IAMC Weekly News Roundup – October 1st, 2012

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

Announcements

Communal Harmony

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

Announcements

India’s response to its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations disappoints human rights groups – India refuses to agree to adequate steps to protect members of minority religions

Sunday September 30, 2012

The Advocates for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of internationally-recognized human rights, and Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, have jointly expressed their concern over India’s failure to accept key recommendations that guarantee Human Rights for its minorities while commending India for its general acceptance of certain critical principles.

On September 20, 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on India. In May of this year, dozens of countries made a total of 169 recommendations as to how India could better comply with its human rights obligations, including its obligations pertaining to religious minorities. After months of internal deliberations, the Indian Government on September 18 committed to only 67 of the UPR recommendations, some in substantially watered-down form.

As many countries noted in their recommendations, India has failed to ratify Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT). Torture, as defined in the CAT, is not criminalized under Indian law. India has been apathetic toward the recommendations of UN Special Rapporteurs as well as related recommendations from many countries, including Australia, Austria, Botswana, Brazil, Czech Republic, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Maldives, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America.

During the September 20 session of the Human Rights Council, several leading international human rights organizations expressed serious concerns regarding India’s decision not to adopt the many recommendations relating to ending the systematic impunity enjoyed by Indian security forces, and not to accept recommendations for a comprehensive framework to deal effectively with communal and targeted violence.

India committed to training police on Human Rights procedures, however, it fails to ensure their compliance with Human Rights principles by refusing to amend or repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. India also failed to adopt a Prevention of Communal Targeted Violence Bill that would ensure the accountability of civil servants, facilitate the redress of Human Rights violations, and help prevent communal attacks against religious minorities.

India adopted Austria’s recommendation to ensure a safe working environment for journalists. It also agreed to continue to cooperate and further coordinate efforts between its Human Rights institutions and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights defenders, as recommended by Egypt and Spain. India adopted Egypt’s more general recommendation verbatim, but declined to commit to Spain’s recommendation to implement specific measures guaranteeing timely, effective, and independent investigations of human rights violations. And despite its general commitment, India was notably silent on recommendations to implement specific measures to protect the rights of the defenders of religious minorities.

India also declined to accept Mexico’s recommendation to prioritize access to education for marginalized groups and birth registrations for religious minorities.

“The definition of terrorism currently employed in the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) increases the arbitrary detention of religious minorities and vilifies them as criminals and traitors due to a presumption of guilt,” says Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights. “India failed to commit to the implementation of the Prevention of Atrocities Act or counter terrorism strategies, as recommended by Germany, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, and thus has shirked its obligation to reduce the arbitrary detention of minorities.”

“The policy machinery in India is responsible for Enforced Disappearances as defined by the Article 2 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance,” notes Jawad Khan of IAMC who attended the Universal Periodic Review of India in Geneva in May, 2012 as part of the The Advocates for Human Rights’ delegation. “The police have tortured and killed Muslims under the guise of encounter killings and continue to unlawfully imprison and torture religious minorities with impunity. India continues to ignore recommendations to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Where is the assurance that India will stop these terrible human rights violations?”

In summary, with regard to the protection of the rights of religious minorities, India adopted in the entirety nine (9) and partially adopted two (2) of sixty-one (61) recommendations. “India summarized the recommendations and eliminated critical nuances that could potentially reduce the violation of religious minorities’ human rights. India must attend to the nuances of the various recommendations. Accepting watered down ‘summaries’ of the UPR recommendations manifests a weak declaration of India’s respect for human rights, and only a small and tentative step toward ensuring the rights of religious minorities are respected,” says Ms. Prestholdt of The Advocates.

The Advocates for Human Rights and Indian American Muslim Council note that the accepted recommendations lack a sense of urgency and are not action-based. India adopted only the most passive and diluted recommendations; it shied away from details within the recommendations that instructed it to amend or institute policies, bills, or laws that would ensure the protection of religious minorities. Nonetheless, during the September 20 meeting, the Government of India pledged to work assiduously on all issues highlighted during the UPR, regardless of whether it had formally accepted a particular recommendation. The Advocates for Human Rights and Indian American Muslim Council continue to call on India to make tangible commitments to the protection of the rights of religious minorities.

The Advocates for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is dedicated to the impartial promotion and protection of internationally-recognized human rights and holds Special Consultative Status with the United Nations. To learn more visit theadvocatesforhumanrights.org

Indian American Muslim Council is the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the United States with 13 chapters across the nation. The mission of Indian American Muslim Council is to promote peace, pluralism and social justice through strategic advocacy. IAMC is a Washington, D.C. registered non-profit 501(C)(3) tax-exempt organization established in August 2002. For more information please visit our new website at www.iamc.com

CONTACT:

Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director
The Advocates for Human Rights
Phone: (612) 341-3302
Email: jprestholdt@advrights.org 
www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org 

Jawad Khan, Executive Director
Indian American Muslim Council
Phone: (800) 839-7270
Email: info@iamc.com
www.iamc.com

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Communal Harmony

Communal harmony delegation visiting Faizabad and Ayodhya (Sep 28, 2012, Twocircles.net)

A delegation of young social activists from both Hindu and Muslim communities is visiting Faizabad and Ayodhya to spread message of peace, humanity and harmony. The visit has been scheduled in the wake of communal tension persisting for over a month in Mirzapur village of Faizabad district in Uttar Pradesh. According to Ravi Nitesh of Mission Bhartiyam who will lead the delegation, the tension is over construction of a mosque-temple in the Mirzapur village, and for being in the neighborhood of Ayodhya, security has been beefed up in the locality.

The delegation will spend 29th and 30th September in Faizabad and Ayodhya respectively. In Faizabad, the peace activists will distribute pamphlets in the tense village and its surroundings to spread message of humanity, harmony, unity. Members will sing peace songs in the area. They will hold a candle vigil for harmony at Shaheed Smarak in Faizabad. Next day the delegation will move to Ayodhya. On the way to Ayodhya, the members of the delegation will distribute pamphlets sing songs of harmony. They will also be meeting with local activists at Saryu Kunj (Jugal Kishore Shastri’s Ashram), District Administration, Mahant Bhavnath (President, Samajwadi Sant Sabha & Priest Hanuman Garhi Ayodhya), Acharya Satendra (Priest, Ram Janambhoomi).

Mirzapur is a village in district of Faizabad, about 7 km from Ayodhya. The place is presently facing a pain of communal tension. The root cause of the tension is dispute on issues related construction of temple and mosque. Police have been deployed at the village. Due to the location being near Ayodhya, it becomes a matter of serious concern to work towards establishing and promoting communal harmony there to avoid any tension more, said Ravi Nitesh. “Now, when the communal harmony is in danger, we feel that as a concerned citizen of this country and as a human being, we have responsibility to do whatever we can as per our capability to spread the message of peace, love and harmony,” he added.

The delegation will include 15 members from both the communities who will join from various places. Members of delegation: Ravi Nitesh, Gufran Khan, Satish Kumar, Shadab Bashar, Litil Kumar, Shariq Naqvi, K.M. Bhai, Maaz Khan, Jitendra, Afroz Alam Sahil, Hansraj, Gyan Kumar, Sagar, Lav Kush, Aditya Dubey.

http://twocircles.net/2012sep28/communal_harmony_delegation_visiting_faizabad_and_ayodhya.html

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Seminar in Chandigarh focuses on role of education in ensuring communal harmony (Sep 27, 2012, Times of India)

A Sadhbhavna Seminar was organised here by the Sadhbhavna Club of Local Mohindra College in collaboration with Punjabi University’s Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur National Integration Chair at the college campus. While inaugurating the seminar, Arjuna Awardee Principal Rupa Saini emphasized the need for educating and empowering youth to promote national integration in India.

