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COVER STORY

20-01-2017

Emperor Modi

Modi's authoritarian style of functioning disregarding administrative norms and traditions.

Briefing

Non-Governmental Organisations

A witch-hunt

DIVYA TRIVEDI cover-story

ON December 17, 2016, two officers of the Special Branch of the Delhi Police walked into a basement at Nizamuddin where the journalist Bhasha Singh was giving a lecture on demonetisation. Their body language and attire at once set them apart from the crowd that had gathered there. They said they were on an assignment, and took notes. The next day, an officer attended Prof. Achin Vanaik’s lecture on New World Order at a similar gathering at Dwarka in the capital.

The presence of intelligence officers at public meetings and protests was not an unusual sight when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power at the Centre. But seeing them at neighbourhood discussion forums is a novelty. The presence of intelligence agents at such gatherings is perceived as a farman (dictatorial signifier) of trouble brewing. The brazen manner in which these agencies have been asserting their presence since 2014 is chilling.

“Snooping” by intelligence agencies is just one of the many ways in which ANHAD (Act Now For Harmony and Democracy), an organisation set up in the aftermath of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, is being harassed. It was recently barred from receiving foreign funds, and its renewed Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) licence was cancelled without any notice. Two Home Ministry and one Income Tax inquiries were ordered against ANHAD after Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre. It was not completely unexpected as the organisation had been targeted earlier too for its work in Gujarat, according to Shabnam Hashmi, who runs the trust. On March 20, 2016, ANHAD’s FCRA licence was renewed for a period of five years presumably because no discrepancy was found in its activities and its books of accounts were in order. But through a notice put up on the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) website dated December 15, the licence was cancelled citing “undesirable activities against public interest”. Earlier, domestic donors, who contributed more than Rs.10,000 to the organisation, received legal notices asking them to explain why they gave the money.

While this led to the harassment of donors, it also resulted in the collapse of ANHAD’s work with communities in Bihar, Kashmir and Mewat (Rajasthan). But it did not deter the organisation’s work against communalism, said Shabnam, who has remained a significant voice against the Sangh Parivar’s divisive agenda. “We have been targeted not for any technical issue but because we strongly oppose the ideology of hate. As far as the struggle to safeguard the Constitution of India is concerned, we don’t need funds for that and will continue to raise our voices,” she said. Shabnam has been attacked physically many times by goons, but she refuses to get cowed down by such forces because she feels “fascism breeds on fear”.

ANHAD is one of the seven non-governmental organisations (NGOs) whose FCRA licences were cancelled abruptly after they were renewed. The others are Greenpeace, the Navsarjan Trust, the Sabrang Trust and the Citizens for Peace and Justice run by Teesta Setalvad, the Marwar Muslim Education and Welfare Society, and the Rural Development Research Centre, Ahmedabad. In all, licences of 20,000 NGOs have been cancelled and those of 13,000 NGOs have been placed under scrutiny since the past year. Officials in the Foreign Division of the MHA are overburdened and not excited about checking receipts dating back to 2009. In private, they murmur whether there is any point to all this but reconcile to it because “it is a job”.

Analysing the case of ANHAD, former Additional Solicitor General of India Indira Jaising explained: “That is a different and curious case. The issue is not cancellation of registration but cancellation of a renewal of registration. There is no provision in law for this, that is why the MHA now says that it was ‘inadvertently renewed’. How laughable is that? Does it not show malintent?” Adverse intelligence inputs were cited as a reason for a relook into the activities of the NGOs, but Indira Jaising said that in a court of law, the authorities would be forced to disclose the reports.

Lawyers Collective, an NGO run by Indira Jaising, too, had its accounts frozen and was barred from receiving funds. On November 21, 2015, a show-cause notice appeared on the MHA website. Indira Jaising told Frontline: “It was never served on us. When we pointed this out, it was promptly taken down from the website. The formality of a procedure of inspection was gone through, after which the same show-cause notice was once again issued. What does this show? That the decision to cancel was first taken and then the procedure was gone through as a formality and the registration cancelled. That procedures can be manipulated to suit an outcome.”

It was no coincidence that the same day the lawyer Anand Grover was to file a petition in the Bombay High Court on behalf of the activist Harsh Mander, who was questioning the discharge of Amit Shah, who is now BJP president, as an accused in the murders of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kauser Bi, and the prime witness Tulsiram Prajapati.

Opposing Modi and his cohorts seems to be the commonality running through many of the NGOs targeted. Teesta Setalvad, Shabnam Hashmi and Indira Jaising have all been thorns on the side of Modi and have vocally opposed his divisive politics. In 2002, Indira Jaising and Grover filed the only civil suit against Modi in the aftermath of the genocide in Gujarat representing three British citizens of Indian origin who were being victimised for being Muslims. Indira Jaising also fought and won the case for Priya Pillai, the Greenpeace activist who was offloaded from a plane to London. But Grover representing Yakub Memon (convicted over his involvement in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts) on his mercy plea against the death penalty might have been the knockout blow. “This is where the cases we have done come into the picture. There is a personal agenda against us, we need to be punished for having accessed the law,” she said. All the NGOs have categorically maintained that they are being targeted for their political positions and not because the allegations themselves have any base.

Indira Jaising said: “Nothing could be more vague than the phrase ‘in public interest’. We have been told that the cancellation is in the public interest. What is the public interest is not disclosed to us. There are unsubstantiated allegations of funds not being properly maintained, but the punitive action is grossly disproportionate to the alleged improper maintenance of accounts. Our accounts have been frozen, we cannot receive any more funding. All for what? For not maintaining proper accounts? No civilised society can do this to its citizen.”

On being termed anti-national, Indira Jaising said it was the unkindest cut of all. “We have a track record going back 40 years working on issues of ending violence against women. We were the leaders in helping draft the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, we are currently engaged in working on the HIV Bill, we have argued cases for declaring Section 377 unconstitutional and succeeded in the High Court of Delhi, we have worked on the rights of transgender community successfully, we work on affordable health care cases and access to affordable medicines. Does this sound like anti-national work?”

What is happening now is an unprecedented assault on the freedom to form associations. It was part of a global trend where NGOs were seen as being anti-development, especially those speaking up against the government’s misplaced policies, said Kabir Dixit, a Supreme Court Advocate, who represented the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) in leading FCRA cases against the MHA. One of the cases challenging the constitutionality of some of the provisions of the Act is pending in the Supreme Court. The case raises the fundamental question of whether freedom of association even exists in India as a fundamental right of citizens. He describes the situation as tragi-comic and believes that the allegations will not stand in a court of law. “The government has repeatedly embarrassed itself by passing illegal and ultra vires orders betraying simultaneously a haste in acting against specific NGOs and a disregard for the prescribed statutory safeguards in the Act. It is difficult to believe that the officials implementing the provisions do not themselves understand the limitations on their powers. Which brings us to the obvious conclusion about the motive behind the witch-hunt. It is with that belief that we have repeatedly moved the courts and often seen success,” he said.

Even as civil society organisations term the FCRA a repressive and draconian law and call for its revocation, Indira Jaising has this to say: “The best of laws can be sabotaged by malintent by the enforcement agency. When the motive for taking action is political and extra-legal, the law becomes a proxy for achieving an extraneous object. All safeguards fail in this context. Foreign contribution is a financial matter, why is the intelligence agency involved in financial management? These matters should be within the remit of the Ministry of Finance, not the Ministry of Home Affairs.”

Big Brother in Delhi

“They might well have come to regard prime ministerial dominance as normal and, therefore, as acceptable. They might have been taken in by the media's preoccupation with the leader, his close circle, his family and his friends. They might even be over-impressed by the fact that the new prime minister had led them to victory and that they therefore owed their jobs to him. It is quite possible that they might be overawed by the sheer scale of the prime minister's department. Ministers in such a government would be not so much the prime minister's colleagues as his employees, even his courtiers - in which case the prime minister really would be a sort of president. An administration of this character is conceivable, but it seems unlikely, and, even if an administration did start out on that basis, it would be unlikely to remain on that basis for long.“

—Anthony King, The British Constitution (Oxford University Press, 2007).

THE eminent British Professor of Government had observed thus while making an assessment about a specific aspect of politics in the United Kingdom, particularly the impact and sway that different Prime Ministers had on the governments they led, especially on fellow Ministers in their governments. While doing so, King also points to a phenomenon he terms “theatre of celebrity”, which involves premeditated creation of a celebrity personality, which in turn is employed to enforce dominance on fellow politicians as well as the larger polity. King’s argument that such an administration is “unlikely to remain on that basis for long” does not make any reference to a specific time frame. In other words, there is no quantification in terms of years or decades.

Indian polity over the past two and a half years clearly fits in with King’s exposition of a specific trait of political dominance. In fact, the domination that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has enforced over members of his Ministry as well as the larger government machinery is a striking manifestation of King’s observations. Modi’s fellow Ministers, including seniors with decades of political experience and standing, have been virtually reduced to courtiers. Important Ministries and departments, including External Affairs, Finance, Defence and Home, are run practically on the diktats and direct intervention of the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The sidelining of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, a senior BJP leader, and her Ministry is conspicuous. Other seniors, such as Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari, have held on somehow to whatever little authority they have in their Ministries, albeit with periods of intense disquiet. The “theatre of celebrity” is in full play, aided and abetted by a powerful propaganda apparatus to which have been coopted some important media organisations and senior journalists.

Equally important is the timing of the advancement of this dominance project. It started unfolding soon after the swearing in of the Modi regime on May 26, 2014, and has sustained itself over two and a half years despite intermittent reverses at the level of electoral politics. In the last two months of 2016, this project gathered momentum and gained strength. So much so, the sobriquet “Emperor Modi” has sprung up at different levels of the political establishment, including within Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar, the larger Hindutva-oriented ideological organisational network of which the BJP is a part. But in keeping with the dominance game, the voices within the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are reduced to practically inaudible levels.

Two major decisions of the Union government in the last two months of 2016 underscore the phenomenal dominance Modi has been able to establish upon the Indian system of governance. The second was the surprise December 17 announcement of Lt Gen. Bipin Rawat as the next Chief of the Army Staff, who would take charge on January 1, 2017. The first was the dramatic November 8 announcement of demonetisation of Rs.1,000 and Rs.500 notes. Both decisions were essentially driven by Modi and his PMO bypassing the authority of Ministries responsible for them. Time-tested consultative processes at the level of the Cabinet and other segments of the government were flagrantly disregarded while pushing ahead with the decisions.

West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra, speaking on a television channel, said a senior Cabinet Minister had shared with him the sense of revolt and sterile rage he felt at the manner in which the news of demonetisation was broken to him. This senior Minister, along with many other Ministers, were herded into a room and made to listen to the Prime Minister’s announcement on television. “He [the Minister]) told me that there was no personal interaction, only this mass or herd viewing of the announcement on television,” Mitra told the channel. He added that there were doubts within the highest levels of the Union government, among both politicians and the administrative class, about how much Finance Minister Arun Jaitley himself knew about the demonetisation before it unfolded.

Appointment of new Army Chief

The appointment of Lt Gen. Bipin Rawat went against the long-held tradition of appointing the senior-most eligible officer to the post. By tradition, Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command, should have become the next Chief of the Army Staff. Lt Gen. P.M. Hariz, Southern Army Commander, the next in seniority, was also superseded. Even in the manner in which the announcement was made, there was an element of humiliation of senior Army officers who were eligible to be considered for the position.

The statement announcing the appointment went as follows: “In the current security situation, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency are key issues. Therefore, the background and operational experience of officers on the panel were considered in depth while selecting the next COAS [Chief of the Army Staff]. Lt General Bipin Rawat fulfils this criteria by virtue of his operational assignments as Commanding Officer of 19 Division in J&K and his outstanding track record, and his familiarity with the functioning of the Army headquarters and Ministry of Defence in his capacity as Vice Chief…. His general dynamism has also played a role in tipping the scales in his favour.” The statement infuriated a large number of service personnel, including senior Army officers, who perceived this as casting aspersions on the potential and suitability of the two superseded generals (see story on page 15).

Interestingly, the announcement also contained the claim that the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), the authority empowered to make the final selection of a significant number of senior positions in the Union government, had followed due process and taken sufficient inputs from the Defence Ministry, the Army and other requisite sources. This claim is viewed sceptically across different echelons of the government, including the Defence Ministry. This scepticism is aggravated by the manner in which the composition of the ACC was diluted by the Prime Minister as early as July 2014 by restricting the number of members in the committee to the Prime Minister (also the chairperson) and the Home Minister. Before July 2014, the Minister in-charge of the Ministry to which appointments were to be made was also part of the ACC. “The say of the concerned Ministries as well as the detail in their inputs were reduced significantly by this change in the constitution of the ACC,” a retired Defence Ministry official pointed out to Frontline.

A former colonel opined that the Prime Minister had often exhibited a penchant for intervention in the functioning of different Ministries and departments, grievously overturning norms and traditions, in order to advance his interests, both personal and political. “General Rawat is from Uttarakhand, which is expected to have Assembly elections in 2017. I am sure Modi will try and make use of this elevation as an election issue in the days to come,” he said.

The dilution of systems of governance and the overturning of administrative norms and tradition has not been restricted to the ACC. In fact, early in his tenure itself Modi had taken a series of steps in this direction. Even before meddling with the composition of the ACC in July 2014, the Prime Minister had effected a series of measures in relation to standing committees of the Cabinet and Cabinet committees. In June 2014, less than a month after being sworn in, Modi dispensed with four standing committees of the Cabinet—on Management of Natural Calamities, Prices, Unique Identification Authority of India-related issues, and World Trade Organisation Matters—and reconstituted crucial Cabinet committees, including those on Security, Political Affairs, Economic Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs.

Concentration of power

Evidently, the purpose of these changes was to bring these key sectors under bureaucrats, who could be forced to report directly to the Prime Minister, or the PMO. In other words, reduce the say and influence of other politicians in the BJP as well as the ruling coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), in these crucial areas.

Thus, it was announced that the functions of the Cabinet Committee on Management of Natural Calamities would be handed over, whenever natural calamities occur, to a committee under the Cabinet Secretary. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs was directed to take over the functions of the Cabinet Committee on Prices and the Cabinet Committee on World Trade Organisation Matters whenever necessary. The committee on UIDAI issues was also brought under the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs. These measures were preceded by the abolition of 30 empowered groups of Ministers and GoMs that existed at the end of the tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

All this was professedly done to further the cause of “minimum government, maximum governance”, a slogan coined by Modi. But what it actually did was to topple the premise of governance founded on “collective responsibility of Cabinet Ministers” and push it into a presidential form of government where a singular authority guides the course of governance and dictates terms. “Keep me in the loop on your functioning and approach me to get guidance” was Modi’s refrain in the interactions he had with groups of bureaucrats. There were also manoeuvres with individual bureaucrats and selected groups in order to build a direct access-control regime.

A case of harassment

The other side of these efforts was the harassment of select bureaucrats, once again to pursue vested interests. A case in point is that of Sanjiv Chaturvedi, a Haryana cadre Indian Forest Service officer. Chaturvedi was being monitored by Modi’s PMO, and documents obtained through Right to Information (RTI) have laid this bare. This monitoring also led to his being repeatedly denied a legitimate posting. By all indications, Chaturvedi’s inclination to expose corruption was the reason for the harassment. This is a dominant trait that Chaturvedi has displayed since his entry into service in 1995. In fact, he had earned a name for himself as a crusader against corruption in a short span of time in the various departments he was posted in. These included the Forest Department and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), where he was Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO) in the 2012-14 period. Chaturvedi had initiated several investigations during his tenure as CVO at the premier hospital. These included cases against officials who went on unexplained foreign trips on government expense and against a particular official who apparently had his pet dog operated upon at the AIIMS cancer centre.

Chaturvedi was the recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2015 for emergent leadership. The award citation stated that Chaturvedi’s “exemplary integrity, courage and tenacity in uncompromisingly exposing and painstakingly investigating corruption in public office, and his resolute crafting of program and system improvements to ensure that government honourably serves the people of India” were noteworthy. On account of this crusading trait, he had created many enemies among both officials and the political class across parties. Union Minister J.P. Nadda, too, had taken up some of the complaints against Chaturvedi raised by aggrieved persons. His interventions started in 2013, when the UPA was in power at the Centre and he himself was a Member of Parliament.

BJP leaders, including Arun Jaitley, termed these actions of Nadda as routine and legitimate. However, after the Modi-led BJP came to power in May 2014, the interventions of Nadda and other interested people in the BJP became more than routine and extraordinary. So much so, the special interest was such that the Prime Minister himself was tracking Chaturvedi’s progress in the bureaucracy.

This much comes through unambiguously in the RTI documents relating to Chaturvedi’s performance in government service. Among the documents obtained through RTI is a letter dated August 23, 2014, written by Lov Verma, then Secretary in the Department of Health and Family Welfare, to P.K. Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister. It stated: “The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India had a discussion with the Hon’ble Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare regarding the relieving of additional charge of CVO AIIMS, New Delhi, from Shri Sanjiv Chaturvedi, DS, AIIMS, New Delhi. A detailed note in this regard is submitted for the perusal of the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India.” The Health Minister at that time was Harsh Vardhan, and Nadda replaced him in November 2014. What the letter unravels is the level to which Modi’s monitoring can descend, both at the personal and official levels.

“It is indeed strange that the Prime Minister himself would be interested in inspecting the relieving of a Deputy Secretary-level officer,” said a senior bureaucrat, though he does not believe that the Prime Minister or Harsh Vardhan would have been doing this to protect the corrupt exposed by Chaturvedi.

However, some others, including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), have alleged that the monitoring and harassment of the upright officer is with the sole objective of appeasing the corrupt. Kejriwal’s request to the Centre to get the services of Chaturvedi as officer on special duty (OSD) is pending with the Union government since February 2015. He had said that if the Delhi government obtained Chaturvedi’s services, he would be made in charge of the State government’s anti-corruption branch. The Centre has not acceded to the request, and is evidently putting bureaucratic hurdles in the clearance of related files. After he was removed as AIIMS CVO in 2014, Chaturvedi opted for a transfer to the Uttarakhand cadre. Since then he has got neither a posting of his choice nor the clearance to accept the Delhi government’s offer, principally because the ACC has consistently denied him permission to move from Uttarakhand to Delhi. The Uttarakhand government, too, has taken a blow hot, blow cold approach in relation to his transfer, adopting contradictory positions at different junctures. The reasons for this flip-flop are, to put it mildly, inexplicable and bewildering. In the process, Chaturvedi is embroiled in one legal issue after another, which acquire newer and nuanced dimensions from time to time.

It is not just harassment and discomfort that the monitoring from the Prime Minister and the PMO brings. At the other end of the spectrum is Ajay Yadav, an IAS officer who could move from the Tamil Nadu cadre to Uttar Pradesh despite the fact that he had not completed the mandatory nine years’ service in the existing cadre. Yadav had completed only five years in service and his application for transfer was rejected twice by the Department of Personnel. However, in spite of that he received the transfer on October 28, 2015. It was approved “for a period of three years on personal grounds, in relaxation of policy, as a special case.” Significantly, Ajay Yadav is the son-in-law of Shivpal Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) in Uttar Pradesh. The AAP leadership, including Kejriwal, and others raised a hue and cry over Ajay Yadav’s transfer, but that by itself has not helped Chaturvedi’s case.

At the end of it all, what this underscored was the overwhelming powers of the Modi-led PMO and its special skills of monitoring leading to opprobrium in some cases and approbation in others. It is a power and skills game that crafted a chain of happenings that included the undermining of the system of Cabinet committees and standing committees—set up to ensure greater decentralisation and assimilation of wider inputs into decision-making—and the desiccation of the functional authority and freedom of leaders in the ruling dispensation. It also includes developing a mechanism of direct reporting and allegiance to Modi by bureaucrats. In short, a dominance project that is well under way over the last two and a half years, and one that will sustain its imperial ways in the days to come.

However, the advancement of this dominance project is not confined to micro and macro political-administrative management measures in governance and government mechanisms. It unfolds at the level of larger politics, too, in the form of proclamations of schemes and programmes. All these come along with the “theatre of celebrity” play that projects the supreme leader as the one and only panacea to the problems faced by the country and its people. Thus, you had the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which has purportedly turned India into a model of cleanliness and civic sanitation; the Jan Dhan Yojana, which has supposedly struck decisive blows for economic empowerment of the marginalised; and now the demonetisation drive, which has professedly wiped India clean of black money.

As any objective audit or assessment of these schemes and programmes would vouchsafe, all these are high on rhetoric and self-aggrandisement and short on real results. Indeed, these much-vaunted programmes and pronouncements represent “the cult of action for action’s sake”, which the philosopher and writer Umberto Eco identified as one of the “eternal” features of fascism. Eco delineates this point, saying fascists believe that “action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection” since “thinking is a form of emasculation”. That fits many facets of the dominance game of the Modi regime, including the recent demonetisation that is charting a monumentally disastrous path, causing economic and social havoc in the everyday lives of people.

Judiciary

Turbulent phase

V. VENKATESAN cover-story

AS this issue goes to press, the Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur would have retired, on January 3, after 13 months in office. His tenure witnessed perhaps the most bitter and open struggle for supremacy between the government and the judiciary since Independence. Never before had the head of the judiciary publicly and repeatedly expressed his exasperation over the government’s continued indifference and insensitivity to the judiciary’s concerns. As the CJI, Justice Thakur was more than accommodating of the government’s compulsions in various litigation before the court in which it was a party. But as he retired, he must have wondered what really prevented the government from reciprocating the judiciary’s respect for the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances that defines the working of the Indian Constitution.

Right from May 2014, when the Narendra Modi government came to power at the Centre with a comfortable majority, it was widely believed that the relationship between the executive and the judiciary would enter a turbulent phase. For, a government with a brute majority in Parliament is, by nature, likely to look at a counter-majoritarian institution like the Supreme Court with suspicion and seek to clip its wings.

Thus, the very first legislative measure, the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), which apparently enjoyed all-party support in Parliament and across State Assemblies, was declared unconstitutional and quashed by the Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench in October 2015 as violative of the independence of the judiciary. This meant a return to the collegium system of appointing judges to the higher judiciary, in which the judiciary—and not the executive—has primacy.

Even while asserting its independence from the executive, the Supreme Court conceded to the government its prerogative to redraw the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) in the light of its judgment in the NJAC and the collegium reform cases to make a fresh beginning in the appointment of judges.

This, many in the legal circles believe, was a serious lapse on the part of the Constitution Bench and was inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s own understanding of how its primacy is intrinsic to its independence. This momentary lapse, in acceding to the government’s suggestion that the MoP is its prerogative and that the collegium could still have the final say in approving the new draft, amounted to handing over the judiciary’s hard-won victory on a platter to the executive. The result was a year-long impasse on judicial appointments, with both the government and the collegium not willing to reach a compromise on the new draft of the MoP.

The government used the opportunity to rewrite the MoP, to sneak in certain clauses in the draft MoP, which, if finalised, would have compromised the independence of the judiciary.

One is that the government could reject a recommendation from the CJI-led collegium for appointing a judge in the Supreme Court or a High Court if it went against national security. The other was to tinker with the criteria of seniority and subject it to “merit” and “integrity” while appointing judges.

The government proposed that the number of candidates from the Bar or from the distinguished jurists category to be elevated to the bench be restricted to three and that all judges of the Supreme Court be invited to recommend names for appointments. The government also wanted a committee comprising retired judges of the Supreme Court and eminent jurists to assist the collegium.

The collegium has apparently rejected all these proposals and has insisted that the proposed Secretariat for the collegium be brought under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court’s registry instead of the Ministry of Law and Justice.

Even as the turf war between the government and the collegium on the judges’ appointments raged behind the scenes, Justice Thakur held the government accountable in the public domain by hearing three public interest litigation petitions on the long-pending appointments. He repeatedly grilled the Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi, during the hearing of these cases on why the government was sitting on the collegium’s 80-plus recommendations on High Court appointments even as the number of vacancies in the High Courts across the country was alarmingly high.

When Justice Thakur insisted that the government should either approve the recommendations or return them for reconsideration by the collegium, the government blinked but returned the recommendations to appoint 43 candidates for judgeships in High Courts on the grounds of “adverse intelligence reports and serious nature of complaints” against them. The collegium, in turn, reiterated its recommendations for 37 candidates, deferred three proposals, and is still considering the remaining three names. Once reiterated, these recommendations are binding on the government.

Justice Thakur expressed his anguish during one of the hearings thus: “Once we had a situation where we had judges but no courtrooms. But now, there are courtrooms, but no judges. You may now as well close courtrooms down and lock justice out. You can have the institution called the judiciary locked.”

With Justice J.S. Khehar, the senior-most judge, being appointed the next CJI, the conflict between the government and the judiciary appears set to intensify further. Having presided over the five-judge Constitution Bench that declared the NJAC unconstitutional and restored the collegium system of appointing judges, Justice Khehar is unlikely to cede space to the government in the ongoing battle for supremacy.

Parliamentary committee

Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, in its 87th Report on “Inordinate Delay in Filling up the Vacancies in the Supreme Court and High Courts”, has blamed the judiciary for distorting the original mandate of the Constitution and has urged the government to take appropriate measures to restore it.

The report admits that the large number of vacancies in higher judiciary is a cause for concern and worry for all and that nearly 43 per cent of the approved strength of judges in the High Courts is vacant. The report has recommended increasing the age of retirement of High Court judges from 62 to 65 and of Supreme Court judges from 65 to 67.

The report has also proposed a fixed tenure for the Chief Justices of the High Courts and for the CJI to avoid the collegium being dysfunctional. A fixed term for chief justices may deprive the opportunity of senior-most judges to realise their ambition of becoming chief justices, and, therefore, is unlikely to find favour with the judiciary.

Delhi & Lt Governor

Under close watch

AKSHAY DESHMANE cover-story

ON December 22, the office of the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi, Najeeb Jung, issued a statement that he had “submitted his resignation to the Government of India”. Political circles in the national capital were taken by surprise and speculation peaked about the possible causes for the unexpected decision, as the statement did not mention any reason for his resignation. Curiously, according to senior officials, Jung had not sent his resignation letter to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) or the President’s Secretariat, institutions to which the LG reports, but to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The next morning, around 11 a.m., Jung walked into the PMO and had an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Speaking with a few reporters after the meeting, Jung said that twice in the past he had offered to resign, but Modi had asked him to continue as LG.

This was a rare, if not the only, instance since February 2015, when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power in Delhi, of a senior official representing the Centre publicly confirming the Prime Minister’s association with an issue linked to the administration of Delhi. Until now, only Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP have asserted that Modi and his office had been “interfering” in the national capital’s local administration. In response, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as senior Ministers in the Union government often ridiculed or dismissed the claims, accusing Kejriwal of trying to drag the Prime Minister into local matters.

However, evidence gathered by Frontline through multiple right to information (RTI) applications to the MHA and other institutions and interviews with government officials reveal that the PMO has not only been monitoring the Government of the National Capital Territory (GNCT) of Delhi but also closely following up on matters linked to it since March 2015, barely a month after the new Delhi government was sworn in.

Since that date, the country has been witness to a public and courtroom tussle over administrative jurisdiction between Kejriwal and the Centre, at the heart of which lies a special constitutional framework created in the early 1990s for governing the NCT of Delhi. The Constitution (69th Amendment) Act, 1991, inserted Articles 239AA and 239AB into this framework. It was brought into force in February 1992. This Act, together with the GNCT of Delhi Act 1991, Article 239 of the Constitution, and Transaction of Business of the GNCT of Delhi Rules, 1993, are critical components of the framework that was expected to guide disparate agencies administering Delhi. As per this framework, executive functions relating to public order, police and land rest with the LG, who, in other matters, “is required to act on the aid and advice of his Council of Ministers.” The LG is the “administrator” appointed by the Centre, or more specifically the President, and has more powers than the Governors of States.

However, controversies and turf battles between the GNCT and the Centre have been frequent. These were witnessed during previous regimes too on account of differing interpretations by governments about legal provisions. Former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, for instance, had differences with both the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2002 and with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government later.

Some commentators have called the provisions vague and argued for the necessity to grant full Statehood to permanently address the disputes over administrative turf. However, in the absence of that and the presence of governments run by different parties with brute majorities in both the Centre and the NCT of Delhi, the turf battle has been particularly pronounced. The Kejriwal government petitioned the Delhi High Court in several specific instances when disputes arose and the court broadly ruled in favour of the Centre in August. The matter will come up before the Supreme Court for final arguments on January 18. Before the final verdict is delivered, these two assertive power centres in Delhi and an influential and active PMO have created a political situation unlike in any other State across the country.

The first instance

This correspondent inquired into two specific instances which clearly revealed the PMO’s monitoring of the much-publicised turf battles between Jung and Kejriwal. The first instance concerns an email sent by Shishir Gupta, the Executive Editor of Hindustan Times, on March 28, 2015, to BJP national president Amit Shah and Officer on Special Duty (IT) in the PMO, Hiren Joshi. In his email, whose subject line was “KEJRIWAL AGAINST CENTRE”, Gupta wrote: “Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal is on course to abrogate all powers of the Centre in NCR with neither the Home Ministry nor the BJP MLAs/Pradesh unit doing anything to contest it. The buzz in Delhi Govt is that BJP will do nothing to aggravate issues with Kejriwal due to its impact on forthcoming Bihar poll.” Gupta listed nine specific decisions taken by the Delhi Chief Minister and his government and called them “example of violations by Kejriwal” (see “Full text of the email”). The first “example of violation” cited by Gupta is about the routing of files concerning public order, the police and land through the Chief Minister’s Office before they are sent to the LG’s office and this issue appears to have brought the turf battle into the public domain. The LG subsequently asked Kejriwal that the files from senior bureaucrats be sent directly to him.

The email was drafted in such a manner that it did not seek a response from the BJP president or the PMO but only passed on information. Interestingly, a story by the Executive Editor was published on the front page of the April 1 New Delhi edition of HT with a headline suggesting that Kejriwal was exceeding his jurisdiction: “On collision course: Delhi CM Kejriwal steps on LG Jung’s toes”. It reported only the first “example of violation” and did not mention the others and steered clear of the details mentioned in the email about political issues. “Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung are on a collision course, with the AAP leader directing that all files pertaining to reserved subjects of police, public order and land be routed through him,” Gupta wrote. There has not been any other story on the issue by him since then.

However, in his response to queries sent by Frontline about the letter, Gupta insisted that the email “contains the outline of my then proposed story” and that it was written in the form of “conclusions” to seek “comments and response of PMO and the BJP party president” for writing a news story.

His email, which Gupta said did not get a response from Amit Shah or Hiren Joshi, appears to have been taken far more seriously by the PMO. Documents accessed from the MHA through RTI showed that on the afternoon of March 31, the PMO’s top official, Nripendra Misra, called Anant Kumar Singh, Additional Secretary (CS) in the Home Ministry, to his office and sought a “factual report” on the email in less than five days. Marked urgent, his single-page record of the meeting and subsequent notes by MHA bureaucrats on it as follow-ups revealed the importance given to the issue in the North Block office.

Anant Kumar Singh wrote: “Today I was called by the Principal Secretary to PM in his office at 12.30 p.m. He gave me an email dated 28.03.2015 received from Shri Shishir Gupta, which is placed at flag ‘A’ and desired that a factual report on the same shall be sent to him by this Friday. As the offices are closing after Wednesday, it will be advisable to seek the report from the Lt Governor (LG) by Wednesday evening so that the desired report is sent in time to PMO. Accordingly, a letter addressed to LG for seeking factual details and his views on the assertions made in the mail mentioned above is placed below for approval.”

This note was seen by the then Home Secretary, L.C. Goyal. A draft of the letter to the LG seeking the factual report was indeed prepared, but never sent, as the LG’s response was received the same day. A note on the page on March 31 confirmed this: “A letter from LG has since come. We need not send this letter.”

The subsequent factual report, which if it was indeed sent to the PMO, could not be found on both occasions when this correspondent inspected a bunch of files requested in multiple RTI applications from the MHA, including the one which had Gupta’s email and related documents (RCN: 483718/AS (CS)/2015), in February and August. A separate but related RTI application to the PMO did not yield much information. Significantly, later tussles between the LG and the AAP government also broadly adhered to a line of authority as articulated by the MHA in subsequent communications related to the issues flagged in the email.

The second instance

In April and May, the PMO appears to have retained extraordinary interest in Delhi’s matters. The second instance concerns the contentious issue of the jurisdiction of the AAP government’s Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB). The battle against corruption being its key plank, in its early months the Kejriwal administration and AAP-dominated Assembly (67 of the 70 MLAs belong to the AAP) did several things to emphasise, in the public eye, their commitment to curbing corruption. Two such actions became contentious.

The first was the arrest of a Delhi Police official by the ACB for alleged corruption and a resolution passed by the Delhi Assembly condemning the Union government for its attempt to “dilute the efforts for eradication of corruption from Delhi by curtailing the jurisdiction of the Anti-Corruption Branch”. The second related to a July 23, 2014, notification issued by the MHA, which emphasised that the ACB could only take action against Delhi government employees; prior to the notification, the ACB had the power to act against anyone within the NCT of Delhi.

In a letter to the MHA on April 8, Jung sought legal opinion on two issues: the July 23, 2014, notification and the Delhi Assembly resolution.

Two days later, before this request was sent to Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi, Law Secretary P.K. Malhotra signed off on a page which had a typed explanation about the legal opinion to be sought and the following text written in longhand in the bottom half as a note: “Ld. AG has earlier seen this matter and given his opinion on page 36/n. The present reference from page 50/n is the result of letter dated 08.04.2015 (Annex A) received from Lt. Governor, Delhi. Home Ministry, in consultation with PMO, desires opinion of Ld. AG. May kindly see [sic].”

Clearly, the shadow of the PMO lingered on this issue, too. While these are specific and documented instances, officials mentioned, off the record, several instances about the PMO’s interest in specific administrative measures being undertaken in Delhi. According to an official in the LG’s office, who requested anonymity, the most recent instance was considering a query made barely a couple of months ago concerning the installation of CCTV cameras, incidentally one of the important election promises of the AAP.

Aware of the PMO’s extraordinary interest in his government, Kejriwal said, in reaction to a notification issued by the MHA in the third week of May 2015 concerning the power to appoint bureaucrats in key positions in the Delhi government: “LG Jung is the face, but the order comes from above. The PMO acts like the Queen of London, with the Lieutenant Governor as Viceroy.” Queries seeking clarification about the two instances documented above were sent to the PMO but a response was not received at the time of going to press.

It remains to be seen how things unfold in the future since Jung has left the LG’s office and Anil Baijal has taken over. Stories abound on why Baijal’s name was cleared by the PMO before the MHA sent it to the President for official appointment. If the track record of the past 22 months is anything to go by, there cannot be much let-up in the PMO’s interest in the Delhi government and administration. Some sections close to the AAP said that the extraordinary interest would not only sustain but get more intense, not a very heartening prospect for the AAP government.

