Friday, August 25, 2017

Panic in the city

Ratnakar Tripathy

It is difficult to get over one’s dismay at how the Haryana government deliberately botched up the security arrangements at the Panchkula court where Sant Ram Raheem was yesterday declared guilty of rape. The case goes back to 2002, when a local journalist published an anonymous letter addressed by an aggrieved woman to the Prime Minister of India among others, seeking justice and relief. The immediate outcome of the letter was the journalist was shot dead in front of his house. Ram Raheem has a large following of up to 5 crore devotees among the Dalits in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan and is seen as anti-Sikh. But perhaps the most visibly interesting part of the Ram-Raheem story is his persona – he is at once a rock star, an actor, a singer, a filmmaker and believe it or not, a stunt man to boot. Clearly, he is not a phenomenon easy to unravel in a hurry except on the surface.  

What is easier to see how the CM of the Haryana state failed in his duty to maintain law and order on the occasion when around 150,000 of Ram-Raheem were allowed to assemble in the town – they were ready to take to arson and bloodshed if their guru received a guilty verdict. In a rampage that lasted for several hours, the police stood helpless and above 30 people got killed. The reaction to this by the BJP politicians and ministers were bizarre to say the least - the president of BJP in Haryana. Here's what he actually said! "On such occasions, nothing can be done. The media should not have ventured into the vicinity of the mob, or provoked the people whose emotions were running high." If this is not bad enough, the I&B minister Smriti Irani tweeted warnings to the press not to spread panic and promised punishments for the so-called misdemenours. The warning couldn’t be more ill-timed as the press was at the receiving end for several hours and their OB vans were torched by the mobs. Of course, there is another leader Sakshi Maharaj who openly defended the guru and blamed the courts for yesterday’s incidents.

The fact is the police forces successfully evacuated up to 1 lakh devotees from Panchkula and Chandigarh on the same evening though only after the crowds were allowed to do the damage. It is not difficult to see that instead of tackling the problem boldly, the state government showed hesitation and according to some even connivance with the crowds. There are reports that clearly suggest that politicians from both the parties, in particular the BJP have been hobnobbing with the guru since he controls a sizeable body of Dalit votes. Politicians regularly queue up to seek the blessings [read votes] from the guru before the elections and have no desire to displease him.

The Indian judiciary has however yet again exhibited great clarity by issuing a warning to the guru – the court order states “It is made clear that whosoever has been instigating and inciting the crowd that has gathered to commit these acts of arson and violence, they would be sternly dealt with. The damages that are caused to public and private properties shall be recovered from them. Respondent No.7 – Dera Sacha Sauda shall submit a list of its assets and properties which can be attached in case it is found that they and their followers are responsible for the said acts. All Judicial Officers at Panchkula shall forthwith be provided security by Para Military Forces round the clock.” Now everyone waits for the dreaded day next Monday when the court will issue a sentence, causing further anger among the guru’s followers.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Shah Bano - After 30 years

Those were the days of Longowala Accord and 400+ MP Majority for Rajiv Gandhi. Congress PM Rajiv Gandhi had ridden the Parliamentary Majority on the ashes of his mom, the majority which no Indian PM is likely to achieve ever. But alas that majority was not good enough to produce anything positively long-lasting. Apart from creating Environmental Ministry which focused India's attention to environmental issues (not necessarily solve though); there are few things I remember from Rajiv's Parliment (apart from presidential palace games of President Gyani Zail Singh to split the enormous Congress Majority...).

One of the things I remember from that era is how a socialist MP Madhu Dandavate tried in vain to argue against the misguided law of Rajiv Gandhi to overrule the Supreme Court decision of denying an easy way out for a Muslim male from his responsibilities in a marriage dissolution. I was in my college years then, still with dreamy views like how a debate in the parliament would change views of other MPs. Me and my friend Uday we wished that in the morning the law would not pass - the debate was for the whole night in the parliament. 

Looking back, the only thing good about that affair was there was at least some parliamentary debate! Given the tendencies of most democracies all over the world to either misguide the discourse or skip altogether any debate by skilled parliamentary machinations; it seems politicians then had at least some conscience left to 'argue and debate'. Definitely, likes of Madhu Dandavate have left behind a moral lesson for us - denying 'maintenance' to Shah Bano was wrong.

India took more than 30 years to recognize the basic rights of Muslim women here. Moreover, it needed Hindu Nationalist Government with lurking malice against Muslims to correct this imbalance. We had 3 Congress Governments in Delhi after Rajiv Gandhi, but none showed the courage to undo the non-sense of Rajiv's Shah Bano folly. These are the 'wages' of Indian Secular Polity in last 30 years!

