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COVER STORY

31-03-2017

Right on top

Issue on Assembly elections results, March 2017

Briefing

Cover story: Uttar Pradesh

Arithmetic of success

RIGHT through the long campaign and the seven phases of polling in Uttar Pradesh, sections of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership had steadfastly maintained that the election to the State Assembly hinged on simple electoral arithmetic. The refrain went thus: “Three years ago, during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had successfully forged a pan-Hindu electoral identity that fetched the party 42.30 per cent of the total votes polled and a massive victory in terms of seats. The average loss that the BJP has suffered in the 11 State Assembly elections after 2014 is about 10 percentage points. Even if a similar loss of votes occurs in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP would be the number one party in terms of vote share, at around 32.30 per cent. In the electoral system of India, where the concept of first past the post is the norm, this vote share will be sufficient to get a majority.”

As it turned out, the results in Uttar Pradesh underscored the strength of this electoral arithmetic logic. Significantly, the loss of the BJP vote share from what it was in 2014 was not to the tune of 10 percentage points but just 2.6 percentage points. The party garnered 39.7 per cent of the votes. This was, unambiguously, an insignificant vote share loss and practically held together the pan-Hindu electoral identity that the saffron party had crafted in 2014. The phenomenal scale of the victory of the BJP and its allies, 325 seats out of 403, of which the BJP accounted for 312, the Apna Dal (Soneylal) for nine and the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party four, was also in keeping with this retention of vote share. In 2014, when the BJP won 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the State, it had led in 328 Assembly segments.

On the other hand, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.)-Congress combine, the main challenger to the BJP and its allies, could rustle up only 28 per cent of the vote share—the S.P. got 21.8 per cent and the Congress 6.2 per cent—which, incidentally, was less than what they had obtained in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when they had fought separately. Three years ago, the S.P. had 22.20 per cent and Congress 7.50 per cent.

Thus, in spite of coming together, the combine cumulatively lost 1.7 percentage points from its 2014 vote share. In other words, not only was there no value addition from the coming together of the two parties, but it actually led to a decline in the core vote base of both the parties. The combine ended up with 54 seats, the S.P. winning 47 and the Congress seven, registering the lowest-ever tally for both the parties in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the S.P. won five seats out of 80 and the Congress two; together they led in 57 Assembly segments. Once again, it is more or less a repetition of the 2014 electoral trend for these parties too. Interestingly, the third major force in the State, the Dalit-oriented Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), actually increased its vote share from what it had in 2014, but still ended up losing big time. Its vote share rose to 22.2 per cent from 19.6 per cent in 2014. Still, the party could only win 19 seats, its second-lowest tally in Uttar Pradesh. Its lowest tally was in 1991 when it won 12 seats, at a time when the party was still considered to be building up its mass base. The results upset the perceptions that dominated the election scene throughout the long-drawn-out process. After the final phase of polling, the dominant view, even within the BJP, was that the State was headed for a hung Assembly. Scores of State-level BJP leaders who shared this view were concerned that the electoral arithmetic factor cited by sections of the party was not that solid on the ground as it was in 2014. Their argument was that the pan-Hindu electoral identity did not have the same emotional intensity as it had in 2014, essentially because there were no widespread communal riots as there were three years ago. Some of these leaders had called up scores of journalists and political observers, including this correspondent, even on the day and night prior to the counting, to share this concern. In this background, many of them were actually mystified at the thumping victory. However, this was in contrast to the doubts over the results expressed rather angrily by the BSP’s supreme leader, Mayawati, who said the electronic voting machines had been tampered with and that contributed to the BJP’s huge success.

However, beyond this sense of befuddlement and anger, there are several tangible factors that led to the BJP’s comprehensive victory. Three key factors among these were the ability to retain a Hindutva communal narrative throughout the campaign, the supplementation of this through the advancement of post-truth pronouncements and exercises from the party machinery, including top leaders, and finally, the deployment of a superior organisational machinery.

Although widespread communal clashes had not erupted in the State in the run-up to the election or when polling was held, the BJP and its associate outfits in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar successfully retained a communal narrative through a number of stratagems and ploys which had manifest concrete expressions. These were advanced at different levels, starting with grassroots door-to-door campaigns and building up to communally charged exhortations and utterances from the top BJP and Sangh Parivar leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.

Throughout the elections, BJP squads spread across the State in door-to-door campaigns across Hindu households, propagating the view that a victory for the S.P.-Congress alliance or the BSP would be a triumph of the Muslims and an assertion of the minority community’s social and political control. The killing of a Jat youth in western Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnore district on February 10, a day before the first phase of polling, was also used to escalate this propaganda throughout the next four weeks. Leading all this was Modi and Shah themselves through their multifaceted rhetoric, touching upon issues like “kabaristan versus shamshanghat” and electricity supply to Hindu and Muslim festivals, and also the creation of acronyms like “KASAB” to club the Congress, the S.P. and the BSP. This campaign reached its post-truth highs when Modi branded the recent Kanpur train derailment an act of jehadi sabotage when even the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had emphatically ruled out this possibility.

The traction for this campaign came essentially from the Hindutva-oriented social engineering that the BJP had built up among the non-Yadav Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Most Backward Caste (MBC) communities and the non-Jatav Dalit communities. This long-standing project, which sought to forge a social and political alliance against the Yadavs, who form the core support base of the S.P., the Jatav Dalits, the core support base of the BSP, and Muslims, attained concrete and massive dimensions in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It was with that election that the BJP was able to do away with the image of being an upper-caste Brahmin-Bania-Rajput party.

The communities thus rallied included OBC castes such as Kurmis, Shakyas, Lodhs and Pals, MBC castes such as Mauryas, Nishads and Rajbhars, and Dalit communities such as Pasis and Valmikis. Informal estimates state that these communities cumulatively account for nearly 25 per cent of the population of Uttar Pradesh across 38 caste blocs, with over 200 sub-castes and groups. Economically, these communities are classified as landless labour class. The landowning OBC Yadav community accounts for approximately 9 per cent and the economically upwardly mobile Dalit Jatav community for approximately 10 per cent of the population. While both the S.P. and the BSP have conventionally sought to supplement their core vote base with the Muslims, the BJP built up this OBC-MBC-Dalit coalition as a sort of Hindutva force opposed to the Yadav, Jatav and Muslim communities.

In the run-up to the 2017 Assembly election, the general belief within the political firmament of the State was that this coalition as well as the original upper caste combine may not solidly stay behind the BJP for a variety of reasons. These included a possible consideration of the governance track record of the Akhilesh Yadav-led S.P. government, which had been accorded a growing rate of approval even by significant sections of the MBC communities in numerous public surveys through the last three years of his governance.

Another perception was with regard to the impact of demonetisation on the economy in general and the rural economy and agriculture in particular. In the early days, it was evident that sections of the Bania (trader) community were upset with the demonetisation move. Also, sections of the Brahmins and Thakurs had expressed their resentment to the prominence given to the non-Yadav, non-Jatav OBC-MBC-Dalit communities in candidate selection, with a total of 223 seats accorded to them. The fact that the BJP had not been able to project a chief ministerial candidate was also perceived to be a limiting factor. It was an understanding of these factors that caused apprehension among some sections of the BJP even on the day before the counting. However, as it turned out, the BJP leadership, particularly Modi and Shah, succeeded in creating a narrative that not only sustained the Hindutva rhetoric but also portrayed the Central government’s steps, including demonetisation, as pro-poor initiatives. This helped further consolidate the coalition. The blatantly anti-Muslim Hindutva rhetoric was particularly helpful in bringing back the disgruntled upper caste communities and sections of the Jats and Dalits who were seen to be shifting allegiance to the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the BSP respectively.

Appreciation of the Akhilesh Yadav government’s performance became less important as polling neared, primarily on account of the S.P.’s alliance with the Congress. It became more and more evident through the poll process that the anti-Congress perception that reigned dominant during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was yet to subside completely. The combine was expected to help consolidate Muslim votes but the limitations of perception and organisation failed to ensure it.

The allotment of as many as 105 seats to the Congress meant dropping close to 60 S.P. candidates. Many of them contested as rebels. A similar situation developed within the Congress too. Many Congress aspirants fought as rebels, bringing down the chances of both the parties. Cases in point are seats like Shamli and Lucknow Central. In Shamli, former Congress MLA Pankaj Mullick was allotted the ticket. He got 40,365 votes and S.P. rebel Manish Kumar 31,824 votes. The seat was won by the BJP’s Tejendra Nirwal by securing 70,085 votes. In Lucknow Central, the BJP’s Brijesh Pathak won by securing 78,400 votes. The S.P.’s Ravidas Mehrotra got 73,306 votes while the Congress’ Abdul Mahroof Khan got 12,921 votes.

There is also the S.P. leadership’s admission after the electoral rout that the BJP’s booth-level management was superior. Over and above all this, the feud within the S.P.’s first family, involving party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav, also damaged the party in strongholds such as Kannauj, Badaun, Etah and Etawah districts. The party lost all four seats in Etah, five of six seats in Badaun, two of three seats in Etawah, and two of three seats in Kannauj. Prof. Sudhir Panwar, the S.P.’s defeated candidate from Thana Bhawan, said that while all the limitations of the combine must have contributed, it was the BJP’s success in bringing about communal and casteist polarisation, especially among sections of OBCs and Dalits against Yadavs and Muslims, that tilted the results in its favour.

The results could, in the medium term, pose challenges to the BSP’s ability to hold on to its core Dalit vote base. Although it boosted its overall vote share, the party could win only two of the 84 seats reserved for Dalits. It was also trounced in most of its traditional seats. It could not win even a single seat of the nine in Agra, considered to be the Dalit capital of Uttar Pradesh. This traditional BSP bastion had given the party six seats even in 2012, when it was voted out of power.

Dalit-dominated districts such as Sitapur, Sonbhadra, Auraiya, Jalaun, Fatehpur, Barabanki, Chitrakoot and Kaushambi also signalled a move away from the BSP. More importantly, only five of its 100 Muslim candidates won, raising questions about the Dalit-Muslim brotherhood that the party was actively promoting during campaign. This aggressive Dalit-Muslim campaign, however, is estimated to have led to the defeat of the S.P.-Congress campaign in as many as 35 seats.

Discussions within the S.P.-Congress combine as well as sections of the BSP are increasingly revolving around the absence of a Bihar-style grand alliance ( mahagatbandhan) as a key factor in the phenomenal triumph of the BJP. Once again, plain electoral arithmetic is cited to buttress this point. “The S.P.-Congress combine has 28 per cent of the vote share, the BSP 22.2 per cent. Put together, it is a massive 50.2 per cent. In the first-past-the-post electoral system, a mahagatbandhan could result in the mother of all electoral sweeps,” S.P. leader Shakir Ali said. The BJP leadership, however, is of the view that such a grand alliance will never happen in Uttar Pradesh, essentially because of Mayawati’s inability to fit into coalition politics.

As things stand now, these discussions are not expected to result in concrete measures in the near future. In the meantime, a jubilant BJP is moving ahead with the task of government formation with evident efforts to strike a balance between the different sections of its Hindutva support base, ranging from upper castes to non-Yadav OBC-MBC communities and non-Jatav Dalit communities. As outgoing Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said in his last press conference in office, the State is looking forward to see how best the BJP takes forward the agendas of economic development and sustaining social and communal harmony.

Cover Story

Right on top

“THIS will usher in a change in India’s polity.” This was how Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah prefaced his interaction with the media even as the results were being declared for the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur and they signified major gains for the BJP in three of these States. Shah, who is referred to as “action man” in the echelons of the BJP, is not really known to be a political theorist. So, he did not elaborate on the “change” that was being “ushered in” or its characteristics and import. However, he said “this is a win for the people, for their determination” and “a win for [Prime Minister] Modiji’s leadership” and “a win for the hard work and efforts of our party workers”.

Obviously, the reference was to the phenomenal triumph the ruling party at the Centre registered in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous State in the country, crushing all political adversaries, and the remarkable victory in the hill State of Uttarakhand. Shah did refer also to the defeat suffered by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP alliance in Punjab but went on to claim that the performance there too was creditable. Then he contended that the BJP would form governments in Manipur and Goa, too, though the elections had thrown up hung Assemblies in both States and the BJP was not the single largest party in either of them. Shah did not explain whether these results cumulatively were bringing in the change in the polity or whether some aspects were pushing it or whether there were other ingrained dimensions that denoted the change.

Change and constancy

A closer, and objective, assessment of the results of the 2017 round of Assembly elections reveals multidimensional outcomes that signify both change and constancy. In totality, they present a complex sociopolitical picture that does not fit into any binary logic, including concepts of change and continuity. Some of these outcomes are reflected in all the five States and could be termed common factors. Some others are unique to certain States or regions within them and are guided by nuance.

Common to verdicts in all five States was the prevalence of the anti-incumbency factor, albeit in varying degrees. All parties that were in power in the five States suffered reverses, though not on the same scale. The verdict against the ruling party was manifest most strikingly in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand, all big States, and on a relatively lesser scale in Manipur and Goa. In Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (S.P.), which aligned itself with the Congress, was routed by the BJP, while in Uttarakhand, the Congress government led by Harish Rawat suffered a similar result, again at the hands of the BJP. The ruling SAD-BJP alliance in Punjab was handed a resounding defeat by the Congress. In Manipur, the ruling Congress fell from full majority to the status of single largest party, tantalisingly short of a majority. In Goa, the ruling BJP slipped to the second position, behind the Congress. Interestingly, in the run-up to the results, the dominant perception in the media, among political observers and even among sections of the population that were interviewed as part of opinion polls was that the anti-incumbency factor in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand was relatively low. The electoral verdicts, however, disproved this view.

The interplay of constancy and change is also visible in a broader assessment that goes beyond the results of this round of Assembly elections. Since the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, which witnessed the ascent of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government with a massive majority, Assembly elections, including the present round, have been held in 16 States. Taken together, the dominant common trend of these Assembly elections has been the emergence of the BJP and the NDA as the central pole of the national polity. The BJP won elections in six States, including an unprecedented victory in Assam in the north-eastern region, before the present round. By winning Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the party’s victory tally has gone up to eight since 2014. Its creditable, though second-placed, performance in Manipur helps underscore the BJP’s pole position.

However, two other trends that reflected strikingly in the Assembly elections in 11 States between May 2014 and May 2016 have undergone a nuanced change. In that period, regional political forces challenged the dominance of the BJP and its allies, while the Congress, the grand old mainstream party of India, repeatedly suffered reverses. Thus, in early 2015, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) routed the BJP in Delhi and later that year the Grand Alliance in Bihar, consisting of the Janata Dal (United), or JD (U), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and the Congress, inflicted a resounding defeat on the BJP-led NDA. In May 2016, the trend was repeated when the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal returned to power with massive victories. The Left parties also registered a win in Kerala, imparting a different dimension to the resistance of non-Congress parties. But this time around, regional parties have not been able to assert their position, either in opposition to the BJP or even as its allies, though some of them may turn out to be crucial, yet marginal, players in the hung Assemblies of Manipur and Goa. All major regional forces—the S.P. and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh and the SAD and the AAP in Punjab—failed to live up to expectations. On the other hand, the Congress emerged the winner against the SAD-BJP combine in Punjab, made a return in Goa as the single largest party and retained the number one position in Manipur too.

Along with the reversals that regional political forces have suffered, the practitioners of “new politics”, such as the AAP, too have been forced back. The party, which rules the State of Delhi, was expected to register a big win in Punjab. Until about three months ago, the expectation was that the party would sweep the border State. However, it has been relegated to the second spot by the Congress. A large number of former party activists and observers blamed the party’s failure to stick to its original principles of alternative politics and internal democracy for the reverse. The rise of a personality cult around the AAP’s most prominent leader, Arvind Kejriwal, has imparted to the party the attributes of just another traditional party, allege its former leaders such as Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. Clearly, this setback is bound to put the brakes on the party's national expansion plans.

At the qualitative level, beyond incumbency-related issues and their consequences and the reverses to regional and new politics, the results of this round of Assembly elections mark the continued ascent of right-wing forces, in keeping with the trend visible since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. This round also marks the addition of some unique shifts and nuances to the right-wing political practice spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. One striking nuance is in the assimilation of right-wing political practice as witnessed recently in international politics in the manoeuvres of President Donald Trump of the United States. At its core, this involves the so-called championing of the concerns of the underprivileged and the marginalised even while advancing rabidly sectarian sociopolitical propositions along with neoliberal economic policies that ultimately work against the deprived sections of society.

The three strands

This right-wing practice was on grandstand play in the campaign of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and to a lesser extent in Uttarakhand. There were many streams to this political display, but three strands stood out. First, the rampant efforts at creating a sectarian divide between Hindus and Muslims through communal polarisation. Second, the building of a social coalition comprising the poor and the marginalised in sections of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the Most Backward Castes (MBCs) and Dalits, that too on the basis of a sectarian political campaign against the OBC Yadav community, the Dalit Jatav community and the Muslim minorities. Three, the forceful presentation and propagation of the recent demonetisation drive as a measure for establishing an equitable society. While the first two have been long-standing projects of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, the third is a recent, nuanced addition. All three planks boosted the BJP’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh ( see separate story).

The propaganda on these three strands were supplemented by a campaign on the welfare schemes of the Central government, such as the initiation of 52 lakh gas connections through a special programme targeted at Uttar Pradesh women as well as the disbursal of Rs.20,000 crore as loans through the Mudra bank and the opening of three crore Jan Dhan accounts. In short, the idea was sold to the electorate most forcefully and effectively.

The welfare schemes and the shift they have caused mark the appropriation of the social justice plank and its juxtaposition with the Hindutva ideology as also with the traditional support of the elite upper class. This is in marked contrast with the situation in neighbouring Bihar, the State credited with pioneering struggles of the socially marginalised for social justice. In Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the JD(U) advanced in parallel the social justice and empowerment themes among different sections of the OBC, MBC and Dalit communities. These two streams joined hands in a political coalition in 2015 putting paid to the BJP’s attempts to carve out its own OBC-MBC-Dalit combination along with the elite upper castes.

As the American anthropologist Jeffrey Witsoe observed in his seminal book Democracy Against Development: Lower-Caste Politics and Political Modernity in Postcolonial India (University of Chicago Press, 2013), one of the consequences of the enhanced participation of the lower castes in the democratic process was that “it radically threatened the postcolonial patronage system”. The success of the BJP’s project in Uttar Pradesh raises the question whether such a radical threatening of the patronage system would continue in the State.

The rise of this nuanced right-wing politics also reflects in the personality-oriented politics of the country. With these results, particularly the massive Uttar Pradesh verdict, Narendra Modi has become the most dominant political personality in the country's recent political history. The manner in which he led the nuanced right-wing politics from the front in Uttar Pradesh has added to his strength and domination. At the level of the Union government as well as the party structure, too, this verdict has imparted unbridled powers to him and his close associate Amit Shah. Between them, they have total control of all aspects of the party, including on Chief Ministers and veteran leaders and Ministers. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh top brass would think twice before questioning him now.

This sense of paramountcy has already found expression in extraconstitutional manipulations aimed at subverting electoral mandates. In both Manipur and Goa, the BJP was not the single largest party in the hung Assemblies. However, at the time of writing this, the BJP has staked its claim to form the government in both States, claiming support from smaller regional parties. By all indications, the smaller parties are getting arm twisted to support the supreme leader and his party.

The rise of Modi’s political personality and a nuanced right-wing politics raises questions for other players in national politics. The most pressing question would be on Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on account of the massive loss the party suffered in Uttar Pradesh, where he campaigned extensively. Attempts are being made by some Congress sycophants to place the credit for the Punjab victory on Rahul Gandhi, but this is not bound to get acceptance among the people. For it is common knowledge that the Punjab victory was crafted by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. Indeed, it is time for him and the party to take some radical steps, including finding a replacement at the top.

Two other personalities who played a significant role in these elections but ended up on the losing side are Akhilesh Yadav and Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal. Both of them are in control of parties that have some influence and acceptance though they have lost. Age is also on their side. But their efficacy and emergence as alternatives to the BJP-Sangh Parivar’s right-wing politics and the new nuances that are getting incorporated into it will depend on how well they make a course correction and relaunch their politics. That, however, will require not merely an organisational and structural course correction but also the evolution of a theme-based and programme-oriented political alternative that counters the appropriation of the empowerment agenda by new right-wing political initiatives and puts up a principled and concerted resistance to neoliberal economic pursuits and the Hindutva communal aggression in society.

Cover Story: Goa

Up in the air

ANUPAMA KATAKAM cover-story

AS was expected, the election in Goa has resulted in a fractured mandate and a hung Assembly. While it was a fiercely fought election, the final results were sadly an anti-climax. No clear picture emerged during the campaign period, and that is how it remained until the result for the last seat was declared. Unlike in other States, in Goa, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled State, there were no signs of a saffron wave or a resurgence of the party.

The Congress and the BJP won 17 and 13 seats respectively. Also as predicted, the independents and smaller regional parties secured enough seats to give them a decisive role in who will form the government.

Goa’s legislative Assembly has a mere 40 seats. If a party cannot secure the magic number of 21 seats, the smaller parties and independents play a critical role. And it is for this reason they tend not to enter into pre-election alliances. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) won one seat and Goa Forward and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) three seats each. There are three independent winners.

Historically, the MGP goes with the BJP. In which case, Goa Forward could end up playing a big role in government formation. As this report went to press, Goa Forward had not yet decided whether it would support the BJP or the Congress. Although it is assumed that the party will go with the Congress, Goa Congress leaders treated it quite shabbily in the run-up to the elections, and therefore, it feels it needs to be judicious in its decision. There had been an informal pre-election understanding between the Congress and Goa Forward, in which the national party said it would not field candidates from the three constituencies Goa Forward was contesting. However, on the last day to file nomination papers, the Congress did an about-turn and put three candidates in the Goa Forward constituencies, which led to much mud-slinging between Goa Forward leader Vijai Sardesai and Congress chief Luizinho Faleiro. Interestingly, the Congress did this to Goa Forward in 2012 too.

“The only reason Goa Forward would tie up with the Congress is because it is a secular party, and as Goans this is a crucial aspect of our culture,” said Edison D’Cruz, a senior leader with Goa Forward. “Faleiro did not play fair, and I think he needs to know that. We will decide in the next few days.”

Small but significant

Even though there were just 40 seats, the results took time to come out. By 4 p.m. on result day, 38 seats had been declared, and since it was a close fight the final two seats would be deciders. Eventually, the Congress emerged victorious with 17 seats plus the seat of the independent it supported. The BJP is, however, not backing down. With 13 seats plus the seat of an independent and the MGP’s three seats, it is hoping to form the next government.

“It is only right that the Governor asks the party that won the majority to form the government,” said a senior Congress leader in Goa. “This is the mandate of the people and that should be respected. The BJP has failed them, and the results show what the people of Goa are feeling. It’s a very poor performance compared with the last Assembly election,” he said. Perhaps the most noteworthy outcome of the elections is that the Congress, which was routed in the 2012 Assembly elections, made a remarkable comeback. In the previous election, it won just nine seats, while the BJP secured a majority with 21 seats. That the Congress won so many more seats in this election says a lot about it, said a political analyst.

Political observers in Goa said that what went against the BJP was that it seemed to have failed on the development plank, on which it came to power. Additionally, after Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar moved to the Central government, BJP supporters did not find Laxmikant Parsekar, his replacement, as dynamic or efficient. BJP leaders did allude to Parrikar being brought back as Chief Minister should the party retain power. “If it was banking on a BJP or Modi wave, that did not happen as at the time people voted in Goa the wave that Uttar Pradesh and other States saw was not all that prominent,” said the analyst.

Parrikar, apparently shaken by the results, attributed them to bad luck. He, however, said that the people had spoken and the BJP would respect the mandate. Informed sources said that he would not let go since it was a close contest and that he was working hard on alliances.

What went in favour of the Congress was its campaign against the BJP, perhaps some anti-incumbency, and the Christian vote in South Goa, said the analyst. “They [the Congress] used the word U-turn a lot on the campaign trail, saying that the BJP had not delivered on any of its promises. These would include reopening the mines, which they [the BJP] closed, and closing the casinos.” Parrikar had closed Goa’s iron ore mines because of concerns for the environment, but this caused livelihood distress in the entire region. The former Chief Minister had said he would reduce the number of, or even close, the casinos that were mushrooming on the Mandovi river in North Goa. However, years passed with no casino being closed. In fact, many more were given licences.

Goa has had successive Congress governments that have worked on the State’s development, particularly that of six-time Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane. However, owing to internal politics and alleged corruption among Ministers, the party was routed in the 2012 election. Goans revere Rane, a septuagenarian. He stepped down in 2007 over several controversies and has since played a low-key role in the party. For this election, the party projected him once again as the chief ministerial candidate if it came back. “Rane’s clean image and long run in government instils confidence in people,” said Anil Kerlekar, a restaurant owner in Calangute. “We have now seen many leaders in power; he was the most progressive and good for the State.”

The MGP was expected to win more than three seats. Yet it is not a complete loss. Even though it had broken away from the BJP, that traditional alliance remains strong, and in all likelihood the MGP will iron out its differences and align with the saffron party.

Goa Forward emerged happy and content with its win. In fact, D’Cruz said that the Congress had not won for anything that it had done but because there was no other option. “Had we had the resources and wherewithal to field more candidates, I am sure we could have got more Congress seats,” D’Cruz said.

Although caste does not play the role in Goa that it does in other States, Sardesai is popular among the lower-caste sections in South Goa, and the community is believed to have thrown its weight behind Goa Forward and not the Congress, which it traditionally votes for.

The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) high-decibel debut in Goa was a complete failure. The AAP contested every constituency and was expected to win at least three seats. However, even its projected Chief Minister, Elvis Gomes, a popular candidate, lost his seat. The AAP ensured that there was a multi-cornered contest in the State but just played a spoiler role, said the analyst. In fact, according to Election Commission data, in many constituencies, the NOTA (none of the above) option polled more than the AAP. Similarly, the rebel Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh leader Subash Velingkar, who created a ruckus a few days before the results came out, stating that he would return to the RSS and would dissolve his creation the Goa RSS Prant, drew a blank. Velingkar’s party, the Goa Suraksha Manch, contested six seats and lost all. The RSS sacked Velingkar in August 2016 for his incessant attacks on Defence Minister Parrikar.

It has been established that religion and caste play a small role in elections in Goa. Goans want livelihood options and better infrastructure, said an observer. The results show that people want a government that will develop the State and take it forward. The Goankar culture of tolerance and acceptance and the people’s sussegado (meaning relaxed and laid-back) attitude is strong and must not be tampered with, say Goans. Politicians, including those of the right-wing parties, seem to respect this.

Winners and losers

The BJP witnessed some stunning defeats, with many stalwarts and sitting Members of the Legislative Assembly losing their constituencies. A big upset was former Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar losing to the Congress’ Dayanand Sopte in Mandrem constituency. Dayanand Mandrekar, a five-term winner, lost to Goa Forward’s Vinod Paliencar in Siolim. Rajendra Arlekar lost to the MGP’s Manohar Ajgaonkar in Pernem, and Dilip Parulekar lost to Jayesh Salgoankar of Goa Forward in Saligoa.

If Parrikar is not sent back from Delhi, the BJP’s possible contenders for the post of Chief Minister are Michael Lobo from Calangute and Francisco D’Souza from Mapusa. D’Souza would be presented as the BJP’s minority and Christian representative in its effort to expand its social base in Goa. Interestingly, several former Chief Ministers, including four from the Congress —Pratapsingh Rane, Ravi Naik, Digambar Kamat and Luizinho Faleiro—contested the elections and won. Rane, Kamat and Faleiro are chief ministerial contenders, party supporters believe. Congress sources say this decision will, however, be taken only by the party high command. The Congress was hopeful that Atanasio (Babush) Monserate of the United Goans Party would win. Although a colourful character with reportedly a few criminal charges against him, he appeared popular in the Santa Cruz constituency. His loss cost them one seat. Churchill Alemao, who stood on the NCP ticket and is another former Chief Minister, emerged victorious. He has been linked to several controversies but could play a vital role in government formation.

This election saw a record voter turnout. According to Election Commission data, the total voter turnout on February 4, voting day in Goa, was 83 per cent. The vote share in this election is as follows: BJP 33 per cent, Congress 28 per cent, AAP 6 per cent and others 33 per cent. There were 251 candidates contesting from the 40 constituencies. The Congress fielded 37 candidates, closely followed by the BJP with 36. There were 58 independent candidates in all, and both the Samajwadi Janata Party and the Ambedkarite Party of India fielded one candidate each.

Senior party leaders from the Congress and the BJP say that the hung Assembly will bring instability and affect development. With no party revealing its hand a day after the results, it can only be hoped that party leaders put the State before their party and ensure a cohesive government is formed.

Cover Story: Punjab

Return of the Congress

AKSHAY DESHMANE cover-story

ON the afternoon of March 11, hours after it became clear that the Congress was well on its way to winning a decisive victory in Punjab’s Assembly elections, Captain Amarinder Singh, along with other party leaders, was sitting in the front yard of his house in Chandigarh to share with journalists his initial reactions on the victory. After he made some initial comments thanking the voters and his party volunteers, journalists asked Amarinder Singh about the electoral performance of the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which was widely expected to do better. Not known to mince words, the State Congress president and soon-to-be Chief Minister said: “I have been saying since day one that Punjabi voters are very perceptive and make decisions wisely. They understood that the Aam Aadmi Party has no leadership, nothing. We have seen these things many times. I have always said that a third force comes up [during elections].... I have contested 15 elections. In the end, people come towards one party. This is what I call a fair-weather storm. I think it is over. I think he [Kejriwal] is a summer storm, he came and he’s gone.”

These broad-brush descriptions of the AAP and Kejriwal were in stark contrast to the predictions of a variety of election watchers in Punjab, which went to the polls on February 4 and witnessed a voter turnout of 78.6 per cent. As it turned out, the Congress performed much better than its own expectations by winning 77 seats and the AAP and its alliance partner, the Lok Insaaf Party (LIP), came a distant second with 22 seats. The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) combine won 18 seats. If the Congress’ victory in almost two-thirds of the Assembly seats was unexpected, the SAD-BJP’s expected rout did not go according to the script either. Not only did the former Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, and the former Deputy Chief Minister, Sukhbir Badal, win their own seats, but the SAD-BJP combine also got 25.2 per cent of the votes. Though it was substantially less than its 2012 tally of 34.73 per cent, it was more than what the AAP polled this time: 23.7 per cent. Even Bikram Singh Majithia, the infamous Minister in the Badal government who was labelled a “drug lord” during the elections, was re-elected, with an over 23,000-vote margin in his constituency of Majitha. What definitely came as a rude shock for the AAP was the drastically diminished performance compared with the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when it first contested elections in the State. The party had led in 33 Assembly constituencies and won a vote share of 24.4 per cent then. In 2017, its reach in Malwa in southern Punjab shrank, and drew a blank in the Majha region in north Punjab, and won only two seats in the Doaba region in central Punjab.

Explaining his assessment of the reasons for the Congress’ success, Amarinder Singh mentioned three distinct aspects of the electoral outcome: the “AAP bubble” had burst, and people had seen through the party; the Maur blasts (three people, including a Congress worker, were killed in two blasts suspected to be the handiwork of Khalistani separatists, in Maur town outside Bathinda city during a road show of the local Congress candidate) and the AAP’s “links” with Khalistani extremists had put off voters; and, finally, support from Deras (caste-based cults that seek to influence voters) for the SAD a couple of days before polling had provoked a “counter-reaction from people and worked in favour of the Congress”. He was referring to the support extended to the SAD by the Dera Sacha Sauda, a sect comprising mostly oppressed caste Sikhs with the charismatic Baba Ram Rahim as the head. An aspect of the Congress’ performance that baffled election watchers is the fact that although its vote share fell from 40.09 per cent in 2012 to 38.5 per cent in 2017, it increased its tally from 46 to 77 seats.

Many, including leaders of the Congress and the AAP, could not figure out why the supposed wave in south Punjab’s Malwa region in favour of the AAP did not materialise. Professor Ashutosh Kumar of Panjab University has been studying the State’s politics and elections for over a decade. He has also been involved in election surveys for the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). Speaking to Frontline, he conceded that he had anticipated at least 30 seats for the AAP in Malwa (the party won 18 seats in the region and two in central Punjab’s Doaba region). He felt that the Congress and SAD-BJP coming together to conduct a vilification campaign against the AAP by successfully portraying it as being close to Khalistani extremists and accusing it of being anarchic could have something to do with it.

AAP’s slide

Prof. Kumar explained the unexpected verdict handed out by Punjab’s voters thus: “In Amarinder Singh, they saw continuity and change. You know, change in a cosmetic sense; change in power. And Amarinder Singh’s is a credible face, which was not the case with the AAP, which did not have a credible Sikh to project as its chief ministerial candidate. People were asking if comedians such as Bhagwant Mann and Gurpreet Ghuggi would become Chief Ministers. The AAP lacked knowledge of booth-level ground realities, especially social factors that could sway voters. And they were arrogant, which prevented them from noting the Congress’ rise since November 2016.” According to him, the ouster of former AAP convener for Punjab, Sucha Singh Chhotepur, for alleged corruption was the point when the party started going downhill during its long election campaign.

A section of the AAP’s Punjab leadership appears to concur with Prof. Kumar’s assessment of the impact of Chhotepur’s ouster. “Our campaign strategy has been proved wrong. It started from the Chhotepur episode,” conceded Kanwar Sandhu, chairman of the AAP’s Punjab Dialogue initiative, who was elected from the Kharar constituency in Rupnagar district. He added that the party leaders would meet soon and discuss in detail the reasons for its poor performance and refused to elaborate on that.

Another senior AAP leader, however, was more candid. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said: “The slide started with the Chhotepur episode. We had a victory on our hands which we frittered away. We cooked our goose for short-term gains and see where it has taken us. Our strategy went awry. Over dependence on just one campaigner, Bhagwant Mann, did not help. He is not capable of taking the party’s message to the voter in a serious way. I think voters in Punjab saw through the fact that the top Delhi leadership doesn’t trust the Punjab leadership.” The AAP’s top leadership in Delhi went into a huddle and did not communicate with the media. The party’s Punjab convener, Gurpreet Ghuggi Waraich, in a written statement, pointed out that the AAP had emerged as the main opposition party in the Assembly.

While the AAP-led alliance may have emerged as the principal opposition with 22 seats, the SAD-BJP alliance is close behind them with 18 seats and may not be a silent second opposition. Prof. Kumar pointed out that the SAD, which may have lost a substantial part of its vote share to the AAP, has retained its core Panthic (conservative Sikh) voter base, and that was evident in its 25.2 per cent vote share despite losing badly.

Along with the BJP’s 5.4 percent vote share, the SAD-BJP alliance has a higher vote share of 30.6 per cent compared with the AAP-LIP alliance’s 24.8 per cent. This may be seen as one of the indicators of the success of the campaign by the Congress and the SAD-BJP alliance against the AAP. It also indicates, according to some commentators, that some Akalis, in the face of certain defeat, might have preferred a “known devil” (the Congress) to an “unknown devil” (the AAP).

This election also confirms that verdicts have become unpredictable in Punjab, after the unexpected victory of the SAD-BJP alliance for a second time in 2012 and the unforeseen rise of the AAP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Amarinder Singh reiterated the electoral commitments the party had made during the campaign: eradicating the drug menace in four weeks, implementing a loan waiver scheme for farmers and resolving their indebtedness, and taking up initiatives in the health care and education sectors. He also mentioned that his government, in its first Cabinet meeting, would take 100 critical decisions that do not have financial implications. It remains to be seen whether he can deliver on his promise of real change.

Controversy

Twisting history

ZIYA US SALAM the-nation

ATTEMPTS by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Rajasthan to introduce Rana Pratap, the Rajput ruler of Mewar, as the winner of the Battle of Haldighati, in which he supposedly vanquished the Mughals, have sparked a controversy. At the centre of the controversy is the book titled Rashtra Ratan: Maharana Pratap (Aryavrat Sanskriti Sansthan, Delhi, 2007) in which the author Chandrashekhar Sharma has argued that Rajputs, and not Mughals, won the Battle of Haldighati in 1576.

Expressing his anguish over what he called “politicisation of history”, the eminent historian Satish Chandra said: “I am hoping that liberal and secular voices will not allow this disruptive attitude.” The veteran academic, whose Medieval India: From Sultanate to the Mughals is regarded as a primer to understanding medieval Indian history, said: “The battle between the forces of Akbar led by a Rajput, Man Singh, and those of Rana Pratap which included an Afghan contingent led by Hakim Khan Sur, initially ended in a stalemate. It cannot be considered a struggle between Hindus and Muslims, nor one for Rajput independence as there were Rajputs on both sides.” Yet, this is exactly what is sought to be done in Rajasthan today.

Chandrashekhar Sharma, who teaches in Udaipur’s Government Meera Kanya Mahavidyalaya, uses details from some of the land documents pertaining to the region surrounding Haldighati and the administrative decisions taken by Rana Pratap during the period to argue that Rana Pratap did not lose control over the territory. Quoting the contents of the book, BJP legislator Mohan Lal Gupta demanded a change in the way history is taught in Rajasthan University. Lending their voice to the debate, three other BJP legislators, former Higher Education Minister Kalicharan Saraf, School Education Minister Vasudev Devnani, and Urban Development and Housing Minister Rajpal Singh Shekhawat, demanded that the university’s curriculum should be restructured and Rana Pratap should be shown as the winner of the battle. The university’s History Department has since added the book to the list of reference books for undergraduate students to provide an alternative view to the dominant discourse.

The move has not gone down well with academics who believe history is being seen with blinkered eyes. The Battle of Haldighati, they argue, is widely but wrongly perceived as a Hindu-Muslim conflict, which actually is not the case. Both armies had a mix of Hindus and Muslims. If Islam Khan Sur, a descendant of Sher Shah Suri, along with his contingent was supporting the ruler of Mewar, Akbar’s army was led by Raja Man Singh of Amber. The Mughals were also helped by Shakti Singh, the brother of Rana Pratap.

The Battle of Haldighati was fought between the two forces on June 18, 1576, and is said to have lasted only four hours, not from sunrise to sunset as Chandrashekhar Sharma notes. It was primarily fought in the traditional manner between cavalry and elephants since the Mughals found it difficult to transport artillery, which was their strength, over the rough terrain. In a traditional fight, Rajputs were at an advantage.

Giving an outline of the outcome of the battle, Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, a medieval India historian of Aligarh Muslim University, said: “The impetuous attack of the Rajputs and others along with Rana Pratap led to a crumbling of the Mughal left and right wings and put pressure on the central forces of Man Singh’s army. But a rumour of Akbar’s arrival turned the tide, and resulted in a Rajput retreat. By July, Rana Pratap recaptured some of the lost territory and made Kumbhalgarh his base. Soon, Akbar actually appeared on the scene and many territories of Rana Pratap along with Kumbhalgarh were captured and Rana Pratap was forced to flee deep into the mountainous tracts of southern Mewar.”

The Mughal push did not end there. They exerted pressure on the Afghan chief of Jalore and the Rajput chiefs of Idar, Sirohi, Banswara, Dungarpur, and Bundi. These states, situated on the borders of Mewar with Gujarat and Malwa had traditionally acknowledged the supremacy of the dominant power in the region. Consequently, the rulers of these states submitted to the Mughals. A Mughal expedition was also sent to Bundi where Duda, the elder son of Rao Surjan Hada, had collaborated with Rana Pratap to take control over Bundi and adjacent areas. Both Surjan Hada and Bhoj, the father and younger brother of Duda respectively, took part in this conflict on the side of the Mughals. Rana Pratap ultimately escaped to the hills.

