IAMC Weekly News Roundup – June 13th, 2011

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

‘Truth lies somewhere else in Godhra carnage’ (Jun 9, 2011, DNA India)

IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt, on Wednesday, insisted before the Nanavati commission that it should look into the report of the state Intelligence Bureau (IB) in connection with the Sabarmati Express train carnage at Godhra on February, 27, 2002. During an informal discussion with Justice GT Nanavati, Bhatt said, the commission should look into IB reports prepared in March, 2002 as ‘truth lies somewhere else – between the theory of pre-planned conspiracy and accidental fire’. The discussion started after Bhatt’s questioning about Terms of Reference (ToR) of the commission related to the Godhra train carnage case stating that as per the terms of reference, it was presumed that the Godhra train burning incident was not an accident.

Bhatt, when he was deputy commissioner of IB in 2002, had prepared a report about the Sabarmati train carnage and submitted it to the state IB. Earlier, during his cross-examination, he requested the commission to call upon that report. Earlier, the UC Banerjee committee set up by the railway ministry to look into the matter had stated that the fire in S6 coach of Sabarmati carnage was caused by an accident. But the Nanavati commission, in 2009, concluded that the Sabarmati Express carnage was a pre-planned conspiracy. The findings of the inquiry commission were also upheld as the Special court looking into the Sabarmati carnage arrived at the same judgment this year.

The conversation between the cop and justice Nanavati took place after the commission delivered its order rejecting Bhatt’s plea to stall his cross examination. The talk happened while the written order of the commission was being awaited. Justice Nanavati, who heads the commission tried to explain that he was reluctant for the job and how this is a mammoth task for the commission. “I was reluctant to take up this job at that time (2002),” he said, during a discussion on the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the commission. Nanavati said that initially it had been decided that a sitting Supreme Court judge would head the commission, but no one was available, so government settled for a retired judge.

“There were only two retired judges at that time -Justice Majmudar, and me. Majmudar was already entrusted with an assignment related to Narmada by the Supreme Court,” he added. Nanavati said he was living in Delhi in 2002 and was busy with some other assignment. He further said that he always knew that he would face criticism in the new job. The judge further said, “This is not a small task. There are more than 2,000 incidents to be examined and there are 4,000 complaints.”



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Baba Ramdev plans armed defence force (Jun 8, 2011, Hindustan Times)

Baba Ramdev whose protest against corruption was crushed by police at the weekend warned on Wendesday of violence and threatened to train an army of 11,000 followers. Baba Ramdev issued the call-to-arms from his ashram near the holy town of Haridwar 130 miles (200 kilometres) north of New Delhi after he was ejected from the capital. He and 50,000 supporters had gathered in Delhi to hold a hunger strike as part of a growing wave of dissent against the government’s failure to tackle corruption.

But early on Sunday, police wielding sticks and firing tear gas broke up the protest in a surprise move that infuriated Ramdev’s millions of followers and triggered sharp criticism of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.Ramdev, whose popularity stems from his daily yoga shows on television, called for men and women to join his “army”. “They must be dedicated, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice,” he said in remarks reported by television news channels. “They will be given arms training. We will build an army of 11,000 men and women.”

His spokesman said that the force would have weapons but would act only in self-defence. He said that Ramdev was determined to stand up to police if they again attacked him or his supporters. Corruption has become a major focus of public discontent in the country, and Ramdev’s hunger strike – which he resumed on Monday – has piled further pressure on the government. The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), sought to tap into the anger, with leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday travelling to met Ramdev in Haridwar. Another hunger striker, veteran activist Anna Hazare, on Wednesday attracted thousands of people to a one-day demonstration in Delhi to protest against the police crackdown on Ramdev.



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Ramdev, Anna masks of Sangh: Congress (Jun 8, 2011, Times of India)

Congress on Tuesday raised its offensive against Baba Ramdev and social activist Anna Hazare, dubbing them as ‘mukhota’ (masks) of Sangh Parivar and BJP who were trying to destabilize the government in an attempt to regain power. The party accused BJP of hatching a conspiracy to destabilize the UPA government by regrouping communal forces. Under fire for the midnight crackdown on Ramdev and his followers at Ramlila grounds, Congress alleged that Left parties were colluding with rightist forces in conspiring against the government.

The party argued that over the past few months, there were systematic attempts to undermine the stability of the government. “The forces of right reaction and forces of Left anarchism have come together in perpetuating conspiracy of national subversion,” AICC spokesman Manish Tewari said. The party launched a blistering attack on Hazare after he announced a fast on Wednesday against the police action on peaceful satyagrahis at Ramlila grounds and boycotted the Lokpal drafting committee meet. AICC general secretary B K Hariprasad said Hazare was a “mask of RSS and Sangh Parivar” and he was no better than Ramdev. “Ramdev is the mukhota of the RSS and the Sangh Parivar which had hatched a conspiracy. This was aimed at creating Godhra-like communal violence,” he told reporters.

He argued that BJP’s attempt of subversion was to divert attention from the facts coming out of Samjhauta Express investigations which have pointed fingers at RSS and mounting evidence against Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat riots, leaving Sangh Parivar nervous. Tewari attacked BJP veteran L K Advani, saying the desperation of BJP’s prime minister-in-waiting was behind attempts to undermine the government. Congress sharpened its attack on the BJP with Hariprasad accusing Advani of “outsourcing” opposition role to Hazare and Ramdev after losing in two elections. The senior BJP leader was an “old man in a hurry” to become PM, he said.

