Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Cut Motions and the Cuts that our Leaders get out of them

The framers of the constitutions may not have imagined how creative the political class would turn. A recent example of this, in the long litany, is that of how the provision for cut-motions while discussing and passing the demand for grants in a budget has been turned into a means to political survival and enrichment by leaders of parties.

It makes sense to point a certain fact in this context before taking the discussion forward. The concept of a cut-motion is derived out of Article 113(2) of the Constitution. In the constitutional scheme, all proposals by the Executive to draw money from the consolidated funds of India will have to be approved by the Lok Sabha; and the first stage in that scheme is that the Finance Minister, after presenting the budget, will also seek approval of the Lok Sabha for spending money in the manner in which the proposals have been made.

Article 113 of the Constitution charts out the scheme for approval and enables every MP, whether belonging to the ruling, opposition or any section in the Lok Sabha, to move a motion proposing a cut, in all cases a symbolic one rupee, to the demand for grant made by the Finance Minister for a particular ministry. The convention is that the adoption of a cut-motion by the Lok Sabha will mean that the Government does not have the authority to spend money the way it wanted and it amounts to the defeat of the money bill and consequently an affirmation by the Lok Sabha that the Government does not have the support of a majority in the House.

In that way, a cut-motion is as good as a no-confidence motion and hence voting is governed by the same procedures as that governs voting on a no-confidence motion. It is thus clear that parties are free to issue whips to its members insofar as voting on cut motions are concerned and in the event a MP defies such a whip he/she shall be liable for disqualification from the membership of the House under the provisions of the Tenth Schedule.

Well. I did not see any of the parties issuing a whip of any kind when the Finance Bill was slated for being placed for approval in the Lok Sabha on April 27, 2010. I may be wrong. But then, I did not see any such thing having been reported in the media. Hence, let me conclude that neither the Left parties (who also organised a bandh, in their strongholds of West Bengal and Kerala, that day) nor the BJP were really serious of seeing to the fall of the Government. The fact is that the leaders across the political spectrum are clear that price rise, as an issue, leading to a political tumult are things of the past.

This did happen in the past. Gujarat in 1973-74 witnessed a protest, unprecedented in scale and form against rising process and the cause for that as being identified as corruption. The student movement that forced Indira Gandhi to get her Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel out of the office and order fresh elections began with a protest against rise in mess charges in an engineering college in Ahmedabad. The students and the middle classes across Gujarat launched a massive struggle against the regime then and made history.

The Gujarat movement, in fact, seemed to set a new course in the political culture of our nation and Lalu Prasad Yadav was a product of that culture so to say. I see a connection in that and the tragic reality now that Lalu Prasad Yadav and such others who emerged in that context are no longer serious about process of essential commodities and using the procedure laid out for protests in such contexts in Parliament. We did see a unity between Lalu, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati in this regard when the cut motions were voted in the Lok Sabha on April 27, 2010.

I cannot desist from drawing the critical link between the rising process and the corruption that is seething in our body politic: That the political establishment cutting across parties and platforms is so concerned about its own preservation and the enrichment of its leaders at various levels that our neighbourhood vegetable vendor is forced to ``donate’’ periodically to their funds and also pay up the police and others every day that they will have to make good all that from you, me and those like us. The grain trader too is in no different position. And it is indeed inevitable that prices rise and when that happens, the Government machinery that is supposed to check the prices are led to inaction because they have all benefited out of the traders and the others and hence disabled from taking action.

And it is so obvious that there is no relief to the man who pays more to get less and less of grains and vegetables. Lalu and Mulayam do not fall in this category. Nor does any one of the MPs. They all are protected sufficiently well by the system. And so is Shibhu Soren, whose Government is in trouble because his party MPs too behaved in a manner suggesting that the rising prices are not an issue before them. Well. There is a stage in our political life when corruption is ruling the roost. And it is easy for anyone controlling the system to use such institutions as the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate to make such leaders as Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh, Shibhu Soren and Mayawati behave in a manner to save the Government!