Data Card

Rural situation

data-card

This issue’s Datacard features MGNREGA liabilities, tobacco exports, SHG savings and more.

Media

Targeted strike

AKSHAY DESHMANE the-nation

ON the evening of November 7, 2016, as Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting M. Venkaiah Naidu announced the government’s decision to keep the day-long ban on NDTV India “on hold”, it was widely assumed that the issue had been resolved and the possibility of a ban effectively nullified. However, the prospect of a ban continues to hang over the Hindi news channel. Frontline has learnt that the government resumed a process in early December which may put the channel in a difficult spot yet again.

Documents accessed through a Right to Information (RTI) application show that the Director of Broadcast Content in the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry, Neeti Sarkar, wrote to the managing director of New Delhi Television Ltd (NDTV) on December 2. Referring to a “representation” made to Venkaiah Naidu regarding the ban order, she said that the I&B Minister had “graciously placed the Ministry’s decision on hold. Hence, you are requested to put forth the facts and submissions and adduce evidence in support of your point of view in the matter within 15 days so that this Ministry can take a considered view”.

The representation referred to by Neeti Sarkar in her letter was made by the co-founder and executive co-chairperson of NDTV, Prannoy Roy, in a meeting with Venkaiah Naidu on the evening of November 7. When protests by journalists and opposition parties against the decision peaked, Venkaiah Naidu met with Prannoy Roy and members of NDTV’s “top leadership”. In his “representation” to Venkaiah Naidu, Prannoy Roy wrote: “We feel that the IMC [Inter-Ministerial Committee] decision to take NDTV India off-air for a day did not fully take into account our views and facts of this case and therefore the Honourable Minister for I&B, Shri Venkaiah Naidu, may put on hold and review the decision.” In response, Venkaiah Naidu wrote a terse note on this document: “Put the decision on hold as discussed. Sec, take necessary action further [sic].” On Twitter, though, he cited the government’s “liberal democratic ethos and principles” as reasons for putting the decision on hold, despite the IMC clearly stating that the channel had “compromised national security”.

Months before this controversial decision was put on hold, a single-page “violation report” prepared by the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) on January 6, 2016, set in motion official processes that eventually led to the ban. The EMMC is a unit of the I&B Ministry responsible for monitoring the content of television programmes for any possible violations of the Programme Code.

In her report analysing NDTV India’s coverage of the Pathankot terror attacks on January 3 and 4, EMMC Assistant Director Parvathy Rahul said: “This is to inform that NDTV India, while covering the Pathankot terror attack on January 4, 2016, has divulged sensitive information and thus, apparently violated Programme Code 6 (1) (p) prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994. A CD containing clip on the same is enclosed for further perusal.”

She also noted that a previous report of the EMMC had found both NDTV 24x7 and NDTV India not in violation of the code in their coverage of the attacks on January 3. Officials in the Ministry were quick to prepare a note detailing the observations in the “violation report” and made a case that “prima facie” this appeared to be a violation of the code and that a show-cause notice needed to be sent to the channel. On this note, the observations of “IMPT” (presumably short for important) and “may examine and discuss quickly” were made. This urgency was felt not only by mid- and senior-level officials, including a Joint Secretary and the I&B Secretary, both of whom signed the note on January 14, but also by Minister of State Rajyavardhan Rathore and the then I&B Minister, Arun Jaitley.

On January 18, Rathore wrote a short note that “HMIB may like to see before issuance of notice”. HMIB is the official acronym for “Honourable Minister of Information and Broadcasting. On January 27, Jaitley signed on the note. The show-cause notice was issued to the channel on January 29. It asked why action as per “the provisions of uplinking/downlinking guidelines, the terms and conditions of the permission granted and Section 20 of the Cable Act” should not be taken against it.

Over the next seven months, before the order recommending a ban was passed on November 2, the IMC scrutinised the contents of a press conference addressed by three senior Defence Ministry officials and a report broadcast on NDTV India after the press conference on January 4, when the anti-terrorist operations at the Pathankot Indian Air Force base were in progress. The IMC is a committee of bureaucrats of the rank of Joint Secretary from the Ministries of Home, Defence, I&B, Health and Family Welfare, Consumer Affairs, Law and Justice, External Affairs, and Women and Child Development. It also has representatives from the Advertising Standards Council of India. NDTV responded to the January 29 notice on February 5. The channel’s representatives also attended a “personal hearing” on July 25 to explain their position.

Programme code

The IMC’s order rests on prohibitions imposed on reporting anti-terror operations by Rule 6 (1) (p) of the Programme Code, which regulates television news content. The rule was introduced by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance government in 2015. The committee objected to details discussed by a reporter and an NDTV anchor concerning the long-drawn-out anti-terror operation at Pathankot. In the excerpt quoted in the order, the reporter says two terrorists are still alive inside the airbase “near a depot of weapons” and security officials fear that if the terrorists come in close proximity to it, that could create unforeseen problems. He also names some of the weapons in the depot and mentions the presence of a school and residential areas nearby. The IMC sees this information as violating the rule.

NDTV has argued that most of its information was already reported by newspapers. However, the IMC pointed out that these two specific details were “neither based on nor limited to the information given in the media briefing by the designated officers as required under Rule (1) (p)”. It also said that this information “could have been readily picked up by their handlers, which had the potential to cause massive harm not only to the national security, but also to lives of civilians and defence personnel”.

The order does not confirm if any of the information reported by the channel actually helped terrorist handlers. Rule 6 (1) (p) is part of the Programme Code contained in the overall Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act. It says: “No programme shall be carried in the cable service which contains live coverage of any anti-terrorist operation by security forces, wherein media coverage shall be restricted to periodic briefing by an officer designated by the appropriate government till such operation concludes.”

The Pathankot anti-terror operation went on for more than three days during which several news channels and newspapers reported extensively on it. However, the IMC resorted to analysing mass psychology to come to what appears like a predetermined conclusion on NDTV India’s coverage. It said that “unlike print, TV is an audiovisual medium which have [sic] a far wide and instantaneous impact”, and therefore broadcasting information live during anti-terror operations could cause “demoralisation of the citizenry and security forces”.

Unsurprisingly, those well aware of media law are not pleased. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Editor of Economic & Political Weekly and author of multiple books on media practice, said: “Rule (6 (1) (p)) should not be there. If the government wants to keep the media out of reporting live or otherwise an anti-terror operation, there are many ways it can do it without using the means of the Cable Network Act.” He pointed out that calls from the political class to regulate anti-terror operations began soon after the attacks in Mumbai in 2008. The United Progressive Alliance government had made up its mind to implement contentious legal measures to rein in the news media, but some media owners met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009 and he assured them that no changes would be made without consultations. But the BJP brought in the new rule soon after it came to power.

Anup J. Bhambhani, a senior lawyer, said that the entire Programme Code was problematic. “The Programme Code is replete with vague words and phrases. Ambiguity in the law is an invitation to authoritarianism and sounds a death knell for free speech,” he told Frontline.

The code can prevent the broadcast of programmes that bureaucrats feel are offensive to good taste, decency, morality. In fact, most of the six past warnings and show-cause notices issued to NDTV, as per the I&B Ministry’s records, were largely related to content which the bureaucrats felt was vulgar, indecent or obscene. While ambiguity in the code is certainly an issue, the necessity of independent and credible regulation of the media is also being voiced increasingly. At a gathering of journalists on November 7 to protest the order, the veteran editor Rajdeep Sardesai emphasised the need for a statutory regulator that would act independently of the government to address genuine grievances about TV news coverage. The current system allows the government’s “arbitrariness and overreach”, he said.

While the prospects of an independent regulator remain remote at present, uncertainty continues to build in the ongoing case of NDTV India. Neeti Sarkar’s letter to NDTV quoted earlier has followed the further “necessary action” mentioned by Venkaiah Naidu on November 7. On December 6, when this correspondent looked at the case files in the Ministry, the response from the channel’s legal team was yet to arrive. Lawyers representing the channel in the Supreme Court refused to comment given the sensitivity of the case. Sources in NDTV India said journalists employed by the channel had been instructed not to comment on the issue, and news about the matter is broadcast on NDTV’s English channel since NDTV India is a party to the case.

Algeria

Arab Winter

VIJAY PRASHAD world-affairs

At the mouth of Algiers’ fabled Casbah sits the decommissioned Serkardji prison. During the struggle to free Algeria from French rule, combatants and militants found themselves housed in this awful jail. “It is hell,” wrote Rabah Bitat, one of the founders of the National Liberation Front (FLN), who had spent time in the prison. “Men are beaten with iron bars, the heat is horrible and they are given salted water to drink.” The prison sits silent now and is being turned into a Museum of National Memory.

Commemoration of the war of independence is everywhere inside Algiers. A short walk from Serkardji, inside the Casbah, is a water tap encased in a beautiful tile overhang. The plaque above says that the water tap is in honour of four militants, each of whom was guillotined in Serkardji in 1957: Touati Said, Radi Hmida, Rahal Boualem and Bellamine Mohand. Certainly, streets are named for the great heroes of the FLN—Larbi Ben Mahdi and Mourad Didouche—and there are statues in the major squares of the great figures of national liberation such as the 19th century rebel Abdelkader. But these are memorials of the state. The little water tap is a more modest, more popular memorial. So too are pictures on the walls of restaurants and shops. A restaurant at the Circle of Martyrs is named for Abderrahmane Taleb, a young chemistry student who was the main bomb-maker for the FLN in Algiers in the 1950s. Taleb was guillotined at Serkaradji in 1958. “For Algerians,” Taleb said at his trial to his French judge, “the guillotine will henceforth have the same significance as the cross in your churches.”

Down the road from the water tap, past many men on crutches, veterans of one war or another, is the workshop of the carpenter Khaled Mahiout. On his wall, he has pictures of old Algeria. In the midst of the gallery is a shrine to Zohra Drif, the woman who had bombed the Milk Bar, a frequent stop for French settlers between trips to the beach and their homes. That bombing deepened the French attack on the Casbah, the heart of the resistance inside Algiers. The bomb blast was in retaliation for the killing of FLN militants at Serkadji. When challenged about the bombings of civilian areas, the FLN leader Abane Ramdane said: “I see hardly any difference between the girl who places a bomb in the Milk Bar and the French aviator who bombards a mechta [village neighbourhood] or drops napalm on a zone interdite [restricted zone].”

The morality of the anti-colonial war was stark. Harsh racism and violence was visited upon Algerians. It was common for the French to refer to the Algerian as sale raton, dirty little rat, which morphed into ratonnade, the rat hunt, which was the French phrase for their massacres of Algerians. “We were not brought up to hate,” said Zohra Drif many years later. She remembered Larbi Ben Mahdi’s interaction with a French journalist, who asked him if it was not cowardly to use “women’s baskets to carry bombs”. He answered, “Doesn’t it seem even more cowardly to attack defenceless villages with napalm bombs that kill thousands of times more? Obviously, planes would make things easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our baskets.”

Akram’s caution

A young boy, Akram, runs past me. He is on his way home from school. The Casbah is known as a place of great poverty although what one sees is a great dignity. Corrugated iron roofs are repaired with strips of plastic, held down with bricks. TV dishes sprout like mushrooms beside colourful bedding, which is drying in the winter sun. Old buildings seem perilously close to collapse. Children run through the streets, cheerful. Akram is like them. I ask him innocently: “All good with you?” He bristles at my question. “How can we be good? You know our situation,” he says with his hands gesturing to the area.

A decade ago, Boudina Mustapha, a former death-row prisoner at Serkadji who escaped the guillotine, told the government newspaper El Moudjahid about his concerns for the youth. “It’s a disaster,” he said. “Today we see 20-year-olds throwing themselves into the sea to flee this country. While I, when I was the same age, was sentenced to death.” To commemorate the foundation of the country is one thing; to provide hope to young people in the present is another.

A new report titled “Researching Arab Mediterranean Youth: Towards a New Social Contract” shows that Algeria suffers from a youth unemployment rate of 32 per cent. This is a striking figure. Mustafa Morane, who teaches sociology and population studies at the University of Khemis Miliana, authored the chapter on Algeria. He says that the government’s approach to youth unemployment is to offer grants for entrepreneurship. But the education system, he says, does not “provide the minimum needs of the labour market”, meaning that the youth do not have the skills necessary to take advantage of the loans. Migration, Morane writes in his study, is a “last resort” for the youth. There is a great deal of potential for the youth in Algeria, an oil-rich country, says Morane, but the government does not have a policy for the youth.

Meeting Abdelhakim Bettache, Mayor of Algiers Centre, provides a window into the problems faced by the country. Bettache is sitting across from the old post office, which is closed and which will be renovated into another museum. I ask him about the situation of the unemployed, almost one in three young Algerians. “They are the luxury jobless,” he says with a smirk. “They have a packet of cigarettes, an iPhone and a cup of coffee.” There is, Bettache says, “no problem of the unemployed. There are no protests for jobs.” His certainty is unnerving.

There is no point raising the issues of the Mouvement des Chomeurs (the Movement of the Unemployed) with Bettache. On July 5, 2012, Tahar Belabes, from the provincial town of Ouargla, led a protest in Algiers’ May 1 Square. The protest was the first major action of the National Committee for the Defence of the Rights of Unemployed Workers. The state arrested some of their key activists. They are still in operation, hoping to bring the question of the youth, such as young Akram, to the centre of discussions about Algeria’s future.

War and Oil

The Casbah is marked not only by the Algerian war of independence against the French but also by the “black decade” of the 1990s when the Algerian state plunged into war against extremist elements (formed around the Islamic Salvation Front and the Armed Islamic Group). In 1962, a popular slogan that echoed across Algeria was Seba’a snin, barakat! (Seven years, that’s enough!). The slogan suggested the exhaustion of the Algerian people with the privations and dangers of the war of independence, which lasted from 1954 to 1961. But three decades later, Algeria lurched once more into a terrible war that claimed tens of thousands of lives. There are few monuments to this war. It is not only an embarrassment but also a festering sore.

No stomach for rebellion

The Arab Spring did not come full-throated into Algeria largely because of the experience with civic disorder in the 1990s. What has happened to Libya and to Syria further discourages any kind of rebellion. There is no stomach for it. Extremism was not expelled from Algeria. The army was able to defeat the Armed Islamic Group with ferocious violence, but its hardened fighters lurk on the margins of Algeria (which is a vast country, four times the size of France). One of its allies, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda and became the core of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The AQIM operates in the Sahara, across terrain that cuts through southern Algeria to link Libya to Mali. Old veterans of the “black decade” in Algeria and of the Afghan wars—such as Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abdelhamid Abou Zeid—led the AQIM to victory in northern Mali and then led attacks on Algerian oil installations. Their presence dampens any possibility for protests in Algeria.

In 2013, Belmokhtar’s unit seized the gas fields at Amenas in southern Algeria and took 800 people hostage. The Algerian army fought them off but only after considerable loss of life. Striking the gas and oil fields in the south points a finger at Algeria’s great vulnerability—it relies on oil and gas to maintain its social peace. With energy prices low, Algeria’s state exchequer suffers. Any attack such as this threatens the stability of the country. Foreign investment will dry up and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will downgrade Algeria’s ability to borrow money to cover its fragile balance of payments.

Over the past decade, the Algerian government has hoped to enter into private-public partnerships to reinvigorate its energy sector. Foreign energy companies and the IMF have urged Algeria to liberalise its economy. In 2000, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika selected Chakib Khelil to run the Oil Ministry, Abdul Latif Benachenhou to be the Finance Minister and Abdulhamid al-Tamar to be the Minister of Privatisation. These were the “economic reformers” who would deliver Algeria to globalisation. In 2005, these men, with backing from the army, pushed a new hydrocarbons law that allowed foreign domination of Algeria’s essential sector, energy. The Workers’ Party, led by Louisa Hanoune, and others fought against the sale of oil and gas to foreign companies. A few years later, the government changed its mind. The “reformers” found themselves out of job and Algeria retained its old laws.

Samia Zennadi, who runs the publishing house APIC Editions, told me about the role played by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in this struggle. When Chavez heard that Algeria, a crucial country in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), was going to privatise its oil, he made an unscheduled visit to meet Bouteflika. Chavez made the case that selling the oil would weaken Algeria and open it up to colonial intervention. Bouteflika, who had not taken the protests as seriously as he should have, listened intently to Chavez. The oil and natural gas reserves are located in the south of the country. Chavez warned that foreign interference would push for the partition of the country, just as in Sudan, with the oil wealth in the hands of a weak pro-Western government and poverty to be managed in the other half. Bouteflika reversed his decision.

There is no Chavez to counsel Bouteflika now. Khelil, who was sacked in the middle of a corruption scandal in 2013, is back at the helm of the Oil Ministry. He will once more push to liberalise the oil industry. None of these “reformers” will take seriously the Mouvement Anti-Gaz de Schiste (Movement against Fracking of Natural Gas). Samia Zennadi believes that the political contest within the ruling bloc is not settled. Many people still believe that Algeria should not sell off its oil and gas reserves. Whether they will prevail is to be seen.

Small Voices of History

In a basement in Algiers is the office of the Democratic and Social Movement (MDS), the former Communist Party of Algeria. The party’s leader, Hamid Ferhi, and a young activist of the party, Fahem Dahi, tell me about their aspirations for Algeria. In January 2011, during the high point of the Arab Spring, the MDS joined other parties to form the National Coordination for Change and Democracy. Yacine Teguia of the MDS told journalists at that time: “We are sick of seeing young people having no prospect but to kill themselves. Today, we have workers who are threatening to commit collective suicide. We can either get together and express ourselves democratically and develop collective solutions, or we can leave people facing a wall, facing death.” The pressure by the organisation moved Bouteflika to end the state of emergency that had been ongoing for two decades. But Bouteflika did not allow any demonstrations to take place.

The MDS, nonetheless, has been involved, says Ferhi, in a number of initiatives on a consistent basis. The shadow of the “black decade” hangs over our conversation. Fahem shows me around the MDS office, which is being converted into a people’s art gallery with a coffee shop and a performance space. One room has bundles of clothes and a washing machine. Fahem tells me that this is for homeless people. The party has to do something for the social crisis. Fahem has a warm smile. These small gestures pave the road for something grander. He has great hope for Algeria.

Water Resources

Changing direction

the-nation

WHAT dominates discourse on the Brahmaputra in the Indian media and political circles when it pertains to the north-eastern region has been the dispute over China or Bhutan constructing dams across the river’s tributaries and the sharing of its waters with Bangladesh. But frequent news about water resource development in the Brahmaputra basin in the upper riparian areas has shaped a perception in the north-eastern States of an imagined water war between India and China. Lack of transparency in projects implemented for water resource development in the basin, and claims and counterclaims by riparian countries over such projects have only added to the suspicion.

On the other hand, initiatives aimed at removing suspicion and distrust among the four countries that share the Brahmaputra basin —India, China, Bangladesh and Bhutan—and towards building cooperation, which have given rise to hope for collaborative management of the river basin, often go unnoticed by the media and politicians. Dominance of the conflict discourse overshadows the initiatives taken by institutions and experts of the four countries for the sharing of knowledge on the transborder river.

Some of these initiatives for bilateral and multilateral cooperation to use the Brahmaputra’s waters and for collaborative studies on the shared water resources of the river and to understand the river ecosystem include China, while some recent initiatives are limited to the subregional grouping, BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal).

According to Prof. Dulal C. Goswami, a renowned environmentalist and expert on the Brahmaputra, and Dr Parth J. Das, a water and climate expert who heads the Water, Climate & Hazard Division of the Guwahati-based Aaranyak (a scientific and industrial research organisation), the Brahmaputra is one of the world’s largest rivers with a drainage area of 580,000 square kilometres (50.5 per cent in China, 33.6 per cent in India, 8.1 per cent in Bangladesh and 7.8 per cent in Bhutan). In India, its basin is shared by Arunachal Pradesh (41.9 per cent), Assam (36.3 per cent), Meghalaya (6.1 per cent), Nagaland (5.6 per cent), Sikkim (3.8 per cent) and West Bengal (6.3 per cent). Originating from the great glacier mass of Chema-Yung-Dung in the Kailas range of southern Tibet at an elevation of 5,300 metres, the river traverses 1,625 km in China and 918 km in India, before flowing for 337 km through Bangladesh and emptying into the Bay of Bengal through a joint channel with the Ganga. A unique river, it drains such diverse environments as the cold dry plateau of Tibet, the rain-drenched Himalayan slopes, the land-locked alluvial plains of Assam and the vast deltaic lowlands of Bangladesh. The Brahmaputra basin represents a unique physiographic setting vis- a -vis the eastern Himalayas: a powerful monsoon rainfall regime under wet humid conditions, a fragile geologic base and active seismicity. The dramatic reduction in the slope of the Brahmaputra as it cascades down one of the world’s deepest gorges in the Himalayas before flowing into the Assam plains explains the sudden dissipation of the enormous energy locked in it and the resultant unloading of large amounts of sediments in the valley downstream. ( The Ecologist Asia (2003): “The Brahmaputra River, India”, Vol.11, No.1, January-March).

Das informs Frontline that initiatives launched by coalitions of national, regional and global institutions are working towards knowledge-sharing, trust-building and information exchange among the basin countries at both government and civil society levels. “The Ecosystem for Life Initiative of the IUCN [International Union of Conservation of Nature], the Brahmaputra Dialogue Initiative of the South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies [SaciWATERs, a policy research institute based in Hyderabad], and water cooperation programmes of several civil society organisations of India, Bangladesh and Bhutan, supported by the Asia Foundation under its South Asia Water Governances Programme, the Nadi Festival of the Asian Confluence, Shillong, are examples of such important multi-stakeholder bottom-up interventions for improving knowledge, understanding and collaboration among the nations in the Brahmaputra river basin,” he adds.

The results of such initiatives are positive, says Das, and hopes that there will be more interaction, knowledge-sharing and collaboration among the countries in the near future over issues such as flood forecasting and early warning, structural measures of flood and erosion management, navigation, fisheries, irrigation, and climate change adaptation. He says: “More people are now talking about issues of the Brahmaputra and more frequently so at national, regional and international platforms in the transborder context mainly as part of track-II and track-III infinitives. Important stakeholders such as civil societies, scientists, researchers and experts as well as government officials, bureaucrats and technocrats across basin countries are interacting with more keenness, understanding and patience than ever before on bilateral and multilateral issues relating to the Brahmaputra at seminars, conferences, consultations and workshops all over the world. This is in addition to regular diplomatic track-I engagements at bilateral/multilateral platforms. The track-III processes have, to an appreciable extent, succeeded in improving communication, interaction, trust and understanding among civil society organisations across political boundaries. This has the potential to influence public opinion and policies in the respective countries in favour of bilateral and regional cooperation on water issues in the Brahmaputra basin.”

Since 2013, SaciWATERs has been facilitating a transboundary dialogue, titled “Transboundary Policy Dialogue for Improved Water Governance in Brahmaputra River”. The dialogue process, currently in its third phase, is supported by the South Asia Water Initiative (SAWI) programme of the World Bank. The Asia Foundation (TAF) supported phase I (2013-14) and phase II (2014-15) of this transboundary dialogue project. It began with SaciWATERs initiating a bilateral dialogue between India and Bangladesh with the collaboration of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Guwahati; the Institute of Water and Flood Management, Bangladesh; and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. On July 6 and 7, 2016, SaciWATERs organised a workshop in China in collaboration with Yunan University.

Dr Anamika Barua, associate professor of Humanities and Social Science at IIT Guwahati, who has been facilitating the dialogue project with SaciWATERs since 2014, says: “This dialogue process aims to create a platform to discuss the issues, challenges, and opportunities for improved co-management of the river basin by bringing multiple stakeholders from the four Brahmaputra riparian countries on to one platform. The dialogue forum brings together an interdisciplinary group of experts [senior members of government, academia and civil society] for exchange of concerns and ideas. The dialogue meetings are conducted mostly through workshop mode, at many levels, such as track-I/1.5-level, track-II-level and track-III-level dialogue meetings.”

“In terms of achievements, SaciWATERs has been able to create a platform/space for multi-stakeholders across the four riparian countries to meet and talk. The continuous dialogue between riparian countries has been able to generate a willingness at multiple levels to continue the dialogue by recognising the merit of such dialogue. Knowledge-sharing workshops have been able to improve the quality of dialogue by building capacity at different levels and has also enabled the participants to identify joint research themes for rigour of evidence, including socio-economic and policy research,” adds Anamika Barua.

Making a case for cooperation among Brahmaputra basin countries, at the first Brahmaputra Knowledge Exchange Programme organised by SaciWATERs in Itanagar on November 20-21, 2016, A.K. Mitra, Chairman of the Technical Advisory Committee, Water Resources Department, Assam, said that the countries sharing the Brahmaputra basin also shared common problems and therefore needed to cooperate for mutual benefit. He cited the example of the Mekong River Commission formed by Cambodia, Thailand, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Vietnam with China and Myanmar as dialogue partners after 39 years of dialogue among the countries of the Mekong basin and stressed the need for continuation of the dialogue among the Brahmaputra basin countries.

Navigational use

Parallel to the efforts to bring together all the four basin countries on a common platform, projects have been initiated for collaboration of BBIN countries for the use of the Brahmaputra for navigation. One such project, launched in Guwahati on October 24, by the Jaipur-based think tank CUTS International, is “Expanding Tradable Benefits of Transboundary Water: Promoting Navigational Usage of Inland Waterways in Ganga and Brahmaputra Basins”.

Making a presentation at the project launch meeting, Veena Vidyadharan of CUTS International stated that the goal of the year-long project (from September 2016 to September 2017) was “to contribute towards improving institutions [that is., policies, laws, and regulations] for the governance of inland waterways in the BBIN region from the point of view of transport connectivity and livelihood of those directly connected to targeted waterways.”

The country-specific objectives of the project are to “identify and analyse the functions [what they do] and governance [functioning; why and how they do] of existing policies, laws and regulations governing inland waterways in the Ganga and Brahmaputra basins in the BBIN countries taking into account their transboundary implications and livelihood aspects, especially those on women, to understand the ground realities/needs of different stakeholders, including civil society and community-based organisations, especially those working on gender issues, whose livelihoods, including business, are connected to inland waterways, and to inform and create an alternative policy discourse for enabling reform measures towards better governance of inland waterways for better transport connectivity among the BBIN group of countries and for better options of communities, especially women, dependent on these river basins for their livelihoods.”

Studies under the project will be carried out in 13 locations, which include three in Bangladesh (one each along the Ganga, the Meghna and the Yamuna), two in Bhutan (one each along the Manas and Sankosh rivers), six in India (one each in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal along the Ganga, one each in Assam along the Barak and the Brahmaputra and one in Arunachal Pradesh along the Brahmaputra), and two in Nepal (one each along the Kosi and Gandak rivers).

Unnayan Shamannay (Bangladesh), the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (Bhutan), and the South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (Nepal) will partner with CUTS International to implement the project.

Prof. Chandan Mahanta of IIT Guwahati, known for his sustained engagement in issues relating to the management and development of the Brahmaputra as a unique resource, emphasises the need for international initiatives. He says: “We need to recognise that the Brahmaputra is too complex a river to be understood with regional-level knowledge alone, particularly as far as mitigation of hydro disasters such as flood and bank erosion are concerned. We need to create robust R&D initiatives and invite experts and researchers from the rest of the world to come and engage in collaborative studies on the river towards creating a knowledge pool that will go a long way in ensuring significant convergence of political compulsions within basin countries with ecological, economic and sociological priorities.” Mahanta, however, laments that the Brahmaputra never received the attention that it deserved from the government and almost all quarters.

Except perhaps the hydropower initiative, the phenomenal possibilities of this colossal resource have remained unappreciated. “Budgetary allocation in thousands of crores of rupees has been made for cleaning the Ganga. That is fine. But, it is time conservation efforts, with a lower budget, were undertaken for the Brahmaputra to maintain this immense pool of clean fresh water.”

With India pushing for BBIN subregional initiatives for improved connectivity, collaboration of these countries for promoting the use of the Brahmaputra water for navigation is likely to get more attention from the government and other stakeholders.

However, experts working on the river feel that initiatives to continue the dialogue among the four basin countries for co-management of the river basin are expected to influence any project such as navigation along the Brahmaputra in India and Bangladesh and cannot be expected to produce the desired results without a comprehensive basin-level approach including China and Bhutan. About 83 million people living in the Brahmaputra basin have much to look forward to.

Short Story

Scorched hearts

literature

WAVES were flapping around. Sebastian was sitting on the rocks, body stinging with salt. Beads of sweat glittered on his forehead. It would take a while for the heat to abate. It was too late for the boats to be readied. Even the net was hanging down from the roof of the house, in the western corner. In the dark of the night it flapped around like the skeleton of a ghost, setting the mind aflutter.

Like a ghost, it too had lost its life. It seemed as if it would be of no use at all for anything. When the thermal plant began to take shape near the port area, Savariaandi had clearly said, “ Yesuvey, what is this? Won’t our livelihood be spoilt?”

“What are you saying, Annen?”

“All the fish will die, Seba.”

In the dark, Sebastian lifted his veshti, groped for his beedi in the pocket of his drawers and lit it. The beedi glittered in the night like a firefly.Within a few days they laid the foundation of the thermal plant. The bricks too piled up quickly. With masons and labourers buzzing around, the place came alive. Even though Muyal Theevu didn’t bustle with people, it was a place where fish, shrimps and crabs were found in plenty. If you cast the net, you didn’t know what you would catch. But whatever you netted would earn you profit.

Once Grace’s brother who had come from Cuddalore went with them on the boat. When the net was spread in a while, he was surprised. “Let’s go a little further in, Annen,” he told Savari.

“All that’s in your place, Machan. Don’t forget, this is Thoothukudi.”

That day they got good lobsters, sardines and fat “full-moon” crabs. That night Grace made hot rice and crab kuzhambu with fried lobster. They sat outside the hut, drinking arrack. As they kept drinking, the aroma of crab mixed with ginger and garlic and the fry tormented them. With great happiness they munched on sardine fry with the drinks. The old lady didn’t approve of all this. She screwed up her lined face and glared at them. The ends of her sari were draped across her chest anyhow, just for form’s sake.

Ei, di, Grace, are you making crab kuzhambu?”

“Yes, Athai, kuzhambu only. It’s not enough if you just fry, it won’t go down their throats. Annen’s also come, no? Have to make something tasty, no?”

“Yes, yes, make. Five-thousand-rupee sari, gold waist-chain, all that he has scooped up and brought specially for you, this great lord.”

This is what Grace didn’t like. If you told her, the old lady wouldn’t understand. If you said, “Just leave Grace. It’s her house. Let her cook what she wants,” the old lady would reply, spit falling from her mutton-stench mouth, “How can that be? I’m the elder.”

Grace whispered to her husband who came to pick up the mat to sleep outside, “Go and leave the old lady in your brother’s house. She just keeps on talking. I don’t know how long my patience will last.”

“Okay, okay, why all that now?”

“My brother didn’t scoop up anything and bring. But he came, no? When your brother comes, when we make seela and uzhi fish, teeth and all sprout in her toothless mouth. Will your brother give her kanji even for a couple of days? Will that merciless woman make kanji?”

Since all she said was true, Sebastian would just keep silent. Only that silence would ease the tension. But nowadays Grace didn’t let go. The old lady too never kept quiet. She couldn’t swallow her spit if she didn’t belittle Grace on some pretext or the other. “What is this, drying the fish like this. Not enough salt at all,” she would say, kicking the seasoned fish. “You’ve washed this plate or what, you bitch? You want me to die of diarrhoea or what, that’s why you are handing me the soiled plate of yesterday?” Earlier, there was always cash on hand, so he had the strength of mind to put up with such talk. But nowadays Sebastian only got angry. He shouted, “If you want, you eat. Otherwise, go to Yesudas’ house.” The old lady would be shocked and hurt. She would sob as if a skeleton was rattling.

“Yes, I’m a homeless wretch. I will go away. The sea is there, ’ pa, wide and vast. Either I go, or you shove me into it.” She would blow her nose, sniffing.

It was only after the ash-dyke was set into the sea that the catch had lessened. The ash-ridden effluence from the power plant mingled with the waters in the Thoothkudi seaside and the Mannar bay. It was through the ash-dyke that the effluence filtered out. Since lumps of ash hardened like rocks, no fish floated around. Last week they had held a meeting with big, educated folks. After the procession and all, his legs had swelled. Some fellow next to him had spoken about ash-dyke in detail. Sebastian thought that he hadn’t really seen the ash-dyke, but was talking about it from what he had heard. Because he talked of ash-dyke as if it was Alibaba’s “anda-ka-kasam” door. But Sebastian had seen it.

The first ash-dyke stretched from Muyal Theevu to the port. A protective wall of about 10 to 15 feet was built from the ground, and the ash-dyke looked like a monstrous beast on the surface of the sea, stretching to 10 square kilometres. Stumps of waste ash had hardened like rocks, firm as a concrete surface.

Only when the second dyke was being built did all the fishermen come together. Protests and meetings filled the days. The catch dwindled. Sticky wastes of ash were let into the waters. Unable to breed, a number of fishes were either wiped out or lessened. The fisheries department found traces of copper, aluminium, lead, mercury and cyanide in the waters. Not only that, the sea water used to cool the boilers was let back into the sea. However, they recorded in pristine sheets of paper the temperature variations of the sea waters.

“What is the point in doing anything, Seba? Anyhow we don’t seem to ever get the lion shrimp here,” said Savari wearily. The lion shrimp was a gold mine, exported to foreign countries. The paucity of that crustacean considerably reduced the bulge of the purse.

Many ideas cropped up and vanished. The proposals to use imported coal to cut down the waste and even build concrete blocks sprouted, but they disappeared just as quickly.

The stock of not only fresh fish depleted at home, but also dried ones. Days of quarter- and half-empty stomachs went by; now they even got used to hunger. It was a torment to sleep on an empty stomach which seemed like a raging wind-blown sea. Drinking plain water induced acidic belches. The old lady didn’t have the strength to put up with such hunger. Grace made millet gruel at least for her. As she stirred the gruel, her own stomach growled. As she flicked the gruel from the ladle on to her hand and put it into her mouth to test if it was done, the single drop which made its way into her stomach made her quiver. She was tempted to drink up the whole thing. But Seba would shout at her. He didn’t want the old lady to go hungry. She smacked her tongue again. Her eyes blurred immediately. She angled the pot and furiously gulped down the water.

“Grace.”

Sebastian stood; his eyes too were blurred. He stretched out his hand. As if she was waiting for this, she nestled in his arms and wept copiously.

“Drink if you want, Grace. We’ll give the old lady something else.”

“No need!”