Chair Professor Baltej Singh Mann of Punjabi University in his presidential address said that the changing scenario in the country due to globalisation, rapid technological advancement and the emergence of India as the global economic power has necessitated the training of youth in life and employable skills.

“Such type of seminars are helpful not only to students, but to teaching faculty also if we really want to enrich them with required knowledge” said Khushwant singh, a teacher. Dr. Mann emphasized the role of education in nourishing communal harmony in the country for the co-existence of all the great religions in India. Among others who spoke at the occasion included Prof. Suresh Kumar Sharma, Dr. Swaraj Singh, Prof. Varinder.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/16570590.cms

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2 years, 5 cities, 6 cases – and ‘proof’ everywhere is the same magazine (Sep 26, 2012, Indian Express)

On April 16, 2006, Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh was tense. There had been communal clashes a week ago during Eid-e-Milad. In the afternoon, policemen from the Kotwali police station arrested two women, 20-year-old Aasiya and 23-year-old Rafia, daughters of one Abdul Hafiz Qureshi. The police, in their seizure memo, claimed to have recovered “incriminating material” from Aasiya – three copies of an April 2004 issue of a Hindi magazine, Tehrik-e-Millat, and a SIMI donation receipt towards “office construction fund” (receipt no. 0033359, dated January 25, 2006) with the name “Kumari Aashiya Khan” in Hindi for an amount of Rs 500. SIMI was banned in 2001. If an underground outfit issuing a donation receipt for a building on their old stationery seems unlikely, the story of the magazine is even more odd.

All the three copies of Tehrik-e-Millat allegedly recovered from Aasiya have her name written by hand in Hindi as “Aashiya” on the cover. The police also claimed to have seized two copies of Tehrik-e-Millat with “Rafia” written by hand in Hindi on the cover. Tehrik-e-Millat is a fortnightly published from Kota in Rajasthan. Though the Kotwali police station in Khandwa later booked the magazine’s owner-editor M A Naiem, the magazine has never been proscribed. This is not all. In the space of two years, these same copies of the April 2004 issue of Tehrik-e-Millat – with the names of the Khandwa sisters written by hand on the cover – travelled to at least two other states. Several cases later, the police even started referring to the magazine as “Tehrik Millat Aasiya” and “Tehrik Rafia” in their official records. However, other than their names on the magazines, the two sisters were never mentioned in police records.

July 2006, Pune: After the July 11, 2006, bomb explosions on local trains in Mumbai, the magazine popped up in the chargesheet filed by the Anti-Terrorism Squad, Mumbai. Among the 13 people arrested was Sohail Mehmood Shaikh of Bhimpura, Lashkar, Camp Area Pune, who was held on July 25, 2006. The ATS claimed Sohail went to Pakistan via Iran in November 2002 for arms training with the Lashkar-e-Toiba. They also said a search of Sohail’s house in Bhimpura on July 30, 2006, had led to the recovery of six books including the “April 2004 Tahrik-e-Millat Asia” that had “Aashiya” written by hand on the cover. Police claimed to have recovered the same magazine, with the same handwritten “Aashiya”, during searches at the homes of the other 7/11 accused – Mohd Faisal Ataur Rehman Shaikh of Bandra, Muzzamil Ataur Rehman Shaikh of Mira Road, Jameer Latifur Rehman Shaikh of Vallabhbhai Patel Nagar and Dr Tanvir Ahmad Mohd Ibrahim Ansari of Agripada, all in Mumbai.

July 2006, Mumbai: In an affidavit filed before the UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act) Tribunal in 2010, Assistant Police Inspector, ATS, Mumbai, Rahimatullah Inayat Sayyed, spoke of Danish Riyaz Shaukat Ali Shaikh, an “active member of SIMI”, who was arrested on July 30, 2006. According to the affidavit, a raid on Shaikh’s home led to the recovery of several Islamic books in Urdu such as Jihad Fi Saabi Illah, Jihad Asghar and Jihadi Fishbilliah, besides ‘Tehrik Millat Aasiya’, the same magazine. August 2006, Mumbai: According to an affidavit filed by Inspector, DCB, CID, Mumbai, Milind Bhikaji Khetle, a case was registered at Kandivali police station on August 13, 2006, against Mohd Najib Abdul Rashid Bakali and some of his “SIMI associates”. The affidavit said that on August 14, 2006, police seized four SIMI booklets from Bakali’s house. One of the alleged ‘SIMI’ booklets was a copy of the April 2004 issue of the Tehrik-e-Millat magazine with “Aashiya” written by hand in Hindi on its cover.

September 2006, Malegaon: On September 8, 2006, powerful blasts ripped through the Bada Kabaristan area of Malegaon after the Shab-e-Barat prayers, killing 37 people and injuring over 100. An FIR was registered at Azad Nagar Police Station, Malegaon, and Noor-ul-Huda Shamsudoha, a labourer, was arrested under the UAPA for being a SIMI member and for “popularising and publicising” SIMI. During a raid on Noor-ul-Huda’s home at Jafarnagar, police claimed to have seized “objectionable books” that included the copy of the April 2004 issue of the Tehrik-e-Millat magazine with “Aashiya” written by hand in Hindi on its cover. On September 19, 2006, the investigation was transferred to ATS, Mumbai. Within days, Noor-ul-Huda became one of the main accused in the Malegaon blast case. Eight more people were later arrested as the ATS, Mumbai, claimed to have solved the case. Noor-ul-Huda and the other accused had already spent six years in jail in Mumbai by the time the case took a new turn following Swami Aseemanand’s confession in January last year. On November 16 last year, Noor-ul-Huda and the other eight were granted bail. …

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/1007920/

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18 years on, SC acquits 11 in Gujarat terror case (Sep 27, 2012, Indian Express)

More than 18 years after they were arrested on charges of terrorism, the Supreme Court Wednesday acquitted 11 persons from Gujarat. “The SP and IGP and all others entrusted with the task of operating the law must not do anything that allows its misuse and abuse and ensure that no innocent person has the feeling of sufferance only because ‘My name is Khan but I am not a terrorist’,” said a Bench of Justices H L Dattu and C K Prasad.

The 11 persons were arrested by the Gujarat Police in June 1994 for allegedly hatching a conspiracy to attack the Lord Jaganath Yatra in Ahmadabad, and, subsequently, convicted by Gujarat’s courts. The Supreme Court, however, quashed the conviction on the ground that the state had not followed the legal requirements of TADA. The court hailed the role of police in fighting terrorism but said the safeguards in law should be scrupulously followed to ensure the liberty of a person is jeopardised.

“We appreciate the anxiety of police officers entrusted with the task of preventing terrorism and the difficulty faced by them. Terrorism is a crime far serious in nature, more graver in impact and highly dangerous in consequence. It can put the nation in shock, create fear and panic and disrupt communal peace and harmony,” the court said.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/1008500/

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Indian Muslims don’t fare well at all, says US report (Oct 1, 2012, Hindustan Times)

Two India reports by the US-India Policy Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, has noted a steady decline in key human development indicators ofMuslims, apart from high hunger levels in Gujarat, one of India’s fastest growing states. The UPA government had rolled out multiple welfare programmes after the 2006 Sachar Committee report on disadvantages faced by Muslims.

