DEMOLITION MAN – EDITORIAL (FEB 6, 2009, THE HINDU)
As the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, who virtually presided over the horrific demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 2, 1992, an event that stunned an entire nation and traumatised a community, Kalyan Singh is so completely identified with the destruction of the 16th century mosque that his belated clarification, offered 16 years later, can only rekindle the anger of the Muslim community as it reopens unhealed wounds. Apart from the point that Mr. Kalyan Singh allow ed the sangh parivar vandals to bring down the masjid, he also betrayed a solemn promise that he made to the Supreme Court to protect the structure. Actually gloating over the savagery, he called the demolition "the proudest moment" of his life and gladly went to jail for it. It stretches credulity that the former Bharatiya Janata Party leader should imagine that all will be forgiven if he merely makes some apologetic remarks about the demolition and utters some cosmetic words in praise of Hindu-Muslim unity.
More to the point, it appears to be a tactical gesture designed to please his would-be-ally, Mulayam Singh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party. Mr. Yadav who sees the Muslim community as a crucial constituency can ill afford to accommodate Mr. Kalyan Singh, tainted as he is by the Babri Masjid demolition. It is therefore imperative for Mr. Kalyan Singh, who hopes for a closer political understanding with Mr. Yadav to mollify Muslims who in the past weeks have openly questioned the growing bond between the Samajwadi Party chief and the once Hindutva champion.
Mr. Kalyan Singh is becoming a vital factor in Mr. Mulayam Singh’s calculations for the coming general election. He belongs to the Lodhi Rajput community which has a significant presence in half-a-dozen or so Lok Sabha constituencies in U.P. A consolidated vote bank of Other Backward Classes, while electorally strengthening Mr. Mulyam Singh, would also demonstrate the SP’s strength to the Congress with which it is engaged in tough seat-sharing talks. But judging from the widespread adverse reaction, ‘Operation Kalyan’ may well recoil on Mr. Mulayam Singh. Not long ago, Muslims deified "Maulana Mulayam."
Today the disillusioned community feels taken for granted even as the Congress seems determined to drive a harder bargain. Whether Mr. Kalyan Singh is such a prize worth losing all else for, is another question. In 2004, the BJP made much of his homecoming. But for all that hype, it performed abysmally in the Lok Sabha election, winning only 10 of 80 seats. For Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav, who prides himself on being a leading symbol of secular politics, the dalliance with Mr. Kalyan Singh, reeking as it does of crass political opportunism, is likely to have high political costs.
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MALEGAON IS A JHALAK. MORE IS POSSIBLE IF EVERY WOMAN PICKS UP BOMBS – BY SANJANA (FEB 14, 2009, TEHELKA)
In the end, three days was all it took to catapult Pramod Muthalik and his Sri Rama Sene to national prominence. Those who know him well, and there are very few who do, say that for all the media outrage at the January 24, 2009 attacks on women pub goers in Mangalore, the assault was merely a natural outgrowth of Muthalik’s well-ingrained hate politics. Once a long-standing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) member, Muthalik is a self-avowed brahmachari who decided early on to spend his life fighting for the Hindutva cause. Govind Rao, an RSS shakha batchmate, remembers him primarily for his restlessness. "He spent every minute on the work our seniors allotted. He was ambitious even then and definitely had a sharp tongue."
Muthalik’s first brush with the law came during the Emergency (1975-77) when he was jailed for a month in Belgaum, reportedly for anti-government activities. A full-time RSS pracharak from 1978, he worked aggressively in 1992 to meet Sangh Parivar calls for men and money for the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign that led to the destruction of the 16th-century Babri mosque at the hands of rampaging Hindu zealots. In 1993, he was assigned to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). The same year, spurred by BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi’s attempt to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar, Karnataka BJP workers attempted to do the same at Idgah Maidan in the town of Hubli. The ground soon emerged as a communal hotspot, with tensions peaking in police firing on August 15, 1994, killing six people. Muthalik was among the Sangh leaders present there at the time, with Uma Bharti and Sikander Bakht. Two years later, he was handed charge of the Karnataka Bajrang Dal and named its state convener.