The party also reacted sharply to BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s remarks dubbing the government as a “headless chicken”, alleging that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had no authority and the Gandhi family, where the power lay, had no accountability. Tewari said the description fit well on the BJP itself as it was wandering in political wilderness for the last seven years and its remote control RSS was omnipresent but always hidden. “From 2004 to 2011, people, who have been running around like headless chicken or rooster is BJP,” he said.



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Cong backs police action, says conspiracy to create ‘Godhra-like situation’ (Jun 8, 2011, Indian Express)

Putting aside its differences with the government over what it perceived was “mishandling” of Baba Ramdev’s fast, the Congress on Tuesday came out in support of the police action at Ramlila Maidan, stating that there was a “conspiracy” to create a “Godhra-like situation” in Delhi. The ruling party also saw in Uma Bharti’s return to the BJP an attempt by the Opposition party to regroup forces who had played a role in the campaign leading to the demolition of the disputed structure at Ayodhya.

“The midnight police action was right action by the government at the right time. We know the antecedents of Sangh Parivar and BJP-sponsored programmes. There was a big conspiracy to mobilise one lakh people on Sunday (police had swooped on Ramdev and his followers at Ramlila Maidan on Saturday-Sunday night). If that had happened, we could have witnessed Godhra-like situation in Delhi,” Congress general secretary B K Hari Prasad told reporters. “We know the (minority-dominated) neighbouring locality, the sensitivity of that area. Police action was taken to avoid a disaster and catastrophe. People will understand it.”

Taking a dig at senior BJP leader L K Advani, he said, “Advani thought his dream would not be fulfilled even in 2014 and therefore, outsources the responsibility to Ramdev, Anna Hazare and the civil society.” Congress spokesman Manish Tewari saw in Uma Bharti’s return to the BJP a “conspiracy” to communalise politics by bringing together everybody who had played a role in Ayodhya movement. “While her return is an internal affair of the BJP, in a broader perspective, the BJP is trying to again bring together all communal forces who had played a negative role in Ramjanmabhoomi movement. Sadhvi Ritambhara’s presence at Ramdev’s fast, Uma Bharti’s return to BJP, all this proves that the BJP’s conspiracy and intent for communalisation of politics in the country is being implemented.”

Dubbing Ramdev and Anna Hazare as “masks” of destabilising forces, Tewari said that a conspiracy of national subversion has been undertaken jointly by the forces of right reaction working in collusion with left anarchism. “Over the past 10 months, there have been systematic attempts to undermine the stability of the government,” he said. He attributed it to nervousness of Sangh Parivar due to Samjhauta Express investigations, “mounting evidence” against Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat riots, and “desperation of permanent PM in waiting”.



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Sadhvi Pragya an accused in Samjhauta blasts case (Jun 8, 2011, Indian Express)

Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, an accused in Malegaon blasts and the murder of RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi, is likely to be named as an accused in the Samjhauta blasts case, along with Swami Aseemanand. Sources said a chargesheet mentioning her name and specific charges would by produced by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Panchkula on June 20.

Pragya is at present in judicial custody. She was allegedly part of the criminal conspiracy to carry out blasts in the Samjahuta Express, along with Swami Aseemanand, Sunil Joshi, Ramchandra Kalsangra, Sandeep Dange and Ashwini Chauhan. Ahead of Pakistan Foreign Minister Khursheed Mahmud Kasuri’s three-day official visit on February 18, 2007, just before the midnight, two bombs went off in the train, killing 67 people, most from Pakistan, and injuring 50.

On Tuesday, Assemanand appeared through video conferencing in the NIA court here. His judicial custody has been extended till June 20. He had submitted in the court that the CBI, NIA and Rajasthan ATS forced him to confess about various blasts, including the one in Samjhauta, and that the CBI tortured him physically and mentally, and obtained his signatures on blank papers. Aseemanand’s 180 days under arrest will end on June 20. The court is also likely to declare Kalsangra, Dange and Chauhan as proclaimed offenders in the next hearing.



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UP girl’s murder confirmed; 11 cops, three doctors suspended (Jun 13, 2011, Deccan Herald)

The Uttar Pradesh police Monday confirmed that the 14-year-old girl found hanging inside a police station compound was strangled to death. One constable has been arrested while 11 policemen and three doctors have been suspended, an official said. The government has also transferred Superintendent of Police D.K Rai after the Mayawati government earlier Monday ordered a state police probe into the incident, which has caused a nationwide uproar. Two policemen from the station are on the run. The body of the girl was found hanging from a tree Friday night inside the Nighasan police station premises in Lakhimpur-Kheri district, about 200 km from here. Divisional Commissioner Prashant Trivedi and zonal Inspector General of Police Subesh Kumar Singh visited the place Monday.

“The three doctors – A.K. Agrawal, A.K. Sharma and S.P. Singh – who have been suspended, were involved in carrying out the first post-mortem examiantion and reported asphixiation (choking) as the cause of her death,” Trivedi told reporters. “Prima facie the post-mortem examination report looked motivated and a fresh autopsy was ordered by a team of doctors from Lucknow. The second report has confirmed that strangulation was the cause of her death,” Trivedi added. “The Lucknow team of doctors has clearly stated that the hymen of the minor girl was intact, therefore we believe that there was no rape,” he pointed out. According to him, “prima facie, it is a case of cold-blooded murder of a minor girl and sure enough some policemen are the culprits.”

Local sources claimed there was personal enmity between the girl’s father Intezar Ali and police constable Ram Chander. They said Ali, a guard for a contractor working on some construction work inside the station compound, had caught the constable stealing some material from the godown and that Ram Chander had threatened Ali. The girl was staying in a temporary hutment inside the station compound with her parents. When she failed to return until late Friday evening, her mother Tarranum went looking for her and eventually found her body hanging from a tree. Her father was away then. Tarranum later told reporters that she was intimidated by the police when she went to lodge a complaint. They told her the girl had committed suicide, she said.