Many in India's Secular Wing are likely to see this result with a suspicion. It is understandable that one would doubt secular credentials and motives of RSS aligned Indian PM Narendra Modi. But India's Left and Secularists need to avoid a knee jerk reaction to this verdict. Indian Supreme Court has got it right and PM Modi's Government has created the necessary 'political space' for justice to prevail in this case.

Debates in Parliament may not win arguments, as I learned from ages back heroics of Madhu Dandavate; but in the end, people get it 'right' in the land of 'rule of law'. No wonder, Indians; especially Indian Muslim Women are rightfully relieved at this ruling. 

These are exactly the foundations of a long lasting republic and Indians are marching well. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Immoral Trump Presidency

With a devastating press conference, Donald Trump has revealed few more things fresh:

1) He is an incompetent leader. Fundamentally, any good leader needs to understand an import of a moment - which aspects to 'highlight' and which aspects to 'downplay' for the larger and longer term good of the country. In this case, for Donald Trump to equate White Supremacists with those who oppose it; is politically damaging in the short term as well. But still, he went ahead and pulled down every anti-Nazi American to the same level of David Duke. What an incompetent leader!

2) Secondly, Donald has no morality; there is no 'moral compass'. He is a ship wandering this world shamelessly, responding to his animal spirits and it goes wherever his 'inner beast' takes him. Forget the Presidency, as a 'man' he is not the person anyone wants to be a friend with or anyone wants to work for him. He is a failed personality with no place in a decent society. Imagine this is 2017 and we have an occupant of Oval Office justifying Racism in a press conference! What Lincoln legacy he can be expected to continue?

3) Finally, he has exposed his complete lack of qualifications as a law upholding elected leader. This is because he is simply refusing to see the 'party which broke the law' - a Fascist who plowed the car killing an innocent bystander exercising her political rights peacefully. There cannot be any comparison and you cannot simply accord a blame when none belongs to Americans who were peacefully opposing Racism.

This is an unbelievable moment in American Politics - the President justifying racists in some form. 

As some have rightly said, those who 'voted' Donald Trump knew this was the risk and realistic possibility with his candidacy, but they still did so (just because Hillary's Candidacy was not up to the mark). Equally those Bernie Brothers and Sisters are guilty for this mess when they failed to overcome their frustration with the Bernie Loss to Hillary and did not vote in the 2016 presidential election. 

But that is all water under the bridge. What is needed is 
- Republicans in Congress wake up and start pushing back Donald's nonsense; and
- Civilians in America start participating our politics to remove Donald Trump.

Because otherwise, Donald is likely to grow into an existential risk to our Republic and the way we live in this country. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Commentary: the indignity of dying in the sewers

Even as the nation mourns the death of over 60 children in a Gorakhpur hospital and even as ordinary citizens feel outraged by the suspension of Dr Kafeel Ahmad at the hospital who made super-human efforts to save the children, there is another kind of tragic death that deserves our attention too. As if living a life of indignity was not bad enough, the death of sewage workers in India due to toxic gases has become a routine. According to this report, ‘The tragedy happened six days after three sanitation workers died inside a Delhi Jal Board-managed sewer line in Lajpat Nagar. Before that, four labourers were trapped to death in a sewage tank in south Delhi’s Ghitorni in July.’ While it is not our practice to maintain data on such deaths, according to an estimate in the report, around 100 people die in our sewers every year, which seems a very conservative figure looking at Delhi alone. It is not clear why this task cannot be partly or fully mechanized to keep human beings at a safe distance from the poisonous filth. The safety gear listed by the report includes gas masks, safety harness belts, helmets and mechanized equipment at dangerous sites such as clogged underground sewers – all of which must be provided by the employer. The incident took place at a shopping mall in east Delhi and one fails to understand why the resourceful employer failed to invest in some basic safety measures. There is even a law entailing imprisonment when the employer fails to fulfill his duty. But like many other instances, who is there to enforce such laws! So let us add to our long list of cries in the wilderness as governance at every level gives in to nonchalant indifference!