Now, there is no way all these could be taken up for scrutiny and made an issue because Article 105 of the Constitution will be invoked by our Honourable MPs: They are privileged men and women!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Well... I do not want to condemn the Maoists now... Nor do I celebrate what they did...

The tragedy that met with the personnel of the CRPF engaged in Operation Green Hunt the Dantewada district in Chattisgarh is indeed unfortunate. Those who died, in most cases, hail from the poor families across the country. There is no way that such killings can be justified in the name of revolution. Having said that, it is also necessary to add here that the Indian state and its current strategy to combat the Maoists calls for a serious review.

The point is that the state has waged a war and involved all its might in it. And where the state’s forces have been combing the villages inside the forests, the Maoists in turn have resorted to mining the roads and the paths there. And in that sense, it is a no-holds-barred battle that is now taking place in the Chattisgarh forests as much as in parts of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar. It is indeed a sad comment on the state of the Republic.

More than 60 years after the adoption of the Constitution (on November 26, 1949), there are serious doubts as to whether the path that we had chosen as a nation is taking its people to the end that was set. The fact is that even while the condition of life of a section of our people has improved in a substantive sense, it is equally true that income poverty and un-democracy is also pronounced in another section. And it makes sense to stress here that the region where the Indian state is fighting the battle against the Maoists are also those places where such deprivation is most pronounced.

While all these are obvious and have been stated many times in the recent past, there is yet another factor that calls for attention. And that is the fact that the Dantewada district and the whole of the Bastar region, where the Maoists displayed their firepower against the CRPF personnel is also rich with minerals and mines. It is worth pointing out that the Chattisgarh State Government had resorted to a dubious and dangerous measure in this region by which a section of the people were armed and given the license to kill; the salwa judum, as this state-sponsored-private-army is known, has been the subject matter of dispute before the Supreme Court.

The case before the Supreme Court is as to whether the Constitution and the rule of the law it guarantees would allow the Government to provide arms and training to private citizens and engaged them against the people of the region. It is indeed another sad story that the case has not reached the stage of finality even after a couple of years since it was instituted in the apex court. There have been reports from the region, with substantial evidence too, that the Salwa Judum is engaged in attempts to subdue and scare away the adivasis from their hamlets in the forests.

It is also necessary, in this context, to see the context in which the Salwa Judum was brought up. It began after June 2005, the same time as that when there was a substantial increase in the number of MoU’s between the State Government in Chattisgarh and the many corporates, both national and multinational, for exploitation of the mineral wealth in the region. All those MoUs were the fallout of a qualitative shift in the mines and minerals policy of the Government of India; from being a preserve of the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), a Central Public Sector Undertaking, mines were thrown open to the private sector sometimes before that. And the State Governments, since then, got busy selling the land and the wealth underneath the land to bidders from anywhere!

The Salwa Judum, thus, was a creature of the state government of Chattisgarh to ensure that those who bought the right to dig and take away the minerals in the forests were able to do that without the adivasis resisting the plunder of mother-nature. And the CRPF and other central forces too were taken there in large numbers to aid such a development. This indeed is the context in which the battle has been raging in the Dantewada region in Chattisgarh.

The point is that all these do not justify the killing of the 75 men from the CRPF on Tuesday morning. It is a sad thing when people are killed. Death is a sad thing. But then, it is time that the state too took a re-look at its strategy. Killings and counter-killings do not aid the making of the Republic. It will have to stop.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Narendra Modi and the SIT

There was something that offended human sensibilities in the reports about Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi being interrogated by the SIT. One aspect that was offensive was the fact that it happened so late. The anti-Muslim pogrom was carried out in Gujarat in February-March 2002. And the investigations are still under way in February-March, 2010! Contrast this with the attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008. The trial is over and the Honourable judge has set May 3, 2010 for pronouncing the judgment.