Special Director General of Police Brij Lal told reporters in Lucknow: “While one constable has already been arrested, police teams are trying to track down two others suspected to be involved in the crime.” Meanwhile, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh has demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the case, saying the the CB-CID inquiry ordered by the UP government was just a “sham” and a “cover up”.



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4 dead, 15 police bullets into protesting villagers test Nitish (Jun 11, 2011, Indian Express)

The death of four people, all Muslims, in last Friday’s police firing in Araria, including a seven-month-old infant and a pregnant woman, is turning out to be a major embarrassment for the Nitish Kumar government. It has ordered a judicial probe but now faces charges of police brutality and political patronage. For, the son of a Katihar BJP legislator is the co-owner of the proposed maize starch factory in Forbesganj, the object of the protests. Villagers allege that the boundary wall meant for the factory will cut off the link road to their village. The district administration has offered an alternative road but villagers were divided over it when they protested last Friday and were fired upon. Each of the victims has a story of police callousness and neglect. Tahiran Khatoon lost her 18-year-old son Mustaq Ansari. She says her son, who ran a betel shop to support the family, was on his way to offer Friday prayers when he was picked up by police who fired four bullets into his torso and after the boy fell down, kicked him and waited for him to die.

Mustaq is one of the four killed in police firing in Araria, an incident which is turning out to be a major embarrassment for the Bihar government. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has ordered a judicial inquiry as victims’ families reached Patna today. Distraught grandfather Rafiq Ansari said his seven-month-old grandson Naushad, being carried by his mother Tahine Khatoon, was killed by two bullets in his back. Tahine is recovering at the Patna Medical College and Hospital. Shazmin Khatoon, 27, who was pregnant, was killed by six bullets. Amina Khatoon’s son Mukhtar Ansari, 22, was killed after he received four police bullets including three in his head. The postmortem report revealed that 15 of 16 bullets hit upper parts of victims’ bodies.

Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority (BIADA) gave 33 acres on lease to Auro Sundaram International Private Limited, jointly owned by Saurav Agrawal, son of Katihar BJP MLC Ashok Agrawal and Uttarkhand businessman Ashok Choudhary. The Rs 130-crore project, due to start by 2012, will manufacture maize starch and 13 other products including glucose. A 3MW captive power plant is also part of the project. The victims’ families claim they have been using the road – now falling in the proposed factory premises – for the last 50 years. Questioning the fact that no compensation has been paid, the victims allege that Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi did little to defuse tension when he visited Araria on May 29.

Modi told The Indian Express: “I had gone to Araria to attend a personal function and had no knowledge of the Forbesganj factory problem. Ashok Agrawal is a businessman and his son got the BIADA land after having fulfilled all norms”. He said that whatever happened was “unfortunate and condemnable”. Katihar MLC Ashok Agrawal said he became an MLC after his son got the BIADA land. He blamed the incident on the local political fight between the village mukhiya and his rival. Said Nitish Kumar: “The government has already instituted judicial inquiry into the incident. The government will go by findings of the inquiry report and act accordingly”.



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Police Forbesganj killing: Ex-gratia amount a mockery of justice (Jun 11, 2011, Milli Gazette)

Criticising the selective ex-gratia amount of Rs. 3 lakh to the father of the 10-month baby boy Naushad who died in the firing on June 3, 2011, the Committee for Justice to Forbesganj Police Firing Victims has termed it as a mockery of Justice. “Both the amount of compensation and its selectiveness is ridiculous and a mockery of justice,” said Mahtab Alam, civil rights activist and member of the Committee. “Is the price of a person only Rs. 3 lakhs in Nitish’s eyes, “he asked adding, “even the proposed Communal and Targeted Violence Bill suggests a compensation amount of at-least Rs. 10 lakhs”.

The government has made it clear that the decision of compensation to the other deceased will be taken on the basis of the report of judicial probe which is not expected to be out before six months. “It has been four days since Nitish Kumar announced the judicial probe and we are yet to know who will be heading the probe. The government is using delay tactics so that all the crucial evidences can either be buried or forged,” he alleged. In all, five people were killed in the police firing, while many others were injured when they were protesting against the blocking of the connecting road between two villages on June 3rd at Bhajanpur village under Forbesganj block in Araria district of Bihar. “The report of a fact finding team has confirmed the role of the Police in the killings but the government is yet to take any action against the police personnel involved in the firing and this shows the seriousness of the government,” he further alleged.

To demand justice for the victims of Forbesganj Firing case and to take the case forward, a committee comprising of human rights’ activists, journalists, teachers and students was formed on Thursday evening. The committee will stage a Dharna at Bihar Bhawan here in the capital on 13th June (Monday), 11:00am onwards. We reiterate our demand: 1. Judicial probe into the entire incident by not less than a sitting judge of the High Court. 2. Immediate suspension of all the police personnel involved in the case and registration of an FIR against them under section 307 of Indian Penal Code and, 3. Compensation of at least Rs. 10 lakhs as proposed in the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill to each family along with government service to one of the dependents.



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MiD DAY crime editor J Dey shot dead in Mumbai (Jun 11, 2011, Hindustan Times)

The gruesome murder of J Dey, a senior journalist with MiD DAY in Mumbai, has once again raised questions about the existence of underworld mafia in the city. Is the city headed back to the 1990’s era where gun-running was similar to child’s play, and a killing was assured almost every other day? This is the second major killing in Mumbai where underworld hand is suspected, after Chotta Rajan henchman Umaid Ishrat Sheikh was narrowed down as the person who engineered the Pakmodia street shootout.