The research, which takes a post-Sachar look, suggests that the government’s minority welfare agenda could be floundering due to inadequate outreach and exclusion, the very drawbacks it aims to plug. The research was anchored by Abusaleh Shariff, lead economist of the Sachar Committee report, and is due out in December. University of California, Riverside economist AnilB Deolalikar, the lead author of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s India Hunger Index, is also on the US-India Policy Institute’s panel.

The institute’s Gujarat paper, titled Relative Development of Gujarat and Socio-Religious Differentials, says the state had high levels of hunger, while “simultaneously boasting” high per capita income. It also is among the lowest beneficiaries from a national rural jobs programme. Shariff said new evidence indicates that despite funneling over Rs 7,000 crore for multi-pronged plans in the past five years, exclusion could still be holding back socio-economic recovery of over 150 million Muslims. The main philosophy behind the Sachar report, according to Shariff, was to enable minorities to gain social and economic access in line with their population share. “However, some of the initiatives… are aimed at providing immediate benefit. Such policies will have little if at all priority in the bureaucratic scheme of things,” Shariff said. The current approach, whereby government creates specific schemes for minorities, could create a wedge between competing communities, he added.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/Print/938101.aspx

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Sanjiv Bhatt, PUCL want riots probe panel to summon Modi (Sep 28, 2012, Times of India)

Another PIL has been filed in the Gujarat high court demanding that chief minister Narendra Modi should be summoned by the Nanavati commission that probes the 2002 riots. This time, it is People’s Union for Civil Liberties ( PUCL) and suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who have sought HC directions to the probe panel to issue notice to Modi “so as to enable his appearance and examination”. Earlier, similar demands were rejected by the high court. Bhatt has implicated Modi in the 2002 riots, but his claims have been disregarded by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT.

The petitioners have requested the court to direct the inquiry commission to order the state government under provisions of section 4 of the Commission of Inquiries Act to ask the secretary to protect and preserve all documents that are laying with the state intelligence bureau. These documents were sought by Bhatt last year from the SIB for the purpose of deposition before the commission. The same documents were sought again in February this year. The petitioners have also requested the court to direct the commission to forward certain documents and all ‘representations’ referred to in the Notification of July 20, 2004 to them.

The PIL seeks HC order to commission to summon Bhatt and examine him and/or summon Modi. Bhatt was examined last year by the commission. He offered to depose further before the commission on condition that he is summoned to do so. He said he could not volunteer to reveal facts about the 2002 riots otherwise he was bound by oath of secrecy as an intelligence officer.

The PIL has also expressed reservation against retired judges – G T Nanavati and Akshay Mehta’s gesture of submitting a report on first reference about the train burning incident to Modi. The petition demands that the commission should submit its final report to the governor instead of Modi, whose role is under scanner. A bench of Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala heard the case and posed certain queries before the state government. The issue will now be heard next month.

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-09-28/ahmedabad/34147330_1_nanavati-commission-akshay-mehta-sanjiv-bhatt

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Sohrabuddin case: SC transfers trial from Gujarat to Mumbai (Sep 27, 2012, Indian Express)

The Supreme Court today rejected CBI’s plea to cancel the bail granted to former Gujarat minister Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case, but agreed to transfer the trial from Gujarat to Mumbai. “We are against the plea for the cancellation of the bail and the petition is dismissed,” a bench comprising justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai said. “We, however, allow the transfer petition and agree to transfer the case to Mumbai,” the bench said.

The court also permitted Shah to enter and travel in Gujarat in view of the upcoming assembly elections. The CBI had approached the apex court against the bail granted to Shah by the Gujarat High Court in the case of fake encounter killing of gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh and for shifting the trial of the case to a place outside Gujarat. Sheikh and his wife Kauser Bi were allegedly abducted by Gujarat’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) from Hyderabad and killed in a fake encounter near Gandhinagar in November 2005.

Shah, a close aide of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, was arrested by CBI on July 25, 2010 and had spent over three months in Sabarmati Jail in Ahmedabad. Shah had to quit the Modi government in July last year after having been slapped with charges of kidnapping and murder in connection with the case. CBI has alleged that he was the “kingpin” of the conspiracy in the case. The agency had earlier urged the apex court to transfer the trial outside Gujarat arguing that witnesses were being intimidated and the trial could not be held in a free and fair manner.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/1008655/

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CBI arrests dy SP in Sadiq Jamaal case (Sep 25, 2012, Hindustan Times)

The CBI arrested Gujarat deputy SP Tarun Barot in the Sadiq Jamalfake encounter case on Tuesday. Barot – an accused in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case – is the first policemen to be arrested for Jamal’s killing. In July, the CBI had arrested a Mumbai-based scribe, Ketan Tirodkar.

Jamal – who was killed in a staged shootout in January 2003 – was the domestic help of a Dubai-based Indian businessman, who allegedly had connections with the underworld. But after a petty fight, the businessmen allegedly got Jamal deported to Mumbai, where he ended up in police custody.

It was Mumbai’s encounter specialist Daya Nayak, who had kept Jamal in illegal detention. Barot, then an inspector with the Ahmedabad crime branch, accepted Jamal’s custody from Nayak. After bringing him to Ahmedabad, a crime branch team including Barot allegedly shot him dead.

The crime branch, headed by DCP DG Vanjara, claimed Jamal was a LeT-trained terrorist, who had been tasked with the assassination of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. In 2008, Jamal’s brother Shabir moved a petition in Gujarat high court and sought a CBI probe into the murder.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/Print/935674.aspx

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Maha govt gets ATS report recommending ban on ‘Abhinav Bharat’ (Oct 1, 2012, Deccan Herald)

Maharashtra government today informed the Bombay High Court that it has received a report from the state Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) recommending ban on right wing organisation ‘Abhinav Bharat’, the members of which were alleged to have carried out terror activities in 2008 at Malegaon. The state government, however, said it needs some time to forward the proposal to the Central government for consideration.

The submission was made before a division bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and P D Kode which was hearing a petition filed by a trust of the same name, seeking direction to the charity commissioner to cancel the registration of the right wing group, alleged to be involved in terror acts. According to the petition, the trust had registered its name on January 29, 2002 with the charity commissioner and is involved in charity-related activities in the city. However, in February 2007, another trust based in Pune, got itself registered under the same name.

The bench today expressed its disapproval over the state government’s failure to file an affidavit clarifying its stand, despite being directed to do so last year itself. The court has directed the government to file its reply by October 12. During the hearing, the court also suggested the petitioner to consider changing its name as even if the other outfit was deregistered, the name might still continue to cause confusion and bring disrepute to the petitioner trust.

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/282327/maha-govt-gets-ats-report.html

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Bajrangi threatened them in jail, blasts accused tell court (Sep 25, 2012, Indian Express)

A designated court for the 2008 Ahmedabad serial bomb blasts case on Monday ordered the Sabarmati Central Jail authorities to inquire into the allegations levelled by the blast accused that Babu Bajrangi, convicted in the Naroda Patiya riot case, was trying to create communal atmosphere in the jail. The complaint comes following a verbal fight between Bajrangi, a former Bajrang Dal leader, and three of the blasts accused Ismail Mansoori, Abbas Sameja and Javed Ahmed last week.

In a complaint in court, Mansoori has claimed that Bajrangi and his accomplices “hurled abuses, spoke scornfully of our community and religion” during medical check-ups at the jail dispensary. “Bragging about his political clout, he threatened to kill each of us and said they would teach us a lesson like they did during the 2002 riots,” says his complaint, which has been signed by 49 other accused in the serial blasts case. A total of 68 accused facing trials in the serial blasts case are lodged in the jail.

