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COVER STORY

18-08-2017

Flip-flop politics

Nitish on the cover

Briefing

Interview: Tejashwi Prasad Yadav

‘Part of Amit Shah’s ploy to bind Nitish’

Over the last year and a half, Tejashwi Yadav has emerged as the most important organisation man in the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The refrain among party workers and large sections of supporters was that Lalu Prasad’s son was maturing to be a competent leader in his own right and a worthy successor to the charismatic founder president of the RJD. Faced with the biggest crisis of his developing political career, as the person in the centre of the storm of the breakup of the RJD’s alliance with the Janata Dal (United), Tejashwi has been the picture of composure. He spoke to Frontline on the telephone a day after the collapse of the alliance and Nitish Kumar’s realignment with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Excerpts:

Nitish Kumar says it is your inability to explain your position on the corruption charges levelled against you that led him to break the Grand Alliance and go with the BJP.

At the outset, let me state that I did not expect this type of downright falsehood from somebody whom I have described several times in the past as a political mentor and a dear uncle. The fact is I explained the cooked-up nature of the charges against me and, at that point of time, he seemed to understand this position. So many of his associates in his party as well as in his rediscovered ally, the BJP, are facing several types of criminal cases. In fact, Nitish Kumar ji himself is facing an accusation in a murder case. The Chief Minister of our neighbouring State, Yogi Adityanath, with whom Nitish Kumar ji would be working closely now as a political ally, has an array of criminal charges against him with the offences marked by grievous sections such as IPC 302, 307, 153 A, 295 and 506. [These sections deal with heinous crimes such as murder, attempt to murder and promoting enmity between different groups of people on the basis of birth, race, language, etc.]

If it was the raising of one set of charges against me that made him hurry out from our alliance, on what moral logic did he come into the alliance in the first place? When he aligned with us 20 months ago, my father and RJD president Lalu Prasad Yadav ji was already convicted on similar charges and was pursuing legal appeals. So, where was Nitish Kumar ji’s moral compunction then? At that time, he was so animatedly talking about and making plans to fight the communal BJP. So, it is evident that the charges against me were not his actual concern. He was desperate to get back to his communal partners and to achieve that he employed me as a pawn. Or, to put it more plainly, stabbed me in the back when he should have been guiding younger leaders for the betterment of Bihar.

There was a sense in the Nitish Kumar camp that your popularity ratings both as a politician and as an administrator were improving. Do you think that this could have been one of the reasons for this sudden disaffection with you?

I had heard such views from other people too. Who am I to comment on such perceptions. It is the job of the media and political observers to evaluate and state whether such perceptions have merit.

When Nitish Kumar aligned with the RJD and the Congress 20 months ago, he had projected this as the beginning of a national political model, which would eventually turn into a movement against the BJP and especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He had even said that this was the vision for the future of a secular India. But now you are saying that Nitish Kumar had planned his return to the BJP fold long ago. There seems to be some incongruity in your perception. Why would a person who would have been virtually one of the topmost leaders of the national opposition to the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance leave it all of a sudden if he did not have a good reason?

That’s where the role of the dirty tricks department of the BJP becomes important. As all of you know, their team for this section is formidable. The track record of Amit Shah ji, the president of the BJP, is by itself phenomenal in this regard. He has charted a dark and shady path from Gujarat to Muzaffarnagar to West Bengal over the past several decades. My own thinking is that Amit Shah ji would have unravelled some special ploy to bind Nitish Kumar ji. We have a broad inkling of what it is, but this needs more exploration. We shall let the world know once we are able to complete our probe.

But beyond all this, Nitish Kumar ji’s move is a betrayal of the mandate of the 2015 Assembly election. The mandate given by the people of Bihar in 2015 was against the BJP and its communal drive and anti-people economic policies. It is nothing short of a murder of democracy committed by a so-called champion of moral and democratic values. I believe that Nitish Kumar ji had the realisation at that point of time that if he allied with the BJP then, he would not have won, because the people were thoroughly disgusted with the Modi government and the BJP as a whole. So, he came with us, got our votes, and once safely ensconced, has gone back into the communal fold, utterly violating the will of the people.

Do you think there will be a revolt within the JD (U) on this betrayal of the mandate?

There are already signs of disgruntlement at this decision, which serves the interest of only one man in that party. We are waiting and watching as to how things unfold in the coming days.

Evidently, the entire Lalu Prasad family is facing a tough time with the spate of corruption allegations and investigations by various agencies. How do you propose to counter this?

Lalu ji and all of us in the family have always held our trust in our legal system and the judiciary. At one level, we are pursuing that path. At the political level, our people have full trust and faith in our leadership. It is something that was underscored in the last elections too, when we won more seats though we contested as many seats as the JD (U). Yes, it could be a long and multifaceted struggle, but we will continue to fight relentlessly.

Bihar

Power games

NITISH KUMAR’S choice of words to describe his return as Chief Minister of Bihar at two different junctures in the past 20 months is a study in contrast. In November 2015, immediately after the Mahagathbandhan—the grand alliance consisting of the Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress and the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United)—swept to power defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Chief Minister sought to place the electoral triumph in a larger sociopolitical context with ideological overtones. He stated that the most important message of the victory was the resounding popular acceptance of one development paradigm and the emphatic rejection of another; the Bihar electorate apparently had voted for development with social justice and democracy while categorically repudiating the notion of development that promotes crony capitalism and seeks to cover up this anti-people mission by perpetuating communal divisions in society.

Approximately a year and a half later, when Nitish Kumar broke up the Mahagathbandhan and revived his erstwhile alliance with the NDA and once again took oath of office as Chief Minister, political and ideological formulations were conspicuous by their absence. The single most important thrust of the pronouncements of the four-times-sworn-in Chief Minister was individualistic. “My conscience did not allow me to continue in the Mahagathbandhan,” he said, adding that he would not compromise when it came to corruption in governance and the development of Bihar. The reference to corruption was, of course, in relation to the cases and investigations that came up recently against the first family of the RJD, including party president Lalu Prasad and son Tejashwi Yadav, Deputy Chief Minister in the Mahagathbandhan government.

Political observers and analysts were quick to deduce the rise of the “Me” element in Nitish Kumar’s latest manoeuvre and the abdication of the sociopolitical paradigm he had expounded in November 2015. “The invocation of the ‘my conscience’ phrase is almost like a political Freudian slip. It unravels the urge of a particular type of hyperindividualism that seeks to acquire and cling on to power at the personal level, whatever the social cost,” pointed out the veteran socialist Shivanand Tiwari.

The former JD(U) Rajya Sabha member told Frontline that the maudlin conjuration of “conscience” needed to be analysed in a political and historical framework, both in the immediate and in the medium term. “The leader holds forth on morality, conscience and all that one evening and what does he do in the next six hours? Join hands with the very forces he had castigated as communal and crony capitalist in a hard-fought election barely a year and a half ago. If he was such an epitome of political and personal morality, the right way would have been to dissolve the Assembly and call for a fresh mandate. But what does he do? Creep in less than 24 hours through the back door,” said Tiwari.

Disowning a development model

Tiwari also pointed out that it was Nitish Kumar himself who had chosen to present the 2015 electoral victory and the rallying of political forces that created it as a model for the rest of the country to adopt and advance the politics of development with social justice. Tiwari said: “He had held forth that there is a pointer to India as a whole in this massive ratification of the development paradigm. He had explained that this paradigm as well as the political leadership that advanced it were more suited than its rival to the interests of the socially and economically marginalised sections of the country. It was also argued [that] the Bihar Mahagathbandhan paradigm nourished democracy and through that the lives of the people, while the Modi model helped a select few get richer and unleashed economic hardships and social divisions in society, literally debilitating democracy. Now, those were proclamations laden with a great sense of responsibility towards the country, its social ethos and its people. Why is that there is no prick of conscience in the abandonment of this national responsibility?”

Tiwari went on to add that he could not see much merit in Nitish Kumar’s discovery of troubling corruption charges against his erstwhile deputy, Tejashwi Yadav. “In any case, the case against Tejashwi is only at the investigation stage. It may get proved or not. Why not let the law take its on course? What is the need for this hurry?” he asked.

Tejashwi Yadav reflected the sentiment. Talking to Frontline on phone, he said that when Nitish Kumar aligned with the RJD in 2015, his party’s president Lalu Prasad was already convicted on corruption charges. “Where was Nitish Kumar ji’s moral compunction then?” he asked.

A number of political observers spread across Bihar, including the advocate Ramkumar Choudhary of Arah and Anisur Rehman of Bhagalpur, told Frontline that a closer analysis of the sudden moral righteousness of Nitish Kumar exposed it as completely hollow. “Barely a week before the developments in Bihar, a renowned editor of an academic journal was forced to resign. His crime was that he had made bold to expose the tweaking of rules in relation to special economic zones [SEZs] by the Modi government in order to impart benefit to the tune of Rs.500 crore to the Gautam Adani Group, considered close to the Prime Minister. Nitish ji is indeed crying hoarse about corruption, but why has this slipped his attention?” asked Rehman.

“Scores of such corruption cases involving BJP leaders and friends of the BJP, including in places like Kerala where the BJP is still a fledgling party, have been deliberately ignored by Nitish ji in his overwhelming urge to rejoin the BJP’s political team,” said Choudhary. Rehman was of the view that the current flip-flop and the reasoning advanced for it had brought down Nitish Kumar’s credibility considerably. He was also of the view that this would start reflecting significantly in popular support in due course.

Already, the idea has gained resonance within the JD(U). While two senior Rajya Sabha members of the party—Ali Anwar from Bihar and M.P. Veerendrakumar from Kerala—have openly revolted against Nitish Kumar’s decision, terming it as a travesty of the party’s ideological and political orientation, former national president Sharad Yadav has initiated parleys at multiple levels to evolve concrete steps within the organisation to counter the Nitish Kumar exercise. Ali Anwar was sarcastic when he commented that “Nitish Kumar decided to form an alliance with the BJP listening to his conscience, but my conscience does not allow me to support Nitish Kumar’s decision of forming the government with the BJP”. He said that he felt “the reasons that led to a rift when we walked out of an alliance with the BJP are still relevant. In fact, those reasons are even more relevant under the present circumstances”. Anwar also maintained that he would raise his concerns within the party as and when he got an opportunity.

Realpolitik matters

A section of the JD(U) as well as a large number of political observers are of the view that it is the “Me” factor and some special considerations on retaining individual power that had led Nitish Kumar to undertake this manoeuvre. A highly placed source in the JD(U) expounded how this played out at the level of manoeuvres and realpolitik. He said: “It is true that Nitish Kumar meant every word he expressed when he helped form the Mahagathbandhan and projected it as the model alternative for the country in November 2015. But several factors that came up over the next 12 months raised doubts in him about its organisational and electoral efficacy. Apart from this, there were factors that directly challenged his political positioning in Bihar as well as at the Centre. The course of action that Nitish Kumar had imagined for himself had moves that would be initiated to project him as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the united opposition by November 2016, one year since the electoral victory in Bihar. That did not happen. The Congress, which was expected to initiate moves in this direction, did not move one bit. It was evident that for the Congress, Lalu Prasad was a more important political ally. The second upsetting factor was the rise in the credibility and acceptance of Tejashwi Yadav in a matter of six to eight months of the formation of the Mahagathbandhan government. The young leader was seen to have learnt the nuances of statecraft with consummate ease and was being applauded both by his support base and by neutral observers. This development was completely unexpected and Nitish Kumar realised that the JD(U) in Bihar might not be able to demand a higher or even an equal number of seats to contest as the RJD would in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and the 2020 Assembly elections. Evidently, Nitish Kumar’s chances of emerging as a powerful national leader or even retaining the Chief Minister’s position in 2020 were getting increasingly doubtful.”

It is in the context of all these apprehensions and insecurities that Nitish Kumar started considering the option of playing second fiddle to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said the highly placed source in the JD(U). “If I am not getting acceptance within the broad opposition ranks as a potential Prime Minister and if there is a possibility that even the Chief Minister’s position would be denied in 2020, why not retain the number one administrative post in Bihar with BJP support? That question increasingly started getting a favourable answer in his mind, and then demonetisation happened. Nitish saw the opportunity to shift sides and proclaimed support for that. The rest, as they say, is history,” he said.

Post-demonetisation, things moved pretty fast, with State BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi facilitating communication with the party’s central leadership. By all indications, the larger political plan was devised and orchestrated by BJP president Amit Shah himself. Apparently, this included deploying the dirty tricks department with the specific aim of targeting the Lalu Prasad family as a whole and clipping the wings of an emerging Tejashwi Yadav. The orchestration moved along with the presidential election. Right from that time, there was a feeling within sections of the JD(U) that the last week of July would be momentous.

Some in the party projected the date as July 28 while others talked about a future date. But then the orchestrated event happened earlier than that, on July 26. Nitish Kumar resigned as Chief Minister, and within minutes Narendra Modi tweeted his approval. Again, within minutes, the BJP convened its Central Parliamentary Board and came up with the decision to support a new Nitish Kumar-led government. It was immediately conveyed to Sushil Kumar Modi in Patna. The numbers, of course, were in place. The JD(U) had 71 MLAs and the BJP and allies 58, which gave the new alliance a majority of 129 in the 243-member Assembly. Later, two independents joined the coalition, taking the number to 131.