Just when Mumbai thought that the era of D-Company and likes of Chotta Rajan was one of the yesteryears, it has come back. A senior IPS officer, on condition of anonymity said, “There has been a lot of flux in the underworld in recent times. New alliances have been forged, and you could have a bunch of ruthless henchmen working for these alliances.” The officer refused to elaborate on the alliances as it could hinder investigations.

“Inter-gang rivalry and an iron fist from Mumbai to eliminate underworld saw henchmen of almost all gangs being gunned down across the city. This made the gangsters put their personal enmity behind, and divide their territory,” said a police officer, on condition of anonymity. Gangsters, in general, have evolved, he added. “They no longer use their crude language to extort. They talk sweet, and they talk tough. Its an art they have mastered,” added the officer. But there exist certain pockets in the city and certain established businesses that still owe allegiance to different gangs, the officer said.



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Indian court sentences 10 to hang for honour killing (Jun 8, 2011, BBC)

A court in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has sentenced 10 people to death for killing a young couple who married against their parents’ wishes. Vijaya, 18, and her husband, Udai Pal Singh, were killed by her family after they found out about the marriage, the court in Etah district heard. The groom’s brother was also killed.

India’s Supreme Court recently said so-called honour killers should face the death penalty. It is carried out only in the rarest of cases in India. The BBC’s Ram Dutt Tripathi in Lucknow says hundreds of young Indians are killed every year for falling in love.

Parents in India still prefer arranged marriages within their own caste and religion, our correspondent says.



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Opinions and Editorials

Beware, this Baba is no Saint – By Prem Shankar Jha (Jun 18, 2011, Tehelka)

The Government has been roundly criticised for first having cosseted Baba Ramdev and then arrested him. The police action has been compared to the Emergency. It is only a matter of time before someone labels the midnight descent upon the Ramlila Maidan as India’s Tiananmen moment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Two months ago, Anna Hazare won the greatest battle for democracy that the country has seen. But Ramdev was throwing away all the concessions he had wrested from the State. He did this by raising the demands for ‘reform’ till they became impossible for even the most reformist government to accept. He was taking his cue from the more radical of the activists who surrounded Hazare. But unlike them, he hadn’t stepped onto the battlefield to win but to lose.

Ramdev’s predecessors had already jeopardised the success of the joint panel on the Lokpal Bill by insisting that it should have the power to probe and, if necessary, indict not only MPs, ministers and bureaucrats, but the prime minister and Supreme Court judges as well. Only those who know nothing about the way democracy functions could have made such a demand, for if conceded it will make the legislature, the executive and the judiciary subordinate to an unelected body, ironically appointed by the prime minister himself. Neither the radicals nor Ramdev remembered Lord Acton’s immortal observation: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Nor did they stop to ask “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (Who will police the policeman?) Their casual disregard for these crucial questions shows that their purpose is not reform but confrontation, not the purging of our democracy, but its destruction.

Ramdev went several steps beyond the activists. He not only demanded that the government bring back all the black money lying abroad, but also amend the penal code to make it possible to sentence those convicted of corruption to death. Once again, he seemed not to know, or not to care, that unearthing the black money would require the cooperation of a dozen governments and foreign banks to give up the names of their depositors. Congress leaders did their best to make him understand that the most the government could do was change its laws and seek the cooperation of foreign governments. But he was in no mood to compromise. As for his demand for the death sentence for corrupt persons, directions for the prime minister and the demonetisation of Rs 1,000 notes, these reflect a combination of ignorance and authoritarianism that makes the blood run cold.

Ramdev’s agitation is different from Hazare’s. His motivation is political, not civil. It is designed to heighten conflict not end it. And it is designed to kill political reform instead of promoting it. Ramdev is no Hazare. Hazare went back to his village after leaving the army, instilled self-confidence and self-reliance in his people, unleashed their creative energies, and ended poverty in a manner that has become the envy of the developing world. Ramdev is a yoga guru with a worldwide following, who has made billions and invested them in more than 200 industrial and yoga training enterprises. He is a modern entrepreneur in an unusual field.

Hazare has made no money from the economic success of his village, and lives a life of Gandhian simplicity. Ramdev’s personal life too seems to be simple, but there is little transparency in the way that his organisations spend his money and what part of it, if any, comes to him. Finally, it is apparent that Ramdev is driven not by a concern for society but political ambition, for he is clearly working in collusion with the BJP. He climbed somewhat belatedly upon Hazare’s bandwagon when it became clear that he had touched the deepest chord of dissatisfaction in the people. He did so even then at the behest of the BJP, which was miffed at having been sidelined after having actively assisted Hazare’s struggle. The reform of India’s corrupt and criminalised democracy is too serious a matter to be turned into a political football. Therefore, the government deserves praise, not criticism, for the way it has handled the agitation. It has shown Ramdev every courtesy, listened to his every demand patiently and gone he extra mile in trying to meet them. Only after failing has it decided that he has to be stopped. But this has made it all the more necessary to push ahead with political reform, preferably with Hazare and his colleagues, but without them if necessary.



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From Ram to Ramdev – Editorial (Jun 9, 2011, The Hindu)

For much of the past year, the Bharatiya Janata Party gave the appearance of being in deep slumber – this even as the world all but crashed around the scam and scandal-hit United Progressive Alliance. With the principal Opposition party seemingly unable or unwilling to take on its chief adversary, the vacuum was being filled by a host of non-political actors. However, last week saw the BJP hit the political tarmac in a burst of iridescent energy. With Baba Ramdev’s Ramlila maidan protest blowing up in the face of the Manmohan Singh government, Sushma Swaraj jived to celebratory music on the lawns of the Rajghat.