According to the complainant, when the three approached senior jailor Dinesh Vankar, he too vented his anger and prejudice towards them. The complainant has expressed apprehension over their security while stating that the jail authorities were planning to put them in “solitary confinement”.

The complainant has also claimed that Bajrangi and his accomplices have been given a free hand in the jail and keep roaming freely. I M Munsi, the defence lawyer in the case, said the magistrate has ordered the special public prosecutor H M Dhruv to look into the complainant and posted the matter for hearing on September 29.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/1007526/

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Hyderabad on boil as Telangana march begins amid clashes (Sep 30, 2012, Deccan Herald)

Violent clashes broke out between pro-Telangana supporters and the police in several parts of the tension-ridden city today with the activists torching police vehicles, pelting stones and damaging rail and private property. In a massive show of strength, thousands of protesters defied prohibitory orders and joined the ‘Telangana march’ to press their demand for a separate state.

A bandh has been called by a pro-Telangana student group. The Osmania university has postponed examinations scheduled for tomorrow. At a late night press conference, Police Commissioner Auriga Sharma said certain Left wing extremist groups have infiltrated the movement and were suspected to be behind the violence. He said SP (Intelligence) Rajashekhar was seriously injured in the clashes which also left an inspector and 17 constables with injuries. He said five protesters were injured.

He said 25 police vehicles were damaged of which three were torched. He said several people including some TDP MLAs, who were staging a dharna outside the Secretariat have been taken into preventive custody. Violating prohibitory orders, the Telangana supporters headed towards the Necklace Road at Hussain Sagar lake, the venue of the event, and clashed with security personnel on their way. Incidents of violence were reported from the Osmania University campus, Khairatabad and the Andhra Pradesh Secretariat.

When they were stopped from passing by the Secretariat road and some other areas where prohibitory orders were in place, the protesters pelted stones and tried to remove the barricades which prompted the security personnel to lob tear gas shells after trying to chase them away. The Telangana Joint Action Committee (JAC), spearheading the agitation, which had asked its supporters to stay put at the venue of the ‘Telangana march’, ended the rally shortly before midnight due to inclement weather.

JAC Chairman M Kodandaram announced that the event has been ended as it was raining heavily. “We are ending the rally as it is raining heavily. Our agitation for separate Telangana will continue,” JAC chairman said. He said the JAC would organise a fast on October 2 here and also launch a fast-unto-death soon in support of its demand for formation of separate Telangana state.

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/282047/hyderabad-boil-telangana-march-begins.html

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Dead silence in Than a day after police firing (Sep 25, 2012, Indian Express)

On Monday, an eerie silence gripped Than town in Surendranagar district where three dalit youths died in police firing on Saturday and Sunday. The kin of victims who had refused to take their bodies finally relented and performed their last rites in the morning, but through the day, even the bylanes and alleys in the town remained deserted, except for the presence of policemen. On Sunday, the violence erupted at Than at a time when Chief Minister Narendra Modi was about to begin his Swami Vivekanand Yuva Vikas Yatra from nearby Limbdi in Surendranagar district, just 50 km away.

On Saturday, the police had opened fire on a group of dalits demanding action against the Bharwads who had allegedly beaten up dalit youths during the famous Tarnetar fair organised by Than Nagarpalika. The firing incident happened at the railway crossing that divides the localities populated by dalits and Bharwads, who are shepherds. At the same spot, the police opened fire again the next day, killing two more dalit youths. “The two were shot in a matter of three minutes,” said Natubhai Parmar, uncle of Prakash Parmar, who was hit by three three bullets, all in the chest, and died along with 17-year-old Mehul Rathod.

Natubhai was among the protesters. He said while they did pelt stones, the police never resorted to lathicharge or firing in the air before opening fire at the crowd. By the time CM’s function ended around 1.30 pm, the mob was dispersed. “Police did not even help us shift the injured to hospital. We took the injured on our shoulders to Than Civil Hospital,” said Dana Rathod, a dalit leader from the town whose nephew Sumara was hit by a bullet while he was returning from the fair. The road cut by the railway crossing was still strewn with big and small stones that were pelted by the mob the previous day. Three dark patches, within a distance of less than 30 metres from each other, were where the three youths fell.

Of the 50,000-odd inhabitants of the town, around 10,000 are dalits. They had been accusing S-I Jadeja of supporting Bharwads against them and demanding his transfer. Though the transfer orders came in July, Jadeja was still serving there since as he was not relieved by the district police headquarters. On August 30, dalits sat on dharna again, demanding Jadeja’s transfer. In another twist, the Than Nagarplalika, which traditionally organises Tarnetar fair, had roped in a private firm owned by the Bharwads to organise the fair. “As the fair’s management was in the hands of Bharwads, they abused and beat us up on the last day,” said Pravin Gogia, who received injuries on Saturday night after being allegedly beaten up by the Bharwads.

Dalit ministers in the Modi cabinet, Fakirsinh Vaghela and Ramanlal Vora, had visited Rajkot Civil Hospital Sunday night after the victims’ families refused to take their bodies. The two ministers were able to pacify them only after promising an inquiry by CID. In-charge DGP Chittaranjan Singh said CID (crime) DIG R V Jotangia had been asked to investigate the incident. “He will probe if there was any negligence on the part of police and if it is proved, action will be taken against them,” said Singh. Police sub-inspector Jadeja, against whom the dalits had been demanding a case of murder, was on Monday suspended. The state government also announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of victims.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/1007521/

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Opinions and Editorials

Reporters as police stenographers – By Jyoti Punwani (Sep 27, 2012, Twocircles.net)

Will the English press ever again report verbatim what the Delhi Police’s Special Cell tells them? The Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association’s just-released report on 16 cases of terror filed by the Special Cell that ended in acquittal, is an indictment not just of the functioning of the Special Cell, but also of the English press. The report cites examples of reports in national newspapers such as The Times Of India, The Hindu, The Indian Express, and Hindustan Times, which carried verbatim, often without the use of the word “alleged”, the version given by the Special Cell at press conferences where often, the arrested innocents were produced as “hard core militants’. Among the many paraded this way was 24-year-old Kashmiri Imran Kirmani, an aeronautical engineering graduate who had just landed a job in Delhi. His background came handy for the Special Cell to describe him as “part of an LeT module” planning to carry out a “9/11 plot”. “Prize catch” was the caption given by The Hindu to his picture on page one, surrounded by Special Cell plainclothesmen. Four years later, the judge acquitted Kirmani. “And when I was released, there was no media, no cameras waiting to tell the world that I was innocent. It wasn’t a story,” Kirmani told the Kashmir correspondent of The Indian Express Muzammil Jaleel.

The JTSA report cites only the Express as having bothered to talk to Kirmani. But The Telegraph’s Muzaffar Raina did so too. The paper carried the story on page one. Not that this in any way compensated for Kirmani’s trauma. “My dream (of becoming an aeronautical engineer) has died,” he said more than once to Jaleel. “Who will give me a job now?” It wasn’t just Delhi’s Special Cell that ruined this blameless young man’s future. The English press also played a part. This columnist has tried for years to find an answer to the question: why do reporters implicitly believe the police when they claim breakthroughs in “terror” cases? Because the police bear the authority of uniform? They are the ones who should know? Even when the country’s first big terror strike took place on March 12, 1993 in Mumbai, there were doubts whether everyone picked up was part of the conspiracy. At that time, the lawyer of one of those arrested approached me with his client’s story. His client claimed that his only offence was that he had rented out a scooter, something he did everyday to strangers. How was he to know what it would be used for? (It was used to plant a bomb.) The TOI refused to publish the story, which was based entirely on the lawyer’s plea filed in court. The man was eventually discharged after spending three years in jail.