Larger plans

By all indications, the plans afoot in Delhi that go beyond mere politics visualise a complete subjugation of the Lalu Prasad family with a vigorous pursuit of corruption cases against its members. “Indeed, BJP leaders, including Chief Ministers like Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana and Raghubar Das in Jharkhand, are facing colossal charges of corruption, but that would not be followed up in any haste. Union Ministers like Nitin Gadkari too, who are facing umpteen charges, will roam around freely. But Lalu Prasad is the prime mover behind the efforts to build a grand opposition alliance, trying to bring together the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party and the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party, and he and his political outfit need to be neutralised at any cost,” said the highly placed JD(U) source. The calculation, apparently, is that once Lalu Prasad and the RJD are neutralised, the opposition alliance will collapse on its own, especially given that the Congress’ current leadership is synonymous with lack of political initiative and creativity. Clearly, the Nitish Kumar manoeuvre founded solely on personal aggrandisement and retaining individual political power has dealt a crippling blow not only to the RJD in Bihar but the entire mainstream opposition in India. It remains to be seen how the opposition parties, especially the Congress, face this situation and evolve counter-strategies.

Many smaller political groups representing a wide range of ideological shades and opinions and non-political groups have highlighted points for an opposition action plan that seeks to focus on the BJP’s own corruption and its aggressive pursuit of diversification of land use to favour BJP-friendly corporate groups, including the Adanis. However, this too has remained in the conceptual stage for a long time. The unmistakable message of the Nitish Kumar manoeuvre and its follow-up plans is that the BJP and its top two leaders, Modi and Shah, have already started a no-holds-barred campaign for the 2019 elections. And, as in many instances in the recent past, they have taken by surprise the opposition which is floundering about for a tangible and effective counter-plan.

Bihar

Anatomy of a coup

NALIN VERMA cover-story

NITISH KUMAR HAS EVENTUALLY LOST THE battle that he waged against Narendra Modi by dumping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2013. The BJP defeated the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), headed by Nitish Kumar, in the 2014 general election in Bihar, but Nitish Kumar, in company with Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, avenged that defeat in 2015. The Prime Minister now has made up for that loss by “guiding” Nitish Kumar to lead a coup against the 2015 mandate and installing him as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Chief Minister.

The dramatic collapse of the JD(U)-RJD-Congress “grand alliance” is rooted in Nitish Kumar’s inability to increase his acceptance among voters vis-a-vis a “discredited” Lalu Prasad’s success in getting the RJD to emerge as the single-largest party in the Assembly after the 2015 Assembly election and, subsequently, his son Tejashwi Prasad Yadav’s fast rise as an acceptable leader in the RJD and its support base.

In fact, at the closed-door meeting of JD(U) office-bearers that Nitish Kumar convened after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided establishments belonging to Lalu Prasad’s family and lodged a first information report (FIR) against his deputy, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, among others, on July 5, Bijendra Yadav, the Energy Minister and MLA from Supaul, said: “We should have a realistic assessment of our strength. Both of us [the RJD and the JD(U)] contested equal number of seats—101 each to be exact—in 2015. But the RJD won 80 against the JD(U)’s 71. There is no reason for us to go by the CBI charges against Tejashwi. We had entered into an alliance with Lalu Prasad after he was convicted in a fodder scam case and people have mandated our alliance.” Bijendra Yadav had touched a raw nerve. But he was absolutely correct in pointing out the hard reality of the JD(U)’s strength against the RJD’s in the Assembly.

Lalu Prasad accepted Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister as per his prior commitment despite the JD(U) ending up second in the pecking order, but appropriated his political share by making Tejashwi Prasad Yadav Deputy Chief Minister and getting 12 ministerial berths, including the Road Construction Ministry for Tejashwi Prasad Yadav and the Health Ministry for Tej Pratap Yadav, his elder son. The Congress, a partner in the alliance with 27 seats, the Left, and all the “secular” parties across the country celebrated the 2015 Bihar results as a big setback for the resurgent saffron politics of the BJP. But Nitish Kumar—a deft player of power—got the measure of his strength then itself. He managed to conceal his melancholy successfully in the celebratory atmosphere.

“But a calm operator, he employed his favoured weapons—tact, guile and camouflage—to nail Lalu Prasad as the perception sank in that it was Lalu Prasad’s charisma and larger mass base that had halted the BJP’s forward march in Bihar,” said Shivanand Tiwari, a former JD(U) MP who is close to Lalu Prasad now. Significantly, when the CBI launched its crackdown on Lalu Prasad’s establishments, Nitish Kumar preferred to stay in Rajgir, his hometown, with R.C. P. Singh, his trusted aide and MP, for nearly a week. Singh is believed to be the only person in the JD(U) who is privy to Nitish Kumar’s manoeuvres. The only statement that Singh gave while staying with Nitish Kumar was: “Nitish Kumar has not joined politics to earn wealth. He is in politics to build society and [the] State. The JD(U) is not a party to seal and promote corrupt practices.”

Nitish Kumar would have liked the JD(U) to have the largest number of seats in the Assembly to justify his position as Chief Minister. It did not happen. What upset him more was Tejashwi Prasad Yadav’s growing acceptance in the party’s rank and file and also among the core mass base of the RJD. People screamed “ Hamara neta kaisa ho, Tejashwi Yadav jaisa ho” (How should our leader be? He should be like Tejashwi Yadav) in gleeful chorus whenever Tejashwi Prasad Yadav went to Raghopur. The former cricketer-turned-young leader performed reasonably well as a Minister. Political circles in Bihar were agog with talk that the RJD would again emerge as the largest party in 2020 and Lalu Prasad would then push his son—already experienced in governance—as the Chief Minister. Not to speak of his prime ministerial ambitions, Nitish Kumar would have found it hard to come back as the Chief Minister after 2020.

It was when Nitish Kumar strongly backed Modi’s demonetisation initiative—against which the Left and the Congress launched agitations and which former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as colossal mismanagement—that the grand alliance partners, the media and almost all the “secular” parties began noticing Nitish Kumar’s softening stand towards Modi. While supporting demonetisation, Nitish Kumar asked Modi to crack down on those owning benami property as well. In hindsight, RJD leaders think that remark was targeted at Lalu Prasad.

But Nitish Kumar has been working hard behind the scenes for quite some time now. Occasional dinners with the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and “protocol” meetings with Modi were all part of the game of deception in which he eventually outsmarted Lalu Prasad and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.

When Nitish Kumar supported Modi’s Christmas Day tete-a-tete with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in December 2015—less than a month after the JD(U)-RJD-Congress “grand alliance” had come to power, he surprised Sharad Yadav, his then party chief, and Pavan K. Varma, senior leader and a former diplomat. Nitish Kumar’s statement “ Pradhan Mantri ki Pakistan yatra sahi thi” (The Prime Minister’s Pakistan visit was right) came just after Varma had stated: “The interaction between [the] two nation heads should have happened in a structured manner.” It was the first time that Nitish Kumar had praised an action of Modi’s.

The key political move he made after becoming the Chief Minister was to replace Sharad Yadav as president of the JD(U). Insiders say that Nitish Kumar made behind-the-scenes “deals” with Modi, Jaitley and Amit Shah. He felt that Sharad Yadav might prove to be an irritant. Hence, he removed him from the president’s post, tightening his control over the party.

Nitish Kumar also hailed the Centre’s decision to go for “surgical strikes” on terrorist launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in the wake of the Uri terror attack. The Congress, the RJD and the Left were largely of the opinion that such actions should not have been made public.

Nitish Kumar, of course, took on Modi while he was in the NDA. But his calculations to outclass Modi to become the party’s prime ministerial candidate went awry. He has seldom been a committed secularist. It is pertinent to remember that Nitish Kumar maintained a studied silence on the 2002 Gujarat riots when he was the Railway Minister in the A.B. Vajpayee-led government.

After dumping the BJP, he hoped to emerge as the most credible leader against Modi in the opposition. He tried to bring together six estranged members of the old Janata Parivar. He feverously campaigned in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the Assembly elections there. However, he failed to find allies. The BJP won Uttar Pradesh with a handsome majority, and installed Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister. In recent months, Nitish Kumar has been silent on the gau rakshaks’ onslaughts on Muslims in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and on the atrocities against Dalits in Saharanpur.

He supported the then Bihar Governor, Ram Nath Kovind, as a presidential candidate after talking to the allies about fielding a common candidate. In a way, he tried to provoke Lalu Prasad and the Congress into withdrawing their support to him and thus free him.

But the partners never gave him a reason to get out of the alliance. A top source in the JD(U) revealed that Nitish Kumar, along with Amit Shah, worked out an “effective” strategy to desert the “grand alliance”. The CBI lodged FIRs against Tejashwi Prasad Yadav. Nitish Kumar employed his foot soldiers—Sanjay Singh, Neeraj Kumar and Ajay Alok—to fuel the perception that Tejashwi Prasad Yadav was an accomplice with his father in acquiring ill-begotten wealth. Simultaneously, Amit Shah issued instructions to BJP leaders in Bihar not to attack Nitish Kumar and concentrate more on Lalu Prasad’s corruption.

At the JD(U) meeting on July 5, Nitish Kumar said how he had been very particular about his “zero tolerance” policy towards corruption and how he compelled three of his former colleagues to resign when they were charge-sheeted. He suggested that Tejashwi Prasad Yadav “explain pointwise” the charges levelled against him, in keeping with his “zero tolerance” policy. But Nitish Kumar did not explain why the BJP had no problems with Uma Bharati, charge-sheeted by the CBI in a more serious crime, or Narottam Mishra, a charge-sheeted Minister in Madhya Pradesh.

Although the FIR names Tejashwi Prasad Yadav in the list of accused persons, it does not say what he is guilty of. “What will Tejashwi explain when the CBI itself has not explained its charges against him?” asked Bihar RJD president Ram Chandra Purbe. Lalu Prasad presided over a meeting of the RJD subsequently and rejected the JD(U)’s demand for Tejashwi Prasad Yadav’s resignation. Nitish Kumar met Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to explain how it was imperative that all the alliance partners maintain alliance dharma. By then, he and BJP strategists had already fine-tuned the strategy. Nitish Kumar abruptly resigned on July 26, taking Lalu Prasad off guard. “Despite his claim that he reads politics well, Lalu Prasad was not ready to believe that Nitish Kumar would break the alliance. Nitish Kumar had decisively outwitted him,” said a leader close to Lalu Prasad.

Against people’s mandate

Muslim and Yadav lawmakers in the JD(U) are unhappy with Nitish Kumar’s move. “My conscience does not allow me to support Nitish’s move. The people of Bihar voted against communal forces. The decision is not in consonance with the people’s mandate,” said Ali Anwar, an MP of the JD(U). Punam Yadav, JD(U) MLA from Khagaria, said: “Tejashwi has been subjected to injustice. He should not have been asked to quit unless charges against him were proved.” A Muslim MLA who did not want to be named said: “The decision is grossly against the people’s mandate. People who voted against communal forces are feeling cheated.”

The abrupt collapse of the “grand alliance” has reduced the options before Yadavs, Lalu Prasad’s constituency, and Muslims. With Lalu Prasad all set to play the victim card for his son, Yadavs are expected to rally behind him with more ferocity and bite. And Muslims—at the receiving end under the Modi-Shah dispensation—have no option left but to stay with the Lalu Prasad-led alliance in Bihar. Together, Yadavs and Muslims constitute about 30 per cent of the State’s electorate.

Lalu Prasad has already indicated that he will bring the embattled Dalit community into his fold by offering a Rajya Sabha seat to Mayawati, who recently resigned as an MP citing the increasing number of atrocities against Dalits under BJP rule. The breakup of the alliance will compel Jitan Ram Manjhi, a Mahadalit Musahar community leader, to join hands with Lalu Prasad. With Nitish Kumar in the NDA, the space for Jitan Ram Manjhi—whom Nitish Kumar had used and eased out in the run-up to the 2015 elections—has shrunk in the NDA. Another entrant to Lalu Prasad’s fold might be Upendra Kushwaha, a Central Minister and head of the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party. Kushwaha is a leader of the Koiris, whose numbers are next only to Yadavs in the Bihar hinterlands.

On the other hand, the upper castes, who have been supporting the BJP for over two decades now, will come back to the Nitish Kumar-led NDA. Nitish Kumar has cultivated the extremely backward classes all through his tenure and will expect these sections to be with him.

The biggest advantage for Nitish Kumar is that Lalu Prasad, in all likelihood, might go to jail for a protracted period. The real test will come then for Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, who is set to lead the party in the legislature and outside the House as well. After lodging the FIR against him, the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government might go for the kill with Tejashwi Prasad Yadav too. So he will have to learn to swim in the middle of a storm.

Nalin Verma is a senior journalist and an assistant professor at Lovely Professional University, Phagwara, Punjab.

Theory unlimited

CULTURAL Studies 1983 is a slim but power-packed book. Its curious title derives from the fact that the volume brings together a set of seminal lectures that Stuart Hall, the pre-eminent British public intellectual from Birmingham, delivered during a summer school at the University of Illinois (United States) in 1983. While the lectures are, therefore, nearly three decades old, they have appeared in print posthumously; Hall passed away in 2014.

The field of theory, however, is evergreen: the rigour and dialectics of a piece of genuine philosophical cogitation or criticism remain alive and appealing for centuries, a continuing source of intellectual edification and instruction. So, while Hall may not have been a Plato or an Abhinavagupta, his mastery over some of the iconic theoretical formulations of the 20th century Marxism, structuralism, semiotics, deconstructionism—and, more importantly, his ability to engage with them, and indeed better them, with perfect lucidity makes him memorable and relevant even in the 21st century. As the book description claims, here was a thinker and a discipline—cultural studies—that perhaps changed the course of critical scholarship and of political imagination and strategy.