Simultaneously, BJP spokespersons hauled the Congress over the coals and yesteryear’s poster woman Uma Bharti returned with the mandate to re-ignite Uttar Pradesh. It is anybody’s guess, however, if all of this adds up to a refurbished, battle-ready BJP. Indeed, there is a desperation evident in the way it has latched on to the yoga guru, hoping no doubt that when the time comes, Baba Ramdev will walk into the sunset, bequeathing his vast constituency of supporters to the BJP.

This is a serious miscalculation because what Baba Ramdev has done is to seize the oppositional space that, as matters stand in Parliament, rightfully belongs to the BJP. It was Lal Krishna Advani who first made a case for the repatriation of overseas black money. Yet in an unbeatable irony, the BJP allowed the issue to be hijacked by Ramdev. The party’s national executive meeting in Lucknow did not throw up a single fresh or innovative idea; instead the party showcased Atal Bihari Vajpayee and recycled many of the old shibboleths.

Surely, the BJP does not expect Ms Bharti to wrest U.P. by rabble-rousing on Ayodhya, an issue that no longer resonates with voters, young or old. Consider the BJP’s electoral performance. It won only a total of five seats in the recent Assembly elections. It has had only one good showing in the two years since the UPA returned to power – in Bihar. But then, the party owed its phenomenal success there more to the political stock and charisma of Nitish Kumar than to any achievement of its own. The BJP has currently only three dependable allies – the Shiv Sena, the Shiromani Akali Dal, and the Janata Dal (United).

The immediate challenge before the party is to expand its own base while striving to bring on board estranged alliance partners. None of this will be possible if it hitches its wagons to Baba Ramdev, who admittedly touched a chord when he spoke on black money. Yet he also thought nothing of inviting the infamous Sadhvi Rithambara to share the stage with him. The BJP has one of two options: either it reinvents itself to meet the aspirations of the new generation or it speaks in a bygone idiom and plods a lonely path.



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Uma is back. Ayodhya will soon follow – By Rana Ayyub (Jun 18, 2011, Tehelka)

Right after the reinduction of party veteran Jaswant Singh in the BJP last year, RSS ideologue MG Vaidya wrote in the Marathi daily Tarun Bharat, “Take back Uma Bharti, her crimes are less than Jaswant Singh’s.” Singh had been expelled from the party over his statements on Jinnah in his book. Advani too had erred on this count, but it was Uma Bharti – the firebrand mentored by senior RSS leaders – who was snubbed and expelled in 2005 just because she had dared voice an opinion about LK Advani. It was this constant pressure from the RSS that forced the return of the 52-year-old maverick. However, the conspicuous absence of senior leaders at the reinduction ceremony spoke volumes about her unpopularity. The only heavyweight present was party president Nitin Gadkari, who for the past year had been trying to hammer out a consensus on the issue. While the party’s official line is that Uma Bharti will fill up the void left by Kalyan Singh, who belongs to the same Lodh caste, it is a less-known fact that the timing of Baba Ramdev’s fast, the consolidated RSS-BJP support for Baba and statements made by Gadkari earlier this week in the party national executive on reviving the Ayodhya movement were all interconnected. That is why the sanyasin returns to the party ranks after six years, a period she chooses to forget. “I am starting a new innings and don’t want to talk of the days when I was out of the BJP,” she says.

It was a series of deliberations since January this year that finally culminated in the decision being announced to the media on 6 June, timed with the BJP’s attack on the Centre for ‘mishandling’ the Ramdev issue. How else would one explain the contradictory arguments made by the BJP in the past six months over the sanyasin? In January this year, the BJP had made a statement that there was no question of Bharti rejoining the party. The moody politician had floated the Bhartiya Janshakti Party with fleeting support from her friends in the Sangh Parivar, including ex-BJP leader Govindacharya, who had always maintained that she was given a raw deal. However, the new outfit went almost unnoticed and landed her in oblivion. It would have been difficult to ignore the fiery leader who had ousted maverick Congress leader Digvijaya Singh as the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. But she also gave a tough time to Shivraj Singh Chouhan, her archrival and the present CM of MP. Even in March this year, she threatened to stage a protest at the Collectorate in Chouhan’s home district, saying frost-hit farmers were not adequately compensated. After all, this is her home state, where she was born in a peasant family and patronised by Vijayaraje Scindia. Becoming chief minister in December 2003 was the high point of her political career. Crafty politician that Bharti is, she has managed to take advantage of the constantly changing dynamics of the BJP-RSS relationship. A senior RSS leader who was forced to take a backseat in the BJP after being embroiled in a controversy, suggested that in the past two months, the RSS has decided to have a strong say in party matters after bickering between party leaders like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj came out in the open.

“You should not see Sushma Swaraj’s impromptu jig at the ashram sthal (Rajghat) and the BJP’s support to Baba Ramdev in isolation of the party reiterating its stand on the Ram Mandir. At such a point, the one lady who will be able to espouse this cause and make the masses in Uttar Pradesh connect with the issue is Bharti,” the leader says. The BJP is also not oblivious to the fact that Bharti’s return will exacerbate the existing factionalism within the party. As a party leader remarked, “She has more friends outside the BJP than within.” Even with Sushma Swaraj, the other high-profile woman in the party, she has had a blowhot- blow-cold relationship. In fact, most senior BJP leaders declined to comment when asked how they see the party benefiting from Bharti’s return to the fold. In the beginning of the year, she even said, while ruling out her return to the party, that she was a blank cheque that the party could encash during the 2012 UP elections. Observers wonder how Bharti will work with the man she had held responsible for engineering her eviction, Narendra Singh Tomar, BJP general secretary. When questioned about this, Gadkari said that one of the key jobs that she will be expected to perform is to sway the masses in favour of the BJP, and to give a befitting reply to Mayawati’s election rhetoric. “She has been brought back into the party with consensus from all BJP leaders and there has been no opposition to her,” replied Gadkari when asked about Bharti’s rivals in the BJP being unhappy over her comeback.