This was just after the 92-93 Mumbai riots, wherein the Mumbai police had shown just how aligned its men were with the Shiv Sena. The Times’ reportage of the riots had exposed some of this and earned it the abuse “Times of Pakistan” from the RSS. But riots were one thing, simultaneous bomb blasts across the city, killing random innocents, were a different kettle of fish. Would publishing that story have made the Times look like it was supporting the terrorists? Is that what stops newspapers from expressing doubts about police claims? April 2006 should have been a turning point for investigations into bomb blasts. That was when the Nanded blasts took place and the RSS hand in the bomb blasts became clear. But even after Nanded, the police stuck to its only-Muslims-are-terrorists theory. Given the well-known anti-Muslim prejudice of the police, that was understandable. But what prevented the press from questioning this theory after April 2006? Indeed, what prevents the press till today from picking holes in theories put out by our investigative agencies when it comes to crimes allegedly committed by Muslims? Why do reporters become “police stenographers” as the JTSA report calls them?

After the 2006 serial train blasts in Mumbai all newspapers faithfully reported the theory given out by the ATS. The seven bombs were assembled in a tiny room in a Govandi slum, open to all passersby. Then, from the north-east of Mumbai, they were carried to the north-west, to Bandra. They were kept in pressure cookers. These pressure cookers were kept in train compartments. Whatever you say, sirs. Never mind if the final charge sheet in the 2006 serial train blasts case has no mention of pressure cookers. Pakistan was involved, said headlines. Never mind that when it came to actually presenting evidence to Pakistan, the ATS developed cold feet. The most bizarre aspect of the 2006 train blasts is that another branch of the Mumbai police, the Crime Branch, discovered in 2008 that quite a different set of persons were behind these blasts. The ATS had laid the blame on SIMI’s door. But an alleged Indian Mujaheedin member arrested for a series of blasts in 2008, reportedly “confessed” to the Crime Branch, headed by the legendary Rakesh Maria, that it was the IM that was behind the train blasts. Both police units stuck to their respective claims. In 2009, this man who “confessed”, Sadiq Shaikh, was discharged by the court on an application filed by the ATS which said he had no role in the train blasts, a crime to which he had reportedly “confessed”! And these are the agencies we blindly trust. Among them is the Delhi Police Special Cell, as high profile as Maharashtra’s ATS, and, as the JTSA report shows, as dearly beloved of the Delhi press.

On September 23, 2007, The Times of India carried a news item titled: “Indian Intelligence informer spills the beans”. The report was sensational. It quoted a letter from Tihar Jail by an ex-IB informer detailing how IB, working with the Delhi Police’s Special Cell, plants its own “jehadi maulvis” to lure Muslim youth to commit terrorist acts. The CBI, directed by the Delhi High Court to investigate the case in which this informer was arrested by the Special Cell as an Al Badr terrorist, had corroborated the most important accusations made by the informer, said the report. In November 2008, the CBI filed a closure report in the case, gave the two accused a clean chit and recommended legal action against three sub-inspectors of the Special Cell: Ravinder Tyagi, Vinay Tyagi, and Subhash Vats, for “fabricating and planting evidence to implicate” the accused “for an oblique motive.” In its closure report, the CBI revealed that the mobile phone records of one of the accused showed that he was in constant touch with IB officers. Despite the Times following this story, these sensational findings were not widely reported in the English press. Even the Times did not do any larger article based on this “mind-numbing” report. (This phrase was used by the Times to describe one of the many so-called terror conspiracies solved by the Special Cell.) However, subsequent developments in the case were reported, including a complaint by CBI officer Santosh Kumar that one of the indicted Special Cell men had threatened him. So it can be safely said that the entire English press was aware of the CBI’s findings against the Special Cell. …

http://twocircles.net/2012sep27/reporters_police_stenographers.html

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Narendra & Narendra Ltd – By Saba Naqvi (Oct 8, 2012, Outlook)

…Modi’s Vivekananda yatra is an exercise in deploying a well-oiled state machinery and keeping the cadre motivated to ensure polling and booth management is efficiently done. … The juggernaut moves on. In Radhanpur town, the entire population is out, stalling all movement. A truck moves playing Maa Tujhe Salaam…, sung by the ubiquitous A.R. Rahman. The carnival-like atmosphere is similar to the mood that prevailed in the early days of the Anna Hazare agitation. There are roadstops on the way and the next big meeting is in the Sankeshwar Jain temple complex. The rhetoric takes a subtle communal shift here. Modi says the Centre does not offer any relief on cotton. “But they give relief to meat packers/traders. They want to turn Gujarat into a katalkhana (slaughterhouse). They call it the pink revolution….” The traps are in place, the Congress can walk into it, engage in a jousting session that would surely immediately be projected as an insult to Gujarati pride, or avoid any engagement on communal lines. …

A day before, another Modi is revealed in Gandhinagar where he is addressing an industry convention at a massive, gleaming, state-of-the-art auditorium he calls the Mahatma mandir. (From Gandhi to Sardar Patel to Vivekananda, they are all icons Modi has appropriated, convincing many in Gujarat that he is part of the tradition). Modi first speaks in English for the foreign guests and then switches to Hindi. He says suggestively: “Leadership ko lekar bahas chal rahi hai (There is a debate on the leadership issue). I believe you can make leaders by training them. I make all my ministers undergo a week-long training….” (An advance warning perhaps of what lies in store for national leaders of the BJP!)

But away from the crowds that follow him, is Modi still clicking on the ground? In the course of a separate journey through Kheda, Anand, Godhra and Dahod districts, it’s rare to find any anti-Modi people, except for the Muslims who are clear they will vote against him. In Salon village of Kheda, an OBC farmer mutters that he voted BJP last time but will not do so again as “they are for the rich and do nothing for the poor”. After that, in village after village, the Patels say they are with Modi “like a rock”. In Saurashtra, they say, some Patels may go the other way because of Keshubhai’s departure from the BJP. In this Patel-dominated stretch, though, they are all fans of the CM. In Dahod, where the 2002 riots had seen many adivasi attacks on Muslims, the situation is unclear. The adivasis say their sarpanch will decide who to vote for. But Godhra’s townspeople say the adivasis are more conscious than ever now of their Hindu identity. Modi may have defanged the VHP-RSS structures, but the administration still does the job for him.

Ode in Anand district was one of the scenes of the big massacres of 2002—among the worst in rural Gujarat. In April this year, a court convicted 23 for the bloodbath. On March 1, 2002, 23 people, including nine women and nine children, had been burnt to death in a house in the Pirwali Bhagol area of Ode village by a mob. Today, the village looks peaceful and the many Patels gathered in the square near the bus stand say they aren’t upset that some of their community members have had to go to jail for the riots. As Rajinder Patel, a government servant, says, “Modi raj will continue because he is a revered figure for us.” Another young man, chatting with a Muslim resident, says quite nonchalantly, “Let’s face it. Modi is quite a man.”