Satish Chandra said: “There is no evidence anywhere that Rana Pratap won the Battle of Haldighati. He is known for the valiant fight he put up. His guerilla tactics were later copied by Shivaji. It is wrong to characterise his fight with Akbar on religious lines. You cannot look at history through the prism of contemporary politics. Rana Pratap was a brave man no doubt but he was supported by the Bhils as also Afghans. He stood for some principles at a time when most other Rajputs had submitted to Akbar. Until Independence, there was no statue of Rana Pratap in Udaipur or any road named after him. Now, leaders talk about him for political reasons. There was nothing Hindutva about him. Those who are hailing him as a Hindu hero today are copying the language of British historians who saw medieval India as an unending conflict between Muslims and Hindus.”

Not a religious conflict

The Battle of Haldighati and the war between the Mughals and Rana Pratap was not a fight between two religions. It was a war for imperial hegemony, which was won decisively by the Mughals. In this, the Mughals had the support of a large number of Rajputs, and Rana Pratap had the support of Afghans.

Thus, “this so-called attempt by Rajasthan University is nothing but an attempt at creating new myths and distorting and falsifying well-established facts where there is no iota of controversy or ambiguity. It is just playing to the gallery at a time when the hydra-headed communal monster is raising its ugly head. You are going to create ignorant imbeciles by teaching such ‘history’,” Rezavi said.

The latest controversy is part of a series of right-wing attempts to glorify rulers of small kingdoms with the use of expressions like “maharana” (emperor) for Rana Pratap, although Mewar was barely a kingdom, and “veer” (brave) for Shivaji along with the nomenclature of “Shivaji’s empire”.

Rezavi said: “During the medieval period even insignificant rulers tried to take high-sounding titles. The ruler of Mewar took the title of Maha-Rana, the grand Rana. Such a title also symbolised the importance of the Rana as a prominent chief among a bevy of Rajput chieftains. Marwar and Mewar were both great Rajput chieftaincies compared with those of the Kachawahas of Amber or the Bundelas. The Kachawahas rose to prominence only after they became the collaborators of Mughals. Rulers of Mewar and Marwar were prominent even without the Mughals.”

Satish Chandra said: “They [politicians] are trying to distort history everywhere. History cannot be decided by politicians though they are trying very hard. Rana Pratap fought a brave but individual battle. Only a section of Rajputs supported him. Most of them had been won over by Akbar.” Incidentally, Akbar wanted to take the Rajputs and Khatris into his administration. “Eight of the 12 diwans in Akbar’s administration were Khatris and Kayasthas. That puts at rest all controversy about it being a fight for religion,” he said.

Incidentally, the Mughal sources refer to Shivaji simply as Shiva. The Marathas gained prominence only much later under the Peshwas. As Rezavi put it: “Shivaji and Sambhaji were petty hill rajas of a few fortresses and lived by collecting chauth [protection money]. Shivaji was defeated at the Battle of Purandhar by a Rajput, Mirza Raja Jai Singh. Before that, Mughal commanders who fought him were Shaista Khan and Jaswant Singh Rathore. When brought to Aurangzeb’s court at Agra, Shivaji was made fun of by none other than Jaswant Singh Rathore. He was imprisoned in the haveli of Ram Singh [son of Jai Singh] from where he managed to escape.”

Tales as history

Where will this attempt to mix myth with history lead to? “I see no end to such attempts at distortions when communal forces are out to divide our social fabric. The mere fact that they are attempting to include such tales as history in school and college textbooks is an attempt to pollute young minds. This is what the Nazis did, this is what Pakistan has done: in Pakistan references to Akbar have been removed from textbooks. The schools teach that Akbar was the one who harmed Islam by aligning himself with Hindus and Rajputs. In India, attempts are made to inculcate in young minds the idea that Akbar was actually bad because they [the communal forces] feel threatened by his irreligious attitude. Akbar’s ‘sul-i-kul’ [absolute peace, or policy of reconciliation] is feared by both Hindutva and Islamist forces,” Rezavi said.

Incidentally, Fr Monserrate, the Jesuit priest who visited Akbar’s court in 1585, had perceptively remarked: Akbar by tolerating every religion was in fact negating all. Rezavi said: “That is what worries Pakistani mullahs, that is what irks the Hindutva brigade in India. For both of them, the actual hero is Aurangzeb and the myths that surround him. To Muslim communal elements, he is a messiah; to Hindu chauvinists, he is an icon that helps them circulate their politics of hatred. The Indian masses are not fools. They will realise that kingship knew no religion. They [kings] had no religion but used religion to further their agenda just as modern-day politicians are doing.”

Some political leaders believe that Rana Pratap, Shivaji and other rulers opposed the Mughals because they were Muslims. That is far from true. Shivaji and Rana Pratap had a sizable number of Muslim commanders and soldiers in their army. The Mughal army comprised Rajputs, who were Hindus. Shivaji presided over what he called Hindu Pad Padshahi, as a Haindavaraja. But if one believes contemporary accounts, like that of Peter Mundy, most of his jails were filled with Brahmins. He collected chauth and sardeshmukhi from Hindu peasants as there were hardly any Muslim peasants.

Be it Rana Sanga who, as Satish Chandra says, invited Babur to come, or Rana Pratap or Shivaji, they fought the Mughals not because they were foreigners (there was no concept of nation then) or because they were Muslims (the coronation ceremony of Mahmud Lodi was done by Rana Sanga and he also issued coins in the name of Lodi), they fought for imperial hegemony and fought as one king against another.

The latest bid to foist Rana Pratap as an all-conquering Hindu icon reminds one of the Hindi film Jai Chittor. The film, made in 1961, was directed by Jaswant Jhaveri. It had a popular song by Lata Mangeshkar, “ O Pawan veh mein udne wale ghode”, which glorified Rana Pratap’s famed horse, Chetak, which is said to have saved his life in many a battle. The film, though, came with a warning: All incidents here bear no resemblance to any person living or dead. Such a warning is fine for a fictional film, and one could say the same about the history that is sought to be spread by Rajasthan in recent weeks.

Demonetisation

Persistence of misery

“I AM an exporter of handicrafts. It is the second largest sector after government jobs in the country, and lakhs of people are dependent on this for their livelihood. Transactions in the sector are mostly cash and the education levels among the artisans and traders are more or less the same. Our industry has been hit hard and has not yet recovered from the blow of demonetisation. We have been unable to pay the artisans and craftsmen. There has been a 22-100 per cent loss in business. I paid wages in three instalments to the workers as there was a shortage of cash. People are scared of criticising demonetisation but children will remember in the years to come.”

These are the words of Shafaat Khan, an exporter and manufacturer of brassware and other items based in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. Moradabad, one of the leading industrial corridors in the country, exports brass goods alone worth Rs.2,200 crore every year, according to the Agra-based MSME Development Institute. There are some large-scale units but the small-scale industries (SSIs) are the key drivers of the city’s economy and employment.

Nearly 10 lakh people are engaged in the handicrafts business, including manufacturing, in this city, which is also home to a thousand exporters. There are 18 districts in Uttar Pradesh where the handicrafts industry is a primary source of livelihood. But the Centre seems oblivious to the concerns of Shafaat Khan and other exporters like him.

During Question Hour in Parliament in the most recent session, when opposition members quizzed Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman about the reports of job losses due to demonetisation, the Minister said the government had not received any such information and added that there were no data to support such claims.

The government had clearly not considered it important enough to collect data on the economic hardship caused to people, both long term and short term. Responding to another query, Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya denied that there had been loss of employment in any form in the last three months. He quoted from a report of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which said that there would be a decline in the rate of unemployment from 2016 until 2018, but refused to comment on any specific loss of jobs due to demonetisation. The Union Labour Ministry has been in the forefront of introducing several amendments to labour and wage laws in order to facilitate the digitisation of wages, notwithstanding the lack of feasibility.

The Fifth Annual Employment-Unemployment Survey of the Labour Bureau (2015-16), which was released in September 2016, two months before demonetisation, made the following observation: “It is pretty well known that many of the persons who are reported as ‘employed’ or ‘workers’ in official publications do not get work for the entire duration of their stay in the labour force. And even those who get some work or the other for the entire duration may be getting work for only a small fraction of the time they are available for work. This apart, some may be working on jobs that do not allow them to fully utilise their abilities or from which they earn very low incomes. All this constitutes underemployment which remains a worrying aspect of the employment-unemployment scenario.”

It was no surprise, therefore, that the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the trade union and ideological affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had earlier welcomed the government’s decision, reacted sharply to the Union Budget for not making provisions for the workforce adversely affected by the shutting down of many industries. Some 2.5 lakh unregistered units have reportedly been forced to close down, causing tremendous misery to workers. The BMS also pointed out that the real estate sector, which it said was founded on the basis of “black money”, had been badly hit, throwing crores of workers out of work. “We had hoped that the government would make some announcement in the Budget for the working class but it didn’t,” Virjesh Upadhyay, general secretary of the BMS, told Frontline.

The union objected to the government’s use of the Rajasthan model of labour reforms for the entire country and pointed out that the proposed changes in labour laws had been opposed by every trade union in the country. There had not been any spurt in investment or industrialisation in Rajasthan, as was expected, subsequent to the changes in labour laws in the State, the BMS said. It also objected strongly to the Central government’s move to sell its stake in public sector enterprises and the dissolution of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB). This was in sharp contrast to the BMS’ November 25 statement, in which it appealed to “labourers and common people of the country to take the initiative to make demonetisation a success”. The union had also hoped that the revenue collected following demonetisation would be used for greater spending in the social sector, and for the strengthening of the social security fund and infrastructure. On February 1, it said: “There was huge revenue collection through demonetisation but [the] same has not been transferred in social spending.”

Losses and declines

Surveys and studies conducted by employer organisations have indicated the magnitude of the crisis, notwithstanding the government’s denials. The All India Manufacturers’ Organisation (AIMO) estimated that some 30-35 per cent of the jobs had been lost following the decision and said that the figure could escalate to 35-60 per cent in March. The AIMO conducted a survey on the impact of demonetisation in the first 34 days after the announcement on November 8 and concluded that all industries had suffered a hit, small and medium enterprises being the worst affected. A report by the Centre for the Monitoring of the Indian Economy stated that 48 per cent of the workforce had lost its income; daily wage labourers accounted for 25 per cent of this group, 8 per cent comprised self-employed entrepreneurs, small traders and hawkers, who suffered a hit as their income and businesses were both affected, and the remaining 15 per cent comprised businessmen and organised farmers. The salaried class was less affected in comparison. The report also said automobile sales in December recorded the biggest decline in 16 years. Leading automobile companies based in Gurgaon laid off several workers following a dip in demand.

Rajiv Jain, general secretary of the United Cycle & Parts Manufacturers Association, told Frontline from Ludhiana in Punjab that workers had left in huge numbers. “We are left with only 25-30 per cent of the workforce. The orders [have] also declined. The worker is not ready to accept payment by cheque. He loses wages,” he said. With the demonetisation move coming during the wedding season in north India, the sales of bicycles, the lowest priced in the two-wheeler segment, also dipped. Bicycles and cars are usually gifted during weddings. Jain said that not only did demand and production go down, but the prices of steel and plastic went up. “The second blunder was to insist on payment by cheque and RTGS [real time gross settlement]. Work slowed as a result. We are mainly surviving on government tenders. We supply parts and if the commissioning companies tell us to lower our rates, we have to. To date the government has not told us what it gained by demonetisation,” he said.

Tapan Sen, Rajya Sabha member and general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said that the estimated job loss was up to a million. “The Labour Bureau figures tell us that only 1,15,000 jobs were created,” Sen said, referring to the Fifth Annual Unemployment-Employment Report.

Twin attacks

Located a short distance from the busy Meerut road in Ghaziabad district in western Uttar Pradesh is the 25-year-old building of the regional branch of the AIMO. The building, like the once-vibrant industrial area of Ghaziabad district, which includes Sahibabad, the largest Assembly constituency in the State with nine lakh voters, is a relic of the past. Yet, a large part of the rural populace and people from other States such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh still flock to the “labour chowks” in search of employment, mainly in the unorganised sector. On the basis of feedback from industry, O.P. Gupta, executive director of the organisation, said that nearly 80 per cent of the small units in the area spanning the National Capital Region had shut down. Most of the SSIs were in the unorganised sector, mostly employing migrants.

Units in both unorganised and organised sectors in the small-scale industry had to wind up operations owing to a paucity of cash. They included food-based and beverage industries that deployed workers during specific seasons. There were also manufacturers of heaters and coolers that operated seasonally. Most of the workers did not know how to operate bank accounts. “All such labour is migratory in nature. They don’t have bank accounts in all the cities they land up for work. They don’t want to be paid by cheque. If this pressure to pay by cheque continues, industry will face a big problem,” said a bakery owner. Narrating his problems, he said that he was given 10-rupee coins as he refused to accept old notes.

“I deposited Rs.10 lakh in old notes. Now, a new form of harassment has started. We have to send replies to the I.T. [income tax] Department explaining the source of the money deposited. Do I conduct my business which has already taken a hit or should I spend time replying to these queries?” he said.

The deindustrialisation of Ghaziabad has been happening over the years. There were industrial cities like Modinagar, which boasted every kind of industry and was home to a dedicated railway station. Industrial areas soon gave way to malls and shopping centres. Post-demonetisation, some 10,000 workers in the power loom units of Muradnagar, another industrial area, have been displaced. “They protested but nothing happened,” said Dinesh Mishra, district president of the CITU. He said that trade unions like his realised the magnitude of workers’ hardship after members expressed inability to contribute even nominal amounts for union-related activities.

As construction work came to a halt, with even some of the big names in the industry discontinuing work, construction workers were left stranded.

Labour frustration

The “labour chowk” at Nasirpur railway crossing is among the 24 “labour chowks” in Ghaziabad district. There are designated areas where men and women are picked up by contractors for work in industry or by individuals on the unsaid principle of daily wages. People seeking work gather in these areas between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. to get work that is manual in nature. At any given point in time, there would be around 500 people, mostly men but some women too, waiting in anticipation. Many educated youths have also been found to throng such chowks in search of work. There are no shelters built for such labour; they have to wait in the open at all times round the year. In Ghaziabad, they come from nearby districts as well as other States such as Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

Demonetisation has hit them hard. “We get work only once in 10 days. How can a man feed his family with just 10 ten days of work? Even if we do the job required of us, the contractor does not pay us. He deducts wages at will. We do not even get the rate fixed by the State government. We are at their mercy,” said Mohammad Shahid, a worker in his fifties. Some of the big names in the construction sector deployed contractors to source labour for them but did not ensure that the workers were paid for the work done.

Sometimes the wait stretches until 6 p.m. after which workers return empty-handed and go hungry too. The impact on real estate work has hit them hard. “Even today there is no work. Now we have workers who have been sacked from companies joining us here. What benefit did we get from notebandi? Already there was so much of harassment. Has any political party spoken about doing away with such labour chowks and ensuring that men and women do not have to stand like this to sell their labour? It is a shame that such chowks exist in a country like ours,” said Umesh Kumar, a graduate. Many, he said, had returned to their villages.

Anil Bhardwaj, secretary general of the Federation of Indian Micro and Small & Medium Enterprises (FISME), said that the real impact of demonetisation would be felt over a year and a half. Close to 90 per cent of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are in the unorganised sector and only 7-10 per cent in the organised sector (hiring more than 10 persons and registered under the Factories Act). The average number of people employed by MSMEs, as per the last survey, he said, was two. A very large number of them are very small units and deal almost entirely in cash. Their operations were cash-based; they bought raw material, paid wages and sold goods in cash. “Markets are cash-based, so that explains the high dependence on cash. There are more than 3,000 traditional clusters and around 400 industrial clusters too, like in Moradabad,” said Bhardwaj.

Production had been severely hit, in the range of 30 to 70 per cent depending on how much cash was used. Day-to-day functioning was badly affected. As cash availability improved, demand took a huge dip. People were holding on to their cash and not spending it. “Whatever we were producing was not being sold. Operations were scaled down. There was a permanent opportunity loss. It was the peak period for marriage season in northern India. The stockists of white goods like refrigerators and television sets, and cars and other expensive items, mark the calendar in northern India, targeting such sales for the wedding season. Their sales have been 40 per cent less in the peak marriage season and we are talking about north India. We will get to know the real impact in one and a half years. One can defer buying a car; but if I skip eating today, I cannot eat tomorrow. People couldn’t hire banquet halls, etc. It was an opportunity loss of earning wages. And these are not rich people,” he said.

Fear of raid raj

The third challenge was the push for digital payments without the requisite infrastructure. “Suddenly, we had the poorest people using cutting-edge technology to make payments. The cash option earlier was at zero cost but now digital transactions were to cost 2 per cent or so. Why should it be forced on people? And there was no cash to pay wages,” said Bhardwaj. MSME employers were now apprehensive that their costs would go up if they had to pay social security to the workers. Business was also apprehensive of the “raid raj”. The option, the FISME head said, would be to close shop. According to him, the organised sector was shrinking, the government was not hiring, and agriculture was unsustainable to support livelihoods. MSMEs are connected to rural markets. Construction activities in villages, for instance, were cash-based. Barring cement and steel, which form part of large industry, every other component in construction was manufactured by small-scale units.

Employers believe the digital push can upset the balance. According to Bhardwaj, rural India was entirely cash-dependent and relied on the products produced by MSMEs. Though trade unions have been insistent that MSMEs ought to comply with labour laws and have been at loggerheads with MSME representatives, demonetisation only worsened the situation for the unorganised sector working class, pushing them into further uncertainty and unemployment.

“People have not recovered from the decision to date,” said Shafaat Khan in Moradabad. The operations of metal casting in brassware work required coal, which had to be paid for in cash. “If there is no casting, there is no grinding, welding, forging or moulding. And then the costs of raw materials went up. We have fairs, domestic and international, in February where we get orders from four places—Delhi, Paris, Hong Kong and Frankfurt. The rates are discussed at these fairs. But we have not been able to take orders,” he said, adding: “ Abhi to khaali baithe hain [we are sitting without any work].”

The Central government has no excuse for not taking remedial measures on the basis of feedback, anecdotal and otherwise. Rather, several luminaries of the government were part of a campaign and telethon organised by a leading media house where viewers were encouraged to pledge to a less-cash and digital economy. As per reports put out by the media house, Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had stated that demonetisation had not had any recorded impact on jobs. “Saluting” those who had “spread awareness about digitisation”, she stated that the “impact on jobs, if any, was only in the first 10 days of demonetisation”. The campaign, titled “Remonetising India”, involved a range of celebrities taking a pledge to “remonetise” India through a less-cash economy, ostensibly to help out those who needed it most.

The employment situation prior to demonetisation was already bleak. The Labour Bureau findings showed that 77 per cent of households had no regular wage earner or a salaried person. And only in three north-eastern States—Tripura, Manipur and Meghalaya—had more than 70 per cent of the households benefited from the Mahatma Gandhi national Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Some 46.6 per cent of the workforce was self-employed and only 17 per cent was salary or wage earners. Clearly, there was enough evidence to show that it was this section that had been badly affected since November. The paucity of data was not the problem; what was missing was empathy and a course correction to offset the misery people suffered through no fault of their own.

GDP data

GDP conundrum

V. Sridhar economy

Official data released by the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) on the last day of February, which claimed that the national gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 7 per cent in the October-December period, the third quarter of 2016-17, came as a morale booster to the Narendra Modi government. If taken seriously, and without scepticism, it appeared to show that the shock and awe of demonetisation had no negative impact on the growth trajectory of the Indian economy. But the gleeful acceptance of the latest CSO estimate by partisans in favour of demonetisation is truly perplexing.

How could the economy have registered robust growth during a period when 86 per cent of the value of cash in circulation—the key mode of payment, especially for the vast swathes of the economy that is informal in nature—was pulled out suddenly? Anecdotal evidence from a range of sources from across the country also indicated that agricultural activity had ground to a halt, as had production from small-scale units producing a variety of goods. Moreover, there was also evidence that key sectors such as manufacturing and real estate had been hit hard. Those in government, including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, have obviously seized the latest data as a vindication of the demonetisation move. The political establishment’s gleeful cynicism in accepting what is convenient, even as the claims sit uncomfortably with facts that confirm the opposite, is truly disturbing.

Statistical illusion

When “facts” are at variance with widely observed reality, as is certainly the case with demonetisation, it is time to question the basis on which the “facts” stand. So, why is it that the CSO’s data do not appear to square up with reality? First off, it is important to recognise that the statistical concept of growth of any kind, economic or other, is always relative. When the CSO’s latest estimate arrived, all eyes were on how the economy had fared in the third quarter of the current financial year. But tucked away in the release was the fact that the estimates of GDP for the comparable quarter of the previous year (the third quarter of 2015-16) were revised downward. Of course, there is nothing wrong with later estimates making corrections for earlier estimates, but it is indisputable that the lowering of the earlier estimate creates the statistical illusion of a buoyant performance during a period in which the economy experienced an unprecedented shock.

Observers such as Soumya Kanti Ghosh, Chief Economist at State Bank of India, have pointed out that the “steep downward revision” of GDP estimates for the third quarter of 2015-16 has had the effect of “masking” the impact of demonetisation. Indeed, if the unrevised figures for GDP in the third quarter of 2015-16 are used for comparison with the third quarter of the current year, GDP growth for the quarter would amount to only 6.2 per cent and not 7 per cent. Another puzzling aspect of the downward revision is that it has been done only for the third quarter; the estimates for all other quarters of 2015-16 have been revised upwards.

But this statistical illusion is only one major problem. Another aspect of the problem pertains to the estimates of GDP emanating from the manufacturing sector. The CSO’s latest estimate reveals that growth in gross value added (GVA) in manufacturing increased by 8.3 per cent during the October-December 2016 quarter. However, another set of data, the Index of Industrial Production (IIP), which is also collected by the CSO, show that industrial growth in the three months of that period was up 2.4 per cent, up 5.5 per cent and down 2 per cent, respectively. Interestingly, the IIP data show that compared with figures for a year earlier, industrial growth was in negative territory. Bank credit, which is another indicator, also sits uncomfortably with the GDP estimates. Data published by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) show that bank credit shrank by 4.3 per cent in December 2016, which raises an obvious question: how could a growing economy do with less credit, especially in a period of widespread cash shortage?

Yet another puzzling feature of the latest data released by the CSO pertains to the sharp increase in private consumption expenditure, especially at a time when the economy was savaged by demonetisation. It needs to be emphasised that consumption estimates in the CSO’s data set are residual in character. What this implies is that consumption is not directly estimated but arrived at as a residue after accounting for all other categories. What is truly puzzling about the private consumption estimate is that the CSO reckons that it increased by a whopping 10.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2016-17. Incidentally, while private consumption expenditure grew at only about half this rate in the second quarter, it grew at 6.8 per cent during the comparable quarter of the previous year. Information from a range of sources, including companies in the consumer goods industry (Nestle, for instance) and the two-wheeler sector (Bajaj, for example, whose leaders have also spoken strongly against demonetisation), indicates that the CSO’s estimates sit uneasily with the facts on the ground.

Similarly, while government consumption (or spending) is shown to have increased by almost 20 per cent in the third quarter of the current year, it grew by less than 4 per cent in the comparable quarter of the previous year. Such a massive spike in government spending ought to be reflected in the capital goods category in the IIP. But the IIP data showed that the capital goods sector shrank by a massive 27 per cent in October and by a further 3 per cent in December; the 15 per cent gain in November was wiped out by the sharp contraction in the other two months of the quarter.

One of the most significant drivers of GDP growth in the current year appears to be agriculture, going by the latest CSO estimate. GVA in agriculture is estimated to have grown by 6 per cent in the third quarter of 2016-17. There are two problems with the estimates. For one, there is an element of a statistical illusion arising from the fact that GVA in agriculture contracted by 2.2 per cent in the comparable quarter of the previous year. But an even more significant surprise is that it does not appear to reflect the across-the-board collapse in agricultural commodity prices after demonetisation took effect. As was evident in reports from across the country, there was widespread distress in rural India following demonetisation.

The fact that demonetisation was initiated right in the middle of the harvesting season (and which also affected subsequent sowing operations) resulted in a steep decline in prices. Given that the value of agricultural output is dependent not just on output levels but also on price levels, the sharp increase does appear odd. At the very least, the data reflect a disconnect with reality. It is possible that extrapolation of previous data may be responsible for this anomaly. Incidentally, this may also be the reason why the output of the informal sector appears exaggerated, contrary to popular expectation after demonetisation.

Of course, a part of the problem with the statistics arises from the new methodology that has been adopted after the Modi government assumed office, in 2015 (“Rejigging statistics”, Frontline, March 20, 2015). This could explain the significant disconnect with reality that the CSO’s latest estimate appears to suggest. Economic activity arising in the informal sector contributes to between a third and half of the overall output in the Indian economy. Given this weightage, and given the serious problems in the way the CSO gathers estimates of output emanating in this sector, it would appear that the latest estimates are not good enough to answer the question that has assumed great significance: was demonetisation a killer blow to informal forms of activity and livelihoods?

The CSO’s estimates of output in the informal sector are captured by “proxy”, rather than relying on direct and verifiable methods of estimation. As Pronab Sen, a former Chief Statistician of India, pointed out, the assumption behind using the formal as a proxy for the informal is that output levels in the two sectors would move together. However, given the fact that the unprecedented cash shortage hit the informal sector much harder—in fact, one could even draw the conclusion that demonetisation actually targeted those engaged in these activities—the methodology of using the formal as a proxy is untenable. In fact, acolytes of the Modi regime ought to be warned that the data are particularly unsuitable for answering the question.

Moreover, the changes in the CSO’s methodology, which increases dependence on data from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, appear to have tainted the sanctity of the data even further. To reiterate, this data source is based on “returns” filed by medium and large listed companies, which is suspect for two reasons. One, the data are largely voluntary, but even more problematic is the fact that the Ministry has no way of verifying the authenticity of the data it gathers.

It is not just the government’s long-standing critics who have questioned the CSO’s estimates. For instance, the Indian affiliate of the Nomura Group, a financial holding company based in Japan, raised doubts about the estimates. It suggested that the “official data are underestimating the reality as they rely largely on organised sector data”. Remarking that “this does not add up”, Nomura pointed out that “real activity data released since demonetisation suggest that consumption and services were hit after demonetisation because they are more cash-intensive”. It made the telling observation that the “official GDP statistics are significantly underestimating the growth impact of demonetisation”.

The Modi government is well aware that the estimates for the current year will undergo further revisions over the next year. A year later, we may know with a little more certainty the economic consequences of the great misadventure that demonetisation was. But the political establishment is banking on the hope that by then, no one will be interested in them.

Interview

Resistance and truth-speaking

DIVYA TRIVEDI the-nation

PROFESSOR Mukul Manglik taught history at Ramjas College of Delhi University from 1984 to 1986 and has been teaching there again since 1991. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) claimed that he shouted anti-India slogans and called for his suspension. He denied all such charges in an interview with Frontline. Excerpts:

How did you get involved in this controversy?

The conference was organised by the Department of English and the Literary Society of Ramjas College. I teach in the Department of History and played no role in organising the conference. At 11 in the morning of February 21, I happened to accompany Dr Vinita Chandra of the English Department to the Principal’s office. We were informed that the ABVP was mobilising against the conference. We tried to reason with the students and the police that organising seminars is part of our work as teachers and students. Besides, no court in the land had debarred Umar Khalid from moving around or being invited to speak at conferences. But the police said they apprehended large-scale violence and would not be able to guarantee security. So, it was decided to disinvite Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid. The English Department, which was doing nothing unconstitutional in organising this seminar, was forced by the diktat of an abusive, intimidatory, slogan-shouting mob to bow before illegality. As I walked out of the Principal’s office and went past this group of ABVP students, around 1 p.m., they abused me filthily and openly threatened me. In fact, roughly from noon onwards, there was continuous and increasing intimidation faced by the organisers, in the Principal’s office in the presence of responsible police officers.

How did the slogan-shouting happen?

When people were informed in the conference hall that the department had been forced to disinvite Umar and Shehla, there was a feeling that everyone’s freedom to do what is constitutionally right and what each of us is meant to do in a university was being forcibly snatched away. Disbelief mingled with disappointment, leading to a spontaneous non-violent procession through the college. The protesters were not seeking a reversal of the decision regarding Umar and Shehla but wished to say, as responsible citizens, that what had happened was wrong. This feeling of being terribly wronged drove me to do some lead sloganeering. I began by shouting “ yeh manmaani, gundagardi, dadagiri nahi chalegi”, [domineering, hooliganism, bullying will not do] but felt that these did not address the enormity of what had happened. The slogans that then came to me, almost organically, were “ hum kya chahte? Azadi: meethi, pyari, sundar azadi; gundagardi, dehshatgardi, aatankwad, hinsa, pitrisatta se azadi; JNU, HCU, Ramjas, DU mange azadi”. [What do we want? Freedom: sweet, lovely and beautiful freedom; freedom from bullying, terrorism, violence, patriarchy; JNU, HCU, Ramjas ask for freedom]. I did not raise slogans related to Bastar and Kashmir, nor do I know who did. Each of the slogans raised by me sought to oppose, through the powerful and legitimate art of sloganeering, the brawny, hyper-masculine intimidation that some of us had experienced that day. There are so many different, beautiful meanings of azadi. I don’t understand why anybody should object to slogans of this nature. Do they not want azadi [freedom] from gundagardi [bullying] for the people of this country? Do they want everyone to live in slavery and unfreedom? As citizens of the Indian Republic, is it not our duty to fight for deeper, more meaningful freedoms without assuming that azadi refers only to secession and destruction?

What happened on day 2?

After taking my class, I went to Patel Chest to get some posters made for the upcoming History Society annual academic festival. By then ABVP supporters had already started collecting in groups and shouting slogans on the premises of Ramjas, while some students and teachers had begun gathering just outside the gate in response to a late-night call given by AISA [All India Students’ Association] against the huge violence unleashed by the ABVP inside Ramjas the previous afternoon. While I felt that the ABVP violence certainly needed to be protested against, I also felt that such a protest action should have been widely discussed and prepared for rather than announced unilaterally by any one political organisation. Anyway, while at Patel Chest I got a call from a colleague persuading me to stay away from Ramjas for fear of being personally targeted by ABVP supporters. I was forced to go underground. Through the day, I kept hearing of unimaginably brutal assaults by ABVP supporters on unarmed students, teachers and protesters. The memory of it sends a chill down my spine.

What was different about this violence?

This was rampant hooliganism, sheer terror unleashed inside Ramjas and outside over two consecutive days. Never before has any college or the streets of North Campus been taken over by rampaging mobs attacking, threatening and abusing students and teachers at will with such barbaric impunity, even as they revelled in causing dire physical hurt and pain. This violence was planned, organised and executed with precision, while the police acted ineffectively, if not in complicity with the attackers. Everyone was fair game: men, women, students and teachers. I have lived and worked with an implicit faith that no matter how much disagreement there might be between my students and me, or even amongst themselves, intimidation, abuse and violence would never fracture these relationships. This faith stands shattered today and I really don’t know how to go about healing this breach.

Why Ramjas?

While terrorising Ramjas is part of a wider Hindutva agenda to terrorise, occupy and control institutions of higher learning to serve ideological and material goals, it is likely that within DU, Ramjas more than some other colleges has come to symbolise, over time, a rare intellectual boldness, sticking out like a sore thumb for the likes of the ABVP. If Ramjas could be targeted and pacified, other colleges would, perhaps, or so they imagine, automatically fall in line.

Do you feel safe going back and teaching?

I don’t feel completely safe and I don’t think many other colleagues and students feel completely safe either. Let’s be clear. If something like this can happen so openly over a two-day period and if no effective action is taken against the aggressors, all of whom are roaming around freely on the campus, then anything can happen to anyone at any time. We are living with a very new and deep sense of insecurity.

How do you see this panning out?

Large-scale violence might have stopped for now, but there is no certainty that various other forms of intimidation will not carry on. Even if the law kicks in—and it must, at the earliest—I feel that we as citizens cannot allow this to be forgotten because the act of forgetting will be the necessary precondition for the normalisation of the horror we have experienced.

I hope all the teachers and students of our Department can meet and speak openly about what happened to them. Unless there is open truth-speaking in the presence of all concerned, including the aggressors, who might then be willing to truly repent their own acts of omission and commission, it is unlikely that we can begin to move towards any real sense of security.

Students have attacked teachers. How do you feel about that?

Let me end on a somewhat positive note. While it is true that many of our own students have turned violently against their own teachers, for me they shall remain my students, and even as they face the legal consequences of their actions, I shall do everything possible to re-establish meaningful, critical communication with them. I cannot imagine giving up on them and I cannot bear to see them hurt others, while destroying themselves in the process.

As for all the people from across the globe and all the ex-students and current students who have reached out in a million beautiful ways, including by coming together in splendid acts of resistance, they need to know that their words, songs, silences, drawings and convictions, the non-violent rendering of their powerful protests, are like the flame of life itself, refreshing the old words of Howard Zinn:

“Human history is not only a history of cruelty, but also of compassion, courage and kindness... and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is inhuman and cruel around us, is itself a marvellous victory.”

Africa

Sahrawis’ struggle

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The war between the Polisario Front, which represents the government of Western Sahara, and Morocco, which ended in 1991, is threatening to erupt again. The Moroccan government occupied a major chunk of territory in Western Sahara after the hasty withdrawal of the Spanish colonial power in 1974. Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara was rejected by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1975.

The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), representing the Sahrawi people in Western Sahara, declared independence in 1976, and after 15 years of war, the Moroccan government and the SADR signed a ceasefire agreement in 1991 on the condition that a referendum on independence would be held in Western Sahara the following year. But Morocco refused to honour its commitment to the international community to hold a United Nations-supervised referendum. An uneasy peace existed along the informal border, which is more than 2,500 kilometres long. Morocco built a wall to fence off the territory it had seized from the Sahrawis. Two-thirds of Western Sahara is now under Moroccan occupation. It is also the most productive part as it contains huge phosphate and other mineral deposits. Much of the fish exported by Morocco is harvested along Western Sahara’s Atlantic coastline. A significant percentage of the Sahrawi people have been driven out of their homes because of the war and have been living as refugees. As many as 165,000 Sahrawis live in crowded refugee camps in miserable conditions. Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last year that Morocco was guilty of illegal “occupation” of the territory. Most Africans feel that the decolonisation process in their continent will be complete only after Western Sahara gets complete independence. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has said that the matter is “of great shame and regret for the continent”.

The SADR has been a full-fledged member of the African Union (A.U.) since 1983. South Africa and Nigeria are among the leading African regional powers that recognise the SADR. The A.U. sent a high-profile delegation to Tindouf, an Algerian border town where the majority of the Sahrawi refugees reside, in 2016 to mark the 40th anniversary of the SADR’s declaration of independence.

For more than two and a half decades, the U.N.-supervised ceasefire was generally observed by both the sides. But in August last year, the Moroccan army violated it by entering an area known as Guerguerat, situated 5 km from the Atlantic Ocean. It is a buffer zone close to Nouadibhou, a thriving Mauritanian port town and a hub for smuggled merchandise. Mauritania had given up its claim on Western Sahara and recognised the government of Western Sahara. In response to the open breach of the ceasefire agreement, the Polisario Front sent in its troops to the area. The Polisario Front accused Morocco of breaking the ceasefire agreement by trying to build a road in the buffer zone that divides the two sides.

The forces of the two countries were involved in a tense stand-off for months. U.N. peacekeepers had to be stationed between them to prevent a confrontation. In the last week of February, Morocco announced that it was withdrawing its troops from Guerguerat. The move came after a phone call between the new U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Gutteres, and King Mohammed of Morrocco. The Moroccan Foreign Ministry said that the King had ordered “a unilateral withdrawal from the zone” at the request of the U.N. Secretary-General. The U.N. was of the view that Morocco had violated the 1991 ceasfire agreement by sending armed personnel into the buffer zone without alerting the peacekeepers stationed there.

Before the incursion, the Moroccan government had expelled more than 70 members of the U.N.’s observers mission in Western Sahara, known as MINURSO. It was angry with the observations that the then U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, had made last year about the prevailing situation in Western Sahara and the stonewalling tactics of the occupying power on the referendum issue. Ban Ki-moon had gone to the extent of describing the plight of the Sahrawis “as one of the forgotten humanitarian tragedies of our times”. In retaliation, the Moroccan government said that it would withhold its $3 million contribution to the MINURSO operations. According to reports, Morocco had tried to block Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Western Sahara in January 2016 by denying landing permission to the plane that he was flying in. The Moroccan King refused to give him an appointment, but that did not stop Ban Ki-moon from meeting with the leadership of the Polisario Front and visiting its capital in exile, Bir Lahlou.

Most of the 70 U.N. observers were admitted back into the region after the U.N. said that Ban Ki-moon’s statement was a “personal” viewpoint and that the U.N. remained impartial on the Western Sahara issue. “His use of the word was not planned, nor was it deliberate. It was a spontaneous, personal reaction. We regret the misunderstandings and consequences that this personal expression of solicitude provoked,” the U.N. spokesperson said. France, a veto-wielding U.N. member, and the United States have been strong and consistent backers of Morocco, their regional ally. These two countries have helped Morocco sidestep the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)-mandated “Peace Plan for the Self-Determination of the People of Western Sahara”. James Baker, a former U.S. Secretary of State, was the man responsible for drafting the plan. He was the personal envoy of the U.N. Secretary-General of the time, Kofi Annan, to Western Sahara from 1997 to 2004. Baker quit in frustration as he did not get any backing even from the U.S. State Department.

France and the U.S. are now openly supporting Morocco’s proposal to give the Sahrawis “autonomy” and not independence. Interestingly, both these countries have also not recognised Morocco’s claims of sovereignty over Western Sahara. Only a few countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, and members of the Arab League have fully backed Morocco’s position on the issue. The Baker Plan was the last serious effort made by the U.N. to resolve the conflict. The Sahrawis, unfortunately, do not have a strong backer in the UNSC. The craven apology that the U.N. had to issue for the matter-of-fact statement issued by Ban Ki-moon is a reflection of this reality.

The Sahrawi cause, however, got a boost when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in December 2016 that a trade pact the European Union had signed with Morocco would not be binding for products imported from occupied Western Sahara, dealing a serious blow to Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara. In its judgment, the court, for the first time, recognised “the distinct and separate status guaranteed to the territory of Western Sahara under the Charter of the United Nations”. In retaliation, Morocco announced that it was suspending contacts with E.U. institutions. Morocco had also banned IKEA, the large Swedish multinational, after the Swedish parliament voted in 2011 in favour of recognising the SADR. Stephen Zunes, a professor at San Francisco University and the author of a book on the Western Sahara issue, said that the ECJ’s ruling confirmed the long-standing international consensus on Western Sahara’s legal status. “As with the E.U.’s decision in 2015 that products from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank could no longer be labelled as Made in Israel, products from the occupied Western Sahara can no longer be labelled as Made in Morocco,” he said.

Morocco’s obduracy, coupled with its military muscle-flexing, is making the Polisario Front reconsider its options. The new President of the SADR, Brahim Ghali, while stressing the need for a peaceful settlement, said that the Sahrawis were also willing to fight for their freedom. Ghali took over the presidency after the death of Mohamed Abdelaziz, who had led the Polisario since its formation, in May last year. Ghali is also a founder-member of the Polisario Front. At his swearing-in ceremony, attended by many African leaders, he said that the door to a peaceful, negotiated settlement was open but warned that the “Moroccan kingdom will bear all consequences when closing it, because the Sahrawi people will relentlessly cling to defending their rights by all means”. He also emphasised that MINURSO should not be deployed just to maintain peace. “MINURSO, as a symbol of the world’s commitment to the decolonisation of Western Sahara, should conduct its full mandate, namely, to organise a referendum for the Sahrawi people to decide their fate,” he said.