Ever since she got the green signal in April, Bharti has been trying to make a mark in public life. She tried to be a part of Anna Hazare’s Jantar Mantar protest on the Lokpal Bill in April but was turned away by his supporters. She went on a fast in May with BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) support demanding a review of hyrdropower projects in the Himalayan region to save the Ganga and the Dhari Devi temple in Haridwar. She has always been effective with emotive issues, starting with the Ayodhya movement. As the RSS sees it, individual interests have been taking precedence over ideology in the BJP. So though Bharti’s re-entry will upset almost all the factions in the BJP, including Swaraj, Narendra Modi, Jaitley and Chouhan, she will play the crucial role of projecting the ideological face of the party, a woman whose Sangh background forms the crux of her political existence.

Another leader who could make a dramatic entry into the party will be Modi’s achilles heel Sanjay Joshi, who had to quit the position of the party general secretary after his sex CD surfaced in 2006. Joshi, who had attributed the CD to Modi’s men, also does not enjoy Advani’s support. In fact, much more than Swaraj and Chouhan, the RSS had to placate and reassure Advani, who had to be convinced of Bharti’s entry into the party. For it was Advani whom Bharti had left red-faced in a press conference six years ago, after she made uncharitable remarks about his statements on Jinnah, a public outburst that was broadcast on national television. She walked out on the BJP leaders, leading to embarrassment for the party. Advani, whose soft corner for Jaitley and Modi is well known within the rank and file of the party, had to agree that to play the Hindutva card in the forthcoming elections in UP, there was no better alternative to Uma Bharti, who played a pivotal role during the Ayodhya movement. With not much potential being seen in former state BJP chief Rajnath Singh’s handling of the forthcoming UP elections, by reinducting Bharti, the BJP has tried to shoot many targets with the same bullet: harmony with the RSS, balancing party factions, projecting a Hindutva face for the UP elections and unsettling Digvijaya Singh, who is in charge of UP for the Congress.



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What fits the bill – a hope or a mirage? – By Flavia Agnes (Jun 18, 2011, Tehelka)

The communal violence Bill is an act of faith – an affirmation by vulnerable groups for protection against targeted violence by politically and economically powerful sectarian groups. Understandably, it has been dubbed as ‘anti-majority’ by the BJP and has been criticised as a kneejerk response to the Gujarat violence of 2002-03. There is also a fear that it may alter the federal structure and adversely impact the autonomy of the states. But protection of minorities and vulnerable groups like tribals and Dalits is well within the Constitutional scheme. Hence, any provision to protect the secular fabric of the nation and the right of vulnerable groups to live in peace and harmony cannot be dubbed as an ‘anti-majority’ measure.

Successive governments have set up various commissions to secure this objective – commissions for minorities, for preventing atrocities against SC/STs, for protecting human rights and women’s rights. But most of them have been toothless and have failed to prevent violence and protect the vulnerable groups from systematic and targeted violence. While Gujarat provides one example, the violence unleashed against Christian tribals in Kandhamal, Odisha, is another example. The continuous violence against tribals in the Northeast by armed forces, and against Dalits by upper castes in almost every state cannot be ignored. The history of post-independence India is strewn with numerous cases where the ruling governments and the commissions constituted by it have failed in their duty to protect these groups.

But faith is integral to human nature. Every violation rekindles a renewed hope for a just society. Hence the present Bill introduces a new concept of a national and state ‘authority’ with certain recommendatory powers and powers of action if the ruling government fails to act. It renders culpable the government functionaries for dereliction of duty by introducing the notion of ‘command responsibility’. This is a new concept for India, borrowed from other international instruments. It makes public officials who enjoy immunity, accountable. Reparations and witness protection have been clearly set out and include rescue, relief, compensation, restitution and rehabilitation of targeted victim populations.

The BJP’S response has also been short-sighted. By accusing the UPA government of drafting the Bill in the context of Gujarat, it has failed to take into account the political reality of any democracy: that the balance of power changes every five years. So a response in the current context may not be appropriate to assess the long-term benefits of the Bill. The ‘National Authority’ is a civilian institution, appointed by the President with the consensus of the ruling and opposition parties. The majority of its members will be drawn from vulnerable and targeted groups that will help to repose faith in this institution. A Bill such as this, which makes a vulnerable segment within a political group feel as though they have an independent recourse to justice and reparation, cannot be brushed aside as ‘political opportunism’.

But despite its innovative provisions, will it actually deliver? Cynicism prevails even among those who have participated in the drafting process. The Act will function only to the extent that there is a political will to do so. Without it, it will be reduced to a paper tiger and a drain on the exchequer as it would require a huge financial commitment to make it functional, to create the necessary infrastructure at the Centre, state and district levels and a parallel process away from all existing government and statutory bodies. It also takes on several functions that are at present carried out by state functionaries and might thus absolve them of any liability and responsibility of initiating criminal prosecutions and carrying out rescue and rehabilitations. So let’s wish that the hope does not turn into a mirage!