Down a narrow street we meet Saiyad Rafiq Ghulam Rasool, who walks through the lanes and points to the still abandoned homes, burnt buildings, repaired homes. The final stop is that house in Ode where the entire family was burnt alive. It is now a ruin. In a plot across the house, a Ganapati puja is in full swing. Lalabhai Patel saunters across and helpfully offers the information that the land on which they are doing puja belongs to the dead family. “They have all disappeared. They were like our brothers. We don’t know what happened that day. I don’t know why the police has sent two of my uncles and my brother to jail for what happened.” The conch is blowing at the Ganapati puja, and well-dressed women and children walk in and out. This is Modi’s Gujarat that prospers under him.

http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?282405

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Back to politics old style – By Revati Laul (Oct 1, 2012, Tehelka)

It was an irony that Anna’s team missed entirely as they fended off a curious media in Delhi Monday, 1 October. The camera crews and posse of journalists were waiting hawk-like as Anna Hazare sat in a huddle inside ND Tiwari Bhawan to discuss the next stage of the anti-corruption movement. ND Tiwari – a name that has come to symbolise all the old world corruption, sleaze and dishonesty in politics, as he was dismissed as the governor of Andhra Pradesh after a sleazy sting operation showed him soliciting women in the governor’s house in 2009. The Anna movement in September 2012 then is a far cry from August this year and light-years away from the throng of the last; this time, there was barely a trickle. From hogging the headlines and the space for self-righteousness, the Anna movement is now a shadow. The man behind it searching for a new space as the old movement was split wide open two weeks ago. Now on the eve of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, as Arvind Kejriwal and his team are set to launch their political party, Anna’s team says they want to hold on to the political high ground – the space of resistance movements. And not sully their hands in “dirty party politics”. But the words find few takers outside his home town of Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra.

In Delhi a dubious gaggle, some curious, rally around his new core group. Kiran Bedi – seen last in Arvind’s team has switched camps post the August split. So has sportswoman and former core team member Sunita Godara. Amongst the media handlers are Shivendra Singh Chauhan – former keeper of the India Against Corruption Facebook page. And journalist turned anti-corruption activist turned Anna camp follower, Sharmistha. Some of Anna’s old team are also gone. Like his close aide Suresh Pathare. Officially, his new team is tight lipped about why Anna’s right hand man left (or was asked to leave). Unofficially, they concede Anna was unhappy with Pathare’s alleged leaking of his meeting with Baba Ramdev to the press in Delhi two weeks ago. But the real question is this: why was Anna’s meeting with Ramdev meant to be secret? In a movement that is about transparency and accountability, what does Anna want to keep out? “We are not being funded by or supported by the RSS or Ramdev,” Kiran Bedi explained. And added, “Anna ji and Ramdev have been working together against corruption since the very beginning. They shared the stage in April last year and supported each other in August this year. So what’s new?” Glossing over the controversy a year and half ago when Ram Madhav of the RSS was escorted off stage in April 2011, causing Baba Ramdev to be thoroughly miffed with the anti-corruption team. And glossing over also how Arvind and his new team have repeatedly positioned themselves as anti-right wing, and therefore, against any association with the RSS.

Where Anna’s movement will go from here is not at all clear yet. What is amply clear is that the man from Ralegan Siddhi may just be back to where he began. Political agitation in his home state – Maharashtra. But in positioning himself stridently against Arvind, Anna has not left without raising even more questions than ever, about Arvind, and his reputed top-down style of functioning. Of leaving the middle class masses wondering if the man in the Gandhi topi was being pushed by Arvind in a direction; much against his will.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, Arvind’s team has attempted to recover from Anna’s very public outburst against them by telling the press, including an exclusive interview to Tehelka’s Atul Chaurasia that the idea to go into mainstream politics was, in fact, Anna’s. On Gandhi’s birthday, they gear up to launch their political party, based largely on Arvind’s take on Swaraj. By which he is using the metaphors of the Indian freedom struggle and appropriating them to his own brand of patriotism. Strengthening Panchayati Raj institutions, socialism aka the JP movement are the expected order of things. But the big question Arvind has to tackle before all of that is: who will he finally take along with him? So far, a robust team of advisors have included eminent political scientist from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies – Yogendra Yadav and journalist Madhu Trehan.

Stalwarts from the grassroot movements such as Medha Patkar, who were once on his side, have now preferred to keep their distance. But the questions Anna has raised against Arvind rise like a phoenix from the ground – how will Arvind set up a ‘clean set of political candidates’ or even ‘clean sources of funding?’ And in joining the mainstream, what will separate him from the rest? These are, however, questions that equally plague Anna, even as he chooses to stay out of Arvind’s political formation and protest loudly against his face and name being used for the party. For observers from a distance and the temporarily mesmerised middle classes, the sheen of Gandhi-giri has worn thin on either side of the wedge. And whatever symbols they choose – Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, or the JP movement – to the increasingly skeptical masses, they have begun to sound almost exactly like the parties they’ve been riled up about. To them, it all reads clearly like politics old style.

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main54.asp?filename=Ws011012PoliticsII.asp

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Vicious cycle of Islamophobia – By Ram Puniyani (Sep 21, 2012, Countercurrents)

We are going through strange times. While the science, technology and rationalism has given us physical and intellectual tools to better the lot of humanity, we are witnessing the production of provocative material, literature and films in particular, which demonize the particular religion, Islam to be precise, and the prophet of Islam. On the other hand there is a section of community, feeling threatened and insecure coming to the streets to protest against such humiliation and insult of their religion. There are debates on freedom of expression, but how come the freedom of expression always goes to humiliate and demonize one particular religion only? Currently (September 2012), there are massive protests in different countries against the American embassies, resulting in death of four from the US staff, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in Benghazi. Different countries are asking Google, the owner of YouTube, which is hosting this provocative and insulting video clip, ‘Innocence of Muslims’, to withdraw the film clip. At places the video clip has been withdrawn and blocked. US sticks to its ‘Freedom of Expression’ stance and the many protesters are still on the streets.

The film clip, of around 14 minutes duration is part of the full length feature film made by Nakoula Basseley, a US based Christian. The film is very insulting to Islam. In this film large number of modern day mob of bearded Muslims is shown to be attacking Christians. It also takes the audience back in time to show a distorted life of Prophet Mohammad with negative and aggressive traits of personality. It is crude film, made in extremely poor taste and has generated strong reaction amongst large section of Muslims. It must be pointed out that this is not the only type of reaction to this film. There are sections of clerics who have asked the Muslims to keep restrain. Quoting the moral precepts from Islam, Quran, they said that Islam is a religion of peace and no violent protests should be held. The best response to this despicable film has been from a section of Muslims distributing the book on life of Prophet Mohammad, the prophet of peace. During last several years, it has become a sort of standard pattern by many in the West and some here in India to demonize Islam. We remember the Danish cartoon of Prophet, where he is shown as a terrorist, with a bomb tucked in his turban. A Florida Pastor went on to burn this holy book, Koran, saying that Koran teaches violence. Some US soldiers in Afghanistan also burnt copies of Koran, on the ground that the terrorist elements had written messages on those copies.