At this juncture, a rewind is called for. What is this discipline called cultural studies and what does it have to do with all these politically charged schools of thought? The term culture is itself notoriously hard to define in any one way. Among the meanings associated with it is a way of life or the shared values and practices that any given social group hold in common. In popular usage, it is understood to refer to such things as literature, music, art, ritual beliefs and festivals.

However, a closer look may reveal the truth of Hall’s sardonic observation that “extremely slippery, vague, amorphous, and multifarious”, culture “is one of those concepts which, unlike the State, tends to wither away and disappear the more you work on it… [it is] a displaced field because so much of what one requires to understand cultural relations is not, in any obvious sense, cultural” (page 4).

So while a seemingly innocuous field of scholarship, cultural studies as it developed in the United Kingdom, especially at Birmingham University in the 1950s and 1960s where Hall headed a new, dedicated centre, the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, turned out to be a study not so much of culture as of the politics it presupposes or the structures of power that may underwrite it. Uncovering such structures or making visible the subterraneous workings of power has given rise to much theorising. Cultural Studies 1983 is a cogent summation of the most influential modern theories that have grappled with and tried to explain the dynamics of unequal societies and the cultures they produced.

Marx and culture

Of all those theories, it is explicitly Marxism that predominates in the eight lectures collected in this book. More specifically, Marxism’s contribution to the interpretation of culture. In classical Marxism, however, that would have been something of a contradiction in terms. For, Marx originally was understood as dismissing culture or certainly subordinating and reducing it to economics. This was captured in that metaphor central to Marxist thought, namely, the base determining the superstructure.

But Hall tells us that the mandate of cultural studies was precisely to reject this untenable reductionism of Marx. He calls it “wrestling with the angels of Marxist theory”, “an assault on the inadequacy of the base-superstructure model” (pages ix, 24).

It is important to note that the main objection to this determinist model, according to Hall, is a humanist one: It diminishes the human lives you are trying to give an account of …[and] people cannot, should not, be thought of in such thin terms, especially since it is the purpose of cultural analysis to reaffirm their experiences, to bring them forward again in their richness” (page 47). Hence, the alternative sought by cultural studies involved retaining an essentially materialist approach while restoring culture to all its complexity, contradictions and autonomy.

Accordingly, this book examines the work of eminent scholars who revisited Marxist analytics, emending and extending it in important new ways. Starting adroitly with Marx’s comrade, Frederick Engels himself, the book scrutinises and critiques at length the interventions by Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, E.P. Thompson, Louis Althusser and Antonio Gramsci.

As readers will know, all these scholars were members of Communist parties. This points again to the fundamentally political underpinnings of the cultural studies movement: Rejecting the dominant forms of Marxism, it was a search for another sort of socialist politics as much as a new materialist practice. This is best exemplified by Hall himself: As a founding member of the New Left and editor of its iconic journal, The New Left Review, Hall’s academic work was closely tied up with his political strategising. A striking legacy of the Left movement, this combination of academics and politics continues to be found in university campuses all over the world today.

Despite his political affiliation, there is something to be said for the humanism of Hall’s scholarship that uniquely rejected absolutes and what he called the fetishising of theory (read: ideology). He insisted on the historical context of theories and that “ideas always arise in particular concrete historical locations which inflect the ideas in certain ways”. Therefore, “theorising is a continuous engagement or dialog between positions in which clarification is a mutual process…. The notion that theory progresses by a sudden epistemological rupture with all the bad theories that preceded it… without any further need to think again for another epoch, is the summit of the rationalist illusion” (page 2, emphasis added).

Extending this concern for flexibility and context-sensitivity, Hall also made a plea against the tendency to “transfer wholesale” cultural theories to different geographical and intellectual contexts, without a care for their specificities and complexities. This, one might add, is a tendency rampant in academia worldwide as well as in India, where the rush to adopt Western historical and anthropological models has often caused much confusion in explaining distinctive indigenous traditions or social formations that refused to submit to the imported perspectives.

There are other such salutary insights of wide interest in Cultural Studies 1983. This review will discuss some more of these rather than detail the dense technicalities of ideological argumentation in the book, since the latter is likely to put this review beyond the reach of lay readers just as it, frankly, puts the book itself.

Tradition & selectivity

While explaining Raymond Williams’ anthropological understanding of culture as a community’s whole way of life, Hall penetratingly observes that “[any] practice is always cultured. It has been cultivated. It is impregnated with forms of interpretation. That is what culture is: experience lived, experience interpreted, experience defined” (page 33).

In the process, every culture throws up certain traditions, implicit in which is an element of selectivity, wherein some voices find themselves left out. About this controversial nature of tradition, Hall has the following, careful and balanced comment to offer: “A dominant and traditional culture functions precisely by selecting particular voices and organising them into a tradition in order to exclude others. I don’t attribute intentionality to that, but that is how tradition functions. What else is a tradition but a selection of some things and not others?” (page 31).

Then, endorsing Thompson’s drastic critique of Williams, Hall agrees that a more adequate account of culture would talk about “whole ways of struggle” rather than a whole way of life, since in any social formation there are multiple and contesting subcultures. The monumental legacy of this rather more confrontational notion of culture and indeed of history can be seen in two immensely popular fields of research in India today—gender and caste. These categories of analysis are proposing entirely new ways of writing and reading the past, if not also proposing entirely new pasts which, it is argued, were hidden until now in more conventional accounts.

Interestingly, while calling out the limitations in Marxian thought and analysis, Hall also pauses to redeem the great German philosopher, especially in relation to what is regarded as Marx’s greatest failure: his incorrect prediction of the impending death of capitalism as a result of the socialist upheavals in Europe in the middle of the 19th century. Hall fascinatingly writes: “As Engels later said, they mistook the birth pangs of capitalism for its death throes…. It was a profound error of historical judgment. [But] It really defeats Marxism to take Marx as a prophet…. If you invest the last vestige of your faith in Marx, and he makes a wrong prophecy, that can only destroy Marxism for you; you have made a commitment that Marx did not invite” (page 87).

The author devotes the last two chapters to advances in the Marxian understanding of the state as well as resistance to it. The former revolves around the Gramscian notion of hegemony that, among other things, shows how the state was truly in control, not merely by being a coercive instrument of the ruling class in the Leninist sense, but by being the primary agency through which cultural relations are organised and reorganised. Serving as a “contradictory site”, the state was also educative, creating new social and cultural possibilities.

As if taking off from this, Hall identifies the cultural practices—such as literature, music and religion—that construct “subjective possibilities and new political subjectivities” as the locus for popular resistance and opposition to the state (page 206).

Cultural Studies 1983 is a book that charts complex ideational terrain with clarity and sympathy. Although it may appear to dwell on well-worn theories from a different era, it nonetheless retains an appeal for aficionados of intellectual history.

Shonaleeka Kaul is an associate professor in the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The Army in Kashmir

This book is a blend of what the author read, heard and witnessed. A well-educated IPS officer, A.M. Watali read widely and rose to become the Deputy Inspector General (DIG), Jammu and Kashmir. He draws on secondary sources, some of dubious worth. Bilqees Taseer’s recital of witnesses to the contrary cannot affect the undoubted fact that Sheikh Abdullah did not visit Pakistan after his release from prison in 1947. Movements of such persons cannot be concealed.

The author’s account of what he had heard must be subjected to the accepted tests of weighing such accounts. The same holds good for his personal testimony. He was a highly politicised police officer and freely advised Farooq Abdullah on matters political.

Watali was widely suspected of complicity in the rigging of the 1987 elections to the State Assembly, which provoked separatists to revolt. For an author, a memoir is an appropriate instrument in which to cite charges against oneself and address them convincingly. Of this there is no sign. Chapter 15 on “Fraudulent Elections” is well documented.

The National Conference (N.C.)-Congress coalition was formed on November 7, 1986, with former Foreign Secretary T.N. Kaul as mediator. Watali was asked by Farooq Abdullah and the busybody Rajesh Pilot for his assessment. Elections were held on March 23, 1987. The Muslim United Front won a mere four seats, the N.C. 40, and the Congress 26. The author repeatedly mentions the role of “a senior lady Congress leader holding an important constitutional position”. She offered him money to be spent in the campaign. He refused. No prizes for guessing the identity of that “lady”, a despicable turncoat. Watali’s assertion that “rigging was resorted to in only about 10 constituencies” will not raise eyebrows. It will make people smile, if not laugh.

The book’s real value lies in its eyewitness account of the outbreak of popular revolt in 1988-89. He believes that the State police could have handled the situation. The induction of the Indian Army and a Jagmohan as Governor made matters worse. Watali is consistently critical of Pakistan’s role in Kashmir right from the beginning. His account of the initial phase of militancy in Kashmir from 1988 to 1990 is invaluable. It rings true. No study of the Kashmir problem can ignore Watali’s detailed and authentic testimony. “Militancy was curbed and brought within manageable limits by 1989. When I relinquished my office in October 1989, only 38 militants were on the wanted list, including a few guides who were operating only in border areas.”

He recalls: “In my conversation with both of them I had opposed the Congress-National Conference pre-poll alliance for 1987 elections on the ground that it would shrink the moderate political and religious space and strengthen the position of fundamentalists and hardliners.” That was political advice.

He mentions precisely the men who went to Pakistan, when and with what results. The procession began in October 1987. Army pickets on the Line of Control (LoC) cooperated, for a consideration, of course. Neither the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) nor the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) informed the State government and State police of any movement of Kashmir youth across the LoC, neither did the Army or the Border Security Force (BSF). All agencies seemed to have been blissfully ignorant of the happenings along the LoC and the impending insurgency in the State. Watali is severely critical of militants who committed crimes on the people. “I confirm that security arrangements were in place up to October 1989, when I relinquished my office. I am sure that the tragedy of 21 May 1990 would have been averted and the Maulana Mohammed Farooq would not have been martyred had the security arrangements continued and even [been] beefed up, given the deterioration in the overall situation in the city after December 1989 to January 1990.”

He records: “Tremendous pressure was put on Farooq Abdullah to allow the Central government to apply Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to the valley. The Central government intended, as became clear over the ensuing months, to exercise ‘Military Option’, which it considered the only viable option, to deal with the insurgency and directly take control of the operations. Farooq, however, resisted the pressure on our advice, as the situation did not demand promulgation of any such draconian laws, which could be misused.”

Particularly useful is Chapter 2, entitled “Military Option Exercised”. It has first-hand accounts of deliberations within Farooq Abdullah’s government on the Centre’s proposal. At the end of the day, “it became abundantly clear that New Delhi wanted to deal with militancy directly by exercising a military option, reducing the State government to the position of an ineffective organ. They continued to pressurise the State government to agree to the implementation of AFSPA and DAA. The State government, however, continued to oppose the implementation of these laws as we were convinced that the application of these stringent and draconian laws would cause the situation to escalate beyond redemption, as the security forces deployed in civilian areas were likely to commit excesses, leading to gross human rights violations, resulting in alienation of local population.”

The next chapter documents the excesses that followed, alienating the people further. India’s Home Minister then was none other than Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. He was a stooge of Arun Nehru and a friend of Jagmohan, both partners in the 1984 coup. He moved in the Lok Sabha the Bill to extend AFSPA on August 1, 1990.

The book contains important nuggets of information, besides the exposure of that “lady” from the Congress who came to hold a constitutional position. He confirms the fact that Hashim Qureshi, hijacker of the plane Ganga to Pakistan in 1971, belonged to the BSF. The chief of the Jammu and Kashmir Police Surendra Nath “directed the concerned police to search Hashim’s residence at Nowhatta in downtown Srinagar for any possible clues.

The police, among other things, recovered copy of an order in pursuance of which Hashim had been appointed as Sub-Inspector in BSF and posted to Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh but the same order stipulated his attachment to ‘G’ Branch at Srinagar, which was at that time headed by Ashok Patel, an Assistant Director who later on rose to the rank of IGP [Inspector General of Police] and was in charge of anti-insurgency operations in Kashmir in early 1990s. The news about the hijacker being a BSF officer got leaked and was published with Delhi dateline on front pages of all the national newspapers next day.…

“Though still a Dutch national, under what circumstances Hashim, who is now facing trial at Srinagar for hijacking the plane, was ‘allowed’ to come back from Amsterdam, has been revealed by none other than the RAW Chief, A.S. Dulat, later his handler, in his book: Kashmir: Vajpayee Years, [pages] 93-111. Interestingly, the career of a judge was jeopardised when he came into clash with a powerful agency for his unwillingness to grant bail to Hashim. The situation was, however, eased out with the intervention of some well-wishers of the judge.” A sad comment on the system.

Grave risk

One episode in particular shows “the system” in poor light. “It was on 26 July 1980 when a severe blow was inflicted on the psyche of Kashmiri people by the Army in an organised attack on unarmed civilians. They attacked every civilian who came their way, destroyed as many private and taxi vehicles as they could and killed a couple of innocent youth. This was the day when the angel of death stared direct in my eyes. But I miraculously survived and God Almighty gave me a second life.” Though in uniform, he was brutally assaulted by Army men. An inquiry held them guilty. The report was suppressed; Watali managed to copy it and he quotes extracts from it.

