Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Am sure I will be accused of being anti-Federal.. but then...
That the social fabric in Orissa and in Karnataka is now torn with violence being reported from town after town is indeed a cause for concern. The attacks, in these two States, are clearly a planned one and the perpetrators belong to the Bajrang Dal and such other outfits that have been behind similar such attacks in the Dangs district in Gujarat (almost a decade ago) or in some of the tribal dominated regions of Madhya Pradesh. The target of such attacks, then and now, are members belonging to the Christian community and their places of worship.

And the State Governments in both Karnataka and in Orissa have refused to do what is ordained of them by the Constitution. This was true in the Dangs in Gujarat and in the Madhya Bharat region of Madhya Pradesh then. It is also a case that the Union Government, whose political rationale begins and ends with the stated commitment to save the secular socio-political edifice has not found the basis, until now, to put the State Governments on notice.

Now, Article 355 of the Constitution has at least been invoked in the case of Karnataka. The provision as such means very little. At best, invoking it can serve the purpose of setting on record that the Union Government expressed its concern over the developments in the State. It is not even an advisory in that sense. An advisory, after all, can also mean a strong censure. But then, it is still baffling me that the Manmohan Singh Government did not think of doing even this much in the case of Orissa. And stranger that there was no such demand from any quarter in this regard.

One explanation to this would be that the law and order situation in Karnataka is more important given the fact that disruption of normal life in the towns in Karnataka could have its impact on the IT industry and thus adversely affect the nation’s image! Orissa, after all, is not as IT ised as Karnataka is and the violent attacks and the arson in settlements where the tribals happen to be Christians could help drive them out of those settlements and pave the way for the mining mafia to encroach those lands and dig deep into the soil and make money by exporting whatever minerals deposited there!

I do realize that this is making things appear a bit trivial. But then, it is simply strange why the Union Government did not consider invoking Article 355, the innocuous Constitutional provision, in Orissa. This is not to say that invoking Article 355 is enough. It is, at best, a necessary precedent, as prescribed by the Supreme Court (in the SR Bommai vs Union of India case) and also a condition that late President K.R.Narayanan stressed upon when he as President returned a Union Cabinet recommendation to impose Central rule in Bihar. In either instance, it is not made out that Article 355, as a provision, can be treated as a remedy to the failing Constitutional scheme of things in a State.

And this leads us to discuss the scope for Article 356 of the Constitution in these two States. Such a demand, interestingly, has not been raised from any quarter. This, perhaps, is an indication that Article 356 of the Constitution is now, and at long last, a dead letter. This was, indeed, the spirit of the consensus arrived at in the Constituent Assembly while the Article was included in the Constitution. But then, the reasons that drove the makers of the Constitution to express their desire that Article 356 remains a dead letter of the statute was different.

They were all committed to the ideal of federalism. And the fact is that this aspect was violated with impunity by the whole spectrum of the political establishment. And even when the scope for such abuse was sealed by the apex court in the SR Bommai case in 1993, there was an important dimension to that judgment. An integral part of that judgment happened to address the question of Secularism and the failure of a State Government to protect this aspect of the Constitution (the apex court also held that secularism constituted a basic feature of the Constitution) was held a constitutionally valid basis for the dismissal of a State Government by invoking Article 356 of the Constitution.

This was the basis on which the apex court held the dismissal of the BJP-led Governments inMadhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid as valid and perfectly in line with the Constitution. This aspect of the judgment, unfortunately, is not discussed in any political debate. Well. The Bommai judgment was and is useful to political parties across the spectrum to defend inaction by the Central Government even while life and property of a large number of citizens are in danger. And this indeed is a cause for concern.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I have my own reasons for demanding Shivraj Patil's exit...