The demonization of Islam and Muslims has a pattern and agenda. The cartons and films are the outcome of the deeper political processes, which aim to control the oil wells in West Asia. The imperialist greed of United States marshaled the flag of “Islam the New threat” since Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran, overthrowing the US stooge Raza Shah Pahlavi. Later the slogan was worsened with US setting up Madrassas in Pakistan to train Al Qaeda-Taliban to initiate the Muslim youth to fight against the occupying Russian armies in Afghanistan. The word, Jihad and kafir were distorted to indoctrinate the Muslim youth in these Madrassas. With later trajectories and the event of 9/11, World Trade Center attack, the US media with all its guile, popularized the phrase ‘Islamic Terrorism’. The phrase was picked up by the media all over the World and later became part of the social common sense. This is a major abuse of religion for political goals by the imperialist power. One can understand this demonization of Islam as a part of US policy, a cover to hide its agenda to control the oil. To understand it in the way Noam Chomsky ‘coined the phrase’ Manufacturing Consent’, the coining of the word Islamic terrorism is part of the US mechanism of manufacturing consent of the world to give assent to the US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq.

This US policy gas given rise to twin processes. On one hand the phenomenon like a Florida Pastor Terry Jones burning Koran or the Danish cartoonist drawing Prophet Mohammad as terrorist or the present film has been the outcome of the intense propaganda against Islam. This US propaganda has been backed up by the US sponsored ideology of ‘Clash of Civilizations’, according to which the current era of World History is the era of assault of backward Islamic civilization on the advanced Western civilization. This distorted perception, this ideology was used as a cover for US agenda in West Asia. The other process which got unleashed was that the psyche of global Muslim community started being affected. The perception came up that Muslims (Afghanistan and Iraq) are being attacked, they are under threat. In India the added aspect was the rise of RSS type politics, bringing up Ram Temple issue and starting hatred for Muslims. A large section of Muslims started feeling intimidated and besieged. It became easy for mobilizing them around identity issues. Any community which feels besieged, section of it becomes vulnerable to easy provocation and identity based mobilization.

It is a vicious circle, the Islamophobia on one side and besieged community on the other. In this scenario the Muslim clerics who are asking for peace are the beacon lights of hope for the community. The Muslims who are distributing the books on life of prophet need to be complimented. This is what the sane response from the community has to be. What about US, imperialist designs and its mighty propaganda machinery doing all the mischief in the world? Can there be a process of controlling that? Under Kofi Annan, when he was Secretary General of United Nations, a high level committee produced a report, ‘Alliance of Civilizations’. This report got lost under the barrage of Islamphobia. It is time the world as such takes note of the deeper humane values which have developed by humanity over a period of time, the values which have led to the reports of type of ‘Alliance of civilizations’, the UN conventions which have conceptualized the Human rights for all. The trigger which has incited the demonization process of religion and films like this one are provoking these insane reactions from a section of Muslims. Can United Nations be revived as a global platform for monitoring the norms for Nations, media and other aspects of our global life evolved to ensure that democratization and human dignity is promoted. Can the World come forward to check the aggressions of ‘The Super Power’? That’s when such films will cease to act as factors promoting violent reactions. And even such crude attempts at insulting others’ religion will come down. May be with such norms and restraints on US policies we can hope that such incidents will come down. Even if there are elements making some films like this there will be others making a film giving their own versions of Prophet’s Mission of peace in the World. And finally we also need to preserve the concept of freedom of expression moderated with its limits. We also need to cultivate methods of protest where hysterical emotions are kept at bay and rational approach is brought to the fore.

http://www.countercurrents.org/puniyani210912.htm

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If The Soot Don’t Wash – By Saba Naqvi (Sep 8, 2012, Outlook)

On the embers of the coal scam a national contest has begun. As the countdown for 2014 starts, the soot seems to have settled on the visage of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who held charge of the coal portfolio for a long stretch. Still, it’s a game of ash, smoke and mirrors, with the BJP resorting to the scorched-earth tactic of disrupting Parliament to force the PM to resign. The BJP believes it occupies the moral high ground. The Congress has responded by trying to spread the coal ash around a little more evenly, and maybe also blacken the rival’s face. It’s a “tera muh bhi kaala” (your face is also black) display of competitive politics. The coal scam raises critical questions about how policy pertaining to national resources should be formulated and implemented. Both sides have also had their say on it. With Parliament derailed, last week the debate continued in the TV studios and, for the more complex points, politicians shifted to the editorial pages of newspapers. Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley wrote an opinion piece in The Hindu, the same day Union law minister Salman Khurshid wrote his take in The Times of India, while Congress spokesperson and MP Manish Tiwari made his points on the op-ed page of Indian Express. In typical Congress style, the PM’s defence was upgraded from routine to high-decibel after Sonia Gandhi asked the troops to rally behind. She told party MPs to fight back “aggressively”, adding: “Blackmail has become the bread-and-butter of the BJP…this is the handiwork of just one party, the BJP…once again showing up the scant respect it has for democratic values.”

Called to attention, the very next day the Congress produced Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal at its 24 Akbar Road headquarters as Parliament took a day off for Onam (the session continues at the time of writing in spite of disruptions). That was the day the Naroda Patiya verdict came and a former minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet was convicted. In ordinary times, the Congress could have been expected to take a few swings at the BJP in general and Modi in particular. But on August 29, the party had tapped into a new purposefulness. Sibal gave the most thorough and political defence of the PM on Coalgate. A document titled, ‘Selective Amnesia, Mr Jaitley?’ was circulated which sought to list the occasions when the BJP had questioned CAG. (About the CAG report on the Centaur Hotel divestment in February 2004, Arun Shourie, then minister for disinvestment, had said, “…the methodology of computing national losses is idiotic, sorry peculiar”. In 2001, when the CAG report on coffin purchases came out, Jaitley had said, “The CAG is an institution appointed to find faults.” And then defence minister George Fernandes had added that “CAG has acted unethically”.) Another document, titled ‘The boot is on the other leg, Mr Jaitley’, was also released. This sought to highlight the procedure for coal allotments followed by the NDA and the questionable deals of the BJP. Sibal and Jaitley, two great rivals of Delhi’s legal and political circuit, were sharpening their knives for the coal battle. Clearly, there is no end to the amount of mud one side can fling on the other when it comes to coal allotments (perhaps the original sin vis-a-vis India’s criminal approach to its natural resources). The PM may be the most clear, visible face linked to the scam at the present juncture but there is no end to the BJP’s loot in Jharkhand, not to forget its links to the notorious Reddy brothers, the mining barons of Karnataka/Andhra, and other dubious figures. There is, for instance, the matter of Ajay Sancheti-a contractor with close links to BJP president Nitin Gadkari who has been rewarded with a Rajya Sabha berth. His name crops up in the Adarsh scam in Maharashtra. The Chhattisgarh CAG report mentions a mine he has been allotted by the Raman Singh government. Besides, according to CAG findings, on June 29, 2010, the state government did him the favour of staying a tax penalty of Rs 17 crore ordered on his company, Shivnath Infrastructure Ltd! Just after the report was tabled, BJP MP and ex-mining minister Ramesh Bais echoed, “If Gadkari’s close associate can get a coal block, then why not me…I am a member of Parliament after all.” Why not indeed.