All through this period, Muthalik managed to get himself charged in a string of cases for provocative speech making; he also became to the Bajrang Dal’s south India convener. In 2004, he spent his only significant period in jail – two months, in connection with an anti-Christian agitation – an achievement much celebrated within Bajrang Dal ranks as a mark of what ‘Anna’, the elder brother, had suffered for Hindutva. His time in jail left him upset with the BJP for ignoring him. He quit the Bajrang Dal later that year, though it was another three years before he launched the Sri Rama Sene. An estimated 53 cases have been booked against Muthalik across Karnataka in a decade. He has been banned over 20 times from entering public places across the state.
Such a prolific history of active communal venom could hardly have been possible without state patronage. Despite his previous falling out with the BJP, Muthalik has benefited tremendously from the party’s rule in Karnataka, both when it was in coalition with the Janata Dal (Secular) in 2006, but especially since the BJP won power last year. In August 2007, the coalition government withdrew 51 cases against Bajrang Dal activists, including five in which Muthalik was an accused. Last week, three weeks before the Mangalore attack, another 11 cases against Bajrang Dal and BJP activists were withdrawn. Muthalik was an accused in one. Before his January 27 arrest, the Karnataka police and the state government pretended that he was absconding, apparently ignorant of the fact that he was addressing public meetings across the state and was freely speaking with journalists.
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SAFFRON LINKS – BY SANJANA (FEB 14, 2009, TEHELKA)
There is mounting evidence to show that the Sri Rama Sene and its founder, Pramod Muthalik, are closely associated with radical Hindu right-wing organisations in Karnataka and Maharashtra, including the Sanathan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruthi Samithi. In a web of linkages, all three groups share close organisational affinities with outfits such as the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Denials from the BJP aside, the party rank and file easily acknowledge these otherwise much-repudiated ties. The undisputed story so far is as follows. First, the ideological affinity. The Sangh Parivar, the Sri Rama Sene and Sene founder Muthalik share the same ideological platform – their fight is for the establishment of Akhand Bharat, the Hindu Rashtra: a nation comprising the entire subcontinent. In interviews since his January 27 arrest, Muthalik has upheld the vision of Akhand Bharat outlined by RSS ideologue VD Savarkar as the inspiration for his "struggle". Video tapes of a public meeting at Karnataka’s Udupi town 10 days before his arrest show Muthalik expounding on this vision and decrying Mahatma Gandhi’s for "allowing" the creation of Pakistan. Mocking Gandhi’s messages of peace and non-violence, he also held Gandhi responsible for the terrorism that has emerged from the Pakistani soil and "claiming Hindu lives". Beyond the grand sketches, there are several other points of unity: the naming of Muslim opposition as the sole obstacle to the building of a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya; the demand for the immediate execution of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru; the representation of Indian Muslims and Christians as lapsed Hindus led astray by fear and promises. Muthalik speaks the Sangh’s language fluently. Also undisputed is Muthalik’s organisational past within the Sangh – 23 years, by his own admission. Having joined the RSS at the age of 13, Muthalik moved to the VHP in 1993. Three years later, he was assigned to the Sangh’s paramilitary wing, the Bajrang Dal, and was its first Karnataka convener.