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Players On The Board – By Prarthna Gahilote and Sugata Srinivasaraju (Jun 13, 2011, Outlook)

There are a few things a chess player knows. One, the opening tactic quite often determines how the pieces – yours and your opponent’s – move on the square, checkered board. Two, you can’t expect that to hold good always. Sushma Swaraj made the first move – or, if you don’t discount her ‘thousand cuts’ version of the story, call it retaliation. Anyway, Sushma’s flash attack blindsided colleague Arun Jaitley by fixing responsibility on him for “favouring the Reddy brothers in Karnataka”. Her statement not only reinforced the perception of a cold war between her and Jaitley, it’s again catalysed the unspoken race between party leaders for the top slot. Talk to BJP veterans and they admit “the race for the top job has begun. And this time it’s out in the open”. After the initial tame reactions from party president Nitin Gadkari (almost ticking off Sushma over the Bellary brothers issue) and his predecessor Rajnath Singh – who came out in her support – partymen say “there is almost a sense of glee among party leaders, no matter what they say in public”. As one senior leader admitted, “When two senior leaders fight like this, it translates into a chance for the others to benefit from it.” The BJP leadership should know it from experience. This is what happened in late 2009 when they could not come up with a consensus candidate for party president. Nitin Gadkari, a wild card entry, got the top post then. The 2014 Lok Sabha polls could see a repeat of that.

Much as the BJP takes pride in calling itself a truly democratic party with no one single leader as the final authority, insiders explain the pickle: “It’s too many leaders at the same level within the party set-up”. The issue has plagued the BJP for a while now, and logic dictates that it’s not going away anywhere. Rather, as this second generation comes to full maturation, and as 2014 nears, it can only intensify – barring some sort of diplomatic coup. It started in 2009 when the BJP projected veteran L.K. Advani as its prime ministerial candidate. While it lost the polls, a near-fatal blow was dealt to Advani himself who started losing ground and support within the party. Till then, the Atal-Advani balance had worked well for the party. Fresh into this orphaned phase, December 2009 brought up the need to elect a new party chief. A consensus candidate to replace the outgoing Rajnath proved elusive. So the RSS brought in its own man, hoping to get a tighter rein on party affairs. To placate the Delhi leadership, Advani’s proteges Jaitley and Sushma were given plum posts in Parliament, as Leaders of the Opposition in the two houses. This in a sense reflected the new, tacit hierarchy within the party. Working through the tested formula of ‘selection through elimination’, the party had whittled down the once powerful D4 or Delhi-4 group – Venkaiah Naidu, Ananth Kumar, Jaitley and Sushma. Insiders confirm the party is now split into just two camps: Jaitley’s and Sushma’s. The system worked well for a while. But the potential for mischief lurks, and a troubled denouement has only begun to play out. One variable is how the other second-rung leaders pitch themselves. Naidu, for instance, has gained little over the years. Partymen mostly describe him as a “motormouth” who hasn’t even managed a serious presence for the BJP in his home-state Andhra Pradesh. He is a Jaitley loyalist, who has in private described him as “my first and only guardian ever in Delhi when I first came to this city”.

The other factor is the rise of state satraps who, having played a crucial role in putting the numbers together for a foray into national politics, have no reason to sit back and watch others play the game. Leaders like Narendra Modi, B.S. Yediyurappa, Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and even NDA leaders like Nitish Kumar have gained prominence. They could upset the apple-cart for Jaitley and Sushma in 2014, say insiders. That said, even among the duo, the balance for now “tilts in favour of Jaitley” (with the caveat that three years is a long time in politics). This is despite the criticism within the party that he’s yet to prove his credentials in electoral politics. He has never contested an election, leave alone won one. His critics say Jaitley, despite his TV-friendly image, is yet to establish himself. Those in his favour cite his “more or less clean image”. He also has a large number of “friends within the party”. Which is what Sushma lacks despite her spectacular electoral triumphs over the years.

Insiders say even as “Sushma projects she is popular and more acceptable with people outside the BJP and that this should work to her advantage, the fact is if an NDA coalition is put in place today, her only friends in the BJP would be S.S. Ahluwalia and Rajnath”. And new entrant Karnataka CM Yediyurappa, after her recent take on the Reddy brothers. Sushma’s effort to distance herself from the Reddy chapter was also about apportioning the blame for their growth in the party. She apparently feels that when everyone has benefited from the Reddys, why should she be the only one to take the blame. She also knows the Supreme Court, CBI and ED are closing in on the Reddys, which could spell trouble for her. There’s also a view in the party that Sushma has made too many ‘sinful’ mistakes “to mar her own rise”. Explains one leader, “Sushma could have easily walked away with the whole credit in the CVC issue. Instead, she lost the opportunity by going soft on the prime minister. After his statement in Parliament, Sushma was far from aggressive. You can’t be the face of the agitation against the government on corruption and then go soft on the PM.”

That apart, there is a feeling that the central leadership in Delhi is full of ‘manipulative netas’ and not ‘mass leaders’; that the high command is weak because it is filled with ‘networking politicians’ who have no mass base. Reason enough why leaders like Modi, Yediyurappa, Vasundhararaje, Sushil Modi, Raman Singh, Gopinath Munde and Manohar Parikkar among others, have been kept out of the party’s decision-making process. If the RSS is to be believed, these are “minor problems”. A senior functionary explains, “A lot depends on the UP polls of 2012. That will define the road ahead. Gujarat also comes up for polls in 2012. If Modi sweeps again, the only hurdle for him is his legal problems in the riots case. What also needs to be watched is who becomes BJP chief after Gadkari. He was brought in to put the house in order, but the next president will have to take the BJP into the LS polls and attempt a victory.” Till such time, the ghost of succession will continue to haunt the BJP.