Closer to war

In October 2016, the Polisario Front accused France of blocking UNSC action on Western Sahara and requested the other permanent members to play a more proactive role in resolving the conflict. The Polisario Front’s Foreign Minister, Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, has warned that the movement was now closer to war than to peace. He said that the holding of a referendum was the only way to complete the decolonisation process. Meanwhile, Morocco, in a diplomatic manoeuvre, successfully sought readmission to the A.U. in January this year. The kingdom had walked out in a huff after the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the A.U.’s predecessor, admitted the SADR as a full member 33 years ago. Morocco was admitted back into the pan-African organisation despite opposition from regional heavyweights such as South Africa and Nigeria. Egypt and Senegal were the main backers of Morocco.

The Moroccan King had extensively toured the continent to garner support for his country’s re-entry into the A.U. The SADR’s Foreign Minister said that with both Western Sahara and Morocco now under the same roof, it would be easier to pressure the kingdom to fulfil its obligation to hold a referendum. He said that other African leaders would now start questioning Morocco’s reluctance to hold a referendum. Morocco will also have to adhere to the A.U.’s charter, which states that the borders of member states are “inviolable”. The A.U. had appointed former President of Mozambique Joachim Chissano as special envoy for Western Sahara. Chissano requested the UNSC to set a date for the holding of the referendum in Western Sahara and include a mandate to protect human rights for its peacekeeping mission. Chissano also asked the UNSC to denounce the illegal exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources by the occupying power, Morocco.

Governance

Dubious transfer

AKSHAY DESHMANE the-nation

IN early March, a fresh controversy gripped India’s telecom sector after the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an unexpected move, transferred Telecom Secretary and Chairman of the Telecom Commission (TC), J.S. Deepak, to the Commerce Ministry.

It may seem odd that the transfer of an IAS officer, which is not an unusual occurrence in the government, should have caused ripples in the corridors of power. But many observers wondered about the unstated reasons for the transfer of an officer who had a reputation for being independent, given the timing of the decision and the hasty manner in which it was carried out. Speaking to Frontline, a senior official in the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) recalled the mood in Sanchar Bhawan, where the top DOT mandarins work, on the evening of March 1, when the transfer order arrived. “I was shocked. This was unexpected for many of us. By evening, someone shared the order with me on WhatsApp, but he [Deepak] was away in Barcelona, and we couldn’t understand the reason for it [transfer],” he said.

The 1982 batch IAS officer was attending the Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest exhibition and conference for the mobile industry, which was being held in Barcelona. He was to be there until its concluding day, March 2. However, it appears that he was immediately called back to New Delhi by the Commerce Ministry, which communicated with him on March 1.

The DOT officer quoted earlier called this hastiness “absurd” because no other officer was appointed to replace Deepak and, separately, a special post was created for him by upgrading an existing position in the Commerce Ministry before he could take up the post of Ambassador/Permanent Representative of India to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva on June 1.

Another senior DOT official said that though the possibility of Deepak taking up the position was being discussed for a couple of months, the manner in which it was done took everyone by surprise. “A discussion with the top echelons of the Commerce Ministry over his appointment as Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the WTO was going on for at least two and a half months and he was hopeful about getting it since he has experience in trade negotiations, and Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman likes him. However, the sudden announcement must have surprised him too, since there are still three months to go before the existing Ambassador finishes her term, so this abrupt transfer seemed unnecessary,” he said.

Indeed, even prominent figures in the telecom industry expressed surprise and dejection at Deepak’s departure. “We are surprised and disappointed. He was very even-handed in dealing with issues,” said Rajan Mathew, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India.



A question of timing

If the manner in which Deepak’s transfer was done seemed unusual and hasty, the timing was suspect too. For, barely a week before the order, on February 23, he had written a strongly worded letter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the sector’s tariff regulator, raising concerns about the adverse impact of the promotional tariff offered by telcos on government revenues and the industry’s finances. Though he did not mention any telco by name, it was obvious that Deepak was alluding to the free data and voice schemes launched by Reliance Jio, which, he argued, could not be permitted beyond 90 days as per TRAI’s own tariff orders in the past. About Rs.800 crore in government revenues were hit, his letter to TRAI said.

It also highlighted the worsening financial situation of other private telcos, whose profits had taken a substantial hit because of Jio’s free services. This could have a cascading effect on the country’s banking system, which has extended credit to the telecom companies for buying spectrum, and depleting finances were not good for the sector, he had argued in the letter.

As per law, the TC and TRAI have precise mandates for the governance of the telecom sector. While the TC is the topmost policymaking and implementing body, TRAI is the regulator, looking at tariffs, interconnection among cellular services and quality of service.

Thus, Deepak flagged the issue of tariffs to the TRAI, mentioning two specific orders in the past through which the period of promotional tariffs was capped at 90 days. However, Deepak’s transfer order came even before the letter, which was leaked to sections of the media before it reached the regulator, was taken up by TRAI’s experts and its board for consideration.

“The letter has been sent to experts for comments and it will then perhaps be taken up by the TRAI board for consideration sometime after Holi,” a TRAI official told Frontline in the first week of March. He saw no virtue in the arguments made by Deepak concerning tariffs and, hinting at the stand the regulator may take regarding the issues flagged in the letter, said it was not obligatory on TRAI to follow up on the TC’s observations.



Worsening Friction

The official’s stand was a reflection of the prevailing friction between TRAI and the TC, which appears to have worsened in recent months, particularly in matters concerning Jio. For, TRAI has, in many important cases, including allegations of predatory pricing by other cellular operators against Jio, ruled in Jio’s favour while the TC has continued to raise concerns about several issues concerning the company.

There are at least two other instances involving Jio in which Deepak took a position which was not aligned with the interests of the company. One concerns the uniform spectrum charge issue in which the TC sought to ensure that all telecom operators paid the same spectrum user charge; the other concerns the controversy surrounding “Points of Interconnection” (POI) in which TRAI had imposed heavy penalties on telcos which initially refused to grant the POIs, which facilitate voice calls between different networks. The TC questioned TRAI over this and, clearly, the two were not on the same page.



Caught in the crossfire?

It is this history of raising several issues concerning Jio that prompted many to wonder if Deepak’s hasty transfer was an unfortunate consequence of an ongoing corporate war between Reliance Jio and other telecom operators, which first became public with the formal launch of Jio in September 2016 and has only intensified since then. The DOT official quoted earlier was not forthcoming on this point but reflected the uncertainty prevailing among government officials about the message to officials in the manner in which the transfer was done. “There are so many versions [of the reasons for the transfer] doing the rounds that it is hard to tell what is true and what is not,” he said.

For a sector that has been known to be vulnerable to crony capitalism, even the suspicion of undue influence by corporates with vested interests is bad news. And if that suspicion enables perceptions to gain ground about the vulnerability of the Chairman of the country’s top telecom policy body, it bodes ill for the future of transparency in the governance of the telecom sector.

‘No coal-based methane extraction in Neduvasal’

the-nation

“WE are not in the business of producing coal-bed methane or shale gas in Tamil Nadu,” said Pawan Kumar, Group General Manager-Basin Manager, Cauvery, of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC). “Coal-bed methane is extracted from a coal seam and this coal is not available in the subsurface in the Neduvasal area,” he told Frontline on March 6 in response to a question about the fears of farmers of Neduvasal and other villages that coal-bed methane and shale gas would be produced under the guise of hydrocarbon extraction.

“There is no scope for exploitation of coal-bed methane in the Neduvasal area because there is no coal there. Specific types of shales are required for producing shale gas, which are absent in the Neduvasal area,” he said. Moreover, the Centre and the State government had clearly spelt out in their policy that there would be no shale gas or coal-bed methane production in Tamil Nadu. “We will not even go in for research and development or do any project in the name of coal-bed methane or shale gas in Tamil Nadu,” he said. The Centre had given this in writing to the court and the National Green Tribunal, he said.

P. Chandrasekaran, Group General Manager-Basin Manager, Krishna-Godavari-Pranahita Godavari, ONGC, said separately that “there is no potential for shale layer for shale gas” exploitation the Neduvasal field.

Shale gas is natural gas trapped within shale formations. Shales are tight, clayee, sedimentary rocks, which are a rich source of petroleum and natural gas in a conventional oilfield. Shale gas consists mainly of methane. A combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is used to extract shale gas. Methane is harmless in the prevalent concentrations in the atmosphere. Methane is the main constituent of petroleum natural gas.

Pawan Kumar, who took part in the talks with leaders of the Save Neduvasal Struggle Committee in Madurai on March 4 in the presence of Union Minister Pon. Radhakrishnan, said ONGC had “explained that groundwater would not get affected by oil and natural gas exploration because the groundwater that is tapped is available up to a depth of only 300 metres. But in Neduvasal and other areas, we produce oil and gas at a depth of 2,000 m or more.” In Neduvasal-2 [Nallandar Kollai], oil was found at a depth of about 2,030 m. In the Cauvery basin, oil can be found anywhere between 1,500 m and 5,000 m.” Since oil was extracted at depths of more than 2,000 m in Neduvasal-2, and the well was cased at multiple levels, “there is no chance of groundwater getting contaminated”, he said. No chemical was used other than “Bentonite” as drilling fluid while drilling the uppermost water table section, which is normally between 200 m to 500 m below the surface. ONGC’s Cauvery asset used non-toxic water-based drilling fluid as per the norms of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Pawan Kumar said: “Flaring of gas is burning of excess gas during testing until pipelines are laid to reach consumers or the nearest gathering station. It is controlled burning of gas just as it is done in a kitchen. Flaring of natural gas is the safest way of disposing of hydrocarbon gas because it will be harmful to release it directly into the atmosphere.” On the Neduvasal farmer G. Subramanian’s allegations that the local Tahsildar, the Village Administrative Officer, the Revenue Inspector and ONGC officials coerced him to part with his land, Pawan Kumar said ONGC never did any “arm-twisting” to make people lease their land. It has only tried to convince them that it was doing its work in the interest of the nation.

On the seepage of crude oil to the surface from the well drilled at Vanakkankadu, Pawan Kumar said ONGC drilled the well in 1994 but it did not produce oil in commercial quantities. So the well was declared dry and abandoned. ONGC engineers installed two cement plugs, each more than 100 m deep, in the well and steel pipes and plates were cut at the surface to prevent oil from reaching the surface. The land was handed back to the owner. “There may have been some seepage in all these 23 years but it was brought to our notice only recently,” he said.

Pawan Kumar dismissed allegations that production of crude oil would cause cancer to people living in the vicinity. He asked his staff to bring the crude discovered at Madanam (in Nagapattinam district) and rubbed it on his hands to show that it had no harmful effects. “Our uniforms are wet with oil when we work in rigs. It does not cause cancer,” he said.

Since ONGC did not taken part in the bid for DSFs, it was not required to hold any public hearing in Neduvasal, he said.

Pawan Kumar said ONGC had been operating in the Cauvery delta region for close to 50 years without any major incidents. It had discovered 31 fields in the State and most of them were producing oil and gas. Oil wells were drilled on land at Karaikal, Kovilkalapal, Narimanam, Thirukkalar, Adikkamangalam, Kamalapuram, Tiruvarur, Madanam, Pandanallur, Neyveli, and so on, and off shore at PY-1 (Puducherry 1&3), PH-9 (Palk Bay High) and PBS-1 (Palk Bay Shallow).

A press release dated February 27 from the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas said about 600 tonnes of oil and 30 lakh cubic metres of gas were produced every day from the 31 fields in Tamil Nadu. Gas is used to generate 750 megawatt of electricity in the State. “Till date, more than 700 wells have been drilled to extract oil and gas in Tamil Nadu. These active operations are not hampering agriculture in nearby areas and do not have any known environmental impact or cause health hazards in the operational area,” it said.

T.S. Subramanian

Legislation

Bitter medicine

IN the face of an increasing number of complaints from the general public against cases of malpractice and corruption in private health care facilities in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress government, on March 3, hurriedly passed the West Bengal Clinical Establishments (Registration, Regulation and Transparency) Bill, 2017. The Bill’s Statement of Objects and Reasons states: “The government is deeply concerned about the lack of transparency in the functioning of clinical establishments in general and private hospitals or nursing homes in particular, resulting in unnecessary and avoidable harassment and exploitation of patients (service recipients). It is logical that the clinical establishments would levy fees and charges for the services they provide. But such charges should be reasonable with the objective of covering the cost of provision of services besides generating a decent surplus.”

While a section of society has welcomed the proposed legislation, many view it as nothing more than a populist move which merely involved the rehashing of the West Bengal Clinical Establishment (Registration and Regulation) Act, 2010, introduced by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government.

The new Bill, while laying down strict rules for private hospitals and nursing homes, also proposes stringent measures against institutions found guilty of violating rules.

Among the most common complaints against private medical facilities are inflated medical bills and the inhuman measures they adopt to recover dues. Seeking to end this practice, the new Bill states: “Every clinical establishment shall provide necessary medical treatment to victims of road traffic accident, persons suffering from sudden calamities, acid attack victims, and rape victims irrespective of their ability to bear the treatment cost at the relevant time” and that “there should be no delay in releasing the dead body of patients or service recipients to their representatives due to billing or other issues, including inability to pay the treatment cost.” However, the Bill gives the clinical establishments “the right to recover the cost from the service recipients or his representatives in due course of time”.

Private hospitals will now have to follow fixed rates and charges and provide “proper estimates for treatments not covered in fixed rates and charges, including the package rates, to service recipients or representatives of service recipients during initiation or due course of treatment, and final bills shall not exceed estimates by a certain percentage, as may be prescribed by the government”. The Bill also makes it compulsory for these establishments to maintain a public grievance cell to help service recipients lodge complaints about treatment, improper billing and other issues.

The Bill has directed private hospitals that have received land or other facilities from the government to provide “absolutely free treatment” to 20 per cent of the outpatients and 10 per cent of the inpatients.

The 2010 Act has provisions for compensation to be paid to service recipients in cases of negligence by hospital personnel: for simple injury Rs.1 lakh, for grievous injury Rs.3 lakh, and in case of death Rs.5 lakh. These have been increased to Rs.3 lakh, Rs.5 lakh and Rs.10 lakh respectively.

Regulatory commission

The government will also set up a West Bengal Clinical Establishment Regulatory Commission “for the purpose of regulation and supervision of the functioning and activities of the clinical establishments licensed under this Act for ensuring accountability and transparency in dealing with patients”. The Bill confers absolute powers on the commission: “No civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceeding in respect of any matter which an adjudicating authority or the West Bengal Clinical Establishment Regulatory Commission is empowered by or under this Act to determine and no injunction shall be granted by any court or other authority in respect of any action taken or to be taken in pursuance of any power conferred by or under this Act.”

The move to table the Bill began on February 22 when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who also holds the Health portfolio, held a meeting with representatives of corporate medical establishments and chastised them for their lack of humaneness in dealing with patients and for overcharging them.

“In certain places there is tremendous negligence. Certain places charge so much money that families of the deceased patients have to sell off their personal belongings just to take possession of the dead body from the hospital; sometimes they are not even able to do that,” she said, naming one hospital after another, much to the discomfort of those present.

The Chief Minister’s criticism opened a can of worms, as people immediately began airing their complaints. An incident that took place two days after the meeting perhaps hastened the framing of the Bill. Apollo Gleneagles Hospital, one of the premier private hospitals in Kolkata, was accused of forcing a patient’s family to submit their fixed deposit documents and property deeds in order to release the patient so that he could be shifted to another hospital. The hospital ran up a huge bill for its services, which the family was unable to pay immediately.

The patient, Sanjoy Roy, met with an accident on February 16 and was admitted to Apollo Gleneagles. When the hospital presented a bill of Rs.7.23 lakh for six days of treatment, Roy’s family decided to shift him to the State-run SSKM Hospital as the cost of treatment at the private hospital became beyond their reach. Roy died within a few hours after being admitted to SSKM Hospital. Apollo Gleneagles had allegedly refused to release the patient until the family handed over their fixed deposit receipts and other financial papers to cover the remaining dues. “The hospital authorities could have been more humane in their approach. They held back the patient until the family paid the dues,” Health Secretary R.S. Shukla reportedly said.

“This incident opened our eyes,” Mamata Banerjee said.

Following mounting public outrage, Rupali Bose, the chief executive officer of Apollo Gleneagles, resigned from the post.

The new Bill may have all the requirements to ensure its popularity among the masses, but it has glaring similarities with the 2010 Act. Senior CPI(M) leader and Member of the Legislative Assembly Sujan Chakraborty told Frontline that “the State government plagiarised 90 per cent of the content of the 2010 Act. Why did they not enforce the Act after coming to power in 2011? The only addition to the new Bill is the word ‘Transparency’. This is a blatantly populist move designed only to score political points.” Stating that he was not opposed to the Bill “in spirit”, he said it was the government’s failure to increase and improve the infrastructure of government hospitals that compelled the public to go to private hospitals for treatment.

Mamata Banerjee described the Bill as “historic” and as a “model for the rest of the country”, but the Indian Medical Association Hospital Board of India rejected it, saying it was a case of misuse of state power and an example to other States of what a legislation ought not to be. In a strongly worded statement, the board said: “It is a law given to populism and without indication of any mind application. Having failed in all fronts in public health and with worst health parameters in the country, the State government has taken vengeance against the private hospitals to hide its monumental failures.”

Lacunae in the Bill

The noted criminal lawyer practising in the Calcutta High Court Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee is of the opinion that there is little that is new about the Bill. “We were expecting the State government to come up with something new, unique and forceful, but instead some views of the Supreme Court and the 2010 Act were practically rehashed and presented with great publicity,” he told Frontline. He and several other legal experts are of the opinion that there are many “grey areas” in the Bill, which may not stand scrutiny when challenged in courts of law.

“There are many areas in the Bill that do not make sense. For instance, the Bill states that hospitals cannot charge beyond a package rate, so what will happen if a patient’s condition deteriorates? It is not possible to restrict doctors to carry out treatment within a particular cost frame,” he said. On the clause which directs payment of compensation of Rs.3 lakh for “small injury”, and Rs.5 lakh for “grievous injury”, Chatterjee said: “There is nothing here to define what small or grievous injury is. For an 80-year-old man, losing a finger can be a small injury, but for a 24-year-old factory worker it is a grievous injury as it affects his livelihood.” Referring to the fact that there is no provision in the Bill for appeal to a court of law, Chatterjee said: “Provision of appeal is an inalienable constitutional right and it cannot be curtailed.”

Controversy

Anxiety over land

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

A COUPLE of hundred metres ahead of Neduvasal village in Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu, policemen stop our taxi at a newly created check post. They note down the vehicle number, check our identity cards, and, convinced that we are from the press, allow us to proceed. For students, Neduvasal is a “no-go” area.

Some distance down the road, a huge hoarding with bold visuals confronts us. The graphics depict crude oil flowing into paddy fields, a question mark over a farmer’s head, and a child with an emaciated torso and a swollen head, among other things. The words on the hoarding read: “Government of India! Stop immediately the hydrocarbon extraction project at Neduvasal. Do not convert our fertile soil into arid land. Don’t make our village into a cremation ground. Give up your hydrocarbon project. We will not take rest till we defeat your project. We will never be afraid of repression.”

Nearby, in the open forecourt of the Nadi Amman temple of Neduvasal, an agitation is under way. Several hundred farmers, the majority of them peasant women, are seated on the ground, listening to speakers criticise the Centre for announcing that hydrocarbon production will commence at Neduvasal. Frightful hoardings and video films prepared by youths of Pudukottai working in Singapore and Gulf countries have contributed in a big way to the fear psychosis gripping farmers in the Neduvasal region on the impact of hydrocarbon extraction from the six wells drilled by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC). Farmers fear that hydrocarbons extracted from great depths may trigger earthquakes. They feel that under the guise of hydrocarbon production ONGC will extract coal-bed methane and shale gas, which they fear, will disturb the water table and dry up aquifers. As a consequence, there will be seawater incursion, the soil will become acidic and the farmland will become unfit for cultivation. About “600 types of chemicals” will be pumped into the wells to produce oil and gas and this will pollute the groundwater, they fear. The surfacing of crude oil on an abandoned, capped well at Vanakkankadu and collection of crude oil in a cement-concrete tank built at the surface level from a well at Nallandar Kollai have added to the farmers’ concerns.

After conducting extensive seismic studies, ONGC drilled six wells (at Vadakadu, Nallandar Kollai, Vada Theru in Kottaikadu, Vanakkankadu, Karukakurichi and Kannian Kollai) in the Neduvasal field, coming under Alangudi taluk, in the 1990s and after 2006. It discovered oil and natural gas in some of the wells but did not produce hydrocarbons as they were not sizable finds.

On February 15, under the new discovered small field (DSF) policy aimed at producing hydrocarbons quickly from small and marginal fields, the Narendra Modi government announced that GEM Laboratories Private Limited had won the bid for extracting oil and natural gas from the Neduvasal field, which is a small field. Technically, therefore, ONGC is not in the picture in Neduvasal.

Farmlands in the region are fertile; farmers raise paddy, maize, sugarcane, pepper, water melon, coconut, banana, cashew nut, and vegetables. They also grow casuarina and eucalyptus. The fields are irrigated by hundreds of borewells. Spacious tiled houses, expansively built cement and concrete houses, massive haystacks and grazing livestock attest the prosperity and self-sufficiency of the villages. With at least one person each from the majority of the families working abroad, the villages are also flush with remittances.

On March 1, the day this correspondent entered Neduvasal, residents of Neduvasal and the six villages where oil wells had been drilled and farmers from about 70 neighbouring villages gathered in the open ground in front of the Nadi Amman temple. While this became the epicentre of a sustained agitation since February 16, separate, but coordinated, protests are under way at Nallandar Kollai, Vada Theru in Kottaikadu and Vanakkankadu.

On March 2, 11 members of the Save Neduvasal Struggle Committee, headed by C. Velu, returned to the venue of the agitation after a meeting with Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami in Chennai to request him not to allow the hydrocarbon project. Velu, 62, said: “The Centre should give up the hydrocarbon project. Oil wells have already been dug up here. People’s livelihood will be affected if the Centre goes ahead with hydrocarbon extraction. Oil is already oozing from one well and the oil on the surface sometimes catches fire. The discovery of oil and gas here has created a lot of health problems. Two villagers who gave their land [to ONGC] for drilling oil wells have died of cancer. Some villagers suffer from impaired kidneys and tuberculosis.”

Even as Velu was speaking, the atmosphere got surcharged as hundreds of people, mainly women, entered the venue of the agitation. Those in the vanguard of the procession carried a banner that read, “Committee against hydrocarbon methane, Pullaan Viduthi” (a nearby village). The women were waving black flags or had black badges pinned on their saris. They were holding aloft paddy and sugarcane stalks, maize cobs, tender coconuts, water melons, groundnut plants, banana bunches, jackfruits and even flowers to show that all these crops were cultivated in Neduvasal and other surrounding villages. The men came in tractors and bullock carts holding ploughs.

Slogan-shouting filled the air. “Don’t hit us, don’t hit us, don’t hit us below the belt,” the women shouted. “Clap, clap until methane is scrapped” and “Will methane provide food?” were among the slogans that rent the air.

On March 9, the protesters decided to suspend the agitation after Union Minister of State for Shipping Pon. Radhakrishnan, who visited Neduvasal, promised to arrange for a meeting between farmers representatives and Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan in New Delhi on March 15 or 16.

The bid round

On February 15, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas announced that the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Modi, had given its approval to award contracts in 31 contract areas (44 fields; 28 on land and 16 offshore) of DSFs of ONGC and Oil India Limited (OIL). “These areas were discovered long ago but these discoveries could not be monetised due to various reasons such as isolated locations, small size of reserves, high development of costs, technological constraints, fiscal regime, etc.,” the Ministry’s press release said.

As exploration and production of oil and natural gas was one of the critical sectors for India’s “Make in India” initiative and energy security goals, Modi set out a target of reduction of oil and gas import by 10 per cent by 2022, the press release said. “Aligned to this vision, the DSF bid round was launched to monetise early the already discovered hydrocarbon fields,” it added. The award of contracts would lead to faster development of fields and facilitate production of oil and gas, thereby increasing the energy security of the country. An in place locked hydrocarbon volume of 40 million tonnes of oil and 22 billion cubic metres of gas would be monetised over a period of 15 years from these 31 contract areas, it added. These small blocks/fields where hydrocarbons had already been discovered, it said, were less risky and offered opportunities to new entrants in the upstream oil and natural gas production sector, hitherto seen as the preserve of large players. The Ministry launched the bid round on May 25, 2016, under a liberalised and investor friendly regime, which offered 46 contract areas, consisting of 67 fields spread across nine sedimentary basins in the country.

The Directorate General of Hydrocarbons and the Ministry held several roadshows between June and October 2016 in India and abroad.

The DSFs were put on offer through online, international competitive bidding. A total of 134 e-bids were received for 34 contract areas; 47 companies (43 Indian and four foreign) submitted their e-bids. The 31 contract areas, where oil and natural gas will be produced, are in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Krishna-Godavari offshore, Kutch offshore, Madhya Pradesh, Mumbai offshore, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. Seventeen private companies, including Hindustan Oil Exploration Company Limited, Oilmax Energy Private Limited, AdaniWelspun Exploration Limited, BDN Enterprises Private Limited, Nippon Power Limited and GEM Laboratories Private Limited, won the bids. Indian Oil Limited; OIL; Bharat PetroResources Limited, a subsidiary of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited; and Prize Petroleum Company Limited, a subsidiary of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited , are the public sector undertakings that won the bids. GEM Laboratories Private Limited won the bid to produce hydrocarbons at Neduvasal and Bharat PetroResources Limited earned the right to produce oil and gas from the Karaikal field in the Union Territory of Puducherry.

In the 1990s and 2000s, ONGC had typically taken on lease about seven acres (one acre = 0.4 hectare) of farmland each at Nallandar Kollai, Vadu Theru, Vadakadu, Vanakkankadu, Karukakurichi and Kannian Kollai and drilled wells. It discovered oil and associated gas in about four wells. The wells have remained idle since then because they produced only small quantities of oil and gas. As it was not commercially viable for ONGC, it did not take part in the bid to produce hydrocarbons from the Neduvasal wells.

Villagers’ fears

When a Tamil television channel broke the news on February 15 that production of hydrocarbons would commence at Neduvasal, it sent shock waves across the villages in the region. The villagers feared that the release of natural gas ( aavi in Tamil) and its flaring would make men impotent, that women would not be able to conceive, and that deformed babies would be born. Prakasa Mary, a farm worker from Kanniyan Kollai who had come to Nallandar Kollai with her young son to take part in the protest there, said: “If the aavi is generated, we will all die. Nothing will survive.”

What has increased the fear among farmers of Vanakkankadu, about 10 km from Neduvasal, is the oozing of crude oil from a capped, boxed-up well. ONGC drilled the well in 1994 and abandoned it after it yielded only minor oil. It plugged the well and cemented the surface. M. Rajesh, who owned the land, said oil welled up to the cemented surface and caught fire sometimes in the summer, creating a scare. When it rained, the oil got mixed with rain water and the resultant emulsion flowed into his field, damaging the crops.

From arid land to fertile soil

More than anything else, farmers of Neduvasal, who typically own about five acres, fear that they may lose their land and livelihood. Through hard work, they have been able to convert the barren land in Alangudi taluk into fertile soil. Borewells played “a paramount role” in this success story, said A.S. Thirugnanam of the Save Neduvasal Struggle Committee. There are no rivers, streams, lakes or man-made canals in Alangudi taluk, so farmers were forced to tap the groundwater for cultivation. A canal built under the Cauvery Modernisation Project flows near Neduvasal, but it is perennially dry as the village is at the tail end of the Cauvery. Neduvasal is divided into east and west villages, each with a few thousands of families.

As you drive from Pudukottai town to Alangudi, the region on both sides of the road is arid with scrub jungles all round. But the topography changes dramatically between Alangudi and Neduvasal as lush green fields and groves dominate the landscape.

Thirugnanam explained how this was brought about. He said: “About 30 years ago, the Neduvasal region was ravaged by drought. Pudukottai district was described as drought-prone. Rains failed constantly. In order to change this situation, we sank thousands of borewells, each to a depth of about 300 feet. Today, all major crops are cultivated in the area. We have turned this land green. Our lives are dependent on agriculture. We work hard. We eat well. The Centre says that production of hydrocarbons from Neduvasal will provide jobs to 500 persons. I can give jobs to 25,000 people every year.”

G. Subramanian, 67, was drinking tea in an eatery at Neduvasal when other farmers confronted him with the question: “Have you signed the lease agreement for drilling to begin in your field?” He told them that he had not signed the agreement although officials from the Revenue Department and ONGC were after him since 2013. His steadfast refusal to sign the agreement to hand over about four acres of land to ONGC became the rallying point for the agitation at Neduvasal.

As we sat in the shade of his coconut grove, Subramanian told us how he fought off attempts at acquiring his land. He owned eight acres of land. He spent Rs.5 lakh on the mastectomy that his wife had to undergo. His eldest son’s wife had died and he had two children. The eldest son was hard of hearing. The younger son, who had studied up to 10th standard, did not have a steady job. Subramanian has a daughter. He had to support a family of 10 with the income from eight acres.

In April 2013, when Subramanian was ploughing his field he saw a group of officials, including the local Tahsildar and the Revenue Inspector, arrive in two jeeps. They had a map and the survey number of his land. “Without my permission, they took the survey number of my land from the Village Administrative Officer [VAO],” he said. The officials entered his land and laid the boundary stones. When he confronted them, he was told that ONGC would obtain four acres of his land on lease and the boundary stones were for marking the land meant for lease. Subramanian asked the VAO to remove the boundary stones as it would amount to disrespect if he removed them. The stones were removed.

Four months later, the officials returned to convince Subramanian to part with his land. From 2013 to 2016, different sets of officials came every three or four months to coerce him into leasing his land to ONGC. In 2014-15, he was served an ultimatum. Subramanian replied that he was ready to face them in the court. A few months later, he was called for a “peace committee” meeting in Tiruvarur. He went alone and had to confront 25 officials, including those from ONGC. They pressured him to lease his land. An ONGC officer gave him the papers and said, “Sign in these places.” But Subramanian stood his ground. The last time the officials visited him was about seven months ago.

At Vada Theru hamlet, ONGC had drilled a well, struck oil, and installed a “Christmas tree” (a wellhead assembly of valves, spools, and fittings to control the flow of oil or gas from the well). Associated gas was found, and it was flared for a few months. As we reached the spot, a crowd of young men, wearing black badges, materialised from nowhere, and clambered up the fenced Christmas tree and shouted slogans against the Centre. The land on which the Christmas tree and the well stand belonged to I. Elias aka Maria Soosai, 71. M. Aruldoss, whose mother leased three-fourths of an acre to ONGC in 1991 to lay a dirt track to reach the drilling site at Vada Theru, and A. Subbiah, another resident, took us to meet Elias.

Seated on a chair in his farmland, about a few hundred metres from the Christmas tree, Elias said: “I gave three-fourths of an acre to ONGC in 1991. They never compelled me to part with my land. Never. First, ONGC officials gave me Rs.4,500 for the three-fourths of an acre. Then they increased the amount to Rs.25,000. This year, they increased it to Rs.97,339.” He was prepared to show us the papers for the money he was receiving. Would he have earned more if he had cultivated that piece of land? “I would have got Rs.2.5 lakh,” he said. He was in the midst of paddy fields with a young crop just watered from a borewell. Beyond the paddy fields were casuarina, eucalyptus and sugarcane plantations.

Aruldoss said ONGC had taken his land on lease for three years but it kept it for 24 years. “We get Rs.20,000 for the land now.”

Subbiah said ONGC initially said it would take the land on lease for three years to explore mann ennai (kerosene) and if they found mann ennai, they would keep the land for some more years but if the well did not yield kerosene they would return the land to the farmers after cleaning it. “But they have kept the land for 24 years and they are not even producing oil from the well,” Subbiah said.

J. Anand Arputharaj, 36, his father, S. Jesuraj, and Arputharaj’s aunt, A. Arul Mary, joined us. It was with delight that they showed us around their “paradise”. There were coconut groves and banana trees, and they had cultivated bitter gourd, brinjal, shallot, varieties of beans, green chilly, snake gourd, greens, jackfruit, tapioca and gooseberry. “We never buy vegetables. How can we give up all this and go away for the sake of hydrocarbons?” Arul Mary asked.

At Kottaikadu, hundreds of people sat in dharna under a shamiana firm in their resolve to block the hydrocabon production project at Vada Theru.

Protest at Nallandar Kollai

A protest was under way at Nallandar Kollai, where ONGC had drilled a well, struck oil and installed a Christmas tree over the well. Black flags were fluttering from the Christmas tree and posters asking the ONGC to “stop fracking” were everywhere. There were hoardings with garish graphics showing how production of “methane” at Nallandar Kollai would doom agriculture, groundwater and the environment. A young man, standing on the Christmas tree, shouted, “We will safeguard our agriculture. Until we retrieve Neduvasal, we will not go back to our veedu vasal [homesteads]. Do not cheat Tamils, do not punish Tamil Nadu, we have woken up.”

It was easy to see why the agitation was intense at Nallandar Kollai despite a fiery afternoon sun. About a 100 m from the well/Christmas tree were two tanks made of cement-concrete at ground level. While one of them was empty, the other had caked up jet black oil in it.

At a pandal nearby a public meeting was under way. The entrance to the pandal was decorated with banana bunches, banana trees, coconut bunches, jackfruits and maize cobs. The protesters mostly comprised peasant women.

Outside his spacious house, P. Kulandai Velar, 70, was lolling in his bullock cart but looking dejected when we met him after watching the agitation at Nallandar Kollai. He and his brother, Govinda Velar, had together leased six acres (three acres each) in 2006 to the ONGC at Nallandar Kollai for drilling the exploratory well. (Another farmer had leased 0.5 acre.)

The oil major drilled a well in the Velars’ land in 2007. Kulandai Velar, a potter by profession, was cultivating paddy, sugarcane and banana when he leased his land. The officials did not mention the lease period. He gets Rs.60,000 a year for the leased land. His two wives died of grief because he leased the land, he said.

Asked what the substance in the square-shaped tank was, Kulandai Velar said it was crude oil. ONGC collected the crude oil from the well in the tank with an overground pipeline.

Farmers feel they would have earned more if they had continued to cultivate their land. They are not sure when they will get back their land because, under the new DSF policy, the private company that has won the bid can keep it for 15 years.

G.S. Dhanapathy, Pudukottai district chairman of the Farmers’ Forum of India, said it would be a disaster if India became a cash economy instead of an agricultural economy. Any project should aim at improving people’s standard of living. “The consequences will be dreadful if projects that affect people’s livelihoods are thrust on them,” he said.

Dhanapathy, who is a respected farmer from Bharathipuram at Andakulam village, said: “It is the unanimous demand of the people that the projects should not be implemented without a public hearing.”

Born to blush unseen

Sashi_Kumar

There was a shortlist of 10 Malayalam films made in 2016 before the three members of the jury for the John Abraham award this year. As a jury member I couldn’t help feeling depressed as film after film unveiled before us. Each of them was a distinctive and stimulating experience. Each had its own artistic integrity, its own freshness and newness, its own defining aesthetic and craft. Each of them was way better and more profound and more engaging than the routine, star-centric fare spewed out by the industry, so routinised and formulaic that the slightest variation of star act or talk is made to appear like a path-breaking innovation.

These, on the other hand, were the films which were making conscious departures from the trodden path. These were the films which refused to hang the plot and the theme and the cinematography and the editing and the special effects and the songs and the background score and the on-screen and off-screen artists and technicians and all their earnest work on the one single peg of the star. These were the films which touched our raw nerve, which plumbed our subconscious, which opened up, in ever so many little ways, new dimensions of artistic experience. But, with a couple of exceptions, they won’t even get to be seen by the people. Because that’s the way the distribution system, the cinema theatrical circuit, the TV satellite rights deals, work. Because that is how the entire economics of the industry is configured—at the mercy of the star. Hence the depression, at the thought that such accomplished works are destined to wander about like unseen orphans in a cinematic social order where the star (by definition male) is the paterfamilias.

The difficulty marriage-ready women in Muslim families in Kerala face in finding husbands becomes an abstraction of search and expectation and a vicarious fulfilment of matrimonial consummation in Siddique Paravur’s allegoric road movie, Kanyavanangal. The roads travelled at once traverse different locations in Kerala and neighbouring Karnataka and lead into the minds and hearts of the women who await with uncanny certainty the man in their lives. It is the same man, or so it is rumoured, or rumour-mongered, who manifests himself differently to each of these brides in waiting. The restlessness of their biding hearts resonates in the restlessness of his travel. Such a man, if there be one, would, in the eyes of society, naturally be a fraudster cheating women with his promise or act of marriage, even if for them, even if and after he has left them, he continues to be their deliverer. The police, thus, are out to track him down. The tale, at once intriguing, amusing and sad, shifts from the real to the illusory and back and leaves us travel-lagged between the two zones and uncertain about our certainties. The film is alluring in its elusiveness.

Renjith Chittade’s Pathinonnaam Sthalam (Eleventh Place) is a simple device of a story about the sequestered, anonymised life of the tribal, the original inhabitant, of Wayanad [a district in Kerala], but is strong and assertive in its telling and in its apportioning guilt to the outsider who has appropriated his land and his ecology. It is only their totemic belief system that continues to invigorate the tribal peoples’ existence. It is only their magic that self-validates them, pitted as they are against organised politics and religion, and the commercial aggrandisement of ruthless developers who romanticise their avarice in syrupy, touristy terms. They are airbrushed out of existence even as they live, and continue to be anonymous even when they die. All this and more hang by the thread of a simple anecdotal experience in this film, which is all the more fine and delicate for it.

God Say is a rather contrived title for a film, not least for its obviousness in seeking to double-mean divine will and the one who killed Gandhiji; it is also clumsy because it sounds ungrammatical, and one can’t help thinking that if the filmmakers were adamant about packing in the two-in-one meaning, they could perhaps have settled for God Says (even if that would have meant, in the other meaning, a proliferation of Godses). But the film turns out to be surprising and creatively agile in its meaning-making voyage and makeover of an All India Radio artist, from alcoholism and near-nihilism to Gandhian purposiveness, at a time when Gandhi isn’t exactly hot currency even in the government-owned media. The directors Sherrey Govindan and Shyju Govind could have kept the material less loose and more taut, but they manage to sublimate the Gandhi appeal into an aspiration from amidst the crass compulsions and conflicts that afflict our lives.

Saheer Ali’s Ka ppiri T huruthu, in which situations and events propel the protagonist from his teashop on the backwaters of Kerala to becoming a powerful Sufi singer in Delhi, covers a considerable time period and spatial canvas, yet manages to not get lost in spite of all that goes on—and there’s a lot going on. The film overall tends to appear like an overgrown bush that needed trimming. It suffers, sometimes from too much of a good thing, and at others, of an excess of not-so-good things. It is elaborate, fanciful, and a bit loud in all respects, but eminently watchable. The three films which bring up the rear of this top 10 of the other-than, better-than, box office Malayalam cinema, too, are, in their own ways, unique. Ayaa l Sasi (He, who is Sasi) by Sajin Babu is a strange concoction about a terminally ill bohemian (the part is played with panache by Srinivasan) and his grand final act of setting himself afloat on a river in a ‘smart’ coffin, fitted with gizmos and gadgetry that could make dying as much a technological feat as a biological act. There is this tenor of outlandishness through the film which makes it a class of its own. Anil Thomas’ Minna minungu (Firefly) about a woman struggling, multitasking really, to make ends meet and look after her aged father and her teenage daughter with aspirations in life, stays doggedly level-headed without lapsing into mushy piety and hopelessness. Surabhi in the main role stretches to transform herself in her role as it proceeds from difficulty to desperation; only, the effort shows. Saji Palamel’s Aaradi (Six Feet) is a good idea gone slightly sour. It is about the tokenism that Dalithood fetches socially and politically. The body of a local Dalit leader, waiting to be ceremonially disposed of, goes through a series of reality checks of indifference and insult until the family decides to dig a grave within his own house to bury him. The importance of the theme gets undercut by artificially imposed situations and forced acting.

