200 MPs will be elected are all dominated by non-Congress, non-BJP parties. And insofar as 2014 is concerned, this is true of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh too. On the face of it, this should make a non-Congress, non-BJP front possible.
But then, it is possible only if the Left and the Trinamool, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, the DMK and AIADMK, the JD(U) and the RJD get together. Even if it means a situation where the leaders of these parties reconcile to this idea for the sake of power and the spoils that come with it (there are more airwaves and mines and SEZs to be sold out to carpet baggers), they will require help from either the Congress or the BJP; 273 MPs are needed to make a government.
Well. This was achieved by Madhu Koda in Jharkhand in the past; but not all that easy in New Delhi. It is not that the parties are struck by ethical and moral scruples. It is simply because both the Congress and the BJP have shown, by their action, that they are game for a coalition with anyone. And the non-Congress, non-BJP parties too (from whom the third front mirage emanates) too have learnt from the past that the experiments of 1989 and 1996 (a government with outside support from the BJP or the Congress) is unstable and hence not a safe bet to strike deals and make hay.
On the other hand, the experience with coalitions that the BJP led between 1998 and 2004 and that the Congress led between 2004 and 2014 allowed these leaders to not just make hay but also more than hay. Recall the spectrum sale and the windfall gains to some who were at helm in the ministry, even if one considers Vinod Rai to have exaggerated, was more than what the leaders of that party could have thought of when they wielded power in 1989-90 and later on in 1996-98. And the fact is that most of these parties remained in the ruling coalition, whether it was communal or secular. And some others find it prudent to switch allegiance to keep the CBI at bay.
Hence it is idle to argue that the third front is a possibility.
Monday, June 03, 2013
On the war in Chattisgarh
It was sheer coincidence that I happened to read Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front in the week that went by. I happened to be at a bookshop here in Gangtok and just got this classic; had read it long ago but decided to read again. I am reading books that I had done long ago once again. I must add that it’s a wonderful experience to see the same books in another light. Classics, after all, are meant to be read many times.
The novel is a testament by Paul Baumer, enlisted into the German forces, when he was all but 19 years old, to fight the French in the First World War. It is the story of Remarque himself whose experience in the battle front turned him into a pacifist and who devoted the rest of his life to campaign against war. All Quiet on the Western Front, first published in 1928, became a much read novel after it was published again in 1958; when the cold war had begun to rake up passions and take its toll.
I said it was sheer coincidence that I happened to read this in the week that went by. As I was completing one page after another, I began seeing similar episodes and experiences here in our own midst; Chattisgarh in May 2013. The media tells us of camps, with as many as 1000 armed men, in the middle of the tribals, with a brief to shoot and kill. The media also reports that the adivasis in the forests suffer at the hands of the security forces. There are reports of women being raped and men being taken to torture camps in this region.
It is a fact that the Indian State, until recently, had engaged young men from among the adivasis to kill their brethren; the Salwa Judum was nothing but a militia, raised by the state in blatant violation of the Constitution and even after the Supreme Court ordered that it be disbanded, journalists tell us that they are around doing all that they were doing.
It is a sad comment on our democracy that the one who founded this private militia (Mahendra Karma) was allowed to do that and even after the apex court held the judum an unconstitutional force, this man had accompanied the top leaders of the party that runs the Union Government for a public meeting. He was killed. The point is that Karma must have been in jail for violating the Constitution and charged of many things including under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. I will argue that Mahendra Karma should have been punished by the Indian state rather than being left to be killed in an ambush.
It is not the purpose here to take sides on whether he deserved to be killed. I am among those who argue against capital punishment and I hold that none, neither the state nor any individual has the right to take away another’s life. I will, however, stick my neck out and add that while the mighty Indian state has the luxury of choice – to decide not to kill – those fighting to defend the wealth of the nation from being looted have not been as fortunate. Violence in the region was indeed a response to a situation but is certainly not a means to resolve the dispute.
The Salwa Judum was a creature that was given birth post-2005. It is not mere coincidence that it was in the same time that the Government in Chattisgarh entered into as many as 105 MoUs and all those were in the realm of license to exploit the rich ores underneath the forests where the adivasis live. The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution did not stand in the way because a set of people sitting in New Delhi, along with carpet baggers in other parts, had conspired to redefine `national interest’ and decided to permit anyone who pleased them to loot the region of its mineral wealth.
This they began doing in Orissa, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh; anywhere and everywhere there was mineral under the soil. The difference was that some young men who believed in a revolutionary transformation had established themselves among the adivasis in the Bastar region by that time. I will recall a report by a senior IAS officer, sometimes in the 1980s, that held that the Naxalites in Bastar are successful because they ensure the democratic rights and aspirations of the people where the state (meant to do this) has failed. The birth of the Salwa Judum will have to be seen in this context.