Moving away from him, she poured the gruel into the old lady’s plate. If she served on another plate, she would yell. On seeing the gruel, the old lady tutted.

“Don’t have even nethli dried fish to go with it?”

“No, Athai.”

“Who can eat this?” The old lady turned her face away.

“Eat, Athai. It’s not like before. We don’t get much fish these days. Bear with it, there’s some problem.”

“Yes, yes, bear it, it seems. Then go and give this to someone who can bear it.”

This time round the old lady pushed the plate away. The gruel splattered out and lay in puddles on the floor. The old lady spat “thoo”. Grace wept, beating her head.

“Don’t cry, you wretch.” The old lady shouted in anger. Then god knows what she thought, she came and pushed Grace. She hissed like a python.

“Can’t give anything tasty to eat. You must have eaten it all, you dog.”

Sebastian came in. “Don’t talk, you old thing. She hasn’t eaten a thing for three days.”

“Expect me to believe it? You think I’m mad?”

She threw the rolled-up mat on Grace; it scratched her face.

Ei, old thing! Go, go away. You are staying in my house and hitting me itself?” Grace shouted.

There was a heavy silence. Then Sebastian said, “Get ready tomorrow. I will leave you in Yesudas’ house early in the morning.”

The old lady started crying. The torture meted out by Yesudas’ wife all came to mind and made her quiver. The wretched hag. Even the handful of rice that she served she would fling, as if feeding a dog.

The old lady moaned, “Seba, Seba.”

“What?”

“I’m not coming to Yesu’s house. Sesuvey, she will trouble me no end, that wretch.”

“The way you are troubling Grace here! Enough of all this.”

However, even Sebastian had his doubts about what Yesudas would say. The minute they removed their slippers, Margaret would peep out. If she saw the old lady, she would immediately begin, “If you have any shame at all, leave immediately.”

When Grace came to sleep that night, Sebastian said, “I told the old lady that we will start in the morning.”

“That’s right. What income do we have? Let that wretch also keep her for a little while.”

“That’s what I’m thinking about. She won’t keep her. Yesudas will have no say.”

“Ah! So, I only always get caught, is it? I can’t look after her anymore. Either you keep me or her.”

Grace didn’t say anything beyond that. What was there to say? She had said clearly what she wanted to say.

He took the first bus in the morning to Virudunagar with the old lady. As expected, the moment Margaret saw the old lady she began, “Tell me, with what face have you come here to stay? Okay, the old thing doesn’t have any sense only, what about my brother-in-law?”

After that it was humiliating to even sit there.

His heart melted when the old lady followed him with her bundle of clothes. It would be catastrophic if he went home too. It wouldn’t be a catastrophe that would abate either, like before. Because there are no solutions in hard times.

He climbed into the bus to Thirunelveli along with the old lady. He bought her biscuits and coffee. The old lady wolfed it down hungrily. Because she had thrown away the gruel the night before, her hunger was evident in the way she slurped on the coffee.

They got down at Kovilpatti.

The old lady screwed her eyes and asked, “What, da? Have we arrived in our town?”

“No, we have to change the bus. Wait here.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’ll go and ask where the bus to Thoothukudi will arrive,” he said. Conveniently, as he moved away, a bus for Thoothukudi was just leaving the bus stand.

He hopped into it.

This story is taken from The Tamil Short Story: Through the Times, Through the Tides (Ed. Dilip Kumar; translated by Subashree Krishnaswamy), an anthology, in translation, of 88 short stories written between 1913 and 2000.

Telling tale

literature

A TELLING tale of the fishing community around Thoothukodi. The realistic portrayal of their lives makes this story highly credible. What is even more significant is that it is one of the few stories that deal with the devastations of environmental damage; in this case a thermal plant that destroyed the fish around the area, stripping away the livelihood of a people who possess no other work skills. The ash-ridden effluence not only snuffed out the lives of the fish in the sea but also the warmth in their hearts, wiping out entirely all the niceties that govern life. The shocking end will jolt any reader out of her complacency. In this nuanced story by Dhamayanthi, there are no antagonists, only victims completely brutalised by abject poverty brought about by environmental degradation. The crotchety old lady—never a saint—turns into a veritable harridan when she is denied the fresh catch that her tongue has savoured all its life. The man and wife, already reduced to straitened means, are forced to take an extreme step.

Dhamayanthi has used the colourful Thoothukodi dialect with utmost ease. Though this could not be replicated, the chattiness and informality had to be brought out, taking care not to overstep in any way. Local terms for the fish were quite a challenge. We had to negotiate the end of the story very gingerly since the horror had to be rendered in the discreet, matter-of-fact tone of the author.

Dilip Kumar and

Subashree Krishnaswamy

Interview

‘The fight is over two development models’

KUNAL SHANKAR the-nation

IN late October 2016, one of the deadliest police actions against India’s armed leftists, members of the proscribed Communist Party of India (Maoist), took place deep in the Eastern Ghats forest range along what is called the Andhra-Odisha border, or AOB. Once again the genuineness of the “encounter”, its timing and the motive of the State governments involved in this sweeping and well-planned joint operation by Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Central forces have come under scrutiny. As has often been the case, several tribal people have been unwitting victims this time. The celebrated writer, orator and leftist ideologue Varavara Rao spoke to Frontline on the confrontation and the reasons for it. Excerpts:

The police claim this was a genuine encounter, that there was back-and-forth fire. They say that when they reached the spot the Maoists were armed and that they opened fire. According to them, the severe mutilation of the bodies of Maoists is not a sign of torture but are of wounds inflicted in the course of firing.

It was an ambush by the police. Reliable information is available from The Hindu’s website and Jagabandhu’s [AOB Special Zonal Committee member] statement. On The Hindu’s website, the police officer in charge of the operation claims that he reached the spot three days earlier, that they crawled up the hillock, swam across the rivulet… the explanation is rather dramatic. The officer said they fired first. It is true that a [Maoist] sentry had come to answer the call of nature. At 6 a.m. he was to be replaced, but nobody got there in time. This sentry was fired at. That was the first firing by the police. This corroborates the police officer’s own claim. The sentry cried out “police, police” to alert others. PKM Prabhakar rushed to the spot. After killing the sentry, the police attempted to march ahead, and Prabhakar was also killed in the process. The 18 people who were in the roll call took positions and fired back once they realised that there was a police ambush. One Greyhound member was injured and he died later. On the whole, as they claim, four or five Greyhound members might have been injured. Here again the point is, they were in an advantageous position. When the police fired many were killed, but when the Maoists fired the policemen were only injured. The injured police officers were airlifted to Visakhapatnam, but not the bodies of the Maoists. This shows intention, and in the Indian Penal Code, intention counts a lot. They fired three rounds of bullets. By the second round, hundreds of bullets had been fired and several died. In the third round, which was fired from the hillocks to the plains, 18 Maoists were killed. This is Jagabandhu’s statement. He also insists that eight unarmed Adivasis were caught, tortured and killed. Because they were part of 60 to 70 people who were there at the meeting. It was not a plenary. They were villagers from Malkangiri district. All of them ran for their lives but nine were injured, later caught, tortured, and killed.

Why were the police so successful this time? They deny using sophisticated intelligence such as satellite imagery and mobile reception. They claim that this was information they received from local people, from intelligence on the ground.

No, this is not information from local people. This was covert. There was a former Maoist leader who was used for information. His son, a schoolgoing boy, and mother-in-law were used as decoys. On October 23 they reached close to Ramguda village [where the meeting of Maoists was to take place the next day] during the day. The next morning was the roll call of Maoist cadres. This woman and her grandson crossed the Balimala reservoir to pass on the information. The former Maoist reached the place and was spotted on the hillock with some Greyhounds. On October 23 night, they had seen torchlight on the hillocks, but the Maoists had not taken it seriously. That is a military mistake, which they admit now. In fact, the people wanted to inform the party of the police presence, but they were arrested. Those villages were surrounded and the people were not allowed to leave. Some were tortured and killed.

Are there any more details about this former party member?

He could be a militia member from that area, an Adivasi. Which is why I say that the Malkangiri SP [Superintendent of Police] is not capable of getting such information [of the location of the meeting], and that’s why I point to The Hindu website, which quotes a high-ranking officer who was part of the Maoist operation. There might also be Andhra Pradesh’s Special Intelligence Branch police officers. They might not wish to divulge exactly what they know. But DGP [Director General of Police] Nanduri Sambasiva Rao was claiming he had specific information about the Maoist’s whereabouts and that it was a joint operation. So it really was the work of the Andhra Pradesh SIB in this case. And The Hindu has quoted the police officer as saying that they used GPS. How can anybody in the police say that this is not sophisticated? You see when they claimed that there was a plenum, and helicopters were certainly used, such details are not easy to come by.

Why such a major attack?

The police have always been aggressive and have been trying for such attacks for some time now. This time it is because the government of Andhra Pradesh wants to once again aggressively pursue bauxite mining. This has always been the case, but now things are moving at a faster pace. Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Japan and signed a pact for uranium supply. The power plant, as you know, is coming up in Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh, where the Maoist movement has been strong.

You mean Kovvada on the coast of Srikakulam district where a massive nuclear power plant has been proposed?

Yes, bauxite is only one thing, which is an ongoing struggle, but along with this now there is a proposal for a coastal corridor (port development). The [Maoist] meeting [at Malkangiri] itself was to look into the implementation of land reforms and recent developments. When Uday [Gajarla Ravi, a senior Maoist party member from Telangana’s Nalgonda district with over two decades of organising experience, who went by several aliases such as Uday, Ganesh and Anand and was killed in the October 24 encounter] took over as AOB secretary, apart from a ban on bauxite, villagers began demanding the right over the lands of coffee plantation to be handed over to them. The party is occupying the lands and implementing land reforms in these areas. And in some of the villages, revolutionary provincial councils have also been formed after Uday took over. This is why the police have been after the Maoists. That’s why the police claimed, Ravi samrajyam anthem aindhe, meaning Ravi’s rule has ended.

So you are drawing a connection to bauxite mining?

On the whole this is a conflict between two development models. That is why I say this is not a conflict between the police and Maoists, any day. How much the police take responsibility or claim success is pointless. Whether they stick to the law in their operation is immaterial. Their operations are at the behest of the state and not in the interest of Adivasis. Likewise, whatever the alleged wrongs committed by Maoists are in the interest of Adivasis.

Let us say the present government is representative of the people, but its interest is the implementation of the World Bank’s development programme when it comes to Adivasis. Maoists’ approach is the opposite. It is anti-World Bank development programme. This is the real conflict.

But this incident has taken place after the Chandrababu Naidu-led Andhra Pradesh government put in abeyance the government order granting permission for bauxite mining in the tribal agency areas. What is the connection between that case and the current operation?

This abeyance was a temporary measure to placate the tribal communities when the movement was at its peak. Can you conclusively say that any agreement that the government signs, particularly with another country, can be put in “abeyance” or given up? We visited Goplapatnam near Visakhapatnam where bauxite mining had been halted after a protracted struggle. But when we visited later, the whole operation was back on track. The so-called abeyance is a tactic to halt people’s movements. Those on the ground, who live where these projects have been proposed, do not forget about it. The government employs these tactics to show a semblance of accommodation, while the work continues stealthily. It is like the Polavaram project. When was the work ever halted? That never happened.

From my visit to the region, what became apparent was that the Odisha side of the AOB is visibly poorer. There is not even a semblance of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. There are hardly any functioning government schools in the region and there are no primary health centres. On the Andhra side, all these exist. The government claims this is because of the presence of Maoists.

We met [Odisha Chief Minister] Naveen Patnaik [in 2011], myself and Haragopal [a prominent human rights activist]. We met him for over two and a half hours and discussed this with him. This was when Vineel Krishna [former District Collector of Malkangiri] was kidnapped. When everything was over, and when Adivasis were not released, we met the Chief Minister. We again stressed that Adivasis formed 22 per cent of the population in Odisha and the State was rich in forest wealth compared with Andhra Pradesh. So why are your government schemes and welfare programmes not geared towards Adivasis? Particularly when your own law says—the 1956 Regulation, like 1/70 (of Andhra Pradesh). Here, instead of implementing it, you book them under the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) when the [Maoist] party is implementing this in the Narayanpatnam area. Thousands of party men are put in jail. During the 2011 incident, 800 tribal members were jailed. [The 1956 Orissa Scheduled Areas Transfer of Immovable Property (By Scheduled Tribes) Regulation, is derived from the Constitutional provision to prohibit and regulate tribal land transfers outside the communities and amongst themselves as well.]

Here of course, because of the strength of the naxalite movement the police and the whole government machinery have become intelligent, and to show a semblance of welfare, efforts have been made to accommodate tribal communities. But in Odisha, that kind of negligence is there.

So you say the strength of the Maoist movement has kept the state in check and has brought about greater accountability in Andhra Pradesh?

Certainly. As you said, even the halting of bauxite mining is because of the party’s pressure on the government.

This dichotomy of development that you mentioned, when you speak to someone who is for the World Bank kind of development, they would ask how you can do without exploiting natural resources. Can it not be allowed in a controlled manner, in such a way that environmental degradation could be minimised and it could also be beneficial to the Adivasis and the communities that live around such projects?

[Laughs] This is part of a long history of Adivasis fighting for a hold on their natural resources. We must understand one thing—tribal communities are preserving our natural resources. They do not exploit the natural resources. Their needs are minimal. They are not violently intervening with the forests. In their case, the government’s attempts are understood as attempts at displacement.

How do you then attempt to address this development model dichotomy if we could call it that?

There is no dichotomy. Apart from the Adivasis’ own claims over where they reside, the Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution guarantee them the right over jal, jungle, zameen [water, forests and lands]. All that they are asking for is the conduct of the gram sabha, and let these development projects be placed amid them. Let them decide. They are also not saying that the whole natural wealth should belong to them. They are willing to part with it, but without hindering the basic right to life and dignity of their communities and without serious environmental damage. They are willing for discussions.

In other words, not causing any hindrance to their livelihoods and way of life.

Yes. Therefore you have to take up minor, smaller, medium projects. There are so many other ways to develop. The government only looks at any opposition to its development agenda as a law and order problem, particularly the Chandrababu Naidu-led Andhra Pradesh government.

Both the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana governments now claim that naxal activities have come down significantly. In fact, they say the Maoist party is on retreat in both the States.

The encounter itself shows that the government accepts their presence. The government seems to have made abundant preparations to kill them. They have sought the assistance of the Central government for more battalions, more roads to be built in the region for movement of forces, funds for anti-naxal operations. So this is all just public posturing.

Was the October 24 police action a deadly blow to the Maoist party?

Nothing can be a deadly blow, but it is certainly a loss. Losing even one party member is a loss. In this case there were divisional committee members, area committee members; naturally this was a big loss.

But the party is also accustomed to such losses and is known to pick up quickly and move on.

Yes, that’s true. This kind of confrontation is very much part of party life. You see top leaders have been caught and killed. Such losses do happen in a revolutionary movement.

The point is often raised that the Maoists lost an opportunity to join the mainstream when the peace talks were held between naxalites and the Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy-led Andhra Pradesh government in 2004.

Then of course, the Maoists had not come for talks to change their strategy or tactics. The party has always maintained that it will never reject the idea of talks, but it does not mean that it will give up the struggle. As long as the Vietnam War took place for two decades, talks were being held in Paris. So, talks are part of the party’s tactics. Secondly, the people wanted talks then. As Chandrababu Naidu put it then, it was a referendum about World Bank programmes, about how to view the Maoist movement, whether it is a law and order problem or a socio-economic issue, [then] there was the Telangana issue. He had said that he would vigorously implement the World Bank programme after coming to power in the late 1990s; and he clearly called the Maoist struggle a law and order problem. He said he would crush it. In fact, that was one of the high points of the movement. Every party other than Chandrababu Naidu’s acknowledged it as a socio-economic problem. Of course, we look at it [Mao’s teachings] as a solution. And about the referendum, Chandrababu Naidu lost.

Will the party ever come into parliamentary democracy?

No. We don’t consider India’s political set-up as a genuine reflection of parliamentary democracy. Particularly after Narendra Modi came to power, we define this moment in history as Hindutva fascism. For that matter there hasn’t been parliamentary democracy the world over, except in England during the time of the Industrial Revolution, which used to stick to the rule of law.

It was there in France, after the French Revolution—bourgois democracy. When capitalism reaches the highest stage of imperialism, you can’t have parliamentary democracy, particularly in a Third World country like India. Just conducting elections is not parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary democracy means the rule of law and fundamental rights. All these are there in our Constitution, there are Directive Principles of State Policy, there’s a Preamble to it. We are not asking you to implement the Maoist programme, or for you to accept our world outlook, or to hand over power to us; we are only asking you to abide by the Constitution under which you have taken oath.

The Greyhounds are not answerable to the Assembly; their budget is not placed there for the Assembly’s approval. They don’t use name plates for their vehicles. They don’t wear uniforms, they don’t use official vehicles. They are not accountable to anybody, not even to the State’s own police structure. They are directly answerable only to the Chief Minister. How do you call this the rule of law? Which law?

Controversy

Keezhadi treasures caught in a swirl

THE Cauvery tangle between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in August-September 2016 had unintended consequences for the Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) phenomenal dig in Tamil Nadu, at Pallichandai Thidal near Keezhadi, 12 kilometres from Madurai, which points to a hitherto-unknown urban civilisation in the Sangam Age (300 BCE-C.E. 300). The excavation was being done by the ASI’s Excavation Branch VI, Bengaluru, led by Superintending Archaeologist Amarnath Ramakrishna, and in accordance with an ASI decision taken in 2014 that henceforth excavations would be done by the nearest Excavation Branch of the ASI and not by its circle offices. Under this new rule, Keezhadi witnessed two seasons of excavation, in 2015 and 2016, involving 102 trenches/quadrants, with spectacular results. But the ASI’s decision to move the artefacts to Bengaluru for study sparked a controversy that the Madras High Court’s Madurai Bench resolved ultimately by agreeing to the ASI Director General’s request to move them to Dehradun.

The treasures that had been unearthed included massive brick structures with ring wells and drainage systems dating back to the second century BCE of the Tamil Sangam Age and a wealth of about 5,600 artefacts such as potsherds with Tamil-Brahmi script; ivory earlobes; ivory dice; bi-conical gold beads; Chola- and late Pandya-period coins; rouletted ware; russet-coated ware; white-painted black pottery; decorated shell bangles; beads made out of quartz, jasper, carnelian and chalcedony; big copper beads; and terracotta figurines. In the lower depths of the quadrants were found a variety of iron implements such as axes, daggers, knives, nails and forceps, roof tiles embedded with long iron nails in sockets, and black and red ware from the Iron Age.

The second season, more rewarding than the first, was heading to a close in September when the Cauvery imbroglio intervened and put a question mark on the third season in 2017 that an understandably delighted Amarnath Ramakrishna eagerly awaited. The cornucopia of artefacts became a point of contention, with reports appearing in a section of the press that they were to be carted away to Bengaluru. An article written by S. Venkatesan, a Sahitya Akademi award winner for Tamil in 2011, in The Hindu (Tamil) on September 28 began thus: “In a few days, two lorries will leave Madurai for Mysuru [in Karnataka]. It will be known only later whether those lorries would have Tamil Nadu registration numbers or those of Karnataka. Against the background of the Cauvery issue, in case the lorries are attacked, it will not be a big loss to the government. For there are only old items in the lorries. They are antiquities that are more than 2,500 years old.”

The 110-acre (one acre is 0.4 hectare) site had in its innards “the great symbols of the ancient Tamil civilisation”, Venkatesan said, and suggested that the State government also excavate the site. He called for the establishment of a museum at the site. “Only when it is done, all the antiquities can be displayed. Otherwise, they will be taken to the store of the ASI in Mysuru and we will have to believe that they are lying bundled up in gunny bags there,” he said. He added: “The ASI is prepared to set up the site museum. It is the responsibility of the State government to provide two acres for it. Despite efforts in the past two years [to set up the museum], nothing has moved forward.”

He then narrated how when he mentioned this “bitter truth” at a meeting in Madurai a Tamil lecturer named Karu. Murugesan met him and told him that it was Tamil that had provided him his livelihood. Murugesan said he was prepared to gift the land he owned at Keezhadi for the site museum. Venkatesan concluded his article thus: “If somebody in power or others believe that it is Tamil which has enabled them to earn their bread, let them come forward to be grateful to Tamil. In a few days, the lorries are about to depart for Mysuru.”

It did not take long for the public to demand that the artefacts should not be taken to Bengaluru as they belonged to Tamil Nadu. Newspapers took up the issue with gusto and said that a site museum should be established at Keezhadi.

On September 29, M. Karunanidhi, former Chief Minister and president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), said it was the “duty of the State government to allot two acres” at Keezhadi to set up the site museum. “Otherwise, thousands of artefacts will be taken to Mysuru and dumped there in a store,” he said. Karunanidhi argued that more than 5,000 antiquities excavated at Keezhadi proved wrong the theory that the Tamil Sangam Age was not an urban civilisation. The excavation had thrown up many potsherds with Tamil-Brahmi script. “Of all the excavations done in Tamil Nadu so far, the excavation at Keezhadi is the finest,” he stated.

Vaiko, general secretary of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), also wanted the Tamil Nadu government to provide land and funds to set up a site museum.

Discovery and excavation

The person who really took the lead in demanding that a site museum should be set up was V. Balasubramaniam, who taught history at the Government High School at Keezhadi from 1970 to 1979. Indeed, the credit for discovering the mound where the excavation took place should go to him ( Frontline, February 19, 2016). In 1978, Balasubramaniam found 14th century terracotta artefacts at Pallichandai Thidal and informed V. Vedachalam, then an epigraphist in the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department in Madurai, of them. Vedachalam made a visit to the area and saw for himself the male, female and Ayyanar (a folk deity) terracotta figurines. Matters rested there until Amarnath Ramakrishna took charge of the ASI’s Excavation Branch in Bengaluru a few years ago. He decided to undertake a study of the Vaigai river basin and brought in Vedachalam as a domain expert. In 2014, Amarnath Ramakrishna led a team that included Vedachalam to survey the Vaigai river basin, and they identified 293 sites with archaeological remains on either side of the river. Vedachalam suggested to Amarnath Ramakrishna that Pallichandai Thidal was the place to excavate. The excavation began in January 2015, and large quantities of artefacts belonging to the Tamil Sangam Age were unearthed ( Frontline, February 19, 2016). On June 16, 2016, Balasubramaniam, now 75, wrote to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa with a request that the Tamil Nadu government allot two acres at Attaiyadi Kanmai, an abandoned waterbody at Keezhadi, to enable the ASI to set up a site museum. He also wrote to T.K. Ramachandran, Principal Secretary (in charge), Tourism, Culture and Religious Endowments, and S. Malarvizhi, Collector, Sivaganga district, requesting for land at Keezhadi for the museum. He received no replies to any of his letters. (Although Keezhadi is only 13 km from Madurai, it comes under the Tiruppuvanam taluk in neighbouring Sivaganga district.)

Three months later, Venkatesan’s article appeared in The Hindu (Tamil), following which Karunanidhi made the demand for the site museum. A few days earlier, on September 24, Father Jegath Gaspar Raj, founder of an organisation called Tamil Maiyam and who had organised Sangam 4, a 10-day festival in August 2016 that focussed on Madurai’s history, culture and tradition, visited Keezhadi along with Kanimozhi Mathi, an advocate. Amarnath Ramakrishna took them around and showed them the trenches.

Matter goes to court

Kanimozhi Mathi then filed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition in the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court with the prayer that the ASI should not be allowed to take the artefacts to Karnataka and that it should not be allowed to close the trenches it had dug at Keezhadi. In her PIL, she said the ASI’s excavation since 2015 had led to the discovery of an ancient urban civilisation that had flourished along the banks of the Vaigai river. “Keezhadi is the first extensive find of an enviable ancient Tamil civilisation. Keezhadi proves that Sangam literature was not merely poetic imagination but a substantive record of the experience of the Tamils,” she said and claimed that she had learnt that the ASI had decided to close down the site and shift the artefacts to Karnataka. The ASI itself had set up site museums at several places, including Agra, Sarnath and Sanchi, she added.

On September 29, 2016, a division bench of Justices S. Nagamuthu and M.V. Muralidaran directed the Tamil Nadu government to spell out by October 18 the possibility of providing enough land near Pallichandai Thidal for the site museum. In their interim order, the judges restrained the ASI from closing the trenches and shifting the artefacts to any place outside Sivaganga district until October 18.

When the case came up for hearing on October 18, Justices Nagamuthu and Muralidaran appreciated the State government for stating that it was keen on establishing a site museum at Keezhadi. The submission on behalf of the government was made by the Commissioner, State Archaeology Department. The bench, in a modification of its earlier order, permitted the ASI to close the trenches following a submission by Assistant Solicitor General G.R. Swaminathan, representing the ASI, that the north-east monsoon would harm the site and affect future excavations if the trenches were kept open for a long time. Justices Nagamuthu and Muralidaran permitted the ASI to send samples of the artefacts to the United States or any other place to carbon-date them.

What brought about the change in the Tamil Nadu government’s attitude when earlier the Chief Minister and other officials did not bother to reply to Balasubramaniam on this issue? When he did not get a reply, the retired headmaster wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 19 requesting him “to urge the Government of Tamil Nadu to allot two acres of land to construct a site museum” at Keezhadi. He told Modi that “this archaeological mound is a rare phenomenon in the early history/Sangam period of Tamil Nadu”. Balasubramaniam received a reply from the Prime Minister on September 23, which directed the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary to take “action as appropriate”. It brought about a sea change in the State government’s attitude. A few days later, District Collector Malarvizhi, the District Revenue Officer, the Revenue Divisional Officer and others descended on Keezhadi and met Balasubramaniam. The government later said it had identified a parcel of land at Keezhadi for the museum. As for the demand that the trenches should not be closed, Balasubramaniam attributed it to the feeling of “Tamil pride and overenthusiasm about Tamil culture”.

Spectacular excavation

A spectacular excavation took place at 102 trenches/quadrants at Keezhadi in 2015 and 2016. The twin-mounds are situated on the southern banks of the Vaigai river, about 100 metres apart and spread over 110 acres. The perimeter of the mounds is 4.5 km. The excavation in the eastern part of the bigger mound in 2015 yielded ancient brick structures, 32 potsherds with Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions, deep terracotta ring wells, big storage pots, pots with spouts, decorated pots, white-painted black ware, black and red pottery, beads made of semi-precious stones, and so on. All this and more pointed to its being a Tamil Sangam site.

Amarnath Ramakrishna had then asserted: “This is definitely a Tamil Sangam site.... It was a habitation site.” He tentatively estimated that the site belonged to the third century BCE. But no carbon-dating was done. The ASI resumed its excavation in the central part of the bigger mound in January 2016 in the second field season, which ended in September.

Amarnath Ramakrishna said: “The site proves that we had an urban centre during the Sangam period. This is the first time in Tamil Nadu that we have found so many ancient structures. All the structures are built with burnt bricks, that is, fired bricks. Our large-scale excavation has revealed the urban culture of the Sangam period. But we need to do more systematic excavations in the coming years to get more information.” The brick structures had classical features such as platforms, ring wells, rectangular tanks, square tanks with extended structures, and channels made with bricks. Inside one of the tanks were found two pottery bowls incised with Tamil-Brahmi scripts. “They are fantastic bowls and they were tableware. On the basis of the palaeography of these Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions, we can definitely date the structure to the second century BCE,” said Amarnath Ramakrishna.

‘Tamil Nadu’s index site’

Nanda Kishor Swain, Deputy Superintending Archaeologist, Excavation Branch VI, ASI, Bengaluru, who took part in the excavation, said: “This is Tamil Nadu’s index site. It means you can date other sites in Tamil Nadu with the help of this site. Until now, other sites in the State were dated with reference to Kaveripattinam and Arikkamedu [near Puducherry town]. From now on, the cultural sequence, time frame and trade relations of other archaeological sites in the State will be determined with reference to Keezhadi. It will be a lighthouse for future excavations in Tamil Nadu.”

Keezhadi was as important as other Early Historic sites such as Ahichhatra, Hastinapur, Kousambi, Singaverpur and Sravasti, all in Uttar Pradesh; Kondapur and Nagarjunakonda in undivided Andhra Pradesh; Sisupalgarh in Odisha; and Kurukshetra in Haryana. All are Early Historic sites contemporaneous with Keezhadi, said Swain.

Besides the brick structures, the 2016 excavation in the mound’s central part to a depth of 4.5 m revealed that the first 3 m from the top belonged to the Early Historic period, while the 1.5 m below that belonged to the Iron Age. This was confirmed by the discovery of a number of iron implements such as axes, daggers, spades, knives, forceps and nails at the lowest level. There was plenty of black and red ware associated with the Iron Age. Neolithic celts were found. “The discovery of iron implements proved at once that Keezhadi was an Iron Age settlement which evolved and continued into the Historic period. So this site is definitely a crucial site for Tamil Nadu to determine its cultural sequence,” Amarnath Ramakrishna said.

What was amazing was the discovery of many structures built of bricks of three different sizes in quadrant after quadrant. All the structures were oriented north-south. A rectangular brick structure resembled a trough. There were other brick structures situated nearby. The quadrants revealed three types of drains: open and covered drains built with big-sized bricks and a third one made of terracotta pipes. There were several furnaces too. A double-walled furnace was a standout discovery. Adjacent to the double-walled furnace was a chamber-like structure, with walls built with bricks and the floor also lined with bricks. This structure led to another small tank/trough-like structure. This trough was pretty deep and its floor too was lined with bricks. The ring well in one of the quadrants ran deep into the natural soil. Near the top-most ring of the well was a floor made of bricks of two courses.

Sanitation system

A terracotta pipe ran through several quadrants over a distance of many metres and ended in a soak jar. “The pipe and the soak jar indicate the advanced sanitation system of the people who lived here. It demonstrates their civic sense. The people were well versed in city planning,” said Swain.

Another brick structure, which also looked like a tank/trough, had an inlet and an outlet. A covered drain was found below this trough. Nearby was a small structure with a stone slab on top, perhaps meant for washing clothes. While it is clear that these structures and furnaces formed part of an industrial unit, a debate has erupted among archaeologists whether the structures were dyeing vats for colouring textiles. Both Amarnath Ramakrishna and Swain said separately that it might be premature to conclude that the structures were dyeing vats.

The director of the excavation said: “We cannot define the structures right now because we have come across this type of structure for the first time in Tamil Nadu. If we continue the excavation for a few more years, we will know where the structures are headed. They are extending from north to south. Only when we excavate the entire area, can we tell you the purpose for which the structures were built.”

The ASI archaeologists are puzzled about the purpose for which the double-walled furnace and other furnaces were used. In the double-walled furnace, the additional wall was built to trap heat and to get a controlled temperature. “We cannot identify the purpose for which the furnaces have been made because we do not get any raw materials in them. They might have been used for dyeing textiles because we got a spindle-whorl nearby. But no artefacts [such as beads] were found in them,” an archaeologist said.

When the excavation was reaching its peak in September 2016 came the demands that the ASI should not close the trenches and that the artefacts should not be taken away to Bengaluru. Three individual pattadars—Sonai Chandran, Dilip Khan and Peer Mohammed—had given their lands, which were in fact coconut groves, for the excavation in 2015. Two more, Gajendran and Krishnan, gave their lands in 2016. Since they were coconut groves, only quadrants and not big trenches were dug between trees. The landowners had entered into an agreement with the ASI for the excavations for 2015 and 2016. The signatories included Amarnath Ramakrishna, Balasubramaniam, and Vedachalam and other ASI officials.

Balasubramaniam said that under the agreement after the excavation in 2015 and 2016 ended, the ASI would close, that is, fill the trenches and hand the land over to its owners. “So you cannot preserve the trenches as they are,” he said. Since the excavated area was big, it was difficult to erect a shed over the trenches. Coconut trees would intervene too. If the trenches were kept open, people would come in droves to see them. “You cannot protect the area with the trenches open when people come in,” he said. During the rainy season from October/November, the trenches, with the exposed brick structures and furnaces, would be ruined. After the excavation was over for the field season, the coconut trees had to be watered. “We said we would hand over the land to its owners after the excavation was over. The agreement should be honoured. People may glibly talk that the government should acquire the 110 acres. It is easier said than done,” argued Balasubramaniam.

The 5,600 artefacts found at Keezhadi could not be studied in the cramped tents there, Amarnath Ramakrishna said. They had to be taken to Bengaluru [where enough space was available in the Excavation Branch VI], for a proper study. “After the research is done, the Government of India will definitely give back the artefacts to be displayed in the site museum once it is set up at Keezhadi,” he said. Amarnath Ramakrishna also said it was not easy to keep the trenches open because the ASI would then have to acquire the 110 acres and declare it a protected site under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010. “It will take a long time. It is not possible to do it immediately. If the trenches are to be kept open, it has to be an ASI site. Right now, the land is private property,” he said. If it rained, the exposed brick structures would be ruined. So the trenches were covered with plastic sheets and filled up. Since the ASI staff knew where the quadrants had been dug and were aware of their measurements, the quadrants could always be reopened if the need arose.

‘More excavation only after report’

the-nation

ALTHOUGH the division bench of Justices S. Nagamuthu and M.V. Muralidaran of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court asked, on November 15, why the Keezhadi artefacts could not be taken to the ASI’s circle office in Chennai instead of Bengaluru for scientific cleaning, analysis and documentation, subsequently, on November 24, the bench permitted the ASI to shift the finds to its chemistry branch headquarters in Dehradun or any other laboratory in the country.

The judges based their decision on ASI Director General Rakesh Tewari’s submission that “all the required examination of the excavated materials cannot be carried out” at the ASI’s chemistry laboratory in Chennai because it “is not equipped with the necessary and advanced facilities for proper examination and analysis” of the artefacts. “Thus, for proper and necessary examination and also for the preparation of the report thereon... the excavated materials would have to be ideally shifted to the Dehradun laboratory,” the ASI Director General told the judges.

The judges asked the Commissioner of the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department to take stock of the artefacts before they were transported from Keezhadi. The Commissioner should personally monitor the work of noting down the details of each artefact excavated during the field season in 2016, besides taking photographs of and videographing them. On the court being informed that the artefacts unearthed during the 2015 field season had already been moved to Bengaluru, the judges asked the State Archaeology Commissioner to depute a subordinate to Bengaluru to collect details of those artefacts. They, too, should be videographed, they said.

“After the scientific analysis, the excavated material should be brought and kept in Keezhadi or in the Sivaganga district museum or any other suitable building,” the judges ruled.

Earlier, Rakesh Tewari, in his report submitted to the court, said the ASI had received more than 120 proposals for exploration and excavation in every field season and added that it was “a tedious process to propose a site museum at any of the sites”. A site’s archaeological importance and historical value was established only after extensive excavation and post-excavation analysis. Only after this the ASI decides whether to declare it a protected site, and only later “a proposal for establishing a site museum can be considered”, the Director General said.