Spell-binding cinema

The film that really reaches out to grab you and hold you spellbound is Ottayaal P aatha (The Narrow Path) directed by the Babusenan brothers, Santhosh and Satish. What looks deceptively like little more than a home movie turns out to be an epic. The human face, the film seems set to prove, is all one needs to see and all one needs to know. The camera, for most of the film, dwells on the face. The visage is the ultimate visual. It draws us by its shades and nuances of mood and expressiveness. It draws us into the minds that the faces are indices of. A paralysis-struck, apparently uncaring and rough-edged father and his undemonstratively filial but caring son, who is an engineering graduate, tango through their game of domestic one-upmanship in a series of fascinating chessboard-like moves.

The slum-like setting where they live in a cramped ramshackle two-room flat is claustrophobic for both of them. The father, retired from a government job and handicapped by the paralysis, almost compulsively schemes to foil his son’s plans to move to another city with the woman he loves and take up a job there. The son knows and resents and resists this but cannot, when it comes to it, cut himself loose. The interiority, the involuted intensity, the bristling body language and the tense mutuality of the body chemistry of father and son are underscored and accentuated by a tight screenplay, by dialogues that flow so naturally and seamlessly from the situations and the motivations of the characters in each instant that it is hard to imagine that someone actually wrote them up in advance, and by a background music score that provides buffer and pique in just the right degree. Kaladharan as the crusty old paralytic is devastating. He gets not only into the skin of the character but into its body and soul, in a supreme identification of artist and role. The denouement is sublimely searing. It seems nothing short of a cultural crime for a film like this not to be seen widely in society. The film, incidentally, was the unhesitating, unanimous choice of the jury for the John Abraham award.

If Ottayaal P aatha rivets you to your seat, Vidhu Vincent’s Manhole yanks you from it and forces you to look. And, of course, you don’t like what you see. Because what you see is people who occupationally clear clogged drains, lower themselves precariously into manholes and heave bucketsful of faeces out, who are suffocated by the miasma of poison and stench in the nether zones they work in and who often succumb to it, and die. You can’t look away because you know that you are culpable. What you see is what you always knew was going on to keep the shit from rising and flowing into your homes. What you see is what you are told does not exist because, manual scavenging is, has been illegal and forbidden for some time now. What you see is the hypocrisy of it all, a hypocrisy you know, even without anyone having to tell you so, you are part of.

Vidhu Vincent has no use for aesthetic filters to tell her story. Neither does she have the financial resources to vest it with technical heft or finesse. It is a raw, pared-down narrative with a semblance of a plot line. It is more like a journalistic story than a cinematic one. But it works like nothing else, or more, in its stead could have. The film, which had already created a buzz at the latest international film festival in Thiruvananthapuram, has gone on to win the top Kerala State award, and Vidhu Vincent has bagged the best director prize. It was also the close runner-up for the John Abraham award and the jury had made a special mention of the film in its citation.

A crossover film which has caught the popular imagination and done well in the awards circuit is Rajeev Ravi’s Kammatti paadam. The film assuredly carries a rising star, Dulquer Salmaan, rather than the other way round, which is the norm, of the star carrying the film on his shoulder. Dulquer adapts to the milieu of the underbelly of crime and grime with remarkable resilience and passion.

But the film, even more than him as the main protagonist and the director who seems after a point to be running after the film when he should be reining it in, belongs to Vinayakan. A spring coil of energy and anger, a grasping henchman impatient to strike, a devoted friend to his gang mates, a possessive lover, a naive loser before his unscrupulous, scheming masters—he combines all these and more in his screen persona to give an awing performance. There is tremendous promise there. It remains to be seen if the industry has the bandwidth and creative latitude to nurture that promise.

Ramjas College

Under siege

DIVYA TRIVEDI the-nation

MEMBERS of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which supplies storm troopers to the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) across university campuses in India, went on the rampage in Delhi University on February 21 and 22, grievously injuring several unarmed persons. They were agitating against the invitation extended to Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid of Jawaharlal Nehru University to Ramjas College for a seminar titled “Cultures of Protest”. Umar was to discuss “the war in Adivasi areas”, a subject that forms a part of his PhD thesis, in a session on the theme “Regions in conflict” along with the film-maker Sanjay Kak and JNU Professor Bimal Akoijam.

Umar Khalid had shot into prominence after being accused of seditious activities in JNU exactly a year ago, on February 9, by the ABVP.

On the morning of February 21, when the seminar organised by the English Department and Wordcraft Literary Society was scheduled to be held, the organisers were summoned to Principal Rajendra Prasad’s office. Maurice Nagar police station had received an intimation from Yogit Rathi, president of the Students’ Union of Ramjas College, that the ABVP would not allow Umar Khalid to enter the college. (According to Umar, one of the organisers was threatened thus: “We will disfigure your face in a way that you will be unrecognisable”—unless the ABVP’s demand was conceded.) The police had inputs of mass mobilisation—of about a thousand ABVP supporters armed with lathis—somewhere on the North Campus. The police apprehended large-scale violence and Station House Officer Arti Sharma categorically said that they would not be able to control it or provide security to the participants of the seminar.

Even as Professor Vinita Chandra of the English Department, Prof. Mukul Manglik of the History Department, Yogit Rathi and the police personnel discussed the matter in the Principal’s room, loud slogans of “Vande Mataram, Bharat mata ki jai, Desh ke gaddaron ko/ Jhoote maaron saalon ko” [beat the traitors (expletive) of the nation with boots] could be heard from the foyer. By then, Jatin Narwal, Joint Commissioner of Police, North, was also around.

Rajendra Prasad was rudely and aggressively told by ABVP supporters, with the police as bystanders, that they would not allow the seminar to go on. Given the circumstances, Prasad, who was the Principal of Ramjas for 32 years and was known to be generally encouraging of critical and free thought, said that his hands were tied and decided to disinvite Umar Khalid.

At this point the SHO turned to Yogit and asked: “What about Shehla Rashid? Will you allow her to come tomorrow?” Yogit went out, consulted the gang of ABVP supporters, and said: “No, she will also not be allowed.” The SHO turned to the organisers and said: “They are saying it won’t be possible.”

“Even before the violence broke out, senior police officers were consulting ABVP leaders on what could or could not be allowed inside Ramjas,” said a teacher on condition of anonymity, aghast at the turn of events.

The organisers of the seminar decided to take out a march through the college to register their protest. As they felt that their right to hold a legitimate discussion had been steamrolled by threats of violence, they raised slogans against the intimidation. Prof. Manglik, among others, led slogans such as “ Hum kya chahte? meethi meethi, pyari pyrai, sundar azadi” [What do we want? Sweet, lovely, beautiful freedom]. As the procession moved towards the stairs that lead up to the conference room above the canteen, 30 to 40 ABVP supporters lunged at them, kicking and punching. The police hastily formed a cordon around the protesters and herded them into the conference room above.

As Sanjay Kak began to speak, bricks hurled from below broke several glass panes in the room. Huge branches and iron rods were thrown from the terrace above, causing a severe head injury to a student and dislocating another’s shoulder. As panic ensued among those gathered, the lights went out, plunging the room into darkness and anxiety. “It felt as if we were under siege,” said a student. Sensing the severity of the situation, the teachers decided to call off the seminar, and the police escorted them out of the room and out of the college through a side gate. The police asked them to disperse from there as they would not be able to protect them in case of any attack. “Instead of evicting the aggressive ABVP supporters, the police evicted us from our own college,” said a student.

Day 2

The All India Students’ Association (AISA) called for a protest the next day. Nobody could have imagined what followed on day 2. Organised violence of an unprecedented nature was unleashed on the protesters, comprising students and teachers. The police, who were allegedly complicit, could do nothing to stop it. A teacher from Kirorimal College said: “The police allowed the controlled violence to take place. They were not controlling the violent elements but controlling us, who were marching peacefully. Meanwhile, my female colleagues were abused and had their hair pulled, and their own students made obscene gestures to them. ABVP girls were saying: we will get you raped by our men.”

The teacher rubbished the media representation that it was a “Left vs Right” clash. “It is completely wrong to say Right and Left. Very few organisational cadre were there. A large number of common students had come out against the violence witnessed on the first day, to assert their right to discuss and debate. It was a mandate against violence and for freedom of speech,” the teacher said. Several people who spoke to Frontline requested anonymity as targeted assaults were being carried out and they did not want to be identified.

As the police surrounded the protesters from all sides, glass bottles, bricks, cement blocks and auto spare parts were thrown at them from behind the cordon. “Are we to believe that the police in India are incapable of controlling a mob of 200 people?” asked a protester in disbelief. Prof. Sachin Narayanan of Dayal Singh College, who was present, told Frontline: “Lumpen goons of the ABVP targeted us, their new strategy was to push their women cadre to the front who then attacked both men and women. They were circulating pictures of some faculty members and hunting for them through the campus. Many teachers were beaten up. A colleague of mine was slapped by her own student. They wanted to create an atmosphere of fear.” Towards the evening, ABVP supporters searched hostel rooms looking for students they had identified in the protests. “Students staying as paying guests were beaten up and threatened with dire consequences, and many of them have since left for their native places in fear. They are profiling common students and protesters,” he said. Prof. Prasanta Chakravarty of Delhi University was punched, kicked and dragged through the streets and his attackers even tried to strangle him with his own muffler. He suffered severe injuries to the kidney and ribs, which now require protracted treatment. Prof. Vinita Chandra and Prof. Manglik were also targets of abuse, and a morphed video of the latter was later circulated, accusing him of shouting anti-India slogans and calling for his suspension. (See interview.)

Media attacked

Journalists were not spared. In a statement released later, the Delhi Union of Journalists condemned the attack on the press. “ Times of India correspondent Somreet Bhattacharya and photographer Anindya Chattopadhyay were beaten up. Quint reporter Taruni Kumar has given a videoed statement of how ABVP women hit her, grabbed her phone, pulled her hair and broke her phone and mike. Quint cameraperson Shiv Kumar Maurya suffered injuries on his head and reporter Anant Prakash was also attacked. Hindustan Times reporter Ananya Bhardwaj was hit. Times Now reporter Priyank and cameraperson Mazhar Khan were beaten. Photographer Anand Sharma too was beaten. These attacks indicate a deliberate attempt to browbeat and muzzle the press whenever it tries to report violence by supporters and vigilante groups of the ruling party.”

Despite having photographs and videos of the violence, and medico-legal certificates obtained from hospitals by the grievously injured, the police refused to register a first information report (FIR); they only filed a complaint. In the evening, as protesters gathered outside the police station demanding an FIR, they were roughed up, dragged and taken away by the police. Videos of male police personnel punching a female student went viral on social media. Tarun Narang and Deepak Joshi, final year law students, moved the High Court seeking action against the police personnel who allegedly assaulted students and journalists during the violence at Ramjas. Their plea was dismissed by a bench headed by Chief Justice G. Rohini as the Delhi Police had already constituted a high-level committee to look into the issue following a notice from the National Human Rights Commission.

Fear on campus

An atmosphere of terror prevailed on the campus in the days that followed. Classes were held as usual, but teachers and students kept looking over their shoulders. Abinash, one of the organisers who was roughed up and had his spectacles smashed, said: “More than the physical trauma, there is a mental trauma. People were beaten up by their own friends and classmates. The ABVP collaborated with our own students to lead a crackdown. It needs to be healed before we can return to any sort of normalcy.”

As part of an online campaign #FightbackDu, a 20-year-old student of Lady Sri Ram College, Gurmehar Kaur, tweeted a photo of herself holding a placard that said: “I am not afraid of ABVP” and it quickly went viral. Her father, Captain Mandeep Singh, had died fighting in Jammu and Kashmir in 1999. An old video of hers, with a placard saying “Pakistan did not kill my father, war did” was unearthed and circulated widely, as a result of which she was trolled and subjected to rape threats. Public personalities such as the cricketer Virender Sehwag and the Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda joined the bandwagon and mocked her. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, in total disregard of the high office he holds, jumped into the controversy by tweeting: “Who is polluting this young girl’s mind?” The Minister’s tweet seemed to legitimise the trolling and added fuel to the fire. Gurmehar left the city. Ex-servicemen and her family, however, supported her.

Meanwhile, P.C. Tulsiyan, who succeeded Rajendra Prasad (who retired on February 28) as the Principal of Ramjas, showed proactiveness in probing the violence and bringing the perpetrators to book. The staff council set up an inquiry. “People should come forward with whatever proof they have. Whoever can be identified within Ramjas to have participated in the violence should be suspended. We are also trying to register an independent and separate FIR for Ramjas,” said a teacher.

One teacher said on condition of anonymity: “While the February violence shocked everybody, it also precipitated a movement against what was seen as a crackdown by the combined might of foot soldiers of the right-wing hegemonists, the police, the state and sections of the media. The pattern repeated itself in university after university, from HCU [Hyderabad Central University] to JNU to DU and all others in between, of ABVP taking offence at a particular film screening or an event or a seminar, framing the discussion in ‘national versus anti-national’ categories, branding anybody who disagreed with their violent methods as going against the nation. And finally ending in either an institutional murder, a disappearance or large-scale riot-like violence as seen in DU. Followed by police inaction and media misrepresentation.” As Prof. Sachin marched through the streets of Delhi with other members of civil society to reclaim academic spaces, protesting against the ABVP’s continued violence, he said: “They want to shut down our public universities to further the role of crony capitalism and self-financing institutions. But we are here for our studies, which includes active participation in politics, and will continue to engage in debates and discussions.”

Essay

Modi & Savarkar: Ideological turns

A.G. NOORANI the-nation

EVERY time Prime Minister Narendra Modi opens his mouth he reveals more of himself than he intends; stress compels self-revelation. The election campaign in Uttar Pradesh brought out the best in Modi. His prize offering was his statement on V.D. Savarkar, a man responsible for four murderous assaults.

Yet, he was convicted only for one; the murder of A.T.M. Jackson, Collector of Nashik, in 1909. He was sent to the Andaman Islands for life imprisonment. There is a particular poignancy about this murder as Dr M.R. Jayakar noted. “Collector Jackson was a reputed Sanskrit scholar and, it was believed, a great admirer of Indians, their language and literature.” He delivered speeches on “ancient Indian classics”.

The next victim was Col. Sir William Curzon-Wylie of the India Office, in London in 1909, followed by an attempted murder of the Acting Governor of Bombay, Sir Ernest Hotson, in 1931, and that of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, for which he was acquitted by the Sessions Court on a technicality but was indicted by a Commission of Inquiry headed by a judge of the Supreme Court, Justice J.L. Kapur. Two features are common to all the four events. In none did Savarkar himself wield the gun. He always conspired, in some case provided the gun (20 in one case) and goaded the assailants. Savarkar covered his tracks and escaped punishment in all the cases except the first.

In the aftermath of his four crimes, Savarkar tendered six abject apologies; four to the British rulers and two to the Indian authorities, in 1948 and 1950. What is more, this patriot repeatedly gave undertakings of good conduct and made offers of collaboration with the British rulers of India for nearly 30 years, from 1911 to 1939. What is it that he is idolised for? What was so heroic about him? A noble vision? Courage? Truthfulness? Nobility of character? Intellectual gifts of a high order?

Poisonous ideology

He is not being idolised for any of these; he is being idolised by persons who share a poisonous divisive ideology he unremittingly espoused—Hindutva and the two-nation theory. He first propounded it in 1923 in his essay Hindutva. He elaborated on the theme in his first presidential address to the Hindu Mahasabha at Ahmedabad in 1937. Mohammed Ali Jinnah propounded it in 1940. Since Ahmedabad is a Muslim name, the Mahasabha called it Karnavati. At Ahmedabad, his chela Narendra Modi pointedly refused to wear the skullcap which is worn largely by Muslims. He has since worn a large variety of caps; never this one.

On February 25, 2017, Modi tweeted that Savarkar “was a true patriot who envisioned a strong and developed India”. The last bit in his self-serving gloss. Savarkar did not waste any time on vikas. The “strong” India he advocated was a militarised and militaristic polity under Hindu leadership. He “envisioned” a Hindu India. So did his chela Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who founded the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) parent, the Jana Sangh, in 1951. Modi’s record as Prime Minister reflects their thinking, in word and action.

Consider Savarkar’s abject apologies, humiliating undertakings, even offers of collaboration, and his poisonous ideology with the Sangh Parivar’s outlook and Modi’s thought and action and a picture emerges which should alarm every Indian who cherishes the values of our Constitution and its secular polity. The record speaks for itself.

Savarkar’s six apologies

Savarkar’s apologies, undertakings and offers of collaboration:

1. Savarkar arrived in the Andaman Islands on July 4, 1911. In less than six months his knees gave way. He went on his knees and sought clemency, and tendered an apology. He repeated it two years later. His health had not broken down. Did the spirit give way? That would be a mistaken view, for, as we shall see, the man was bereft of spirit. He has no character. Read his subsequent and abject letter.

2. November 24, 1913. “In the end, may I remind your honour to be so good as to go through the petition for clemency that I had sent in 1911 and to sanction it for being forwarded to the Indian Government? The latest development of the Indian Politics and the conciliating policy of the Government have thrown open the constitutional line once more. Now, no man having the good of India and Humanity at Heart will blindly step on the thorny paths which in the excited and hopeless situation of India in 1906-1907 beguiled us from the path of peace and progress. Therefore, if the Government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English Government which is the foremost condition of that progress. As long as we are in jails, there cannot be real happiness and joy in hundreds and thousands of homes of His Majesty’s loyal subjects in India, for blood is thicker than water; but if we be released the people will instinctively raise a shout of joy and gratitude to the Government, who knows how to forgive and correct, more than how to chastise and avenge. Moreover, my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide. I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would be. By keeping me in jail nothing can be got in comparison to what would be otherwise. The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?” (emphasis added throughout).

This letter followed a meeting with the Home Secretary Reginald Craddock in October 1913. He made no mention of his moves even to his brother Narayan. The British turned down his pleas but gave Savarkar a consolation prize and made him a foreman. R.C. Majumdar was a partisan historian to the core, as one who belonged to the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan school. His book Penal Settlements in Andamans is partial to Savarkar. Even so, he recorded that “while Savarkar had changed his views, the Government view remained the same as before”. Craddock’s minutes after his return to Delhi poured contempt on Savarkar. “He had been instrumental in sending out 20 Browning pistols.” He offered concessions to Savarkar, who received them gratefully, but ridiculed others who had received them (“because very subservient”). Savarkar refused to join a hunger strike in prison. As foreman, he imposed Hindu Raj in prison. “The Mussalmans had been, therefore, fully aware, when I became a foreman, what I expected of them, that I was particularly proud of the Hindu way of greeting and of the words used along with the greeting like ‘Rama Rama’, ‘Namaskar’, ‘Bande Mataram’, so on and so forth” ( The Story of My Transportation for Life, page 496).

Pledge to keep away from politics

3. March 30, 1920. Savarkar wrote to the Chief Commissioner of Andamans (for the text vide the writer’s article “Savarkar’s Mercy Petition”, Frontline, April 8, 2005. For other details of Savarkar’s sordid record vide the writer’s book Savarkar and Hindutva: The Godse Connection, LeftWord, 2002). The document was provided at my request by the National Archives of India. I quote it in extenso:

“And as to my revolutionary tendencies in the past: it is not only now for the object of sharing the clemency but years before this have I informed of and written to the Government in my petitions (1918, 1914) about my firm intention to abide by the Constitution and stand by it as soon as a beginning was made to frame it by Mr. Montagu. Since that time, the Reforms and then the proclamation have only confirmed me in my view and recently I have publicly avowed my faith in and readiness to stand by the side of orderly and constitutional development. The danger that is threatening our country from the north at the hands of the fanatic hordes of Asia who had been the curse of India in the past when they came as foes, and who are more likely to be so in the future now that they want to come as friends, makes me convinced that every intelligent lover of India would heartily and loyally co-operate with the British people in the interests of India herself. That is why I offered myself as a volunteer in 1914 to Government when the war broke out and a German-Turko-Afghan invasion of India became imminent. Whether you believe it or not, I am sincere in expressing my earnest intention of treading the constitutional path and trying my humble best to render the hands of the British dominion a bond of love and respect and of mutual help. Such an Empire as is foreshadowed in the proclamation, wins my hearty adherence. For, verily I have no race or creed or people simply because they are not Indians!

“But if the Government wants a further security from me then I and my brother are perfectly willing to give a pledge of not participating in politics for a definite and reasonable period that the Government would indicate. For, even without such a pledge, my failing health and the sweet blessings of home that have been denied to me by myself make me so desirous of leading a quiet and denied retired life for years to come that nothing would induce me to dabble in active politics now.

“This or any pledge, e.g., of remaining in a particular province or reporting our movements to the police for a definite period after our release—any such reasonable conditions meant genuinely to ensure the safety of the state would be gladly accepted by me and my brother.

“On all these grounds, I believe that the Government, hearing my readiness to enter into any sensible pledge and the fact that the Reforms, present and promised, joined to common danger from the north of Turko-Afghan fanatics have made me a sincere advocate of loyal co-operation in the interests of both our nations, would release me and win my personal gratitude. The brilliant prospects of my early life all but too soon blighted, have constituted so painful a source of regret to me that a release would be a new birth and would touch my heart, sensitive and submissive, to kindness so deeply as to render me personally attached and politically useful in future. For, often magnanimity wins even where might fails.

“Hoping that the Chief Commissioner, remembering the personal regard I ever had shown to him throughout his term and how often I had to face keen disappointment throughout that time, will not grudge me this last favour of allowing this most harmless vent to my despair and will be pleased to forward this petition—may I hope with his own recommendations?—to His Excellency the Viceroy of India.

I beg to remain,

SIR,

Your most obedient servant,

(Sd.) V.D. Savarkar,

Convict No.32778”.

4. 1924. Savarkar was brought back from the Andamans and lodged, first, in the Ratnagiri Jail and, next, in the Yerwada Jail in Pune. In a meticulously documented essay “Far from heroism: The tale of Veer Savarkar” ( Frontline, April 7, 1995), Krishnan Dubey and Venkitesh Ramakrishnan provide the details of the background to the apology on January 6, 1924. The Governor of Bombay Presidency, Sir George Lloyd, met Savarkar in prison and a deal was struck. “The conditions attached to the release of releases are these: (1) That the said Vinayak Damodar Savarkar will reside within the territories administered by the Governor of Bombay in Council and within the Ratnagiri District within the said territories, and will not go beyond the limits of that district without the permission of the Government, or in case of urgency of the District Magistrate.

“(2) That he will not engage publicly or privately in any manner of political activities without the consent of the Government for a period of five years, such restriction being renewable at the discretion of Government at the expiry of the said term.

“Mr Savarkar has already indicated his acceptance of these terms. He has also, though it was in no way made a condition of his release, submitted the following statement: ‘I hereby acknowledge that I had a fair trial and just sentence. I heartily abhor methods of violence resorted to in days gone by, and I feel myself duty bound to uphold Law and the Constitution to the best of my powers and am willing to make the Reform a success insofar as I may be allowed to do in future.’”

The writers reveal the genesis of the last paragraph: “Savarkar accepted these conditions without any compunction. But this was not all. Seeing his spirit broken and willpower completely shattered, the government suggested that he should state that his trial was fair and the sentence awarded was just. At the same time, it told him this was ‘in no way made a condition of his release’. Yet, he went ahead and made this statement, ‘I hereby acknowledge that I had a fair trial and just sentence. I heartily abhor methods of violence resorted to in days gone by, and I feel myself duty bound to uphold Law and the Constitution to the best of my powers and am willing to make the Reform a success insofar as I may be allowed to do so in future.’ The reference to the Reform here is to the Montagu-Chelmsford proposals of 1918 which fell woefully short of Indian expectations….”

5. On February 22, 1948, shortly after Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948, Savarkar wrote to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay, from Arthur Road prison. “In the end, I beg to submit that I am now some 65 years old. For the last three years I have been every now and then confined to bed owing to attacks of heart-ache and debility. On the 15th of August last I accepted and raised on my house our new National Flag even to the embarrassment of some of my followers.

“Consequently, in order to disarm all suspicion and to back up the above heart to heart representation, I wish to express my willingness to give an undertaking to the Government that I shall refrain from taking part in any communal or political public activity for any period the Government may require in case I am released on that condition.”

6. In the wake of the Nehru-Liaquat Pact in 1950 on the minorities, Savarkar was detained, along with other Hindu Mahasabha leaders, on April 4, 1950. The usual apology coupled with an undertaking swiftly followed. He would not participate in politics for such time as the government decided. The offer was rejected. A habeas corpus petition was filed in the High Court. On July 13, 1950, the Advocate General, C.K. Daphtary, informed the Court that “he was authorised to state that if Savarkar would give an undertaking that he would not participate in political activities and would remain at his own house in Bombay, government would agree to his release”. Their Lordship made the order of release on July 13 on an undertaking given by K.N. Dharap, who appeared on behalf of Savarkar, that Savarkar would not take any part whatever in political activity and would remain in his house in Bombay. This undertaking was to last a period of one year or up to the next general elections in India or in case of India being involved in any war, whichever event took place first.

He resigned even from the primary membership of the Mahasabha. But, by then, he had begun to move closer to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. “Long live the Sangh as the valorous champion of Hindutva.” On his part, the RSS boss M.S. Golwalkar acknowledged on May 15, 1963, his debt to Savarkar’s Hindutva. The two streams, never far apart, merged.

The history of freedom struggle is studded with stories of heroism. Is there a single record of such sustained treachery as V.D. Savarkar’s six abject apologies over 40 years from 1911 to 1950? That is not all. The apologies were coupled with offers of collaboration. Savarkar met the arch imperialist Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, in Bombay on October 9, 1939, the month the Congress asked its Ministers in the Provinces to resign. Savarkar pledged his enthusiastic cooperation to the British. Linlithgow reported to Lord Zetland, the Secretary of State for India:

“The situation, he [Savarkar] said, was that His Majesty’s government must now turn to the Hindus and work with their support. After all, though we and the Hindus have had a good deal of difficulty with one another in the past, that was equally true of the relations between Great Britain and the French and, as recent events had shown, of relations between Russia and Germany. Our interests were now the same and we must therefore work together. Even though now the most moderate of men, he had himself been in the past an adherent of a revolutionary party, as possibly, I might be aware. (I confirmed that I was.) But now that our interests were so closely bound together the essential thing was for Hinduism and Great Britain to be friends, and the old antagonism was no longer necessary.” (Marzia Casolari: In the Shade of the Swastika, Emil di Odoya, 2011, page 172. This work of high scholarship exposes the RSS and the Mahasabha’s attachment to Nazi Fascism.)

Modi & Co. shut their eyes to all this only because, sordid though his record was, Savarkar’s Hindutva provided an ideology of communal supremacy, however flawed it was intellectually and dangerous in its effect on our democracy. Savarkar’s utterances on his release in 1937 have a contemporary relevance. Modi’s speech and conduct reflect them; for, their outlook and ideology are the same.

Fatherland & Holy Land

Savarkar’s presidential address to the Mahasabha session in 1937 was lauded as “the Gita of the Hindu Sangathan”. That is when he showed his stripes: “The best interests of the Hindudom are simply identified with the best interests of Hindustan as whole.” He was for a “Unitarian” polity. “Hindudom is bound and marked out as a people and a nation by themselves not by the only tie of a common Holy land on which their religion took birth but by the ties of a common culture, a common language, a common history and essentially of a common fatherland as well. It is these two constituents taken together that constitute our Hindutva and distinguish us from any other people in the world.”

He amplified: “A definition must in the main respond to reality. Just as by the first constituent of Hindutva, the possession of a common Holy land, the Indian Mahommedans, Jews, Christians, Parsees, etc. are excluded from claiming themselves as Hindus which in reality also they do not, in spite of their recognising Hindusthan as their fatherland, so also on the other hand the second constituent of the definition, that of possessing a common fatherland, excludes the Japanese, the Chinese and others from the Hindu fold in spite of the fact of their having Holy land in common with us….

“From this above discussion it necessarily follows that the concept of the term ‘Hindutva’—Hinduness—is more comprehensive than the word ‘Hinduism’. It was to draw a pointed attention to this distinction that I had coined the words ‘Hindutva’, ‘Pan Hindu’ and ‘Hindu’. Hinduism concerns with the religious systems of the Hindus, their ideology and dogma. But this is precisely a matter which this Hindu Mahasabha leaves entirely to individual or group conscience and faith.”

Savarkar admittedly “coined” a new word, “Hindutva”, to denote a political ideology in order to distinguish it from Hinduism. The Supreme Court, led by Justice J.S. Verma, hailed Hindutva as a “way of life” and Chief Justice T.S. Thakur rejected an opportunity to correct an obvious and dangerous error.

To continue, Savarkar explained: “Let us bravely face unpleasant facts as they are. India cannot be assumed today to be a Unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main: the Hindus and the Moslems, in India.”

You will find this very theme in Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts. He himself acknowledged his debt to Savarkar. India is a British construct. “Territorial nationalism” is false. Everyone born in its territory cannot be accepted as a national. Only those who accept “cultural nationalism”, that is, Hindutva, belong to the nation. That is not an Indian nation but a Hindu nation.

Savarkar made that all too clear the next year, at the Nagpur session in 1938. “If India, because it was a territorial unit and called a country must be a national unit as well, then all of us must also be Indians only and cease to be Hindus or Moslems, Christians or Parsees. So they, the leaders of those first generations of English educated people, being almost all Hindus, tried their best to cease themselves to be Hindus and thought it below their dignity to take any cognisance of the divisions as Hindus and Moslems and became transformed overnight into Indian patriots alone. It was also very easy for them to cease to be Hindus. The Western education had taught them and they had no other education, that Hindutva meant nothing else but Hinduism.”

‘Hindu nation’

He, however, regarded Sikhs as part of the Hindu nation and called Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom as “Sikh-Hindu kingdom”. Savarkar expounded his two-nation theory in revealing detail. “The new concept of an Indian Nationality was founded on the only common bond of a territorial unity of India; the Hindus, for one, found nothing revolting even in that assumption to their deepest religious or cultural or racial sentiments. Because their nation being had already been identified with that territorial unit, India, which to them was not only a land of sojourn but a home, their Fatherland, their Motherland, their Holy land and all in one! Indian Patriotism to them was but a synonym of Hindu Patriotism. Even the territorial unit was as intimately identified with their racial, religious and cultural unit that an Indian Nation was but a territorial appellation of the Hindu Nation. If Hindusthan was called India but continued to be a Hindusthan, it made no difference in essentials and for practical purposes might be overlooked.

“Yes, we Hindus are a Nation by ourselves. Because religious, racial, cultural and historical affinities bind us intimately into a homogenous nation and added to it we are most pre-eminently gifted with a territorial unity as well. Our racial being is identified with India—our beloved Fatherland and our Holy land, above all and irrespective of it all we Hindus will to be a Nation and, therefore, we are a Nation. None has a right to challenge or demand a proof of our common nationality when some thirty crores of us Hindus are with it.

“It is absurd to call us a community in India. The Germans are the nation in Germany and the Jews a Community. The Turks are the Nation in Turkey and Arab or the Armenian minority a community. Even so the Hindus are the nation in India—in Hindusthan, and the Moslem minority a community.” This removes all doubt, all ambiguity.

The Jana Sangh-BJP line on Israel is also based on Savarkar’s attitude. Arabs are hated because they are Muslims. The Jews in Palestine are supported because they are the Arab’s adversaries. It is a perverse and poisonous mentality. He said on December 19, 1947: “I am glad to note that the overwhelming majority of the leading nations in the world should have recognised the claim of the Jewish people to establish an Independent Jewish state in Palestine and should have promised armed assistance to get it realised.

“In Justice, the whole of Palestine ought to have been restored to the Jews. But taking into consideration the conflict of self-interests of the powerful nations in the UNO, their support to the resuscitation of the Jewish State in a part of Palestine at any rate wherein they still happen to be in majority and which includes some of their prominent Holy Places constitutes an event of historical justice and importance. It is consequently to be regretted that the delegation which represented our Hindusthani government in the UNO should have voted against the creation of the Jewish State.”

Savarkar envisaged an India dominated by a political party committed to Hindu, not Indian, nationalism; a majoritarian polity created by the democratic process. “If but the Hindu Sanghatanists capture the seats that are allotted to the Hindus under the present constitution in Municipalities, Boards and Legislatures, you will find that a sudden lift is given to the Hindu movement.”

Savarkar pursued this line at the Calcutta Session in 1939. “Swarajya to the Hindus must mean only that ‘Rajya’ in which their ‘Swatva’, their ‘HINDUTVA’ can assert itself without being overlooked by any non-Hindu people, whether they be Indian Territorials or extra territorials.”

In this scheme, the concept of minorities is obliterated. The Sangh Parivar has consistently rejected this concept. Savarkar asked the Congress to declare that “it recognises no Moslem as a Moslem, or Christian as a Christian, or Hindu as a Hindu; but will look upon them all and deal with them all as Indians only; and, therefore, will have nothing to do with any special, communal, religious or racial interests as apart from the fundamental interests guaranteed to all citizens alike.”

Talking of vote banks, this is what Savarkar advised: “If the Hindu electorate does ever come to its senses, refuses to return the Congressite candidates and returns only the Hindu Sanghatanists in majority, the Hindus can have Hindu Sanghatanist government in at least seven provinces as the Moslems have in the Punjab, Bengal, etc. and the Hindus can capture enough political power so as to be in a position to remove at least 75 per cent of the grievances under which they are groaning now even in provinces like U.P. where they form the majority and the Congress ruled. The provincial police and the public service will be under the command of Hindu Sanghatanist governments and will not dare to trample on or neglect Hindu rights.” Capture power by the democratic process and establish a Hindu state.

The Second World War opened a new opportunity which he seized: “To secure entry for as many Hindu recruits as possible into the army, navy and the air forces. To utilise all facilities that are being thrown open to get our people trained into military and mechanical manufacture of up-to-date war materials. To try to make military training compulsory in colleges and high schools. To intensify the organisation of the Ram Sena.”

It is an insane fight against history. As A.B. Vajpayee said, it gave some Hindus a minority complex. Sample this bit by Savarkar: “Just take up the map of India about 1600 A.D. The Moslems ruled all over Hindusthan unchallengeably. It was veritable Pakistan realised not only in this province or that but all over India—Hindusthan as such was simply wiped out.”

Modi’s inspiration

This very outlook possesses the mind of Narendra Modi. Hence, his reference in his very first speech to the Lok Sabha of a thousand years of slavery, not two hundred years of slavery under the British. As Savarkar urged, Modi would use the levers of state power to install a Hindu polity.

The two-nation theory is sheer poison, whether it is advocated by Jinnah or Savarkar. But there is a difference, which Dr B.R. Ambedkar pointed out: “Mr Savarkar will not allow the Muslim nation to be co-equal in authority with the Hindu nation. He wants the Hindu nation to be the dominant nation and the Muslim nation to be the servient nation. Why Mr Savarkar, after sowing this seed of enmity between the Hindu nation and the Muslim nation, should want that they should live under one Constitution and occupy one country, is difficult to explain” ( Pakistan Or The Partition of India, 1946, pages 133-134).

R.C. Majumdar of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan ideology, while rightly blaming Jinnah for the Partition, cited also “one important factor which was responsible to a very large extent for the emergence of the idea of partition of India on communal lines. This was the Hindu Mahasabha” ( Struggle For Freedom, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1969, page 611).

One has seen the full play of the Savarkar line in Modi’s election speeches. In Bihar in 2015 and in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. This was not a municipal corporator but the Prime Minister of India who waxed eloquent about communal discrimination in the supply of electricity and provision of cremation grounds.

In the Constituent Assembly, Dr Ambedkar warned that it was quite possible to change the form of the Constitution—and thus the character of the polity—by changing the form of the administration. This is what Modi has sought to do in India since 2014—subvert a secular polity. It must be fought and checked. As Ambedkar wrote: “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country…. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost” (ibid, pages 354-5).

Cover story: Uttar Pradesh

Arithmetic of success

RIGHT through the long campaign and the seven phases of polling in Uttar Pradesh, sections of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership had steadfastly maintained that the election to the State Assembly hinged on simple electoral arithmetic. The refrain went thus: “Three years ago, during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had successfully forged a pan-Hindu electoral identity that fetched the party 42.30 per cent of the total votes polled and a massive victory in terms of seats. The average loss that the BJP has suffered in the 11 State Assembly elections after 2014 is about 10 percentage points. Even if a similar loss of votes occurs in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP would be the number one party in terms of vote share, at around 32.30 per cent. In the electoral system of India, where the concept of first past the post is the norm, this vote share will be sufficient to get a majority.”

As it turned out, the results in Uttar Pradesh underscored the strength of this electoral arithmetic logic. Significantly, the loss of the BJP vote share from what it was in 2014 was not to the tune of 10 percentage points but just 2.6 percentage points. The party garnered 39.7 per cent of the votes. This was, unambiguously, an insignificant vote share loss and practically held together the pan-Hindu electoral identity that the saffron party had crafted in 2014. The phenomenal scale of the victory of the BJP and its allies, 325 seats out of 403, of which the BJP accounted for 312, the Apna Dal (Soneylal) for nine and the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party four, was also in keeping with this retention of vote share. In 2014, when the BJP won 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the State, it had led in 328 Assembly segments.

On the other hand, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.)-Congress combine, the main challenger to the BJP and its allies, could rustle up only 28 per cent of the vote share—the S.P. got 21.8 per cent and the Congress 6.2 per cent—which, incidentally, was less than what they had obtained in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when they had fought separately. Three years ago, the S.P. had 22.20 per cent and Congress 7.50 per cent.

Thus, in spite of coming together, the combine cumulatively lost 1.7 percentage points from its 2014 vote share. In other words, not only was there no value addition from the coming together of the two parties, but it actually led to a decline in the core vote base of both the parties. The combine ended up with 54 seats, the S.P. winning 47 and the Congress seven, registering the lowest-ever tally for both the parties in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the S.P. won five seats out of 80 and the Congress two; together they led in 57 Assembly segments. Once again, it is more or less a repetition of the 2014 electoral trend for these parties too. Interestingly, the third major force in the State, the Dalit-oriented Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), actually increased its vote share from what it had in 2014, but still ended up losing big time. Its vote share rose to 22.2 per cent from 19.6 per cent in 2014. Still, the party could only win 19 seats, its second-lowest tally in Uttar Pradesh. Its lowest tally was in 1991 when it won 12 seats, at a time when the party was still considered to be building up its mass base. The results upset the perceptions that dominated the election scene throughout the long-drawn-out process. After the final phase of polling, the dominant view, even within the BJP, was that the State was headed for a hung Assembly. Scores of State-level BJP leaders who shared this view were concerned that the electoral arithmetic factor cited by sections of the party was not that solid on the ground as it was in 2014. Their argument was that the pan-Hindu electoral identity did not have the same emotional intensity as it had in 2014, essentially because there were no widespread communal riots as there were three years ago. Some of these leaders had called up scores of journalists and political observers, including this correspondent, even on the day and night prior to the counting, to share this concern. In this background, many of them were actually mystified at the thumping victory. However, this was in contrast to the doubts over the results expressed rather angrily by the BSP’s supreme leader, Mayawati, who said the electronic voting machines had been tampered with and that contributed to the BJP’s huge success.