It is likely that Shivraj Patil may be asked to quit the Union Home Ministry even before you read this column. This, however, is only a possibility and Sonia Gandhi may chose to ignore the strident demand for Patil’s removal from the opposition as well as from a section of the Union Cabinet. Lalu Yadav, according to reports in the media, has made such a demand. But we should also realize that Lalu Yadav is not all that powerful a player in the Union Cabinet now and it is also likely that the Railway Minister declares, at some stage, that he did not mean what was attributed to him.

There is also an incongruity in the demand itself. Law and Order, we know, is a subject matter in the domain of the State Governments and barring the blasts in New Delhi last week, the Union Government cannot be held responsible even if there was the ubiquitous intelligence failure. The status of Delhi, as a State, is different from any other State and Law and Order in the capital falls directly under the charge of the Union Government and in that sense, Shivraj Patil is directly responsible.

This, notwithstanding, the campaign in the media against Patil and the grounds for his exit are, at some level, ridiculous. Among them is the campaign that Patil was seen changing clothes thrice during the few hours after the blasts and that he was more concerned about his appearance than dealing with the crisis. Well. Patil’s reaction to that has been that he was not the police inspector to be straining himself round the clock in the event of such a crime and that he did what was expected of him.

Amid all this and the larger issue of such terror strikes, in frequent intervals, that must cause concern to anyone who is committed to democracy, let me now recall one of my experiences with Patil during an interaction with him as Union Home Minister. And that will be in order to make my own point demanding his exit as Union Home Minister.

It was in October 2005 that I had gone to meet with Patil at his official residence in New Delhi. I was part of a delegation consisting of human rights activists, fellow lawyers and political party leaders and at least a dozen victims of police atrocities from Mettur and Sathyamangalam. They had suffered severe torture and some of them had lost close members from their families and some of the women had affirmed, on oath, that they were raped while being held in illegal custody.

They had filed affidavits and later deposed before a Panel of Enquiry, headed by Justice P.Sadhashiva (a retired High Court judge) that was set up by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), to find out the truth and report that, on complaints that the personnel of the Joint Special Task Force (JSTF), set up to nab Veerappan, had committed rights violations on the ordinary and poor villagers in Mettur and Sathyamangalam region. At least 200 such poor men and women had filed affidavits and the deposed before the Panel and Justice Sadashiva (along with retired police officer C.V.Narasimhan) had found that many such instances were true.

The report was available before the NHRC and even after several months, the Commission did nothing and hence we decided to take it up with anyone and everyone who we thought will help render justice. Among them was the Honourable Home Minister Shivraj Patil. He was kind enough to receive us at his residence and his officers had arranged tea and refreshments to all those hapless victims and those of us who went with them. We all were frisked and our names entered into the register there as it is the norm and then taken to the spacious lawns outside the Home Minister’s residence.

Patil joined us after we were all seated there and even condescended to listen to the tales of torture and brutalities. Most of them were rendered in Tamil which I translated to him. And it just occurred then that some of the victims spoke Kannada as well (for they lived on the other side of the border) and that Patil understood Kannada as well being one who hailed from the Maharashtra-Karnataka border! So, we asked those victims who spoke Kannada as well, to render their story in that language. And Patil listened to all those without opening his mouth and simply nodding his head. Well. I must add that he was dressed up for the occasion as well and I don’t blame him for that!

And as it went on, I told him, with much expectation, that these poor and hapless people are posing a lot of faith in him. He was, after all, the Minister who commanded all the police and para-military forces across the country and that they looked up to him with lot of hopes. Patil just did not wait, even for a moment, before he told me: Please take care and make sure that they do not pos such hopes on me. I swear that I am not making this up.

The point is very simple. Shivraj Patil must not have been there as Union Home Minister in the first place. He was of the firm belief that the victims of police torture, citizens of this Republic, shall not pose any hope on him in their quest for justice. He is not fit to be a anyone in the Government. The people of Latur, his constituency, had given this verdict in May 2004 by defeating him in the elections. But Sonia Gandhi defied that mandate and made him Home Minister!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Some Notes on the Chiranjeevi factor....