So clearly when a leader like Sushma Swaraj states that the Congress got “mota maal” (lots of cash) from coal allocations, she also opens her flanks to a counter-attack. Which is why one must pause and ask, why has the BJP taken the pitch so high? Why has the party risked middle-class censure for further undermining an institution like Parliament? What has got them so worked up that even someone like Jaitley-who enjoys the thrust and parry of a good parliamentary debate and usually opposes disruption-has made an argument for disorder? There’s a simple political calculation at the heart of the BJP tactic. The belief that the Congress is sinking and this is the opportunity to corner it. Senior party leaders concede that the muck is also being flung at them. But they feel it is not sticking and the greater damage is being done to the Congress. As a political force, the BJP’s DNA is very different from the Congress, which is a rambling sort of organisation. The BJP, by contrast, is a more cohesive unit in spite of all the factional feuds and existential issues that confront them. And currently the party has sensed opportunity both on the corruption and communalism planks. First, the Anna Hazare movement, once backed by the RSS, appears to be unravelling and strategic decisions have been taken by the Sangh parivar that the force of the cadre should now be shifted back to the party as opposed to what was presented as a spontaneous people’s movement. There is therefore an attempt to channel the anti-corruption urban rage back in a direction that would have a more conclusive political outcome. The Muslim settlers debate triggered by the Assam events also creates a climate that the BJP finds more salubrious, a national atmosphere when issues that it calls “emotional” are more likely to click with and galvanise potential voters. The BJP is after all a proven practitioner of the technique of outshouting opponents and of repeating something so many times that the public at large finally starts to believe it. The current strategy is not to force a mid-term election as the party knows it does not have control over that scenario. It is to keep the Congress off balance as it enters the season of crucial assembly polls. There are critical BJP-Congress contests in the run-up to 2014.

First the big face-off in Gujarat that the Congress will almost certainly lose (although there is always the hope that somehow Modi’s victory margin can be reduced). As the Himachal Pradesh elections take place at the same time, the Congress is hoping a victory there against the ruling BJP will help it enter the year 2013 with its honour intact. In May 2013, the Karnataka elections take place. This is one state the Congress should logically wrest easily from the BJP, the third smaller player being the JD(S). Yet Congress insiders worry about factionalism, the leadership question and the greater money power of the BJP. So here too there is anxiety, and about a state that should have been a cakewalk for the Congress. Worse news could come for the party in October next year when four assemblies, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi, go to the polls, all states where direct Congress-BJP contests take place. Currently, two are held by the Congress and two by the BJP. But while the general perception is that the BJP will hold on to Chhattisgarh and MP, at the Congress headquarters people say with certainty that Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot will be defeated and that Delhi will be a “close call”. And this is happening at a time when 12 ministers of the Shivraj Chauhan regime in MP face CVC inquiries and several scams have erupted. Yet the BJP is seen as almost invincible in certain states.

Which is why the BJP has currently decided to gloss over the troubling questions of leadership and maximise whatever little opportunity it sees in the future. In the process, the party is certainly taking risks, exposing its own flanks and coming through as an irresponsible force with scant respect for institutions. There has also been some difference of opinion with allies but the larger belief is that ultimately the smaller parties – who are playing a wait-and-watch game – will rally around if the strategy appears to be working. The Congress conversely is rattled and waiting for some sort of clarity in September when a cabinet expansion/reshuffle is expected and, more significantly, Rahul Gandhi could come out to play a bigger role and give some deliverance from the current season of hopelessness. At the party headquarters, a veteran observed gravely that the fact that Sonia Gandhi has taken the initiative to counter-attack (after a long time) is being seen as a “good sign”, besides of course the fact that Rahul Gandhi “has to take the plunge as there are no choices left”. As usual, in the unique power-sharing arrangement between party and government, the members of the dynasty remain untainted while the PM and his regime absorb all the taint from coal dust.

http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?282118

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This is why farmers can’t afford fertilisers – By G Vishnu (Oct 6, 2012, Tehelka)

To droughts and abject poverty, farmers can add another crisis: sky-rocketing fertiliser prices. The issue has prompted eight chief ministers of large states to seek the intervention of the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers (MoCF) in the matter. Consider, for example, di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and muriate of potash (MoP), two fertilisers that used to have massive demand in India – now unaffordable by lakhs of farmers across the country. A 50-kilo sack of DAP that cost Rs 9,350 in April 2010, today costs Rs 25,300; and MoP that cost Rs 4,455 in April 2010 today costs a whopping Rs 23,100 – an unbelievable 170 percent and 418 percent rise, respectively. The problem lies in the pricing and subsidy policy that has been adopted by the MoCF. The startling bit about the existing pricing policy is that Srikant Jena, minister of state, chemicals and fertilisers, has on at least three occasions informed the Department of Fertilisers on how the private players are making massive profits at the expense of poor farmers. Both international players as well as Indian companies have been hiking the prices of fertilisers, taking advantage of the existing pricing policy.

In notes written on 19 March, 15 June and 4 August, the same issue was raised by the MoS. “By decontrolling retail prices of P&K (phosphatic and potassic) fertilisers, it was never the intention of the government that the firms are at their free will to gain undue profits at the cost of poor farmers, and if it is so, government should stop providing subsidy on decontrolled fertilisers,” Jena said in his 4 August note. However, the department has not even begun to recognise the problem, let alone seek an alternative policy. What’s more interesting is the political conflict it has triggered between Srikant Jena and the Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers M K Azhagiri. In fact, the differences over pricing-policy turned into a full-fledged war, when in July this year, Azhagiri reportedly wrote to PM Manmohan Singh asking Jena to be removed from the MoS post alleging obstructionism.

The problem is identified by bureaucrats who have worked at the Department of Fertilisers. “The entire industry is in a state of anarchy. The State’s fertiliser policy has absolutely no control over the practices of these private players. The market is completely unregulated and it is the poor farmer who suffers the most,” says a former official with DoF on condition of anonymity. So why is a sector meant to uplift farmers completely unregulated and riddled with crony practices? “They (private players-manufacturers-importers) cite everything, from international prices to the exchange rates as the reason for hike in fertiliser prices. With DAP, for instance, in no way should the hike exceed Rs 21,000. But it still crossed Rs 25,000,” he adds.

According to government figures, the total quantum of fertiliser subsidy released in 2011 was a whopping Rs 65,836 crore. To understand how this works, consider Urea, the highest consumed fertiliser in India. Cost of production of Urea varies from Rs 8,000 to Rs 40,000 per metric tonnes (MT) depending on whether natural gas or Naphtha is being used for production. Currently, the market rate of Urea stands at around Rs 5,300 per MT. The difference between cost of production and the market price of the commodity is paid to the manufacturer by the government. Ministry officials say Urea is priced at Rs 11,200, with Rs 5,000 as MRP. This means for every MT of Urea, the government pays Rs 7,000 as subsidy. India produces around 22 million MT of Urea, while consumption is around 28 MT (the shortfall of 6 MT is covered through imports). The CAG in its 2011 report noted that due to subsidies given to companies without checking fraudulent claims, a loss of Rs 50,587 crore was incurred to the exchequer. The CAG also claims that between 2007 and 2010, a fertiliser importer company, Indian Potash Limited, got undue concession of Rs 782 crore after fudging its tenders.

Srikant Jena says the current policy itself is self-defeatist for the market. “Once the government fixes the prices on fertilisers and announces it, exporters inflate their prices accordingly – something they wouldn’t do if the government simply asked them for a price quote,” he explains, adding, “Why can’t we just buy the fertilisers at existing market prices, instead of letting the manufacturer determine the price once we declare our base price?” The trend is that exporters start hiking fertiliser prices October onwards as they know base prices are determined by the GoI around January-February every year. Explaining the method to the madness in the fertiliser sector and pricing, an official in the MoCF says the policy has many loopholes that benefit companies and spell doom for farmers. “On the one hand, Indian private players (manufacturers) jack up their prices to suit the market demand. If the farmer can afford a certain price, that price will be levied. There’s no upper limit, no regulations. The markets have been destroyed because the farmers just cannot afford the prices. Every monsoon, they jack up the prices as both demand and desperation is high,” he adds. …

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