Later, as the Dal’s South India convener, he engineered and oversaw its programmes in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It was during this period that his association with the VHP’s top brass was cemented. Muthalik remained Dal convener till end- 2004, when he fell out with the BJP. In his final interaction with the media as a Bajrang Dal leader, Muthalik claimed the party had betrayed the Hindu cause by refusing to play hardline Hindutva politics. Having formally broken ties with the Bajrang Dal, Muthalik briefly flirted with the Shiv Sena, after which he made his way back into the news, within Karnataka at least, by floating the Sri Rama Sene in 2007. The association with the Sangh Predictably extend from Muthalik to his cadres as well. When Muthalik walked out of the Bajrang Dal, he took with him a dedicated band of Dal activists. After the Sri Rama Sene was formed, overlapping identities continued and worked to the advantage of both groups. In the January 24 pub attacks on women in Mangalore, one of the few women who spoke to the media was present at the pub’s reception counter, a witness to the entire episode, right from the time the Sene activists gathered in the compound. Speaking to The Hindu’s local correspondent, she recalled how some men, all wearing saffron head scarves, went into a silent huddle to pray before the attack. They then raised slogans supporting both the Bajrang Dal and the Sene before advancing on the pub. Hours later, another attack took place in the pub’s vicinity. A mob barged into a private party and assaulted those present, seriously injuring two men, Abdul Hameed and Sharief. Immediately after both attacks, the Dal and the Sene both claimed responsibility. Local newspapers and news websites reported the attacks as a "surprise" joint operation by the two organisations, while some attributed the attack on the private residence to the Bajrang Dal alone. A day later, on January 25, Sene district convener Madhu Urwastore spoke to TEHELKA before his arrest and claimed that while the idea for both attacks was the Sene’s, members from the Dal were also present. The Bajrang Dal has neither disputed its participation in the attacks nor the Sene’s claims of credit.
Responsibility for the recent attacks aside, local observers and journalists in Mangalore claim, on condition of anonymity, to have seen the same bunch of activists surface at every rally or programme, irrespective of the banner. The observation is substantiated from within the Sangh. "There is a top layer of leaders who are different and do not mix in the public arena, but at the cadre level, there are no distinctions based on organisation. We are all united for the larger cause of Hindutva," says Girish Kamat, speaking outside the RSS office in Bangalore. Kamat identified himself only as someone from coastal Karnataka, and refused to name his organisation. In Mangalore, there is more evidence of the intertwining. A professor in the Department of English at University College, Pattabhirama Somayaji, continues to be the target of attacks by the RSS student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), for his condemnation of the pub attacks and his alleged reference to the Sri Rama Sene as the Ravana Sene. In less than a week, the ABVP has twice forced the boycott of classes by locking up classrooms. ABVP leader Shailesh Shetty claims that "the agitation will continue till Somyaji is dismissed from his position." Would the ABVP have issues with Somyaji if the Sri Rama Sene was an independent, fringe organisation, unconnected with the Sangh? Perhaps the most damning evidence yet, of the tacit linkages between the Sri Rama Sene and the Sangh Parivar, is the BJP Government’s withdrawal of eight cases against Pramod Muthalik since August 2007. The charges framed were serious – inciting communal hatred, promoting enmity between different groups and disturbing law and order. Other beneficiaries were Mahendra Kumar and Prakash Sharma, the Bajrang Dal national convener. Of the 53 cases against him, Muthalik claims only 12 or 13 remain. Even in these, arrest warrants were not executed.
Connections emerge from the links between the Sene and the Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate Hindu Janajagruthi Samithi (HJS). Headquartered in Panvel near Mumbai, the Sanatan Sanstha was founded in 1990 by Jayant Athavale while the HJS was established in October 2002 through the Sanstha’s initiative. The Sanstha’s website has a tame introduction – "The main aim of the organisation is to present Spirituality in a scientific language for the curious and to guide seekers (sic)." There are details of workshops on spirituality and stress management, and notifications of weekly spiritual meetings. Dig deeper, and a different picture emerges. Anyone wishing to be in the Sanstha is urged to read a 21-volume set of books by Athavale. It talks about selfdefence training imparted to all followers. The Sanathan Sanstha has been on the scanner of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) for a while. On June 16, 2008, the ATS arrested six Sanstha-affiliated men in connection with blasts outside auditoriums in Thane and Vashi on June 4 and May 31, where Marathi plays were being staged. All the accused were residents of the Sanstha-run Ashram and were full-time HJS activists, as corroborated by then HJS coordinator, Uday Dhuri. According to the ATS, two of the arrested were also involved in a blast in Panvel on February 20. VHP leaders reportedly arranged lawyers for these accused. Both the Sanstha and the HJS have been active across Karnataka, organising regular Dharma Jagruti Sabhas in various towns, attended by top VHP, RSS and BJP leaders.