However, beyond this sense of befuddlement and anger, there are several tangible factors that led to the BJP’s comprehensive victory. Three key factors among these were the ability to retain a Hindutva communal narrative throughout the campaign, the supplementation of this through the advancement of post-truth pronouncements and exercises from the party machinery, including top leaders, and finally, the deployment of a superior organisational machinery.

Although widespread communal clashes had not erupted in the State in the run-up to the election or when polling was held, the BJP and its associate outfits in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar successfully retained a communal narrative through a number of stratagems and ploys which had manifest concrete expressions. These were advanced at different levels, starting with grassroots door-to-door campaigns and building up to communally charged exhortations and utterances from the top BJP and Sangh Parivar leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.

Throughout the elections, BJP squads spread across the State in door-to-door campaigns across Hindu households, propagating the view that a victory for the S.P.-Congress alliance or the BSP would be a triumph of the Muslims and an assertion of the minority community’s social and political control. The killing of a Jat youth in western Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnore district on February 10, a day before the first phase of polling, was also used to escalate this propaganda throughout the next four weeks. Leading all this was Modi and Shah themselves through their multifaceted rhetoric, touching upon issues like “kabaristan versus shamshanghat” and electricity supply to Hindu and Muslim festivals, and also the creation of acronyms like “KASAB” to club the Congress, the S.P. and the BSP. This campaign reached its post-truth highs when Modi branded the recent Kanpur train derailment an act of jehadi sabotage when even the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had emphatically ruled out this possibility.

The traction for this campaign came essentially from the Hindutva-oriented social engineering that the BJP had built up among the non-Yadav Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Most Backward Caste (MBC) communities and the non-Jatav Dalit communities. This long-standing project, which sought to forge a social and political alliance against the Yadavs, who form the core support base of the S.P., the Jatav Dalits, the core support base of the BSP, and Muslims, attained concrete and massive dimensions in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It was with that election that the BJP was able to do away with the image of being an upper-caste Brahmin-Bania-Rajput party.

The communities thus rallied included OBC castes such as Kurmis, Shakyas, Lodhs and Pals, MBC castes such as Mauryas, Nishads and Rajbhars, and Dalit communities such as Pasis and Valmikis. Informal estimates state that these communities cumulatively account for nearly 25 per cent of the population of Uttar Pradesh across 38 caste blocs, with over 200 sub-castes and groups. Economically, these communities are classified as landless labour class. The landowning OBC Yadav community accounts for approximately 9 per cent and the economically upwardly mobile Dalit Jatav community for approximately 10 per cent of the population. While both the S.P. and the BSP have conventionally sought to supplement their core vote base with the Muslims, the BJP built up this OBC-MBC-Dalit coalition as a sort of Hindutva force opposed to the Yadav, Jatav and Muslim communities.

In the run-up to the 2017 Assembly election, the general belief within the political firmament of the State was that this coalition as well as the original upper caste combine may not solidly stay behind the BJP for a variety of reasons. These included a possible consideration of the governance track record of the Akhilesh Yadav-led S.P. government, which had been accorded a growing rate of approval even by significant sections of the MBC communities in numerous public surveys through the last three years of his governance.

Another perception was with regard to the impact of demonetisation on the economy in general and the rural economy and agriculture in particular. In the early days, it was evident that sections of the Bania (trader) community were upset with the demonetisation move. Also, sections of the Brahmins and Thakurs had expressed their resentment to the prominence given to the non-Yadav, non-Jatav OBC-MBC-Dalit communities in candidate selection, with a total of 223 seats accorded to them. The fact that the BJP had not been able to project a chief ministerial candidate was also perceived to be a limiting factor. It was an understanding of these factors that caused apprehension among some sections of the BJP even on the day before the counting. However, as it turned out, the BJP leadership, particularly Modi and Shah, succeeded in creating a narrative that not only sustained the Hindutva rhetoric but also portrayed the Central government’s steps, including demonetisation, as pro-poor initiatives. This helped further consolidate the coalition. The blatantly anti-Muslim Hindutva rhetoric was particularly helpful in bringing back the disgruntled upper caste communities and sections of the Jats and Dalits who were seen to be shifting allegiance to the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the BSP respectively.

Appreciation of the Akhilesh Yadav government’s performance became less important as polling neared, primarily on account of the S.P.’s alliance with the Congress. It became more and more evident through the poll process that the anti-Congress perception that reigned dominant during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was yet to subside completely. The combine was expected to help consolidate Muslim votes but the limitations of perception and organisation failed to ensure it.

The allotment of as many as 105 seats to the Congress meant dropping close to 60 S.P. candidates. Many of them contested as rebels. A similar situation developed within the Congress too. Many Congress aspirants fought as rebels, bringing down the chances of both the parties. Cases in point are seats like Shamli and Lucknow Central. In Shamli, former Congress MLA Pankaj Mullick was allotted the ticket. He got 40,365 votes and S.P. rebel Manish Kumar 31,824 votes. The seat was won by the BJP’s Tejendra Nirwal by securing 70,085 votes. In Lucknow Central, the BJP’s Brijesh Pathak won by securing 78,400 votes. The S.P.’s Ravidas Mehrotra got 73,306 votes while the Congress’ Abdul Mahroof Khan got 12,921 votes.

There is also the S.P. leadership’s admission after the electoral rout that the BJP’s booth-level management was superior. Over and above all this, the feud within the S.P.’s first family, involving party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav, also damaged the party in strongholds such as Kannauj, Badaun, Etah and Etawah districts. The party lost all four seats in Etah, five of six seats in Badaun, two of three seats in Etawah, and two of three seats in Kannauj. Prof. Sudhir Panwar, the S.P.’s defeated candidate from Thana Bhawan, said that while all the limitations of the combine must have contributed, it was the BJP’s success in bringing about communal and casteist polarisation, especially among sections of OBCs and Dalits against Yadavs and Muslims, that tilted the results in its favour.

The results could, in the medium term, pose challenges to the BSP’s ability to hold on to its core Dalit vote base. Although it boosted its overall vote share, the party could win only two of the 84 seats reserved for Dalits. It was also trounced in most of its traditional seats. It could not win even a single seat of the nine in Agra, considered to be the Dalit capital of Uttar Pradesh. This traditional BSP bastion had given the party six seats even in 2012, when it was voted out of power.

Dalit-dominated districts such as Sitapur, Sonbhadra, Auraiya, Jalaun, Fatehpur, Barabanki, Chitrakoot and Kaushambi also signalled a move away from the BSP. More importantly, only five of its 100 Muslim candidates won, raising questions about the Dalit-Muslim brotherhood that the party was actively promoting during campaign. This aggressive Dalit-Muslim campaign, however, is estimated to have led to the defeat of the S.P.-Congress campaign in as many as 35 seats.

Discussions within the S.P.-Congress combine as well as sections of the BSP are increasingly revolving around the absence of a Bihar-style grand alliance ( mahagatbandhan) as a key factor in the phenomenal triumph of the BJP. Once again, plain electoral arithmetic is cited to buttress this point. “The S.P.-Congress combine has 28 per cent of the vote share, the BSP 22.2 per cent. Put together, it is a massive 50.2 per cent. In the first-past-the-post electoral system, a mahagatbandhan could result in the mother of all electoral sweeps,” S.P. leader Shakir Ali said. The BJP leadership, however, is of the view that such a grand alliance will never happen in Uttar Pradesh, essentially because of Mayawati’s inability to fit into coalition politics.

As things stand now, these discussions are not expected to result in concrete measures in the near future. In the meantime, a jubilant BJP is moving ahead with the task of government formation with evident efforts to strike a balance between the different sections of its Hindutva support base, ranging from upper castes to non-Yadav OBC-MBC communities and non-Jatav Dalit communities. As outgoing Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said in his last press conference in office, the State is looking forward to see how best the BJP takes forward the agendas of economic development and sustaining social and communal harmony.

Cover Story

Right on top

“THIS will usher in a change in India’s polity.” This was how Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah prefaced his interaction with the media even as the results were being declared for the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur and they signified major gains for the BJP in three of these States. Shah, who is referred to as “action man” in the echelons of the BJP, is not really known to be a political theorist. So, he did not elaborate on the “change” that was being “ushered in” or its characteristics and import. However, he said “this is a win for the people, for their determination” and “a win for [Prime Minister] Modiji’s leadership” and “a win for the hard work and efforts of our party workers”.

Obviously, the reference was to the phenomenal triumph the ruling party at the Centre registered in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous State in the country, crushing all political adversaries, and the remarkable victory in the hill State of Uttarakhand. Shah did refer also to the defeat suffered by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP alliance in Punjab but went on to claim that the performance there too was creditable. Then he contended that the BJP would form governments in Manipur and Goa, too, though the elections had thrown up hung Assemblies in both States and the BJP was not the single largest party in either of them. Shah did not explain whether these results cumulatively were bringing in the change in the polity or whether some aspects were pushing it or whether there were other ingrained dimensions that denoted the change.

Change and constancy

A closer, and objective, assessment of the results of the 2017 round of Assembly elections reveals multidimensional outcomes that signify both change and constancy. In totality, they present a complex sociopolitical picture that does not fit into any binary logic, including concepts of change and continuity. Some of these outcomes are reflected in all the five States and could be termed common factors. Some others are unique to certain States or regions within them and are guided by nuance.

Common to verdicts in all five States was the prevalence of the anti-incumbency factor, albeit in varying degrees. All parties that were in power in the five States suffered reverses, though not on the same scale. The verdict against the ruling party was manifest most strikingly in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand, all big States, and on a relatively lesser scale in Manipur and Goa. In Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (S.P.), which aligned itself with the Congress, was routed by the BJP, while in Uttarakhand, the Congress government led by Harish Rawat suffered a similar result, again at the hands of the BJP. The ruling SAD-BJP alliance in Punjab was handed a resounding defeat by the Congress. In Manipur, the ruling Congress fell from full majority to the status of single largest party, tantalisingly short of a majority. In Goa, the ruling BJP slipped to the second position, behind the Congress. Interestingly, in the run-up to the results, the dominant perception in the media, among political observers and even among sections of the population that were interviewed as part of opinion polls was that the anti-incumbency factor in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand was relatively low. The electoral verdicts, however, disproved this view.

The interplay of constancy and change is also visible in a broader assessment that goes beyond the results of this round of Assembly elections. Since the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, which witnessed the ascent of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government with a massive majority, Assembly elections, including the present round, have been held in 16 States. Taken together, the dominant common trend of these Assembly elections has been the emergence of the BJP and the NDA as the central pole of the national polity. The BJP won elections in six States, including an unprecedented victory in Assam in the north-eastern region, before the present round. By winning Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the party’s victory tally has gone up to eight since 2014. Its creditable, though second-placed, performance in Manipur helps underscore the BJP’s pole position.

However, two other trends that reflected strikingly in the Assembly elections in 11 States between May 2014 and May 2016 have undergone a nuanced change. In that period, regional political forces challenged the dominance of the BJP and its allies, while the Congress, the grand old mainstream party of India, repeatedly suffered reverses. Thus, in early 2015, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) routed the BJP in Delhi and later that year the Grand Alliance in Bihar, consisting of the Janata Dal (United), or JD (U), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and the Congress, inflicted a resounding defeat on the BJP-led NDA. In May 2016, the trend was repeated when the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal returned to power with massive victories. The Left parties also registered a win in Kerala, imparting a different dimension to the resistance of non-Congress parties. But this time around, regional parties have not been able to assert their position, either in opposition to the BJP or even as its allies, though some of them may turn out to be crucial, yet marginal, players in the hung Assemblies of Manipur and Goa. All major regional forces—the S.P. and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh and the SAD and the AAP in Punjab—failed to live up to expectations. On the other hand, the Congress emerged the winner against the SAD-BJP combine in Punjab, made a return in Goa as the single largest party and retained the number one position in Manipur too.

Along with the reversals that regional political forces have suffered, the practitioners of “new politics”, such as the AAP, too have been forced back. The party, which rules the State of Delhi, was expected to register a big win in Punjab. Until about three months ago, the expectation was that the party would sweep the border State. However, it has been relegated to the second spot by the Congress. A large number of former party activists and observers blamed the party’s failure to stick to its original principles of alternative politics and internal democracy for the reverse. The rise of a personality cult around the AAP’s most prominent leader, Arvind Kejriwal, has imparted to the party the attributes of just another traditional party, allege its former leaders such as Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan. Clearly, this setback is bound to put the brakes on the party's national expansion plans.

At the qualitative level, beyond incumbency-related issues and their consequences and the reverses to regional and new politics, the results of this round of Assembly elections mark the continued ascent of right-wing forces, in keeping with the trend visible since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. This round also marks the addition of some unique shifts and nuances to the right-wing political practice spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. One striking nuance is in the assimilation of right-wing political practice as witnessed recently in international politics in the manoeuvres of President Donald Trump of the United States. At its core, this involves the so-called championing of the concerns of the underprivileged and the marginalised even while advancing rabidly sectarian sociopolitical propositions along with neoliberal economic policies that ultimately work against the deprived sections of society.

The three strands

This right-wing practice was on grandstand play in the campaign of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and to a lesser extent in Uttarakhand. There were many streams to this political display, but three strands stood out. First, the rampant efforts at creating a sectarian divide between Hindus and Muslims through communal polarisation. Second, the building of a social coalition comprising the poor and the marginalised in sections of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the Most Backward Castes (MBCs) and Dalits, that too on the basis of a sectarian political campaign against the OBC Yadav community, the Dalit Jatav community and the Muslim minorities. Three, the forceful presentation and propagation of the recent demonetisation drive as a measure for establishing an equitable society. While the first two have been long-standing projects of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, the third is a recent, nuanced addition. All three planks boosted the BJP’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh ( see separate story).

The propaganda on these three strands were supplemented by a campaign on the welfare schemes of the Central government, such as the initiation of 52 lakh gas connections through a special programme targeted at Uttar Pradesh women as well as the disbursal of Rs.20,000 crore as loans through the Mudra bank and the opening of three crore Jan Dhan accounts. In short, the idea was sold to the electorate most forcefully and effectively.

The welfare schemes and the shift they have caused mark the appropriation of the social justice plank and its juxtaposition with the Hindutva ideology as also with the traditional support of the elite upper class. This is in marked contrast with the situation in neighbouring Bihar, the State credited with pioneering struggles of the socially marginalised for social justice. In Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the JD(U) advanced in parallel the social justice and empowerment themes among different sections of the OBC, MBC and Dalit communities. These two streams joined hands in a political coalition in 2015 putting paid to the BJP’s attempts to carve out its own OBC-MBC-Dalit combination along with the elite upper castes.

As the American anthropologist Jeffrey Witsoe observed in his seminal book Democracy Against Development: Lower-Caste Politics and Political Modernity in Postcolonial India (University of Chicago Press, 2013), one of the consequences of the enhanced participation of the lower castes in the democratic process was that “it radically threatened the postcolonial patronage system”. The success of the BJP’s project in Uttar Pradesh raises the question whether such a radical threatening of the patronage system would continue in the State.

The rise of this nuanced right-wing politics also reflects in the personality-oriented politics of the country. With these results, particularly the massive Uttar Pradesh verdict, Narendra Modi has become the most dominant political personality in the country's recent political history. The manner in which he led the nuanced right-wing politics from the front in Uttar Pradesh has added to his strength and domination. At the level of the Union government as well as the party structure, too, this verdict has imparted unbridled powers to him and his close associate Amit Shah. Between them, they have total control of all aspects of the party, including on Chief Ministers and veteran leaders and Ministers. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh top brass would think twice before questioning him now.

This sense of paramountcy has already found expression in extraconstitutional manipulations aimed at subverting electoral mandates. In both Manipur and Goa, the BJP was not the single largest party in the hung Assemblies. However, at the time of writing this, the BJP has staked its claim to form the government in both States, claiming support from smaller regional parties. By all indications, the smaller parties are getting arm twisted to support the supreme leader and his party.

The rise of Modi’s political personality and a nuanced right-wing politics raises questions for other players in national politics. The most pressing question would be on Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on account of the massive loss the party suffered in Uttar Pradesh, where he campaigned extensively. Attempts are being made by some Congress sycophants to place the credit for the Punjab victory on Rahul Gandhi, but this is not bound to get acceptance among the people. For it is common knowledge that the Punjab victory was crafted by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. Indeed, it is time for him and the party to take some radical steps, including finding a replacement at the top.

Two other personalities who played a significant role in these elections but ended up on the losing side are Akhilesh Yadav and Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal. Both of them are in control of parties that have some influence and acceptance though they have lost. Age is also on their side. But their efficacy and emergence as alternatives to the BJP-Sangh Parivar’s right-wing politics and the new nuances that are getting incorporated into it will depend on how well they make a course correction and relaunch their politics. That, however, will require not merely an organisational and structural course correction but also the evolution of a theme-based and programme-oriented political alternative that counters the appropriation of the empowerment agenda by new right-wing political initiatives and puts up a principled and concerted resistance to neoliberal economic pursuits and the Hindutva communal aggression in society.

Cover Story: Goa

Up in the air

ANUPAMA KATAKAM cover-story

AS was expected, the election in Goa has resulted in a fractured mandate and a hung Assembly. While it was a fiercely fought election, the final results were sadly an anti-climax. No clear picture emerged during the campaign period, and that is how it remained until the result for the last seat was declared. Unlike in other States, in Goa, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled State, there were no signs of a saffron wave or a resurgence of the party.

The Congress and the BJP won 17 and 13 seats respectively. Also as predicted, the independents and smaller regional parties secured enough seats to give them a decisive role in who will form the government.

Goa’s legislative Assembly has a mere 40 seats. If a party cannot secure the magic number of 21 seats, the smaller parties and independents play a critical role. And it is for this reason they tend not to enter into pre-election alliances. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) won one seat and Goa Forward and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) three seats each. There are three independent winners.

Historically, the MGP goes with the BJP. In which case, Goa Forward could end up playing a big role in government formation. As this report went to press, Goa Forward had not yet decided whether it would support the BJP or the Congress. Although it is assumed that the party will go with the Congress, Goa Congress leaders treated it quite shabbily in the run-up to the elections, and therefore, it feels it needs to be judicious in its decision. There had been an informal pre-election understanding between the Congress and Goa Forward, in which the national party said it would not field candidates from the three constituencies Goa Forward was contesting. However, on the last day to file nomination papers, the Congress did an about-turn and put three candidates in the Goa Forward constituencies, which led to much mud-slinging between Goa Forward leader Vijai Sardesai and Congress chief Luizinho Faleiro. Interestingly, the Congress did this to Goa Forward in 2012 too.

“The only reason Goa Forward would tie up with the Congress is because it is a secular party, and as Goans this is a crucial aspect of our culture,” said Edison D’Cruz, a senior leader with Goa Forward. “Faleiro did not play fair, and I think he needs to know that. We will decide in the next few days.”

Small but significant

Even though there were just 40 seats, the results took time to come out. By 4 p.m. on result day, 38 seats had been declared, and since it was a close fight the final two seats would be deciders. Eventually, the Congress emerged victorious with 17 seats plus the seat of the independent it supported. The BJP is, however, not backing down. With 13 seats plus the seat of an independent and the MGP’s three seats, it is hoping to form the next government.

“It is only right that the Governor asks the party that won the majority to form the government,” said a senior Congress leader in Goa. “This is the mandate of the people and that should be respected. The BJP has failed them, and the results show what the people of Goa are feeling. It’s a very poor performance compared with the last Assembly election,” he said. Perhaps the most noteworthy outcome of the elections is that the Congress, which was routed in the 2012 Assembly elections, made a remarkable comeback. In the previous election, it won just nine seats, while the BJP secured a majority with 21 seats. That the Congress won so many more seats in this election says a lot about it, said a political analyst.

Political observers in Goa said that what went against the BJP was that it seemed to have failed on the development plank, on which it came to power. Additionally, after Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar moved to the Central government, BJP supporters did not find Laxmikant Parsekar, his replacement, as dynamic or efficient. BJP leaders did allude to Parrikar being brought back as Chief Minister should the party retain power. “If it was banking on a BJP or Modi wave, that did not happen as at the time people voted in Goa the wave that Uttar Pradesh and other States saw was not all that prominent,” said the analyst.

Parrikar, apparently shaken by the results, attributed them to bad luck. He, however, said that the people had spoken and the BJP would respect the mandate. Informed sources said that he would not let go since it was a close contest and that he was working hard on alliances.

What went in favour of the Congress was its campaign against the BJP, perhaps some anti-incumbency, and the Christian vote in South Goa, said the analyst. “They [the Congress] used the word U-turn a lot on the campaign trail, saying that the BJP had not delivered on any of its promises. These would include reopening the mines, which they [the BJP] closed, and closing the casinos.” Parrikar had closed Goa’s iron ore mines because of concerns for the environment, but this caused livelihood distress in the entire region. The former Chief Minister had said he would reduce the number of, or even close, the casinos that were mushrooming on the Mandovi river in North Goa. However, years passed with no casino being closed. In fact, many more were given licences.

Goa has had successive Congress governments that have worked on the State’s development, particularly that of six-time Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane. However, owing to internal politics and alleged corruption among Ministers, the party was routed in the 2012 election. Goans revere Rane, a septuagenarian. He stepped down in 2007 over several controversies and has since played a low-key role in the party. For this election, the party projected him once again as the chief ministerial candidate if it came back. “Rane’s clean image and long run in government instils confidence in people,” said Anil Kerlekar, a restaurant owner in Calangute. “We have now seen many leaders in power; he was the most progressive and good for the State.”

The MGP was expected to win more than three seats. Yet it is not a complete loss. Even though it had broken away from the BJP, that traditional alliance remains strong, and in all likelihood the MGP will iron out its differences and align with the saffron party.

Goa Forward emerged happy and content with its win. In fact, D’Cruz said that the Congress had not won for anything that it had done but because there was no other option. “Had we had the resources and wherewithal to field more candidates, I am sure we could have got more Congress seats,” D’Cruz said.

Although caste does not play the role in Goa that it does in other States, Sardesai is popular among the lower-caste sections in South Goa, and the community is believed to have thrown its weight behind Goa Forward and not the Congress, which it traditionally votes for.

The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) high-decibel debut in Goa was a complete failure. The AAP contested every constituency and was expected to win at least three seats. However, even its projected Chief Minister, Elvis Gomes, a popular candidate, lost his seat. The AAP ensured that there was a multi-cornered contest in the State but just played a spoiler role, said the analyst. In fact, according to Election Commission data, in many constituencies, the NOTA (none of the above) option polled more than the AAP. Similarly, the rebel Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh leader Subash Velingkar, who created a ruckus a few days before the results came out, stating that he would return to the RSS and would dissolve his creation the Goa RSS Prant, drew a blank. Velingkar’s party, the Goa Suraksha Manch, contested six seats and lost all. The RSS sacked Velingkar in August 2016 for his incessant attacks on Defence Minister Parrikar.

It has been established that religion and caste play a small role in elections in Goa. Goans want livelihood options and better infrastructure, said an observer. The results show that people want a government that will develop the State and take it forward. The Goankar culture of tolerance and acceptance and the people’s sussegado (meaning relaxed and laid-back) attitude is strong and must not be tampered with, say Goans. Politicians, including those of the right-wing parties, seem to respect this.

Winners and losers

The BJP witnessed some stunning defeats, with many stalwarts and sitting Members of the Legislative Assembly losing their constituencies. A big upset was former Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar losing to the Congress’ Dayanand Sopte in Mandrem constituency. Dayanand Mandrekar, a five-term winner, lost to Goa Forward’s Vinod Paliencar in Siolim. Rajendra Arlekar lost to the MGP’s Manohar Ajgaonkar in Pernem, and Dilip Parulekar lost to Jayesh Salgoankar of Goa Forward in Saligoa.

If Parrikar is not sent back from Delhi, the BJP’s possible contenders for the post of Chief Minister are Michael Lobo from Calangute and Francisco D’Souza from Mapusa. D’Souza would be presented as the BJP’s minority and Christian representative in its effort to expand its social base in Goa. Interestingly, several former Chief Ministers, including four from the Congress —Pratapsingh Rane, Ravi Naik, Digambar Kamat and Luizinho Faleiro—contested the elections and won. Rane, Kamat and Faleiro are chief ministerial contenders, party supporters believe. Congress sources say this decision will, however, be taken only by the party high command. The Congress was hopeful that Atanasio (Babush) Monserate of the United Goans Party would win. Although a colourful character with reportedly a few criminal charges against him, he appeared popular in the Santa Cruz constituency. His loss cost them one seat. Churchill Alemao, who stood on the NCP ticket and is another former Chief Minister, emerged victorious. He has been linked to several controversies but could play a vital role in government formation.

This election saw a record voter turnout. According to Election Commission data, the total voter turnout on February 4, voting day in Goa, was 83 per cent. The vote share in this election is as follows: BJP 33 per cent, Congress 28 per cent, AAP 6 per cent and others 33 per cent. There were 251 candidates contesting from the 40 constituencies. The Congress fielded 37 candidates, closely followed by the BJP with 36. There were 58 independent candidates in all, and both the Samajwadi Janata Party and the Ambedkarite Party of India fielded one candidate each.

Senior party leaders from the Congress and the BJP say that the hung Assembly will bring instability and affect development. With no party revealing its hand a day after the results, it can only be hoped that party leaders put the State before their party and ensure a cohesive government is formed.

Cover Story: Manipur

Tightrope walk

A FRACTURED verdict has thrown up a hung assembly in Manipur and stopped both the major players, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), from forming the next government in the north-eastern State on their own. The Naga People’s Front (NPF), the National People’s Party (NPP), the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and an independent candidate have emerged as kingmakers. The human rights activist Irom Sharmila Chanu, who contested against Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, got only 90 votes.

The Congress, which ruled the State for three consecutive terms, emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats, but the party fell short of the magic number by three seats in the 60-member Legislative Assembly. In 2012, the Congress won 42 seats. The BJP won 21 seats in one of the most keenly fought battles in Manipur’s electoral history. The emotive issues of “territorial integrity of Manipur” and “integration of Naga-inhabited areas” had dominated the high-pitched campaign leading up to the election.

The NPF and the NPP secured four seats each. The LJP and the Trinamool won one seat each, and the remaining seat went to an independent candidate. Of the 40 seats in the valley districts, the Congress won in 19, the BJP in 16, the Trinamool in one, the LJP in one, and the NPP in two. One seat went to the independent candidate. Of the 20 seats in the hill districts, the Congress won in nine seats, the BJP in five, the NPF in four and the NPP in two. In 2012, the Congress won 28 seats in the valley districts and 14 seats in the hill districts.

Chief Minister Ibobi Singh was among the prominent winners. He won from Thoubal by a margin of 10,470 votes, defeating his nearest rival, L. Basanta Singh, of the BJP. Other prominent winners were Deputy Chief Minister Gaikhangam from Nungba, the senior BJP leader and former Congress Minister N. Biren Singh from Heignang constituency, and the lone sitting BJP legislator Thongam Biswajit Singh from Thongju.

Irom Sharmila, who was on a hunger strike for 16 years to press for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), had floated a new political party, the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), to participate in electoral politics. She was among the prominent losers.

Thongam Biswajit Singh from Thongju was the BJP’s only legislator in the outgoing Assembly. He had quit as a Trinamool legislator and won a byelection from the Thongju constituency on the BJP ticket. In the 2012 Assembly elections, which the Congress won with 42 seats, the BJP failed to win a single seat.

The BJP polled its highest vote share of 36.3 per cent against just 2.12 per cent vote share it had secured in 2012, which is an indication of the spectacular increase of its support base in Manipur. The Congress vote share declined to 35.1 per cent from 42.80 per cent. In 2012, the BJP contested in 19 seats. The total votes polled by the BJP this time increased to 6,01,527 from 29,663 votes polled in 2012. The Congress polled 5,81,869 votes this time against 5,92,566 votes polled last time.

Of the 11 seats in the newly created districts of Noney, Kamjong, Tengnoupal, Kakching, Pherzawl, Jiribam and Kangpokpi, the Congress won six and the BJP three, while the NPF and independents won one each. In 2012, the Congress won nine of these 11 seats. The Congress government created the new districts on December 8, 2016, by bifurcating two valley districts—Imphal East and Thoubal—and five hill districts. Four of these, Chandel, Senapati, Ukhrul and Tamenglong, are Naga-dominated. The Congress had hoped that the move would be a game changer.

The creation of these new districts prompted the United Naga Council to impose an economic blockade on National Highways 2 and 37, the two lifelines of Manipur, to press for a rollback of the decision to create the new districts. The blockade, which was started on November 1, 2016, and is still on, has choked supplies of essential commodities to the State’s valley areas, causing a shooting up of prices. The UNC alleged that the new districts were created by bifurcating the ancestral land of the Nagas without their consent. The BJP accused the Congress of inviting trouble for the people in the valley areas by creating the new districts and in its manifesto promised a “blockade-free Manipur”. Eventually, the blockade brought the two complex issues of “integration of Naga-inhabited areas” and “territorial integrity of Manipur” to the centre stage of the electoral battle. The government that comes in will be watched for how it persuades the UNC to lift the blockade.

The NPF and the BJP contested against each other. Immediately after the results were declared, however, the NPF pledged its support to “any non-Congress government in Manipur”. That did not cause any surprises in political circles, either in the State or in the region, for the party is a constituent of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) formed at the behest of the BJP. The two parties are also partners in the NPF-led ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland in Nagaland. The UNC supported the NPF, which contested 16 seats, but it failed to increase it tally from the four won by the party in 2012. The NPF’s prospect of winning four more seats was shattered with the BJP taking away a sizable chunk of the votes in these constituencies.

The BJP hopes to get support from the NPF and the NPP, both constituents of the NEDA, and the LJP, which is a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. But even with the support of these parties, the support of either the Trinamool or the independent legislator will be not just critical to the formation of a BJP-led coalition government but also for the continuation of such a government with a simple majority. On the other hand, the numbers of the Congress, the Trinamool and the independent legislator add up to just 30. In the event of the BJP not being able to cobble up the numbers to form the government, or in the eventuality of its failing a floor test, the Congress will need the support of the NPP legislators, besides that of the Trinamool and independent legislators. The Congress opened channels with NPP legislators even though the NPP is a constituent of the NEDA. The party was formed in Manipur, but it was launched nationally by the former Lok Sabha Speaker late P.A. Sangma, in 2013. The NPP has two legislators in the 60-member Assembly in Meghalaya, which will be going to the polls in 2018. The NPP’s performance in Manipur has come as a boost for the party in Meghalaya.

Question of political stability

The split verdict poses challenges to political stability in the State for the next five years, with smaller parties having emerged as kingmakers. These parties will enjoy huge bargaining power. As the size of the Ministry will be limited to 12, including the Chief Minister, the smaller parties will be able to extract greater privileges in a government led by the BJP, which has only 21 legislators in the new Assembly. On the other hand, the BJP, with a smaller tally, will have fewer legislators outside the Ministry and as such will have a reduced risk of rebellion inside the party if it forms the government. If the Congress forms the government, it will have quite a few MLAs whom it will be constrained to deny ministerial berths and hence will be vulnerable to dissidence. Governments in other States of the region have faced this problem. On the other hand, a BJP-led government will face tough challenges over the issue of “territorial integrity of Manipur” vis-a-vis the issue of “integration of Naga-inhabited areas” as the NPF cannot be expected to climb down from the position announced in its election manifesto “to work for unity and integrity of the people by integrating all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas under one administrative roof and also to provide protection to all the ethnic groups who are indigenous inhabitants of all Naga inhabited areas”.

The NPF also promised to “facilitate in every possible manner and push forward the peace process and the Indo-Naga political dialogue to its logical end with an acceptable and honourable solution”. The Framework Agreement signed between the Central government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) in 2015 dominated electioneering. The BJP’s star campaigners, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, clarified that the agreement contained no clause that could threaten Manipur’s territorial integrity. (The Congress dared the BJP to make public the Framework Agreement content.) The BJP’s promise of “firm commitment to protect Manipur’s territorial integrity, culture and its people” tops the 10 action points listed in the BJP Manipur Pradesh Vision Document 2017. The NPP promised in its election manifesto to “stand for constitutional safeguard of the territorial integrity of Manipur”. The BJP will have to walk a tightrope to find a balance between keeping the promise made in the Vision Document and ensuring the continuation of the NPF’s support. Any decision by the Central government on the complex issue of “integration of Naga-inhabited areas” may have far-reaching consequences not only in Manipur but also in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh where the BJP has higher stakes.

Cover Story: Uttarakhand

Decisive mandate

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI cover-story

IN A MAJOR DEPARTURE FROM THE PAST, the electorate of Uttarakhand gave a decisive mandate to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the single-phase election to the 70-member Assembly. The election, which was held on February 15, saw a massive voter turnout of almost 68 per cent, two percentage points more than in 2012. The BJP won 57 seats. The Congress’ strength was reduced to 11, its worst ever tally since the first elections to the Assembly in 2002. The three-fourths majority secured by the BJP came as a surprise as the Congress and the BJP had a close finish in the last three Assembly elections, held in 2002, 2007 and 2012. While three pollsters predicted a comfortable edge for the BJP this time, a fourth predicted a tie. No pollster foretold an overwhelming majority for the BJP.

In 2012, the Congress won 32 seats, one seat more than the BJP, and formed the government with the support of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which had won three seats. That the Congress received its worst drubbing in 2017 was indicated by the defeat of its star campaigner and incumbent Chief Minister Harish Rawat. Rawat was defeated in both constituencies he had contested in, Kichcha and Haridwar (Rural). While Rawat lost Kichcha by more than 2,000 votes, the margin of victory for the BJP candidate in Haridwar (Rural) was around 12,000 votes. However, some BJP heavyweights, such as State party president Ajay Bhatt, also lost.

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley tweeted that the Uttarakhand victory showed the people’s support for the development agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There was more to the BJP’s victory than the development factor.

In Uttarakhand, there was a strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the Rawat regime, which could not put its own house together. Added to this was the burgeoning agrarian, economic and employment crisis, particularly in the hill areas, which resulted in migration to the plains. Moreover, the BJP’s own gamble of taking onboard several Congress heavyweights and giving them the ticket paid dividends. One of the electoral issues before the Congress was the reconstruction of the Kedarnath temple, which was damaged in the 2013 floods, and the establishment of a permanent capital at Gairsain.

Vote shares

A close look at the vote shares of the main political parties in the last three elections shows that the Congress’ vote share has remained more or less constant: it was 33.79 per cent in the 2012 Assembly elections, 34.4 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 33.5 per cent in 2017. The BJP’s vote share, on the other hand, declined from 55.93 per cent in 2014 to 46.5 per cent in 2017. However, it gained in comparison to the 2012 elections, when its vote share was 33.13 per cent. The BJP in fact gained the bulk of the vote shares of the BSP and independents. The BSP was the biggest loser this time. Although its vote share of 6.9 per cent is marginally higher than 4.1 per cent in 2014, it is half of what it was in 2012, when it won three seats and got 12.19 per cent of the votes. Both the BSP and the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) did not win a single seat.

Rawat admits flaws

Rawat took full responsibility for the poor showing of the Congress and attributed the results to flaws in his leadership. The Congress also complained of a resource crunch, which was not convincing. The party had clearly a lot to reflect upon.

For those familiar with the politics of the State, the writing was on the wall ever since the Congress government was forced to face a vote of confidence in the Assembly in May 2016. The Rawat government braved through one crisis after another, barely managing to save the government after the trust vote and a brief interregnum of Central rule. But the die had been cast and rebellion within the Congress came out in the open, leaving no one in doubt that the BJP would be the main beneficiary of the split in the Congress. The problem was that most of the senior leaders, such as Vijay Bahuguna and Harak Singh Rawat, and seven legislators defected to the BJP. Vijay Bahuguna, the son of former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister H.N. Bahuguna, had been elected to the Lok Sabha twice on the Congress ticket. His tenure as Uttarakhand Chief Minister was cut short in 2014 following criticism that he did not handle efficiently the relief and rescue operations after the 2013 floods that ravaged Kedarnath. He was replaced by Harish Rawat. While Bahuguna himself did not contest the Assembly election, his son Saurabh Bahuguna contested on the BJP ticket from Sitarganj and won with a huge margin of 28,000 votes.

Twelve of the 14 Congress rebels who contested on the BJP ticket have been elected. Prominent among them are the Dalit stalwart Yashpal Arya from Bajpur constituency, his son Sanjeev Arya from Nainital, Satpal Maharaj from Chaubattakhal, and Harak Singh Rawat from Kotdwar. Satpal Maharaj may well be the BJP’s choice for Chief Minister. Other hopefuls for the post are Trivendra Singh Rawat (Doiwala), who was until recently the leader in charge of the party in Jharkhand, and Prakash Pant (Pithoragarh). There has been some indication that the party will opt for a relatively younger face as the next Chief Minister although the more important consideration will ultimately be the candidate’s proximity to Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah. “If they can install a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh [RSS] member as Chief Minister in Haryana, they can do the same in Uttarakhand, too,” said a political observer.

Expected denouement

Although the Congress’ defeat was more or less expected, most political observers, including exit pollsters, did not expect the BJP to secure a three-fourths majority leaving the Congress with a pitiable 11 seats and reducing the UKD (whose vote share is less than 1 per cent) and the BSP to political nonentities in the State. The BSP, it may be recalled, had supported the Congress during the floor test but the two parties did not forge an electoral understanding. The 2017 Assembly elections remained a singularly bipolar contest. There was no visible and credible third alternative. In fact, it was also dubbed as a contest between Narendra Modi and Harish Rawat. Not many in the State BJP leadership, including its former Chief Ministers, were seen actively campaigning for the party. The party was careful not to project any single person as its chief ministerial face. There was ample dissent in the BJP, too, which reflected in the triangular contests in some seats. The defeat of Ajay Bhatt in Ranikhet would not have happened if the BJP wave was actually at work.

To make matters worse, the Congress removed Vijay Bahuguna in 2014 and installed Harish Rawat as Chief Minister, triggering a major political rebellion. This was a tactical error and the party got split vertically. Vijay Bahuguna’s sister and former Congress leader Rita Bahuguna also switched over to the BJP and won in Uttar Pradesh defeating Mulayam Yadav’s daughter-in-law, Aparna Yadav. The “Bahuguna effect” criss-crossed two States. .

In January, less than a month before the elections, several district Congress leaders abandoned the ship. The social engineering of the Congress, which is known traditionally as a party representing the socially backward castes and classes, took a jolt when Santosh Kashyap, who was the chairperson of the State Council for Backward Classes, left the party along with three other Congress leaders citing dissatisfaction over ticket distribution and Harish Rawat’s decision to contest from two seats depriving local leaders of a chance to contest.

The BJP raised issues such as a controversial video showing Harish Rawat allegedly luring rebel MLAs and the allegations that he encouraged the mining, liquor and land mafia. The BJP held a series of Jan Chetna and Parivartan rallies. While Modi remained the lead campaigner for the party, senior Union Ministers such as Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Smriti Irani were roped in for campaigning. While Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi addressed two rallies and held a road show, Harish Rawat was the only State party leader to campaign in the elections. It seemed that the Congress was not fully behind him. Going by the results and vote margins in 2012, the Congress should ideally have avoided several pitfalls, including destabilising its own government in 2014 when it removed Vijay Bahuguna. In the 2012 elections, the party won at least 19 seats by a margin of less than 2,000 votes.

Skewed development

Apart from the rebellion in the party, it was the Rawat government’s inability to address the problem of the skewed pattern of development that worked against the party. Much of the job opportunities were concentrated in Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar districts.

According to a journalist from Uttarakhand, the majority of ordinary people in the State had not benefited from the State formation. “Uttarakhand was seen more as an extension counter of Uttar Pradesh,” he said. There was little change in the human development indices of the State, and the employment situation, especially for those residing in the hills, remained grim. Migration from the hills to the plains was a burgeoning issue and the Congress did little about it, embroiled as it was in setting its own house in order.