There is always a grave risk when the Army is let loose on our own people. In the words of the Army Chief Bipin Rawat, it goes “helter-skelter”. It did so in Hyderabad, Nagaland, Amritsar (Operation Blue Star) and in Kashmir.

In the instant case, the State government appointed a three-member inquiry commission headed by the Chief Justice of the High Court, Mian Jalaluddin, with Home Secretary Ghulam Shah as a member. They held the Army units guilty of unruly behaviour. The Commander, 15 Corps, Lt Gen. Jasbir Singh, exonerated the Army unit. Two civilians were killed and 15 injured in the incident. Watali, then Senior Superintendent of Police, and his deputy sustained serious injuries.

The Home Secretary found: “In these incidents the Army jawans have dealt with the situation on their own, making free use of dandas, lathis, iron rods, hockey sticks and fire weapons, bypassing the civil administration as well as Headquarters Sub Area Command and that these 100-150 jawans and others who participated in the mello [ sic] have not maintained the high traditions of our Army….” Are you surprised at what happened on July 23, 2017?

The Army’s members on such inquiries are partisan. This was no different. “How brazenly the Army member, a senior Army General, has tried to falsify the senior and responsible police officers who had won highest national honours for their distinguished services and outstanding performance in the service of the nation. He openly behaved like a Martial Law administrator.”

Army’s games

A pattern was set, and a culture of imputing was created. Witness Kunan Poshpora, Pathribal, and the rest. The latest in the series is Army men thrashing policemen in the valley on July 22 because the soldiers had been pulled up for not obeying the law. In Kashmir, the Army is above the law—and above the people. That explains why the people hate the Army.

That explains why Watali opposed the Army’s induction into Kashmir in 1990. He was confirmed in his view by the disclosures by the ex-Army chief General V.K. Singh of use of secret funds to topple the State government. His anger is justified. “This news item [containing the disclosures] gives a glimpse into the gross indiscipline and arbitrary functioning of the Indian Army even at the highest level. It also is indicative of their political activities which are beyond their mandate of duty.” Lastly, it is a sad commentary on the functioning of democratic institutions, particularly in J&K State, where the Army can, if it so desires, topple the elected government.

Of what use are constitutional guarantees when like Article 370 the “Deep State” (Army, I.B. and RAW) can make and unmake governments in Kashmir?

Letters

Letters to the editor

letters

fl18 china cover

Border crisis

THERE can be no two opinions that the face-off at the Sikkim border between India and China is not desirable for any of the stakeholders, be it India, China or Bhutan (Cover Story, August 4). The silver lining in the cloud is that both India and China are seized of this grim reality despite the muscle-flexing. The dispassionate assessment of the ground realities in the Cover Story wistfully remind readers of the adage “Good fences make good neighbours”. Conciliations and compromises are nothing to be ashamed of but are diplomacy’s time-tested tools.

Ayyaseri Raveendranath, Aranmula, Kerala

CHINA must understand that this is not 1962 and that arm-twisting tactics will not work any more. China cannot bully India into accepting its terms while it goes about disturbing the status quo in disputed territories. Such tactics will only precipitate matters. The time has come for both China and India to engage with each other and work out a lasting and acceptable solution to the impasse.

K.R. Srinivasan, Secunderabad, Telangana

CHINA has maintained an aggressive approach against all its neighbours ever since the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. It treats Pakistan like a colony. In Doklam, it has violated the status quo, which is the only face-saving solution. In such circumstances, India has to counter China not only economically and politically but also militarily.

It is a dangerous sign that China has encroached on all its 16 neighbours without firing a single bullet. The nation should support the Narendra Modi government on the Doklam standoff. Or else Bhutan will become another Tibet.

Sushil Kumar, Aurangabad, Bihar

CHINA is working hand in glove with Pakistan as it has an eye on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It supports Pakistan on the Kashmir issue too. China’s attitude towards India has not changed since the 1962. Even Prime Minister Modi’s visit did not bring about any change in China’s attitude towards India.

Mahesh Kapasi, New Delhi

Kiran Bedi

THE controversial actions of Kiran Bedi, the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, smack of a total disregard for democratic norms (”Running amok”, August 4). Her excesses cannot be brushed aside as arising from her ignorance of Article 240, which governs Puducherry. Her mission to echo her master’s voice sometimes misses the mark, earning ridicule. Her swearing in of three persons belonging to the BJP as Members of the Legislative Assembly reminded one of the foul play witnessed in Goa and Manipur. It is unfortunate that the BJP is no different from the Congress in using Governors to destabilise elected governments.

C. Chandrasekaran, Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Hindu Rashtra

THE Supreme Court has pronounced unequivocally several times that secularism is a fundamental concept of the Constitution, but the RSS and other Hindutva groups are striving to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra (Cover Story, July 21). Concerted attempts are being made in this direction after Modi and Yogi Adityanath came to power at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh respectively. The conclave held in Goa recently reinforced the idea. This ideology manifests itself in unbridled violence against Muslims in the name of protecting cows, and the governments at the Centre and in BJP-ruled States turn a blind eye to this brutality.

N.C. Sreedharan, Kannur, Kerala

MANY tragedies and transgressions are happening in the name of cow protection. The articles explained the situation that the minority communities, especially Muslims, face in India. I hope that the voice of the minorities is heard.

Muhammed Adil K., Kannur, Kerala

FRONTLINE has risen to the occasion by taking up the cudgels against the fascist forces that are desperately trying to smash the nation. The economic forces that are driving the fascist Hindu Rashtra agenda ought be exposed. The spread of communalism, the pervasiveness of a “false consciousness” and the failure of the Left and liberal forces to fight the spectre of communalism deserve exhaustive scrutiny so that an effective strategy to fight communalism can be formulated. One expects Frontline to take up these aspects in forthcoming issues.

Purushuttam Roy Barman, Kawsik Nath and Pradyot Maishan, High Court of Tripura, Agartala

Osmania University

THE century-old Osmania University may not be the only institution in India facing such gross neglect as brought out in the article “Glorious past, perilous present” (July 21). Several others across the country face the same fate. Apart from financial and infrastructural deficiencies, the main reason for such a degradation of our institutions of higher learning is the politicisation of our campuses.

Anil Kumar Yadav, Gangtok

Justice Karnan

THE Justice C.S. Karnan episode is the last straw on the camel’s back, taking away the sheen and aura of the judiciary (“Justice without fairness”, June 9). People’s faith in the judiciary as the last hope in Indian democracy has been lost. Complete transparency in all the affairs of the judiciary and the scrapping of the colonial-era Contempt of Courts Act are measures that can restore its lost prestige. Contempt of court can be dealt with using other laws.

M.N. Bhartiya, Alto-Porvorim, Goa

Essay

Rape of Article 370

A.G. NOORANI the-nation

THE Constitution (101st Amendment) Act, 2016, received the President’s assent on September 8, 2016. Its 20 sections made elaborate provisions on the Goods and Services Tax (GST), amended a host of provisions of the Constitution and established a Goods and Services Tax Council. It did not apply to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The Act had been under discussion for long. Kashmir did not lag behind. The subject has been debated since at least 2013. The sole issue was whether to acquiesce in yet another unconstitutional Order by the President under Article 370 of the Constitution or make a State law bringing the tax structure in line with the tax system all over India.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre wanted to impose the law by a Central fiat in collusion with the ever-compliant People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in coalition with the BJP led by Mehbooba Mufti. The basic issue was Kashmir’s autonomy.

It was not only the opposition parties, the National Conference (N.C.) and the State Congress, that opposed the Centre’s plans. So did the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation (KTMF), the Kashmir Economic Alliance and the Kashmir Traders Federation. On July 1, they joined hands to observe a shutdown. The police detained scores of business leaders from a sit-down at Lal Chowk, Srinagar’s business hub. So much for civil liberties in Kashmir. The Centre had fixed June 30 as the deadline for the GST rollout. Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu, the architect of the coalition in talks with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-BJP pointsman Ram Madhav, was in a frenzy in view of the public opinion in Kashmir. The BJP had given an ultimatum—not later than July 6. By now the BJP had had the full measure of Drabu. On April 21 he flew to Jammu to present himself at the BJP’s office at Trikuta Nagar and received a rebuff on coalition issues. He attended the midnight launch of the GST in the Central Hall of Parliament.

But since public opinion had to be placated, motions of consultation had to be gone through with an all-party consultative group and a special session of the State Legislature from July 6-8. Drabu even attended a meeting of the GST Council in New Delhi besides meeting Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. He assured all that the Assembly would enact the law by July 6. A charade was enacted. The writer acknowledges here his debt to the excellent reportage in the Srinagar daily Greater Kashmir from which this resume is drawn.

Assembly resolution

The Resolution moved in the Assembly on July 4 read: “This House resolves that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir may give consent to the adoption of GST regime by application of relevant amendments made to the Constitution of India in a modified form to safeguard the existing constitutional position of J&K in the Union of India and the legislative powers under the Constitution of J&K.” It was passed on July 5.

On July 6, before the Assembly could vote on the government’s Bill, the President made the Order under Article 370. It had been prepared days earlier. Six pages long, it is the most elaborate Order made under Article 370 since 1954. On July 7, the Governor, N.N. Vohra, accorded his assent to the Jammu and Kashmir Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017, soon after it was passed by the Assembly and the Legislative Council. But Drabu did not inform the Assembly about the Order, as M.Y. Tarigami of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) pointed out before the Bill was put to vote in the Assembly.

An important point was made by a senior member of the N.C., Devender Singh Rana, on July 4. He proposed two models, the European Union (E.U.) model and the Quebec model, to provide an alternative GST framework for Jammu and Kashmir, which would protect the State’s special status. He said: “The solution to the issue is pending in the government files since 2013. A Committee constituted by the [Omar Abdullah] government that year had recommended implementation of GST regime similar to the E.U. model. We can also have the Quebec model [based on] the agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec.”

The chair of that Committee was the Finance Member in the government, Abdul Rahim Rather, an able lawyer who is also skilled in matters of finance. On July 2 he said that the State was “constitutionally competent” to enact its own law on the GST. “We are not asking anything outside the Constitution.”

He reminded the government of its October 14, 2016, Cabinet decision in which the PDP-BJP had, according to him, empowered the Finance Department to formulate and discuss with New Delhi and the GST Council the modalities of extending the law to the State while keeping in view that Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional power to tax remained intact. The Cabinet had then also decided to frame its own legislation in consultation with the Department, the Union Finance Ministry and legal experts. “What have they done since then? Did they talk to anybody or consult the Union Finance Ministry or legal experts… they haven’t done anything till date.” Drabu told the media that the government was likely to implement the GST from July 6. “What for are they holding the Assembly session now when they have already decided to implement the GST from July 6?” Rather asked.

‘Surrender of exclusive powers’

Rebutting the assertion that the GST would not impact the State’s special position, Rather said that under the new tax regime New Delhi would be empowered to collect the sales tax though the GST, which was otherwise within the domain of the Jammu and Kashmir government. “It will mean the surrender of exclusive powers enjoyed by Jammu and Kashmir to the Centre.” According to him, when Drabu became the member of the GST empowered committee, he had, on the June 4, 2015, meeting of the committee, said that the PDP-BJP government would go by the stand taken by him [Rather] on the GST.

“My stand was that we should have our own law. Today he [Drabu] is saying that it isn’t possible. Then what is possible…. They are not even talking about that as well.” To a question, Rather said if the Government of India had to listen to the BJP only, which is talking about implementation of the GST in Jammu and Kashmir in the present form, then, it was “unfortunate”. “We are Indian like them. We have to find a solution.”

The obstacle was the Centre’s arrogant and ideologically driven anti-Kashmir attitude which Drabu faithfully accepted. Drabu said on July 5 that his government did not accept the Report of that committee. It was headed by the then Advocate General M.I. Qadri. It proposed a tax regime similar to the E.U. model as an alternative to the GST.

But Drabu’s defence of the Bill in the Assembly was a giveaway. “I think we have been using it [Article 370] as an obstruction,” he said on July 5. It is no mere coincidence that this is precisely the BJP’s line on Article 370. Significantly, he added: “J&K has acceded to India and India has not acceded to Kashmir” and “out of 97 entries in the Union List 94 are applicable to J&K”, implying that any further additions would not matter. In the same spirit of surrender, he said on July 7 citing Orders of 1979 and 1989: “Now, what residuary powers are you talking of?” Why then did he himself flaunt Section 5 of the State’s Constitution as a guarantee of residuary powers?

Since 1954, abuse of Article 370 by the Centre in collusion with Chief Ministers elected through rigged elections has become the norm. A stop had to be put to that destructive process. Kashmiri opinion is far more alert and assertive than ever before.

Inconsistently enough, Drabu claimed, in the same breath, that the President’s Order of July 6 protected Article 370. Here comes this masterpiece of sheer deceit: “If any violation takes place on [sic] Section 5 of the Constitution of J&K on the State’s special position, I will not come back to this House.” Section 5 is a residuary power. Once the bulk is chipped away, as he himself admitted, what remained? Ninety-four of the 97 entries (of topics of legislation) in the Central List have been applied to Kashmir. On the irrelevance of Section 5, more later.

Drabu was performing to a score set in New Delhi. On July 1 the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitendra Singh of the Jammu agitation fame, declared in Jammu that “the State government has no option but to implement the GST in J&K, and I assure you that it will be implemented in the State within one week. Why any special and separate blueprint for J&K regarding GST and why should there be any autonomy? Jammu and Kashmir is as much part of India as any other State of the country, like Punjab, Haryana or any other State.”