Telegu cine-star Chiranjeevi has raised a storm in the political discourse in Andhra Pradesh. The launch of his Praja Rajyam Party, at an impressive rally at Tirupathi, is being seen as an event that will alter the course of politics in Andhra Pradesh in the same way as did N.T.Rama Rao with his Telegu Desam party in 1983.

Well. There may be some parallels between the two events. But then, the two cannot be seen the same way simply because 25 long years separate the two and this quarter of a century has also been a dynamic and vibrant phase in the political discourse in Andhra Pradesh as well as in India. And more than the similarities or the parallels, what we have between NTR’s Telegu Desam Party and Chiarnjeevi’s Praja Rajyam are a set of contextual differences as well as sociological distinctions.

Let me deal with the contextual differences at the outset. When NTR set up the Telegu Desam Party in 1983, it was able to occupy the large vacant space called the opposition to the Congress party in Andhra Pradesh. It may be stressed here that Andhra Pradesh, along with Karnataka happened to be citadels of Indira Gandhi’s Congress party even in the 1977 general elections. The Janata Party, in Andhra Pradesh was more of a secluded platform consisting of leaders who left the Congress or those who were part of the Swatantra Party bandwagon and in any case they were leaders without any base.

And even after the Emergency and the Janata Party’s stuning victory in the Match 1977 elections and the split in Indira’s Congress subsequently, the anti-Congress platform in Andhra Pradesh was hardly a force. Brahmananda Reddy, who was Union Home Minister during the Emergency and joined the anti-Indira collective subsequently to head the Congress(U) in 1979, was soon back in Indira’s Congress by 1980. And he did not have any impact on the State’s political discourse at any time.

The largest and substantive opposition to the Congress, thus, was constituted by the communists in Andhra Pradesh; and they too were not a huge force particularly because the 1964 split (when the CPI-M was born) and the 1969 split (when the Naxalites set up their own platform walking out of the CPI-M) meant that the communists were divided both vertically and horizontally in Andhra Pradesh.

NTR’s arrival and the Telegu Desam Party being founded happened in this larger context. And there was the immediate context too. The frequent change of Chief Ministers, thanks to the high command culture reaching its peak in the last days of Indira’s Congress and the humiliation heaped upon T.Anjaiah, the Congress Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh who was asked to resign simply because Rajiv Gandhi, then the crown prince in the Congress party, did not like his face provided the immediate setting for NTR’s political agenda and his appeal to the Telugu pride would make a lasting impact on the elections in January 1984.

It was a wave that none could see. Not even Chandrababu Naidu, a Youth Congress leader at that time. Naidu, it may be recalled here, had joined his father-in-law’s party only after the TDP won the assembly elections in January 1984. It was, in many senses, a culmination of a long phase of Congress dominance and the prevalence of a decadent high command culture and the space that the communists had created but remained unable to occupy that NTR captured in 1984. None of these factors are relevant now in Andhra Pradesh.

Let me now come to the sociological aspect. NTR’s arrival in 1983 also marked the emergence of a political platform representing the Khamma community in Andhra Pradesh; this was in reaction to the continuous dominance of the Reddys in the State’s political discourse. The anti-Congress sentiment was also an anti-Reddy sentiment in that sense and the TDP could thus start off from a block that was a few metres ahead of the starting block. A social group, longing for political power was the TDP’s base even when the party was founded and they trooped in to support the party because of their tradition antipathy to the Reddys.

This is not the case with Chiranjeevi. His social base – the Kaapu community – is traditionally a Congress base and had stood by the party even in the last election. This being the case, it is only likely that Chiranjeevi, at this stage, is most likely to eat into the Congress party’s base. And when this happens in a context where the Congress is most likely to suffer some losses due to anti-incumbency, the end result could well be advantage to the Telegu Desam Party. 2009, after all, is a different setting from 1983 and a lot of water has flown down the Krishna in the 25 years between NTR’s arrival and Chiranjeevi’s entry into the political scene.