Now, let me come back to Remarque’s classic. The novel tells us about how the soldiers on both sides (during World War I) were poor men who were pushed to suffer the war and ended up killing each other just because someone whom they did not know but wielding power decided to go to war. Remarque tells us how the poor suffer without food, adequate facilities to relieve themselves and end up getting killed and killing other poor people on the other side of the fence and they end up doing all that because someone whom they did not know decided to go for war.
It is no different here. We are told that among the 1000 or more men deployed in Chattisgarh, many are from faraway places and are unfamiliar with the forests and the treacherous terrain there. And some die of snake bites and others have bullets pumped into their spleen and some end up being tossed and killed by a landmine that is set off to avenge the neta under their protection.
I was struck by one of the blurbs in the August 1982 edition of this book. It is from the French Newspaper, Le Monde: “It should be distributed by the millions and read in every school.” I wish someone there in NCERT or any such other bodies pushes this idea and then we can hope for a day when the nation will abhor such violence, whether by the rebels or the state.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
May sound Cynical but this is how I felt when the results to Karnataka assembly were out
The people of Karnataka have voted out the BJP. The Congress has ended up the gainer. While B.S.Yedyurappa has been shown his place, the Janata Dal (S) has come out of a state of terminal decline. And if there is one message that is loud and clear, it is that the people of Karnataka have lost one more opportunity to have a government of their own. The natural resources in the state, or whatever is still left, will continue to be looted.
I will not boast of having the brains of a rocket scientist to say that it is a vote against the BJP. It is too obvious. The BJP would have landed in the same fate – of having to compete with the JD(S) to have one of its leaders enjoy the status of the Leader of the Opposition – even if it had indulged Yedyurappa. The fact is that the party did indulge him and let him stay on as Chief Minister until it was left without another option when the Lokayukta mustered evidence with which he was arrested and sent to jail.
It was an instance of the party trying to make a virtue of a necessity; and even at that stage, the party let him identify his successor and his close followers incluing Shobha Karandje continued to call the shots in the party and the government. All this, even when its leaders were straining all their nerves to attack the Congress and its UPA partners on charges of corruption. Lest it is mistaken, the Congress cannot claim the victory as a vote against corruption (which its leaders were seen doing) for it was an instance of the pot calling the kettle black.
I will argue that Justice (retd) Santosh Hegde, whose action as Lokayuktha, seemed a glimmer of hope to the people of Karnataka is also guilty of betrayal. His decision to stay out of the Aam Aadmi Party remains open to criticism. Like his father, Justice K.S.Hegde, the former Lokayuktha must have entered the electoral politics and given the people of his state a choice. By not doing so, Justice Hegde helped the Congress (the pot in this instance) wrest power from the BJP (the kettle in this case). It is sad to say the least.
Meanwhile, the word is out that the Congress has reasons to feel elated. The Karnataka results were expected to be this way. And there was talk of the party seizing this buoyancy to call for early elections. November 2013, when the people of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajastan and Delhi will have to elect their state governments will throw up another scenario. In the context of the limited choice that the people of these states have, the BJP will have reasons to feel the same way the Congress is now feeling. It is likely to win in at least 3 out of the 4 states. I will still bet on the Aam Aadmi Party insofar as Delhi is concerned.
The buzz in the media is that the Congress may decide to opt for elections to the next Lok Sabha along with these assembly elections. It makes sense in a way. Some part of the tax payer’s money will be saved by holding simultaneous polls in November rather than have one round in November this year and another in May 2014. That there is a gap of less than six months is also good enough reason for the Election Commission to ordain that way. All these, however, are speculation and the talk of an early election can either go right or wrong. There isn’t a third option as much as there is no scope for a third front in national politics!
But then, the Congress gamble of early polls will hinge on a few things panning out in the following way:
The Supreme Court, now hearing the case of the CBI’s status report on the Coal allocation scam finding the whole episode atrocious (which it is) and severely censoring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his musketeers (Ashwani Kumar and S.P.Jaiswal) using some harsh words. The Congress president, who has already conveyed an impression (through the TV channels) that she wants Ashwani Kumar and Pawan Bansal out of the cabinet may decide to seize the opportunity to make a virtue of the situation and confirm what is now mere speculation: That those under a cloud should go. And then, she convinces her son, the angry young man, to come to the rescue of the nation (actually of the party).
The crown prince then, walking up to the pulpit and do what he best at: To tell the people of this country that he is willing to rise to the occasion, give up on his parties (I hear he enjoys being with his brother in law and such others in their Mehrauli farm house as much as he enjoys preaching to captive audience) and do all that and more such sacrifices for the nation. In other words, the script must have been written already and things may unfold that way in the weeks ahead.