“The ASI is unable to establish a site museum at Keezhadi because the site is unprotected,” Rakesh Tewari told the court in his report. The Keezhadi antiquities were safely kept in the ASI’s custody and they would be used for writing a report on the excavation and the unearthed artefacts.

The Director General submitted this report to the court after it directed him, on November 15, to consider the plea for establishing a site museum at Keezhadi and inform the court about the decision taken by November 24.

When Frontline contacted Rakesh Tewari on November 25 in his New Delhi office, he asserted: “We cannot make a site museum at every site [we excavate].” He added that “important [Keezhadi] artefacts can be displayed in Chennai, but after some time”.

Asked whether he would give Amarnath Ramakrishna the licence to excavate for the third field season in 2017 because there was a popular demand for the excavation to continue, the Director General said: “The licence for the third year will be given after the completion of the documentation of the excavation and the artefacts found during the first two years. Otherwise, the report never comes.”

When it was pointed out to him that the licence for excavating the Harappan site at a village called 4 MSR, near Anupgarh, Rajasthan, had been granted now for the third field season [without a report being written about the first two field seasons’ excavation], he replied: “First of all, he [Amarnath Ramakrishna] should publish a report on the excavation. Then only we will give him the licence for the third year because he has got more than 4,000 artefacts.”

T.S. Subramanian

Tamil Nadu

Sasikala’s party

IN a major development in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the largest, and ruling, political party in Tamil Nadu, V.K. Sasikala aka Sasikala Natarajan became its general secretary after she was nominated to the post by the party’s general council which met at Vanagaram, near Chennai, on December 29, 2016. Resolution number five passed unanimously at the urgent general council said it nominated her as general secretary until she was elected to that post. Sasikala has now set her sights on becoming the Chief Minister, replacing O. Panneerselvam. A game of brinkmanship is already under way in the AIADMK to dethrone Panneerselvam and install Sasikala as the Chief Minister.

The posts of AIADMK general secretary and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister fell vacant with the death of Jayalalithaa on December 5 in Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, after a prolonged illness. Two hours after her death, Panneerselvam, who was Finance Minister and number two in the Jayalalithaa Cabinet, was sworn in as Chief Minister by Ch. Vidyasagar Rao, Maharashtra Governor who is in charge of Tamil Nadu too. When AIADMK Ministers, MLAs and Sasikala came together at Apollo Hospitals in the afternoon of December 5, it was decided that Panneerselvam should be made Chief Minister. Panneerselvam insisted on one condition: that he should not be “disturbed” for the remaining four and a half years of the five-year term for which the AIADMK was voted to power in the May 2016 Assembly elections.

Sasikala held no organisational posts in the AIADMK when she became its general secretary on December 29. She was a primary member and executive committee member. She was no Minister or legislator. Yet, the general council pitchforked her into the top party post as “‘Chinnamma’, as we all fondly call her, was alone fit to work as the general secretary”. In its assessment, she had “lived with Jayalalithaa for 33 years, protected her as the eyelids would shield an eye and learnt all the administrative nitty-gritty” from her. Resolution number five used Rule 20(ii) of the party’s constitution to unanimously “nominate” Sasikala as the party general secretary until she was elected to that post. Rule 20(ii) says the general secretary should be elected by the party’s primary members in Tamil Nadu and the members of its units in the Andamans, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Puducherry and New Delhi. The resolution also bestowed on Sasikala all the powers that the rules give the general secretary to administer the party.

Rise of Sasikala

Sasikala had been sharing Jayalalithaa’s residence for the past 25 years. When Jayalalithaa, a former film actor, was made the party’s propaganda secretary in the early 1980s by the AIADMK’s founder-leader and Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran, she addressed a party conference in Cuddalore. Sasikala’s husband, M. Natarajan, was the government’s Public Relations Officer in Cuddalore then. A common friend introduced Jayalalithaa to Sasikala and Natarajan. Sasikala at that time ran a shop called “Vinod Video Vision”. Jayalalithaa engaged Sasikala to videograph the various AIADMK rallies that she addressed in different places. When the party split after MGR’s death in December 1987 and Jayalalithaa headed one faction, Natarajan and Sasikala stood by Jayalalithaa. After Jayalalithaa became Chief Minister for the first time in June 1991 defeating the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Sasikala and several of her relatives became a permanent fixture in Jayalalithaa’s posh residence in the exclusive Poes Garden in Chennai.

Sasikala wielded enormous power as an extraconstitutional authority in both the government and the AIADMK when Jayalalithaa was Chief Minister from 1991 to 1996. She also operated behind the scenes in the party and the government when the AIADMK was in power from 2001 to 2006, 2011 to 2016 and again in 2016 when Jayalalithaa became the Chief Minister ( Frontline, January 6, 2017).

Ironically, a large number of the 2,700 general council members who chorused for Sasikala to become the party general secretary, had demanded that Jayalalithaa break her ties with Sasikala in 1996. The demand came up in the aftermath of the humiliating defeat that the AIADMK suffered at the hands of the DMK and the Tamil Maanila Congress in the Assembly elections. The party leaders alleged then that an angry electorate had taught a lesson to the AIADMK because Sasikala’s and her relatives’ property-buying spree had caused deep disenchantment with the leadership. People also resented the arrogant, vulgar display of wealth at the “mother of all marriages” of Jayalalithaa’s “foster son” V.N. Sudhakaran in 1995. Sudhakaran is the son of Vanithamani Vivekanandan, the elder sister of Sasikala.

After initial reluctance, Jayalalithaa broke her ties with Sasikala and her relatives in August 1996. On August 27, 1996, she said, “I am distancing myself from Ms. Sasikala and her relatives in deference to the wishes of my partymen, the general public and my friends and well-wishers.” Jayalalithaa also disowned her “foster son” Sudhakaran. However, a few months later, Sasikala was ensconced again in Jayalalithaa’s spacious residence. Later, when she was Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa showed the door again to Sasikala in December 2011, but the latter was readmitted after a few months. Such was the love-hate relationship between them.

Chorus of entreaties

With Sasikala now nominated as the general secretary, informed sources in the AIADMK said it was only a matter of weeks before she took over chief ministership. If an orchestrated chorus of entreaties to Sasikala to take over as the party general secretary went up from the party district secretaries, Ministers, MLAs and office-bearers of the party’s various wings, it was seen as a game of brinkmanship that Ministers played to oust Panneerselvam and bring her in as the Chief Minister.

It was Thanga Tamil Selvan, AIADMK legislator from Andipatti and the political foe of Panneerselvam in Theni district, who first demanded on December 17 that Sasikala should become Chief Minister as well. As if on cue, the next day, members of a party wing called Jayalalithaa Peravai (association), whose secretary is Revenue Minister R.B. Udayakumar, passed a resolution at the “samadhi” of Jayalalithaa on the Marina beach in Chennai batting for Sasikala as Chief Minister. Udayakumar handed over a copy of the resolution to Sasikala. Later, when reporters asked him about the resolution when Panneerselvam was already in the saddle, Udayakumar replied that it was the tradition in Tamil Nadu that the leader of the ruling party was also the head of the government. “There would be criticism if the Chief Minister meets the general secretary for some consultation. That is why the same person should head both the party and the government,” the Minister said.

Informed sources said Sasikala was not keen on becoming Chief Minister and was content with becoming the party general secretary. But it was a bureaucrat, who is in the spotlight now, who sold her the idea that she should become Chief Minister too. “This [January] is the right time for Chinnamma to become Chief Minister. Otherwise, Panneerselvam would consolidate his position as the Chief Minister,” said a confidant of Sasikala.

However, there is resentment among AIADMK cadres and the public that Sasikala not only has succeeded in her “machination” to take control of the party, which is awash with funds, but also is trying to usurp Panneerselvam’s chief ministership.

AIADMK leaders at various levels, however, are confident that the cadres can be “convinced” into accepting Sasikala as both general secretary and Chief Minister. Kallur E. Velayudham, the AIADMK’s Manur panchayat union secretary in Tirunelveli district, said: “We will easily convince our cadres into accepting Sasikala as general secretary and Chief Minister. We will brainwash them. We will tell them that if they do not accept her leadership, it will pave the way for Stalin [M.K. Stalin, DMK treasurer and Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly] to capture power.” Moreover, the cadres themselves did not want the party to split, he added.

Velayudham dismissed arguments that Jayalalithaa had not named Sasikala her political successor. It was the late Chief Minister who gave “political recognition” to Sasikala by making her a primary member of the AIADMK and an executive committee member, he said.

N. Selladurai, the party’s Coimbatore district deputy general secretary, was equally confident that the party’s office-bearers could “easily convince” the cadres into accepting Sasikala’s leadership in both the party and the government.

Durai Karunanidhi, senior journalist and a keen observer of the developments in the AIADMK for the past 40 years, however, does not think so. In his estimate, “95 per cent of the AIADMK cadres and 100 per cent of the public” were opposed to Sasikala becoming the general secretary and the Chief Minister. But there were no leaders in the AIADMK to “mobilise this opposition, consolidate it” and take forward a struggle against her, he said.

The AIADMK leadership claims that there are 1.72 crore primary members in the party. Its earlier claim was that there were 1.5 crore primary members. According to Durai Karunanidhi, the AIADMK has one lakh branches at the level of villages, hamlets, wards, and so on. There are 14 party wings such as youth wing, women’s wing, students’ wing, fishermen’s wing, weavers’ wing and farmers’ wing. Each wing has its unit at the lowermost branch level too. About 10 of these 14 wings function at every branch level. There are at least nine office-bearers for each of these wings at the level of the party branch. This works out to 90 members in each branch. This multiplied by one lakh branches is 90 lakhs. “These 90 lakh office-bearers can be convinced. But the remaining cadres cannot be convinced into accepting Sasikala’s leadership. The public cannot be convinced,” Durai Karunanidhi said.

With Sasikala having become general secretary now, Durai Karunanidhi said, there would be an encore from district secretaries, legislators, Ministers, Members of Parliament, and office-bearers of branches and various wings, with resolutions that Sasikala should become Chief Minister. On the strength of these resolutions, she would be installed as Chief Minister, he said. When MGR was Chief Minister, he allowed others such as V.R. Nedunchezhiyan, P.U. Shanmugam and S. Raghavanandam to be general secretaries. But Jayalalithaa set the trend of her being both the general secretary and the Chief Minister. She was unanimously elected general secretary seven times. The present crop of AIADMK leaders wanted to continue this trend when they appealed to Sasikala to hold both the posts. In their assessment, this would ensure the stability of the party and the government, Durai Karunanidhi said.

According to informed sources in the AIADMK, Panneerselvam is reconciled to his exit as Chief Minister. He is fed up with the pressure mounted on him by both the Sasikala group and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the Centre. While the BJP top brass wanted him to continue as the Chief Minister, it was not favourably disposed towards Sasikala, the sources said. Panneerselvam was prepared to be “flexible” and was “ready” to accept Sasikala as Chief Minister, the sources added.

‘Search strike’

If the chorus for making Sasikala the Chief Minister began on December 17 and reached a crescendo in the next couple of days, it fell silent from December 21, the day the men of the Investigation Directorate of the Income Tax Department knocked at the doors of Chief Secretary Rama Mohana Rao’s two-storeyed residence in the upscale Anna Nagar area around 5.30 a.m. Rama Mohana Rao, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the 1985 batch, was at home when the searches began. They ended only next morning.

The operation “Search Strike”, as the raids were called, became a sensation for their scale and magnitude and the fallout they led to. More than the searches at his house, what sent tremors across the AIADMK government was the exhaustive search mounted by income tax officials in Rama Mohana Rao’s chamber in the Secretariat, the seat of power of the State government. The searches in his chamber took place even as Panneerselvam was in his office in the same building. Income tax officials carted away scanned copies of hundreds of pages of documents, pen drives and CDs at the end of the raids in the Chief Secretary’s chamber.

As if to add insult to injury, it was the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) that provided security at the Chief Secretary’s residence in Anna Nagar and the Secretariat when the searches took place. Paradoxically, Rama Mohana Rao was also Commissioner, Vigilance, when the searches took place.

Income Tax Department personnel also raided his son Vivek Papisetty’s residence near Tiruvanmiyur and offices at Nandanam, his daughter’s residence at Manapakkam, all in Chennai, and Vivek Papisetty’s father-in-law D.K. Badrinarayana’s residence at Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh. Badrinarayana is vice president of the Telugu Desam Party in Chittoor district. The “Search Strike” covered 13 premises in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. A team of income tax officials reconnoitred the Chief Secretary’s native village, K. Bitragunta, near Jarugumalli in Prakasam district in Andhra Pradesh. The searches that took place in a building on Chamier’s Road, Nandanam, Chennai, revealed the fact that Vivek had floated three companies: Trans Earth Logistics, Blue Ocean Personnel and Allied Services Private Limited, and Virtu Technologies. There were also searches in the office of 3LOK Infra and Logistics Private Limited, Bengaluru, owned by Vivek.

About Rs.30 lakh of unaccounted money and five kg of gold were seized from the various premises. Newspaper reports quoted a top income tax official as saying on December 23 that “Vivek has admitted to a total unaccounted income of about Rs.17 crore which includes the Rs.5 crore disclosure made by him yesterday.”

Rama Mohana Rao was Secretary-II in Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s office from 2011 to 2016. On June 1, 2016, after Jayalalithaa returned to power in the May 2016 Assembly elections, she promoted him as Secretary-I. He was elevated as Chief Secretary on June 8. Informed IAS officers said the posts of Secretaries to the Chief Minister were sinecures until Jayalalithaa became the Chief Minister in 1991 and made them powerful, coveted ones.

On December 22, a day after Rama Mohana Rao’s residence and chamber were searched, the Panneerselvam government removed him from his post and appointed Girija Vaidyanathan the Chief Secretary. She was Additional Chief Secretary and Land Commissioner. Rama Mohana Rao was kept on “compulsory wait”, that is, he was not given any posting.

The searches on the premises of Rama Mohana Rao and his son were a sequel to the massive raids that the income tax personnel had mounted earlier in the posh residences and offices of J. Sekhar Reddy in Chennai and Katpadi on December 8, 9 and 10. The searches covered 13 of his offices in T. Nagar, Chennai, and Gandhi Nagar, Katpadi. Income tax men said material seized from the premises of Sekhar Reddy indicated links between him and Rama Mohana Rao. The premises of Sekhar Reddy’s two associates, K. Srinivasa Reddy and Prem Kumar, were also searched.

Sekhar Reddy (47) belongs to Thondan Thulasi village, about nine kilometres from Katpadi railway station. He began his career as a small-time builder in nearby Vellore and later became a contractor for the State Public Works Department (PWD). His rise was swift during the Jayalalithaa regime. He bagged licence from the Jayalalithaa government for mining sand in entire Tamil Nadu. Sand mining comes under the PWD. Informed sources said Sekhar Reddy’s rise in the highly competitive sand-mining trade came when Panneerselvam was Public Works Minister. Sekhar Reddy was a trust board member of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, Andhra Pradesh. He visited Apollo Hospitals after Jayalalithaa was admitted there on September 22 for Tirumala prasadams to be given to her. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu sacked him from the TTD board after news came out about the searches in his residences and offices.

A press release issued by the Central Board of Direct Taxes, Department of Revenue, Finance Ministry, New Delhi, on December 9 said: “The Investigation Directorate of Income Tax Department at Chennai conducted searches on 08.12.2016 in the case of a group engaged in sand mining. The group has sand mining licence for the entire State of Tamil Nadu. Eight premises (six residential and two offices) were covered in the search. During the search, Rs.96.88 crore in old high denomination [that is, the demonetised Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 notes] and Rs.9.63 crore in new Rs.2,000 currency notes along with gold weighing 127 kg, worth approximately Rs.36.29 crore, were found and seized as unaccounted assets....”

At the end of three days of searches, the unaccounted money seized came to more than Rs.132 crore, out of which Rs.34 crore was in new Rs.2,000 currency notes, and about 177 kg of gold. The Rs.132 crore included Rs.24 crore in the Rs.2,000 note kept in a mini truck in Katpadi. The vehicle was continuously on the move for several hours before the taxmen tracked it and seized the unaccounted money.

The ease with which Sekhar Reddy exchanged old notes worth Rs.34 crore for new Rs.2,000 notes showed the nexus between him and bank officials, income tax officials said. Besides, it exposed Sekhar’s money-laundering activity.

Rama Mohana Rao hits back

On December 27, Rama Mohana Rao hit back, taking on both the Centre and the Panneerselvam government. In a theatrical outburst, he called the raids “a constitutional assault on the office of the Chief Secretary” and wanted to know how the CRPF could enter the Chief Secretary’s chamber. “Did they get the CM’s permission? Isn’t this an unconstitutional assault? Where is the State government?” he asked. “Would the CRPF have dared to enter the Chief Secretary’s chamber had Jayalalithaa been alive?” he wondered. He alleged that he was placed under “house arrest by the CRPF at gunpoint”.

Rama Mohana Rao said it was “Puratchi Thalaivi” (revolutionary leader) Jayalalithaa who appointed him to the top post. She “trained” and “nurtured” him for the past five years and a half and “she taught me everything”, he said. While he was all praise for Jayalalithaa, he had sharp words for the Panneerselvam government. “I was appointed to this post by Puratchi Thalaivi and this government does not have the guts to serve the transfer order to me. I am still the Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu. Maybe the new person [Girija Vaidyanathan] has been made in-charge but I am still the Chief Secretary,” he claimed.

The former Chief Secretary denied any links between him and Sekhar Reddy. “I have nothing to do with Sekhar Reddy. I have no business links with him,” Rama Mohana Rao said. The search warrant from the Income Tax Department did not mention his name, he said. It was in the name of his son, Vivek, who had not stayed in his (Rao’s) residence even for a week, he said. Only Rs.1.12 lakh in cash, about 50 sovereigns of gold ornaments of his wife and daughter, and about 25 kg of silver articles, idols of Ganesh, Venkateswara and Mahalakshmi, were found in his house during the raids, the former Chief Secretary said.

When reporters asked him how Sekhar Reddy could obtain sand-mining contracts for the entire State during the AIADMK regime, Rama Mohana Rao pointedly replied that only PWD officials could answer these questions.

What surprised the income tax officials was Sekhar Reddy insisting repeatedly that all the unaccounted money seized from his offices and residences belonged to him alone. The searches on his premises revealed the nexus between businessmen, politicians, bureaucrats and bank officials, informed sources said.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested Sekhar Reddy and his associates K. Srinivasa Reddy and Prem Kumar on December 21. The arrests were made under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 120-B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) and 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), and Section 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant, or by banker, merchant or agent). The arrests were made after Enforcement Directorate officers registered a case against them under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The CBI arrested Sekhar Reddy’s two other associates in sand mining: K. Rathinam of Dindigul and S. Ramachandran of Pudukottai.

On December 22, Enforcement Directorate officials arrested Paras Mal Lodha, yet another associate of Sekhar Reddy, at the Mumbai airport under the PMLA for allegedly converting demonetised notes worth Rs.24 crore into new ones with the help of hawala operators.

Going by the rules?

The elevation of V.K. Sasikala as the AIADMK’s interim general secretary has stirred a hornet’s nest. The fifth resolution passed at the general council meeting on December 29 unambiguously claimed that Sasikala would be nominated as general secretary and would hold the post until she was elected full-time general secretary. “It is just a matter of expediency as party affairs have to be managed smoothly,” a senior party member who is also a central committee member told Frontline.

Questions over validity

But views for and against this decision flew thick and fast. Many questioned the validity of her nomination when the party’s rules and regulations remain silent on an interim arrangement at the level of general secretary. Besides, the party’s by-laws empower those at the top levels of the party hierarchy, such as deputy general secretaries, to perform the functions of the general secretary in his absence. Rule 20 (v) says: “If for any reason, the post of general secretary becomes vacant in between, the office-bearers who were nominated by the previous general secretary will hold office and continue to function till the new general secretary is elected and assumes office.”

This provision is further consolidated with Rule 21 (ii), which says that the deputy general secretaries “shall assume the powers of the general secretary in the absence of the general secretary and perform the functions of the general secretary”. At no place in the 35-page booklet containing 46 rules is there a reference to any interim arrangement. Questions about Sasikala’s elevation as interim general secretary are no surprise, though it must be said that the resolution at the general council meeting did not use the term “interim” general secretary.

Besides, Rule 20 (ii) underscores the point that the general secretary “shall be elected by the primary members of all the party units of Tamil Nadu and the members of the party in other States”. Rule 43, on amendments, as passed in the executive council meeting held on February 5, 2007, makes clear that the General Council has the power to frame, amend or delete any rule in the party’s constitution, but emphasises that “the Rule that the general secretary should be elected only by all the primary members of the party cannot be changed or amended since it forms the basic structure of the party”.

Also, Rule 30 (i) points out that elections of officer-bearers of the party’s various units will be held once every five years. “Those who want to contest the posts of office-bearers in the party organisation should have been members of the party for five years without any break.”

Sasikala’s nomination should be viewed in this context. An MLA said: “Since Sasikala was expelled from the party on December 19, 2011, and readmitted into it sometime in March-April 2012, the requirement of a tenure of five uninterrupted years of membership does not permit her to contest the election to the post of general secretary. She has to wait to complete her five-year tenure as a primary member before contesting.” However, he was confident that she would be elected as the full-fledged general secretary shortly.

The general council member argued that the present nomination of Sasikala as general secretary was in accordance with the provisions of Rule 19 (viii), which says that the “general council will be the supreme authority” and any “decision of the general council is final and binding on all the members of the party”. He said that it [Sasikala’s elevation] was a unanimous decision of the council. But the general council was ironically silent on Rule 21 (ii) empowering deputy general secretaries to function as general secretary.

“Instead of adhering to this, it chose Sasikala and pleaded with her to take over the reins,” said Cumbum Selvendiran, the party’s former propaganda secretary who quit the party in the mid 1990s protesting against Sasikala’s increasing interference in party affairs.

The other factor that works against Sasikala is the party’s rules on suspension and expulsion. Rule 30 (v) points out that those who left the party of their own volition or were removed from the party by the general secretary on disciplinary grounds will cease to be party members. If such persons have been readmitted into the party, their membership will be taken into account only from the date of their readmission and they will be eligible to contest organisational elections only after completing five years continuously as a member. The general secretary is vested with the power to relax this rule.

Under Rule 35 (xii), on disciplinary proceedings the decision of the general secretary shall be final. Those who approach courts on any issue concerning party affairs will forfeit their membership.

The post of general secretary is leader centric since it has always been with the supreme leader of the party. Rule 20 (i) empowers the general secretary with the “entire administration of the party”. He nominates “from among the primary members [who fulfil the conditions of eligibility] one or more deputy general secretaries and treasurer and as many headquarters secretaries as are needed”. Again, it is the general secretary who can allot the Two Leaves symbol to candidates contesting on behalf of the party.

He will “constitute the executive committee of the central organisation”. The general secretary will have the powers and responsibilities to convene the executive and general councils, the supreme bodies that run the party. The general secretary will preside over party conferences and be the one who can take disciplinary action, including immediate suspension, against party units and their office–bearers. Besides, he is empowered to handle the party’s finances by authorising the treasurer, a nominated post.

P. Palaiappan, the party headquarters secretary and Minister of Higher Education, in a letter to the Under Secretary, Election Commission of India, dated May 30, 2015, stated that “the Honourable Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Selvi J. Jayalalithaa has been unanimously elected as the general secretary of the AIADMK on 29-8-2014,” at the election. He also told the Election Commission that she alone filed nomination papers and was hence elected unanimously.

The next election for the post was to be held on August 29, 2019, he added. However, neither M.G. Ramachandran nor Jayalalithaa faced any contest.

Meanwhile, Sasikala Pushpa, Rajya Sabha member who was expelled from the AIADMK, has approached the Madras High Court against the elevation of Sasikala, citing violation of the party’s rules and regulations.

Non-Governmental Organisations

A witch-hunt

DIVYA TRIVEDI cover-story

ON December 17, 2016, two officers of the Special Branch of the Delhi Police walked into a basement at Nizamuddin where the journalist Bhasha Singh was giving a lecture on demonetisation. Their body language and attire at once set them apart from the crowd that had gathered there. They said they were on an assignment, and took notes. The next day, an officer attended Prof. Achin Vanaik’s lecture on New World Order at a similar gathering at Dwarka in the capital.

The presence of intelligence officers at public meetings and protests was not an unusual sight when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power at the Centre. But seeing them at neighbourhood discussion forums is a novelty. The presence of intelligence agents at such gatherings is perceived as a farman (dictatorial signifier) of trouble brewing. The brazen manner in which these agencies have been asserting their presence since 2014 is chilling.

“Snooping” by intelligence agencies is just one of the many ways in which ANHAD (Act Now For Harmony and Democracy), an organisation set up in the aftermath of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, is being harassed. It was recently barred from receiving foreign funds, and its renewed Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) licence was cancelled without any notice. Two Home Ministry and one Income Tax inquiries were ordered against ANHAD after Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre. It was not completely unexpected as the organisation had been targeted earlier too for its work in Gujarat, according to Shabnam Hashmi, who runs the trust. On March 20, 2016, ANHAD’s FCRA licence was renewed for a period of five years presumably because no discrepancy was found in its activities and its books of accounts were in order. But through a notice put up on the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) website dated December 15, the licence was cancelled citing “undesirable activities against public interest”. Earlier, domestic donors, who contributed more than Rs.10,000 to the organisation, received legal notices asking them to explain why they gave the money.

While this led to the harassment of donors, it also resulted in the collapse of ANHAD’s work with communities in Bihar, Kashmir and Mewat (Rajasthan). But it did not deter the organisation’s work against communalism, said Shabnam, who has remained a significant voice against the Sangh Parivar’s divisive agenda. “We have been targeted not for any technical issue but because we strongly oppose the ideology of hate. As far as the struggle to safeguard the Constitution of India is concerned, we don’t need funds for that and will continue to raise our voices,” she said. Shabnam has been attacked physically many times by goons, but she refuses to get cowed down by such forces because she feels “fascism breeds on fear”.

ANHAD is one of the seven non-governmental organisations (NGOs) whose FCRA licences were cancelled abruptly after they were renewed. The others are Greenpeace, the Navsarjan Trust, the Sabrang Trust and the Citizens for Peace and Justice run by Teesta Setalvad, the Marwar Muslim Education and Welfare Society, and the Rural Development Research Centre, Ahmedabad. In all, licences of 20,000 NGOs have been cancelled and those of 13,000 NGOs have been placed under scrutiny since the past year. Officials in the Foreign Division of the MHA are overburdened and not excited about checking receipts dating back to 2009. In private, they murmur whether there is any point to all this but reconcile to it because “it is a job”.

Analysing the case of ANHAD, former Additional Solicitor General of India Indira Jaising explained: “That is a different and curious case. The issue is not cancellation of registration but cancellation of a renewal of registration. There is no provision in law for this, that is why the MHA now says that it was ‘inadvertently renewed’. How laughable is that? Does it not show malintent?” Adverse intelligence inputs were cited as a reason for a relook into the activities of the NGOs, but Indira Jaising said that in a court of law, the authorities would be forced to disclose the reports.

Lawyers Collective, an NGO run by Indira Jaising, too, had its accounts frozen and was barred from receiving funds. On November 21, 2015, a show-cause notice appeared on the MHA website. Indira Jaising told Frontline: “It was never served on us. When we pointed this out, it was promptly taken down from the website. The formality of a procedure of inspection was gone through, after which the same show-cause notice was once again issued. What does this show? That the decision to cancel was first taken and then the procedure was gone through as a formality and the registration cancelled. That procedures can be manipulated to suit an outcome.”

It was no coincidence that the same day the lawyer Anand Grover was to file a petition in the Bombay High Court on behalf of the activist Harsh Mander, who was questioning the discharge of Amit Shah, who is now BJP president, as an accused in the murders of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kauser Bi, and the prime witness Tulsiram Prajapati.

Opposing Modi and his cohorts seems to be the commonality running through many of the NGOs targeted. Teesta Setalvad, Shabnam Hashmi and Indira Jaising have all been thorns on the side of Modi and have vocally opposed his divisive politics. In 2002, Indira Jaising and Grover filed the only civil suit against Modi in the aftermath of the genocide in Gujarat representing three British citizens of Indian origin who were being victimised for being Muslims. Indira Jaising also fought and won the case for Priya Pillai, the Greenpeace activist who was offloaded from a plane to London. But Grover representing Yakub Memon (convicted over his involvement in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts) on his mercy plea against the death penalty might have been the knockout blow. “This is where the cases we have done come into the picture. There is a personal agenda against us, we need to be punished for having accessed the law,” she said. All the NGOs have categorically maintained that they are being targeted for their political positions and not because the allegations themselves have any base.

Indira Jaising said: “Nothing could be more vague than the phrase ‘in public interest’. We have been told that the cancellation is in the public interest. What is the public interest is not disclosed to us. There are unsubstantiated allegations of funds not being properly maintained, but the punitive action is grossly disproportionate to the alleged improper maintenance of accounts. Our accounts have been frozen, we cannot receive any more funding. All for what? For not maintaining proper accounts? No civilised society can do this to its citizen.”

On being termed anti-national, Indira Jaising said it was the unkindest cut of all. “We have a track record going back 40 years working on issues of ending violence against women. We were the leaders in helping draft the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, we are currently engaged in working on the HIV Bill, we have argued cases for declaring Section 377 unconstitutional and succeeded in the High Court of Delhi, we have worked on the rights of transgender community successfully, we work on affordable health care cases and access to affordable medicines. Does this sound like anti-national work?”

What is happening now is an unprecedented assault on the freedom to form associations. It was part of a global trend where NGOs were seen as being anti-development, especially those speaking up against the government’s misplaced policies, said Kabir Dixit, a Supreme Court Advocate, who represented the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) in leading FCRA cases against the MHA. One of the cases challenging the constitutionality of some of the provisions of the Act is pending in the Supreme Court. The case raises the fundamental question of whether freedom of association even exists in India as a fundamental right of citizens. He describes the situation as tragi-comic and believes that the allegations will not stand in a court of law. “The government has repeatedly embarrassed itself by passing illegal and ultra vires orders betraying simultaneously a haste in acting against specific NGOs and a disregard for the prescribed statutory safeguards in the Act. It is difficult to believe that the officials implementing the provisions do not themselves understand the limitations on their powers. Which brings us to the obvious conclusion about the motive behind the witch-hunt. It is with that belief that we have repeatedly moved the courts and often seen success,” he said.

Even as civil society organisations term the FCRA a repressive and draconian law and call for its revocation, Indira Jaising has this to say: “The best of laws can be sabotaged by malintent by the enforcement agency. When the motive for taking action is political and extra-legal, the law becomes a proxy for achieving an extraneous object. All safeguards fail in this context. Foreign contribution is a financial matter, why is the intelligence agency involved in financial management? These matters should be within the remit of the Ministry of Finance, not the Ministry of Home Affairs.”

Big Brother in Delhi

“They might well have come to regard prime ministerial dominance as normal and, therefore, as acceptable. They might have been taken in by the media's preoccupation with the leader, his close circle, his family and his friends. They might even be over-impressed by the fact that the new prime minister had led them to victory and that they therefore owed their jobs to him. It is quite possible that they might be overawed by the sheer scale of the prime minister's department. Ministers in such a government would be not so much the prime minister's colleagues as his employees, even his courtiers - in which case the prime minister really would be a sort of president. An administration of this character is conceivable, but it seems unlikely, and, even if an administration did start out on that basis, it would be unlikely to remain on that basis for long.“

—Anthony King, The British Constitution (Oxford University Press, 2007).

THE eminent British Professor of Government had observed thus while making an assessment about a specific aspect of politics in the United Kingdom, particularly the impact and sway that different Prime Ministers had on the governments they led, especially on fellow Ministers in their governments. While doing so, King also points to a phenomenon he terms “theatre of celebrity”, which involves premeditated creation of a celebrity personality, which in turn is employed to enforce dominance on fellow politicians as well as the larger polity. King’s argument that such an administration is “unlikely to remain on that basis for long” does not make any reference to a specific time frame. In other words, there is no quantification in terms of years or decades.

Indian polity over the past two and a half years clearly fits in with King’s exposition of a specific trait of political dominance. In fact, the domination that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has enforced over members of his Ministry as well as the larger government machinery is a striking manifestation of King’s observations. Modi’s fellow Ministers, including seniors with decades of political experience and standing, have been virtually reduced to courtiers. Important Ministries and departments, including External Affairs, Finance, Defence and Home, are run practically on the diktats and direct intervention of the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The sidelining of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, a senior BJP leader, and her Ministry is conspicuous. Other seniors, such as Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari, have held on somehow to whatever little authority they have in their Ministries, albeit with periods of intense disquiet. The “theatre of celebrity” is in full play, aided and abetted by a powerful propaganda apparatus to which have been coopted some important media organisations and senior journalists.

Equally important is the timing of the advancement of this dominance project. It started unfolding soon after the swearing in of the Modi regime on May 26, 2014, and has sustained itself over two and a half years despite intermittent reverses at the level of electoral politics. In the last two months of 2016, this project gathered momentum and gained strength. So much so, the sobriquet “Emperor Modi” has sprung up at different levels of the political establishment, including within Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar, the larger Hindutva-oriented ideological organisational network of which the BJP is a part. But in keeping with the dominance game, the voices within the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are reduced to practically inaudible levels.

Two major decisions of the Union government in the last two months of 2016 underscore the phenomenal dominance Modi has been able to establish upon the Indian system of governance. The second was the surprise December 17 announcement of Lt Gen. Bipin Rawat as the next Chief of the Army Staff, who would take charge on January 1, 2017. The first was the dramatic November 8 announcement of demonetisation of Rs.1,000 and Rs.500 notes. Both decisions were essentially driven by Modi and his PMO bypassing the authority of Ministries responsible for them. Time-tested consultative processes at the level of the Cabinet and other segments of the government were flagrantly disregarded while pushing ahead with the decisions.

West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra, speaking on a television channel, said a senior Cabinet Minister had shared with him the sense of revolt and sterile rage he felt at the manner in which the news of demonetisation was broken to him. This senior Minister, along with many other Ministers, were herded into a room and made to listen to the Prime Minister’s announcement on television. “He [the Minister]) told me that there was no personal interaction, only this mass or herd viewing of the announcement on television,” Mitra told the channel. He added that there were doubts within the highest levels of the Union government, among both politicians and the administrative class, about how much Finance Minister Arun Jaitley himself knew about the demonetisation before it unfolded.