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Shifting stances – By V. Venkatesan (Jun 4, 2011, Frontline)

It is rare to find the Supreme Court going beyond the facts in a particular case and laying down the law to be applied in related cases. A Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra appeared to do so on May 13 while upholding the Bombay High Court’s decision to cancel the bail granted by a lower court to policemen accused of killing a man in a fake encounter. A close scrutiny of the Bench’s intervention, however, reveals that it is far from substantive. The Bench held that if an encounter was proved fake, the case should be treated as a “rarest of rare” case and the policemen guilty of the offence of murder must be awarded the death sentence. Fake encounters, the Bench said, are nothing but cold-blooded, brutal murder by persons who are supposed to uphold the law. In the Bench’s opinion, if crimes are committed by ordinary people, then ordinary punishment should be given, but if crimes are committed by policemen, much harsher punishments should be given to them because they act contrary to their duties. These are nice sentiments but hardly sufficient to subject the perpetrators of fake encounters to accountability. In this case, some policemen were accused of killing one Ramnarayan Gupta in Greater Mumbai last year on behalf of someone who wanted to eliminate him. A magisterial inquiry and later a Special Investigation Team, constituted by the Bombay High Court, found that the encounter was fake and that it was a contract killing by the police.

The High Court cancelled the bail granted to the accused policemen by the sessions court. The accused appealed against this denial of bail in the Supreme Court even as the case against them was being heard by the sessions court. The Supreme Court Bench, in its judgment, held that in considering whether or not to cancel bail, a court had to consider the gravity and nature of the offence, the prima facie case against the accused, the position and standing of the accused, and so on. It said that if there were very serious allegations against the accused, bail may be cancelled even if it had not been misused. The Bench found that there was a prima facie case against the accused, which disentitled them to bail. The Bench reasoned that if some police officers and staff could be engaged as contract killers, witnesses might have strong apprehensions about their own safety. The sessions court, the Bench said, completely ignored this aspect while granting the accused bail. Saying that the protectors had become predators, the Bench quoted from the Bible: “If the salt has lost its flavour, wherewith shall it be salted?”. The Bench warned policemen that they would not be let off after committing murder in the name of “encounter” even if they used the pretext that they had been carrying out the orders of their superior officers or politicians. The Bench pointed out that in the Nuremburg trials, held following the Second World War, Nazi war criminals who took the plea that “orders are orders” were hanged.

The Bench held in unambiguous terms: “If a policeman is given an illegal order by any superior to do a fake ‘encounter’, it is his duty to refuse to carry out such illegal order, otherwise he will be charged for murder, and if found guilty sentenced to death. The encounter philosophy is a criminal philosophy, and all policemen must know this. Trigger-happy policemen who think they can kill people in the name of encounter and get away with it should know that the gallows await them.” The Bench’s remarks have brought the issue of encounter deaths into sharp focus. While the number of deaths caused by fake encounters is on the rise across the country, observers feel that the Supreme Court’s threat to impose the death penalty on the perpetrators of such crimes is unlikely to deter them as long as the lax guidelines framed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) continue to make it impossible to bring accused police officers to trial. The observations of the Katju-Misra Bench are just another example of how the Supreme Court is unaware of the way the matter has been dealt with by other Benches of the same court. The Bench’s remarks, civil liberty activists say, do not go beyond paying lip service to the objective of stopping fake encounters completely. Citing just two instances will suffice to show that the Supreme Court and the governments at the Centre and in the States are less than serious about taking effective measures to stop fake encounters.

On February 6, 2009, the Full Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, in a judgment, made it mandatory for the police to register a first information report (FIR) against police officers after every encounter death. The judgment was a legal victory for the petitioner, the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee, which had effectively campaigned against the fake encounters in the State, and would have had the effect of shifting onto the police the onus of proving that an encounter was not fake. But a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, the then Chief Justice of India and the present Chairman of the NHRC, stayed this judgment on March 4, 2009, on an appeal by the Andhra Pradesh Police Officers’ Association (SLP (c} 5933/2009). The Supreme Court has not yet found the time to dispose of this appeal. Citing the Supreme Court’s stay on the matter, the Andhra Pradesh High Court adjourned the hearing of all petitions concerning encounter deaths in the State. The stay has brought about an anomalous situation of silencing all those seeking immediate legal redress in cases of encounter deaths. People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs State of Maharashtra is another case that has a vital bearing on the effectiveness of measures against fake encounter deaths. In this petition filed in 1999 (Appeal Criminal No.1255/1999), the petitioner sought the Supreme Court’s intervention to lay down effective and binding guidelines on the Centre and on State governments to prevent encounter deaths. With many State governments resisting any reform of the existing guidelines suggested by the Bombay High Court and the NHRC, the Supreme Court Bench that is hearing the matter has been unable to make any progress. The case came up for hearing on April 13 and has been slated for another hearing on July 12.

Meanwhile, petitions to the Supreme Court have brought to its notice gross violations of even the lax NHRC guidelines by the Andhra Pradesh Police in investigating last year’s encounter killings of the Maoist leader Azad and the journalist Hemchandra Pandey, and sought the court’s intervention to initiate judicial inquiries into the matter. The petitions, filed by Pandey’s wife, Bineeta, and the social activist Swami Agnivesh, have alleged that the State police did not ensure an independent investigation into these fake encounters. On April 24, the Supreme Court directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate the deaths and submit a report within six weeks. On May 20, the CBI registered an FIR against the policemen accused of faking the encounter. The point here is that an impartial investigation was possible only after the apex court intervened, and such interventions cannot be ensured in every such case because of the court’s own limitations. The Katju-Misra Bench’s threat to impose the death sentence on the perpetrators of encounter deaths comes at a time when the Supreme Court has, in general, shown a declining tendency to impose the extreme penalty in murder cases, in view of the inconsistency being displayed by different Benches in awarding it. The Bench only adds to this inconsistency, without resolving the paradoxical nature of state killing in India.



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