Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pranab Mukherjee's track record ..... Are we going to have him as President!!!!!!

On May 31, 2007 will fall the anniversary of a chargesheet that was filed in a Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court in New Delhi against Pranab Mukherjee. This happened on this day in 1978. Now, a chargesheet is not an issue and political activists and leaders are vulnerable to face penal charges as and when the take up issues affecting the people. Lokmanya Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi, for instance were charged under the penal code and sentenced to imprisonment. The British administration sent them to trial for sedition under Section 124 A of the IPC. And thousands of freedom fighters faced worse charges.

Well. Pranab Mukherjee’s case was not the same. He was accused under Section 241 of the Indian Penal Code; the offence related to deliver of coin as genuine, which when first possessed, the deliverer did not know to be counterfeit. The guilt, if established, warranted imprisonment for a maximum period of two years. The chargesheet filed against him on May 31, 1978 was based on the findings of the Justice Shah Commission of Enquiry.

The case did not proceed for too long because the Janata Government that intended the prosecution fell in July 1979 and Indira Gandhi’s Congress, of which Pranab Mukherjee was a loyal soldier returned to power in January 1980. And the charges were dropped soon after as it happened with all the cases that were filed against the players during the Emergency era. In other words, Pranab was saved from facing trial because the Government changed and Sanjay Gandhi, whose cause he had served, would return as the most powerful man in the dispensation.

However, it will be worth the effort to recall Pranab Mukherjee’s short political biography at this stage. The provocation for this is not because we are closer to the anniversary of the day when the chargesheet was filed but because Pranab Mukherjee seems to have emerged the front-runner in the race to replace Dr. A.P.J.Abdul Kalam as President. And he seems to be there now because the CPI(M) is happy to have him there. And it is impossible to recall Pranab’s rise in the political stage without telling the story of the Maruthi car.

On November 13, 1968, the then Minister of State for Industrial Development, L. N. Mishra, informed the Lok Sabha that a 22-year-old-lad had applied for a license to set up a car manufacturing plant; the car, he said, would cost only Rs. 6,000, would run 56 miles for every litre of petrol at a maximum speed of 53 miles per hour. This idea of a ``people’s car’’ was indeed on the Government’s agenda for sometimes then until it was decided that such a venture should go to the private sector. The large Ambassodor manufactured by the Birlas and the Fiat with its Premier Padmini version were the brands that were available then and both were in the private sector. At least a dozen applications were received for grant of license to set up a plant; among them were such automobile giants like Renault, Citreon, Toyota, Mazda and Morris.

All the giants, however, could not offer as much low a price that the 22-year-old-lad had promised. And the most important factor was that this young man also happened to be Sanjay Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi’s son.

The Haryana Chief Minister, Bansi Lal, used his powers to acquire 300 acres of agricultural land in Gurgaon (adjacent to Delhi), evicting a large number of small and medium scale farmers and this land was sold to the Maruti car factory at prices lower than the existing market value.

Sanjay’s project, however, needed financial support too. The nationalized banks and several rich men were pressured into subscribing to the paid up capital. This continued for a few years and the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India instructed the banks against this sometime in 1975. And after the Emergency, proclaimed on June 25, 1975, the regime decided to change the Governor. Finance Minister, C.Subramaniam, had reservations against this and more so against K.R.Puri, chosen by the regime for the job. Subramaniam said all this on oath before the Shah Commission of Enquiry on October 1, 1977.

The Indira-Sanjay regime stripped Subramaniam of his powers considerably. The departments of Banking, Income Tax, Customs, Industrial Development Bank and Credit Policy, all of them crucial in the running of the Financial Affairs of the nation were removed from his superintendence and handed over to a young man from West Bengal. And that was Pranab Mukherjee. He became Minister of State for Revenue and Banking on December 21, 1975. He was a faithful waiter at Sanjay’s court!

The Central Bank of India and the Punjab National Bank had granted unsecured loans to the tune of Rs. 7.5 Millions to Sanjay’s Maruthi Car project. When all of this happened, the enterprise in Gurgaon that was granted a license in November 1970 to manufacture and roll out 50,000 cars a year had not even managed to test drive its first unit! For instance, Sanjay had displayed his car in the Asia Trade Fair at Delhi in 1972. The car, however, was unfit for road trials and when it was tried, it revealed problems of all kinds. The steering wheel would not hold, the suspension was faulty and the engine heated up within minutes of running.

Uma Vasudev, a journalist who was also working on a Biography of Indira then happened to have the fortune of accompanying Sanjay on a test drive of his car on May 5, 1973. According to her, the car over-heated and leaked oil and its doors did not close properly. The point is that Sanjay’s car project was a disaster and raised scandals one after the other. And Pranab Mukherjee’s rise in the political establishment was possible because he was willing to abuse his position as Minister in the Union Cabinet to force nationalized banks lend money in this financially disastrous project.