Appointment of new Army Chief

The appointment of Lt Gen. Bipin Rawat went against the long-held tradition of appointing the senior-most eligible officer to the post. By tradition, Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command, should have become the next Chief of the Army Staff. Lt Gen. P.M. Hariz, Southern Army Commander, the next in seniority, was also superseded. Even in the manner in which the announcement was made, there was an element of humiliation of senior Army officers who were eligible to be considered for the position.

The statement announcing the appointment went as follows: “In the current security situation, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency are key issues. Therefore, the background and operational experience of officers on the panel were considered in depth while selecting the next COAS [Chief of the Army Staff]. Lt General Bipin Rawat fulfils this criteria by virtue of his operational assignments as Commanding Officer of 19 Division in J&K and his outstanding track record, and his familiarity with the functioning of the Army headquarters and Ministry of Defence in his capacity as Vice Chief…. His general dynamism has also played a role in tipping the scales in his favour.” The statement infuriated a large number of service personnel, including senior Army officers, who perceived this as casting aspersions on the potential and suitability of the two superseded generals (see story on page 15).

Interestingly, the announcement also contained the claim that the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), the authority empowered to make the final selection of a significant number of senior positions in the Union government, had followed due process and taken sufficient inputs from the Defence Ministry, the Army and other requisite sources. This claim is viewed sceptically across different echelons of the government, including the Defence Ministry. This scepticism is aggravated by the manner in which the composition of the ACC was diluted by the Prime Minister as early as July 2014 by restricting the number of members in the committee to the Prime Minister (also the chairperson) and the Home Minister. Before July 2014, the Minister in-charge of the Ministry to which appointments were to be made was also part of the ACC. “The say of the concerned Ministries as well as the detail in their inputs were reduced significantly by this change in the constitution of the ACC,” a retired Defence Ministry official pointed out to Frontline.

A former colonel opined that the Prime Minister had often exhibited a penchant for intervention in the functioning of different Ministries and departments, grievously overturning norms and traditions, in order to advance his interests, both personal and political. “General Rawat is from Uttarakhand, which is expected to have Assembly elections in 2017. I am sure Modi will try and make use of this elevation as an election issue in the days to come,” he said.

The dilution of systems of governance and the overturning of administrative norms and tradition has not been restricted to the ACC. In fact, early in his tenure itself Modi had taken a series of steps in this direction. Even before meddling with the composition of the ACC in July 2014, the Prime Minister had effected a series of measures in relation to standing committees of the Cabinet and Cabinet committees. In June 2014, less than a month after being sworn in, Modi dispensed with four standing committees of the Cabinet—on Management of Natural Calamities, Prices, Unique Identification Authority of India-related issues, and World Trade Organisation Matters—and reconstituted crucial Cabinet committees, including those on Security, Political Affairs, Economic Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs.

Concentration of power

Evidently, the purpose of these changes was to bring these key sectors under bureaucrats, who could be forced to report directly to the Prime Minister, or the PMO. In other words, reduce the say and influence of other politicians in the BJP as well as the ruling coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), in these crucial areas.

Thus, it was announced that the functions of the Cabinet Committee on Management of Natural Calamities would be handed over, whenever natural calamities occur, to a committee under the Cabinet Secretary. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs was directed to take over the functions of the Cabinet Committee on Prices and the Cabinet Committee on World Trade Organisation Matters whenever necessary. The committee on UIDAI issues was also brought under the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs. These measures were preceded by the abolition of 30 empowered groups of Ministers and GoMs that existed at the end of the tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

All this was professedly done to further the cause of “minimum government, maximum governance”, a slogan coined by Modi. But what it actually did was to topple the premise of governance founded on “collective responsibility of Cabinet Ministers” and push it into a presidential form of government where a singular authority guides the course of governance and dictates terms. “Keep me in the loop on your functioning and approach me to get guidance” was Modi’s refrain in the interactions he had with groups of bureaucrats. There were also manoeuvres with individual bureaucrats and selected groups in order to build a direct access-control regime.

A case of harassment

The other side of these efforts was the harassment of select bureaucrats, once again to pursue vested interests. A case in point is that of Sanjiv Chaturvedi, a Haryana cadre Indian Forest Service officer. Chaturvedi was being monitored by Modi’s PMO, and documents obtained through Right to Information (RTI) have laid this bare. This monitoring also led to his being repeatedly denied a legitimate posting. By all indications, Chaturvedi’s inclination to expose corruption was the reason for the harassment. This is a dominant trait that Chaturvedi has displayed since his entry into service in 1995. In fact, he had earned a name for himself as a crusader against corruption in a short span of time in the various departments he was posted in. These included the Forest Department and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), where he was Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO) in the 2012-14 period. Chaturvedi had initiated several investigations during his tenure as CVO at the premier hospital. These included cases against officials who went on unexplained foreign trips on government expense and against a particular official who apparently had his pet dog operated upon at the AIIMS cancer centre.

Chaturvedi was the recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2015 for emergent leadership. The award citation stated that Chaturvedi’s “exemplary integrity, courage and tenacity in uncompromisingly exposing and painstakingly investigating corruption in public office, and his resolute crafting of program and system improvements to ensure that government honourably serves the people of India” were noteworthy. On account of this crusading trait, he had created many enemies among both officials and the political class across parties. Union Minister J.P. Nadda, too, had taken up some of the complaints against Chaturvedi raised by aggrieved persons. His interventions started in 2013, when the UPA was in power at the Centre and he himself was a Member of Parliament.

BJP leaders, including Arun Jaitley, termed these actions of Nadda as routine and legitimate. However, after the Modi-led BJP came to power in May 2014, the interventions of Nadda and other interested people in the BJP became more than routine and extraordinary. So much so, the special interest was such that the Prime Minister himself was tracking Chaturvedi’s progress in the bureaucracy.

This much comes through unambiguously in the RTI documents relating to Chaturvedi’s performance in government service. Among the documents obtained through RTI is a letter dated August 23, 2014, written by Lov Verma, then Secretary in the Department of Health and Family Welfare, to P.K. Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister. It stated: “The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India had a discussion with the Hon’ble Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare regarding the relieving of additional charge of CVO AIIMS, New Delhi, from Shri Sanjiv Chaturvedi, DS, AIIMS, New Delhi. A detailed note in this regard is submitted for the perusal of the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India.” The Health Minister at that time was Harsh Vardhan, and Nadda replaced him in November 2014. What the letter unravels is the level to which Modi’s monitoring can descend, both at the personal and official levels.

“It is indeed strange that the Prime Minister himself would be interested in inspecting the relieving of a Deputy Secretary-level officer,” said a senior bureaucrat, though he does not believe that the Prime Minister or Harsh Vardhan would have been doing this to protect the corrupt exposed by Chaturvedi.

However, some others, including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), have alleged that the monitoring and harassment of the upright officer is with the sole objective of appeasing the corrupt. Kejriwal’s request to the Centre to get the services of Chaturvedi as officer on special duty (OSD) is pending with the Union government since February 2015. He had said that if the Delhi government obtained Chaturvedi’s services, he would be made in charge of the State government’s anti-corruption branch. The Centre has not acceded to the request, and is evidently putting bureaucratic hurdles in the clearance of related files. After he was removed as AIIMS CVO in 2014, Chaturvedi opted for a transfer to the Uttarakhand cadre. Since then he has got neither a posting of his choice nor the clearance to accept the Delhi government’s offer, principally because the ACC has consistently denied him permission to move from Uttarakhand to Delhi. The Uttarakhand government, too, has taken a blow hot, blow cold approach in relation to his transfer, adopting contradictory positions at different junctures. The reasons for this flip-flop are, to put it mildly, inexplicable and bewildering. In the process, Chaturvedi is embroiled in one legal issue after another, which acquire newer and nuanced dimensions from time to time.

It is not just harassment and discomfort that the monitoring from the Prime Minister and the PMO brings. At the other end of the spectrum is Ajay Yadav, an IAS officer who could move from the Tamil Nadu cadre to Uttar Pradesh despite the fact that he had not completed the mandatory nine years’ service in the existing cadre. Yadav had completed only five years in service and his application for transfer was rejected twice by the Department of Personnel. However, in spite of that he received the transfer on October 28, 2015. It was approved “for a period of three years on personal grounds, in relaxation of policy, as a special case.” Significantly, Ajay Yadav is the son-in-law of Shivpal Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) in Uttar Pradesh. The AAP leadership, including Kejriwal, and others raised a hue and cry over Ajay Yadav’s transfer, but that by itself has not helped Chaturvedi’s case.

At the end of it all, what this underscored was the overwhelming powers of the Modi-led PMO and its special skills of monitoring leading to opprobrium in some cases and approbation in others. It is a power and skills game that crafted a chain of happenings that included the undermining of the system of Cabinet committees and standing committees—set up to ensure greater decentralisation and assimilation of wider inputs into decision-making—and the desiccation of the functional authority and freedom of leaders in the ruling dispensation. It also includes developing a mechanism of direct reporting and allegiance to Modi by bureaucrats. In short, a dominance project that is well under way over the last two and a half years, and one that will sustain its imperial ways in the days to come.

However, the advancement of this dominance project is not confined to micro and macro political-administrative management measures in governance and government mechanisms. It unfolds at the level of larger politics, too, in the form of proclamations of schemes and programmes. All these come along with the “theatre of celebrity” play that projects the supreme leader as the one and only panacea to the problems faced by the country and its people. Thus, you had the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which has purportedly turned India into a model of cleanliness and civic sanitation; the Jan Dhan Yojana, which has supposedly struck decisive blows for economic empowerment of the marginalised; and now the demonetisation drive, which has professedly wiped India clean of black money.

As any objective audit or assessment of these schemes and programmes would vouchsafe, all these are high on rhetoric and self-aggrandisement and short on real results. Indeed, these much-vaunted programmes and pronouncements represent “the cult of action for action’s sake”, which the philosopher and writer Umberto Eco identified as one of the “eternal” features of fascism. Eco delineates this point, saying fascists believe that “action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection” since “thinking is a form of emasculation”. That fits many facets of the dominance game of the Modi regime, including the recent demonetisation that is charting a monumentally disastrous path, causing economic and social havoc in the everyday lives of people.

Judiciary

Turbulent phase

V. VENKATESAN cover-story

AS this issue goes to press, the Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur would have retired, on January 3, after 13 months in office. His tenure witnessed perhaps the most bitter and open struggle for supremacy between the government and the judiciary since Independence. Never before had the head of the judiciary publicly and repeatedly expressed his exasperation over the government’s continued indifference and insensitivity to the judiciary’s concerns. As the CJI, Justice Thakur was more than accommodating of the government’s compulsions in various litigation before the court in which it was a party. But as he retired, he must have wondered what really prevented the government from reciprocating the judiciary’s respect for the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances that defines the working of the Indian Constitution.

Right from May 2014, when the Narendra Modi government came to power at the Centre with a comfortable majority, it was widely believed that the relationship between the executive and the judiciary would enter a turbulent phase. For, a government with a brute majority in Parliament is, by nature, likely to look at a counter-majoritarian institution like the Supreme Court with suspicion and seek to clip its wings.

Thus, the very first legislative measure, the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), which apparently enjoyed all-party support in Parliament and across State Assemblies, was declared unconstitutional and quashed by the Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench in October 2015 as violative of the independence of the judiciary. This meant a return to the collegium system of appointing judges to the higher judiciary, in which the judiciary—and not the executive—has primacy.

Even while asserting its independence from the executive, the Supreme Court conceded to the government its prerogative to redraw the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) in the light of its judgment in the NJAC and the collegium reform cases to make a fresh beginning in the appointment of judges.

This, many in the legal circles believe, was a serious lapse on the part of the Constitution Bench and was inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s own understanding of how its primacy is intrinsic to its independence. This momentary lapse, in acceding to the government’s suggestion that the MoP is its prerogative and that the collegium could still have the final say in approving the new draft, amounted to handing over the judiciary’s hard-won victory on a platter to the executive. The result was a year-long impasse on judicial appointments, with both the government and the collegium not willing to reach a compromise on the new draft of the MoP.

The government used the opportunity to rewrite the MoP, to sneak in certain clauses in the draft MoP, which, if finalised, would have compromised the independence of the judiciary.

One is that the government could reject a recommendation from the CJI-led collegium for appointing a judge in the Supreme Court or a High Court if it went against national security. The other was to tinker with the criteria of seniority and subject it to “merit” and “integrity” while appointing judges.

The government proposed that the number of candidates from the Bar or from the distinguished jurists category to be elevated to the bench be restricted to three and that all judges of the Supreme Court be invited to recommend names for appointments. The government also wanted a committee comprising retired judges of the Supreme Court and eminent jurists to assist the collegium.

The collegium has apparently rejected all these proposals and has insisted that the proposed Secretariat for the collegium be brought under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court’s registry instead of the Ministry of Law and Justice.

Even as the turf war between the government and the collegium on the judges’ appointments raged behind the scenes, Justice Thakur held the government accountable in the public domain by hearing three public interest litigation petitions on the long-pending appointments. He repeatedly grilled the Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi, during the hearing of these cases on why the government was sitting on the collegium’s 80-plus recommendations on High Court appointments even as the number of vacancies in the High Courts across the country was alarmingly high.

When Justice Thakur insisted that the government should either approve the recommendations or return them for reconsideration by the collegium, the government blinked but returned the recommendations to appoint 43 candidates for judgeships in High Courts on the grounds of “adverse intelligence reports and serious nature of complaints” against them. The collegium, in turn, reiterated its recommendations for 37 candidates, deferred three proposals, and is still considering the remaining three names. Once reiterated, these recommendations are binding on the government.

Justice Thakur expressed his anguish during one of the hearings thus: “Once we had a situation where we had judges but no courtrooms. But now, there are courtrooms, but no judges. You may now as well close courtrooms down and lock justice out. You can have the institution called the judiciary locked.”

With Justice J.S. Khehar, the senior-most judge, being appointed the next CJI, the conflict between the government and the judiciary appears set to intensify further. Having presided over the five-judge Constitution Bench that declared the NJAC unconstitutional and restored the collegium system of appointing judges, Justice Khehar is unlikely to cede space to the government in the ongoing battle for supremacy.

Parliamentary committee

Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, in its 87th Report on “Inordinate Delay in Filling up the Vacancies in the Supreme Court and High Courts”, has blamed the judiciary for distorting the original mandate of the Constitution and has urged the government to take appropriate measures to restore it.

The report admits that the large number of vacancies in higher judiciary is a cause for concern and worry for all and that nearly 43 per cent of the approved strength of judges in the High Courts is vacant. The report has recommended increasing the age of retirement of High Court judges from 62 to 65 and of Supreme Court judges from 65 to 67.

The report has also proposed a fixed tenure for the Chief Justices of the High Courts and for the CJI to avoid the collegium being dysfunctional. A fixed term for chief justices may deprive the opportunity of senior-most judges to realise their ambition of becoming chief justices, and, therefore, is unlikely to find favour with the judiciary.

Delhi & Lt Governor

Under close watch

AKSHAY DESHMANE cover-story

ON December 22, the office of the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi, Najeeb Jung, issued a statement that he had “submitted his resignation to the Government of India”. Political circles in the national capital were taken by surprise and speculation peaked about the possible causes for the unexpected decision, as the statement did not mention any reason for his resignation. Curiously, according to senior officials, Jung had not sent his resignation letter to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) or the President’s Secretariat, institutions to which the LG reports, but to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The next morning, around 11 a.m., Jung walked into the PMO and had an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Speaking with a few reporters after the meeting, Jung said that twice in the past he had offered to resign, but Modi had asked him to continue as LG.

This was a rare, if not the only, instance since February 2015, when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power in Delhi, of a senior official representing the Centre publicly confirming the Prime Minister’s association with an issue linked to the administration of Delhi. Until now, only Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP have asserted that Modi and his office had been “interfering” in the national capital’s local administration. In response, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as senior Ministers in the Union government often ridiculed or dismissed the claims, accusing Kejriwal of trying to drag the Prime Minister into local matters.

However, evidence gathered by Frontline through multiple right to information (RTI) applications to the MHA and other institutions and interviews with government officials reveal that the PMO has not only been monitoring the Government of the National Capital Territory (GNCT) of Delhi but also closely following up on matters linked to it since March 2015, barely a month after the new Delhi government was sworn in.

Since that date, the country has been witness to a public and courtroom tussle over administrative jurisdiction between Kejriwal and the Centre, at the heart of which lies a special constitutional framework created in the early 1990s for governing the NCT of Delhi. The Constitution (69th Amendment) Act, 1991, inserted Articles 239AA and 239AB into this framework. It was brought into force in February 1992. This Act, together with the GNCT of Delhi Act 1991, Article 239 of the Constitution, and Transaction of Business of the GNCT of Delhi Rules, 1993, are critical components of the framework that was expected to guide disparate agencies administering Delhi. As per this framework, executive functions relating to public order, police and land rest with the LG, who, in other matters, “is required to act on the aid and advice of his Council of Ministers.” The LG is the “administrator” appointed by the Centre, or more specifically the President, and has more powers than the Governors of States.

However, controversies and turf battles between the GNCT and the Centre have been frequent. These were witnessed during previous regimes too on account of differing interpretations by governments about legal provisions. Former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, for instance, had differences with both the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2002 and with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government later.

Some commentators have called the provisions vague and argued for the necessity to grant full Statehood to permanently address the disputes over administrative turf. However, in the absence of that and the presence of governments run by different parties with brute majorities in both the Centre and the NCT of Delhi, the turf battle has been particularly pronounced. The Kejriwal government petitioned the Delhi High Court in several specific instances when disputes arose and the court broadly ruled in favour of the Centre in August. The matter will come up before the Supreme Court for final arguments on January 18. Before the final verdict is delivered, these two assertive power centres in Delhi and an influential and active PMO have created a political situation unlike in any other State across the country.

The first instance

This correspondent inquired into two specific instances which clearly revealed the PMO’s monitoring of the much-publicised turf battles between Jung and Kejriwal. The first instance concerns an email sent by Shishir Gupta, the Executive Editor of Hindustan Times, on March 28, 2015, to BJP national president Amit Shah and Officer on Special Duty (IT) in the PMO, Hiren Joshi. In his email, whose subject line was “KEJRIWAL AGAINST CENTRE”, Gupta wrote: “Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal is on course to abrogate all powers of the Centre in NCR with neither the Home Ministry nor the BJP MLAs/Pradesh unit doing anything to contest it. The buzz in Delhi Govt is that BJP will do nothing to aggravate issues with Kejriwal due to its impact on forthcoming Bihar poll.” Gupta listed nine specific decisions taken by the Delhi Chief Minister and his government and called them “example of violations by Kejriwal” (see “Full text of the email”). The first “example of violation” cited by Gupta is about the routing of files concerning public order, the police and land through the Chief Minister’s Office before they are sent to the LG’s office and this issue appears to have brought the turf battle into the public domain. The LG subsequently asked Kejriwal that the files from senior bureaucrats be sent directly to him.

The email was drafted in such a manner that it did not seek a response from the BJP president or the PMO but only passed on information. Interestingly, a story by the Executive Editor was published on the front page of the April 1 New Delhi edition of HT with a headline suggesting that Kejriwal was exceeding his jurisdiction: “On collision course: Delhi CM Kejriwal steps on LG Jung’s toes”. It reported only the first “example of violation” and did not mention the others and steered clear of the details mentioned in the email about political issues. “Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung are on a collision course, with the AAP leader directing that all files pertaining to reserved subjects of police, public order and land be routed through him,” Gupta wrote. There has not been any other story on the issue by him since then.

However, in his response to queries sent by Frontline about the letter, Gupta insisted that the email “contains the outline of my then proposed story” and that it was written in the form of “conclusions” to seek “comments and response of PMO and the BJP party president” for writing a news story.

His email, which Gupta said did not get a response from Amit Shah or Hiren Joshi, appears to have been taken far more seriously by the PMO. Documents accessed from the MHA through RTI showed that on the afternoon of March 31, the PMO’s top official, Nripendra Misra, called Anant Kumar Singh, Additional Secretary (CS) in the Home Ministry, to his office and sought a “factual report” on the email in less than five days. Marked urgent, his single-page record of the meeting and subsequent notes by MHA bureaucrats on it as follow-ups revealed the importance given to the issue in the North Block office.

Anant Kumar Singh wrote: “Today I was called by the Principal Secretary to PM in his office at 12.30 p.m. He gave me an email dated 28.03.2015 received from Shri Shishir Gupta, which is placed at flag ‘A’ and desired that a factual report on the same shall be sent to him by this Friday. As the offices are closing after Wednesday, it will be advisable to seek the report from the Lt Governor (LG) by Wednesday evening so that the desired report is sent in time to PMO. Accordingly, a letter addressed to LG for seeking factual details and his views on the assertions made in the mail mentioned above is placed below for approval.”

This note was seen by the then Home Secretary, L.C. Goyal. A draft of the letter to the LG seeking the factual report was indeed prepared, but never sent, as the LG’s response was received the same day. A note on the page on March 31 confirmed this: “A letter from LG has since come. We need not send this letter.”

The subsequent factual report, which if it was indeed sent to the PMO, could not be found on both occasions when this correspondent inspected a bunch of files requested in multiple RTI applications from the MHA, including the one which had Gupta’s email and related documents (RCN: 483718/AS (CS)/2015), in February and August. A separate but related RTI application to the PMO did not yield much information. Significantly, later tussles between the LG and the AAP government also broadly adhered to a line of authority as articulated by the MHA in subsequent communications related to the issues flagged in the email.

The second instance

In April and May, the PMO appears to have retained extraordinary interest in Delhi’s matters. The second instance concerns the contentious issue of the jurisdiction of the AAP government’s Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB). The battle against corruption being its key plank, in its early months the Kejriwal administration and AAP-dominated Assembly (67 of the 70 MLAs belong to the AAP) did several things to emphasise, in the public eye, their commitment to curbing corruption. Two such actions became contentious.

The first was the arrest of a Delhi Police official by the ACB for alleged corruption and a resolution passed by the Delhi Assembly condemning the Union government for its attempt to “dilute the efforts for eradication of corruption from Delhi by curtailing the jurisdiction of the Anti-Corruption Branch”. The second related to a July 23, 2014, notification issued by the MHA, which emphasised that the ACB could only take action against Delhi government employees; prior to the notification, the ACB had the power to act against anyone within the NCT of Delhi.

In a letter to the MHA on April 8, Jung sought legal opinion on two issues: the July 23, 2014, notification and the Delhi Assembly resolution.

Two days later, before this request was sent to Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi, Law Secretary P.K. Malhotra signed off on a page which had a typed explanation about the legal opinion to be sought and the following text written in longhand in the bottom half as a note: “Ld. AG has earlier seen this matter and given his opinion on page 36/n. The present reference from page 50/n is the result of letter dated 08.04.2015 (Annex A) received from Lt. Governor, Delhi. Home Ministry, in consultation with PMO, desires opinion of Ld. AG. May kindly see [sic].”

Clearly, the shadow of the PMO lingered on this issue, too. While these are specific and documented instances, officials mentioned, off the record, several instances about the PMO’s interest in specific administrative measures being undertaken in Delhi. According to an official in the LG’s office, who requested anonymity, the most recent instance was considering a query made barely a couple of months ago concerning the installation of CCTV cameras, incidentally one of the important election promises of the AAP.

Aware of the PMO’s extraordinary interest in his government, Kejriwal said, in reaction to a notification issued by the MHA in the third week of May 2015 concerning the power to appoint bureaucrats in key positions in the Delhi government: “LG Jung is the face, but the order comes from above. The PMO acts like the Queen of London, with the Lieutenant Governor as Viceroy.” Queries seeking clarification about the two instances documented above were sent to the PMO but a response was not received at the time of going to press.

It remains to be seen how things unfold in the future since Jung has left the LG’s office and Anil Baijal has taken over. Stories abound on why Baijal’s name was cleared by the PMO before the MHA sent it to the President for official appointment. If the track record of the past 22 months is anything to go by, there cannot be much let-up in the PMO’s interest in the Delhi government and administration. Some sections close to the AAP said that the extraordinary interest would not only sustain but get more intense, not a very heartening prospect for the AAP government.

Education

Campus control

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI cover-story

ON December 9, a month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that high-denomination notes would be recalled, University Grants Commission (UGC) Secretary Jaspal Singh Sandhu wrote a letter to the vice chancellors of Central, State and private universities reminding them of a previous letter he had sent on December 6 regarding the Vittiya Saksharta Abhiyan (VISAKA), or financial literacy campaign, to be conducted in higher educational institutions to promote the digital economy. There was a sense of urgency in the letter, in which he reminded them that Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Human Resource Development (HRD), had addressed the vice chancellors of all universities and Higher Education Secretaries of all States and apprised them of the activities to be taken up by higher education institutions between December 12 , 2016, and January 12, 2017, to promote this campaign.

Sandhu also requested an action taken report on the progress of the campaign by the vice chancellors of all State and Central universities as well as vice chancellors and directors of institutions deemed to be universities. He urged them to take a personal interest in the matter and to inform him as to how many had registered on the website created for that purpose. The website of the campaign highlighted the point that a digital monitoring report was required to be uploaded by the nodal officers of all the institutions. There were no prizes for guessing the origin of the idea of a digital campaign in universities. It had clearly emanated after Modi’s announcement and every Ministry had to give it top priority. The primary objectives of universities as institutions of higher learning and research were now subservient to the new goals of the digital economy.

The campaign details, available on the website of the MHRD, clearly state the objectives, which appear to flow from the November 8 announcement and the subsequent moves to push for a cashless economy. “In view of the recent decisions of the government, India is on the cusp of a major financial revolution,” the website states. What is shocking is the near-dictatorial manner in which universities have been instructed to participate and cooperate with the ostensibly lofty objective of curbing black money and digitising the economy without as much a discussion in the academic bodies of the universities. There is little thought on whether universities were meant to carry forward the political objectives of a party in power or just stick to the business of higher learning and research as is their mandate.

The purpose of the campaign is to “actively engage the youth/students of higher education institutions to encourage and motivate all payers and payees to use a digitally enabled cashless economy system for transfer of funds. The Ministry of Human Resource Development views the institutions of higher education in the country, faculty members and students to take the lead and act as engines of this transformational shift.”

The website says all heads of educational institutions are expected to prepare for a “cashless campus within a limited time frame for all transactions within the campus” and offers various options for digital transactions. Faculty members and students are encouraged to motivate their family members and people in their surroundings to go digital. Volunteers from the National Service Scheme (NSS) and the National Cadet Corps (NCC) are expected to interact with shop owners and vendors to go cashless.

The Students Federation of India (SFI) said in a statement issued on December 8 that the directive was a case of misuse of government machinery for the propaganda of a ruling party and ran antithetical to academics. In rather strong terms, the organisation said the move was “shameless especially at a time when the economic effects of demonetisation were being felt across the country, with the poor sections feeling the brunt of the attack”. It pointed out that every student had been asked to campaign in at least 10 households. The idea of “all campuses cashless” lacked any knowledge of the ground realities, it said, adding that “students in the mofussil towns and rural/semi-rural areas were in no position of paying their fees, etc., through electronic means at the current juncture. Majority of students in Central universities had to face extreme difficulties having been forced to stand in bank and ATM queues at the time of approaching exams and submissions.”

University autonomy

Universities, which are created by Acts of Parliament or State Assemblies, enjoy a large degree of autonomy in terms of administrative and academic matters. The continued interference in the university system, by imposing either administrative or academic fiats from above, is not new but of late had become very frequent. In 2015, the Choice-Based Credit System with courses framed by UGC-appointed committees was imposed on universities. Universities of late have become a kind of an arena of experiment for the government, and it began with the series of events that led to a Dalit scholar’s suicide in the University of Hyderabad last January, which was quickly followed by the events in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

On March 3, a letter issued by the MHRD to the UGC chairman and copied to vice chancellors of all universities called for improvement in financial management and strict adherence to rules and procedures. The directive came under attack from teachers’ unions, including the Federation of Central Universities Teachers’ Associations (Fedcuta). The Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) said the directive went against the letter and spirit of the Act and Statutes of JNU and represented an attack on university autonomy, adding that it would also paralyse decision making and prevent proper utilisation of funds. The problem with the directive was that it made university officers, such as the registrar and the financial officer, appointed by the Executive Council, accountable to outside authorities and threatened them with “strict disciplinary action” should they fail to keep the university bodies in line, including through the withholding of the release of funds.

More importantly, in a departure from established norms and practice, the letter directed that agenda items of university bodies such as the Executive Council “should be prepared well in advance by Central universities and sent to the MHRD and the UGC two weeks before the meeting so that proper scrutiny of agenda items along with observations of the regulator as well as the ministry are put on record”. The university, the teachers’ association stated, was not a government department that could be so directed but a statutory body created by an Act of Parliament. The contents and tenor of the letter were perceived as undermining established structures of universities under the pretext of better financial management.

In May 2016, Allahabad University Vice Chancellor R.L. Hangloo threatened to resign after the MHRD objected to the university’s decision to hold online entrance examinations and insisted on an alternative system of offline exams. Hangloo maintained that the proposal for having an online system of examination had been discussed with the Ministry and that it was in keeping with Modi’s vision of a digital India. He also said that the Ministry was interfering with the university’s autonomy. The matter settled down but not before bringing to centre stage issues concerning university autonomy.

Continued interference

Direct and indirect forms of interference in routine administrative matters have not been the only instances of government overreach. A sustained discourse on nationalism, rather cultural nationalism of an insular kind, has been at play consistently over the past two years. In March 2016, a faculty member of the Jharkhand Central University was suspended after the State’s Governor refused to attend a function at the university because a retired JNU professor had been invited to deliver a lecture at the same function. After a protest, the indefensible suspension was revoked.

The kind of strident right-wing student activism centred around “nationalism”, as witnessed in the University of Hyderabad and JNU in 2016, was also seen on the Haryana Central University (HCU) campus in Mahendragarh district on September 21. A play by Mahasweta Devi was adapted for stage by students and teachers of the HCU’s English and Foreign Languages Department. It allegorised custodial rape and death. Even though it was widely appreciated, sections within the university raised a hue and cry labelling it as anti-Indian Army. Clearance for the play had already been obtained at the highest levels of the university, that is from the registrar and the vice chancellor. In spite of this, loud protests were orchestrated within the campus and ex-servicemen were mobilised in order to put pressure on the university authorities to take action against two teachers. The university authorities were compelled to institute an inquiry against the teachers involved in the play. Meanwhile, videos of the play were circulated in the adjoining villages of the campus, which are thickly populated by ex-servicemen. Support for the beleaguered teachers came from teachers’ associations across the country.

Leading academics from India and three from Columbia University in the United States wrote to the Vice Chancellor of HCU, stating that the “university campus needed to be fostered as a place where difficult questions can be debated in a spirit of intellectual openness and without fear or censure”. However, on the basis of the recommendations of an internal inquiry committee, the teachers were warned not to repeat such acts, failing which strict disciplinary action would be taken against them under the service rules.

Such incidents are not isolated. In May, BPS Women’s University in Sonepat district struck off the name of one of the speakers, Jagmati Sangwan, from a panel discussion following orders from the Chief Minister’s Office. Jagmati Sangwan, who was then the general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), was informed about the change the night before the event. The AIDWA and other groups in the State protested against this attack on a university’s right to organise a talk, and demanded an explanation from the university and the Chief Minister’s Office, but none was forthcoming. It may be recalled that the AIDWA had gone to court in protest against the amendments to the State Panchayati Raj Act.

Intimidation tactics

The year also saw open intimidation of actors and theatre artists. On October 6, film star Nawazuddin Siddiqui was not allowed to take part in a theatrical rendition of Ram Leela in his village in Budhana tehsil, Muzaffarnagar, in western Uttar Pradesh. Supporters claiming allegiance to the Shiv Sena reportedly warned the organisers not to cast a Muslim in the play. The actor, who was vacationing in his village, had expressed a desire to the committee to act in the play.

On October 5, a conference at Indore organised by the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) was disrupted by slogan-shouting activists of the Bharat Swabhimaan Manch, who claimed that the renowned film director, M.S. Sathyu, whose Garam Hawa is rated as one of the best films on Partition, had no right to speak on India-Pakistan relations. Sathyu, who inaugurated the three-day conference, had reportedly spoken on the “surgical strikes”, stressing peace and dialogue between the two countries, and commented on the banning of artistes from Pakistan. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), too, issued a statement alleging that the IPTA, widely regarded as one of the oldest progressive theatre movements in the country, “had instigated violence against the police, Army and government, which was an anti-national act”.

The interference in university structures or the imposition of cultural nationalism or the concept of the national good is no coincidence, emanating as they do from the highest authorities. Where the office of the Prime Minister is directly concerned in matters such as pushing for the digital economy in the interests of the national good, the autonomy of Ministries themselves is on shaky grounds, let alone the autonomy of universities.

Education

Campus control

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI cover-story

ON December 9, a month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that high-denomination notes would be recalled, University Grants Commission (UGC) Secretary Jaspal Singh Sandhu wrote a letter to the vice chancellors of Central, State and private universities reminding them of a previous letter he had sent on December 6 regarding the Vittiya Saksharta Abhiyan (VISAKA), or financial literacy campaign, to be conducted in higher educational institutions to promote the digital economy. There was a sense of urgency in the letter, in which he reminded them that Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Human Resource Development (HRD), had addressed the vice chancellors of all universities and Higher Education Secretaries of all States and apprised them of the activities to be taken up by higher education institutions between December 12 , 2016, and January 12, 2017, to promote this campaign.

Sandhu also requested an action taken report on the progress of the campaign by the vice chancellors of all State and Central universities as well as vice chancellors and directors of institutions deemed to be universities. He urged them to take a personal interest in the matter and to inform him as to how many had registered on the website created for that purpose. The website of the campaign highlighted the point that a digital monitoring report was required to be uploaded by the nodal officers of all the institutions. There were no prizes for guessing the origin of the idea of a digital campaign in universities. It had clearly emanated after Modi’s announcement and every Ministry had to give it top priority. The primary objectives of universities as institutions of higher learning and research were now subservient to the new goals of the digital economy.

The campaign details, available on the website of the MHRD, clearly state the objectives, which appear to flow from the November 8 announcement and the subsequent moves to push for a cashless economy. “In view of the recent decisions of the government, India is on the cusp of a major financial revolution,” the website states. What is shocking is the near-dictatorial manner in which universities have been instructed to participate and cooperate with the ostensibly lofty objective of curbing black money and digitising the economy without as much a discussion in the academic bodies of the universities. There is little thought on whether universities were meant to carry forward the political objectives of a party in power or just stick to the business of higher learning and research as is their mandate.

The purpose of the campaign is to “actively engage the youth/students of higher education institutions to encourage and motivate all payers and payees to use a digitally enabled cashless economy system for transfer of funds. The Ministry of Human Resource Development views the institutions of higher education in the country, faculty members and students to take the lead and act as engines of this transformational shift.”