Lest it be misunderstood, I must make it clear that I am not quarrelling over the speedy trial in the Mumbai attack case. But then, I must also point out here that May 3, 2010 will not be the last day insofar as the Mumbai attack case is concerned. Ajmal Kasab will not give up his right to appeal and the due process of law will take its course. Well. The media, as it did with Kasab’s case in the trial court, will follow up the process in the next stages too and keep the nation’s interest and the ``national interest'' alive in that case.

This is where we find the jarring note of insensitivity in the case involving Modi. The SIT summons to Modi was reported in only a section of the media. And Modi had the temerity to deny that he had been summoned and that was also reported in the media including in the papers where the story of the summons was reported earlier. For some strange reason, the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The Hindu (that reported that Modi has been summoned) did not threaten to sue Modi when the Gujarat Chief Minister said that the story of the summons was an instance of imagination. The fact is that Modi was summoned by the SIT and hence he went to depose.

Now, it remains to be seen as to what happened during the interrogation at the SIT’s chambers on March 25, 2010. Unlike in the case of Kasab, where the details of the interrogation and the several confession statements by Kasab were transmitted through the nation day after day, nothing is known about the interrogation of Modi. I must add here that I have substantial reasons to believe that the SIT led by super-cop V.R.Raghavan did not resort to any physical or other means that the police are known to use while interrogating Modi.

Such images of interrogation by the police that we are used to see in cinema are indeed reflective of the truth. But then, the other simple truth is that torture during interrogation is meant only to ordinary people accused of petty crimes. Only in cinema does the good policeman (the hero) extract the truth from big time political leaders by resorting to such acts as laying the accused on an ice-slab or making him set on a revolving chair or beat him up and then record the confession on a video cassette. None of these happen to our political leaders in real life.

Let me clarify here that such methods must not be used against anyone. And it must not be used against Modi too. But then there is no denial of the fact that Modi is as much responsible for the torturous means that the Gujarat police had resorted to in the context of the accused in the Godhra train burning case. And it is the same obnoxious system that celebrated the murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Kausarbi by personnel from the Gujarat Armed Police. The then DIG, D.G.Vanzara was one of Modi’s favourites and the Chief Minister went on record defending Vanzara.

The simple point behind recalling all these is that there is very little that the SIT could have achieved by way of interrogating Modi. And there is very little that the SIT can do to Modi. All this is not to say that Modi must not have been summoned by the SIT or that Modi must be spared of all this and allowed to do what he likes. The tragedy is that our political system, for all the democratic façade, allowed Modi to conduct an anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat and did nothing about it.

His role in the violence was known to anyone and everyone. Some of those who believed that the Muslims did not deserve justice celebrated Modi and some who believed that Muslims were also human beings and deserved all the rights that fellow citizens from the majority community enjoyed hated Modi. But then, there is also a large section of the people who did not belong to either of the two sides and they do not care about what Modi did as long as Gujarat showed an upward stride in the graph showing industrial development.

The problem lies here. And the problem lies in the way in which the political establishment has dealt with leaders who have allowed and even carried out organised violence against religious or other minorities. Gujarat witnessed anti-muslim violence in 1969 when Indira Gandhi’s Congress ruled the State. Anti-Muslim violence rocked Meerut, Malliana, Bhiwandi, Bombay and Bhagalpur on many times since 1969 and 1989 and in 1992-93. Delhi and other towns witnessed anti-Sikh violence in 1984. And Modi’s guilt is as much as that of those who ruled when such violence happened over the years.

The sense of cynicism that marks my response to Modi’s interrogation by the SIT derives out of this short history and inherent or structural weakness of our administrative and judicial system when it comes to delivering justice. The powerful politician, whether in power or out, will manage to escape the noose come what may. And that is what makes me say that that there was something that offended human sensibilities in the reports about Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi being interrogated by the SIT.