Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kashmir: Omar v/s Mehbooba!!!!

The crisis in the Kashmir valley is far too serious than to be abused by the political leaders from there for their own partisan gains. Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s daughter and leader of the People’s Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti will do this country and the people of Jammu and Kashmir a great service if she realizes this.

The provocation to say this now is the ugly and scandalous behaviour by her party’s MLA, Muzaffar Beigh in the State assembly on Tuesday is indeed inexplicable. Beigh is guilty of reducing the assembly floor and his privilege as MLA to slander against Chief Minister Omar Farooq. It is important that the political establishment and the civil society convey to Beigh’s boss, Mehbooba Mufti that such things are not done.

This is not to say that Omar Faroq is a saint and that Kashmir will return to its serene state with him as Chief Minister. The fact is that the present state of affairs in the valley is the fallout of his father Farooq Abdullah’s opportunistic acts in order to remain in power. That Farooq Abdullah, in 1987, entered into an alliance with Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress and that the combine won the assembly elections only by way of unabashed rigging at the time of polling and the counting of votes is a fact that anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of the Kashmir affairs will know.

But then, a brief recall of the saga of 1987 is appropriate now. The assembly elections, held that year, witnessed a direct contest between the National Conference-Congress(I) alliance on the one side and the Muslim United Front (MUF) on the other. The MUF was a combine consisting of a number of young men who aspired for genuine democracy in the valley and autonomy as guaranteed by the Constitution. The poll process was rigged. And although the vote-share difference between the two sides was just a fraction of a percentage point, the NC-Congress(I) swept the polls. Within months of that, when the people in the valley saw their mandate being distorted by way of force, the youth who led the MUF turned into militants and began demanding beyond autonomy.

The next moment of reckoning in this trajectory was in 1989-90; and in some way, linked to the 1987 realignment of forces in Kashmir. The Congress(I)’s alliance with Farooq Abdullah’s NC left Mufti Mohamed Sayeed, an old Congressman fuming. He saw in that an end to his dream of becoming Chief Minister of J&K. He joined V.P.Singh’s Janata Dal; and became the Union Home Minister on December 5, 1989.

On January 19, 1990, Jagmohan was posted as J&K Governor. This was Home Minister Mufti’s game, played through Prime Minister V.P.Singh, to irritate J&K Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah. The script was ready and Abdullah resigned as Chief Minister, protesting against the imposition of Jagmohan as Governor. Well. Jagmohan was Governor of J&K between April 26, 1984 and July 11, 1989. During that stint, he had played the executor in ensuring Farooq’s dismissal and posting G.M.Shah as Chief Minister; this he did in July 1984 at Indira Gandhi’s behest. Mufti now sent him to provoke Farooq and he succeeded in that game. The tragedy was that things did not end there.

Jagmohan presided over an administration and a police force that fired at the Kashmiri people in many places and including at those who participated in the funeral procession (on May 21, 1990) of the Mirwaiz Maulavi Farooq in Srinagar. Fifty people were killed that day. And Prime Minister V.P.Singh agreed to recall Jagmohan after that. All the while, the democratic edifice was crumbling and Kashmir was sliding into the abyss. The army was posted everywhere and every young man in the valley was suspected to be a terrorist. This continues even today.

The shameful story of Shopian, where two young women were found to have been killed and the facts that have tumbled out now – that they were raped and murdered – is indeed one of the many that Omar Farooq has to answer for. His tenure as Chief Minister has not been peaceful. But then, Mehbooba Mufti must have shown some sense of responsibility. The fact is that when the Srinagar sex scandal was unraveled in 2006, her own party was sharing power in Srinagar with the Congress(I). And her party MLAs were ministers in the cabinet.

And more important than these, is the fact, that one of the PDP’s ministers, G.A.Mir along with an independent MLA and minister in the coalition cabinet, Raman Matoo were arrested for having been seen to have a role in the sex scandal. The State police, under the Congress-PDP coalition was investigating the case before it was handed over to the CBI. These are facts that are irrefutable. And it is sad that Mehbooba, like her father, is willing to stoop down to any level to wrest office. The losers are, as usual, the people of Kashmir; their choice being restricted between the PDP and the National Conference (and the Congress willing to partner with either of them).