The website says all heads of educational institutions are expected to prepare for a “cashless campus within a limited time frame for all transactions within the campus” and offers various options for digital transactions. Faculty members and students are encouraged to motivate their family members and people in their surroundings to go digital. Volunteers from the National Service Scheme (NSS) and the National Cadet Corps (NCC) are expected to interact with shop owners and vendors to go cashless.

The Students Federation of India (SFI) said in a statement issued on December 8 that the directive was a case of misuse of government machinery for the propaganda of a ruling party and ran antithetical to academics. In rather strong terms, the organisation said the move was “shameless especially at a time when the economic effects of demonetisation were being felt across the country, with the poor sections feeling the brunt of the attack”. It pointed out that every student had been asked to campaign in at least 10 households. The idea of “all campuses cashless” lacked any knowledge of the ground realities, it said, adding that “students in the mofussil towns and rural/semi-rural areas were in no position of paying their fees, etc., through electronic means at the current juncture. Majority of students in Central universities had to face extreme difficulties having been forced to stand in bank and ATM queues at the time of approaching exams and submissions.”

University autonomy

Universities, which are created by Acts of Parliament or State Assemblies, enjoy a large degree of autonomy in terms of administrative and academic matters. The continued interference in the university system, by imposing either administrative or academic fiats from above, is not new but of late had become very frequent. In 2015, the Choice-Based Credit System with courses framed by UGC-appointed committees was imposed on universities. Universities of late have become a kind of an arena of experiment for the government, and it began with the series of events that led to a Dalit scholar’s suicide in the University of Hyderabad last January, which was quickly followed by the events in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

On March 3, a letter issued by the MHRD to the UGC chairman and copied to vice chancellors of all universities called for improvement in financial management and strict adherence to rules and procedures. The directive came under attack from teachers’ unions, including the Federation of Central Universities Teachers’ Associations (Fedcuta). The Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) said the directive went against the letter and spirit of the Act and Statutes of JNU and represented an attack on university autonomy, adding that it would also paralyse decision making and prevent proper utilisation of funds. The problem with the directive was that it made university officers, such as the registrar and the financial officer, appointed by the Executive Council, accountable to outside authorities and threatened them with “strict disciplinary action” should they fail to keep the university bodies in line, including through the withholding of the release of funds.

More importantly, in a departure from established norms and practice, the letter directed that agenda items of university bodies such as the Executive Council “should be prepared well in advance by Central universities and sent to the MHRD and the UGC two weeks before the meeting so that proper scrutiny of agenda items along with observations of the regulator as well as the ministry are put on record”. The university, the teachers’ association stated, was not a government department that could be so directed but a statutory body created by an Act of Parliament. The contents and tenor of the letter were perceived as undermining established structures of universities under the pretext of better financial management.

In May 2016, Allahabad University Vice Chancellor R.L. Hangloo threatened to resign after the MHRD objected to the university’s decision to hold online entrance examinations and insisted on an alternative system of offline exams. Hangloo maintained that the proposal for having an online system of examination had been discussed with the Ministry and that it was in keeping with Modi’s vision of a digital India. He also said that the Ministry was interfering with the university’s autonomy. The matter settled down but not before bringing to centre stage issues concerning university autonomy.

Continued interference

Direct and indirect forms of interference in routine administrative matters have not been the only instances of government overreach. A sustained discourse on nationalism, rather cultural nationalism of an insular kind, has been at play consistently over the past two years. In March 2016, a faculty member of the Jharkhand Central University was suspended after the State’s Governor refused to attend a function at the university because a retired JNU professor had been invited to deliver a lecture at the same function. After a protest, the indefensible suspension was revoked.

The kind of strident right-wing student activism centred around “nationalism”, as witnessed in the University of Hyderabad and JNU in 2016, was also seen on the Haryana Central University (HCU) campus in Mahendragarh district on September 21. A play by Mahasweta Devi was adapted for stage by students and teachers of the HCU’s English and Foreign Languages Department. It allegorised custodial rape and death. Even though it was widely appreciated, sections within the university raised a hue and cry labelling it as anti-Indian Army. Clearance for the play had already been obtained at the highest levels of the university, that is from the registrar and the vice chancellor. In spite of this, loud protests were orchestrated within the campus and ex-servicemen were mobilised in order to put pressure on the university authorities to take action against two teachers. The university authorities were compelled to institute an inquiry against the teachers involved in the play. Meanwhile, videos of the play were circulated in the adjoining villages of the campus, which are thickly populated by ex-servicemen. Support for the beleaguered teachers came from teachers’ associations across the country.

Leading academics from India and three from Columbia University in the United States wrote to the Vice Chancellor of HCU, stating that the “university campus needed to be fostered as a place where difficult questions can be debated in a spirit of intellectual openness and without fear or censure”. However, on the basis of the recommendations of an internal inquiry committee, the teachers were warned not to repeat such acts, failing which strict disciplinary action would be taken against them under the service rules.

Such incidents are not isolated. In May, BPS Women’s University in Sonepat district struck off the name of one of the speakers, Jagmati Sangwan, from a panel discussion following orders from the Chief Minister’s Office. Jagmati Sangwan, who was then the general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), was informed about the change the night before the event. The AIDWA and other groups in the State protested against this attack on a university’s right to organise a talk, and demanded an explanation from the university and the Chief Minister’s Office, but none was forthcoming. It may be recalled that the AIDWA had gone to court in protest against the amendments to the State Panchayati Raj Act.

Intimidation tactics

The year also saw open intimidation of actors and theatre artists. On October 6, film star Nawazuddin Siddiqui was not allowed to take part in a theatrical rendition of Ram Leela in his village in Budhana tehsil, Muzaffarnagar, in western Uttar Pradesh. Supporters claiming allegiance to the Shiv Sena reportedly warned the organisers not to cast a Muslim in the play. The actor, who was vacationing in his village, had expressed a desire to the committee to act in the play.

On October 5, a conference at Indore organised by the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) was disrupted by slogan-shouting activists of the Bharat Swabhimaan Manch, who claimed that the renowned film director, M.S. Sathyu, whose Garam Hawa is rated as one of the best films on Partition, had no right to speak on India-Pakistan relations. Sathyu, who inaugurated the three-day conference, had reportedly spoken on the “surgical strikes”, stressing peace and dialogue between the two countries, and commented on the banning of artistes from Pakistan. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), too, issued a statement alleging that the IPTA, widely regarded as one of the oldest progressive theatre movements in the country, “had instigated violence against the police, Army and government, which was an anti-national act”.

The interference in university structures or the imposition of cultural nationalism or the concept of the national good is no coincidence, emanating as they do from the highest authorities. Where the office of the Prime Minister is directly concerned in matters such as pushing for the digital economy in the interests of the national good, the autonomy of Ministries themselves is on shaky grounds, let alone the autonomy of universities.

Foreign Policy

Selfie diplomacy

JOHN CHERIAN cover-story

AS Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has patented his own style of diplomacy. He has gone on a record number of foreign visits in the past three years in his efforts to meet the strategic and defence goals the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has laid out for the country.

The External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, hardly accompanied him on the more than 50 state visits he has undertaken to foreign countries. Sushma Swaraj seemingly is treated with benign neglect by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The only substantive press conference she has held was after she completed two years in office. She is mostly in the news for her tweets on Indians who find themselves in difficult circumstances being rescued by the Indian government. There have been barely any tweets from the External Affairs Minister on the fate of the 39 Indians who have been missing since the fall of Mosul in 2014. Sushma Swaraj is not even part of the Cabinet Appointments Committee and had no role in selecting the Foreign Secretary, S. Jaishankar, after his predecessor, Sujatha Singh, was unceremoniously shunted out by the Prime Minister.

Modi also prefers to talk directly to senior bureaucrats on key issues, frequently bypassing the External Affairs Minister. It is also not a secret that the Prime Minister gives a lot of weightage to the advice given by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Ajit Doval. The inputs of right-wing think tanks that have proliferated in the capital, many of them with close connections with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), also play a role. Tibetan and Uighur activists were invited by a think tank run by the NSA’s son Shaurya Doval. Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary and RSS activist, is also known to be playing a key role in foreign policy matters on issues relating to the Indian subcontinent and China.

Ajit Doval, along with Nripendra Misra and P.K. Mishra, who have been given key positions in government, has been part of the right-wing Vivekananda Foundation. One of the first foreign visits Modi announced was to Israel. The RSS’s admiration for the Jewish state is well known. Modi has still not fulfilled his commitment to visit Israel, but there has been an exchange of visits by the Indian and Israeli Presidents. Under Modi’s watch, India for the first time abstained in a United Nations resolution condemning Israeli atrocities in Gaza and the occupied territories.

As for the Prime Minister, he treats the media with barely disguised contempt. He has not bothered to address an open press conference since taking over. There have of course been no discussions in Parliament on important foreign policy decisions the Modi government has taken. Modi’s trips to foreign capitals are also aimed at enhancing the personality cult among the Indian diaspora, which has been carefully crafted by his handlers. The Hindu supremacist and hyper-nationalist image Modi has assiduously cultivated seems to have impressed a cross section of the Indian diaspora, as was illustrated by the rock star reception he got in places such as New York and London. However, there are very few important foreign policy gains to boast of, despite Modi’s self-proclaimed personal chemistry with world leaders such as Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe and Vladimir Putin. He has tried his personalised style of diplomacy with the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, and had personally invited Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and heads of other South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries for his inauguration. But within a short time, relations with Pakistan and China started deteriorating.

The calling off at the eleventh hour of the India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary-level talks at the insistence of the PMO derailed the prospects for the resumption of the dialogue process. Modi gave the impression that he wanted to kick-start the process again when he made an unannounced visit to Nawaz Sharif’s home in Lahore in December 2015. But the apparent diplomatic flexibility displayed by Modi hardened into open hostility after the terror attacks on Indian Army bases. Prospects of talks between the two countries now have all but diminished.

India’s relations with China have become frosty under Modi’s watch as was illustrated by Beijing’s refusal to accommodate India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Modi once again tried personal diplomacy with the Chinese President on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit to persuade China to set aside its objections to India’s entry into the NSG.

Under Modi’s stewardship, there has also been no enhancement in India’s prospects for a permanent seat at the high table of diplomacy—the U.N. Security Council.

De facto military ally of U.S.

Modi’s priority has been strengthening relations with the West, particularly with the U.S., and Japan. In the process, Modi and his advisers have made India a de facto military ally of the United States in the looming confrontation with China. The signing of a Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) with the U.S. in 2016 coupled with New Delhi’s endorsement of the U.S.’ position on the contentious South China Sea issue are signals that China had to heed. On the Tibet issue also, India has started taking a more proactive position. The Dalai Lama is given more prominence by being invited to official events. The Dalai Lama has been given permission to once again visit Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. Tawang is among the important places of pilgrimage for Tibetan Buddhists. Another important Tibetan religious figure, the Karmapa Lama, was also allowed to visit Tawang in late 2016, further angering China.

Under Modi’s stewardship, India has so far refused to join the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. India and Japan are the only two Asian countries that have not joined the OBOR initiative. In fact, the Indian government sees the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is connected to OBOR, as a threat to its security interests.

As India under Modi’s watch moves closer to the West, China has markedly improved relations with India’s immediate neighbours. China is busy investing in key infrastructure projects all over South Asia. In the last week of December, it was announced that Nepal and China would conduct joint military exercises for the first time. The Indian government has conveyed to Kathmandu that it is unhappy with this announcement.

India’s relations with Russia are not as warm as it was in the recent past. Russia also seems to be weighing its diplomatic options given the direction in which India under Modi is heading. Russia has started selling military weaponry to Pakistan. Russia, Iran and Pakistan have met for tripartite talks on Afghanistan, excluding India. The three countries are not averse to talking to the Afghan Taliban. They view the emerging threat from the Daesh (the so-called Islamic State) as a bigger danger.

Under Modi, India has given the impression that it prefers to be taken seriously by the West rather than strive for regional integration or strengthening organisations such as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa). Modi did not bother to attend the 2016 Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit nor did he depute his Minister for External Affairs to the summit.

Armed Forces

Farewell to norms

THERE can be nothing as predictable and routine as the appointment of the next Army chief. The procedure is simple: the senior-most Army commander becomes the Army chief. At the Army headquarters, the succession line gets prepared years in advance, the procedure for shortlisting is completed months ahead, and the name is usually announced two or three months before the incumbent chief’s retirement. But even in as staid a situation as this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has managed to stir up a controversy, thanks to his predilection for an extremely personalised way of functioning. Two senior Army commanders, Eastern Army Commander Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi, who is the senior-most, and Southern Army Commander, Lt Gen. P.M. Hariz, have been superseded to appoint Vice Chief of the Army Staff, Lt Gen. Bipin Rawat, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). This has stirred up a hornet’s nest because the final decision on the selection of the Army chief is taken by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, which is headed by the Prime Minister and has senior Ministers as members.

This is only the second time that seniority has been overlooked in the appointment of the Army chief. In 1983, Indira Gandhi favoured Lt Gen. A.S. Vaidya to the post of Army chief, overlooking the Vice Chief of the Army, Lt Gen. S.K. Sinha, as he had advised against the deployment of the Army in insurgency-ridden Punjab at that time.

Explaining the appointment of Lt Gen. Rawat as the COAS, a Defence Ministry official said: “The government of the day takes the final decision choosing the most suitable officer on the basis of various aspects of the security situation in the country and the future scenario. In the current security situation, counterterrorism and counter-insurgency are key issues. Therefore, the background and operational experience of officers on the panel were considered in depth while selecting the next COAS. Lt Gen. Rawat fulfils this criteria by virtue of his operational assignments as Commanding Officer of 19 Division in Jammu and Kashmir and his outstanding track record and his familiarity with the functioning of the Army headquarters and the Ministry of Defence in his capacity as Vice Chief…. His general dynamism has also played a role in tipping the scales in his favour.”

The official added that the “Appointments Committee of the Cabinet is the authority to make the final selection based on the inputs provided by the service headquarters and the Ministry, as well as any other additional information that may assist in the selection of the services chiefs, for the assignment involves strategic management of national security. In the selection and nomination of COAS-designate by the government, due process had been followed, considering prevailing security environment and requirements.”

Ministry officials, who had been left to defend the indefensible, were quoted in various newspapers as saying that the superseded commanders lacked field experience in counterterrorism and anti-insurgency operations. This effectively suggested that not-so-competent officers had been elevated to the level of Army commanders, a preposterous suggestion if the rigorous process through which officers reach such high levels is concerned. Their argument also added fuel to the already raging turf war within the Army echelons as it seemed to suggest that officers from the Infantry, to which Lt Gen. Rawat belongs, were superior to those from the Armoured Corps or the Mechanised Infantry, to which the superseded officers belong.

Obviously, a war of words has broken out. While the opposition parties have accused the Prime Minister of politicising the Army by saying that the appointment of Lt Gen. Rawat was done with an eye on the upcoming Uttarakhand Assembly elections, veterans have criticised the move by saying that it will encourage sycophancy among ambitious military officers.

“The decision of the present government to bypass the seniority criterion is unfortunate because it will encourage military officers to become sycophants. Besides, the reasons cited by the government are stupid because they seem to suggest that the other two Army commanders are not as good. The fact remains that when one reaches the level of Army commander, one is as good as the other. The long-term implication of this faulty decision will be that the political and military leadership will start messing up with each other,” said Major General (retd) Satbir Singh, chairman of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement.

Satbir Singh, who has trained all the three as commandant at the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun, said all of them were exceptionally brilliant officers and the government should have stuck to the time-tested norm of seniority in picking the next chief in order to avoid unnecessary controversy.

Group Captain (retd) T.P. Srivastava, who also has known all the three officers personally since their cadet days, rues the fact that the government has compounded its folly by trying to give explanations. “The first mistake [of superseding] is compounded by their explanation that counter-insurgency and counterterrorism are the criteria that finally clinched the deal for Lt Gen. Rawat. What happens if there is a war tomorrow on the western border? Will they start looking for a new chief who can lead the Army to fight in the plains or in the desert?” he asked. According to him, it definitely is the government’s prerogative to appoint the Army chief and there should have been no further discussion on that except for asserting that the best among a group of equals has been appointed.

No other Prime Minister before Modi has used the Army as brazenly to further his political agenda. It may be mentioned here that as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate, Modi, addressing a rally of ex-servicemen at Rewari, Haryana, in September 2013, promised to solve all their problems, including the implementation of their long-pending demand of One Rank One Pension, within a month of coming to power. The veterans were so emotionally swayed that they wholeheartedly supported the BJP.

But more than two years later, OROP has not been fully implemented. The veterans have been sitting on a dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi since June 14, 2015, demanding OROP.

In another extremely controversial decision, former Army chief, General (retd) V.K. Singh, who joined the BJP within one year of his retirement, was not only fielded as a Lok Sabha candidate in 2014 but was subsequently rewarded with a ministerial berth, a move many described as one that has added to the politicisation of the Army to a great extent. Modi would do well to leave the Army alone because politicisation of this institution is fraught with grave dangers for the country’s security.

Media

Peddling myths

DIVYA TRIVEDI cover-story

“POST-TRUTH” was declared the international word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries since it was the most used word “in the context of the E.U. [European Union] referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States”. It was described as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. When post-truth becomes the signpost for the media, it can destroy the ethics on which the profession is built and can have disastrous consequences, as was seen in India over the past one year.

The majority of the media capitulated to power and joined the growing circle of coterie around Narendra Modi and the ruling party, peddling myths, or, as some columnists called it, lies. The bridge between fact and fiction collapsed as many media organisations promoted demonetisation in the face of widespread economic disruptions. As an irate trader told this reporter in a Delhi market: “Why should I talk to you? Media persons have been ignoring the disastrous effects of the government’s ill-thought-out move on common folk like me and praising it relentlessly!” In Haryana, a Zee News reporter, Mahender Singh, was reportedly made to resign after he dared to ask Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar for his comments on demonetisation and the interview went viral on social media. Earlier this year, Vishwa Deepak, a reporter with the same channel, resigned citing prejudice in the network’s coverage of a meeting by students of Jawaharlal Nehru University on February 9 to protest against the capital punishment meted out to Afzal Guru.

While a section of the media covered issue after issue with bias, the ones that did attempt “journalism”, which simply meant “doing one’s job”, were censored. Printing presses and offices of newspapers in Kashmir were raided, copies of newsprint seized and journalists detained as they covered the uprising in Kashmir after Burhan Wani’s killing in July. Kashmir Reader, an English language paper that reported several excesses on civilians by the armed forces, was banned in October. The ban was lifted only towards the end of December when winter had set in and the Army claimed to have quelled popular discontent in the Valley. An order was passed banning NDTV India for a day for revealing “strategically sensitive” information while covering the terrorist attack on the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Pathankot base. The ban was later put on hold after senior journalists from the channel, along with owner Prannoy Roy, met Information & Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and told him that they had not reported anything that other channels had not already shown.

In the initial days of the new dispensation, Modi and many of his Ministers embraced social media in a big way and only gradually started looking at using the mainstream media. Some journalists saw the writing on the wall and began to crawl when they had not yet been asked to bend. As Lakshmi Chaudhry, former executive editor and co-founder of Firstpost.com who resigned from her post under controversial circumstances, said: “Reporters and columnists practise self-censorship when they don’t write certain stories at all or don’t touch upon certain points. This does not even require a nudge but is done in advance, in anticipation, in fear of repercussions. See, it is in the nature of governments and power not to like to be discomfited; for instance, just look at the case of Julian Assange. But the haste and alacrity with which the mainstream media are looking to toe the line before it is even drawn is alarming.” Others who did not toe the government line were removed rather unceremoniously. Several heads of media organisations lost their jobs, only to be replaced by individuals who were seen as being not overtly critical of the government, or who were blatantly close to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. Prasar Bharti CEO Jawhar Sircar was relieved of his duties in October after he expressed a wish to retire before his term ended in February 2017. Though there were murmurs of government interference in Prasar Bharti, which comes under the Information & Broadcasting Ministry, Sircar did not confirm them.

Journalists in Chhattisgarh continued to get a raw deal and were subjected to intimidation, threats and arrest. While three journalists were freed after a sustained campaign for their release, Santosh Yadav, who has written for Hindi newspapers such as Dainik Navbharat and Dainik Chhattisgarh, continues to be behind bars, where, he claims, he was beaten up by the police. Malini Subramanian, contributor to Scroll.in, had to leave Bastar, while the journalist Durga Prasad, along with six other members of a fact-finding team probing encounters and atrocities in Bastar, were arrested under the draconian Chhattisgarh Public Security Act.

According to the Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ), India became one of the 10 deadliest countries for journalists in 2016, along with Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey and Somalia., Eleven journalists have been killed in India since 2014. Rajdev Ranjan, reporter for Hindustan in Siwan, Bihar, and Karun Mishra, reporter for Jansandesh Times in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh, were killed in 2016 as a reprisal for their work, according to the CPJ. The reasons for the deaths of Dharmendra Singh, reporter for Dainik Bhaskar in Sasaram, Bihar; Kishore Dave, reporter for Jai Hind in Junagadh, Gujarat; and Akhilesh Prata, reporter for Taza TV in Chatra, Jharkhand; are unknown but they were possibly killed for their work too, said the CPJ report. In all, 70 journalists have died in India since 1992, of whom 27 were murdered with complete impunity. “This has created a challenging environment for the press, especially small-town journalists and those reporting on corruption, who are often more vulnerable to attack and whose legitimacy is questioned when they are threatened or killed,” the report said. The climate for press freedom in India is deteriorating, with journalists increasingly facing harassment and threats from right-wing elements.

TV anchor Arnab Goswami, who earned Times Now the sobriquet “fox news on steroids” by a Vice (a print magazine and website based in Vancouver, Canada) columnist, exited the channel to launch his own venture, called Republic. While his farewell was much talked about, others made quiet exits and did not speak about it for fear of further retribution. Honourable exceptions such as Hartosh Singh Bal, Siddharth Varadarajan, Ravish Kumar and many others refused to get intimidated and continued to speak truth to power. At the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards ceremony, presented by The Indian Express, an undercurrent of tension was palpable as Narendra Modi took the stage as chief guest. The irony of his statement that governments should not interfere with the media was not lost on anyone and he quickly followed it up by saying that there were limits to the press’ freedom. The journalist Akshaya Mukul’s brave act of refusing to receive an award for his book Gita Press and The Making of Hindu India from the man accused of the Gujarat pogrom 2002 created ripples. While he registered his dissent by boycotting the event, Raj Kamal Jha, Editor of The Indian Express, converted his vote of thanks speech into a classroom lecture for the Prime Minister on journalism. He spoke about the pitfalls of selfie journalism, pointed out that bad journalism was making a lot more noise and reiterated that criticism from a government was a badge of honour for a journalist. Addressing Modi, he said: “You said some wonderful things about journalists, which makes us a little nervous. You may not find it in Wikipedia, but Shri Ramnath Goenka, and it’s a fact and I can say that as the editor of The Indian Express, he did sack a journalist when he heard a Chief Minister of a State telling him ‘ Aapka reporter bahot accha kaam kar raha hai’ [Your reporter is doing a very good job].”

The year 2016 was, ultimately, the kind of year that began with Narendra Modi unveiling media mogul Subhash Chandra’s (of Zee Network fame) autobiography at 7, Race Course Road, the Prime Minister’s official residence, without anybody finding it amiss or batting an eyelid.

Perspective

The decline of Modi

A.G. NOORANI cover-story

“I TOOK up office equipped with a great fund of royalist sentiments and veneration for the king. To my sorrow, I find that this fund is ever more and more depleted! … I have seen three kings naked, and the sight was not always a pleasant one,” Bismarck said to a friend after he was dismissed by an impetuous German Kaiser Emperor Wilhelm II shortly after he ascended the throne. “He fancied himself greatly as a strong man and soon fell out with Bismarck,” Jawaharlal Nehru remarked ( Glimpses of World History, Lindsey Drummon, 1949, page 516).

Just half-way through his term in office as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi faces disenchantment to a high degree. Demonetisation only served to remind the people of lapses they had overlooked. He hugely personalised demonetisation. The gamble failed. The slide downwards has begun. The Emperor has no clothes on him.

Modi’s hysterical performances reveal his panic at the wide public disenchantment in the wake of his quixotic decision on demonetisation of Rs.1,000 and Rs.500 currency notes on November 8. This was the first major test of his mettle and he has been found wanting. Slogans, his favourite ploy, do not help (vikas, vishwas, et al). People want answers; they demand accountability for the havoc he created. But the concept is foreign to him.

He has deployed every trick in the book to build himself up as a mass leader, above the party (Bharatiya Janata Party) and even its parent (the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh), and above institutions, Parliament and the judiciary. His technique was continuous electioneering, doling out slogans, impugning the integrity of critics and opponents without a thought for accountability to Parliament. He began by going over the heads of Cabinet colleagues to civil servants (vide the writer’s article “Modifying Democracy”, Frontline, July 11, 2014). He is now reduced to embarking on a course of cheap demagogy. It will not work.

People have seen better Prime Ministers before. There are those who carefully follow his utterances. A reputed daily, Business Standard, published in the issue of December 6, a meticulous survey of Modi’s pronouncements since his telecast to the nation on November 8. It was aptly entitled “How Modi changed the demonetisation narrative”.

It bears quotation in extenso: “The speech (in English) lasted 25 minutes. The Prime Minister uttered the phrase ‘black money’ 18 times in this speech. He mentioned ‘fake currency’ or ‘counterfeit’ five times in the same speech.

“It was unambiguously clear from the Prime Minister’s speech that the primary motivation for the sudden withdrawal of nearly 86 per cent of the country’s currency was the evil of black money….

“So, between November 8 and November 27, the objective for the demonetisation exercise has swung from black money elimination to going cashless, as evident in the Prime Minister’s speeches.

“To be sure, urging citizens to use less cash and resort to digital transactions is a laudable objective and must certainly be encouraged. But when a decision was taken to remove a whopping 86 per cent of the country’s currency overnight with all its attendant costs, one would have hoped there was one strong rationale for it, even if it meant achieving multiple objectives.

“Either the Prime Minister has realised that the original primary objective of eliminating black money may not be met or there was not adequate thought behind the decision.”

The author, Praveen Chakravarty, prepared graphs showing the shift from “black money” to “cashless/digital” economy amidst the war on “fake currency”.

Changing track

In the face of abject defeat, Modi changed track. His speeches tell the tale. So does his conduct. He, who never shed a tear when a pogrom was on in Gujarat in 2002 when he was Chief Minister, “broke down” at Goa on November 13; lips trembling, the throat choked. The content was as revealing as the conduct was amusing. “They will not leave me alive. They will destroy me. Let them do what they want.” He did not identify who “they” were. Was the NIA alerted to the threat?

Next came his famous and explicit promise. “For 50 days help me. The country should just help me for 50 days”; “bear with me for 50 days”. “The suffering is for 50 days.”

On December 24 he said in Mumbai, not that the sufferings would end after those charmed 50 days, but that the pains for the poor would begin to diminish, while they would increase for the rich. Is this an honest way to speak to the people? He did not deign to notice even for once the problems faced by them, especially the poor, but evaded them by recourse to cheap histrionics. “My dear countrymen I gave up everything…. My home, my family. I gave up everything I had for this country.” Ergo? “Don’t question me. I gave up everything for you after all.”

Modi’s plea was addressed to the ones who suffered the most, the poor, in extravagant terms: “I am doing this for the poor, toiling and honest people who are working hard to survive; so that they can get their own home, their children get good education and their parents get care.”

Modi always promises the moon. What is more, he is out not only to recast the polity but also to emerge superior to all his predecessors. These revealing words provide us with ample warning of the ambitions of a Sawdust Caesar. “ Some people have used the same yardstick to judge me which they have used to weigh actions of the previous government. They should have changed their weighing scale after I was elected to power” ( The Times of India, November 14; emphasis added, throughout).

He is a superior person. “Do you think Modi (sic) will just come and go like other political parties? ( Hindustan Times, November 14). Like Charles de Gaulle, Modi refers to himself in the third person. In Lucknow on November 14, the 50 days pledge was made more precise. He would use this period to complete the “big task”; a “ mahayagna of honesty”; of unearthing black money ( The Hindu, November 15). By the time this article is printed readers would be able to judge for themselves not only the failure of Modi’s plans but, no less, the honesty of his extravagant claim.

Informed international opinion exposed both. The International New York Times of November 19 editorially noted that demonetisation had “thrown the economy into turmoil, with many millions of people forced to line up at banks to deposit or exchange their old bills” (notes). It predicted that “cash-based corruption and tax evasion are almost sure to return as people accumulate the new bills”.

Lawrence Summers, a former U.S. Treasury Secretary and Harvard University president wrote of the “ongoing chaos in India and the resulting loss of trust in government” ( The Telegraph, November 22).

The Times repeated its criticism in greater detail on November 29. The Economist’s critique on December 3 was devastating not only because it laid bare the mess but also sharply pointed the finger at the creator of the mess—Modi. It said: “Shops stopped accepting the old notes at once. Holders have until the end of the year to deposit them in banks or swap them, either for smaller-denomination notes or for new 500- and 2,000-rupee ones. That 86.4 per cent by value of the cash in circulation is suddenly no longer legal tender has already caused predictable and needless hardship. It is too late—and politically unthinkable—to start again, but Mr Modi should do more to limit the damage; and he should abandon the flawed leadership style that caused the mess….

“Banknotes are not just a way for the rich to store their wealth; they are also how the unbanked survive. As so often, the burden for this reform has fallen most heavily on the poor. Over four-fifths of India’s workers are in the “informal” sector, paid in cash. Untold numbers have been laid off because their employers cannot pay them. Tens of millions have queued for hours at cash machines and bank branches, to get rid of the useless notes and get hold of some spending money. A new business has sprung up in laundering cash for a fee for those without the time or inclination to queue, or with more notes than they can account for.

“Cash is used for 98 per cent by volume of all consumer transactions in India. With factories idle, small shops struggling and a shortage of cash to pay farmers for their produce, the economy is stuttering. There are reports that sales of farm staples have fallen by half and those of consumer durables by 70 per cent. Guesses at the effect on national output vary wildly, but the rupee withdrawal could shave two percentage points off annual GDP growth (running at 7.1 per cent in the three months to September). “With a bit of forethought, much of the mayhem could have been avoided. It turns out that the new notes are smaller and require all the country’s ATMs to be reconfigured, which takes 45 days. Some 22bn notes are affected, but printing capacity is said by the previous Finance Minister to amount to only 3bn a month. So even if fewer notes are needed, because more money will be in banks, printing them will take some time. The banks were ill-prepared to handle about 8.5trn [trillion] rupees in new deposits in the three weeks after demonetisation. After they used the deposits to buy bonds, lowering interest rates, the central bank had to order them to park the new money with it, in zero-interest accounts….

“The perceived need for secrecy (to take cash-hoarders by surprise) fed into the innate sense he has of his own infallibility and his misplaced faith in his technocratic skills. By designing a scheme that was needlessly callous and which is becoming increasingly unpopular, he has squandered political capital. In future he needs to consult more widely, centralise less decision-making in his own hands and acknowledge that not all criticism is partisan or special pleading from the corrupt rich. India, fortunately, is not North Korea, and is aware that leaders are fallible. Its federal, democratic system will give voters plenty of chances to let it be known how badly Mr Modi has messed up his rupee rescue.” Modi’s credibility stands diminished abroad as much as it has at home. Reception on visits abroad will be less warm.

Sample one more. Steve Forbes, in Forbes magazine, called the decision “breathtaking in its immorality”. He said, “What India has done is commit a massive theft of people’s property without even the pretence of due process—a shocking move for a democratically elected government.”

To be sure, not one of Modi’s millionaire friends was seen in the serpentine queues. It is the poor and the middle class which bore the brunt. Modi spoke irrelevantly, on December 3, of the times when people stood in queues to buy sugar, wheat and kerosene as if the queues he had forced on the people bore any comparison to those. He spoke to his fawning BJP MPs on November 22—behind closed doors.

Silent in Parliament

But the established norms of the parliamentary system required the Prime Minister to make a detailed statement in Parliament when it met on December 6 for its winter session and thus initiate a debate. He kept silent. He cannot reply to critics with facts and figures. His forte is slogan-mongering, which is unsuited to parliamentary debate. An exasperated opposition drove itself to extremes. Modi attacked his critics outside Parliament by impugning not their judgment but their integrity.

It is a highly personalised mode of government. The frequent junkets abroad have a two-fold aim—to impress the people at home and to muscle his way to the high table of the great. At the end of 2016, India’s foreign policy is in a shambles. Its relations with China, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Russia are far worse than what they were when Modi took the oath of office as Prime Minister in May 2014. The party is devalued. All the seniors have been put on the shelf by devising arbitrarily and unilaterally an age limit. Now Modi stands apart from and above not only the party, the BJP, but also the RSS. Time will buttress this ascendancy as Modi pursues his drive for total power. The tone of administration and the morale of the civil servants have suffered.

That secular values have suffered needs no elaboration. Educational and cultural institutions have been packed with party hacks—it is the Gujarat Model at play. Internationally, the country’s reputation has suffered grievously. The situation was well summed up in the recently published report of the U.S. commission on religious freedom internationally: “In 2015, religious tolerance deteriorated and religious freedom violations increased. Minority communities, especially Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups. Members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party tacitly supported these groups and used religiously divisive language to further inflame tensions.

“These issues, combined with long-standing problems of police bias and judicial inadequacies, have created a pervasive climate of impunity, where religious minority communities feel increasingly insecure, with no recourse when religiously motivated crimes occur.” On all these Modi, has maintained a meaningful silence.

In one respect Modi’s claim to be a unique leader, with no precedent to match, is right. For the very first time ever the nation is cursed with a divisive leader. He has followed his Gujarat Model faithfully by debasing political discourse nationally as he had in Gujarat. If on November 22 he accused the opposition of corruption ( The Hindu, November 23), on December 27 he hit back at the opposition for its legitimate criticism by denouncing “ choron ke sardar” (leaders of thieves). Aspirations for dictatorship were not concealed. Modi called himself a “chowkidar” (watchman) ( Indian Express, December 28). It is a menace to democracy.

The opposition is worse than divided. It is inept. A White Paper on Modi’s War on the Poor, containing a full record, from November 8 to December 30, is called for. It should comprise his utterances, the zig-zags of decisions, and an exposure of the people’s sufferings—the queues, the harm to the economy and the deaths.

Modi is not a strong leader. He is an incompetent one whom failures drove to dwell in a bubble. On December 27 he claimed: “Through the note ban, in one stroke, we destroyed the world of terrorism, drug mafia, human trafficking and underworld” ( The Hindu, December 28). Don’t laugh; be prepared for worse. A paranoid who can speak thus can do much worse as desperation and failures mount. He cannot accept reverses and defeats. A grave misfortune has befallen the country. With Narendra Modi, the office of Prime Minister of India has fallen to its lowest depths.