The public meeting that Muthalik addressed in Udupi on January 17 last, where he accused Gandhi of precipitating terrorism and promised audiences that "Malegaon was a jhalak" and that "a lot more was possible if every woman picked up bombs instead of ladles like Sadhvi Pragya", was one such Dharma Jagruti Sabha. The ATS team has interrogated Muthalik once in Mangalore in connection with the bomb blasts in Malegaon town of Maharashtra in September last. Muthalik’s and the Sri Rama Sene’s roles at these meetings extended beyond those of invited participants. On April 30, 2008, a restricted-entry recruitment drive for the Dharma Shakti Sena was organised by the HJS in association with the Sri Rama Sene. Various weapons were displayed with an exhibition of visuals of victims of terror, suggesting that taking up arms was the only way to tackle terrorism. If the Sene’s associations with the Sangh Parivar need any further demonstration, it is this: a top VHP leader in Mumbai recently told a three-day HJS Dharma Raksha Samiti that "Pramod Muthalik has the support of each and every Hindu organisation in the country including us. He did whatever was needed to be done." In attendance? Other VHP leaders, including Sadhvi Ritambara, Pravin Togadia and Asaaram Bapu. Over to the BJP to deny the links now.
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SHOCKING CONSTITUTIONAL OVERREACH – EDITORIAL (FEB 1, 2009, THE HINDU)
The "recommendation" of Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami to the President that Election Commissioner Navin Chawla should be removed on the ground of bias is a gross constitutional overreach that is shocking to the democratic conscience. In the crucial weeks before the general election, it has provoked needless hostility and brought a political twist and divisions into the Election Commission. The Commission is a high constitutional body whose members are expected to rise above partisan sentiments and function with objectivity and distance from political players. It could certainly have done without a controversy of this sort. The recommendation itself was triggered by a petition filed by the Bharatiya Janata Party and stems from a misreading of the constitutional scheme of things. Under Article 324, the CEC is appointed by the President (that is, the political executive) and cannot be removed except by impeachment as in the case of a Supreme Court judge. The Election Commissioners too are appointed by the President and cannot be removed except on the recommendation of the CEC.
Considering the scheme of Article 324 as a whole, Chief Election Commissioner B.B. Tandon and the Election Commission took the provisions to mean that since the appointing authority is the President, the CEC comes into the picture only when a proposal for the removal of an Election Commissioner comes before him from the President for his recommendation. This was, in fact, supported by the opinion former Attorney General Ashok Desai gave the Election Commission in which he was categorical that the CEC cannot initiate action against an Election Commissioner suo motu. The Law Ministry too was of the same view. Early signs that all was not well within the Election Commission came in mid-2007 when Mr. Gopalaswami filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court claiming the power to recommend an Election Commissioner’s removal even without any reference from the President. The court was hearing a petition filed by the BJP for Mr. Chawla’s removal. The claim of suo motu powers was a clear and unexplained departure from the position the Election Commission had taken all along, and the present recommendation rests on that shaky premise.
What makes the CEC’s action particularly colourable is that it meets the demand raised in the BJP’s petition – submitted first to the President, then filed in the Supreme Court, only to be withdrawn and submitted to the CEC himself in January 2008. Ostensibly, though, the CEC’s "report" rests the decision on different grounds. The BJP had asked for Mr. Chawla’s removal on the alleged ground that he was tainted by his past association with the Congress party and could not function in an unbiased manner. While ignoring his alleged past associations, the CEC has now read bias into Mr. Chawla’s specific opinions on the timing and manner of conducting elections in some States. The grounds alleged appear to be differences of opinion rather than any grave prejudice or misconduct.