An alternative political platform could have emerged if the 1987 elections were not rigged. The MUF could have matured into a genuine regional force. But then, the Congress (of which Mufti was then a part) and the National Conference killed the MUF and pushed its ranks into other ways.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rita Bahuguna Joshi must be sacked

There is something wrong somewhere with the Congress party. How else do we explain the fact that the president of the party’s Uttar Pradesh unit, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, saying what she said about rape? And more than that, how else do we explain the reaction of the party high command to all that had happened involving Rita Joshi? And all this at a time when the Congress party appeared to have shown signs of a revival in Uttar Pradesh after having been treading on a course of decline in the past two decades certainly shows that the party lacks a coherent organizational philosophy.

Rita Joshi’s comment – that she was prepared to shell out a crore of rupees if Mayawati was willing to go through the trauma – was certainly not one that was made in isolation. The Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee chief said this, expressing her resentment against a provision in the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The point she made was that rape victims from among the Scheduled Castes were paid a higher compensation than women from other castes.

It is indeed condemnable that Ms. Joshi made this point. While it is a fact that rape is indeed an odious act of oppression against the women, it is as much a fact that rape is most prevalent against the women from among the oppressed castes. It is also a fact that in the event of a carnage, whether against the members of the minority community or against the oppressed castes, the perpetrators of the carnage use rape as a weapon to subdue and humiliate the victims.

The context in which the Scheduled Castes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was brought in cannot be explained any better than by pointing to the fact that Article 17 of the Constitution, that expressly lists the abolition of caste based atrocities and oppression, including untouchability, as among the Fundamental Rights, was not achieved even four decades after independence and as many years after the Constitution was adopted on November 26, 1949. The SC/ST Act, as it is now known, was enacted in that context.

And the harsh reality is that the rate of prosecution under the provisions of that act is far too low. Offences under the sections of this act, in fact, are non-bailable as a rule. In other words, bail in these cases are not a matter of right and is left to the discretion of the prosecution and the judges on a case by case basis. The reality, however, is that offenders charged under this act have been obtaining bail and even anticipatory bail with such ease that there is hardly any protection to those SC/ST victims who register complaints. This was revealed in a recent study conducted in parts of Tamil Nadu.

The point is that the SC/ST Act came into place only after it was evident that oppression against the members of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes were carried out as a matter of course by the Caste hindus and the ordinary criminal law was insufficient to deal with such acts given the social background of the men in the law enforcing agencies. And even this law, it now emerges, is not all that effective in curbing the menace of caste based oppression.

Rita Joshi, whose Congress party’s strength, in the good old days, came from its commitment to build an egalitarian society in both the social and the economic sense of the term, does not seem to care for that. The other strange aspect is that her father, Hemavati Nandan Bahuguna, was among those leaders who was committed to that political agenda. Recall the fact that as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1974, Bahuguna had re-invented the Congress party among the Scheduled Castes.

Well. It is also a fact that one of the important reasons behind the party losing its political relevance in Uttar Pradesh, in the past couple of decades, was the dwindling of its commitment to the cause of social equality. Rita Joshi’s remark, on the other hand, reflects the new thinking that deluded the Congress in the past two decades that the party can build itself in Uttar Pradesh as representing the Upper castes alone rather than re-inventing itself as a party of the Dalits, the minorities and the other oppressed sections of society.

The UPCC chief may have her own agenda. On the face of it, she must have looked at the possibility of building herself as the leader of the Brahmin community, numerous in their own way, in Allahabad. In other words, Rita Joshi is looking for a Lok Sabha constituency to herself. But then, the party high command and the supreme leader, Rahul Gandhi cannot afford to let the private agenda of Rita Joshi shroud that of the party in Uttar Pradesh.

And more important than that, the Congress party, now heading the ruling coalition in Delhi, cannot persist with the idea of having someone like Rita Joshi as the chief of its Uttar Pradesh unit. The case against letting Rita Bahuguna Joshi continue as UPCC chief is plain and simple: The SC/ST act and its provisions are based on constitutional imperatives that guarantee the right to equality and life to the members of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. And someone who spits venom against such provisions cannot be entertained in positions of political importance.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

On tax exemption to corporates funding parties for elections

Among the many proposals by the Union Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, in his budget for 2009-10, one that causes some concern is that to grant 100 per cent exemption from tax for contributions by corporate houses to the election fund of political parties. Well. It may sound good on the face of it.