Controversial choices

cover-story

Soon after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government assumed power under the stewardship of Narendra Modi, the focus shifted to appointments, particularly in educational and research institutions. The government used its influence wherever possible to appoint persons of its choice to those posts.

The distinguishing feature of appointments made by previous governments was that people put in important positions could not be labelled as having a distinct political loyalty; their academic credentials were impeccable.

However, several of the new appointments made within a year drew a lot of attention for the wrong reasons. The first appointment that raised eyebrows was that of the chairperson of the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR). Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, former head of the Department of History and Tourism Management in Kakatiya University, with little-known credentials in the area of history, took over as head of ICHR in July 2014. His firm belief in the caste system as expressed in a much-quoted blog of his seemed to be among one of the immediately motivating factors. His proximity to and membership of the Akhil Bharatiya Itihaas Sankalan Yojana, an organisation with known affiliations to the RSS, appeared to be a more important factor in his appointment to this prestigious institution. Gopinath Ravindran, member-Secretary of the ICHR, resigned in protest, even before the expiry of this term. A professor of history from Jamia Milia Islamia, Ravindran had joined the ICHR on deputation in 2013. In May 2015, the editorial board and advisory committee of Indian Historical Review were reconstituted and eminent historians such as Romila Thapar were purged.

In January 2015, Zafar Sareshwala, a Mumbai-based businessman and owner of Parsoli Corporation and known to be part of the campaign team that saw the return of the BJP under Narendra Modi to power, was appointed chancellor of Maulana Azad Urdu National University. Sareshwala, originally from Ahmedabad, had reportedly appeared on several news channels professing his support to the new government at the Centre. He was described by a leading newspaper as “the Muslim who bats for Modi”.

In June 2015 the government appointed Gajendra Chauhan president of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and chairman of its governing council, overlooking more accomplished claimants like Gulzar, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Shyam Benegal. Chauhan’s claim to fame was his proximity to the BJP and having acted in the epic television series, Mahabharat. For months, students sat in protest and went on an indefinite strike and even came to Delhi seeking a fair hearing from the Union government. Several renowned artists, including actors from the Mumbai film industry and FTII alumni, expressed concern over the choice of Chauhan. But nothing happened and Chauhan continues as president of the FTII.

In January 2016 the government cleared the decks for the appointment of Jagadesh Kumar, a professor of electrical engineering from IIT Delhi, to take over as vice chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University. He was known to have attended an event of the Vijnana Bharati, an organisation affiliated to the RSS. But his term was soon embroiled in controversy given the manner in which the JNU administration went overboard in dealing with students, implicating several of them in serious cases, including sedition.

Equally controversial was the appointment and tenure of the vice chancellor of the University of Hyderabad, Appa Rao Podile, who took over soon after the previous incumbent, an appointee of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government quit when the NDA assumed power. Podile’s role and the handling of the circumstances that led to the suicide of a Dalit scholar, Rohith Vemula, was nothing short of controversial. For months, the university concentrated more on disproving the Scheduled Caste status of the deceased student. As in the case of JNU, where an innocuous meeting was given a political complexion, leading to a prolonged standoff between the students and the administration and even the arrests of students, the circumstances that led to Vemula’s suspension and the harassment that drove him to suicide had distinct political overtones.

Despite repeated exhortations in Parliament requesting the Prime Minister’s intervention in finding a resolution to the unrest and chaos in two leading Central universities, Modi chose to remain silent. The decisions and actions of the administrative heads then were seen as having the tacit support of the leadership at the top.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

Full text of the email

cover-story

The full text of Shishir Gupta’s email, which was part of the documents accessed through an RTI application to the MHA, runs as follows:

“Mail from: Shishir Gupta

To: Hiren Joshi (OSD, IT to PM), Amit Shah

Date: Saturday, March 28, 2015 at 8: 15 AM

Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal is on course to abrogate all powers of the Centre in NCR with neither the Home Ministry nor the BJP MLAs/Pradesh unit doing anything to contest it.

The buzz in Delhi Govt is that BJP will do nothing to aggravate issues with Kejriwal due to its impact on forthcoming Bihar poll.

The following are example of violations by Kejriwal:

1) He wrote a letter to Delhi LG citing a 1998 order by then Deputy PM L.K. Advani that all files relating to police/public order/land should be routed to the CM. This has already started with Kejriwal interfering on who should be appointed as lawyers for prosecution in Delhi Police cases. He now wants recruitment of 60 police men to help anti-corruption bureau of Delhi Govt on his own.

2) He ordered a ban on any demolition in Delhi without mandatory approval of the LG.

3) Circular issued by Delhi Govt that Home and Legislative Departments that any file being sent to LG must be seen by the CM.

4) Ordering magisterial inquires without any powers.

5) Appointment of Chief Secretary directly with HM bypassing the LG despite instructions that all MHA interaction should be via LG.

6) Giving officiating charge to Chief Secretary of 1986 batch without any approval of LG.

7) Delhi Dialogue Commission started functioning before even the LG gave approval or was informed.

8) Suresh Kumar Jain appointed as OSD to Kejriwal without sanction of the MHA. He is an IRS officer of 1992 batch.

9) Threatening Central Ministers of rationing their water supply despite the fact that there is no 24-hour supply of water in entire Delhi since 1960s.”

Intrusion into academic space

cover-story

THE increasing interference by the NDA government, especially that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the affairs of Nalanda University in Bihar resulted in the resignation of the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, first as Chancellor of the university in 2015 and as member of its governing board in November 2016. Chancellor George Yeo, too, quit his post in November citing interference from the government. He said the present regime at the Centre was eroding the university’s autonomy. Yeo resigned after the university’s governing body was reconstituted on November 21 without even informing him.

The move to reconstitute the governing body was obviously aimed at interfering with the selection of a new Vice Chancellor, which the governing board was in the process of doing. With Vice Chancellor Gopa Sabharwal’s term coming to an end on November 24, 2016, the search committee was already in the process of selecting a new name, which would have then been sent to the board for approval and then to the government.

Yeo was merely sent a letter signed by an Under Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs after the governing board was reconstituted. The order read: “President Pranab Mukherjee, in his capacity as Visitor of N.U., is pleased to approve the constitution of the governing board with immediate effect in accordance with Clause 7 of the N.U Act.”

Prof. Sugata Bose, Trinamool Congress MP, who also was ousted from the governing board, said: “It is sad the way Yeo had been kept in the dark about the changes in the university’s governing board. It does not bode well for our prestige in South East Asia. It is not only our foreign relations, but the future of the university itself that is at stake.” Besides Amartya Sen, the United Kingdom-based economist and Labour politician Lord Meghnad, who was a member of the Nalanda Mentors’ Group, was also not included in the reconstituted governing board.

Professor Arvind Sharma, faculty of religious studies, McGill University (Canada); Prof. Lokesh Chandra, president, Indian Council for Cultural Relations; and Dr Arvind Panagariya, Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog, are the new faces in the reconstituted board.

Nalanda University was established on November 25, 2010, to revive the lost glory of India not only in the field of spiritual and philosophical studies but also in medicine and mathematics. The university’s governing board has on it the Chancellor, the Vice Chancellor, representatives of five member countries (India, China, Australia, Laos and Thailand), Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, one representative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development and two representatives of the government of Bihar. The only member of the Nalanda Mentors Group to have retained his position in the new governing board is former Rajya Sabha member N.K. Singh as the Government of India representative. Other countries will name their representatives later.

The university’s problems started soon after the NDA government took over, which delayed the decision to give another term to Prof. Sen despite the board having approved it. Prof. Sen, who was with the university since its inception, resigned reportedly upset over the “delay in extension of his tenure and political interference”.

One of the ousted governing body members admitted to Frontline that denying a second term to Prof. Sen was a personal decision of Prime Minister Modi. The fact that the government wants to hoist a person of its choice as the Vice Chancellor becomes clear as the move to reconstitute the board coincided with the end of Vice Chancellor Gopa Sabharwal’s tenure on November 24, 2016. The process to find her successor is on.

The university’s search committee invited applications for the Vice Chancellor’s post in October and the last date for receiving applications was November 30. The Visitor makes the appointment from a panel of names recommended by the governing board. “It is quite obvious the government did not want the present governing board to recommend names,” said Prof. Sugata Bose. “The present board was in the process of selecting a Vice Chancellor so the government clearly did not want the board to do that. It bodes ill for the future of such a prestigious institution as its autonomy has been compromised,” he said. According to him, this was a sensitive issue which needed to be handled carefully but unfortunately it did not happen. “The government should have thought of the long-term implications of this move,” he said.

An External Affairs Ministry official, however, justified the government’s action by saying the governing board was long overdue for reconstitution. “The same members had continued for nine long years. The university was lagging behind in performance despite a huge amount of money having gone into it. It was not doing as well as it should have. There was no dearth of funding, but the results were missing. So the changes had become necessary,” he said. According to him, it was wrong to attribute political motives to the changes because the basic idea was to improve performance by bringing in eminent academics.

But the question arises as to who exactly is an eminent academic. Looking at the credentials of the newly appointed governing body members, it is clear that Nalanda University is in for a tactical shift. The focus is more likely to be on studying religion and Sanskrit, according to the newly appointed governing body member Prof. Arvind Sharma. That is something the RSS has always been advocating.

Purnima S. Tripathi

‘More excavation only after report’

the-nation

ALTHOUGH the division bench of Justices S. Nagamuthu and M.V. Muralidaran of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court asked, on November 15, why the Keezhadi artefacts could not be taken to the ASI’s circle office in Chennai instead of Bengaluru for scientific cleaning, analysis and documentation, subsequently, on November 24, the bench permitted the ASI to shift the finds to its chemistry branch headquarters in Dehradun or any other laboratory in the country.

The judges based their decision on ASI Director General Rakesh Tewari’s submission that “all the required examination of the excavated materials cannot be carried out” at the ASI’s chemistry laboratory in Chennai because it “is not equipped with the necessary and advanced facilities for proper examination and analysis” of the artefacts. “Thus, for proper and necessary examination and also for the preparation of the report thereon... the excavated materials would have to be ideally shifted to the Dehradun laboratory,” the ASI Director General told the judges.

The judges asked the Commissioner of the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department to take stock of the artefacts before they were transported from Keezhadi. The Commissioner should personally monitor the work of noting down the details of each artefact excavated during the field season in 2016, besides taking photographs of and videographing them. On the court being informed that the artefacts unearthed during the 2015 field season had already been moved to Bengaluru, the judges asked the State Archaeology Commissioner to depute a subordinate to Bengaluru to collect details of those artefacts. They, too, should be videographed, they said.

“After the scientific analysis, the excavated material should be brought and kept in Keezhadi or in the Sivaganga district museum or any other suitable building,” the judges ruled.

Earlier, Rakesh Tewari, in his report submitted to the court, said the ASI had received more than 120 proposals for exploration and excavation in every field season and added that it was “a tedious process to propose a site museum at any of the sites”. A site’s archaeological importance and historical value was established only after extensive excavation and post-excavation analysis. Only after this the ASI decides whether to declare it a protected site, and only later “a proposal for establishing a site museum can be considered”, the Director General said.

“The ASI is unable to establish a site museum at Keezhadi because the site is unprotected,” Rakesh Tewari told the court in his report. The Keezhadi antiquities were safely kept in the ASI’s custody and they would be used for writing a report on the excavation and the unearthed artefacts.

The Director General submitted this report to the court after it directed him, on November 15, to consider the plea for establishing a site museum at Keezhadi and inform the court about the decision taken by November 24.

When Frontline contacted Rakesh Tewari on November 25 in his New Delhi office, he asserted: “We cannot make a site museum at every site [we excavate].” He added that “important [Keezhadi] artefacts can be displayed in Chennai, but after some time”.

Asked whether he would give Amarnath Ramakrishna the licence to excavate for the third field season in 2017 because there was a popular demand for the excavation to continue, the Director General said: “The licence for the third year will be given after the completion of the documentation of the excavation and the artefacts found during the first two years. Otherwise, the report never comes.”

When it was pointed out to him that the licence for excavating the Harappan site at a village called 4 MSR, near Anupgarh, Rajasthan, had been granted now for the third field season [without a report being written about the first two field seasons’ excavation], he replied: “First of all, he [Amarnath Ramakrishna] should publish a report on the excavation. Then only we will give him the licence for the third year because he has got more than 4,000 artefacts.”

T.S. Subramanian

Demonetisation

Final show

ZIYA US SALAM the-nation

DELHI'S biggest movie theatre, Vishal, with a seating capacity of 1,401, is on the verge of closure. Aamir Khan’s latest film, Dangal, could well be the last roll of the dice at the popular theatre, which opened in 1971 with the Raaj Kumar-Priya Rajvansh-starrer Heer Ranjha. Today Vishal is grappling with dwindling business. The footfall has declined by around 60 per cent over the last couple of months. The Delhi government’s decision to raise the entertainment tax to 40 per cent already had single-screen theatres reeling. Then the Central government decided to charge a service tax, the argument being that theatres provide a service to people.

Vishal could barely weather the first two challenges. Demonetisation seems to have broken its back. Arguably the largest single-screen theatre in the country, it is set to close down on January 5. Most filmgoers here are used to purchasing their ticket at the window, unlike the multiplexes where most viewers opt for online transactions. Nearly 90 per cent of the tickets are sold at the box office unlike at the PVR chain, where cashless transactions amount to 82 per cent of total collections.

Vishal is not alone. Most single-screen theatres in and around Delhi either have closed down or are on the verge of closure. The city, which once had more than 60 movie theatres, has seen six close down since demonetisation came into effect on November 8. Another half a dozen or so are on the verge of closure. According to industry estimates, the capital may well be left with only 15 single-screen theatres by the end of the financial year if things do not improve. Cine monuments such as the iconic Regal and the hugely popular Liberty and Shiela (home to Asia’s first 70 mm screen) are looking at an uncertain future. If Liberty has cancelled many a night show, Regal and Shiela, which have not had a single houseful show since demonetisation came into effect, hope to follow in the footsteps of the multiplexes in the vicinity.

The iconic Moti theatre in Chandni Chowk, the capital’s busiest commercial hub, which once played the best of Hollywood films, had counted on blue-collar workers for business. With around 40 per cent of contractual workers having been laid off in the National Capital Region (NCR) since November 8, Moti’s business has taken a serious dent.

The theatres have lost another serious client in the wedding bandwallahs, musicians accompanying a bridegroom’s procession. This season, weddings have been a low-key affair, and with most baraats dispensing with the band, band players have been left with little disposable income to buy movie tickets.

The distributor-exhibitor Joginder Mahajan said: “Most theatres are reeling under mounting debts. The business has declined so much that they have been running losses for two months now. Moti is no different because daily wage earners form the bulk of its audience. When they have no money to buy food, how will they come to watch a film in a theatre?”

Moti is considered a premier cinema theatre of the national capital, having started its business in pre-Independence days. It once counted nobles of the walled city as its patrons. Today, it plays dubbed versions of Tamil and Telugu action films. Big-budget Hindi films such as Dangal are out of its reach. With demonetisation resulting in the reduction of audience numbers in a major way, Moti had to cancel some night shows in November and December. Moti’s loyal patrons, immigrant workers, have been returning to their places of origin.

Ritz, located about a kilometre from Moti, is facing the prospect of dwindling business and possible closure. The theatre, which is close to the Old Delhi railway station and the Inter-State Bus Terminus, is now running on borrowed time. According to its proprietor, V.N. Seth, the cinema hall had to cancel night shows in December as “not even a dozen tickets could be sold”.

“We are still running the theatre to maintain our reputation. Otherwise, demonetisation has severely impacted our business. We were already under stress after the entertainment tax was increased. We hoped to compensate for that with better films and bigger audiences. But with a money crunch in the market, our business is suffering.”

Ritz is among Delhi’s oldest theatres. It was started in 1932 and was originally called Capital. It was rechristened as Ritz a decade later with the screening of Jawaab on November 1, 1942. Over the years, Ritz carved out a niche for itself. Its eight-seat boxes were reserved for women. In days gone by, burqa-clad women from the walled city used to come to watch films away from the prying eyes of neighbourhood men. Today, they too have stopped coming.

“When women are not getting enough cash to run the kitchen, how will they save for a movie?” Seth asked. “Youngsters have taken to watching films on their mobile phones. Every time you board the metro, you see young men and women watching films on their mobiles. With cash being a problem since November 8, why would a businessman, here for a deal, spend money on a movie ticket? Mobile films are available for free.”

Golcha shut down

If Moti and Ritz are teetering, Golcha, which was once the pride of the city, has already shut down. Unable to take mounting losses, it first began cancelling night shows. Then, when even Friday and weekend shows failed to attract a good audience, its proprietors decided to draw the curtains on the theatre that once played Guru Dutt’s romantic social Chaudhvin ka Chand. Back in 1960, the print of K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam arrived at Golcha on elephant back, in keeping with the film’s regal setting.

When Golcha decided to call it a day, it was left with only a few die-hard movie buffs, most of them with meagre savings. N.R. Saini, Golcha’s manager for over 40 years, said: “What can one do with multiple challenges at the same time? First, the AAP [Aam Aadmi Party] government was indifferent to our plight. Then the Centre imposed a service tax. Everybody wanted a share of our rupee. Then Modi decided to invalidate high-denomination notes. Suddenly, there was panic among people about what might happen next. They decided to hold on to their limited cash rather than watch a film.”

Golcha completed its diamond jubilee in 2014, having opened in 1954 with the release of Sant Kabir. The theatre was inaugurated by Vice President Dr S. Radhakrishnan. When the curtains came down for the last time, the theatre’s audience consisted of local shopkeepers who had hopped across because of lack of business in their premises.

Vishal, Moti, Ritz, Golcha…. the list keeps growing as the queues at the turnstiles keep getting shorter. Indeed, single–screen theatres across Delhi are bearing the brunt of demonetisation. While PVRs and other big chain multiplexes are trying to ride out the fall in business, single-screen halls are facing an existential crisis because of the nature of their business. Today, a multiplex can afford to sell 55 grams of Argentine corn for Rs.160 (the corn is procured for around Rs.110 a kilogram) but single-screen theatres do not enjoy that luxury. Their audiences are often blue-collar workers whose purchasing power is limited. Many of the halls have admission tickets costing as little as Rs.25. And the viewers cannot be expected to shell out more than Rs.10 for a bread pakora. Further, many of the loyal filmgoers are immigrant workers who prefer action films with big stars. Post-demonetisation not many big-budget films are sold to single-screen theatres. Worse, in many segments, including the textile, leather and glass industries, workers have been laid off. As a consequence, thousands of workers have returned to their small towns in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Those who have remained have little disposable income.

Little wonder then that theatres such as Lokesh in Nangloi, Aakash in Adarsh Nagar, Samrat in Shakur Basti and Supreme in Kanti Nagar have all shut down one after the other since November 8. They all catered to the lowest common denominator or what is known in trade parlance as “the front-benchers’ first day, first show crowd”. Aakash often played Bhojpuri films keeping in mind the preponderance of workers from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the region. Samrat, which once showed films for as low as 63 paise, used to show Haryanvi films once in a while in order to cater to workers from Kurukshetra, Sonepat and Rohtak.

Another theatre that is likely to join the “dead-and-gone” list is Seble in Badarpur. It was set up by Ranjit Singh Seble, who piloted the concept of moving theatres in the city.

Seble theatre

Seble too is losing its battle to demonetisation. “The business is severely affected. Those who say 10-15 per cent business is affected by demonetisation are underestimating the losses. In some cases it is up to 60 per cent if you count the fact that people who would otherwise go to a hall are now watching films, even pirated films, at home or on their mobiles. It cuts us both ways. First demonetisation has taken away the money from the market. Then these things have provided an alternative, even if it is illegal. I do not know for how long we can manage Seble. Maybe soon, we will have to stop the show,” Seble said.

This is particularly grave when one realises that Seble cinema was reduced to ashes in the riots following the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. Seble built it back from scratch. He could withstand the 1984 riots but Seble theatre may not survive the November 8 “bomb”, as a staffer put it.

Swarn theatre at Kanti Nagar, which resumed business a few years ago under the new name Supreme, was also burnt down in 1984. Over a period of time, it picked up the pieces. But demonetisation has rendered all the efforts futile.

“We met Arvind Kejriwal on behalf of the Indian National Motion Pictures Association [INMPA], but to no avail. We met officials from the Centre, too. Now with demonetisation hitting every industry, who do we turn to for relief?” asked Seble, who is the vice president of the INMPA. Joginder Mahajan said: “There is no relief, no hope from any quarter. One by one the halls are closing. Many theatres have been iconic, but today it is a question of bread and butter.”

With bigwigs of the trade looking for succour, one cannot help recall a scene from the early 1970s when the Hindu devotional film Jai Santoshi Maa was screened at Vishal theatre. It was common to see women first bow in front of a huge picture of Santoshi Mata and then take off their slippers before entering the theatre. They would take along incense sticks and marigold garlands and bow in reverence when the popular devotional song, “Main to aarti utarun re, Santoshi Mata ki” would play.

Vishal and other single-screen theatres in Delhi could do with a prayer or two today.

Demonetisation

Cashless and clueless

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI the-nation

IN one of his public meetings following the demonetisation announcement on November 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said workers would get their legitimate due if employers paid their wages into their bank accounts. Going cashless therefore was in the interests of the mazdoor, or the working class, it implied. What he left unsaid was the difficulties in opening accounts and activating them apart from the loss of daily wages for the day or two a worker had to take to draw his or her wages from the bank.

With the onus of pushing the idea of a cashless wage payment system on his Ministry, Union Minister for Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya introduced a Bill in Parliament to amend the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, making it mandatory for establishments to make wage payments by cheque or through banks. But with just a day to go for the winter session of Parliament to end, the Bill could not be passed. Within a week, the Union Cabinet cleared an ordinance to put this into effect.

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and other central unions like the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) have criticised the ordinance route. Tapan Sen, CITU general secretary, described the decision as “unwarranted, especially when the entire banking sector in the country was in disorder”. He pointed out that 35 per cent of the habitations in the country were out of the coverage of bank branches and that a large chunk of workers, including in urban areas, in the low-paid unorganised sector did not have bank accounts. Compulsory bank payments would affect migrant workers too, he said, urging the government not to “indulge in undue haste”.

It was clear from the outset that measures to put the Prime Minister’s decision into action would follow irrespective of what workers or employers thought about the move. The Union Ministry of Labour and Employment got into the act soon, exhorting workers to open bank accounts. On November 26, the Ministry launched a campaign to open bank accounts for workers in the organised and unorganised sectors, and in a press release on November 30, it called on all to “join together in this mission to take India to the next level and dream of a digital India”.

The press release claimed that around three lakh bank accounts had been opened, though it did not mention how many had been activated. By the first week of December, it began getting clearer that digital India was at best a pipe dream. But as the fiat had come from above, the Ministry sent out an advisory to all State governments, Labour Departments and related Ministries to ensure that payment of wages were done through banks or by cheque. On December 6, it issued another statement which said: “With the passage of time, technology has [under]gone a sea change. A large section of employed persons have now bank accounts. So payment of wages only through cheques or through bank transfer in the bank accounts of employed persons will reduce the complaints regarding non-payment or less payment of minimum wages, besides serving the objective of digital and less cash economy.”

On December 7, Dattatreya met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and asked for mobile ATMs to be installed in all industrial clusters, especially in remote and rural areas, and for more lower denomination notes (Rs.10, Rs.20, Rs.50 and Rs.100) to be issued as “it would be beneficial to a large number of workers”. He also urged the Finance Minister to expedite the process of bringing “more Rs.500” notes into circulation to ensure the availability of the same to industrial and other establishments. It was now apparent that the Labour Minister was aware that the digital dream was out of reach.

No one dare oppose

As far as the trade union and other ideological affiliates of the Bharatiya Janata Party were concerned, they could not openly criticise any of the decisions of the government. On November 9, the day after the cataclysmic announcement, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) issued a statement cautiously welcoming the move. But every trade unionist knew that the working class had been hugely inconvenienced by the demonetisation move and from the pressure to go “cashless”.

Laghu Udyog Bharati (LUB), the Sangh Parivar affiliate representing micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), conducted a survey among its members and submitted a memorandum to the Ministry detailing the immense difficulties that small industrialists were facing. Its survey revealed that 70 per cent of the MSMEs had suffered production and debt-recovery setbacks. Soon after reports appeared in sections of the media about the discontent in the LUB, office-bearers of the union literally went underground, preferring not to comment. One of them told Frontline that he could send those media reports as he could not share the details of the memorandum.

However, it was reliably learnt that at a meeting held on December 16 at the Ministry, in which representatives of the International Labour Organisation, trade unions and the National Labour Institute were present, LUB members pointed out to the Minister that in one of their visits to a camp where 300 accounts had been opened, they had found that none of them were activated. Further, the LUB, the Faridabad Employers’ Organisation and the representatives of the Confederation of Indian Industry expressed concern over the effect that demonetisation and the cashless drive was having on the MSME sector. Industry representatives explained that even if online transactions were made, workers were unable to withdraw the money. Most of them ended up losing their daily wages as they had to queue up at banks or ATMs. The limit set on withdrawals per week was also inadequate for industry to pay wages, they explained. It was learnt reliably that one industry representative even told the Minister that “there should be one person in the Reserve Bank of India who should understand how the small and medium sector industry operates”.

This meeting was a day after the government unsuccessfully tried to push through an amendment to the Payment of Wages Act. A press release issued after the meeting said: “Keeping in mind hurdles like low education, less knowledge about mobile phone usage, poor connectivity, poor handsets, after much deliberation and discussion it was understood that nothing can replace cash liquidity in the economy.”

Amendment to Payment of Wages Act

The Payment of Wages (Amendment) Bill, 2016, tabled in the Lok Sabha sought to amend Section 6 of the principal Act in order to enable employers to pay wages by cheque or by crediting money to workers’ accounts via electronic transfer. The amendment Bill states: “Appropriate government may by notification in the official gazette specify the industrial or other establishments, the employer of which shall pay to every person employed in such industrial or other establishment, the wages only by cheque or by crediting the wages in his bank account.” The government would additionally notify industries where payment would only be done by cheque or electronic transfer.

Clearly, the operative word here was “shall” though the Minster of Labour was at pains to point out to the media that the option of paying by cash was also there. Strangely, the text of the proposed amendment did not have this option. The Bill introduced by Dattatreya could not be passed in the Lok Sabha even though the nod for it had come from above. The majority of the central unions have opposed the Bill as well as the ordinance route used to push through the amendment.

Unions have not been opposed to payment of wages through banks. In fact, they had been demanding this for a long time. However, they feel that not only was the timing inappropriate, given the severe cash crunch, but also the motives of the government were suspect. “When their attempts to recover black money have backfired, with most of the currency coming back into the system, this new excuse has come in handy,” said a trade union leader. Workers who had received their wages on November 7 (for the month of October) got them in the old currency notes that were declared illegal tender on November 8. In effect, wages have been pending for more than a month.

The present Act covers establishments whose employees do not earn more than Rs.18,000 a month. It also allows payments by cheque or online transfers only after the employee has given such authorisation. The provision for such authorisation was inserted in the main Act in 1973. In essence, an employee cannot be compelled to take a cheque or agree to online transfer of wages. The Union Cabinet’s ordinance effectively negates that right. “The consent of the worker has been effectively done away with,” A.K. Padmanabhan, CITU president, told Frontline. He said unions were not against the opening of accounts for workers; in fact, the unions had repeatedly brought to the notice of labour officials that even in public sector units, employers were reluctant to help employees, the casual workforce, open bank accounts.

When confusion reigned, the Labour Ministry issued a clarification on December 21 stating that the amendment was not mandatory. “The appropriate government (Centre or State) will have to come up with the notification to specify the industrial or other establishments where the employer shall pay wages through cheque or by crediting the wages in employees’ bank accounts. It is therefore clear that the option of payment of cash is still available with the employers for payment of wage,” the statement said.

By then, the discourse had fully shifted from black money recoveries to cashless payment. But there were few takers for it even within the government. Hence, unable to wait until the next Parliament session, the Union government now decided to bring an ordinance to amend the Payment of Wages Act, making it mandatory for employers to pay wages by cheque or into bank accounts of workers. The Centre and the State governments were to soon notify the industries.

Who bears the brunt

The industrial working class in the unorganised sector has been among the worst hit by the demonetisation move. In the industrial areas of Gurugram and Faridabad in Haryana, where working seven days a week is the norm, several units had either cut down their workforce, mainly casual labour, or reduced shifts or the number of days of production. Daily wagers engaged in loading, unloading, and construction-related work and all forms of hard menial labour were particularly hit. Other than this category, the casual workforce employed through a contractor or the thekedaar were either told to go home or wait until the currency supply in the system was restored.

When Frontline spoke to a cross section of workers, industry associations and trade union representatives, it came to light that none of them believed that a recovery, either for the MSMEs or for the industrial workers in the unorganised sector, was possible even after the December 30 deadline the Prime Minister had promised for the short-term pain that citizens had to undergo.

Sector 37 in Gurugram was a bustling industrial hub of textile and automobile parts manufacturing units. Many vendors of big automobile companies operate from here. There was a time it was called Japanese city, recalled Rajinder Saroha, a former factory worker and now district secretary of the CITU.

The bulk of the workforce here consists of contractual and piece-rate workers with no formal contractual terms of employment; they are hired and fired at the whims of employers. Demonetisation has hit them hard in a number of ways. Many were just “laid off” after six months of work, some others after a longer duration, and some compelled to “go on a holiday”. The employers, the workers said, did not have the money to pay them and therefore were letting them go. And new recruitments had all but come to a halt.

Hundreds of workers told Frontline that they had work for just three days a week. “Earlier, they used to call us on Sundays as well. Ab kaam down chal raha hai [Now work has slowed down],” said Mukesh, a piece-rate worker at an auto tool factory. Another worker, in a garment export unit, said that several of them, including women workers, had been asked to leave. Their dues had been settled, in many cases by cheque. But the banks were not encashing their cheques citing too much work. “If we put all the money in a bank, how will we manage on a daily basis? We don’t earn that much in order to save,” one of the workers said. Almost all of them complained of harassment by their landlords, who sometimes resorted to violence and threatened eviction if the rents were not paid on time.

Akhtar from East Champaran in Bihar said that many employers were paying workers in old currency notes. If a worker refused, he had the option of taking his wages after four months. No official from the Labour Department had visited them to look into their plight. Labour inspectors were bribed, and if any worker spoke the truth, not only would he be beaten up but thrown out of work.

Industry’s concerns

J.N. Mangla, former president of the Gurgaon Industry Association, said that industry had hoped that things would recover within two weeks of the Prime Minister’s announcement on November 8. “Not everyone is getting Rs.50,000 from the current account [withdrawal limit imposed by the government]. We have to make a lot of payments in cash. The small-scale industry [SSI] is also rural-based. Many workers in SSIs don’t have bank accounts. The workers want wages in cash. Cashless is okay as an idea, but 100 per cent cashless?” he said.

According to his estimate, there was a 15-20 per cent production loss in Gurugram, which has some 2,000 of the 15,000 small-scale units in the State. “We are cooperating, but all limits are being crossed. Workers have left in large numbers. Online payments are welcome, but this industry cannot survive without cash. Daily wagers have to be paid on a day-to-day basis. Industry is worried that things won’t recover after December 31,” he said.

S. Kapoor, executive director of the Faridabad Industry Association, said the auto parts manufacturing industry, especially the tier I and II categories that supplied parts to auto majors, had been badly affected. Of the 12 lakh workers in Faridabad, a major industrial hub, seven to eight lakh were in the unorganised sector. “I would be wrong if I say there have been no layoffs. As demand has gone down, the shifts are fewer as well,” he said. Members of the labour “class”, he said, were semi-literate and for them to operate bank accounts or make online transactions was an unrealistic expectation. “A labourer who goes to an ATM seeks the help of another to punch the numbers. I hope workers are able to withdraw their money on January 7 at least,” he said.

Private banks, he said, were moving their ATMs to big companies, but for the small industrialist and the workers employed by him, opening bank accounts was proving to be difficult. The migrant worker had no PAN card or any proof of identity. He said zero-balance accounts were not being opened, contrary to the lofty claims being made. “There are banks that have run out of cheque books. The labour class must have the confidence that he or she can draw money at an ATM. That confidence is missing,” he said, adding that all these problems had been flagged to the Union Labour Minister.

The situation of MSMEs was the same everywhere. A CITU leader said that several MSMEs had closed down in northern Chennai. The trade union has called for a nationwide protest on January 3 against demonetisation and its disastrous impact on the working class.

How the poor live

The labour chowk at Bhooteshwar temple in old Gurugram is where daily wagers mill around looking for work. By 12 noon, the place would be mostly empty, with most of them having landed some job for the day. But post-demonetisation, most of them hang around from 4 a.m. in vain.

For the past one and a half months, Brajesh Kumar from Uttar Pradesh, Bhanwar Lal from Alwar in Rajasthan, Ram Kumar from Madhya Pradesh and Sitaram from Bihar, all migrant workers, have had no work. “Earlier we used to get work for all seven days. Now there is nothing. We are starving. I have this five-rupee coin in my pocket. That’s all,” said Bhanwar Lal.

Dharmendra, who worked in a factory, was thrown out after 15 days without any payment. “This time it is because of Narendra Modi that we are not getting our money,” he said.

Arun, a graduate, was looking for any work, including loading and unloading. Aditya Pandey from Azamgarh said all the daily wage workers like him were landless. “We wouldn’t have come here, suffering like this, if we had some land back home,” he said, lamenting that he had not been able to send a single rupee back home since November 8.

The wage rates had also gone down and the labourers were ready to work for less. They said that there was no guarantee of payment even if they got some work but they were willing to take a chance.

Fruit and vegetable sellers too expressed their anxieties over reduced sales for over two months now. “Not only have the number of customers declined, those who come do not buy much. So we earn less than half of what we used to make earlier. Godown owners have gone into debt. If I do not sell some of this fruit today, tomorrow I will have to sell it at half the rate,” Shakeel, a papaya seller in Gurugram, told Frontline.

Altaf, a jaggery vendor, is morose. He used to sell 200 kg daily; post-demonetisation, it is just one-fourth of that. “I have to pay for the pushcart, the jaggery, polythene bags, and feed the buffalo that I hire for transport. My margin is Rs.10 a kg. If I do not even earn this much, what will I eat?” he said.

Yogesh runs a pao bhaji shop that caters to mostly daily wage workers. Many migrant workers, he said, had left for their villages. “I am unable to recover my costs. I have no storage facility, so if the bhaji is unsold, I have to throw it away,” he said. The biggest problem for him is the Rs.2,000 note. “If 10 people come and give me Rs.2,000 for a plate costing Rs.30, what am I supposed to do?” he asked

At the subzi mandi (vegetable market) in Gurugram that has around 250 stalls, a vegetable seller scoffed at the idea of Paytm. He said: “I know about ATM. What is this Paytm?”