They have nothing to do with the standard laid down by the Supreme Court when it observed in T.N. Seshan, Chief Election Commissioner v Union of India (1995): "Of course, the recommendation for removal must be based on intelligible and cogent considerations which would have a relation to the efficient functioning of the Election Commission." The Court also pointed out that the power was conferred on the CEC to ensure that the Election Commissioners were not at the mercy of the political executive. It was a check on the executive’s powers and a safeguard of the independence of the Election Commission as a whole. The Court went on to caution: "If therefore the power were to be exercised by the CEC as per his whim and caprice, the CEC himself would become an instrument of oppression and would destroy the independence of the Election Commissioners and the Regional Commissioners if they are required to function under the threat of the CEC recommending their removal." This fear of capricious action and of the protector turning tormentor has now come to pass with Mr. Gopalaswami’s recommendation.
It needs hardly be emphasised that the Election Commissioners cannot function effectively and independently if they are to live in fear of the CEC recommending their removal for one reason or another, including merely differing with him on some issue. They cannot perform their constitutional functions if the CEC continually entertains petitions against them from political parties and other groups. Even during the later period of T.N. Seshan as Chief Election Commissioner, when bitter and open conflict raged within the Election Commission, he did not think he could invoke the power to recommend the removal of an Election Commissioner. It is indeed inexplicable that an experienced administrator like Mr. Gopalaswami should have chosen to act in a way that is neither constitutional nor fair. The saving grace is that the President is not bound to accept the recommendation, particularly as it is untenable on the face of it and unwarranted in the circumstances. Nevertheless it is bound to leave deep scars on the Election Commission’s institutional credibility and collective functioning.
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NEW ENCOUNTER IN AN OLD BOTTLE – BY NEHA DIXIT (FEB 14, 2009, TEHELKA)
They could only have been teenagers. Who else would mount an assault on the natio – nal capital without knowing the way there? Or flaunt an AK-47 while asking for directions at a tea stall? Or display extraordinary bravado by not returning fire even when the police was chasing them to death? Or include such personal sundries as a passport and a diary in packing for the mission but neglect to bring a mobile? Or make dying declarations of their identities? The names of the two young men the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) and the state police shot dead in the January 25 Noida encounter have been given out as Abu Ismail and Farooq. Both are said to have been in their late teens. The police version of events charts a car chase that began at 2.15 am on Republic Day as the two zoomed through Lalkuan in Ghaziabad in a stolen Maruti 800. They were gunned down half an hour later in Noida’s Sector 97, 25 km away. A Pakistani passport, two AK-47 rifles, 120 cartridges, five Chinese hand grenades, three detonators, 1.5 kg RDX, a rucksack and a diary are recorded as having been recovered from their car. Materials allegedly seized from the car indicate that the two were trained in making plastic explosives.
While the duo certainly netted the Indian security system some muchneeded credit for a swift, post-26/11 response to a terror threat, some crucial questions remain. How, for starters, was Abu Ismail and Farooq’s plot uncovered? "The ATS had been working for the last one-and-a-half months on specific information about jehadis trying to enter the capital via Ghaziabad on the eve of Republic Day," Additional Director General of Police Brij Lal said. As soon as there was information about two persons trying to sneak into Delhi, the ATS took action. The Noida police fill in the details recounting how the ‘terrorists’ stopped to ask for directions at a tea stall from a man who, coincidentally, was a police informer. He saw a gun jutting out from one of the boys’ rucksacks, recognised it as an AK-47 rifle and informed the police. The police are yet to name the terror outfit to which the two belonged. Key questions remain unanswered. Why would a terrorist try entering the capital on, of all days, Republic Day, when security is at its peak? Again, were these two really so reckless as to risk suspicion by letting their weapons show? Would the plotters of a terror strike really need directions to their target? If the police has the answers, they’re not letting on.