It is a known fact that corporates and business houses donate money to political parties. It is also a fact that in many cases, such donations, is not shown on the records by the parties as well as the donor. It is also a known fact that these donations are given in exchange for favours either taken already or expected from the party as and when it comes to power. It is also a fact that such favours lead to scandals in some instances. It is also a fact that in most cases, where the scandal breaks out, the drama prolongs for a while before it is closed either for want of evidence or when the investigation fails to find the evidence even where it is obvious.

Now, the Left parties have been the only ones from among the political groups that have criticized Mukherjee’s proposals. And this should lead us to conclude that the proposal will sail through and become part of the legal scheme during the current finance year. It is also certain that this proposal will come to stay in our political democracy for a long time to come.

Having said this, I must hasten to add that the basis for the criticism by the Left parties too is rather flippant. CPI(M) leader, Sitaram Yechury and CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta have raised it that the proposal will only help the parties that speak up for the corporates and the business houses and that none of the corporates will even think of donating money to the Left. Their objection is that corporate funding will work against the interests of the working class.

Even if one presumes that the Left’s criticism is valid, it is difficult to agree with them on the contention that the Left does not reflect the corporate interests at any time. The fact is that the CPI(M)-led Left Front had done so much favouring the corporates in West Bengal – Singur and Nandigram being straight examples – and if Yechury’s point is to be taken as correct, then it will be fair enough to also presume that the corporates had funded the Left in recent times.

To elaborate this further, I will have to presume that the Tatas gave some money to the CPI(M) in return for the Singur facility and that the Salem group, based in Indonesia had given money to the party in return for Nandigram. And this could have happened because the party facilitated the setting up of the Nano car factory in Singur and the SEZ in Nandigram in return for the money they got. I am sure Yechury and his comrades will detest me for saying this. Let me also add that I am not sure if the party took money from Tata and the Salem group. I am only presuming this and this presumption is based on accepting Yechury’s argument for a moment.

Well. I still have reasons to argue that Finance Minister Mukherjee’s proposal in Parliament is dangerous. And let me place one of the reasons for that.

It is a plain fact that corporates have been contributing for the election funds of political parties. And that this has been happening since our first general elections. Recall the Mundhra scam in the fifties, exposed by Feroze Gandhi. But then, such funds were not recorded in the annual statements of the corporates. But parties have been showing such receipts without, however, stating the real donor’s identity.

The trick is like this: The various parties show such income as donations, collected in the hundies placed in the party offices or as donations received from public places. Political parties, registered with the Election Commission, in fact, have to submit a statement, every year, to the Commission, showing their annual receipts and expenditure and these have to be certified by an auditor. It is mandatory to keep their registration alive.

The only problem is that the Election Commission has no jurisdiction to examine the source of such receipts. In any case, there is no way that anyone can monitor the ``collections’’ every day. For instance, where a party gets Rs. 5 Crores from a corporate house in exchange for a license granted by its government, it simply shows the amount as received as donation by its workers and well wishers dropped into the collection boxes placed in its offices. The money, thus, is accounted.

The budget proposal, however, makes it possible for the corporate house to donate a certain amount to a certain political party (in return for a favour) and show that in their books and claim 100 exemption for that amount from their tax commitment. This, however, will mean that the party too showing the income as donation from such and such corporate house rather than fudge the accounts and make a false statement that the money came from the faceless workers and well wishers.

But then, it also opens up the possibility for the corporates to set up their own parties, merely on paper, donate money to those imaginary parties and ensure that such monies are exempted from tax. The parties, then, are at liberty to use that money for purposes of the corporate house. For instance, the party can create a fund for lobbying and use it to bribe ministers just like Enron, the US corporation did with our own politicos. Such lobbying can take the form of ``exposure’’ trips to the MPs, Ministers and their family members, to places within and outside the country; it could be done in many other ways too.