For Ishwar Deo, 55, the gurdwara near the subzi mandi has been a lifeline. A daily wage worker, he comes to the gurdwara everyday for a free meal. “There is no work. My pockets are empty. I am desperate for work, any work. I sleep on the footpath. Had I enough money for transport, I would have gone to my village in Bihar,” he said.

“Have you embraced the change?” says a cheery advertisement for a credit card company. This catchword for going “cashless” is just one of the many advertisements that rain on you daily in the print media and on radio, television and the Internet. For those waiting for work at the labour mandis, the only change they have had to forcefully embrace is that of going “incomeless”.

History

Haunting legacy

heritage

THE Qutb Minar complex, located in the national capital’s southern precincts, at Mehrauli with the Delhi Ridge and scrub forests in the backdrop, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1993. The site’s larger historical connections get dwarfed by the height of the Qutb Minar, the tallest ashlar masonry minaret in the world. The Qutb complex is the site of some major historical developments in the subcontinent, including the transition from Rajput polities to Islamic kingdoms, the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, the development of Indo-Islamic architecture, and the emergence of Delhi as an imperial city. The Iron Pillar located within the complex also speaks of the significant advances India had made in metallurgy and casting.

Delhi before the Qutb

Rajput settlements at Surajkund and Mehrauli dominated the north Indian polity between the eighth and 11th centuries C.E. The Tomars founded Surajkund in the eighth century. The village of Anangpur, lying in midst of the remains at Surajkund, is popularly connected to the Tomar king Anangpal. Around the middle of the 11th century, Anangpal II shifted his base to the Mehrauli region and built a fortified town called Lal Kot. A popular legend connects the Iron Pillar to the Tomars. Chanda Bardai’s epic Hindi poem Prithviraja Raso narrates a story whereby one Brahman told Anangpal (also known as Bilhan Deo) that the pillar rested on the mythical serpent king Vasuki’s hood and was immoveable. Further, his rule would last as long as the structure stood firm. It is said that, out of curiosity, the king got the pillar dug out only to find the base smeared with Vasuki’s blood. Realising his mistake, he ordered it to be reinstalled. However, even after several attempts, it could not be fixed, and the pillar remained loose ( dhilli, in Hindi).

“Killi tau dhilli bhayi

Tomar bhaya mat hiin”

(The pillar has become loose

The Tomar’s wish will not be fulfilled)

The name “Delhi” is sometimes erroneously traced to this lore about the dhilli pillar.

The Chauhans of Ajmer overran the Tomars in the 12th century. They expanded the city walls (from a circumference of 3.6 kilometres to one of around 8 km) and the new city, Rai Pithora, became almost four times the original size. Prithviraj Chauhan, one of the most celebrated of the Chauhan kings, was defeated by Muhammad of Ghur (from Afghanistan), who was in control of Afghanistan and Punjab. Soon after, Ghuri returned home leaving the control of Delhi and Ajmer to Qutbuddin Aibak (from Turkestan), his favourite slave and also his army commander. Upon Ghuri’s death in 1206, Qutbuddin Aibak assumed independence and laid the foundations of what came to be known as the Delhi Sultanate. Delhi became his capital.

The Qutb mosque & the Iron Pillar

One of Qutbuddin Aibak’s first and foremost tasks was to create a congregational mosque, and the new conqueror chose the former citadel of the Hindu rulers as the site for it. This was a turning moment in the history of the subcontinent. Islamic and Indian religious and art traditions came face to face. Islam had a distrust of the portrayal of the human form. Islamic arts instead revolved around the representation of the abstract: calligraphy, geometry and arabesque. This was confronted with a tradition that celebrated sculptural depictions of deities, mythical characters, humans, animals and plants. According to the foundational inscription attributed to Qutbuddin Aibak and placed over the eastern gate, which now forms the main public entrance to the mosque, 27 Hindu and Jain temples were destroyed to build the structure. The art historian Barry Flood says the Qutb mosque, or Delhi’s first Friday mosque ( masid-i jami), was celebrated as a wonder by 13th and 14th century chroniclers and geographers writing in Arabic and Persian from as far away as Egypt.

The plinth of the earlier complex was enlarged to around twice its original size to build a platform to accommodate what is now erroneously known as the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. The spolia of the temples provided the ready-at-hand material to build the rectangular open courtyard, the pillared cloisters and the qibla wall indicating the direction of Mecca. Scholars say the absence of mortar or any cementing agent in indigenous architectural techniques facilitated the reuse of the spolia. Pillars from Hindu temples, preferably those carrying floral motifs, were used to build the colonnades. Upon a closer look, one can still see the remains of divine and human sculptures on the pillars in the prayer hall. The carvings include typical Hindu architectural motifs such as the bell and chain, vases and kirti mukha (a stylised face). The colonnades on the other three sides of the mosque have much higher roofs supported on two, sometimes three, pillars stacked over one another. The qibla wall on the west has completely disappeared and a path runs over the site. Small entresol apartments reached by narrow staircases were laid at the four corners of the mosque to provide secluded accommodation for the zanana (women).

In the centre of the mosque’s courtyard now stands the famous Iron Pillar, which weighs over six tonnes and is around 23.6 feet (7.08 metres) tall (of which 3.6 feet, or 1.08 m, is buried below the ground). The inscription records its erection by a mighty king called Chandra, who was a devotee of Vishu, as a dhvaja stambha (lofty standard) on the “Hill of Vishnupada”. It also celebrates his military prowess. The king has generally been identified as Chandragupta II (C.E. 375-413) of the Gupta dynasty. Made of pure malleable iron, this pillar has not rusted or corroded in over 1,600 years, a remarkable testimony to the superior metallurgical skill of ancient Indians.

Many historians and archaeologists have assumed that it was Muslim rulers who placed the pillar within the Qutb mosque as a statement of conquest. R. Balasubramaniam, who explored the metallurgy and iconography of the pillar, contends it was originally located at the Udayagiri caves (near Vidisha) in Madhya Pradesh associated with the worship of Vishnu—an argument later endorsed and elaborated upon in the archaeological research done by Michael Willis. The historian Sunil Kumar says that it is true that later Muslim rulers such as Firoz Shah Tughlaq and Akbar transported Asokan pillars and placed them as trophies in Delhi and Allahabad respectively. However, there is absolutely no evidence in the case of the Qutb to warrant such an assumption. According to a strong bardic tradition, it was Anangpal who brought the pillar here from an unspecified place. It is popularly believed that anyone who can join his/her hands around the pillar while standing with his or her back to it will be granted a wish. Crowds thronging to do this used to be a common sight until the site administration erected a fence to keep them out.

The corbelled-arch screen

According to an inscription on the south face of the central arch, Qutbuddin Aibak constructed the screen around 1199 and both Shamsuddin Iltutmish (1211-36) and Alauddin Khalji (1296-1316) extended it. However, only the additions Iltutmish made are visible now. Possibly modelled on the masqura, or screen, fronting the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, it clearly reinforces the Islamic character of the monument. Built of rubble masonry and covered with carved red sandstone, the screen represents one of the first systematic attempts towards the construction of an arch. Arcuate construction and arch-making techniques were first used by the Romans, and then they spread to West and Central Asia. Over a period of time, the true arch—raised by means of wedge-shaped blocks ( voussoirs) of stone arranged in a radiating half circle with a keystone at the centre—became a standard feature of Islamic architecture. The new conquerors of north India wanted their architecture to replicate the arches and domes of their homelands. However, they did not have with them skilled and experienced Islamic architects and craftsmen. So, they had to rely on the experience of Hindu stone workmen who were trained in the trabeate architectural technique, which is based on the use of beams and lintels laid between pillars. The result was an innovation called the corbelled arch —built by progressively laying blocks of stone in a row whereby each level projects marginally beyond the row below. This was the technique used to construct temple entrances.

The resultant corbelled-arch screen was embellished with vertical bands of Arabic calligraphy and leafy arabesques (intertwined ornamental decoration), both forming important parts of the Islamic art tradition. The art historian Vidya Dehejia says Arabic lettering preserved the divine word of the Quran and holy texts, and phrases were duplicated, mirrored and used as ornamentation in Islamic architecture. The calligraphy on Qutbuddin Aibak’s screen uses Naksh characters, which weave beautifully with continuous stems and with a series of symmetrically arranged secondary stems. According to the archaeologist J.A. Page, the Hindu craftsmen turned each calligraphic stroke end into a little floral burst. The kalasa (Hindu ritual vessel) carvings at the base of the structure also reflect Hindu influences. The additions on the screen made by Iltutmish adopt advanced forms of Islamic surface decoration. The Arabic lettering shows a sophisticated combination of the square Kufic and the elaborate and intricately carved Tughra (highly stylised script evolving out of the imperial Turkish calligraphy of the Ottoman Empire) characters.

Contested history

Made of red sandstone and marble, the Qutb Minar is a 73-metre-tall tapering tower with a diameter measuring 14.32 m at the base and 2.75 m at the peak. Inside the tower, a circular staircase with 379 steps leads to the top. Following an accident in 2000 involving the death of several children, the staircase was closed to the public. The Minar currently consists of five storeys separated by four projecting balconies. The first storey has alternate circular and angular flutings, the second has circular flutings, while the third has angular flutings. The fourth and fifth storeys have no flutings at all. A series of elaborately carved stalactite pendentives and mini alcoves support the balconies and transfer their weight to the Minar.

Like the mosque, the Minar also has a contested history. Who built the structure, more specifically the first storey? How did the structure get its present name? What function did it serve?

The 19th century Islamic reformist and philosopher Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had attributed the first storey of the Minar to the Rajput king Prithviraj Chauhan. It is said that Prithviraj Chauhan built the structure so that his daughter could view the river Yamuna every day as a part of her daily worship. On the basis of inscriptional evidence, descriptions in contemporary accounts, and the style of architecture—which looks dissimilar in design from the towers the Rajputs erected such as the “pillars of fame” ( kirti stambhas) or “pillars of victory” ( jaya stambhas)—most historians say that Qutbuddin Aibak erected the first storey.

According to the inscriptions on the Minar, which mention the entire history of the builders, repairs and architects, Iltutmish, his successor and son-in-law, added the next three around 1220. Inscriptions indicate that the structure was struck by lightening in Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s time, but no details about any repairs are available. Lightning struck the Minar again in 1368-69 and knocked off the top (fourth) storey. Firoz Shah Tughlaq, who was the sultan then, built two more storeys in red sandstone and marble and also added a cupola. The Minar was repaired again in 1503 by Sikandar Lodi when it was struck by lightning.

In 1802-03, the cupola fell off and the whole tower was damaged by an earthquake. This time, Major R. Smith, working as an army engineer under the rule of the East India Company, was assigned to do the repairs. He was riding high in confidence those years having designed St. James’ Church and Kashmere Gate. However, there were several problems associated with the repairs of the tower he undertook. The facing stones that had fallen were put back without any regard for order. The inscriptions, therefore, became difficult to read. A Gothic-style balustrade (railing) was added to the projecting balconies, but it stood out as it was of a different shade of stone. Finally, a new cupola was put on the top, which met with enormous resistance both within and outside the colonial order. Smith attracted the wrath of architectural bigwigs such as James Fergusson, Alexander Cunningham and Page of the Archaeological Survey. So huge was the outcry that Lord Hardinge, the then Governor General, had it taken down in 1848. Known as Smith’s Folly, the cupola now lies in the outer lawns of the Qutb complex.

It has not been established with certainty whether the Qutb Minar is named after Qutbuddin Aibak, who commissioned its construction, or Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, the famous Sufi saint. According to historians, the name Qutub or Cootub Minar became popular only in the British period. Two common names by which the Minar is referred in contemporary accounts are “Qutub Sahab ki Laat” or “Mazinah of the Juma Masjid”. “Qutub Sahab ki Laat” comes from the staff of Bakhtiyar Kaki. His staff was believed to pierce the sky and, like the pir himself, connect the heaven with earth and provide stability and shelter to human beings. In popular cosmology, he was regarded as the Qutb, the “axis around whom the world revolved”, or Qubbat al-Islam, the sanctuary of Islam. No inscription on the Minar, however, mentions the saint’s name, though Iltutmish greatly respected him as a spiritual master.

The second name, “Mazinah of the Juma Masjid”, is related to the functionality of the mosque. The structure was to serve as a mazinah, or minaret, of the congregational mosque from where the muezzin would call the faithful to prayer. However, given the height of the Minar, it would have been difficult to climb it five times a day. Also, calls from the top storey would not have been audible to those on the ground.

The historian Rana Safvi says the Qutb Minar served more than one purpose. It may have served as a mazinah but only from the first storey. It may have also served as a watchtower to monitor enemy movements. However, the most probable function, Safvi says, would have been as some kind of a victory tower; it would not only have struck awe in the heart of local people but also stamped the authority of the ruler on visitors, giving all those who had come from faraway places such as Afghanistan a psychological boost.

Iltutmish’s tomb

Unlike the Minar, Iltutmish’s tomb in the complex has a relatively less contested history. Iltutmish himself built it around 1235. Erected just five years after what is believed to be the tomb of his eldest son, Nasiruddin Mahmud (Sultan Ghari), it is strikingly different and bears a distinctly Islamic character.

The Islamic tomb, Vidya Dehejia says, introduced a novel form of architecture in India. Hindus, Buddhists and Jains had traditionally cremated their dead, and with the exception of Buddhist stupas, no commemorative funerary monuments had existed in India. In addition, by building a tomb while he was still the reigning monarch, Iltutmish introduced a practice followed by most of the later Islamic rulers.

The basic design of Iltutmish’s tomb consists of a single square chamber roofed by a corbelled dome. To support the dome, the square chamber was converted into an octagon by means of squinches and pendentives. This was the first monument in India to use the squinch arch as an architectural device. The corbelled dome, possibly constructed by means of concentric rings of masonry, collapsed as the Hindu craftsmen were as yet unfamiliar with the technique of constructing a true dome. According to some accounts, Firoz Shah Tughlaq tried to replace the fallen dome but it did not survive. The mortuary chamber was kept beneath the cenotaph. Its interior has Quranic verses (in both Naksh and the combined Kufic and Tughra characters) carved in red sandstone as also inscriptional mural decorations. The carvings include chapters from the Quran that speak of paradise as the reward for the true believer. Marble finds a limited introduction in the tomb and is used for the construction of the central mihrab (niche on the qibla wall) and also the cenotaph.

Iltutmish had doubled the size of the Qutb mosque by extending its colonnades and prayer hall outside the original enclosure. Political conditions following his death and up to the time of Alauddin Khalji, foreign invasions and internal law and order issues were not conducive to the development of architecture, and no monuments were erected in the Qutb complex in this period.

Page says that Alauddin Khalji was ambitious in his political and architectural designs, and his projected extensions at the Qutb were aimed at dwarfing the efforts of his predecessors. His great dominating screen archway and the Alai Minar were reflections of this design. His plan was to build a pillar twice as big as the Qutb Minar, but it was abandoned following the death of the sultan. Alauddin Khalji also constructed a madrasa. It is built in dressed grey quartzite around a simple quadrangular court that can be entered on the north side through a triple gateway. The rooms are arranged in two rows: one running from north to south and the other running from east to west. They have true arches and conspicuous keystones. In the middle of the east-west wing of rooms lies a large square structure covered originally by a dome (now fallen off) and a projecting portico. This is believed to be the tomb of Alauddin Khalji. One is however unable to trace the cenotaph or the grave. The most impressive of the sultan’s constructions at the Qutb, however, is the Alai Darwaza.

Alauddin Khalji commissioned a major expansion of the Qutb mosque. The colonnades of that extension towards the north have now largely disappeared but remains can still be seen. However, one can see the impressive ceremonial gateway he built in 1311. Safvi says that this gate in the south was envisaged as one of the four gates to the complex; one gate was planned for the north and two gates for the eastern side of the complex. The historian M. Mujeeb points out that the Alai Darwaza, as originally planned, consisted of a domed chamber (17.2 square metres) with three entrances and a fourth archway leading into a portico projected into the enclosure of the mosque. There were also extensions on the east and the west to combine the Darwaza harmoniously with the enclosure. The dome, which looks rather low from outside, is not a separate unit of the structure but the roofing of a vault, the height of which when seen from inside is impressive. The dome has an opening at the top that is capped by another small white marble dome.

The arched entrance to the north is semicircular while others are in the shape of a pointed horseshoe. The entrances are decorated with beautifully carved lotus buds on the underside while the red sandstone walls have ornate carvings, latticed stone screens ( jaalis) and inscriptions of verses from the Quran and the Hadith in Naksh. The inscriptions on the eastern, western and southern entrances contain references to Alauddin Khalji, and an epigraph around the east gate ascribes the construction of the gateway to him. The historian Swapna Liddle says that the inscriptions are mainly praises of the sultan, who is referred to among other grandiose epithets as the “second Alexander”.

Vidya Dehejia says that the Alai Darwaza is the first building in India that employs wholly Islamic architectural principles of construction in terms of symmetry and ornamentation. Another Islamic decorative theme is seen on the facade of the gateway, which is embellished with carved geometric blocks of red sandstone and white marble, a simple prelude to later elaboration of decorative geometry into a major art form. Its visual principles were those of repetition and symmetry, and the basic design of the circle was developed into squares, triangles, polygons, hexagons, octagons and stars. In later Islamic monuments, one pattern is frequently superimposed upon another in reversed colours and materials with striking effect.

Just next to the Alai Darwaza is the beautiful tomb of Imam Zamin or Imam Muhammad Ali. Probably an important official in the service of the congregational mosque, he had come to Delhi from Turkestan during the reign of Sikandar Lodi (1489-1517) and constructed the tomb during his lifetime. This structure is interesting from the point of view of tomb architecture. It is a simple square structure with a dome (covered in plaster) rising from an octagonal drum decorated with a double row of kanguras (battlement motifs) and marble panelling above the chajja (eaves). The four walls are perforated with red sandstone jaalis, characteristic of the Lodi period. There is a marble mihrab in the west, and the entrance in the south is also done in marble as is the cenotaph and some decorative reliefs in the interior. The remaining buildings in the complex do not have a direct archaeological connection with the mosque or the Minar. There are remains of a Mughal sarai (rest house) towards the entrance archway through which visitors now enter the complex. To the north of this s arai are the dilapidated remains of a late Mughal garden containing the ruins of some graves in the centre and of a mosque in the western wall.

Politics and debates surrounding the mosque

The religious pre-eminence of the Qutb mosque continued until the early decades of the 14th century, following which new imperial capitals were built around the older centres of Delhi, each with their own congregational mosque. However, as the art historians Ebba Koch and Flood argue, its aura was sufficiently powerful to inspire attempts at appropriation—either through interventions on its material fabric or by replication of its characteristic features—in some later monuments. The historian Mrinalini Rajagopalan points out that the mosque comes into visibility again in the late 19th century with the developments in photographic technology and its use in documenting Indian antiquities; growing interest in and professionalisation of heritage preservation by colonial bureaucrats; and the emergence of urban history as a new genre of scholarship, as seen in the publication of Syed Ahmad Khan’s Athar ul-Sanadid in 1847. Flood says the reused pillars of the Qutb mosque were cast in plaster and shipped in the 1870s to London for display as a part of the representation of the subcontinent in the architectural courts of the South Kensington Museum.

The mosque has also remained a political site in emergent scholarship. Sunil Kumar says there are broadly three kinds of representations. Syed Ahmad Khan, Page, J. Horowitz and Cunningham have primarily focussed on the redeployment of materials relating to Hindu and Jain temples within the mosque. This formed a symbolic statement about Islam’s victory over idolaters and its conquest and hegemony over an infidel population. They say this is reinforced by the name by which the mosque was known in the past: Quwwat-ul-Islam, or the “Might of Islam”. The second group—consisting of scholars such as Michael Meister, Mohammad Mujeeb and later A.B.M. Husain—puts forward a more secular narration. It emphasised the importance of indigenous craftsmanship for the realisation of Islamic architecture and the presence of Hindu hands in designing and constructing the mosque.

The third group, represented by Anthony Welch and Robert Hillenbrand, stresses the “Might of Islam” framework even more strongly, calling it an uncompromising Muslim celebration of conquest. It argues that the building material, architectural forms and the epigraphic texts of the congregational mosque asserted the unity and cultural uniqueness of Muslims.

One of the most controversial features of the mosque is the foundational inscription at the eastern gate, which commemorates the expropriation of temple materials. This needs to be interpreted in the larger historical context of India’s medieval past, when, as Sunil Kumar argues, there was considerable disunity and contestation within the groups defined as “Hindus” and “Muslims”. The historian Richard H. Davis points out that Hindu rulers also plundered temples and frequently treated idols as war trophies and publicly displayed them as statements of conquest. Most such temples, as the historian Richard Eaton suggests, were tutelary temples housing deities that presided over specific polities; their destruction constituted and heralded the end of the dynastic lines associated with them. Flood argues that the replacement of tutelary temples with congregational mosques amounted to a rewriting of the urban space that was both pragmatic (allowed the Muslim community space to fulfil the requirements of ritual prayer) and ideological (signifying the supersession of the old political order and the permanence of the new). Vidya Dehejia contends that Qutbuddin Aibak was appropriating for Islam the heart of the previous Hindu stronghold. Further, the practice of building new sacred structures in existing sacred places was common across cultures: Christians built a Gothic cathedral in the middle of a mosque in Cordoba, Spain.

Flood adds a new level of complication by ascribing the foundational inscription to Iltutmish rather than Qutbuddin Aibak. Looking at the chronological and linguistic anomalies as well as the form of the inscription, he argues that the inscription should be dated several decades later than the cited date, 587/1191-2. The original text, he argues, was in fact in place in the 1220s during the reign of Iltutmish. Its general emphasis on extirpation of idolatry finds an echo in Quranic passages inscribed on those sections of the Qutb Minar that Iltutmish added. Flood says that the sultan also re-erected the Iron Pillar in order to perpetuate the memory of his rule. Pre-conquest Indian kings would routinely appropriate, recontextualise and reinscribe antique pillars. In the 1220s and 1230s, the mosque became the repository of highly charged objects that invoked both the recent past of Islam in India and the more distant epic past of Indian kings. The invocation of multiple pasts, Flood contends, was integral to an endeavour to construct collective memories around which a community divided by ethnicity, political affiliation and sectarian affinities could adhere and cohere.

Sunil Kumar addresses one of the central points in this debate. He claims that the name of the mosque, Quwwat-ul-Islam, perceived as a reference to the triumph of Islam over an indigenous form of Hinduism, is in all probability the modern corruption of an older name, Qubbat al-Islam, that meant “Sanctuary of Islam” or the “Axis of Islam”. The name Quwwat-ul-Islam does not occur in any extant inscription or any Sultanate chronicle, and Syed Ahmad Khan was the first to refer to Delhi’s masid-i jami by that name. The name stuck. The term Qubbat al-Islam was at first ambiguously used by the contemporary chronicler Minaj-i Siraj Juzjani for Iltutmish’s Delhi and later applied to define the spiritual domain of Bakhtiyar Kaki. It was transformed into Quwwat-ul-Islam and used for the Qutb mosque. The name coincided closely with the military persona of the first constructor of the mosque and his proclamation of the new political order built out of the rubble of temples.

The minar-mosque conundrum

The stark difference in the relative impressions visitors have of the Qutb Minar and the mosque forms another haunting legacy of the site and its historiography. The Minar has been readily appropriated by the postcolonial nation state as a singular object of reverence and pride and celebrated as an architectural marvel in newspapers, textbooks and media campaigns. When the Qutb Minar was declared a World Heritage Site, its standing as a historical and architectural icon got reinforced even beyond the country’s borders. Sunil Kumar and Mrinalini Rajagopalan point out that while tourists, antiquarians and scholars see the Minar as evidence of architectural grandeur, the reactions to the mosque are comparatively ambivalent or negative. The dominant impressions visitors have of the mosque are those of conquest of Hindustan by Muslim rulers, fanaticism and violence, Islamic iconoclasm, Hindu trauma and communal distinctions and strife. Unlike the Minar, the mosque impresses visitors with its images of destruction, power and might.

Sunil Kumar argues that the contemporary historical image of the Quwwat-ul-Islam is a backward projection of the conflict between Hindus and Muslims in post-Partition India rather than an accurate reflection of its medieval context. He says that visitors to the site should be educated about its complex political and religious past.

The spolia of the temples forms only a small part of the multilevel history of the mosque and the Minar. It also includes stories of independent Muizzi Amirs (who could raise military, wage war and compete with each other) such as Bahauddin Tughril, the governor of Thangir (in Bayana), who sought to improve the economy of his appanage by attracting merchants and well-known men from different parts of Hindustan and Khurasan and who constructed a similar mosque in Bayana; Sufi dervishes such as Nur Turk, who collected a large following near Delhi, condemned the ulama of the majority community and even attacked the Qutb mosque; popular saints such as Nizamuddin Auliya, whose tomb emerged as the most venerated shrine of Delhi; the popular veneration of Bakhtiyar Kaki; and the historiography of Syed Ahmed Khan and his successors.

The tilt in the scholarship concerned with the site is perhaps as, if not more, dangerous than the tilt reported in the Minar in its south-west side. So, when there are plans by the government to build an ambitious first-of-its-kind skywalk at the Qutb, there should also be systematic efforts to relieve the monument complex of the burdens the past has imposed on it.

Shashank Shekhar Sinha has taught history in undergraduate colleges at the University of Delhi. He does independent research on tribes, gender violence, culture and heritage.

Interview

'I am a soloist, completely'

IN the world of Western classical music, the name David Russell hardly needs an introduction. Considered one of the greatest living classical guitar players, Russell is known throughout the world for the unique tonal quality of his music, sublimity of expression and ingenuity of interpretation of compositions. He was awarded the Grammy in the category of Best Instrumental Soloist in Classical Music in 2005. In 1997, he became a Fellow of the prestigious Royal Academy of Music, London. Born in Scotland in 1953, Russell spent his childhood in Minorca, Spain. The town even named a street after him—“Avinguda David Russell”.

Russell was in Kolkata to take part in the Calcutta International Classical Guitar Festival, which was held on December 16-18, 2016. In an exclusive interview to Frontline, the affable and unassuming guitar legend spoke extensively about his music and his passions. “I am always looking for something new and interesting and hopefully it will be exciting for the audience,” he said. Excerpts:

When did you first pick up the guitar?

I started before I can really remember. My father was an artist, but he also played the guitar and he taught me when I was a baby. I took it seriously when I was around 12 or 14. That was when I started thinking of myself as a guitarist. Why the guitar? Because that was the instrument we had in the house, and my father had a collection of records by Andres Segovia. We used to listen to Segovia’s music a lot.

It must have been quite a thrill for you when Segovia wrote you a congratulatory note after hearing you play. How old were you then?

Ah, yes, of course. I think I was about 18 or 19 at that time. I had played for him at different times. He was very kind and spoke to his agent in London about me. For a young guitarist, it meant a lot to me at that time.

You are Scottish by birth but you spent your childhood in Spain. How big a role did the musical ambience there help you to develop as a guitar player?

For guitar playing, it helped a lot because many people play the guitar there. Many kids in the village where I lived played the guitar, more to accompany songs. But the atmosphere was very good for music. Also, you get to hear a lot of classical Spanish music there.

What other instruments do you play?

I play, very badly, the violin [laughs] and I also played the French horn. That is because when you study at the Royal Academy, you have to play other instruments as well. My level of playing [the violin and the French horn] was not so good; it was just ok. I was in this small amateur orchestra, and we would play some Beethoven. But my soul is the guitar.

Apart from Segovia, who else were your influences?

I would say Julian Bream and also John Williams. When I was studying in London, they were living there and playing many concerts. Bream came to the Royal Academy sometimes and listened to us. He was very good to me. He said some things that really changed my life. Later I got to know Williams. He has this fantastic technique. I saw how good you have to be to do this for a living, and that the level is very high in the general world.

Sometimes young players may be the best in their towns, but they don’t know if that is good enough. Initially, I didn’t know myself, until some years later when I found out how much I had to do to get to a level that was enough, shall we say, to be a professional guitarist. Seeing how Williams played was a great education—his comfort with the instrument and music and his amazing abilities with his hands. This was when I was around 19. It made a big change, and I got a lot better.

How many hours do you practice?

When I am at home, I probably play for around four hours—but then sometimes it is for two hours and on some days for five hours. But if I am between concerts and not learning new compositions, and I am really just maintaining myself, I usually practice the basic stuff—the techniques, etc. That is not really for many hours. Usually, I play for an hour or two in the morning, and if there is time, for another couple of hours in the afternoon.

You have played for many composers. What makes you decide or agree to play a particular composition?

I wish I knew, for then I could tell the composer what to do [smiles]. I have no idea. I am always looking for something that is new and interesting and hopefully exciting for the audience.

Sometimes you learn something, and then you just feel, “Oh, this is just not going to work”. I may have even worked on something for three weeks and then realised that it is just not happening. That can happen for modern pieces, for contemporary friends who are composers, as well as old pieces.

As a teacher of music what do you stress on?

It depends at what level the student is and what he wants to do. But if they are serious students who want to spend their lives doing this, then I like to show them that they have to get a good level of technique. They also have to be interesting and exciting in their playing; they have to make the music go over to the audience, to find a way to communicate with the audience. They can’t do that without the basic equipment. That is important if one wants to be at a very high level.

For a teacher of young students —I don’t really teach children any more—it is very important to maintain their enthusiasm. Kids come all excited about wanting to learn to play the guitar, and then after two weeks they lose interest because it is too difficult. A teacher of young children has to know how to keep their interest by giving them just the right repertoire, the right pieces, and maybe a few melodies, and slowly bring the students up to a level. The first year is very difficult. I have seen very talented students, with good fingers losing interest because it got too difficult. The technical aspect is important—to get the fingers, etc., right—but only once the children are into it. At the beginning it has got to be enjoyable.

Most of my work has been with very serious students who want to be professionals.

With your concert schedules all over the world, how much time do you get to teach?

Almost none. I teach at a university in Arizona [United States] and I also teach at the Royal Academy, but I go there twice a year and spend a few days with the students. I no longer have my own students. I don’t have a job. Who wants a job? [laughs]

My wife and I are lucky to be able to travel all over the world and do concerts. It gives us an opportunity to go to new places and visit new cities. Before coming here [Kolkata], I played a concert in Singapore, spent some days in Yangon [Myanmar] and then visited Gujarat. I came here a few days ahead of my concert to practice, because for the past weeks I was without my guitar. But between practice [sessions], we walked up and down the streets of Kolkata, took strolls by the river. I consider myself lucky to be able to do that. I will teach when I can’t play any more [smiles].

What do you generally listen to?

Mostly Western classical music. I also love folk music of different places. I have quite a few albums of Indian folk music. I enjoy root music, the original. I am not so fond of crossover and fusion music. I don’t really like jazz and ragas combined. It’s like putting honey over your rice. I prefer to listen to jazz separately and Indian music or Spanish music separately. But mostly I listen to Western classical. For instance, when I get in my car, the music I turn on will inevitably be Western classical.

I enjoy listening to young guitar players. They are searching and finding new repertoire. I see in them the enthusiasm that I had—I still have —when I was 30. At that age you are more ambitious, you’re struggling, you want to get better. I’d like to go and see Johannes [Swedish classical guitar player and composer Johannes Moller, who had come down to Kolkata to play at the guitar festival] play tonight. I’d like to see what he is doing because he has written some new pieces that I find very enjoyable.

Not a good improviser

When you play alone and for yourself, do you improvise?

Not so much. I am not a very good improviser; at the most, I doodle. But in classical pieces, what we do is more of ornamentation than improvisation. When you repeat something, you add a few trills and maybe even a scale—it is very common in baroque music. But not everybody does it. It is a common thing to do in Vivaldi’s compositions, not so much in Bach because Bach is usually very complex.

A good improviser has to be very free within a structure. Many musicians in the classical period also improvised. Bach was apparently a great improviser within his own style. I, too, sometimes add things in pieces that I play, but I don’t really consider that as improvisation as a flamenco player does.

How much personal interpretation is it possible to give a classical composition, given that it is all set and written down?

Yes, it is written down, but in the same way that a book is also written down. Your personality and how you interpret the book comes out when you read it out loud. Your personality brings it to life. It will be different from the way another person will read the same book. So, if you play a piece by Bach, it will sound different when I or someone else plays it, even though it will be the same notes that all of us are playing. One of the challenges is how to find that personality and how to expand it and make it interesting to the audience. So, when you go to hear a piece by Bach, which has been there for 200 years, it is worth listening to because it is new and alive and will only happen this time. I see a performance more like the theatre—there you use the words to create an event. The words will be the same tomorrow, but the event will be different.

You are considered one of the greatest solo classical guitar players. Do you also like being a part of an orchestra?

No, I am a soloist, completely. But sure, it is also nice to be a part of a group, but for me only once a year maybe. Even with an orchestra, I am usually the soloist. I grew up as a soloist and learnt to do this thing not as part of a team, but by myself. If you play, for example, the oboe, you have to be part of a team. The guitar is essentially a solo instrument.

Tell us something about your instrument, and why you chose that particular guitar?

This one [pointing to his guitar] is 15 years old. I have a newer one by the same maker, Matthias Dammann. He is from Germany and he is a genius. I have been using his guitars for the past 20 years. This guitar is the one I use most of the time. I have played this guitar for all my albums for the past 15 years.

I have other guitars at home which also sound good, but I always come back to this one. This one does most of the things that I want from a guitar. It has a good bass, a lovely singing treble and it is comfortable to play.

When you are a young player, you get a chance to get a good guitar—everything is better than your bad first guitar—you adapt your playing to this new good guitar. Eventually, comes a time when you don’t want to adapt anymore. I play a guitar my way, if it sounds good, that is great, if it does not then I will not use it.

Matthias has always understood my need. There have been times when he made a new one, and I took it, and then I gave it back, telling him that my old one was better. The last guitar he made for me was better than the rest, but he did not want to give it to me immediately. He wanted to study it because something extra happened in the making of that guitar. So he kept it for a year or two, and I continued with this one [the guitar in the picture]. As for strings, I have been using D’addario strings of normal tension for years.

Besides music what are your other interests and passions?

I used to play tennis, but now I play golf. I love photography; I have several Canon [cameras] at home. It is a hobby that I can travel around with. I am also a runner. My wife and I run marathons. Three weeks ago [late November], we ran a marathon in Valencia [Spain]. We run usually two marathons a year, which gives us an incentive to be fit. For training, I usually run about 120 kilometres a month, around three or four days a week. My timing in the last marathon [42 km] was four hours and 20 minutes. I am not super fast, but then I am over 60 [laughs].

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Oct 9,2020