Establishing the identity of the two dead ‘terrorists’ has also proved tricky. According to the police, Farooq ‘confessed’ on his way to hospital that he and Ismail were Pakistanis. The police also say Farooq confessed he was from Akora in Baluchistan and Ismail hailed from Rawalkot. The passport recovered from the car identifies Farooq as Ali Ahmad, son of Mohammad Fateh of Rahim Yaar Khan, Pakistan. A dying ‘confession’ may raise scepticism, but even more questionable is Farooq’s setting out for a terror strike with his passport but without either a satellite or a mobile phone, used in practically every terror attack of the past few years. Meanwhile, DIG (Meerut Range) Aditya Mishra has told the press that the terrorists were also carrying two ID cards issued in the names of Rakesh, supposedly of the College of Engineering and Technology in Parbhani, Maharashtra, and Sameer, purportedly from Shivam Old Senior Secondary School, Vijay Nagar, Delhi. Which version is the truth? Conflicting reports over the route the chase took have also emerged. The ATS claims the terrorists were chased from the Amity University check post, six km from Sector 97 in Noida, where they were shot down. Sector 97 is also the site of two other recent encounters. The Noida police, on the other hand, report a 25-km chase from Lal Kuan in Ghaziabad that would have crossed at least five police posts. Why did the police at these posts not check the fleeing terrorists?
The police say the car the duo used had a fake registration number, of a twowheeler scooter, registered in the name of a Ghaziabad-resident Pawan Verma. Other reports, however, said a couple of number plates were also seen in the police Gypsy immediately after the encounter. The Gypsy has since gone missing and the police and the ATS refuse to talk about it. The Gypsy would, perhaps, have raised some of the greatest contradictions of all. The police explain away the lack of bullet marks on the terrorists’ Maruti 800 with the claim that they targeted only the lower parts of the car to puncture its tyres. But there is only one bullet hole on the windshield of the police vehicle. Even though an AK-47 fires at least eight or nine bullets at one go. The windshield mark is also unusual for an AK-47 bullet, which would normally have broken the pane.
The holes in the Noida police and UP ATS’S versions of events are compounded by the refusal of both agencies to confirm details they initially gave out. "They may be terrorists. But details will be given after the investigation," says HN Singh, Western UP head, ATS. A four-member team headed by Lucknow DSP RK Singh is now to investigate the case.Singh says, "We are carefully examining the details and file the chargesheet soon." Till such time as the findings are filed, the story of the ‘terrorists’ will have to rest as the less-than convincing tale of the failed expedition of two reckless boys.
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BRUTES IN KHAKI – EDITORIAL (FEB 5, 2009, THE TRIBUNE)
The police in Uttar Pradesh can go to any extent when it comes to dealing with Dalits even during the rule of a "Dalit ki beti", Ms Mayawati. The latest incident exposing these brutes in khaki is the torture of seven-year-old Komal in Etawah district on Tuesday. The pretext for mercilessly thrashing the girl by policemen was a theft charge against the teenager levelled by a village woman. Komal was beaten up in full public view before being pulled up by her ears by one of the six policemen who surrounded her as if she was a dreaded dacoit. He pulled out her hair to make her confess that she did steal a purse carrying Rs 280 belonging to the woman complainant. Her cries for mercy had little effect on the criminals in uniform.
The UP government has terminated the services of one of the guilty policemen and suspended two others. This is no punishment for the cops who dared to play with the life of a little one, who happened to belong to a Dalit family. First of all, the tormentors of the girl, including those policemen who watched the scene gleefully, should be dismissed from service forthwith. Then they should be proceeded against under the law and prosecuted for multiple offences. Efforts should be made to ensure that they are punished in a severe and exemplary manner.
UP is not the only state where policemen have been behaving as beasts. Such cases have been reported from Punjab, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and other states, too. But UP and Bihar have become notorious for such ill treatment of people belonging to the deprived classes. In October, a 13-year-old Dalit boy was chained to a tractor and dragged around his village in Mahoba district with the police not taking action against the culprits. Obviously, the Scheduled Castes/Tribes Act that was enacted in UP to prevent atrocities against the Dalits has failed to serve as a deterrent. The reason, perhaps, is that dismissal or suspension from service is not considered as adequate punishment. In that case, the law must be made more stringent.
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