Jaitley had warned in May of “a scenario where Jammu will want to come into the GST regime while Kashmir will not”. This logic can be extended to other issues and to a breakup of Jammu and Kashmir. That was not the only threat. The PDP was warned of a breakup of the coalition if it did not play ball on the GST. That would leave Mehbooba, Drabu & Co. unprotected to the tender mercies of the people who hate them.

S.P. Mookerjee’s plans fulfilled

However, Jaitley made a highly significant statement on July 6 which refutes Drabu’s claim that he has ensured that Article 370 is protected. Both cannot be right. The record shows that Jaitley is very right in his claims, and it exposes Drabu’s falsehoods. Here is that statement: “Jammu & Kashmir becoming a part of GST system was politically significant, as it signalled integration of the State with the rest of the country.” Jaitley said the GST was the culmination of a process where Syama Prasad Mookerjee had spoken about complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India. “That time, Mookerjee had started a campaign for complete integration of J&K in India. Another big move in this direction started yesterday when J&K Assembly passed a resolution to adopt GST. It has political significance” ( The Times of India, July 7).

The text of the President’s Order under Article 370 proves Jaitley right and Drabu wrong. Consider the background. The Delhi Agreement of 1952 did not settle the issue of Jammu and Kashmir’s financial integration with the Union. Nehru’s Note of July 20, 1952, recording the discussions with Kashmir’s delegation led by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, said: “The principle of financial integration was agreed to. The details would have to be worked out.” Sheikh Saheb resisted it. Nehru himself in an earlier Note of July 3, setting out his plans, conceded that, “ It does not necessarily follow that the integration should be exactly of the kind we have got with other States.” Customs revenue was “the main source of income from Kashmir and if we take it, the whole State finances will collapse”.

In his statement to Kashmir’s Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1952, Sheikh Abdullah also said that “a detailed and objective examination of this subject would be necessary”. It is significant that among the 10 topics he listed, the very first was retention of the State’s “residuary powers”; that is, all powers which were not ceded to the Centre.

Mookerjee, who set up the Jana Sangh in 1951, launched an agitation in 1952 for the State’s full integration. Nehru secured his plans by dismissing Sheikh Abdullah from office as Premier of Jammu and Kashmir on August 9, 1953, and imprisoning him for 11 years. On May 14, 1954, came the “Major Order” under Article 370 on the federal setup. All the 47 Orders made subsequently are amendments to this Order.

Nehru succeeded in his designs. On November 27, 1963, he told the Lok Sabha that the State was “fully integrated” thanks to the “gradual erosion of Article 370”. On December 4, 1963, Home Minister G.L. Nanda said Article 370 was “neither a wall nor a mountain but it is a tunnel. It is through this tunnel that a good deal of traffic has already passed and worse will”. Ergo no need to abrogate it; rather use it to reduce Article 370 to a sham and render Kashmir’s autonomy hollow. With the President’s Order of July 6, 2017, that has come to pass, Mookerjee’s plans have been fulfilled thanks to a BJP regime at the Centre and in Kashmir, with the PDP as a submissive partner.

The very last Order under Article 370 was made 23 years ago. It is C.O. 154 by the President in 1994; by then militancy was in full swing and public opinion was awake and assertive. It was in the State’s interest to ensure an end to the process that was blatantly unconstitutional. Article 370 is not on a par with other provisions of the Constitution adopted by the Constituent Assembly. The Assembly simply put its formal seal of approval or a draft negotiated for five whole months from May to October 1949. Both Vallabhbhai Patel and his Cabinet colleague Mookerjee were party to it. Patel negotiated it.

Need for concurrence

Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India by the Maharaja’s Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947, in respect only of three subjects: defence, foreign affairs and communications. Article 370 “limited” the powers of Parliament to those three subjects. The President was empowered to make an order extending to Kashmir these three subjects and the federal structure in “consultation” with the State government. But its “concurrence” was required if additional subjects or other provisions of the Constitution were to be applied to Kashmir. There was one overriding proviso. That concurrence was subject to ratification by the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir (Article 370 [2]).

This was made clear beyond doubt by N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar, the mover of Article 370 in India’s Constituent Assembly on October 17, 1949. “We have also agreed that the will of the people through the instrument of the Constituent Assembly will determine the Constitution of the State as well as the sphere of Union jurisdiction over the State. …You will remember that several of these clauses provide for the concurrence of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir State. Now, these relate particularly to matters which are not mentioned in the Instrument of Accession, and it is one of our commitments to the people and Government of Kashmir that no such additions should be made except with the consent of the Constituent Assembly which may be called in the State for the purpose of framing its Constitution.”

In 1949, no one knew when Kashmir’s Constituent Assembly would be elected. Ayyangar therefore said: “The idea is that even before the Constituent Assembly meets, it may be necessary… that certain items which are not included in the Instrument of Accession would be appropriately added to that list in the Instrument… and as this may happen before the Constituent Assembly meets, the only authority from whom we can get consent for the addition is the Government of the State.”

He explained: “We are entangled with the United Nations in regard to Jammu and Kashmir and it is not possible to say now when we shall be free from this entanglement. That can take place only when the Kashmir problem is satisfactorily settled. …

“At present, the legislature which was known as the Praja Sabha in the State is dead. Neither that legislature nor a Constituent Assembly can be convoked or can function until complete peace comes to prevail in that State. We have therefore to deal with the Government of the State which, as represented in its Council of Ministers, reflects the opinion of the larger political party in the State.”

Once Kashmir’s Constituent Assembly was “convened” on October 31, 1951, the State government lost all authority to accord any “concurrence” to the Union. With the Assembly’s dispersal on November 17, 1956, after adopting the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, vanished the only authority that alone could cede (i) more powers to the Union and (ii) accept Union institutions other than those specified in the Instrument of Accession. All additions to Union powers since then are unconstitutional. So is the Order of July 6, 2017.

In fact, the abuse reduces Jammu and Kashmir to an inferior position. For, while in relation to other States, an amendment to the Constitution would require a two-thirds vote by both Houses of Parliament plus ratification by the States (Article 368), for Kashmir, mere executive orders by the President have sufficed since 1953 and can continue until doomsday. “Nowhere else, as far as I can see, is there any provision authorising the executive government to make amendments in the Constitution,” President Rajendra Prasad pointed out to Prime Minister Nehru on September 6, 1952. Is this the state of things we wish to perpetuate?

Inferior status vis-a-vis other States

To repeat, the State is put in a status inferior to that of other States. One illustration suffices to demonstrate this. Parliament had to amend the Constitution four times, by means of the 59th, 64th, 67th, and 68th Constitution amendments, to extend President’s Rule imposed in Punjab on May 11, 1987. For the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the same result was accomplished, from 1990 to 1996, by mere executive orders under Article 370.

Another gross case illustrates the capacity for abuse. On July 30, 1986, the President made an order under Article 370 extending to Kashmir Article 249 of the Constitution in order to empower Parliament to legislate even on a matter in the State List on the strength of Rajya Sabha resolution. “Concurrence” to this was given by the Centre’s own appointee, Governor Jagmohan. G.A. Lone, a former Secretary, Law and Parliamentary Affairs, to the State government described in Kashmir Times (April 20, 1995) how the “manipulation” was done “in a single day” against the Law Secretary’s advice and “in the absence of a Council of Ministers”.

Lone wrote: “As Secretary to Government, Law Department, it was stunning to discover that during his first stint as Governor in July 1986 when the State was put under Governor’s rule, Mr Jagmohan by sheer manipulation got Article 249 of the Constitution applied to the State. The relevant record in the Law Department bears mute testimony to the fact how the then Secretary Law was made to change his stand on its application under the dictates of the Governor. The proposal itself was initiated on 30.7.1986 in an unprecedented manner on the basis of undisclosed press reports. About the proposal, the Law Secretary pointed out that the application of Article on the concurrence of the Governor acting without the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers is impermissible. The ink of this opinion may have hardly dried up when on the same hour of the day he was made to support the proposal facilitating the granting of the concurrence by the Governor to the application of the aforesaid Article to the State. The whole exercise was completed in a single day and reeks of intrigue to dilute the constitutional status of the State in a high-handed manner. It was indeed a grave constitutional impropriety not only because the manner and method employed in applying the constitutional provision was dubious but also because the Governor in the absence of a Council of Ministers is not competent to grant such concurrence and change the constitutional framework. The concurrence granted was a clear breach and violation of Article 370 of the Constitution.” ( Kashmir Times, April 20, 1995). An Explanation in Article 370 itself defines the State government to mean its Council of Ministers.

Yet the President’s Order of July 6 states explicitly that it is made “with the concurrence of the Government of the State of Jammu & Kashmir”. It is, therefore, utterly invalid on the very face of it. The Assembly’s Resolution purported to authorise it to accord its concurrence in quaint language (“may”). The Resolution has no legal effect. The Legislative Assembly is a creature of the State’s Constituent Assembly. It cannot replace that body.

Effort at deception

The Resolution was passed to pull the wool over the eyes of the people. A similar effort at deception is made in the manner in which the State government published the Order. Both the online text and the one published in Greater Kashmir of July 8 contain identical emphases; the former in bold lettering, the latter in red. It bears the impress of the smart alec of Kashmir, Shriman Haseeb A. Drabu; always too clever by half. The proper course was to publish a White Paper with a detailed official analysis.

Consistently enough the Order begins with a deceptive overriding provision. Paragraph 1(3) says: “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Order, the powers of the State of Jammu and Kashmir as per Section 5 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, shall remain intact.” It is repeated in Paragraph 2(3): “The legislature of State of Jammu and Kashmir shall have exclusive powers to make laws in respect of imposition of any taxes as enabled by Section 5 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir.”

But immediately preceding it is Clause 2 which says plainly enough for all to read: “Parliament has exclusive power to make laws with respect to goods and services tax where the supply of goods, or services, or both takes place in the course of inter-State trade or commerce.” So what is left of the State legislature’s power under Section 5 of its Constitution?

Read the much-vaunted Section 5 of the State’s Constitution, and the sleight of hand becomes apparent. It simply says: “The executive and legislative power of the State extends to all matters except those with respect to which Parliament has power to make laws for the State, under the provisions of the Constitution of India.” It is a residuary provision. Since Drabu himself exclaimed that 94 of the 97 entries of the Union List have been extended to Kashmir, the residue which Section 5 proposes to protect is completely wiped out. Incidentally, 260 of the 395 provisions of India’s Constitution were also extended to Jammu and Kashmir, all by perverting Article 370. Neither the Union nor the Concurrent List applied to Jammu and Kashmir. Only those three subjects were given to the Centre initially.

Taxation powers

Under the Constitution of India, sales tax is a State subject (List II, 54) except for taxes on the sale or purchase of goods in the course of inter-State trade. But Article 286 barred it subject to qualifications. Article 286 did not apply to Jammu and Kashmir. In 1956, Entry 92-A was inserted in the Union List to enable Parliament to impose taxes on sale or purchase of goods in the course of inter-State trade. This did not apply to Jammu and Kashmir either. Now, the Constitution 101st Amendment 2016 removes all the qualifications in Article 286 and bars the States from imposing taxes on goods or services in the course of inter-State trade. It is now applied to Kashmir under Paragraph 2(2) of the President’s Order.

Article 279-A of the 101st Amendment establishes a GST Council of which the Union and all the States will be members. It makes “recommendations” under clauses 4 to 11. Clause 12 says: “Notwithstanding anything contained in clause (4) to clause (11), for the purpose of any decision impinging on the constitutional provisions relating to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the concurrence of the representative of the State of Jammu and Kashmir in the Goods and Services Tax Council shall be mandatory and the procedure provided under Article 370 shall be followed.” Pray who will decide whether or not a decision or recommendation of the GST Council impinges on Article 370? Clause 13 applies, “Nothing in this article shall affect in any manner whatsoever the legislative competence of the State of Jammu and Kashmir as guaranteed by virtue of Section 5 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir.”

A carte blanche is given to the Centre in what is known as the Henry VIII Clause. Paragraph 20 of the Order says: “Subject to the provisions of Article 370, if any difficulty arises in giving effect to the provisions of the Constitution as amended by this Constitution Application Order (including any difficulty in relation to the transition from the provisions of the Constitution as they stood immediately before the date of issuance of this Order), the President may, by Order, make such provisions, including any adaptation or modification of any provision of the Constitution as amended by this Act or law, as appear to the President to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of removing the difficulty: Provided that no such order shall be made after the expiry of three years from the date of such assent.”

What does “Subject to Article 370” mean here? When wide powers are given to the President, that is, the Central government? It is empty qualification twice over; for, Article 370 itself has been emptied out. In this instance, who will decide that Article 370 applied to the President’s Order under Paragraph 20? Simply put, all these three provisions—Clauses 12 and 13 and Paragraph 20—contain mere exhortations. Do not “impinge” on constitutional provisions, and respect Article 370. They contain no safeguard if these window-dressing assurances are violated by the Centre. What remedy will Kashmir have in that event? Go to the Supreme Court and get snubbed, once again? Can it walk out of the GST regime?

Once abuse of Article 370 is legitimised (“concurrence of the State government”) it matters not if it is cited ritually.

The PDP’s descent

The PDP’s descent to its present all-time low has not touched the nadir of its fall given its past record. The milestones on its treacherous path are striking.