Monday, August 07, 2017

The politics of painting the victim as the perpetrator

Ratnakar Tripathy

I have never heard of a historian who complained of too much factual material to build a story. But these days I keep hearing historical and contemporary narratives that seem to not simply keep a safe distance from well-known facts but to even reverse the story on the basis of wild theories and postulates that reflect the beliefs of the narrator and no more. What is striking here is the apparent lack of conviction that starts on a note of denial and posits completely white lies as facts. As human beings, we are equipped to deal with situations when there is some minimal consensus on what may have happened. We are ill-equipped to deal with situations where a blatant lie is presented in front of us as the obvious truth. It is worrying for some that they are unable to prove the existence of Unicorns, but isn’t it even more worrying that its definite non-existence cannot be demonstrated either? In brief, faced with a white lie, we get stumped and begin to stammer incoherently and perhaps even consider plain yelling if not physical assault!

That Mughal and western history seem irrelevant to syllabus-makers in Rajasthan is a serious enough matter but it doesn’t hurt with the same immediacy as the lies that attempt to turn a victim into a perpetrator – recently when a lady named Varnika Kundu was driving to her home in Chandigarh at around 12 AM, a vehicle tried to aggressively block her path though she managed to reverse her car and report the incident to the police. I first got this piece of information from Facebook through an elaborate post by her father, an IAS officer. I saw it as a horrifying incident that was duly aborted and forgot about it. But the very next morning it made national news when the stalker was revealed to be the son of a senior BJP leader in Haryana.  The lady in question, a career woman took matters in her hand and managed to get help from the police, largely I feel since she is the daughter of an IAS officer and couldn’t be dismissed lightly. The offenders however were faced with extremely light charges by the police and let off in no time. The offender perhaps comes from a family of warm-blooded men and women who take it for granted that men will assault and that it is the girl’s onus to keep out of the way. If a woman is unlucky enough to fall in the way, well, she has just been unlucky and must get over it soon. All these matters are what we call ‘cultural’, a distortion from the feudal days which is why a BJP leader from Haryana demanded an answer to his question – what was Varnika doing on the roads at 12 AM in the night.  

What is not cultural however is when a BJP spokesperson N C Shaina, a highly educated person demanded justice for the perpetrator Vikas Barala instead of showing sympathy for the victim or just plain keeping her trap opportunely shut. She has since deleted her tweet more out of shame than remorse, although Nidhi Razdan, the famous TV presenter scrupulously copied it and preserves it, engraved as it is forever in the digital stone.

I am of course moved by the plight of the gutsy young lady from Chandigarh who claimed that like many other victims, she doesn’t care to stay anonymous and since as a victim rather than a perpetrator, she has no reason to hide her name and face. But I also feel concerned by a general tendency to paint the victim as the perpetrator these days – the media does it and so do the politicians on the right. The farmer, the tribal, the villagers asking for rehabilitation, the conscientious teachers, the whistleblowers and the suffering students are now the new villains of a society that has lost its moral compass. Such reversal can turn our entire vocabulary toxic and snap the last straw of human decency, forget the higher ideals of goodness and rectitude.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Commentary: NPAs show a jump of 41% in current year

In recent years in India, the banks have failed to curb a steady rise in the Non-Performing Assets [NPAs], the term NPA just being a euphemism for defaulted loans. The reason behind this is however neither the small businessman nor the farmer but the major behemoths. The bigger industrial groups are often in a position to argue that further loans will enable them to repay the loans incurred earlier – this logic can, however, go altogether awry as the loans pile up and the financial system is drained of resources. The question the ordinary citizen may ask here is – where will the money come from and how will the vacuum get filled up? The answer is a long story of banking mismanagement and political interferences in the financial sector that amounts to what is often called ‘crony capitalism’.

According to an earlier report ‘The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is moving to resolve the bad loan crisis with an Internal Advisory Committee (IAC) of the RBI having identified 12 accounts of corporate borrowers who owe over Rs 5,000 crore each — and overall involve an amount of close to Rs 175,000 crore — for insolvency proceedings under the newly enacted Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 (IBC).’

The present report provides little analysis but is a surely an update for 2017 – it seems that the NPAs rose by 41 per cent in the current financial year despite the government’s professed attempts to curb such growth. Part of the same logic is the argument that there are businesses and banks that are too big to be allowed to fail. This ensures that the taxpayer is eternally committed to shoring up these entities lest the resulting turbulence upset the financial system in some fundamental ways. The interesting thing about the modern state in India and elsewhere is while it withdraws from sectors like education and health and to some extent even from infrastructure, it turns pro-active in securing loans for certain business houses presuming them to be growth leaders and creators of jobs. The NPAs are thus indicators not simply of a persistent policy blunder but also reveal some deep fault lines within the state apparatus.