The Congress took many unpopular decisions, too. Some of the provisions in the Panchayati Raj Act, enacted 15 years after the State’s formation, turned out to be appalling. According to the Act, a population of 500 would constitute a single gram panchayat. Administratively, it was an irrational criterion in view of the dispersed nature of homesteads in the hills. The Act also made the presence of a functional toilet in the household a precondition for contesting local body elections. This clause ensured the automatic exclusion of many people, mainly the poor, from contesting these elections. The industrial working class was equally disenchanted with the Congress. In the industrial areas, which were confined to Haridwar, Dehradun and Udham Singh Nagar, the application of labour laws was minimal.

The incidents in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh resulted in demographic changes in Uttarakhand as members of the minority community began to move to safe havens in the neighbouring State. This, observers say, was used to good effect by the BJP.

The party’s main campaigner, Narendra Modi, used corruption by the Congress as a rallying point. Modi addressed four rallies and talked about pressing problems like migration and unemployment and promised to strengthen tourism around the char dham, the four Hindu pilgrimage sites of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. He specifically addressed retired defence personnel, reminding them about the party’s implementation of their one rank one pension (OROP) demand.

Despite Harish Rawat’s sustained campaign and his projection of the reconstruction work he carried out in Kedarnath, the electorate chose to look the other way.

For some strange reason, the Congress did not even make the poaching of its party MLAs by the BJP or demonetisation an electoral issue, said Rajinder Negi, State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Left parties together put up 12 candidates and focussed on the real concerns of the people in their campaigns. People’s issues, political observers said, were not consistently raised even by the BJP.

The BJP gave the ticket to 14 Congress rebels. This did not evoke much protest within the BJP despite the fact that the party expelled several ticket aspirants. In the ultimate analysis, the rebels hurt the Congress more than the BJP.

Controversy

Anxiety over land

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

A COUPLE of hundred metres ahead of Neduvasal village in Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu, policemen stop our taxi at a newly created check post. They note down the vehicle number, check our identity cards, and, convinced that we are from the press, allow us to proceed. For students, Neduvasal is a “no-go” area.

Some distance down the road, a huge hoarding with bold visuals confronts us. The graphics depict crude oil flowing into paddy fields, a question mark over a farmer’s head, and a child with an emaciated torso and a swollen head, among other things. The words on the hoarding read: “Government of India! Stop immediately the hydrocarbon extraction project at Neduvasal. Do not convert our fertile soil into arid land. Don’t make our village into a cremation ground. Give up your hydrocarbon project. We will not take rest till we defeat your project. We will never be afraid of repression.”

Nearby, in the open forecourt of the Nadi Amman temple of Neduvasal, an agitation is under way. Several hundred farmers, the majority of them peasant women, are seated on the ground, listening to speakers criticise the Centre for announcing that hydrocarbon production will commence at Neduvasal. Frightful hoardings and video films prepared by youths of Pudukottai working in Singapore and Gulf countries have contributed in a big way to the fear psychosis gripping farmers in the Neduvasal region on the impact of hydrocarbon extraction from the six wells drilled by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC). Farmers fear that hydrocarbons extracted from great depths may trigger earthquakes. They feel that under the guise of hydrocarbon production ONGC will extract coal-bed methane and shale gas, which they fear, will disturb the water table and dry up aquifers. As a consequence, there will be seawater incursion, the soil will become acidic and the farmland will become unfit for cultivation. About “600 types of chemicals” will be pumped into the wells to produce oil and gas and this will pollute the groundwater, they fear. The surfacing of crude oil on an abandoned, capped well at Vanakkankadu and collection of crude oil in a cement-concrete tank built at the surface level from a well at Nallandar Kollai have added to the farmers’ concerns.

After conducting extensive seismic studies, ONGC drilled six wells (at Vadakadu, Nallandar Kollai, Vada Theru in Kottaikadu, Vanakkankadu, Karukakurichi and Kannian Kollai) in the Neduvasal field, coming under Alangudi taluk, in the 1990s and after 2006. It discovered oil and natural gas in some of the wells but did not produce hydrocarbons as they were not sizable finds.

On February 15, under the new discovered small field (DSF) policy aimed at producing hydrocarbons quickly from small and marginal fields, the Narendra Modi government announced that GEM Laboratories Private Limited had won the bid for extracting oil and natural gas from the Neduvasal field, which is a small field. Technically, therefore, ONGC is not in the picture in Neduvasal.

Farmlands in the region are fertile; farmers raise paddy, maize, sugarcane, pepper, water melon, coconut, banana, cashew nut, and vegetables. They also grow casuarina and eucalyptus. The fields are irrigated by hundreds of borewells. Spacious tiled houses, expansively built cement and concrete houses, massive haystacks and grazing livestock attest the prosperity and self-sufficiency of the villages. With at least one person each from the majority of the families working abroad, the villages are also flush with remittances.

On March 1, the day this correspondent entered Neduvasal, residents of Neduvasal and the six villages where oil wells had been drilled and farmers from about 70 neighbouring villages gathered in the open ground in front of the Nadi Amman temple. While this became the epicentre of a sustained agitation since February 16, separate, but coordinated, protests are under way at Nallandar Kollai, Vada Theru in Kottaikadu and Vanakkankadu.

On March 2, 11 members of the Save Neduvasal Struggle Committee, headed by C. Velu, returned to the venue of the agitation after a meeting with Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami in Chennai to request him not to allow the hydrocarbon project. Velu, 62, said: “The Centre should give up the hydrocarbon project. Oil wells have already been dug up here. People’s livelihood will be affected if the Centre goes ahead with hydrocarbon extraction. Oil is already oozing from one well and the oil on the surface sometimes catches fire. The discovery of oil and gas here has created a lot of health problems. Two villagers who gave their land [to ONGC] for drilling oil wells have died of cancer. Some villagers suffer from impaired kidneys and tuberculosis.”

Even as Velu was speaking, the atmosphere got surcharged as hundreds of people, mainly women, entered the venue of the agitation. Those in the vanguard of the procession carried a banner that read, “Committee against hydrocarbon methane, Pullaan Viduthi” (a nearby village). The women were waving black flags or had black badges pinned on their saris. They were holding aloft paddy and sugarcane stalks, maize cobs, tender coconuts, water melons, groundnut plants, banana bunches, jackfruits and even flowers to show that all these crops were cultivated in Neduvasal and other surrounding villages. The men came in tractors and bullock carts holding ploughs.

Slogan-shouting filled the air. “Don’t hit us, don’t hit us, don’t hit us below the belt,” the women shouted. “Clap, clap until methane is scrapped” and “Will methane provide food?” were among the slogans that rent the air.

On March 9, the protesters decided to suspend the agitation after Union Minister of State for Shipping Pon. Radhakrishnan, who visited Neduvasal, promised to arrange for a meeting between farmers representatives and Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan in New Delhi on March 15 or 16.

The bid round

On February 15, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas announced that the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Modi, had given its approval to award contracts in 31 contract areas (44 fields; 28 on land and 16 offshore) of DSFs of ONGC and Oil India Limited (OIL). “These areas were discovered long ago but these discoveries could not be monetised due to various reasons such as isolated locations, small size of reserves, high development of costs, technological constraints, fiscal regime, etc.,” the Ministry’s press release said.

As exploration and production of oil and natural gas was one of the critical sectors for India’s “Make in India” initiative and energy security goals, Modi set out a target of reduction of oil and gas import by 10 per cent by 2022, the press release said. “Aligned to this vision, the DSF bid round was launched to monetise early the already discovered hydrocarbon fields,” it added. The award of contracts would lead to faster development of fields and facilitate production of oil and gas, thereby increasing the energy security of the country. An in place locked hydrocarbon volume of 40 million tonnes of oil and 22 billion cubic metres of gas would be monetised over a period of 15 years from these 31 contract areas, it added. These small blocks/fields where hydrocarbons had already been discovered, it said, were less risky and offered opportunities to new entrants in the upstream oil and natural gas production sector, hitherto seen as the preserve of large players. The Ministry launched the bid round on May 25, 2016, under a liberalised and investor friendly regime, which offered 46 contract areas, consisting of 67 fields spread across nine sedimentary basins in the country.

The Directorate General of Hydrocarbons and the Ministry held several roadshows between June and October 2016 in India and abroad.

The DSFs were put on offer through online, international competitive bidding. A total of 134 e-bids were received for 34 contract areas; 47 companies (43 Indian and four foreign) submitted their e-bids. The 31 contract areas, where oil and natural gas will be produced, are in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Krishna-Godavari offshore, Kutch offshore, Madhya Pradesh, Mumbai offshore, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. Seventeen private companies, including Hindustan Oil Exploration Company Limited, Oilmax Energy Private Limited, AdaniWelspun Exploration Limited, BDN Enterprises Private Limited, Nippon Power Limited and GEM Laboratories Private Limited, won the bids. Indian Oil Limited; OIL; Bharat PetroResources Limited, a subsidiary of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited; and Prize Petroleum Company Limited, a subsidiary of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited , are the public sector undertakings that won the bids. GEM Laboratories Private Limited won the bid to produce hydrocarbons at Neduvasal and Bharat PetroResources Limited earned the right to produce oil and gas from the Karaikal field in the Union Territory of Puducherry.

In the 1990s and 2000s, ONGC had typically taken on lease about seven acres (one acre = 0.4 hectare) of farmland each at Nallandar Kollai, Vadu Theru, Vadakadu, Vanakkankadu, Karukakurichi and Kannian Kollai and drilled wells. It discovered oil and associated gas in about four wells. The wells have remained idle since then because they produced only small quantities of oil and gas. As it was not commercially viable for ONGC, it did not take part in the bid to produce hydrocarbons from the Neduvasal wells.

Villagers’ fears

When a Tamil television channel broke the news on February 15 that production of hydrocarbons would commence at Neduvasal, it sent shock waves across the villages in the region. The villagers feared that the release of natural gas ( aavi in Tamil) and its flaring would make men impotent, that women would not be able to conceive, and that deformed babies would be born. Prakasa Mary, a farm worker from Kanniyan Kollai who had come to Nallandar Kollai with her young son to take part in the protest there, said: “If the aavi is generated, we will all die. Nothing will survive.”

What has increased the fear among farmers of Vanakkankadu, about 10 km from Neduvasal, is the oozing of crude oil from a capped, boxed-up well. ONGC drilled the well in 1994 and abandoned it after it yielded only minor oil. It plugged the well and cemented the surface. M. Rajesh, who owned the land, said oil welled up to the cemented surface and caught fire sometimes in the summer, creating a scare. When it rained, the oil got mixed with rain water and the resultant emulsion flowed into his field, damaging the crops.

From arid land to fertile soil

More than anything else, farmers of Neduvasal, who typically own about five acres, fear that they may lose their land and livelihood. Through hard work, they have been able to convert the barren land in Alangudi taluk into fertile soil. Borewells played “a paramount role” in this success story, said A.S. Thirugnanam of the Save Neduvasal Struggle Committee. There are no rivers, streams, lakes or man-made canals in Alangudi taluk, so farmers were forced to tap the groundwater for cultivation. A canal built under the Cauvery Modernisation Project flows near Neduvasal, but it is perennially dry as the village is at the tail end of the Cauvery. Neduvasal is divided into east and west villages, each with a few thousands of families.

As you drive from Pudukottai town to Alangudi, the region on both sides of the road is arid with scrub jungles all round. But the topography changes dramatically between Alangudi and Neduvasal as lush green fields and groves dominate the landscape.

Thirugnanam explained how this was brought about. He said: “About 30 years ago, the Neduvasal region was ravaged by drought. Pudukottai district was described as drought-prone. Rains failed constantly. In order to change this situation, we sank thousands of borewells, each to a depth of about 300 feet. Today, all major crops are cultivated in the area. We have turned this land green. Our lives are dependent on agriculture. We work hard. We eat well. The Centre says that production of hydrocarbons from Neduvasal will provide jobs to 500 persons. I can give jobs to 25,000 people every year.”

G. Subramanian, 67, was drinking tea in an eatery at Neduvasal when other farmers confronted him with the question: “Have you signed the lease agreement for drilling to begin in your field?” He told them that he had not signed the agreement although officials from the Revenue Department and ONGC were after him since 2013. His steadfast refusal to sign the agreement to hand over about four acres of land to ONGC became the rallying point for the agitation at Neduvasal.

As we sat in the shade of his coconut grove, Subramanian told us how he fought off attempts at acquiring his land. He owned eight acres of land. He spent Rs.5 lakh on the mastectomy that his wife had to undergo. His eldest son’s wife had died and he had two children. The eldest son was hard of hearing. The younger son, who had studied up to 10th standard, did not have a steady job. Subramanian has a daughter. He had to support a family of 10 with the income from eight acres.

In April 2013, when Subramanian was ploughing his field he saw a group of officials, including the local Tahsildar and the Revenue Inspector, arrive in two jeeps. They had a map and the survey number of his land. “Without my permission, they took the survey number of my land from the Village Administrative Officer [VAO],” he said. The officials entered his land and laid the boundary stones. When he confronted them, he was told that ONGC would obtain four acres of his land on lease and the boundary stones were for marking the land meant for lease. Subramanian asked the VAO to remove the boundary stones as it would amount to disrespect if he removed them. The stones were removed.

Four months later, the officials returned to convince Subramanian to part with his land. From 2013 to 2016, different sets of officials came every three or four months to coerce him into leasing his land to ONGC. In 2014-15, he was served an ultimatum. Subramanian replied that he was ready to face them in the court. A few months later, he was called for a “peace committee” meeting in Tiruvarur. He went alone and had to confront 25 officials, including those from ONGC. They pressured him to lease his land. An ONGC officer gave him the papers and said, “Sign in these places.” But Subramanian stood his ground. The last time the officials visited him was about seven months ago.

At Vada Theru hamlet, ONGC had drilled a well, struck oil, and installed a “Christmas tree” (a wellhead assembly of valves, spools, and fittings to control the flow of oil or gas from the well). Associated gas was found, and it was flared for a few months. As we reached the spot, a crowd of young men, wearing black badges, materialised from nowhere, and clambered up the fenced Christmas tree and shouted slogans against the Centre. The land on which the Christmas tree and the well stand belonged to I. Elias aka Maria Soosai, 71. M. Aruldoss, whose mother leased three-fourths of an acre to ONGC in 1991 to lay a dirt track to reach the drilling site at Vada Theru, and A. Subbiah, another resident, took us to meet Elias.

Seated on a chair in his farmland, about a few hundred metres from the Christmas tree, Elias said: “I gave three-fourths of an acre to ONGC in 1991. They never compelled me to part with my land. Never. First, ONGC officials gave me Rs.4,500 for the three-fourths of an acre. Then they increased the amount to Rs.25,000. This year, they increased it to Rs.97,339.” He was prepared to show us the papers for the money he was receiving. Would he have earned more if he had cultivated that piece of land? “I would have got Rs.2.5 lakh,” he said. He was in the midst of paddy fields with a young crop just watered from a borewell. Beyond the paddy fields were casuarina, eucalyptus and sugarcane plantations.

Aruldoss said ONGC had taken his land on lease for three years but it kept it for 24 years. “We get Rs.20,000 for the land now.”

Subbiah said ONGC initially said it would take the land on lease for three years to explore mann ennai (kerosene) and if they found mann ennai, they would keep the land for some more years but if the well did not yield kerosene they would return the land to the farmers after cleaning it. “But they have kept the land for 24 years and they are not even producing oil from the well,” Subbiah said.

J. Anand Arputharaj, 36, his father, S. Jesuraj, and Arputharaj’s aunt, A. Arul Mary, joined us. It was with delight that they showed us around their “paradise”. There were coconut groves and banana trees, and they had cultivated bitter gourd, brinjal, shallot, varieties of beans, green chilly, snake gourd, greens, jackfruit, tapioca and gooseberry. “We never buy vegetables. How can we give up all this and go away for the sake of hydrocarbons?” Arul Mary asked.

At Kottaikadu, hundreds of people sat in dharna under a shamiana firm in their resolve to block the hydrocabon production project at Vada Theru.

Protest at Nallandar Kollai

A protest was under way at Nallandar Kollai, where ONGC had drilled a well, struck oil and installed a Christmas tree over the well. Black flags were fluttering from the Christmas tree and posters asking the ONGC to “stop fracking” were everywhere. There were hoardings with garish graphics showing how production of “methane” at Nallandar Kollai would doom agriculture, groundwater and the environment. A young man, standing on the Christmas tree, shouted, “We will safeguard our agriculture. Until we retrieve Neduvasal, we will not go back to our veedu vasal [homesteads]. Do not cheat Tamils, do not punish Tamil Nadu, we have woken up.”

It was easy to see why the agitation was intense at Nallandar Kollai despite a fiery afternoon sun. About a 100 m from the well/Christmas tree were two tanks made of cement-concrete at ground level. While one of them was empty, the other had caked up jet black oil in it.

At a pandal nearby a public meeting was under way. The entrance to the pandal was decorated with banana bunches, banana trees, coconut bunches, jackfruits and maize cobs. The protesters mostly comprised peasant women.

Outside his spacious house, P. Kulandai Velar, 70, was lolling in his bullock cart but looking dejected when we met him after watching the agitation at Nallandar Kollai. He and his brother, Govinda Velar, had together leased six acres (three acres each) in 2006 to the ONGC at Nallandar Kollai for drilling the exploratory well. (Another farmer had leased 0.5 acre.)

The oil major drilled a well in the Velars’ land in 2007. Kulandai Velar, a potter by profession, was cultivating paddy, sugarcane and banana when he leased his land. The officials did not mention the lease period. He gets Rs.60,000 a year for the leased land. His two wives died of grief because he leased the land, he said.

Asked what the substance in the square-shaped tank was, Kulandai Velar said it was crude oil. ONGC collected the crude oil from the well in the tank with an overground pipeline.

Farmers feel they would have earned more if they had continued to cultivate their land. They are not sure when they will get back their land because, under the new DSF policy, the private company that has won the bid can keep it for 15 years.

G.S. Dhanapathy, Pudukottai district chairman of the Farmers’ Forum of India, said it would be a disaster if India became a cash economy instead of an agricultural economy. Any project should aim at improving people’s standard of living. “The consequences will be dreadful if projects that affect people’s livelihoods are thrust on them,” he said.

Dhanapathy, who is a respected farmer from Bharathipuram at Andakulam village, said: “It is the unanimous demand of the people that the projects should not be implemented without a public hearing.”

Ramjas College

Under siege

DIVYA TRIVEDI the-nation

MEMBERS of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which supplies storm troopers to the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) across university campuses in India, went on the rampage in Delhi University on February 21 and 22, grievously injuring several unarmed persons. They were agitating against the invitation extended to Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid of Jawaharlal Nehru University to Ramjas College for a seminar titled “Cultures of Protest”. Umar was to discuss “the war in Adivasi areas”, a subject that forms a part of his PhD thesis, in a session on the theme “Regions in conflict” along with the film-maker Sanjay Kak and JNU Professor Bimal Akoijam.

Umar Khalid had shot into prominence after being accused of seditious activities in JNU exactly a year ago, on February 9, by the ABVP.

On the morning of February 21, when the seminar organised by the English Department and Wordcraft Literary Society was scheduled to be held, the organisers were summoned to Principal Rajendra Prasad’s office. Maurice Nagar police station had received an intimation from Yogit Rathi, president of the Students’ Union of Ramjas College, that the ABVP would not allow Umar Khalid to enter the college. (According to Umar, one of the organisers was threatened thus: “We will disfigure your face in a way that you will be unrecognisable”—unless the ABVP’s demand was conceded.) The police had inputs of mass mobilisation—of about a thousand ABVP supporters armed with lathis—somewhere on the North Campus. The police apprehended large-scale violence and Station House Officer Arti Sharma categorically said that they would not be able to control it or provide security to the participants of the seminar.

Even as Professor Vinita Chandra of the English Department, Prof. Mukul Manglik of the History Department, Yogit Rathi and the police personnel discussed the matter in the Principal’s room, loud slogans of “Vande Mataram, Bharat mata ki jai, Desh ke gaddaron ko/ Jhoote maaron saalon ko” [beat the traitors (expletive) of the nation with boots] could be heard from the foyer. By then, Jatin Narwal, Joint Commissioner of Police, North, was also around.

Rajendra Prasad was rudely and aggressively told by ABVP supporters, with the police as bystanders, that they would not allow the seminar to go on. Given the circumstances, Prasad, who was the Principal of Ramjas for 32 years and was known to be generally encouraging of critical and free thought, said that his hands were tied and decided to disinvite Umar Khalid.

At this point the SHO turned to Yogit and asked: “What about Shehla Rashid? Will you allow her to come tomorrow?” Yogit went out, consulted the gang of ABVP supporters, and said: “No, she will also not be allowed.” The SHO turned to the organisers and said: “They are saying it won’t be possible.”

“Even before the violence broke out, senior police officers were consulting ABVP leaders on what could or could not be allowed inside Ramjas,” said a teacher on condition of anonymity, aghast at the turn of events.

The organisers of the seminar decided to take out a march through the college to register their protest. As they felt that their right to hold a legitimate discussion had been steamrolled by threats of violence, they raised slogans against the intimidation. Prof. Manglik, among others, led slogans such as “ Hum kya chahte? meethi meethi, pyari pyrai, sundar azadi” [What do we want? Sweet, lovely, beautiful freedom]. As the procession moved towards the stairs that lead up to the conference room above the canteen, 30 to 40 ABVP supporters lunged at them, kicking and punching. The police hastily formed a cordon around the protesters and herded them into the conference room above.

As Sanjay Kak began to speak, bricks hurled from below broke several glass panes in the room. Huge branches and iron rods were thrown from the terrace above, causing a severe head injury to a student and dislocating another’s shoulder. As panic ensued among those gathered, the lights went out, plunging the room into darkness and anxiety. “It felt as if we were under siege,” said a student. Sensing the severity of the situation, the teachers decided to call off the seminar, and the police escorted them out of the room and out of the college through a side gate. The police asked them to disperse from there as they would not be able to protect them in case of any attack. “Instead of evicting the aggressive ABVP supporters, the police evicted us from our own college,” said a student.

Day 2

The All India Students’ Association (AISA) called for a protest the next day. Nobody could have imagined what followed on day 2. Organised violence of an unprecedented nature was unleashed on the protesters, comprising students and teachers. The police, who were allegedly complicit, could do nothing to stop it. A teacher from Kirorimal College said: “The police allowed the controlled violence to take place. They were not controlling the violent elements but controlling us, who were marching peacefully. Meanwhile, my female colleagues were abused and had their hair pulled, and their own students made obscene gestures to them. ABVP girls were saying: we will get you raped by our men.”

The teacher rubbished the media representation that it was a “Left vs Right” clash. “It is completely wrong to say Right and Left. Very few organisational cadre were there. A large number of common students had come out against the violence witnessed on the first day, to assert their right to discuss and debate. It was a mandate against violence and for freedom of speech,” the teacher said. Several people who spoke to Frontline requested anonymity as targeted assaults were being carried out and they did not want to be identified.

As the police surrounded the protesters from all sides, glass bottles, bricks, cement blocks and auto spare parts were thrown at them from behind the cordon. “Are we to believe that the police in India are incapable of controlling a mob of 200 people?” asked a protester in disbelief. Prof. Sachin Narayanan of Dayal Singh College, who was present, told Frontline: “Lumpen goons of the ABVP targeted us, their new strategy was to push their women cadre to the front who then attacked both men and women. They were circulating pictures of some faculty members and hunting for them through the campus. Many teachers were beaten up. A colleague of mine was slapped by her own student. They wanted to create an atmosphere of fear.” Towards the evening, ABVP supporters searched hostel rooms looking for students they had identified in the protests. “Students staying as paying guests were beaten up and threatened with dire consequences, and many of them have since left for their native places in fear. They are profiling common students and protesters,” he said. Prof. Prasanta Chakravarty of Delhi University was punched, kicked and dragged through the streets and his attackers even tried to strangle him with his own muffler. He suffered severe injuries to the kidney and ribs, which now require protracted treatment. Prof. Vinita Chandra and Prof. Manglik were also targets of abuse, and a morphed video of the latter was later circulated, accusing him of shouting anti-India slogans and calling for his suspension. (See interview.)

Media attacked

Journalists were not spared. In a statement released later, the Delhi Union of Journalists condemned the attack on the press. “ Times of India correspondent Somreet Bhattacharya and photographer Anindya Chattopadhyay were beaten up. Quint reporter Taruni Kumar has given a videoed statement of how ABVP women hit her, grabbed her phone, pulled her hair and broke her phone and mike. Quint cameraperson Shiv Kumar Maurya suffered injuries on his head and reporter Anant Prakash was also attacked. Hindustan Times reporter Ananya Bhardwaj was hit. Times Now reporter Priyank and cameraperson Mazhar Khan were beaten. Photographer Anand Sharma too was beaten. These attacks indicate a deliberate attempt to browbeat and muzzle the press whenever it tries to report violence by supporters and vigilante groups of the ruling party.”

Despite having photographs and videos of the violence, and medico-legal certificates obtained from hospitals by the grievously injured, the police refused to register a first information report (FIR); they only filed a complaint. In the evening, as protesters gathered outside the police station demanding an FIR, they were roughed up, dragged and taken away by the police. Videos of male police personnel punching a female student went viral on social media. Tarun Narang and Deepak Joshi, final year law students, moved the High Court seeking action against the police personnel who allegedly assaulted students and journalists during the violence at Ramjas. Their plea was dismissed by a bench headed by Chief Justice G. Rohini as the Delhi Police had already constituted a high-level committee to look into the issue following a notice from the National Human Rights Commission.

Fear on campus

An atmosphere of terror prevailed on the campus in the days that followed. Classes were held as usual, but teachers and students kept looking over their shoulders. Abinash, one of the organisers who was roughed up and had his spectacles smashed, said: “More than the physical trauma, there is a mental trauma. People were beaten up by their own friends and classmates. The ABVP collaborated with our own students to lead a crackdown. It needs to be healed before we can return to any sort of normalcy.”

As part of an online campaign #FightbackDu, a 20-year-old student of Lady Sri Ram College, Gurmehar Kaur, tweeted a photo of herself holding a placard that said: “I am not afraid of ABVP” and it quickly went viral. Her father, Captain Mandeep Singh, had died fighting in Jammu and Kashmir in 1999. An old video of hers, with a placard saying “Pakistan did not kill my father, war did” was unearthed and circulated widely, as a result of which she was trolled and subjected to rape threats. Public personalities such as the cricketer Virender Sehwag and the Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda joined the bandwagon and mocked her. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, in total disregard of the high office he holds, jumped into the controversy by tweeting: “Who is polluting this young girl’s mind?” The Minister’s tweet seemed to legitimise the trolling and added fuel to the fire. Gurmehar left the city. Ex-servicemen and her family, however, supported her.

Meanwhile, P.C. Tulsiyan, who succeeded Rajendra Prasad (who retired on February 28) as the Principal of Ramjas, showed proactiveness in probing the violence and bringing the perpetrators to book. The staff council set up an inquiry. “People should come forward with whatever proof they have. Whoever can be identified within Ramjas to have participated in the violence should be suspended. We are also trying to register an independent and separate FIR for Ramjas,” said a teacher.

One teacher said on condition of anonymity: “While the February violence shocked everybody, it also precipitated a movement against what was seen as a crackdown by the combined might of foot soldiers of the right-wing hegemonists, the police, the state and sections of the media. The pattern repeated itself in university after university, from HCU [Hyderabad Central University] to JNU to DU and all others in between, of ABVP taking offence at a particular film screening or an event or a seminar, framing the discussion in ‘national versus anti-national’ categories, branding anybody who disagreed with their violent methods as going against the nation. And finally ending in either an institutional murder, a disappearance or large-scale riot-like violence as seen in DU. Followed by police inaction and media misrepresentation.” As Prof. Sachin marched through the streets of Delhi with other members of civil society to reclaim academic spaces, protesting against the ABVP’s continued violence, he said: “They want to shut down our public universities to further the role of crony capitalism and self-financing institutions. But we are here for our studies, which includes active participation in politics, and will continue to engage in debates and discussions.”

Essay

Modi & Savarkar: Ideological turns

A.G. NOORANI the-nation

EVERY time Prime Minister Narendra Modi opens his mouth he reveals more of himself than he intends; stress compels self-revelation. The election campaign in Uttar Pradesh brought out the best in Modi. His prize offering was his statement on V.D. Savarkar, a man responsible for four murderous assaults.

Yet, he was convicted only for one; the murder of A.T.M. Jackson, Collector of Nashik, in 1909. He was sent to the Andaman Islands for life imprisonment. There is a particular poignancy about this murder as Dr M.R. Jayakar noted. “Collector Jackson was a reputed Sanskrit scholar and, it was believed, a great admirer of Indians, their language and literature.” He delivered speeches on “ancient Indian classics”.

The next victim was Col. Sir William Curzon-Wylie of the India Office, in London in 1909, followed by an attempted murder of the Acting Governor of Bombay, Sir Ernest Hotson, in 1931, and that of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, for which he was acquitted by the Sessions Court on a technicality but was indicted by a Commission of Inquiry headed by a judge of the Supreme Court, Justice J.L. Kapur. Two features are common to all the four events. In none did Savarkar himself wield the gun. He always conspired, in some case provided the gun (20 in one case) and goaded the assailants. Savarkar covered his tracks and escaped punishment in all the cases except the first.

In the aftermath of his four crimes, Savarkar tendered six abject apologies; four to the British rulers and two to the Indian authorities, in 1948 and 1950. What is more, this patriot repeatedly gave undertakings of good conduct and made offers of collaboration with the British rulers of India for nearly 30 years, from 1911 to 1939. What is it that he is idolised for? What was so heroic about him? A noble vision? Courage? Truthfulness? Nobility of character? Intellectual gifts of a high order?

Poisonous ideology

He is not being idolised for any of these; he is being idolised by persons who share a poisonous divisive ideology he unremittingly espoused—Hindutva and the two-nation theory. He first propounded it in 1923 in his essay Hindutva. He elaborated on the theme in his first presidential address to the Hindu Mahasabha at Ahmedabad in 1937. Mohammed Ali Jinnah propounded it in 1940. Since Ahmedabad is a Muslim name, the Mahasabha called it Karnavati. At Ahmedabad, his chela Narendra Modi pointedly refused to wear the skullcap which is worn largely by Muslims. He has since worn a large variety of caps; never this one.

On February 25, 2017, Modi tweeted that Savarkar “was a true patriot who envisioned a strong and developed India”. The last bit in his self-serving gloss. Savarkar did not waste any time on vikas. The “strong” India he advocated was a militarised and militaristic polity under Hindu leadership. He “envisioned” a Hindu India. So did his chela Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who founded the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) parent, the Jana Sangh, in 1951. Modi’s record as Prime Minister reflects their thinking, in word and action.

Consider Savarkar’s abject apologies, humiliating undertakings, even offers of collaboration, and his poisonous ideology with the Sangh Parivar’s outlook and Modi’s thought and action and a picture emerges which should alarm every Indian who cherishes the values of our Constitution and its secular polity. The record speaks for itself.

Savarkar’s six apologies

Savarkar’s apologies, undertakings and offers of collaboration:

1. Savarkar arrived in the Andaman Islands on July 4, 1911. In less than six months his knees gave way. He went on his knees and sought clemency, and tendered an apology. He repeated it two years later. His health had not broken down. Did the spirit give way? That would be a mistaken view, for, as we shall see, the man was bereft of spirit. He has no character. Read his subsequent and abject letter.

2. November 24, 1913. “In the end, may I remind your honour to be so good as to go through the petition for clemency that I had sent in 1911 and to sanction it for being forwarded to the Indian Government? The latest development of the Indian Politics and the conciliating policy of the Government have thrown open the constitutional line once more. Now, no man having the good of India and Humanity at Heart will blindly step on the thorny paths which in the excited and hopeless situation of India in 1906-1907 beguiled us from the path of peace and progress. Therefore, if the Government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English Government which is the foremost condition of that progress. As long as we are in jails, there cannot be real happiness and joy in hundreds and thousands of homes of His Majesty’s loyal subjects in India, for blood is thicker than water; but if we be released the people will instinctively raise a shout of joy and gratitude to the Government, who knows how to forgive and correct, more than how to chastise and avenge. Moreover, my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide. I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would be. By keeping me in jail nothing can be got in comparison to what would be otherwise. The Mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?” (emphasis added throughout).

This letter followed a meeting with the Home Secretary Reginald Craddock in October 1913. He made no mention of his moves even to his brother Narayan. The British turned down his pleas but gave Savarkar a consolation prize and made him a foreman. R.C. Majumdar was a partisan historian to the core, as one who belonged to the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan school. His book Penal Settlements in Andamans is partial to Savarkar. Even so, he recorded that “while Savarkar had changed his views, the Government view remained the same as before”. Craddock’s minutes after his return to Delhi poured contempt on Savarkar. “He had been instrumental in sending out 20 Browning pistols.” He offered concessions to Savarkar, who received them gratefully, but ridiculed others who had received them (“because very subservient”). Savarkar refused to join a hunger strike in prison. As foreman, he imposed Hindu Raj in prison. “The Mussalmans had been, therefore, fully aware, when I became a foreman, what I expected of them, that I was particularly proud of the Hindu way of greeting and of the words used along with the greeting like ‘Rama Rama’, ‘Namaskar’, ‘Bande Mataram’, so on and so forth” ( The Story of My Transportation for Life, page 496).

Pledge to keep away from politics

3. March 30, 1920. Savarkar wrote to the Chief Commissioner of Andamans (for the text vide the writer’s article “Savarkar’s Mercy Petition”, Frontline, April 8, 2005. For other details of Savarkar’s sordid record vide the writer’s book Savarkar and Hindutva: The Godse Connection, LeftWord, 2002). The document was provided at my request by the National Archives of India. I quote it in extenso:

“And as to my revolutionary tendencies in the past: it is not only now for the object of sharing the clemency but years before this have I informed of and written to the Government in my petitions (1918, 1914) about my firm intention to abide by the Constitution and stand by it as soon as a beginning was made to frame it by Mr. Montagu. Since that time, the Reforms and then the proclamation have only confirmed me in my view and recently I have publicly avowed my faith in and readiness to stand by the side of orderly and constitutional development. The danger that is threatening our country from the north at the hands of the fanatic hordes of Asia who had been the curse of India in the past when they came as foes, and who are more likely to be so in the future now that they want to come as friends, makes me convinced that every intelligent lover of India would heartily and loyally co-operate with the British people in the interests of India herself. That is why I offered myself as a volunteer in 1914 to Government when the war broke out and a German-Turko-Afghan invasion of India became imminent. Whether you believe it or not, I am sincere in expressing my earnest intention of treading the constitutional path and trying my humble best to render the hands of the British dominion a bond of love and respect and of mutual help. Such an Empire as is foreshadowed in the proclamation, wins my hearty adherence. For, verily I have no race or creed or people simply because they are not Indians!

“But if the Government wants a further security from me then I and my brother are perfectly willing to give a pledge of not participating in politics for a definite and reasonable period that the Government would indicate. For, even without such a pledge, my failing health and the sweet blessings of home that have been denied to me by myself make me so desirous of leading a quiet and denied retired life for years to come that nothing would induce me to dabble in active politics now.

“This or any pledge, e.g., of remaining in a particular province or reporting our movements to the police for a definite period after our release—any such reasonable conditions meant genuinely to ensure the safety of the state would be gladly accepted by me and my brother.

“On all these grounds, I believe that the Government, hearing my readiness to enter into any sensible pledge and the fact that the Reforms, present and promised, joined to common danger from the north of Turko-Afghan fanatics have made me a sincere advocate of loyal co-operation in the interests of both our nations, would release me and win my personal gratitude. The brilliant prospects of my early life all but too soon blighted, have constituted so painful a source of regret to me that a release would be a new birth and would touch my heart, sensitive and submissive, to kindness so deeply as to render me personally attached and politically useful in future. For, often magnanimity wins even where might fails.

“Hoping that the Chief Commissioner, remembering the personal regard I ever had shown to him throughout his term and how often I had to face keen disappointment throughout that time, will not grudge me this last favour of allowing this most harmless vent to my despair and will be pleased to forward this petition—may I hope with his own recommendations?—to His Excellency the Viceroy of India.

I beg to remain,

SIR,

Your most obedient servant,

(Sd.) V.D. Savarkar,

Convict No.32778”.

4. 1924. Savarkar was brought back from the Andamans and lodged, first, in the Ratnagiri Jail and, next, in the Yerwada Jail in Pune. In a meticulously documented essay “Far from heroism: The tale of Veer Savarkar” ( Frontline, April 7, 1995), Krishnan Dubey and Venkitesh Ramakrishnan provide the details of the background to the apology on January 6, 1924. The Governor of Bombay Presidency, Sir George Lloyd, met Savarkar in prison and a deal was struck. “The conditions attached to the release of releases are these: (1) That the said Vinayak Damodar Savarkar will reside within the territories administered by the Governor of Bombay in Council and within the Ratnagiri District within the said territories, and will not go beyond the limits of that district without the permission of the Government, or in case of urgency of the District Magistrate.

“(2) That he will not engage publicly or privately in any manner of political activities without the consent of the Government for a period of five years, such restriction being renewable at the discretion of Government at the expiry of the said term.

“Mr Savarkar has already indicated his acceptance of these terms. He has also, though it was in no way made a condition of his release, submitted the following statement: ‘I hereby acknowledge that I had a fair trial and just sentence. I heartily abhor methods of violence resorted to in days gone by, and I feel myself duty bound to uphold Law and the Constitution to the best of my powers and am willing to make the Reform a success insofar as I may be allowed to do in future.’”

The writers reveal the genesis of the last paragraph: “Savarkar accepted these conditions without any compunction. But this was not all. Seeing his spirit broken and willpower completely shattered, the government suggested that he should state that his trial was fair and the sentence awarded was just. At the same time, it told him this was ‘in no way made a condition of his release’. Yet, he went ahead and made this statement, ‘I hereby acknowledge that I had a fair trial and just sentence. I heartily abhor methods of violence resorted to in days gone by, and I feel myself duty bound to uphold Law and the Constitution to the best of my powers and am willing to make the Reform a success insofar as I may be allowed to do so in future.’ The reference to the Reform here is to the Montagu-Chelmsford proposals of 1918 which fell woefully short of Indian expectations….”

5. On February 22, 1948, shortly after Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948, Savarkar wrote to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay, from Arthur Road prison. “In the end, I beg to submit that I am now some 65 years old. For the last three years I have been every now and then confined to bed owing to attacks of heart-ache and debility. On the 15th of August last I accepted and raised on my house our new National Flag even to the embarrassment of some of my followers.

“Consequently, in order to disarm all suspicion and to back up the above heart to heart representation, I wish to express my willingness to give an undertaking to the Government that I shall refrain from taking part in any communal or political public activity for any period the Government may require in case I am released on that condition.”

6. In the wake of the Nehru-Liaquat Pact in 1950 on the minorities, Savarkar was detained, along with other Hindu Mahasabha leaders, on April 4, 1950. The usual apology coupled with an undertaking swiftly followed. He would not participate in politics for such time as the government decided. The offer was rejected. A habeas corpus petition was filed in the High Court. On July 13, 1950, the Advocate General, C.K. Daphtary, informed the Court that “he was authorised to state that if Savarkar would give an undertaking that he would not participate in political activities and would remain at his own house in Bombay, government would agree to his release”. Their Lordship made the order of release on July 13 on an undertaking given by K.N. Dharap, who appeared on behalf of Savarkar, that Savarkar would not take any part whatever in political activity and would remain in his house in Bombay. This undertaking was to last a period of one year or up to the next general elections in India or in case of India being involved in any war, whichever event took place first.