1. October 2008: “The Self-Rule Framework for Resolution.”

2. 2014: “An Aspirational Agenda”, manifesto for the 2014 Assembly election. It promised to “pursue self-rule”, use Article 370 itself to “ restore the original special status of the State”, and “restore the powers of the State Assembly”.

3. “Agenda of the Alliance” with the BJP, March 2015. “The present position will be maintained on all constitutional provisions pertaining to J&K, including the special status in the Constitution of India.” The latter part was meant to hoodwink the electorate with a reference to the husk of Article 370. The operative part is maintenance of the status quo, the hollowed Article 370.

4. July 2017: Even that, the status quo, is now abandoned. The status quo is undermined by the President’s Order under Article 370, on July 6, 2017, to which the PDP concurred. The terms of its concurrence had been drafted in New Delhi. How low can the PDP sink? It promised to defeat the BJP’s move to form a government in Jammu and Kashmir. But helped it accomplish just that, betraying all its pledges to the people for the loaves and fishes of office.

Drabu was the draftsman of all the PDP documents. The man did just what he was told to do to keep his job. His record is well known. Blame the Muftis first. As Aneurin Bevan said of Foreign Minister Selwyn Lloyd after the Suez debacle as he saw the Prime Minister enter the House: “Why should I question the monkey when I can question the organ grinder?”

Contrast this with the record of the Chief Minister of the Tamil majority Northern Provincial Council of Sri Lanka. The Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran, a former Judge of the Supreme Court, was fielded in the 2013 election by an amalgam of four Tamil parties. The Tamil National Alliance won a massive mandate with 30 seats. He has boldly, consistently, espoused the Tamil cause with Sri Lanka’s government. It had honestly held a free and fair election unlike successive governments of India.

Free elections yield men like the Chief Minister. Mehbooba Mufti shamelessly presides over a regime on whose watch over 10,000 civilians were injured by pellets and over 1,000 were hit in the eyes, many losing their vision. Since 1953 Kashmir has been governed by monkeys who perform to the tune set by their organ grinders in New Delhi; all the while they munch on the peanuts of power thrown at them and feast on the miseries of their oppressed people. The Centre’s bribes and spies do the work.

There is a leadership vacuum. The separatists have little hold on the populace which tends to lead them. In a brilliant article in the respected weekly Kashmir Life of July 2, Muhammad Tahir writes “Avoid Mob Takeover”, the title of the article. But let alone the Modi regime and its agent, Mehbooba, most of the Indian Establishment shows no understanding let alone empathy for the people. Deceived continuously, the people have become assertive and resourceful. They can neither be crushed nor betrayed with a kiss any longer.

Iraq

Mosul regained

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

IT took more than nine months for the Iraqi Army to finally liberate Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from the clutches of the Daesh (Islamic State). In comparison, some 3,000 Daesh fighters took over the city in less than four days in a lightning attack on a garrison of over 20,000 troops in 2014. The Iraqi Army was equipped with tanks and helicopters. The Daesh’s military success was to a large extent possible because of the support from the majority Sunni population in the city and the surrounding areas. The Sunni minority had felt discriminated by the predominantly Shia-dominated Army and the police force stationed in the city at the time. All the communities had generally coexisted peacefully under the watchful and efficient eye of the authoritarian government of Saddam Hussein. His secular Baath government had given as much importance to old Christian churches as to medieval mosques.

When this correspondent visited Mosul in 2002, it was evident that the people there were strong supporters of the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein. In 2004, Saddam’s sons and grandchildren were killed in Mosul. The Daesh fighters, according to reports, are led by former officers of Saddam’s elite Republican Guards. It is unfortunate but true that the praetorian guard of a secular regime has become the backbone of the lean but mean fighting force created by the Daesh. The former Revolutionary Guards played a big role in the Daesh’s capture of several Iraqi cities. Only Iranian intervention stopped the fall of the capital, Baghdad, to the rampaging Daesh forces in 2014. The Iraqi Army, after its defeats in Mosul, Ramadi and other cities, was in complete disarray at the time.

The battle for Mosul began in October last year. The United States had hoped to get the job done before President Barack Obama left office in January 2017. But that was not to be. The Daesh control of Mosul only ended six months into the presidency of Donald Trump. The former Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, had pledged to retake the city within months of its capture. The Iraqi Army, during its long siege and eventual recapture of Mosul, was helped by the U.S. Air Force and allied militias. In the second week of July, it finally managed to subdue the tenacious resistance put up by the Daesh. War historians have compared the fight for Mosul to the brutal urban warfare witnessed during the Second World War.

According to a senior Iraqi Army officer, the Army had to literally battle for every “metre of territory” when it entered the central part of the city. Scattered pockets of resistance amid the rubble of the old city were reported even as the Army was continuing with its mopping-up operations. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, dressed in military fatigues, undertook a well-publicised tour of the city on July 7. He congratulated the Army for “liberating” the city even as Daesh fighters were fighting to the death in isolated pockets of the old city.

Mosul, one of the oldest inhabited urban areas in history, has been virtually razed in the more than seven months of fighting. When the Daesh captured the city, it had a population of around 1.2 million. Many residents, especially those belonging to non-Sunni denominations and the Christian and Yazidi minority, managed to flee to escape certain persecution. Sexual slavery and summary executions became the hallmark of Daesh rule over the city. From January, the Iraqi Army and the U.S. Air Force resorted to indiscriminate use of firepower to subdue the Daesh. It is now estimated that more than 50,000 civilians were killed in the long campaign to liberate the city. The Iraqi Army has not released its casualty figures, but it is estimated that more than a thousand of its soldiers were killed.

A report by Amnesty International stated that Iraqi government forces and allied forces led by the U.S. “relied heavily upon explosive weapons with wide area effects such as IRAMs [Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions]”. These weapons, according to the report, had crude targeting capabilities that resulted in wanton destruction of entire neighbourhoods in western Mosul. One attack by the U.S. missiles demolished a residential complex, killing more than 200 civilians. The intense house-to-house fighting in Mosul’s old quarters left that part of the city devastated. The Daesh randomly used suicide bombers in cars, trucks and earth-moving machines with deadly effect. It targeted a large number of civilians who tried to flee from the war zone and was not averse to using “human shields” in its last stand in Mosul. In the aftermath of the battle, the city was littered with unexploded U.S. munitions and Daesh booby traps. It is estimated that more than 10 per cent of the munitions dropped by the U.S. and allied forces over Mosul failed to explode.

Treading with caution

The 12th century al-Nuri mosque, with its distinctive leaning minaret, was among the several historical monuments that were destroyed. The mosque, from which Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate three years ago, was apparently demolished by militants in the face of imminent defeat. The victorious Iraqi forces would have liked to have hung their national flag from the dome of the mosque after Mosul’s liberation. After it conquered Mosul, the Daesh destroyed the Nabi Yunus (tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah) mosque as also priceless antiques on the grounds that they spread idolatry. The Daesh, despite its depredations, had struck root among the populace in Mosul and the surrounding Sunni-dominated areas. The Army is treading with caution and suspicion in liberated Mosul. There are many stories of suspected Daesh fighters and supporters being summarily executed.

Many in the top Daesh leadership have managed to escape in order to fight another day. The news of al-Baghdadi’s demise seems to have been premature. The huge amounts of arms the Daesh had seized from three Iraqi Army divisions after its forces fled from Mosul are still unaccounted for. The Daesh has probably hidden them away in tunnels dug deep in the desert or kept them in isolated ravines. After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2002, the bulk of the Taliban fighters melted away, hiding their U.S.-supplied weapons, which were in mint condition at that time. Within a few years, the Taliban regrouped with its weapons intact, to fight and once more pose a potent threat to the central government in Kabul.

The Daesh in Iraq and Syria is known to be highly motivated. In the immediate aftermath of its losses in Mosul and Raqqa, its main focus may once again revert to suicide attacks in urban areas, both in the region and outside. Four years ago, nobody had visualised that the Daesh would emerge out of the desert and create a state with a functioning capital and a bureaucracy. Daesh sleeper cells and suicide bombers, Iraq watchers are aware, can be activated at short notice. The Daesh still controls the cities of Hawija and Tal Afar in northern Iraq apart from smaller towns in the Euphrates river valley.

In all, 25 million Sunni Muslims live between Baghdad and Damascus, many of them alienated from the government. The Iraqi government has to ensure that the Sunni population does not feel discriminated against any more. The Prime Minister has promised to implement what he describes as “functioning federalism”.

The Iraqi Constitution provides for decentralisation of powers. Sunni militias, under the banner of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, played a role along with Shia militias in the liberation of Mosul. However, the sectarian divide has not been bridged yet. The government has a Herculean task ahead as it seeks to rebuild Mosul. Essential services have to be restored. Residents who wish to return to the city will likely find that their homes have been reduced to rubble. Thousands more are forced to stay in squalid refugee camps because they are under suspicion of harbouring sympathies for the Daesh ideology. Many of their close relatives are either with the Daesh or have died fighting for it. The humanitarian crisis facing the city is getting worse even as the Iraqi government and international relief agencies are trying to provide relief to the beleaguered population.

United Nations relief agencies have estimated the cost of emergency repairs and reconstruction at $700 million. The cost of rebuilding the city, according to experts, will exceed the figure of $50 billion. Two weeks after the city was declared liberated, rotting bodies still litter the street and lie underneath destroyed homes.

Collateral damage

By the third week of July, civil defence workers, desperately short-staffed, removed more than 2,000 corpses. The U.S. warplanes had dropped bombs weighing between 500 and 1,000 kilograms, which caused tremendous collateral damage. The Washington Post reported that workers found the bodies of “hundreds of people suffocated under the ruins of their homes”. U.S. air strikes in Iraq and Syria rose dramatically after Trump assumed the presidency. He had given the U.S. military “total authorisation” to decide the kind of force they wanted to use. Under Trump, there is absolutely no public accountability for the damage caused to civilian lives and property as a result of U.S. bomb and missile strikes.

Already, the remaining residents of Mosul are complaining of government neglect saying that very few relief and rehabilitation workers have been deployed in the city. The cash-strapped central government will have to depend on foreign donors to help in the task of rebuilding Mosul. Because of the low price of oil and the costs of waging war, the Iraqi economy is in dire straits. Last year, the government in Baghdad had to negotiate a standby loan of $5.5 billion. Iraq’s economy reduced by more than 10 per cent last year.

The Iraqi Ambassador to India, Fakhri al-Issa, told the media in New Delhi that more than a dozen Indian nationals had fought alongside the Daesh in the battle for Mosul. Many of the best Daesh fighters are said to be foreigners, mainly from Central Asia and Europe.

The Indian government dispatched the Minister of State for External Affairs, V.K. Singh, to northern Iraq after the liberation of Mosul on a fact-finding mission to verify the fate of 39 Indians who were abducted by the Daesh in 2014. Iraqi diplomats had indicated in the past that the missing workers, all hailing from Punjab, were, in all probability, executed by the Daesh three years ago. The Indian government is probably aware that there is very little chance of finding the Indians alive, but the issue is an emotive one in Punjab.

Maldives

Resisting autocracy

R.K. RADHAKRISHNAN world-affairs

July 3, 2017, will go down in Maldivian history as a day of considerable importance. After several failed attempts to mount a challenge of note to President Abdulla Yameen’s absolute control over the archipelago nation, a united opposition led by the Grand Old Man of Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and the charismatic Mohamed Nasheed cobbled together the support of 45 MPs to unseat the Speaker, a staunch Yameen loyalist.

The motion, whose signatories included 10 MPs from Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), was submitted to the People’s Majlis. The Majlis has to take up such motions after 14 days.

A jubilant Nasheed and Gayoom did not hide their glee at the victory. In fact, they were convinced that this was the first step to bring down Yameen. Nasheed, who divides his time between London and Colombo, tweeted: “Everyone come to Male on July 24 to assure a system of government with separation of powers.”

In a country where the President wields absolute power, it is not easy to unseat his pointsman in the House. A series of events, bizarre even by Maldivian standards, followed: a couple of PPM MPs claimed that they had not signed the motion; a Supreme Court intervention disqualified a few more MPs; and the Election Commission declared that the signature of the disqualified MPs could not be counted with retrospective effect. Yameen seemed intent on bringing the number of MPs who supported the motion to below 43, the number needed for a simple majority in the house of 85. Confident of his support from the Maldivian National Defence Forces and a coterie of lawmakers, Yameen worked overtime to make sure that the embarrassing session of the Majlis did not happen on July 24. The Speaker announced that the next sitting of the Majlis would only take place on July 31 and said that security arrangements ahead of Independence Day on July 26 were the reason for the delay. The opposition MPs found the Majlis locked on July 24 and, despite trying to force their way in, could not hold a legitimate session so that a vote could be taken.

The July 31 date set by the Speaker gives more time to Yameen to threaten MPs. Four lawmakers have already been illegally stripped of their seats, and the rest of the opposition is now aware that Yameen will stop at nothing to keep his power. In his bid to consolidate power, he has found new allies in a section of religious leaders in the country, and in Saudi Arabia and China.

Maldives has been simmering since the February 2012 transfer of power in which Nasheed was unseated. The presidential election the next year saw Nasheed lose narrowly to Yameen. Since he assumed office, Yameen has been consolidating his control over all branches of governance and, in the process, has made enemies of most of the seasoned politicians, including Gayoom, his half-brother and former President.