The point is that the proposal, as mooted by the Finance Minister, will not only legalise corrupt means but will also help them save on taxes. In other words, in the present situation, the corporates cannot save on taxes for the money they spend on political lobbying. If the proposal is passed by Parliament, we will enable the corporates to pay less taxes than they do now. The other fallout will be the mushrooming of political parties because corporates, big and small, will find this as a means to lessen their tax commitment and also claim to be playing a role in strengthening political democracy!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Justice Liberhan says he is relieved!!!!!

Justice M.S.Liberhan must be a happy man. He was head of a Commission and thus commanded all the paraphernalia that comes with such post-retirement sinecure for such long time. If I may take the discussion a bit further, the retired judge of theDelhi High Court did not have such a long stint as High Court judge as much as he had as head of the commission. And when he said that he was a happy man and felt relieved, he was not speaking for himself alone.

The nation, after having spent as much as Rs. 8 Crores as salary for the staff of the commission and also having paid for the infrastructure that the commission enjoyed, must certainly be relieved of the burden now. Such cynicism is indeed inescapable given the subject matter that was left to be unraveled by the Commission; and that Justice Liberhan took so long to find out the truth.

Well. One does not know whether he has found out something or whether his findings are f any significance to the strengthening of our democracy. If experience of the past is to be of any help, one may simply conclude that it is a great relief that the Honourable retired Judge decided to record his findings and present the report. The staff, who must have been drawn from the various sections in the Home Ministry and the Judicial departments will be repatriated. And between the time they left their department to join the commission and now, their salary must have increased several times; thanks to the fifth and the sixth pay commission reports implemented during this time.

It is also a matter for concern that some of them may have left their parent department in their middle age and must be on the verge of retirement now. It is also possible that some of the departments may have been wound up and their repatriation might raise some issues. In short, it is indeed a sad commentary on the politico-legal system that we have built in the sixty two years of independence.

Recall the facts in the case of the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi controversy. Beginning 1986, when a Magistrate Court in Faizabad ordered opening the locks and letting devotees into the 1526 structure, the issue has dominated the political discourse for several years and has caused the death of several hundred people in communal riots and the destruction of property worth several thousand crores of rupees in all these years.

It is also a fact that the entire show, including the campaign, the violence and the destruction of the 16th century structure on December 6, 1992, was orchestrated and conducted by men and women from the political establishment. If the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi was responsible for taking the issue to the political centre-stage when the decision to have the magistrate’s court order opening the locks was taken (it happened on February 1, 1986), the BJP simply hastened to take up the campaign as its own from the Palampur meeting of its National Executive in June 1989.

The point is that the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 was only the culmination of the cynical political games that the BJP and the Congress(I) played, over the years, with an eye on the Hindu majority votes. It is also a fact that the BJP beat the Congress in this cynical game. It is also a fact that the BJP leaders, including L.K.Advani and M.M.Joshi were engaged in gathering the crowd there. They also knew that those who gathered at Ayodhya on that fateful day carried all kinds of demolition tools with them. It is also a fact that Kalyan Singh, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh on that day knew all these and had failed, in his capacity as Chief Minister, to stop the mosque from being destroyed.

It is also a fact that such other BJP Chief Ministers: Bhairon Singh Shekawat of Rajastan, Sundarlal Patwa of Madhya Pradesh and Shanta Kumar of Himachal Pradesh were held guilty of having allowed the communal mobs to gather and prepare for the demolition and hence failed in their constitutional duties. I am referring to the Supreme Court’s judgment, in the S.R.Bommai and others vs Union of India case, holding the dismissal of the three BJP State Governments in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition. The point is that these truths were known to us and endorsed by the highest judiciary as early as in 1994. But Justice Liberhan seemed to take longer time than the apex court in unraveling the story behind the Babri Masjid demolition.

And, it now depends on what the Union Cabinet decides to do with the report. The law, as it is, warrants tabling of the report along with a memorandum on the action taken on it, in Parliament. This is necessary only in the event of the Cabinet deciding to accept the recommendations in full or even partly. It is not necessary to show the Liberhan report to the people of India in the event the Union Cabinet finds it unacceptable or not worthy of acting on it. Either way, it does not make a difference to ``we the people of India….’’ for we hardly have a choice between those who led the demolition from the front and those who let it happen from behind.