He resigned even from the primary membership of the Mahasabha. But, by then, he had begun to move closer to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. “Long live the Sangh as the valorous champion of Hindutva.” On his part, the RSS boss M.S. Golwalkar acknowledged on May 15, 1963, his debt to Savarkar’s Hindutva. The two streams, never far apart, merged.

The history of freedom struggle is studded with stories of heroism. Is there a single record of such sustained treachery as V.D. Savarkar’s six abject apologies over 40 years from 1911 to 1950? That is not all. The apologies were coupled with offers of collaboration. Savarkar met the arch imperialist Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, in Bombay on October 9, 1939, the month the Congress asked its Ministers in the Provinces to resign. Savarkar pledged his enthusiastic cooperation to the British. Linlithgow reported to Lord Zetland, the Secretary of State for India:

“The situation, he [Savarkar] said, was that His Majesty’s government must now turn to the Hindus and work with their support. After all, though we and the Hindus have had a good deal of difficulty with one another in the past, that was equally true of the relations between Great Britain and the French and, as recent events had shown, of relations between Russia and Germany. Our interests were now the same and we must therefore work together. Even though now the most moderate of men, he had himself been in the past an adherent of a revolutionary party, as possibly, I might be aware. (I confirmed that I was.) But now that our interests were so closely bound together the essential thing was for Hinduism and Great Britain to be friends, and the old antagonism was no longer necessary.” (Marzia Casolari: In the Shade of the Swastika, Emil di Odoya, 2011, page 172. This work of high scholarship exposes the RSS and the Mahasabha’s attachment to Nazi Fascism.)

Modi & Co. shut their eyes to all this only because, sordid though his record was, Savarkar’s Hindutva provided an ideology of communal supremacy, however flawed it was intellectually and dangerous in its effect on our democracy. Savarkar’s utterances on his release in 1937 have a contemporary relevance. Modi’s speech and conduct reflect them; for, their outlook and ideology are the same.

Fatherland & Holy Land

Savarkar’s presidential address to the Mahasabha session in 1937 was lauded as “the Gita of the Hindu Sangathan”. That is when he showed his stripes: “The best interests of the Hindudom are simply identified with the best interests of Hindustan as whole.” He was for a “Unitarian” polity. “Hindudom is bound and marked out as a people and a nation by themselves not by the only tie of a common Holy land on which their religion took birth but by the ties of a common culture, a common language, a common history and essentially of a common fatherland as well. It is these two constituents taken together that constitute our Hindutva and distinguish us from any other people in the world.”

He amplified: “A definition must in the main respond to reality. Just as by the first constituent of Hindutva, the possession of a common Holy land, the Indian Mahommedans, Jews, Christians, Parsees, etc. are excluded from claiming themselves as Hindus which in reality also they do not, in spite of their recognising Hindusthan as their fatherland, so also on the other hand the second constituent of the definition, that of possessing a common fatherland, excludes the Japanese, the Chinese and others from the Hindu fold in spite of the fact of their having Holy land in common with us….

“From this above discussion it necessarily follows that the concept of the term ‘Hindutva’—Hinduness—is more comprehensive than the word ‘Hinduism’. It was to draw a pointed attention to this distinction that I had coined the words ‘Hindutva’, ‘Pan Hindu’ and ‘Hindu’. Hinduism concerns with the religious systems of the Hindus, their ideology and dogma. But this is precisely a matter which this Hindu Mahasabha leaves entirely to individual or group conscience and faith.”

Savarkar admittedly “coined” a new word, “Hindutva”, to denote a political ideology in order to distinguish it from Hinduism. The Supreme Court, led by Justice J.S. Verma, hailed Hindutva as a “way of life” and Chief Justice T.S. Thakur rejected an opportunity to correct an obvious and dangerous error.

To continue, Savarkar explained: “Let us bravely face unpleasant facts as they are. India cannot be assumed today to be a Unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main: the Hindus and the Moslems, in India.”

You will find this very theme in Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts. He himself acknowledged his debt to Savarkar. India is a British construct. “Territorial nationalism” is false. Everyone born in its territory cannot be accepted as a national. Only those who accept “cultural nationalism”, that is, Hindutva, belong to the nation. That is not an Indian nation but a Hindu nation.

Savarkar made that all too clear the next year, at the Nagpur session in 1938. “If India, because it was a territorial unit and called a country must be a national unit as well, then all of us must also be Indians only and cease to be Hindus or Moslems, Christians or Parsees. So they, the leaders of those first generations of English educated people, being almost all Hindus, tried their best to cease themselves to be Hindus and thought it below their dignity to take any cognisance of the divisions as Hindus and Moslems and became transformed overnight into Indian patriots alone. It was also very easy for them to cease to be Hindus. The Western education had taught them and they had no other education, that Hindutva meant nothing else but Hinduism.”

‘Hindu nation’

He, however, regarded Sikhs as part of the Hindu nation and called Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom as “Sikh-Hindu kingdom”. Savarkar expounded his two-nation theory in revealing detail. “The new concept of an Indian Nationality was founded on the only common bond of a territorial unity of India; the Hindus, for one, found nothing revolting even in that assumption to their deepest religious or cultural or racial sentiments. Because their nation being had already been identified with that territorial unit, India, which to them was not only a land of sojourn but a home, their Fatherland, their Motherland, their Holy land and all in one! Indian Patriotism to them was but a synonym of Hindu Patriotism. Even the territorial unit was as intimately identified with their racial, religious and cultural unit that an Indian Nation was but a territorial appellation of the Hindu Nation. If Hindusthan was called India but continued to be a Hindusthan, it made no difference in essentials and for practical purposes might be overlooked.

“Yes, we Hindus are a Nation by ourselves. Because religious, racial, cultural and historical affinities bind us intimately into a homogenous nation and added to it we are most pre-eminently gifted with a territorial unity as well. Our racial being is identified with India—our beloved Fatherland and our Holy land, above all and irrespective of it all we Hindus will to be a Nation and, therefore, we are a Nation. None has a right to challenge or demand a proof of our common nationality when some thirty crores of us Hindus are with it.

“It is absurd to call us a community in India. The Germans are the nation in Germany and the Jews a Community. The Turks are the Nation in Turkey and Arab or the Armenian minority a community. Even so the Hindus are the nation in India—in Hindusthan, and the Moslem minority a community.” This removes all doubt, all ambiguity.

The Jana Sangh-BJP line on Israel is also based on Savarkar’s attitude. Arabs are hated because they are Muslims. The Jews in Palestine are supported because they are the Arab’s adversaries. It is a perverse and poisonous mentality. He said on December 19, 1947: “I am glad to note that the overwhelming majority of the leading nations in the world should have recognised the claim of the Jewish people to establish an Independent Jewish state in Palestine and should have promised armed assistance to get it realised.

“In Justice, the whole of Palestine ought to have been restored to the Jews. But taking into consideration the conflict of self-interests of the powerful nations in the UNO, their support to the resuscitation of the Jewish State in a part of Palestine at any rate wherein they still happen to be in majority and which includes some of their prominent Holy Places constitutes an event of historical justice and importance. It is consequently to be regretted that the delegation which represented our Hindusthani government in the UNO should have voted against the creation of the Jewish State.”

Savarkar envisaged an India dominated by a political party committed to Hindu, not Indian, nationalism; a majoritarian polity created by the democratic process. “If but the Hindu Sanghatanists capture the seats that are allotted to the Hindus under the present constitution in Municipalities, Boards and Legislatures, you will find that a sudden lift is given to the Hindu movement.”

Savarkar pursued this line at the Calcutta Session in 1939. “Swarajya to the Hindus must mean only that ‘Rajya’ in which their ‘Swatva’, their ‘HINDUTVA’ can assert itself without being overlooked by any non-Hindu people, whether they be Indian Territorials or extra territorials.”

In this scheme, the concept of minorities is obliterated. The Sangh Parivar has consistently rejected this concept. Savarkar asked the Congress to declare that “it recognises no Moslem as a Moslem, or Christian as a Christian, or Hindu as a Hindu; but will look upon them all and deal with them all as Indians only; and, therefore, will have nothing to do with any special, communal, religious or racial interests as apart from the fundamental interests guaranteed to all citizens alike.”

Talking of vote banks, this is what Savarkar advised: “If the Hindu electorate does ever come to its senses, refuses to return the Congressite candidates and returns only the Hindu Sanghatanists in majority, the Hindus can have Hindu Sanghatanist government in at least seven provinces as the Moslems have in the Punjab, Bengal, etc. and the Hindus can capture enough political power so as to be in a position to remove at least 75 per cent of the grievances under which they are groaning now even in provinces like U.P. where they form the majority and the Congress ruled. The provincial police and the public service will be under the command of Hindu Sanghatanist governments and will not dare to trample on or neglect Hindu rights.” Capture power by the democratic process and establish a Hindu state.

The Second World War opened a new opportunity which he seized: “To secure entry for as many Hindu recruits as possible into the army, navy and the air forces. To utilise all facilities that are being thrown open to get our people trained into military and mechanical manufacture of up-to-date war materials. To try to make military training compulsory in colleges and high schools. To intensify the organisation of the Ram Sena.”

It is an insane fight against history. As A.B. Vajpayee said, it gave some Hindus a minority complex. Sample this bit by Savarkar: “Just take up the map of India about 1600 A.D. The Moslems ruled all over Hindusthan unchallengeably. It was veritable Pakistan realised not only in this province or that but all over India—Hindusthan as such was simply wiped out.”

Modi’s inspiration

This very outlook possesses the mind of Narendra Modi. Hence, his reference in his very first speech to the Lok Sabha of a thousand years of slavery, not two hundred years of slavery under the British. As Savarkar urged, Modi would use the levers of state power to install a Hindu polity.

The two-nation theory is sheer poison, whether it is advocated by Jinnah or Savarkar. But there is a difference, which Dr B.R. Ambedkar pointed out: “Mr Savarkar will not allow the Muslim nation to be co-equal in authority with the Hindu nation. He wants the Hindu nation to be the dominant nation and the Muslim nation to be the servient nation. Why Mr Savarkar, after sowing this seed of enmity between the Hindu nation and the Muslim nation, should want that they should live under one Constitution and occupy one country, is difficult to explain” ( Pakistan Or The Partition of India, 1946, pages 133-134).

R.C. Majumdar of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan ideology, while rightly blaming Jinnah for the Partition, cited also “one important factor which was responsible to a very large extent for the emergence of the idea of partition of India on communal lines. This was the Hindu Mahasabha” ( Struggle For Freedom, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1969, page 611).

One has seen the full play of the Savarkar line in Modi’s election speeches. In Bihar in 2015 and in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. This was not a municipal corporator but the Prime Minister of India who waxed eloquent about communal discrimination in the supply of electricity and provision of cremation grounds.

In the Constituent Assembly, Dr Ambedkar warned that it was quite possible to change the form of the Constitution—and thus the character of the polity—by changing the form of the administration. This is what Modi has sought to do in India since 2014—subvert a secular polity. It must be fought and checked. As Ambedkar wrote: “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country…. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost” (ibid, pages 354-5).

Education

To end inequity in education

ANUPAMA KATAKAM the-nation

TEACH For All is a unique global programme that addresses the issue of inequity in education across the world. It is spread across 41 countries, employs 81,000 teachers and reaches 9.7 million students. Wendy Kopp, who founded Teach For America in 1989, co-founded this programme. The programme defines itself as “a global network of independent organisations that are cultivating their nations’ promising future leaders to ensure their most marginalised children have the chance to fulfil their true potential”.

The programme’s website says: “Education inequity is a systemic problem in rich and poor countries alike. The world’s most disadvantaged kids have the least access to quality education. When they do attend school, they often don’t receive the extra support and high expectations they need to beat the odds. Millions of children leave school every day without the skills they need to attain financial security and be informed, contributing citizens with real prospects for the future.”

Wendy Kopp, the chief executive officer of Teach For All, was in Mumbai recently to work with the Teach For India team, the Indian chapter of the programme that was launched in 2009. Teach For India, with 1,250 fellows teaching and working towards achieving the larger goal of spreading quality education, has helped 353 schools in 2016.

Teach for All, a rigorous programme that seeks leadership and vision from its fellows, essentially encourages college graduates and professionals of all academic disciplines to make a two-year commitment to educate children belonging to marginalised sections in urban and rural regions. The programme works closely with governments. The fellows are placed in schools that are deeply neglected. Wendy Kopp spoke to Frontline about the concept of Teach for All and issues in education across the globe. She hopes that more countries will adopt Teach For All’s approach and improve the overall educational standards. Excerpts:

What led you to conceptualise Teach For America and later Teach For All?

The original inspiration for Teach For America was when I was in college, 28 years ago. I came to believe that we could marshal the energy of my generation towards improving education in our countries’ most marginalised communities. Teach For America called upon highly educated graduates to commit themselves to two years of teaching in these communities. I believed that those who successfully taught would be inspired to a lifetime of leadership and advocacy on behalf of children. Through teaching, they could come to understand the complex challenges that face their students and their schools, see first hand the incredible potential of all children to succeed when met with high expectations and provided with necessary support—and develop a sense of urgency and conviction for fighting the range of inequities they see holding their students back.

Today, Teach For America has more than 50,000 alumni, many of whom are working to improve the welfare of children and low-income communities all around the country in a variety of ways: as teachers, as school leaders, as advocates, as policymakers, and from many other vantage points. Although so many people have played a part in improving equity and educational quality in many communities over the last three decades, much of that progress would not have been possible had Teach For America alumni been taken out of the equation.

In 2007, I met with many extremely inspiring social entrepreneurs from all over the world who were interested in exploring whether the Teach For America approach could work in their countries. Shaheen Mistri was one of them. She was passionate about the importance of doing something similar in India. She and other social entrepreneurs in other countries were looking for help and support, and we launched Teach For All as a response to this. Teach For All is a network of independent, locally led organisations in 41 countries, and growing, which share a core purpose and certain unifying principles and values. Our global organisation works to increase and accelerate progress by helping the network partners learn from each other.

Teach For All is a unique concept, one that has made a difference in education in the 41 participating countries. What are the common challenges in education in these countries?

We have seen that all over the world, in the least developed countries and the most developed, the circumstances of a child’s birth generally predict their education and life outcomes. We have also seen that the roots of this problem are similar from place to place—including the extra challenges facing whole segments of children depending on their economic background or their gender or race or religion, the inadequacy of capacity within our current schools to address these challenges, and certain mindsets, policies, and practices. For example, at the first school I ever visited in India, the school’s principal told us that given the extra challenges facing the children, it just was not reasonable to expect them to achieve as much as more privileged children. I had seen this as a common mindset in the United States, too, and one that plays a big part in holding children back from exploring their full potential.

As I saw many striking patterns in the roots of the problem, I began fearing that we were fighting the forces of gravity. But ultimately I realise that there is a silver lining; that solutions are sharable and that we can increase the pace of change if we can learn from each other across borders. This is what we are working to achieve at Teach For All—to create a network of organisations that foster locally rooted, globally informed leadership to ensure that all children fulfil their potential.

Educational inequity is prevalent even in the most developed countries. Your comment on this.

The issue of educational inequ ity—the gaps in educational outcomes that persist along socio-economic lines—is global and all pervasive. You see it in the global North, the global South.

Teach For All network partners share a commitment to provide an equitable, excellent education for their nations’ most underserved children. This challenge is so urgent —today’s children will need to have the skills, abilities and values to navigate rapidly changing economies, the consequences of environmental degradation and climate change, and conflict resulting from intolerance and extremism. It is my greatest hope that we will be able to provide them with the type of education that can equip them not just to navigate these challenges but to lead the world in overcoming them, to shape a better future for themselves and for all of us.

This will require fostering not just academic skills, but critical thinking and problem-solving skills, a sense of empathy and agency.

Teach For India’s leadership/fellowship programme is sought after. It is interesting to find graduates from top universities opting for a less lucrative option such as this programme.

The response has been encouraging, in India and all over the world. I think graduates and young professionals are responding to an opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves, something that will strengthen their nations. Through Teach For India, fellows can see a huge impact of their contributions right away by undertaking one of the most significant leadership responsibilities—the responsibility to put a class of kids on a path to meaningfully different options. And in so doing, they become part of a movement for fundamental transformation and lasting change.

Although the programme requires participants to commit to two years in the classroom, they never leave the work. Many find ways to assume leadership roles within education, policy and other related sectors, while others move into business or law but with a commitment to leveraging resources in those sectors to benefit the larger cause.

Education is a state responsibility in most countries. Yet non-profit organisations are increasingly assuming the role of providing quality education.

We have seen that civil society can play an important role in fostering innovation and bringing much-needed additional resources to bear. But we also believe we must work in deep partnership with government. On this visit, I was so excited to spend time with Teach For India in Chennai, where the government invited its engagement and supports the programme financially and in other ways.

In most countries, the gap or divide between those who have access to good education and those who do not is wide. Teach For All has been addressing this. What are the efforts taken to close this gap?

This is a huge challenge all over the world. The challenges that hold children back are complex. No one thing by itself will solve the problem. Fundamental changes have to be made in many areas. The question we are asking at Teach For All is, who is going to do all this, in a world where many of the most promising future leaders channel their energy everywhere but towards this issue? This is what we are working to change—to develop collective leadership in order to ensure that all children fulfil their potential.

India has been working hard to improve its education indicators. Yet the numbers are not encouraging. Around 70 per cent of the students do not make it to higher education. What must change?

The solution is to enlist more people to exert their leadership towards developing and implementing ideas that will enable all children to have the opportunity to explore their talents and pursue their full potential.

Savarkar’s pupils

the-nation

THE Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) is not a “students’ wing” of a political party. It is a militant students’ arm of a militant communal body, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). It was set up in July 1948 to help the RSS evade the ban imposed on it after Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948. Its founder was Balraj Madhok, the most rabid of the rabid group. The RSS has high hopes for the ABVP, which has increased its disruptive activities as it aims to make itself felt in a hundred universities, beginning with the Aligarh Muslim University. Basant Kumar Mohanty’s report in The Telegraph (“Sangh front aims at 100-varsity footprint”, March 3) is an eye-opener.

The ABVP speaks in a shrill voice amidst recourse to violence. A correspondent reported that on March 2 “Slogans calling for death to traitors and expulsion of Leftists resounded through the campus as nearly 1,500 activists of the Sangh-backed ABVP—which controls the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU)—took out a ‘Save DU’ march. DUSU’s General Secretary Ankit Sangwar threatened ‘If any one raises a finger on (sic) this country, that finger will be cut (off)’” ( The Telegraph, March 3).

Which other students’ body speaks in such menacing terms? The ABVP was involved in the first major communal riot in India after Independence: the Jabalpur riots of 1961. It was involved in violent clashes with the Shiv Sena. The scholar Thomas Blom Hansem records: “Violent clashes erupted between the student bodies of the two partners, the RSS-affiliated ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) and Shiv Sena’s Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena, led by Bal Thackeray’s flamboyant and aggressive nephew, Raj Thackeray. In an angry reaction, Bal Thackeray stated: ‘Snotty nosed, whom are you challenging? … These snotty-nosed kids of ABVP reached out for Shiv Sena, labelling it ‘Goonda Sena’. … This is too much. In spite of the nuisance BJP is causing to us in many States, we tolerated it all for the protection of Hindutva (…). If these female camels are not restrained by their leaders, we do not care for the alliance’” ( Sakal, September 3, 1991; Permanent Black, page 96).

The BJP’s vice-president, K.R. Malkani, wrote in 1980: “After Independence, the very first organisation launched by the people inspired by Sangh when RSS was actually under a ban, was the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. It started off with a petition to the Constituent Assembly signed by 50,000 university students, urging that India be renamed Bharat, Hindi be accepted as the state language and ‘Vande Mataram’ be adopted as national anthem. Over the years, it became so powerful that before the imposition of Emergency it was capturing more than half the university unions, including such prestigious ones as those of Delhi, Banaras, Osmania, Allahabad and Bangalore. It registered even bigger successes in 1977. But the following year it decided not to fight any elections for the next few years; it had found that elections not only divided the student community but diverted attention from more important tasks.

“ABVP played a leading role in both Gujarat and Bihar agitations in 1974-75 and persuaded JP [Jayaprakash Narayan] to lead the movement. During the Emergency, 450 ABVP workers were detained under MISA [Maintenance of Internal Security Act] and more than 4,000 offered satyagraha and were held under DIR.

“The ABVP has been conducting ‘Student Experience in Inter-State Living’. And it has been bringing scores of tribal students from the North-East to Bombay and other cities and putting them up with local families under its programme, ‘My Home Is India’. ABVP gives prizes to class firsts and organises book banks and blood banks. It has a vocational guidance bureau, a vacation employment bureau and a students for rural reconstruction project. Today ABVP is by far the biggest student organisation in the country” ( The RSS Story, page 156).

Christophe Jaffrelot wrote: “Unions were quickly developed by the RSS in order to resist communist influence, which was heavily attacked because of its anti-national bias and the risk that the communists’ scheme of class struggle would provoke division in Hindu society. In July 1948, Madhok—a teacher who argued that the infiltration of student organisations was a vital task—founded in Delhi, with approval from Nagpur, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). In conformity to RSS philosophy, the task of this organisation was to bring about collaboration between all those involved in university education, since ‘the teachers and the taught are both wheels of the same car’. It would be a rival to the All India Students’ Federation, which was described as being dominated by ‘communist agitators’” ( The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India, Viking, 1996, page 127).

The ABVP profited hugely from Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement in Bihar and Gujarat. Its fortunes rose after the Emergency and more so after the two BJP regimes (1998-2004) and since 2015. The RSS set up the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Bombay on August 19, 1964. In May-June 1984, the VHP set up a militant wing, the Bajrang Dal, under the leadership of Vinay Katiyar. And he was organisational secretary of the ABVP from 1970 to 1974. Together, the ABVP and the Bajrang Dal are the storm troopers of the fascist RSS. The ABVP is an instrument of a fascist body, the RSS. It is no more a students’ body and should not be treated as one. It is a vigilante group of a fascist kind.

A.G. Noorani

Public Health

A tale of exploitation

the-nation

PINKUBAI GORAKNATH RATHOD, 24, lives in the picturesque Lambani hamlet (tanda in local parlance) of Belamogi in Aland taluk of northern Karnataka’s Kalaburagi (Gulbarga district). Pinky, as everyone calls her, has distinct features—she is fair, has sharp features and light eyes—that mark her out as a Lambani or a Banjara, as the community is also known. She is originally from a tanda near Malkhed, on the other side of Kalaburagi district, and came to Belamogi 11 years ago after her marriage.

By the end of 2014, Pinky was the mother of three children. Her husband was struggling to find a steady job, as eking out a living from one acre (0.4 hectare) of land that he owned was not feasible. At this time Pinky developed severe abdominal pain accompanied by whitish vaginal discharge.

When the primary health centre (PHC) in Belamogi could not help her, she ended up at a private hospital called Girish Noola Surgical & Maternity Hospital in Kalaburagi, the closest town, some 50 km away. “The doctor at the hospital told me that my uterus is swollen [soojan] and pus had formed. He said that anything could happen and I could even get cancer,” Pinky recalled. “I panicked. I felt that I did not have a choice when the doctor said that I needed to do the bada [big] operation immediately. I borrowed Rs.20,000 from my sister-in-law and underwent the operation.” She was only 22.

The “big” operation was a total abdominal hysterectomy (TAH). A survey conducted in July 2015 by members of the Karnataka Janaarogya Chaluvali (KJC, Karnataka People’s Health Movement), a public health rights movement based in Karnataka, found 20 cases of hysterectomies performed on women under 40 in Belamogi tanda, a remarkably high number considering that there are only 87 families in the hamlet. A pattern emerged in the KJC’s survey undertaken in 38 tandas coming under the jurisdiction of 19 panchayats spread across four taluks—Kalaburagi, Chincholi, Aland and Afzalpur—in the district. An ab normally high number of hysterectomies among young women were recorded in all these Lambani hamlets—707 in all. Of these women, 355 were under 35 when they had the operation.

The KJC had done a similar survey in a village near Birur in Chikkamagaluru district in 2013. But its findings in Kalaburagi showed that the problem was on a large scale in this district and affected thousands of women. Teena Xavier, an activist of the KJC who lives in Kadaganchi village, around 25 km away from Kalaburagi, was the first to suspect that something was amiss. “In the villages where I work in Aland taluk, I heard about the enormous number of hysterectomies,” she said.

Dr Shaibya Saldanha, a gynaecologist based in Bengaluru with 25 years’ experience, explained to Frontline how a hysterectomy affects women’s health: “A hysterectomy is a major surgical procedure that means the removal of the uterus and is done for certain medical conditions. After a hysterectomy, a woman loses her child-bearing capabilities. It is to be done only in cases of poor quality of life, prolapsed uterus or a threat to life like cancer. In younger women, the circumstances under which this surgery is done would be rare. The removal of the uterus also induces surgical menopause. Sometimes, the ovaries are also removed, which has drastic effects on a young woman’s health. Every hysterectomy is a major surgical procedure and will have side effects and complications.”

Long-term implications include the hastening of osteoporosis and cardiac disease. Sexual intercourse becomes non-pleasurable and there is a loss of libido as well. A hysterectomy, therefore, is not recommended unless absolutely essential, especially for younger women. Pinky no longer complains of abdominal pain, but she suffers from a dull nagging pain in her shoulders and hips accompanied by general fatigue and an inability to lift heavy objects, all common complaints after a hysterectomy. Pinky also complains of a gradual decline in her vision, something that stumps Dr Shaibya Saldanha. “I have been hearing a lot of women complain of this, but this is something that we don’t have a medical explanation for yet,” she said.

While it is still not possible to get a reliable figure for the number of hysterectomies taking place in the country, an estimate can be made from data from the third round of the District Level Household Survey, which shows that around 2 per cent of women in the 15-49 age group had undergone hysterectomies (12,888 in a sample of 6,43,934 women). The  figure was higher among women from rural, lower-caste and deprived backgrounds.

A cross-sectional study in 2010 of 2,214 women showed that up to 9.8 per cent rural women in Gujarat had undergone hysterectomies. A few years ago, large numbers of unwarranted hysterectomies were reported from Dausa (Rajasthan), Samastipur and Kishanganj (Bihar) and rural areas of Chhattisgarh. In 2010, there were reports of women of the Lambani community becoming victims of unwarranted hysterectomies in Kannaram village of Medak district in Andhra Pradesh (now in Telangana). The reason seems to be clear: it is an easy way for doctors to make money, taking advantage of the lack of awareness among the women concerned.

The large number of unwarranted hysterectomies performed in Kalaburagi seem to make a pattern: the women are rural, belong to marginalised communities (the Lambanis come under the Schedule Caste category in Karnataka, forming around 12 per cent of the S.C. population in the State) and are largely uneducated. Pinky, one of the more literate women from the Lambani community, has studied up to the seventh standard.

While the National Family Health Survey (2015-16) has questions on hysterectomy in its questionnaire, the results have not been included in the published State and district fact sheets. Once these results become available, a precise picture will emerge on the scale of hysterectomies in the country. But what is certain so far is that unwarranted hysterectomies are happening all over the country in a serious breach of medical ethics.

A perusal of news reports all over the country regarding cases of unwarranted hysterectomies shows that the women went to doctors with similar symptoms—abdominal pain, white discharge, smelly discharge, lower back pain, and itching—and ended up on the operation table. In Kalaburagi, the doctors who advised patients to undergo a hysterectomy did so only on the basis of a scan and without any clinical examination. They also did not take a pap smear or conduct an examination under anaesthesia (EUA) and dilation and curettage (D&C). In Pinky’s hamlet, and in the neighbouring hamlets, the stories were almost uniform. In a few cases, the symptoms were different, but hysterectomies were performed nonetheless.

Lalitha Bhimsingh Chavan, 38, is a resident of Ambalaga tanda, again in Aland taluk. Three years ago, she had abdominal pain and difficulty passing urine. She consulted a doctor in Umarga, a town just across the border in Maharashtra’s Osmanabad district. (From interviews with the Lambani women, it sounded like Umarga was another major hysterectomy hub, along with Kalaburagi.) “The doctor in Umarga conducted a few tests and then sent me to ‘Loola’ [a common misnomer for the Girish Noola Surgical & Maternity Hospital in Kalaburagi], where they told me that I needed to undergo a hysterectomy immediately as my womb had gone bad and I could die soon,” Lalitha said. “I was in hospital for seven days. The operation cost me Rs.20,000.” The bill that the hospital provided to Lalitha is scribbled on a prescription slip.

After the operation, Lalitha’s inability to pass urine and burning micturition continued. Tests revealed that she had renal calculus, or kidney stone. Not surprisingly, the removal of the uterus had not helped. Lalitha narrated her tale while drinking cold bottled water, as her current doctor had prescribed. “I have spent Rs.30,000 on other costs since then,” she added.

Lalitha was surrounded by several other women of her tanda aged between 27 and 48 who had also undergone hysterectomies. In this hamlet of 55 households, 17 women lost their wombs under the surgeon’s scalpel.

Sunita Yemnath Chinni Rathod, 35, of V.K. Salagar tanda in Aland taluk had to sell two goats to finance her hysterectomy four years ago. She first had an operation to remove her uterus and a second one to remove her ovaries. “I went to Loola when I had severe abdominal pain. The doctor first did an operation for Rs.25,000 and then a second operation after three months at a discounted price, for Rs.15,000,” Sunita said. The KJC survey of 2015 recorded 24 hysterectomies in this tanda of 84 households.

The ultrasound reports of the abdomen and pelvis of Pinky, Lalitha and Sunita are in the possession of Frontline. When these were shown to Dr Shaibya Saldanha, she said the scan reports did not demonstrate any need for a hysterectomy. She explained what the doctors had done with an analogy: “Imagine, if a patient comes to me I take one look and I decide that he’s anaemic because he’s looking pale and I give him two blood transfusions. That’s ridiculous, isn’t it? That’s what’s happened in this case. Pinky’s case is especially scandalous as no 22-year-old woman undergoes a hysterectomy.”

There have also been three recorded deaths over the past few years. Savitabai died in July 2015 just after the completion of her operation at Basava Hospital in Kalaburagi. She had come to the hospital with complaints of abdominal pain. The doctors told her family that she needed a hysterectomy because her uterus was swollen. When she died, a doctor at Basava Hospital hastily paid a sum of Rs.3 lakh to Savita’s family, an act that raises suspicion. Two other Lambani women in Chincholi taluk died in 2015 of post-operative complications following hysterectomies.

Consequent to the KJC’s complaints in 2015, two inquiry committees were set up with gynaecologists on them. The first one was constituted by Karnataka’s Department of Health and Family Welfare and was headed by Dr A. Ramachandra Bairy. It submitted its 12-page report on October 17, 2015, after an inquiry that lasted for two days. While 36 hospitals were named in the complaint made by the KJC, only 25 submitted information on the number of hysterectomies they had conducted in the preceding 30 months. Girish Noola Surgical & Maternity Hospital topped the list with 900 hysterectomies out of a total of 2,258 operations.

The report implicated the hospital for lack of proper records, which cast doubt over whether the hysterectomies had been necessary. It recommended action against the hospital under the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments (KPME) Act (2007) and the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act (1994). Three other hospitals were also marked out for violations.

A second inquiry committee was set up in September that year by the Karnataka State Women’s Commission and was headed by K. Neela. This committee submitted its 105-page report in April 2016 after a thorough inquiry. Its members interviewed 66 women, and in all the 66 cases they concurred that a hysterectomy was not necessary. It has brief summaries of interviews with the victims as well as inferences. After their interview with Pinky, and perusal of her medical records, the committee noted: “Age of patient precludes hysterectomy. Examination shows hypertrophic cervix and erosion. Pap smear showed no evidence of malignancy. Scan diagnosis of Pelvic Inflammation Diseases (PID) insufficient. PID was not treated with antibiotics.” The committee discussed Lalitha’s case, and its inference was: “Diagnosis was renal calculus and recurrent Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) for which no treatment was given.”

The women interviewed by the committee were diagnosed with PID, bulky uterus, thickened endometrium and fibroids. The common complaints included chronic backache, excessive uterine bleeding, chronic abdominal pain and white discharge per vaginum. None of these warranted a hysterectomy, the committee concluded, and could have been treated with a variety of antibiotics, vitamin supplements, safe sexual practices and painkillers. Such problems, moreover, are not unusual among rural women who undertake hard labour and are associated with early marriage, multiple and quickly following pregnancies, malnutrition, lack of sanitation and unsafe sexual practices. Pinky, like many other women in the Lambani community, was 13 when she was married and had three children in quick succession. Lalitha, at 38, is already a grandmother.

The report has held the doctors responsible for the hysterectomies guilty of violation of medical, ethical and legal norms. The committee implicated Girish Noola Surgical & Maternity Hospital, saying it had insufficient evidence to show there was good reason to perform the hysterectomies. The hospital did not have any medical records of the patients who underwent the oper ations. The report held that the doctor couple who managed the hospital, Dr Girish Noola and Dr Smitha Noola, had created a “psycho fear” [sic] in the minds of the largely illiterate and poor victims. It has called for criminal action to be taken against the doctors at Girish Noola Surgical & Maternity Hospital and Basava Hospital, apart from other doctors involved in this malpractice. It has also recommended that the victims should be financially compensated.

State of public health

In a paper published in Indian Journal of Medical Ethics (Volume II, No. 1, January-March, 2017), KJC members Teena Xavier, Akhila Vasan and Vijayakumar S. discuss the implications of this sordid affair. They write: “A medical procedure such as a hysterectomy has morphed into a ‘business strategy’ in the ‘medical/health care market’ with poor women’s bodies being trafficked for profit. Governments that ought to protect citizens from such predatory motives have not merely failed in their duty, but have turned accomplice in their crimes by ushering in policies that encourage exploitation.”

They continue: “So long as the profit motive drives the provision of health care, the most vulnerable will continue to fall prey to the predatory motives of the system. Radical policy shifts aimed at reining in the medical profession, transforming medical education, disallowing ‘profit’ in health care, rolling back public-private partnerships, and strengthening the public health system meaningfully to regulate and deliver health care are required urgently to reverse the commercialisation of health care. Enacting a broad-based law to protect health/patients’ rights and to bring the medical profession under the ambit of criminal prosecution is of critical importance to ensure the safety of citizens, particularly those most vulnerable.”

The KJC survey data show the dismal state of public health. Only 13 of 707 women identified by the KJC in 2015 reported that they got the procedure done at the District Government Hospital in Kalaburagi. According to the District Health Officer (DHO) of Kalaburagi, Dr Shivaraj Sajjanshetty, there is only one hospital in the entire district with facilities for hysterectomy, the District Government Hospital. “Two years ago, when I was posted there, we had difficulty even doing caesarean surgery, how can we get gynaecologists to do hysterectomies? We simply don’t have the facilities,” he said. The PHCs have also failed at being the first-tier providers of medical relief. “Many of the complaints that the women had could have been resolved with a simple course of antibiotics, but not enough doctors visit the PHCs,” said Teena Xavier.

The submission of the two reports has led to some action by the district administration. The registrations of four hospitals, including Girish Noola Surgical & Maternity Hospital, have been cancelled, but the licences of the gynaecologists and surgeons practising in these hospitals have not been rescinded yet. Criminal action has also not been initiated. The DHO said a letter dated January 23, 2017, had been sent to the president of the Karnataka Medical Council (KMC), Dr H. Veerabhadrappa, requesting suitable action be taken. On his part, Dr Veerabhadrappa said: “KMC will conduct a civil court-like procedure once we receive the letter from the DHO.”

On February 6, several hundreds of Lambani women gathered at the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Kalaburagi to protest against the district administration’s inaction on K. Neela Committee’s recommendations. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has also taken cognisance of the malpractice and issued notices to the governments of Karnataka and Maharashtra.

Seasonal migration

Back in Belamogi, Pinky waits for redress of her grievances. She has filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court. Her eldest child was diagnosed with leukaemia in early 2015, and she has been spending the past year getting him treated at the Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology in Bengaluru. Her husband left the tanda in 2015 in search of work and is somewhere in Saudi Arabia or in the United Arab Emirates—Pinky is unsure about his exact location —from where he calls her once a week. Many of the women who were interviewed for this article had husbands who had migrated for work, a common practice among Lambanis in the region. They are seasonal migrants. They do own land, but their small landholdings do not amount to much in this arid, drought-prone region. Many of them work as construction labourers in Mumbai. Earlier, the wives accompanied them. But now many of the wives stay back as hysterectomies have rendered them unfit for hard labour.

Pinky does not have a phone number to contact her husband, who seems to have joined the legions of exploited construction labourers in countries around the Persian Gulf. “His passport is with his employer. He can’t return as his contractor owes him Rs.2 lakh [in unpaid wages],” Pinky said.

Minister ‘helpless’

the-nation

WHILE the article on unwarranted hysterectomies was being written, reports came in of 1,520 unwarranted hysterectomies that had been performed in hamlets, or tandas, inhabited by people of the Lambani tribe in rural Ranibennur, some 300 km from Bengaluru in central Karnataka. Evidently, notwithstanding the decline in hysterectomies in Kalaburagi districts following inquiries, women of vulnerable communities continue to fall prey to the practice in the State.

News reports quoted Karnataka Health Minister K.R. Ramesh Kumar as having acknowledged the enormity of the problem and confessed his “helplessness” in checking it. He said that he was under pressure to shield the accused doctor because he was protected by important people.

Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed

West Bengal

BJP leader held in baby-sale racket

the-nation

Mahila Morcha leader Juhi Chowdhury’s arrest for her alleged involvement in a baby-trafficking racket in north Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district has come as a major setback for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the State. She was arrested by the State’s Criminal Investigation Department on February 28 from Kharibari near the Nepal border after a 10-day search. The names of several other State- and national-level BJP leaders have come up during investigations. This was the second time in three months that names of BJP leaders came up in separate baby-selling rackets.

The latest case was unearthed when the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) spotted irregularities in the activities of Bimala Sishu Griha, a government-approved home for newborns in Jalpaiguri, and alerted the State police. According to preliminary investigations, as many as 17 babies were sold from the home to Indians and foreigners. On February 19, the police arrested the institution’s director, Chandana Chakraborty, and her assistant, Sonali Mondal. Chandana Chakraborty heads two other organisations in the region—the Ashroy Short Stay Home and the North Bengal People’s Development Committee, a non-governmental organisation.

According to Chandana Chakraborty, Juhi was first approached by the home for “help” in solving certain “problems” of the organisation. According to informed sources, the home repeatedly got into trouble with the CARA over its activities and sought to use Juhi Chowdhury’s BJP connections at the Centre to smoothen out the difficulties. Chandana Chakraborty claimed that on several occasions she had accompanied Juhi to Delhi, where the latter apparently met senior BJP leaders. “I am being used as a pawn…. I never spoke to anyone. Juhi Chowdhury spoke to Rupa Ganguly and Kailash Vijayvargiya…. Juhi Chowdhury has been linked with this organisation for the past three years. If there have been irregularities, then it has been committed by them,” she told journalists when she was produced before a court in north Bengal.

Juhi Chowdhury went into hiding as soon as Chandana Chakraborty was arrested. The CID tracked her down from the location of the cellphone tower to which her phone was connected. Two CID officers, dressed as mendicants, made the surprise arrest on the Nepal border, where she had been staying. “I have been made a scapegoat. The CID should explore certain issues to find out who the real culprits are,” she said when she was produced before a court in north Bengal. Initially the State BJP appeared to stand firmly behind Juhi as it accused the Trinamool Congress government of “political vendetta”. Actor-turned-BJP leader Rupa Ganguly, who is known to be close to Juhi, said: “Such filthy allegations are being made against me, and against Juhi. She is just a young girl. They will have to pay a price for it.” State BJP president Dilip Ghosh claimed that the State government was trying to frame opposition leaders: “It is clear this is a political conspiracy. That lady [Chandana Chakraborty] had been running the home for the last 10 years. Why did the police not do anything about it for so long?”