It is still a gamble. The Congress, after all, is likely to lose Rajastan; is unlikely to wrest Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. And if the FICCI-CII-ASSOCHAM scheme should work, Rahul Gandhi may have to face Narendra Modi. So many imponderables when the Congress has the choice of making the best of a bad situation: To stay on in power, strike a few more deals, let its leaders make a few hundred crores of rupees more and face the music, as it comes, in May 2014. The choice is the party’s.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
On Rape and the protests in Delhi (April 2013)
The recent spate of protest in the streets of New Delhi, provoked by the police’s behaviour in the wake of reports of rape of a five year old, is certainly evidence, if it was needed, that we are a vibrant democracy. It is also clear that our democratic fabric has not been destroyed by the undemocratic political establishment that seemed to have entrenched itself in the last couple of decades. The rage and the sense of purpose the youth and students, mostly from the middle and the upper-middle classes, have shown in these past few days must convince one and all that we, as a nation, will frustrate the attempts to distort our democracy.
The past few days have been a learning experience on another count and that is a matter of concern. It is about the state of our television media. Their obsession to keep the politicos relevant by having the leaders of the Congress and the BJP on their shows is indeed sticking out. The point is that they have not only failed but are guilty of having tried their best to distort and destroy the system. In other words, they are guilty of trying to subvert democracy and even guilty of having preserved murderers and rapists in their midst.
It is necessary to explain this statement at the outset. Beginning with the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 1969 and until the February –March 2002 pogrom in the State, the Congress (led by Indira Gandhi) and the BJP (led by Narendra Modi) stand accused of crime that also includes rape and murder. It has been recorded, in all those instances that the men who led the pogrom had also resorted to rape. This was true of the atrocities against the peasants who sought to resist dispossession in Singur and Nandigram. And even after some of the survivors registered complaints, the accused have hardly been punished in those instances.
Lest it is mistaken, it is important to note that charges of rape are not restricted against the communal marauders and their political leaders. Charges of rape have been made against personnel of the law enforcing agencies. Irom Sharmila Chanu and her fast should remind us all about this. It all began after Thangam Manorama Singh’s dead body was found dumped in a ditch; and the autopsy revealed that she was raped. It is a fact that she was arrested and under detention before she was found to have been raped and murdered. But then, with the AFSPA in force, there was no scope for even a complaint against those who were suspects – the Assam Rifles personnel -- in that instance. Hence Irom Sharmila’s fast demanding repeal of the AFSPA is as much a struggle against immunity to rapists.
Thangam Manorama Singh’s was not an isolated case. Phoolan Devi, now dead, was a victim of rape. She too could not seek justice the way the law prescribes. She could not register a complaint because the policemen would not even entertain any complaints from a poor woman like her and more so when the rapists happened to be men placed high in the social ladder. There was the case of Bhanwari Devi; when she first complained of rape the police did not take it up for investigation. And when she persisted, the judge in the district court dismissed her case and even said that the accused being from respectable social background could not have raped her!
There was an instance, recently, in Tamil Nadu, when a trial court found personnel from the police and the forest service guilty of rape. The trial court convicted them for different terms of imprisonment. The poor tribal residents of a hamlet in Vachati were attacked by the police and forest service personnel and young girls were raped in the course. That was an instance, rare one must add, when the rapists were punished. It happened thanks to concerted efforts by a groups of committed lawyers and political activists.
It is in this context that one finds the way in which our TV channels have reported the protests and dealt with rape causes concern. The anchors scream seeking death sentence for rape and we find Sushma Swaraj of the BJP soon joining the chorus. That it is the need of the hour for the Government to wake up, take the opposition into confidence and amend the IPC to ensure that rape invites the hangman’s noose and that is the only way to stop rape. It is made out, as if, those who do not agree with the death-sentence-for-rape cacophony are as bad as condoning rape.
The point is that there are laws to deal with the rapist and there is no way that we can remain a democracy without following the procedure established by law; even in dealing with as heinous a crime as rape. But then, the problem is with the shoddy implementation of the law. The police, for instance, is known for not entertaining a complaint by a victim or those on her behalf and most often so when the victim happens to be poor or from the socially and educationally backward class or the Scheduled Caste or the Scheduled Tribe. That was true this time too in Delhi where the victim happened to be the child of poor parents.
This has provoked the youth, who until now had protested against the established political culture and the parties by staying away from the political world and living in the virtual world for a while. They had registered their anger, until recently, by dressing up differently and walking about in the malls. It is idle to argue that they join the chorus and simply condemn such acts the way Sonia Gandhi did or endorse Sushma Swaraj’s statement and go back to the classrooms or the shopping malls. They have found promise in the Aam Aadmi Party; and as it is most appropriate in a political democracy, that the youth become part of a platform and make it their own to change the world a tad better than what they live in. And hence they are there, on the streets, braving the Delhi heat.
They may speak the language that the youth spoke in an earlier time in the streets of France in May 1968. But they are not wanting in focus. They all want the law, as it exists, to be implemented. They do not expect this small thing from the leaders who have ruled us hitherto. They are looking for a change. And it is best that this movement is not hijacked by the campaign for death penalty. It is necessary to note that rape is either an act of perversion or an instrument of power used by the oppressor to overwhelm the oppressed. The threat of a hangman’s noose will not deter the pervert or the oppressor in any case.