Emboldened by a few meetings with the Chinese leadership in 2014, after his country signed up to become a partner in the Silk Route Initiative and handed over the development of the airport to China, Yameen went about jailing all his political adversaries, including his own Vice President, Ahmed Adeeb. Nasheed too was jailed in 2015 for 13 years. He was allowed to travel to Britain last year on medical leave, where he received asylum. Gayoom’s son, Faris Maumoon, is among those currently incarcerated. More than 10 prominent critics of Yameen either have been killed or have disappeared.

While many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, and the European Union have expressed concern over the developments, there has been no significant statement from India. That India is unhappy is no secret. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited all neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, since he assumed office in 2014. Maldives is the only country that he has chosen not to visit. But this does not mean that India is pro-Nasheed either. Nasheed, who was in New Delhi recently, could not meet the Prime Minister. So, while the Indian machinery takes its time to come up with an appropriate response to events in its backyard, the sand is shifting beneath its feet. The time to act is already past.

Brazil

Tumultuous times

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

Cutting across the ideological divide, the entire political class in Brazil seems to be treading a knife edge. Since the ouster of President Dilma Rousseff by an opportunistic alliance in the country’s parliament last year, an activist section of the Brazilian judiciary has been rapidly on the rise.

While there were no specific corruption charges against Dilma Rousseff, the accusations were that she had lied about the size of the government deficit and borrowed from a state-owned bank to cover up the budgetary deficit. The opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), which came to power after the parliamentary coup d’etat, represents the interests of Brazilian big business. While Brazil is a multiracial society, with Afro-Brazilians constituting more than 40 per cent of the population, the cabinet selected after the removal of Dilma Rousseff was all-white and all-male.

Corruption a fact of life

It is a truism that corruption in government, as well as in politics, is a fact of life in Brazil, and that its peculiar system of government necessitates perpetual political wheeling and dealing. Despite the enormous popularity of President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva and his successor, Dilma Rousseff, and the progressive policies they implemented in the country, the Workers’ Party, or Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), could never get a working majority in parliament until the early part of this decade and had to depend on centre-right parties to run the government. Money was an important inducement that secured opposition legislators’ support for key bills during the 13-year-long Workers’ Party rule. A decade ago, the PT was caught paying monthly stipends to legislators from opposition parties in order to secure their votes to pass government-backed legislation.

Michel Temer, who was Vice President under Dilma Rousseff and became the President after betraying her, faces even more serious allegations of corruption. His long political career is marked by a penchant for sleazy deals. With Dilma Rousseff’s ouster, the corrupt opposition leaders may have hoped that the investigations—known as Operacao Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash)—would come to a halt with a new President, himself a target of ongoing investigations, at the helm of affairs. But the judicial investigators, riding a wave of public approval, have shown no signs of stopping or relenting. The Temer administration may not have been able to limit the investigations, but the right wing in Brazil has reasons to be happy that the main focus has again shifted, at least for the time being, back to the Left and the PT.

Temer was recently caught on tape in a sting operation, suggesting to Joesley Bautista, one of Brazil’s richest businessmen, that bribes should continue to be paid to the former Speaker of the lower House, Eduardo Cunha, in order to buy his silence. Cunha, one of the masterminds of the soft coup d’etat that got rid of Dilma Rousseff, is currently in jail, serving a sentence of 17 years after having been convicted on charges of corruption. Temer was already under investigation for other acts of corruption when the recording was done by Bautista at the behest of the investigating judges. Bautista, who faces very serious charges of corruption himself, was promised leniency by the judges. Bautista has confessed to the judicial authorities that over a hundred high-ranking politicians, in government and the legislature, were on his secret payroll.

According to most Brazil-watchers, Temer is unlikely to last much longer in office. His approval rating stands at a dismal 7 per cent, the lowest ever for a President in Brazilian history. As President, Temer cannot be jailed, but he will lose immunity once he is removed from office. Brazilian legislators have already moved a motion of no confidence against him. The numbers now seem to be stacked against Temer, with more than two-thirds of the legislators seemingly on the verge of voting for his case to be referred to the Supreme Court. Many right-wing legislators want Temer to be replaced by Rodrigo Maia of the right-leaning Democrats party (DEM). The party is the successor of the right-wing Arena party that was created in the 1960s when the country was under a brutal military dictatorship. Temer, in a recent speech, praised the 1964 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-backed military coup in Brazil, while a few right-wing politicians speak nostalgically about those days.

Lula under fire

In the second week of July, it was the charismatic Lula’s turn to face the wrath of the judiciary. A Brazilian judge sentenced him to a stiff nine-and-a-half-year prison term for alleged corruption. Judge Sergio Moro, in his judgment, said that Lula had taken more than a million dollars from a construction company in exchange for favours during his term as President. The fact of the matter is that no cash changed hands. The prosecution alleges that Lula accepted the gift of a beachfront house, estimated to be worth over a million dollars. Lula vehemently denies that the house in question belongs to him. It is alleged that the engineering company which was supposed to have gifted the house had got contracts from the state-owned petroleum giant, Petrobras. The widely popular Lula now finds himself embroiled in the Petrobras scandal, which has already claimed many prominent victims in the country.

Lula had announced that he was very much in the running for the 2018 presidential election and was far ahead of other politicians who had announced their candidacies. Investors and big business interests in Brazil and outside welcomed the court’s decision in the hope that Lula would be barred from running for the presidency. The PT denounced the court’s decision, describing it as “an attack on democracy” and “one more chapter in the farce run by the coup-mongering consortium that took control of this country to suppress workers’ rights”. The country has been witnessing big demonstrations in support of Lula since the court delivered its judgment.

The activist-investigative judge Sergio Moro, who delivered the sentence, is of the view that Lula could be barred from running for office for another 18 years after his sentencing. However, Lula’s lawyers disagree, saying that the final word on the subject will be delivered by an appeals court. Lula, they insist, can run for the presidency while the case continues to be in court. In Brazil, there are loud whispers that Judge Moro has political ambitions of his own. The two most popular personalities in Brazil today are Lula and Judge Moro. After the impeachment, Brazilian society is now deeply polarised. The rich and the middle class are now vehemently opposed to the return of Lula and the Workers’ Party. The poor and the working class remain solidly behind Lula, despite the current controversies dogging him.

Lula has said that he would appeal after describing the charges against him as “a farce”. His supporters say that the ruling establishment is engaged in a witch-hunt against their hero. Lula faces trial in four more cases. His lawyers say that it is a “judicial blitzkrieg” aimed at preventing him from running for the presidency. “President Lula is innocent. For over three years, Lula has been subjected to a politically motivated investigation. No credible evidence of guilt has been produced and overwhelming proof of his innocence blatantly ignored,” his lawyers said in a statement. Other left-wing groups in Brazil have also condemned the ruling of the court. The Homeless Workers Union, a political grouping, said that the judgment was “without any basis” and that the sentence pronounced on Lula “was a judicial shortcut to remove him from the political process”.

After serving two consecutive terms as President from 2003 to 2010, Lula had demitted office with a record approval rating of 87 per cent. Lula was the first ever working-class President of Brazil. Senator Gleisi Hoffman, who recently took over as the leader of the Workers’ Party, has said that a presidential election without the participation of Lula would be “fraudulent and undemocratic”. Speaking to his supporters after the verdict, an emotional Lula said that the court had no proof and that his conviction was politically motivated. “They haven’t taken me out of the game yet,” Lula averred.

With Lula out of the reckoning, it will be easy for the Brazilian oligarchs to push back the progressive reforms that the Workers’ Party introduced, such as the “Bolsa Familia”, a social programme that provides financial assistance to needy families. The anti-poverty programme has won admirers worldwide and is an important poverty-reducing factor in Brazil. Today, Brazil is in the grip of the worst economic crisis it has experienced since the Great Depression of the 1930s. With global commodity prices down and foreign direct investment drying up, prospects for the Brazilian economy look bleak, at least for the immediate future. In July, the Brazilian Senate approved new labour reforms that, if implemented, will remove unemployment benefits and union rights. The unemployment rate already hovers around 13 per cent. Brazilian workers organised nationwide strikes on June 30 to protest against the new moves by the tottering right-wing government to further curtail working-class rights.

Interview: Tejashwi Prasad Yadav

‘Part of Amit Shah’s ploy to bind Nitish’

Over the last year and a half, Tejashwi Yadav has emerged as the most important organisation man in the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The refrain among party workers and large sections of supporters was that Lalu Prasad’s son was maturing to be a competent leader in his own right and a worthy successor to the charismatic founder president of the RJD. Faced with the biggest crisis of his developing political career, as the person in the centre of the storm of the breakup of the RJD’s alliance with the Janata Dal (United), Tejashwi has been the picture of composure. He spoke to Frontline on the telephone a day after the collapse of the alliance and Nitish Kumar’s realignment with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Excerpts:

Nitish Kumar says it is your inability to explain your position on the corruption charges levelled against you that led him to break the Grand Alliance and go with the BJP.

At the outset, let me state that I did not expect this type of downright falsehood from somebody whom I have described several times in the past as a political mentor and a dear uncle. The fact is I explained the cooked-up nature of the charges against me and, at that point of time, he seemed to understand this position. So many of his associates in his party as well as in his rediscovered ally, the BJP, are facing several types of criminal cases. In fact, Nitish Kumar ji himself is facing an accusation in a murder case. The Chief Minister of our neighbouring State, Yogi Adityanath, with whom Nitish Kumar ji would be working closely now as a political ally, has an array of criminal charges against him with the offences marked by grievous sections such as IPC 302, 307, 153 A, 295 and 506. [These sections deal with heinous crimes such as murder, attempt to murder and promoting enmity between different groups of people on the basis of birth, race, language, etc.]

If it was the raising of one set of charges against me that made him hurry out from our alliance, on what moral logic did he come into the alliance in the first place? When he aligned with us 20 months ago, my father and RJD president Lalu Prasad Yadav ji was already convicted on similar charges and was pursuing legal appeals. So, where was Nitish Kumar ji’s moral compunction then? At that time, he was so animatedly talking about and making plans to fight the communal BJP. So, it is evident that the charges against me were not his actual concern. He was desperate to get back to his communal partners and to achieve that he employed me as a pawn. Or, to put it more plainly, stabbed me in the back when he should have been guiding younger leaders for the betterment of Bihar.

There was a sense in the Nitish Kumar camp that your popularity ratings both as a politician and as an administrator were improving. Do you think that this could have been one of the reasons for this sudden disaffection with you?

I had heard such views from other people too. Who am I to comment on such perceptions. It is the job of the media and political observers to evaluate and state whether such perceptions have merit.

When Nitish Kumar aligned with the RJD and the Congress 20 months ago, he had projected this as the beginning of a national political model, which would eventually turn into a movement against the BJP and especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He had even said that this was the vision for the future of a secular India. But now you are saying that Nitish Kumar had planned his return to the BJP fold long ago. There seems to be some incongruity in your perception. Why would a person who would have been virtually one of the topmost leaders of the national opposition to the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance leave it all of a sudden if he did not have a good reason?

That’s where the role of the dirty tricks department of the BJP becomes important. As all of you know, their team for this section is formidable. The track record of Amit Shah ji, the president of the BJP, is by itself phenomenal in this regard. He has charted a dark and shady path from Gujarat to Muzaffarnagar to West Bengal over the past several decades. My own thinking is that Amit Shah ji would have unravelled some special ploy to bind Nitish Kumar ji. We have a broad inkling of what it is, but this needs more exploration. We shall let the world know once we are able to complete our probe.

But beyond all this, Nitish Kumar ji’s move is a betrayal of the mandate of the 2015 Assembly election. The mandate given by the people of Bihar in 2015 was against the BJP and its communal drive and anti-people economic policies. It is nothing short of a murder of democracy committed by a so-called champion of moral and democratic values. I believe that Nitish Kumar ji had the realisation at that point of time that if he allied with the BJP then, he would not have won, because the people were thoroughly disgusted with the Modi government and the BJP as a whole. So, he came with us, got our votes, and once safely ensconced, has gone back into the communal fold, utterly violating the will of the people.

Do you think there will be a revolt within the JD (U) on this betrayal of the mandate?

There are already signs of disgruntlement at this decision, which serves the interest of only one man in that party. We are waiting and watching as to how things unfold in the coming days.

Evidently, the entire Lalu Prasad family is facing a tough time with the spate of corruption allegations and investigations by various agencies. How do you propose to counter this?

Lalu ji and all of us in the family have always held our trust in our legal system and the judiciary. At one level, we are pursuing that path. At the political level, our people have full trust and faith in our leadership. It is something that was underscored in the last elections too, when we won more seats though we contested as many seats as the JD (U). Yes, it could be a long and multifaceted struggle, but we will continue to fight relentlessly.

Diary from Trumpland

Appetite for war

VIJAY PRASHAD world-affairs

On June 14, when United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Congressman Ted Poe of Texas asked him about the government’s policy towards Iran. “Well,” Tillerson paused, “our Iranian policy is under development.” Poe asked Tillerson directly whether the U.S. government supported “a philosophy of regime change, peaceful regime change?” Tillerson responded: “Our policy towards Iran is to work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government. Those elements are there, certainly.”

In other words, Tillerson said, the U.S. government was committed to overthrowing the current government in Iran by peaceful means. What they mean by “peaceful” should not be taken lightly. No regime-change operation is ever peaceful. The Trump administration, meanwhile, is conducting an inter-agency review of the sanctions on Iran and of the various options available to the U.S. for action against Iran. These options include military force. There is belligerence in the air.