However, the day after the arrest, Dilip Ghosh changed tack and both Juhi Chowdhury and her father, BJP leader Rabindra Narayan Chowdhury, were summarily removed from their party posts. He said: “Going by media reports and the fact that she and her father had been to Delhi without informing the party, we decided to remove them from their respective positions. If they remain, it may be detrimental to the party’s image.” BJP sources said the party’s central leadership was behind the decision. “The elections in Uttar Pradesh and other States had to be taken into consideration while making this decision. However, Juhi has not been expelled from the party,” one of the sources said.

The State government and the ruling Trinamool Congress were also left red-faced when two District Child Protection Officers, Mrinal Ghosh and his wife, Sasmita Ghosh, were arrested, along with a doctor, Debasish Chanda, for their alleged involvement in the child-selling racket. While Sasmita was serving as DCPO Jalpaiguri, her husband was posted in the adjoining Darjeeling district. Debasish Chanda was a member of the Darjeeling Child Wefare Committee. According to administration sources, the husband-wife duo contrived to transfer infants to the home run by Chandana Chakraborty. They were allegedly paid handsomely for every child that was sold. Earlier, Chandana Chakraborty’s brother Manash Bhowmick, a local-level Trinamool leader from Jalpaiguri, was arrested for his role in the racket.

In November last year, Dilip Ghosh, a doctor who had contested the municipal elections in Bidhannagar on the BJP ticket, was arrested in connection with another baby-smuggling racket in south Bengal.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

Granite mining

Anatomy of a loot

A 600-ODD-PAGE report on a court-ordered investigation into the loot of granite for more than a decade from the mid 1990s in Tamil Nadu has been with the Madras High Court ever since it was submitted to it in November 2015 by the investigating officer, U. Sagayam, Special Officer/Legal Commissioner, who was appointed by the court. The First Bench of the court, while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) petition on March 3 to make the report public, decided against doing so and gave the State government six weeks to file its response to the report.

The report, which Frontline has accessed and excerpts of which are in its possession, is unsparing in its expose of the mafia involved in the scam that has cost the State exchequer more than Rs.1 lakh crore. The contents of the report have been a matter of speculation ever since it was submitted to the court. Frontline’s detailed perusal of the report found that it brings out the impudent nature of the granite mining operations in Madurai district and the deep involvement of the bureaucratic machinery in them. Sagayam not only records with meticulous care the monetary loss to the exchequer, but also writes in great detail about a sinister side—money laundering by the miners and the involvement in it of government employees, from clerical-level staff to senior officials, including two District Collectors.

The report reveals that human sacrifices were made by miners for black magic rituals. The victims were mostly destitute and mentally challenged persons and a few local residents. M. Sevarkodiyon, a former driver in PRP Granites, one of the mining firms, claimed that these human sacrifices were apart from the animal sacrifice, which, of course, was a routine ritual at the time of operating new quarries. The miners believed they would fetch them a bounty. He claimed that they picked up destitute or mentally retarded persons and orphans from bus stands and railway stations and other public places, mostly abandoned, for the sacrifice, to escape attention.

While going through the voluminous report, one cannot miss Sagayam’s anguish over the brazen involvement of government officials in the massive fraud. He talks about their role in the loot in almost every chapter. He has devoted a chapter each for the issues of money laundering and human sacrifice. He also criticises the role of Tamil Nadu Minerals Limited (TAMIN), a Government of Tamil Nadu undertaking. TAMIN, he says, has been the main facilitator of the loot since the late 1990s. He has sought an inquiry into these aspects.

The report, which includes key findings, conclusions and recommendations, has 66 chapters grouped under eight sections under the following heads: the background and context of the probe, granite reserves and exploitation, illegalities, whistle-blowers, violations, larger issues, institutional apathy, working environment and conclusion. It also has a six-part section that contains annexures, references, a glossary, maps, visuals and video clips.

The net revenue loss to the government, Sagayam points out, is the actual loss caused plus the penalty (Rs.34,304.13 crore for private players and Rs.9,978.99 crore for TAMIN quarries), which is Rs.1,09,437.72 crore. (The total is calculated wrongly in the report.) Sagayam points out that the loss is only an indicative figure and a thorough investigation is needed to arrive at the exact loss (“The mother of all loot”, July 24, 2015).

The Madras High Court, in its order dated September 11, 2014, appointing Sagayam as the Special Officer/Legal Commissioner (S.O./L.C.) observed: “In view of the nature of the illegality alleged and also the fact that in this process even farm lands given to the deprived S.C. and S.T. section of people are stated to be affected by the quarrying and Thiru U. Sagayam, IAS, being the person who filed the initial report in this matter [when he was Madurai Collector in 2011], we consider it appropriate Thiru U. Sagayam as S.O./L.C. to visit and inspect the mines and submit a report to this court in order to satisfy ourselves that action is being taken at the sites in question.”

When Sagayam sought a clarification on the scope of the probe —whether it was restricted to Madurai district alone or it should look at the entire State and whether the probe was only for granite or for all types of mining operations—the court said on November 25, 2014, that “the task at present assigned to the Commissioner is only qua granite mining in Madurai in respect of which he had submitted a report earlier. The question whether the area of scrutiny by the Commissioner is to be expanded or not keeping in mind the larger scope of the petition would only be considered subsequently.”

Sagayam commenced his probe in Madurai on December 3, 2014 (“Removing roadblocks”, Frontline, December 12, 2014) and submitted his report to the First Bench of the Madras High Court on November 23, 2015, after seeking a few extensions to complete it. V. Suresh was the counsel for the Commission. The then First Bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana said after receiving the probe report that the State government would take appropriate action.

The granite scam was first brought to the notice of the government on May 19, 2012 in a brief report submitted by Sagayam, as Collector of Madurai district, to the Principal Secretary, Industries Department, Tamil Nadu government. The report stated that the granite mafia had looted resources and cheated the State of income to the tune of Rs.16,338 crore. It was not made public, but when portions of it appeared in the media, the government ordered an inquiry. By then, Sagayam had been transferred. On the basis of this report, K.R. Ramaswamy, alias “Traffic” Ramaswamy, filed a PIL petition in the High Court seeking the directions of the court to appoint Sagayam as Special Officer to inspect quarrying throughout the State of Tamil Nadu. The court granted his plea. Sagayam’s final report, now with the High Court, calls the granite scam “a multidimensional devastation and a gargantuan fraud”. “It could be seen during inspection that prime agricultural lands were ravaged, water bodies destroyed, pathways obstructed, temples desecrated, sites of archaeological importance vandalised, bio-diversity devastated, environment polluted, gullible villagers displaced and so on,” he states.

Money laundering

While the report covers all aspects of the scam, it has a chapter dealing exhaustively with the money laundering that was part of the scam. The question that came up often during the investigation, Sagayam points out, was how the miners were able to bring into the account books the huge amounts of money they were earning from their illegal business, since 70 per cent of the mined granite was exported. “When the various mining parties were not wanting to pay taxes inside the country, it was a moot question as to whether they would disclose the full extent of their earnings, especially, the money earned in foreign currency,” he states in the report.

But as his investigation progressed despite stiff opposition from the mining mafia and the apathetic attitude of officials, he was able to trace the money trail of the miners. The existence of bogus firms and widespread financial fraud pointed to money-laundering activities, a route used by criminals to disguise the illegal origin of their wealth. He points out that the “dirty money” moved across the border to obscure the audit trail, and he expresses the apprehension that it “can affect the interest and exchange rates”.

He says that in the export of the granite, the miners brazenly “use same permits and trucks with the same registration numbers illegally”. (A permit issued for a lorry, with a specific registration number, is used to run several lorries, all of which use the same registration number.) In the ports, the officials of the Department of Customs and Central Excise supported the miners, unlawfully of course, by suppressing the actual number of shipping bills and by under-invoicing. He says that despite his pleas, the Customs Department did not submit details pertaining to granite exports. “This becomes an obvious source for murky foreign exchange violation, triggering a well-planned money-laundering, thus betraying the economic interests of Mother Nation,” the report states.

It was, he says, disheartening to note that officials in the Customs Department and at the ports in Tuticorin, Chennai, Kochi and Mangalore, from where the granite blocks were exported, refused to provide the information that the Commission sought regarding the quantum of granite, the quality, details of foreign exchange remittances, and the pricing details. He further says that no bank in Madurai, barring a few, came forward to part with details of foreign exchange transactions dealing with granite export. “This condition strengthens our stand that the mining lessees had [an] effective hand in the process of money laundering.”

He says the first suspicion of money laundering arose when several bogus firms and shell companies were found to be in existence, a classic technique to evade tax. These firms were started and then wound up within short periods and the bank accounts they opened received some monies, and subsequently the accounts were closed. “The Special Officer/Legal Commissioner during the course of probe could ascertain that there were at least 15 bogus firms operated by the lessees. The mining lessees have resorted to unethical methods on various counts with regard to taxes. They have cheated the government even for meagre amounts of the taxes payable such as property tax and professional tax. The creation of bogus firms does not end with tax evasion alone, it becomes a breeding ground for designed illegalities in various spheres, including money laundering,” he says.

The trails of all these shell firms led to the mining lessees in one way or the other, with links to their operations. The information made available to the investigation team pertained to the year 2012, since the authorities concerned, despite repeated pleas from the Commission, refused to provide details for other years. An examination of the available data shows Trade Based Money Laundering (TBML) was resorted to in 2012 in two ways: purging shipping bills and quoting low values. An analysis of the operations of PRP Exports in 2012 through Tuticorin port reveals that it had transported through a firm a far greater volume of stone blocks than was actually registered with the Department of Customs and Central Excise, Tuticorin.

“The discrepancy [between] the actual stone transported and shown amounts to a huge amount of 7,83,658.02 CBM (Cubic Metres) whose value in Indian Rupees is Rs.38.78 crores. In other words in the official records a huge volume of nearly 7.83 lakh CBM has been purged obviously to evade Customs and Central Excise duties and Foreign Exchange laws,” he points out. He wonders whether the invoice amounts or the consignment values reflect the correct value. The reluctance of banks to part with the transaction details of the miners to the Commission is “indicative of money laundering as very often such transactions are well within the knowledge of bankers,” he notes.

Sagayam, in his report, expresses his apprehensions over the involvement of a few officials in the Customs and Central Excise Department of Tuticorin port and claims that the “integrity of records available in Electronic Data Systems Interface (EDI) of Customs is compromised” to encourage the miners to indulge in TBML. He points out: “It is pertinent to point out that records of selective parties [miners] were inaccessible from the databases of government websites/portals like DGFT, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, (MCA); thus when the current probe team attempted to access the Importer/Exporter Code (IEC), DIN number, CIN number, the same could not be accessed.”

The probe, he claims, establishes prima facie evidence conforming to all the key indicators showing that “money laundering is taking place, including practices like ‘smurfing’, having multiple firms with similar business activities, thereby facilitating routing of money from one firm to another, and other practices which clearly [are] indicating money laundering is taking place in the granite trade”. “The presence of money laundering is indicated from the prima facie evidences satisfying the characteristics listed by Financial Intelligence Unit-India (FIU-IND) and Financial Action Task Force (FATE) an inter governmental organisation for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system,” he says and demands another probe into the granite scam by specialised agencies such as the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Enforcement Directorate.

He points out in his report that under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002, some of the key persons who operated the granite firms qualified to be categorised as “Politically Exposed Persons (PEP)”. A thorough probe needs to be done about the role of these people, he urges. He draws attention to the four earlier cases that the Enforcement Directorate registered under the PMLA against miners, including PRP Exports, M/s. Olympus Granites, M/s. Om Granites, C. Panneer ohd and Co and another firm in the name of Rafeek Raja.

Sagayam says in the report that the investigation led him to a scion of a powerful political family in Tamil Nadu. One of the directors of Olympus Granites, a mining firm under the cloud of suspicion, especially when the granite quarrying was heavy, was Durai Dayanidhi, son of former Union Minister for Fertilizers M.K. Alagiri, who is a son of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M. Karunanidhi. Sagayam says Durai Dayanidhi “eminently qualifies to be considered as PEP”.

He explains how his attempts to get information from banks and district-level officials on Durai Dayanidhi’s firm were frustrated. When details were requested, Sagayam points out, Corporation Bank, Madurai, where Olympus had accounts, informed the Commission in writing that his KYC [know your customer] details were not available, though the bank confirmed that he was one of the directors of the firm. Sagayam has asked the Madras High Court to initiate a “specialised probe” into the money laundering by the granite mafia.

In fact, the Enforcement Directorate pursuing the granite scam has “provisionally attached” property worth Rs.528 crore of a few miners under the provisions of the PMLA.

Human sacrifices

Besides looting natural resources with impunity, the mining mafia, the Commission surmises, could also have resorted to gruesome activities such as human sacrifice. Petitions that the Commission received from the general public and former workers in the quarries point to the existence of the practice of sacrificing humans in quarries before quarrying began, for bountiful profits.

Sagayam received many petitions about missing people from local residents and a few from far-off places. Many were still searching for their relatives who had gone missing in the vicinity of Madurai and Melur. “The man-missing cases in and around Madurai registered between 1998 and 2012 need to be probed in detail,” demands a social worker in Melur block. Sagayam, who worked on one such petition concerning a missing local person, believes that there is evidence of this cruel practice.

He spent a night at a remote burial site overseeing the exhumation of the body of a person suspected to have been sacrificed at Chinnamalampatti village. This was basically intended to protect evidence, if any, from being tampered with. The local police machinery was “hell bent to postpone exhumation”, he claims in his report. (Reports of the forensic study of the remains of the victim are yet to be made public.)

Sagayam has named a few police officials, including the then Melur Additional District Superintendent of Police (ADSP) Mariappan and Keezhavalavu Sub-Inspector Ayyanar, for their “highhanded behaviour”. The report says the police served the interest of mining lessees, going to the extent of trying to thwart a court-monitored inquiry into as heinous a crime as human sacrifice. “It is also a matter of grave concern that the Sub Inspector concerned did not act individually but had the backing and support of higher-level police officers, including Mariappan, ADSP, and Vijeyendra Bidari, the then SP [Superintendent of Police], Madurai Rural. The incidences of human sacrifice and the resistance of the police to the exhumation clearly reveal [that] the money power of the mining lessees emboldened them to resort to such grave crimes confident that the police machinery would come to their aid,” he says.

Officials’ apathy

Sagayam says that Anshul Mishra, who succeeded him as Madurai Collector, was “acting positively” on his first report to the government [when he was Madurai Collector] on the scam. Mishra sent a report to the government seeking suspension of the quarrying operations of 77 granite quarries, and the government obliged. Besides, proposals were sent to cancel the lease of 48 non-operative quarries, as a result of which 39 licences were cancelled. Writ petitions seeking a stay on the suspension of the licences were dismissed by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court. Subsequently, 36 mining lessees filed individual special leave petitions (SLPs) before the Supreme Court, which were also dismissed. The apex court ordered that “the district administration shall complete the proceedings within two months to compute the total loss to the government by each mine and to recover the same from individual mining lessees”.

The Supreme Court ordered that the entire proceedings [of investigation and action against the erring miners] be completed within two months and that the total loss to the government from each mine be computed and the same be recovered from the individual mining lessees. These orders were passed in September 2015. “But despite these orders, the Madurai District administration is yet to complete the proceedings and recover the monetary loss from the mining lessees. They have just restricted the proceedings to merely summoning the lessees and conducting enquiries,” Sagayam points out in his report.

But the then Superintendent of Police (S.P.) of Madurai Rural, V. Balakrishnan, he says, did not hesitate to launch prosecution against the offenders, including the filing of first information reports (FIRs) against a number of erring mining lessees. “The action was swift and effective. Ninety-eight FIRs were registered in 2012-13 against the illegal quarrying of granite and damage of government porombok lands (government wastelands).”

Forty-four criminal cases were registered on the basis of petitions received by the Legal Commissioner. The Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption conducted searches at the residences of 34 officials. Two FIRs were registered against two former Madurai Collectors, besides the Deputy Director, Department of Geology and Mining, Madurai, and others for offences punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act. By then the S.P. and the Collector had been transferred. “However the alacrity with which the government acted immediately after the media exposure [of his first report] slowly dissipated. Investigations were insincere and the approach was to allow the whole issue to die a natural death,” he notes. Thereafter, “it is felt that the local police are not comfortable with the ongoing inquiry by the Legal Commissioner for reasons best known to them,” he says.

Subversion of law

About the violations in the processing of mining applications, patent illegalities and the deliberate subversion of law, he says: “A thorough perusal and examination of the records and files received from the Department of Mines revealed clearly that the genesis of illegality begins from the first stage of filing and processing of mining applications itself. There are obvious cases of designed suppression of information related to land. The widespread nature of such illegalities indicated that such subversion of law occurred only with the tacit and open support and collusion of different levels of the Revenue Department and bureaucracy who operated with a sense of impunity confident that they will never get caught.”

“It is fairly obvious that such deliberate and conscious observation of law and procedure at the level of the revenue officials because of a well oiled system of monetary and material patronage; in other words the existence of a network of corrupt officials, dishonest elected local body leaders like panchayat presidents and unscrupulous mining lessees ensured that no action was ever taken against the mining interests”. Their “deceptive and stoic silence,” he claims, emboldened the lessees to indulge in more and more dubious and nefarious activities.

Across all the 175 mining plants studied, Sagayam says, it is shown uniformly that in most cases, if not all, the Registered Qualified Person [RQP; under Rule 22(c) of The Mineral Concession Rules, 1960, the RQP prepares mining plans, including environmental management plans], who alone is legally authorised to prepare mining plans to be submitted to the authorities to secure granite mining permits, intentionally suppressed facts such as presence of hamlets, waterbodies, and sites of archaeological importance in the areas proposed to be mined during the process of preparing the mining plan, which is the basis for obtaining mining leases.

Sagayam comes down heavily on officials’ involvement in the granite loot in his report. In fact, he spent a lot of time collecting material evidence to identify the officials and their roles in the loot. The report states: “Several such obvious procedural violations could be noticed. Thus it could be observed clearly there was wilful and widespread subversion of all legal procedures and marked deviation from the act and rules committed by officials of different departments, mining experts, RQPs, and others at every stage in the process of mining granite in Madurai district.” At one point in the report, he says a Madurai Collector went to the extent of exerting pressure on the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to issue a no-objection certificate (NOC) to a miner to quarry a hill notified as archeologically important.

He claims that the miners manipulated records and forced landowners to sell vast tracts of lands. “In fact PRP Exports had purchased lands to the extent of 20,000 acres [8,000 hectares] in Madurai and Theni districts in overt and brazen violation of the Tamil Nadu Land Reforms (Fixation of Ceiling on Land) Act, 1961. Such a vast extent of land could be purchased by the mining lessees presumably on account of the substantial money they could gain by way of illicit granite mining,” he contends.

Before the advent of the modern-day diamond wire saw cutting, which can cut even a boulder 200 feet long into two equal halves like it was a loaf of bread, the miners used explosives to quarry the mines. This caused tremors in the vicinity, and houses in nearby habitations developed cracks. When all their efforts to stop the quarrying failed, the people in the area approached the district administration and the police for reprieve, both of whom, however, “turned a blind eye” to their pleas.

The villagers had no option but to sell their houses at the throwaway prices offered by the miners. “The villagers, the sons of soil had no other option but to give away their homes and move to unknown destination leaving their home land villages in which they had lived, loved and laughed with their loved ones for several decades. Such instances of mass displacement or exodus could be witnessed at T. Guntankal, Sivalingam, Rengasamipuram and E. Malampatti.” (During a visit to the area, this correspondent noted that these villages in and around Melur and falling in the core of the mining area wore the look of a Wild West landscape—devoid of any life.)

Mute spectators

Taking up the issues of illegal encroachment and destruction of waterbodies, Sagayam criticises officials of the Public Works Department (PWD) and the Department of Revenue for not being vigilant against these activities of the miners. “They chose to remain silent and mute spectators and they did not take any action to pull up the errant mining lessees. Their deceptive and stoic silence emboldened the mining lessees to indulge in more and more dubious and nefarious activities as they faced no hindrance from any quarters what so ever,” he says.

In all the cases, mining started as a perfectly legal endeavour but gradually transformed into a major violation and transgression of the law of the land. The officialdom served the interest of the mining lessees and, as a result, violations became the norm. Sagayam says he witnessed the havoc caused to agricultural lands, devastated waterbodies, usurped panchami land, village pathways that had been destroyed, vandalised archaeological sites, all of which disturbed the biodiversity of the area and caused environmental pollution. Besides, the mining-related activities decimated livestock, resulted in the desecration of temples of village deities, displaced gullible villagers, and threw the agrarian economy into disarray.

“This is besides causing sizable and substantial fiscal loss to the tune of Rs.62,890.91 crores to the government exchequer by way of illicit mining and transportation. While the fiscal loss is measurable, the social, economic and ecological loss caused is immeasurable and irreversible,” he points out. He says that without the support of the official machinery a school dropout [referring obviously to P.R. Palanisamy, owner of PRP Granites and PRP Exports] “cannot build such a giant granite empire”. He says, in the report, that political executives could have stopped such grave irregularities and sizable fiscal loss in the mining arena. “There was a total system failure that was the root cause of all,” he says.

Similarly, at many renowned archaeological sites in Thiruvathavur, Keelaitur, Keezhavalavu and Arittipatti, Jaina caves, rock beds and Tamil Brahmi inscriptions of the 2nd century BCE were destroyed by the reckless mining despite appeals by the Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, to the Madurai district administration to stop the quarrying. Even a protected site at Keezhavalavu was not spared. In fact, the site got protection later after the intervention of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court. Officials of the Department of Geology and Mining, Sagayam claims, did not carry out field inspection before recommending the grant of mining lease (“History vandalised”, Frontline, July 17, 2009).

Sagayam minces no words when he highlights the “shady dealings” resorted to by TAMIN. He points out that TAMIN’s quarries house the best quality granite that would fetch high prices. But it introduced the peculiar system of “Raising Agency” in 1984 and “Raising cum Sale Agency” in 1998 for quarrying and sale of granites in government porombok lands. By adopting this system, private players were indirectly allowed to quarry granite on government land. (A more or less similar system is being followed to mine river sand today in Tamil Nadu.)

Sagayam notes that there is no special legal provision for TAMIN to make such agreements with private granite firms. Armed with a resolution passed in its 134th Board meeting held on December 28, 1998, favouring the introduction of the aforesaid system of “Raising cum Sale Agency”, TAMIN entered into agreements with several agents. The purpose of introducing this system was to utilise the services of private players as TAMIN did not have the logistics and manpower to mine and market granite. But later this system was misused by the private players, with the connivance of the officials concerned. It can be seen from the data provided by TAMIN that the annual turnover of the company drastically fell after the introduction of this system, which led to a huge loss of minerals to the State and seigniorage to the government.

It is strange that many miners who were given the Raising Agency licences in 1998 are still holding them and continuing as mining agencies. “The rationale and motive for using such a system,” Sagayam notes, “is clandestine as the market for granite was buoyant as could be seen from the profits made by private companies.” Under this system, the private operators are the real operators of quarries in porombok lands without paying any lease amount, royalty and stamp duty to the state. TAMIN could have quarried and marketed the granite on its own and generated massive revenue, but it failed to do so just to appease the interests of the private players. In addition, TAMIN also resorted to illegal mining, besides obtaining transport permits for much lesser amounts of granite than the actual amount quarried.

The loss caused to the government exchequer by TAMIN on account of illegal mining activities, according to Sagayam’s estimate, is to the tune of Rs.5,507.53 crore. Strangely, this sizable amount does not get reflected in the annual turnover of TAMIN. This mammoth loss was caused by just four quarries in Madurai district in a relatively short span of time. “An agency of the government, which otherwise should be trend setter by strictly adhering to the rules in vogue has miserably failed to live up to the standard. Such unprecedented scale of monetary loss could not have occurred without the active connivance of the administrative executives,” he says.

He urges that the officials responsible and their nexus with uncouth politicians, right from the inception of TAMIN, should be probed thoroughly to ascertain the facts pertaining to the undervaluation of granite blocks and the reasons for the introduction of the Raising cum Sale Agency concept. The executive hierarchy in TAMIN, he alleges, was incompetent to carry out mining scientifically and handle the exports to maximise profit. In fact, TAMIN “underplayed its product by mentioning less recovery ratio to benefit the private players in the granite mining area,” he charges.

Recommendations

Sagayam recommends that the Madras High Court constitute a Special Investigation Multi-disciplinary Team of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to undertake a comprehensive probe into the vast depredation of a common resource such as granite and the massive profit made by the miners, who were aided and abetted by officials across the entire bureaucratic hierarchy. He says a special court to try all granite cases should be formed, a Lok Ayukta established, and TAMIN developed on the model of Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC).

He also suggests that the Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) be empowered to maintain a 24x7 Central Data Centre, collecting details relating to transactions associated with exports and imports of all departments dealing with the granite industry.

The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, and The Tamil Nadu Minor Mineral Concession Rules, 1959, should be replaced by a new law for conservation and sustainable development, not extraction alone. The State should sell the 1,62,000 granite blocks seized in 2012, he says.

Then comes an important facet of the entire probe. He insists that only upright officers with unblemished track record should be posted as Collectors and S.Ps of Madurai and other mineral-rich districts of the State.

The fiscal loss because of illicit mining is just indicative, and a thorough investigation is needed to arrive at the exact loss caused to the state. All mining, including that of river sand, granite, and beach sand, should be done through TAMIN. The money and penalties collected from the miners should be utilised to rejuvenate the ruined villages and restore people’s livelihoods.

It is clear that for his perseverance in this investigation, Sagayam has drawn inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi.

He quotes the Father of the Nation in this report: “The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So we have to hand over to them at least as it was handed over to us.”

Telangana

An arrest and a donation

the-nation

AT 3 a.m. on February 22, the police arrested Muddasani Kodandaram, a professor in political science at Osmania University, breaking down the front door of his house in Hyderabad. Also chairman of the Telangana Political Joint Action Committee (T-JAC), the nerve centre of the multiparty separate statehood movement, Kodandaram had marched shoulder to shoulder with Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao in Hyderabad for five years before India’s youngest State was born on June 2, 2014.

On the day of the arrest, the Chief Minister was at the Venkateswara temple in Tirumala, along with his family members, among them Cabinet colleagues, to offer to the deity gold jewellery valued at Rs.5 crore. The ornaments were made to order and paid for from the State’s Endowments Department’s Common Goods Fund (CGF). The offering was seemingly an acknowledgement of the divine help in realising the dream of a separate State.

While Kodandaram’s arrest represents a deeper malaise gripping the Telangana Rashtra Samiti-led government, the donation to the temple smacked of impropriety, as it amounted to a personal offering funded with the State’s temple revenues, which are supported with grants from the public exchequer.

The CGF is formed with 5 per cent of the monies collected from temples across the State that receive over Rs.50,000 annually as donations. The CGF, created under the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act, 1987, now applies to both States and has the mandate to “renovate, preserve and maintain” Hindu religious institutions which are in needy circumstances and to propagate the Hindu faith through activities such as the running of ved pathshalas, or religious seminaries.

A committee constituted by the government administers the CGF, but even if it had approved the donation of Rs.5 crore to the Tirumala temple, the law does not allow for it to be converted into gold jewellery.

After the creation of Telangana State, the major chunk of temple monies went to Andhra Pradesh, where there are 115 temples that receive Rs.25 lakh and above in annual donations as against 21 in Telangana. Data provided just ahead of the 2017-18 budgets of the two States show that Telangana has 12,302 temples. Of them, 34 have annual incomes of Rs.1 crore and above; 21 between Rs.25 lakh and Rs.1 crore; 318 between Rs.2 lakh and Rs.25 lakh; and 157 between Rs.50,000 and Rs.2 lakh. This brings the number of temples receiving over Rs.50,000 in the entire State to only 530.

Compare this with the 7 per cent that the Andhra Pradesh CGF receives from the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Trust alone, which generates an annual income of over Rs.2,000 crore.

Telangana’s CGF receipts from temples average Rs.10 crore annually. For the financial year 2016-17, the government allocated an extra Rs.50 crore from the State’s receipts “in view of the precarious situation of the CGF”, as services like “Dhoopa, Deepa, Neivedyam” alone would require Rs.12 crore. The Endowments Department has sought an increase of this allocation to Rs.68 crore in the next budget. In other words, the donation to the Tirumala temple was paid for from the public exchequer at the expense of neglected or dilapidated temples within Telangana.

The argument that this is an inconsequential amount in a State with a budget of over Rs.1,30,000 crore must be weighed against the fact that there have been several such instances in the past three years, and the cumulative effect is significant.

On October 9 last year, the Chief Minister “donated” a crown made of gold weighing 11 kilogram to the Bhadrakali temple of Warangal and 700 gram of gold coins, totally worth Rs.3.7 crore. And days after his Tirumala donation, KCR and his family visited the Kuravi Veerabhadra Swamy temple in Mahbubnagar district to donate a moustache made of gold to the deity there.

KCR supporters point to his secular credentials by referring to the sanctioning of Rs.10 crore through the State’s wakf board funds for the construction of an auditorium at the Jamia Nizamia, one of India’s oldest Islamic seminaries, for Sunnis in Hyderabad, and the grant of Rs.5 crore to construct a building to house Telangana’s pilgrims at the Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Rajasthan. The wakf board also receives grants-in-aid as its annual income of around Rs.10 crore falls far short of what is required to maintain wakf-administered properties.

On the same day as the Chief Minister’s temple donation, Kodandaram was to lead a protest in Hyderabad demanding that Chandrasekhar Rao deliver on the one lakh government jobs he promised a year ago in the Assembly. The police detained thousands of people in an effort to thwart the protest. The intention clearly was to undermine the credibility of the anti-Telangana Rashtra Samiti movement.

Kunal Shankar

Controversy

Twisting history

ZIYA US SALAM the-nation

ATTEMPTS by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Rajasthan to introduce Rana Pratap, the Rajput ruler of Mewar, as the winner of the Battle of Haldighati, in which he supposedly vanquished the Mughals, have sparked a controversy. At the centre of the controversy is the book titled Rashtra Ratan: Maharana Pratap (Aryavrat Sanskriti Sansthan, Delhi, 2007) in which the author Chandrashekhar Sharma has argued that Rajputs, and not Mughals, won the Battle of Haldighati in 1576.

Expressing his anguish over what he called “politicisation of history”, the eminent historian Satish Chandra said: “I am hoping that liberal and secular voices will not allow this disruptive attitude.” The veteran academic, whose Medieval India: From Sultanate to the Mughals is regarded as a primer to understanding medieval Indian history, said: “The battle between the forces of Akbar led by a Rajput, Man Singh, and those of Rana Pratap which included an Afghan contingent led by Hakim Khan Sur, initially ended in a stalemate. It cannot be considered a struggle between Hindus and Muslims, nor one for Rajput independence as there were Rajputs on both sides.” Yet, this is exactly what is sought to be done in Rajasthan today.

Chandrashekhar Sharma, who teaches in Udaipur’s Government Meera Kanya Mahavidyalaya, uses details from some of the land documents pertaining to the region surrounding Haldighati and the administrative decisions taken by Rana Pratap during the period to argue that Rana Pratap did not lose control over the territory. Quoting the contents of the book, BJP legislator Mohan Lal Gupta demanded a change in the way history is taught in Rajasthan University. Lending their voice to the debate, three other BJP legislators, former Higher Education Minister Kalicharan Saraf, School Education Minister Vasudev Devnani, and Urban Development and Housing Minister Rajpal Singh Shekhawat, demanded that the university’s curriculum should be restructured and Rana Pratap should be shown as the winner of the battle. The university’s History Department has since added the book to the list of reference books for undergraduate students to provide an alternative view to the dominant discourse.

The move has not gone down well with academics who believe history is being seen with blinkered eyes. The Battle of Haldighati, they argue, is widely but wrongly perceived as a Hindu-Muslim conflict, which actually is not the case. Both armies had a mix of Hindus and Muslims. If Islam Khan Sur, a descendant of Sher Shah Suri, along with his contingent was supporting the ruler of Mewar, Akbar’s army was led by Raja Man Singh of Amber. The Mughals were also helped by Shakti Singh, the brother of Rana Pratap.

The Battle of Haldighati was fought between the two forces on June 18, 1576, and is said to have lasted only four hours, not from sunrise to sunset as Chandrashekhar Sharma notes. It was primarily fought in the traditional manner between cavalry and elephants since the Mughals found it difficult to transport artillery, which was their strength, over the rough terrain. In a traditional fight, Rajputs were at an advantage.

Giving an outline of the outcome of the battle, Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, a medieval India historian of Aligarh Muslim University, said: “The impetuous attack of the Rajputs and others along with Rana Pratap led to a crumbling of the Mughal left and right wings and put pressure on the central forces of Man Singh’s army. But a rumour of Akbar’s arrival turned the tide, and resulted in a Rajput retreat. By July, Rana Pratap recaptured some of the lost territory and made Kumbhalgarh his base. Soon, Akbar actually appeared on the scene and many territories of Rana Pratap along with Kumbhalgarh were captured and Rana Pratap was forced to flee deep into the mountainous tracts of southern Mewar.”

The Mughal push did not end there. They exerted pressure on the Afghan chief of Jalore and the Rajput chiefs of Idar, Sirohi, Banswara, Dungarpur, and Bundi. These states, situated on the borders of Mewar with Gujarat and Malwa had traditionally acknowledged the supremacy of the dominant power in the region. Consequently, the rulers of these states submitted to the Mughals. A Mughal expedition was also sent to Bundi where Duda, the elder son of Rao Surjan Hada, had collaborated with Rana Pratap to take control over Bundi and adjacent areas. Both Surjan Hada and Bhoj, the father and younger brother of Duda respectively, took part in this conflict on the side of the Mughals. Rana Pratap ultimately escaped to the hills.

Satish Chandra said: “There is no evidence anywhere that Rana Pratap won the Battle of Haldighati. He is known for the valiant fight he put up. His guerilla tactics were later copied by Shivaji. It is wrong to characterise his fight with Akbar on religious lines. You cannot look at history through the prism of contemporary politics. Rana Pratap was a brave man no doubt but he was supported by the Bhils as also Afghans. He stood for some principles at a time when most other Rajputs had submitted to Akbar. Until Independence, there was no statue of Rana Pratap in Udaipur or any road named after him. Now, leaders talk about him for political reasons. There was nothing Hindutva about him. Those who are hailing him as a Hindu hero today are copying the language of British historians who saw medieval India as an unending conflict between Muslims and Hindus.”

Not a religious conflict

The Battle of Haldighati and the war between the Mughals and Rana Pratap was not a fight between two religions. It was a war for imperial hegemony, which was won decisively by the Mughals. In this, the Mughals had the support of a large number of Rajputs, and Rana Pratap had the support of Afghans.

Thus, “this so-called attempt by Rajasthan University is nothing but an attempt at creating new myths and distorting and falsifying well-established facts where there is no iota of controversy or ambiguity. It is just playing to the gallery at a time when the hydra-headed communal monster is raising its ugly head. You are going to create ignorant imbeciles by teaching such ‘history’,” Rezavi said.

The latest controversy is part of a series of right-wing attempts to glorify rulers of small kingdoms with the use of expressions like “maharana” (emperor) for Rana Pratap, although Mewar was barely a kingdom, and “veer” (brave) for Shivaji along with the nomenclature of “Shivaji’s empire”.

Rezavi said: “During the medieval period even insignificant rulers tried to take high-sounding titles. The ruler of Mewar took the title of Maha-Rana, the grand Rana. Such a title also symbolised the importance of the Rana as a prominent chief among a bevy of Rajput chieftains. Marwar and Mewar were both great Rajput chieftaincies compared with those of the Kachawahas of Amber or the Bundelas. The Kachawahas rose to prominence only after they became the collaborators of Mughals. Rulers of Mewar and Marwar were prominent even without the Mughals.”

Satish Chandra said: “They [politicians] are trying to distort history everywhere. History cannot be decided by politicians though they are trying very hard. Rana Pratap fought a brave but individual battle. Only a section of Rajputs supported him. Most of them had been won over by Akbar.” Incidentally, Akbar wanted to take the Rajputs and Khatris into his administration. “Eight of the 12 diwans in Akbar’s administration were Khatris and Kayasthas. That puts at rest all controversy about it being a fight for religion,” he said.

Incidentally, the Mughal sources refer to Shivaji simply as Shiva. The Marathas gained prominence only much later under the Peshwas. As Rezavi put it: “Shivaji and Sambhaji were petty hill rajas of a few fortresses and lived by collecting chauth [protection money]. Shivaji was defeated at the Battle of Purandhar by a Rajput, Mirza Raja Jai Singh. Before that, Mughal commanders who fought him were Shaista Khan and Jaswant Singh Rathore. When brought to Aurangzeb’s court at Agra, Shivaji was made fun of by none other than Jaswant Singh Rathore. He was imprisoned in the haveli of Ram Singh [son of Jai Singh] from where he managed to escape.”

Tales as history

Where will this attempt to mix myth with history lead to? “I see no end to such attempts at distortions when communal forces are out to divide our social fabric. The mere fact that they are attempting to include such tales as history in school and college textbooks is an attempt to pollute young minds. This is what the Nazis did, this is what Pakistan has done: in Pakistan references to Akbar have been removed from textbooks. The schools teach that Akbar was the one who harmed Islam by aligning himself with Hindus and Rajputs. In India, attempts are made to inculcate in young minds the idea that Akbar was actually bad because they [the communal forces] feel threatened by his irreligious attitude. Akbar’s ‘sul-i-kul’ [absolute peace, or policy of reconciliation] is feared by both Hindutva and Islamist forces,” Rezavi said.

Incidentally, Fr Monserrate, the Jesuit priest who visited Akbar’s court in 1585, had perceptively remarked: Akbar by tolerating every religion was in fact negating all. Rezavi said: “That is what worries Pakistani mullahs, that is what irks the Hindutva brigade in India. For both of them, the actual hero is Aurangzeb and the myths that surround him. To Muslim communal elements, he is a messiah; to Hindu chauvinists, he is an icon that helps them circulate their politics of hatred. The Indian masses are not fools. They will realise that kingship knew no religion. They [kings] had no religion but used religion to further their agenda just as modern-day politicians are doing.”

Some political leaders believe that Rana Pratap, Shivaji and other rulers opposed the Mughals because they were Muslims. That is far from true. Shivaji and Rana Pratap had a sizable number of Muslim commanders and soldiers in their army. The Mughal army comprised Rajputs, who were Hindus. Shivaji presided over what he called Hindu Pad Padshahi, as a Haindavaraja. But if one believes contemporary accounts, like that of Peter Mundy, most of his jails were filled with Brahmins. He collected chauth and sardeshmukhi from Hindu peasants as there were hardly any Muslim peasants.

Be it Rana Sanga who, as Satish Chandra says, invited Babur to come, or Rana Pratap or Shivaji, they fought the Mughals not because they were foreigners (there was no concept of nation then) or because they were Muslims (the coronation ceremony of Mahmud Lodi was done by Rana Sanga and he also issued coins in the name of Lodi), they fought for imperial hegemony and fought as one king against another.

The latest bid to foist Rana Pratap as an all-conquering Hindu icon reminds one of the Hindi film Jai Chittor. The film, made in 1961, was directed by Jaswant Jhaveri. It had a popular song by Lata Mangeshkar, “ O Pawan veh mein udne wale ghode”, which glorified Rana Pratap’s famed horse, Chetak, which is said to have saved his life in many a battle. The film, though, came with a warning: All incidents here bear no resemblance to any person living or dead. Such a warning is fine for a fictional film, and one could say the same about the history that is sought to be spread by Rajasthan in recent weeks.

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Oct 9,2020