Imagine such a man as President of the Republic! And as for the CPI(M), what a fall from the days of Jyotirmoy Basu, the stormy petrel MP who exposed all the dirty things about the Maruti story; Basu was among the few MPs who were held in solitary confinement during the 19 months of the Emergency!

Monday, May 07, 2007

DG Vanzara is not an aberration… he is another policeman there perpetuating the culture of human rights violation… and all the parties are united in promoting this culture…

It is now getting clear, by the day, that D.G.Vanzara and his associates had killed Sohrabuddin and called it an encounter. It is also confirmed now that Sohrabuddin’s wife, Kauser Bi was also killed, hear dead body doused with petrol and burnt. Tulsiram Prajapati, whose only crime was to have witnessed the crime, was let out of the jail and bumped off; the police version is that Prajapati escaped from jail, ended up hitching a ride in a police patrol vehicle and had-to-be-shot-dead by the policemen.

Vanzara is not the only police officer charged with murder. We have had similar and even worse instances of policemen turning into murderers. And one can hardly recall an instance where the guilt has been established and the guilty punished for murder. The punishment for murder, under Section 302 of the India Penal Code, is imprisonment for life or a death sentence. It may be pointed out, in this context, that a charge under Section 302 will have to rest on a charge under Section 300 of the IPC and this would mean that there is sufficient evidence of an intention to kill; the murder has to have been pre-meditated.

But then the point is that Vanzara, as it is, cannot be charged under Section 300 of the IPC and hence Section 302 cannot be invoked because Vanzara and his likes can take refuge under Section 76 of the IPC. The explanation is that an act, illegal as it may be, carried out with a ``belief’’ that he is ``bound by the law’’ to perform such an act and ``where a bona fide intention to advance the law is manifested by the circumstances,’’ such acts fall under the general exceptions to the provisions of the IPC.

Now, Vanzara and his associates in this case or in almost all those instances where the police or the army officers ended up killing ordinary citizens, had been careful to construct narratives that they ended up killing these men and women because they were bound by law to advance the law. Their superiors and their political bosses had, in all such instances, dished out ``information’’ that those killed were conspiring to overawe the state by violent means.

Recall the murder of over 2000 men in some four districts of Punjab several years ago. These murders were described as acts done in defense of the democratic polity and K.P.S.Gill who headed the Punjab Police at that time was bestowed with honours. Gill was celebrated. We have also had instances where innocent young men were shot dead, army fatigues put on the corpses and buried in Chattisingpura, Kashmir. And even when it was established, several years later that the dead were innocent young men and that they were branded as terrorists by the men in uniforms, there was no effort to find out the murderers and punish them for criminal culpability.

It is a fact that even a liberal application of Section 76 of the Penal Code would have foreclosed the possibility of the guilty officers (the police in the Punjab killings and the army officers in the Chattisingpura massacre) taking the plea that they committed such illegal acts only because they believed that their acts were intended to advance the law. The circumstances were clear that they went about killing innocent men only in order to strike terror among the citizens in those parts of the country.

Their intention was to strike terror in the minds of the people and this indeed is what the organised terror groups seek to do. In other words, they were guilty of attempting to overawe the state with violence and force because such actions, cumulatively, contribute to a crisis of confidence in the state among the mass of its citizens. And when men like Vanzara and his associates, whose duty is to ensure that the mass of citizens do not lose their faith on the state and its institutions, act in a manner that effectively leads to an erosion of such a faith, the guilt is only compounded.

The point is that such acts of vandalism and lawless behaviour increases in the larger context of a constructed popular culture that celebrates torture and killing by the police. This popular culture then manufactures a consent for such criminal acts by the state and its instruments because the people are made to believe that these are essential to save the democratic edifice. While this construction is done through the media in general, the task has been accomplished with some ease by popular cinema in India. There is hardly any celluloid hero who has not done the role of a ``good’’ cop; a one man army against the ``axis of evil’’ (the criminal-politician nexus and their boss from across the border) is a common theme of popular cinema in all Indian languages.

This is where the Gills and the Vanzaras can take refuge even after they are caught for murder. And hence the imperative is for a campaign against condoning any act of killing, torture and use of force by the police. There are nations in parts of the world where even hardened criminals are guaranteed of their right to life and instances of wanton killings by police are very rare in those nations. In other words, those are nations where the right to life and a life with dignity is indiscriminately guaranteed to all its citizens. And those who attempt to trample upon this right, even if they belong to the law enforcing agencies and claim to do that in the name of the law, are held criminally culpable.

It is possible and worthy enough to make a beginning in this direction now and deal with D.G.Vanzara and his accomplices in such manner. In other words, justice in this case will have to be delivered in the form of fixing criminal culpability and not reducing it to a few lakh rupees as compensation.