On July 17, a month later, President Donald Trump certified to Congress that Iran was in compliance with the international nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The President has to conduct this certification exercise every 90 days. If the President does not certify the deal, then the U.S. Congress has 60 additional days to abandon the deal. The White House spokesperson said: “The President has made very clear that he thought this was a bad deal—bad deal for the United States.” Trump had wanted to refuse to certify the deal this time, and in the previous round. His national security team convinced him that this deal was valuable. One staff member said that Trump only signed on after he made it clear that the next time things would be different.

The American Right remains fundamentally opposed to the deal. John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote recently that the nuclear deal “remains palpably harmful to American national interests”. Trump shares this view. They believe—against all evidence—that the deal allows Iran to retain its nuclear programme because international verification on the ground in Iran is “fatally inadequate”. Bolton urged Trump to make withdrawal from the nuclear deal the administration’s “highest priority”.

There is widespread enthusiasm in the White House to walk away from the deal and to use the full vitality of U.S. power to suffocate Iran. But elements in the U.S. intelligence services and in the diplomatic community are not keen on further confrontation with Iran. It would, they argue, confound U.S. policy in Iraq and against the Islamic State.

Iran complains that the U.S. has already violated the spirit of the JCPOA. In May, at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) Brussels headquarters, and in July, at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Trump asked his European allies to stop doing business with Iran. This was done privately. When she was asked about it, Trump’s White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders affirmed that Trump had told European leaders “to stop doing business with nations that sponsor terrorism, especially Iran”. The JCPOA, however, clearly prohibits “any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalisation of trade and economic relations with Iran”. These are “sanctions” of a new kind.

The American Right recognises that the nuclear deal cannot be easily undone. European states do not have the appetite to return to a confrontation with Iran. The Europeans are eager to bring Iranian energy into their countries and they see the utility of engaging Iran on the multiple crises in West Asia. This is why U.S. Senator Bob Corker said that since Trump was “fully committed” to the American Right’s anti-Iran policy, new sanctions were needed to punish Iran for its “non-nuclear behaviour”. In other words, since Iran tested ballistic missiles, the U.S. has now placed new sanctions on 18 individuals, groups and networks.

The theory here is that the pressure on firms to stop doing business with Iran and new “non-nuclear” sanctions on Iran would encage the country once more. It would harden the positions of the Iranian leadership, Washington hopes, and drive it to do something provocative that would allow Trump to refuse to recertify the JCPOA in October. It would set the stage for a much more dangerous confrontation with Iran.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran would “respond” to these sanctions, but he did not say how. What he did say was that Iran was grateful to the Europeans, China and Russia for “steadfastly employing perseverance to safeguard the JCPOA”. Do the Europeans, the Chinese and the Russians have the means to prevent a U.S. war? Will the Russians intervene militarily in Iran—as they did in Syria—to provide the country with a nuclear umbrella?

Message to Iran

The U.S. already has military bases on the doorstep of Iran—in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and elsewhere. There are at least 125,000 U.S. troops on the edge of Iran and thousands of warships and aircraft at the ready.

Iran has long seen its ballistic missile programme as being a deterrent, however feeble, against this massive military encirclement. That the U.S. has decided to place new sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile tests has sent a clear message to Iran: the U.S. will put as much pressure on Iran as possible to prevent it from developing anything like a deterrent capability.

Iran’s head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said that the U.S. should move its bases out of a 1,000-kilometre range from the Iranian borders. This would mean that the U.S. base at Shindand (Herat, Afghanistan), which is merely 200 km from the Iranian border, and the U.S. base in Bahrain, less than 100 km from Iran, would have to be removed. If the U.S. did not withdraw, Jafari intimated, then Iran would maintain its missile programme. The programme, he said, “is defensive and never would be subject to bargaining and negotiation at any level”.

Pressure on Iran from the U.S. is not only from the bases that ring the country but also on the ground in West Asia, from Iraq to Lebanon. Tillerson told Congress that the Trump administration was aware of “Iran’s continued destabilising presence in the region, their payment of foreign fighters, their export of militia forces in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, their support of Hizbollah”. The U.S., he said, was “taking action to respond to Iran’s hegemony”. There is a fantasy narrative in Washington, D.C., that Iran is the one that is aggressive in West Asia and that the U.S.—with its history of regime change and the presence of its military bases—is merely there to block Iranian ambitions.

Syria-Iraq border

Iran has indeed been eager to open up the land route from its border through Iraq to Syria. It would prefer to resupply the government of Bashar al-Assad through the much cheaper road that runs across the region than fly in military and civilian supplies. The road is open from Damascus to Syria’s border with Iraq and it is open from Iran’s border across Iraq. A U.S. base and U.S. proxies along the Iraq-Syria border are keen to create a buffer state to block Iran’s access to the road. This border post in south-eastern Syria is crucial and the two sides now face each other in a dangerous standoff.

The White House press secretary said that the U.S. had a “shared interest with Israel to make sure that Iran does not gain a foothold, military base-wise, in southern Syria”. Armed action by U.S. proxies, trained in a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-run camp in Jordan, against Syrian government troops backed by Iranian-led militias has been a flashpoint along the edge of southern Syria.

Meanwhile, along Lebanon’s border, tensions have risen over a potential Israeli strike against Hizbollah’s highly fortified positions. Israel has already been collaborating with various Syrian rebel groups, including Al Qaeda-backed groups, in the region near the occupied Golan Heights. Israeli aircraft have regularly been striking Syrian military targets to prevent any advance by the Syrian Army towards the de facto border with Israel. Israel would also like to expand its Golan Heights holdings and create a large buffer zone with Syria. These manoeuvres have been fully backed by the Trump White House.

Dangerous signals come from the new sanctions and from the hot wars between U.S. proxies, including Israel, and the Iranian-backed forces. When Trump was in Saudi Arabia in May, he suggested that the conflict between the U.S. and Iran was a “battle between good and evil”. Religious language such as this evokes the words of former President George W. Bush before he launched the illegal war on Iraq in 2003. It is Iran, Trump suggested, that “spreads destruction and chaos” in the region. This came the day after Iran re-elected its moderate President, and along the same time as the U.S. pledged to sell Saudi Arabia, a country spreading destruction and chaos in Yemen, arms worth $110 billion.

There is an appetite for war in the Trump White House and amongst its Israeli and Saudi partners. The war this time will be against Iran. If West Asia is in chaos now, there is no adequate word to describe its fate if that full-scale war actually begins.

Bangladesh

Judiciary vs parliament

HAROON HABIB world-affairs

The Supreme Court of Bangladesh recently scrapped a constitutional amendment that gave the country’s Parliament the power to remove Supreme Court judges for incompetence or misconduct. Many welcomed the apex court’s verdict as one that restored the independence of the judiciary, while others pointed to the embarrassment it had caused the legislature, which passed the amendment unanimously in 2014 and in effect restored Bangladesh’s original Constitution of 1972.

A seven-member full bench of the Appellate Division led by Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha pronounced the verdict on July 3, after hearing the government’s appeal for 11 days. The views of as many as 12 amici curiae were sought—nine opposed the amendment, two did not turn up, and one supported the amendment.

Manzill Murshid, the lawyer for the public interest litigation (PIL) writ petition filed by nine Supreme Court lawyers against the 16th amendment, termed the verdict “a landmark for the establishment of the independence of the judiciary”. Attorney General Mahbebey Alam expressed his dismay at the verdict, while the country’s Law Minister Anisul Huq said that the government would decide the next course of action after getting the copy of the judgment.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the main opposition now outside Parliament, and lawyers supporting it welcomed the judgment by distributing sweets. The BNP’s Joint Secretary General, Mahbub Uddin Khokon, also the secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Association, alleged that the 16th amendment had been enacted by the Sheikh Hasina government to establish “political control” over Supreme Court judges.

In May 2016, the High Court had ruled that the 16th amendment was “illegal and unconstitutional”, as it went against the principles of the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. The amendment, in effect, abolished the Chief Justice-led Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) which had the power to remove a Supreme Court judge after following due process and vested that power in Parliament as in the original Constitution of 1972.

Article 70

The arguments during the hearing of the appeal and the High Court’s observation made it clear that Article 70 of the Bangladesh Constitution, which prevents MPs from working independently, largely contributed to the amendment illegal being declared illegal. “Keeping Article 70 of Bangladesh Constitution as it is, the members of parliament must toe the party line in case of removal of any judge of the Supreme Court. Consequently, the judge will be left at the mercy of the party high command,” read the High Court verdict delivered by Justice Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque.

The judges continued: “As regards Article 70 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, we must say that this Article has fettered the members of parliament. It has imposed a tight rein on them. Members of parliament cannot go against their party line or position on any issue in the parliament…. They have no freedom to question their party’s stance in parliament, even if it is incorrect. They cannot vote against their party’s decision…. They are, indeed, hostages in the hands of their party high command.”

Article 70 of the Constitution says: “A person elected as a member of parliament at an election at which he was nominated as a candidate by a political party shall vacate his seat if he resigns from that party; or votes in parliament against that party; but shall not thereby be disqualified for subsequent election as a member of parliament.”

The government of Bangladesh tried to defend Article 70 saying that the provision itself had come into being amid allegations of “horse-trading” reported in different countries.

History of scrapped amendments

This is the fifth verdict of the apex court in which it has scrapped amendments to the Constitution. The other scrapped amendments include the fifth amendment relating to martial law regime in 1975-1979, the seventh amendment relating to the martial law regime of the deposed dictator General H.M. Ershad, the eighth amendment relating to the establishment of High Court benches in different divisions and the 13th amendment relating to the introduction of a national election-time caretaker government.

Bangladesh’s original Constitution of 1972 empowered Parliament to remove Supreme Court judges. But the fourth amendment to the Constitution in 1975 scrapped Parliament’s power and empowered the President to do so. Later, in 1978, the military dictator General Ziaur Rahman curtailed the President’s power and introduced the SJC comprising the Chief Justice and two senior-most judges. It was ratified and validated by the fifth amendment to the Constitution in 1979 when Ziaur Rahman was President.

Now that the amendment has been scrapped, the question is whether the previous system of the Chief Justice-led SJC will automatically be reinstated, thus restoring authority to the SJC.

According to Attorney General Mahbubey Alam, the judgment resulted in “a vacuum”. The SJC cannot be automatically restored by the court, he maintained. However, the senior lawyer M. Amir-Ul Islam, one of those involved in the framing of the Constitution, said that the SJC would automatically be restored following the cancellation of the amendment.

Separation of the judiciary is one of the fundamental principles of state policy and the independence of the judiciary is one of the basic tenets of the original Constitution of Bangladesh. Considered a result of the Liberation War, Article 22 of the Constitution says: “The state shall ensure the separation of the judiciary from the executive organs of the state.” On the contrary, the independence of the judiciary has been undermined on several occasions through constitutional amendments enacted during the two martial law regimes under General Ziaur Rahman and General H.M. Ershad. The judiciary was officially separated from the executive branch of the government only in 2007, following a Supreme Court verdict.

Most civil society leaders welcomed the Supreme Court’s verdict, saying it had “finally reinstated” the fundamental scheme of the Constitution that keeps the power between organs of the state separate. They were of the view that the removal of the 16th amendment would uphold the original character of the Constitution by ensuring a judiciary that would work in unison with the executive but at the same time be independent of it.

Senior Ministers and MPs from both the Treasury and opposition benches were critical of the verdict. Taking part in a parliamentary debate on the issue, the MPs urged the government to take a realistic decision on the issue and hoped that the Supreme Court would restore the 16th amendment once the government filed a review petition against the verdict.

Many of the MPs termed the verdict “unexpected” and said the Supreme Court had to prove how MPs had “challenged the basic structure” of the Constitution by passing the amendment. Their argument was, if Parliament had the power to impeach the President of the republic, the Speaker and the Prime Minister, then why could it not impeach Supreme Court judges for misconduct or incapacity? They also voiced concerns about the SJC system and asked how subordinate judges could try allegations brought against the Chief Justice, or how Supreme Court judges could judge their own misbehaviour and irregularities.

Citing examples, the veteran politician and senior Minister Matia Chowdhury said a judge had circulated leaflets urging a halt to the nation’s war crimes trial but the SJC did not deem it improper behaviour. Another judge had forged his LLB certificate, but the SJC saw no irregularities.

Some leading members of the ruling Awami League and its alliance partners, including the Workers Party and the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, alleged that there were forces trying to create “a conflict” between Parliament and the judiciary. Many MPs saw the Appellate Division verdict as “motivated” and “part of a conspiracy”.

Bangladesh is scheduled to have general elections in the next one-and-a-half years, and the Sheikh Hasina government may not want a conflict with the judiciary at this stage. But the questions raised by leading MPs will continue to be debated, in Parliament and outside it.

Up for grabs

social-issues

IN September 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the “Make in India” campaign and set in motion several changes in government policy at the Centre and in States aiming to increase the ease of doing business. As part of this effort, the Department of Industrial Policy and Planning (DIPP) began formulating pointwise action plans with specific deadlines given to States and Union government departments to implement administrative measures to improve the business environment.

The first such plan was a 98-point action plan prepared for States by the DIPP at a workshop organised in December 2014. Among the recommendations concerning land given in this action plan document is the following: “Develop land bank for ready availability of land for industry.” The DIPP asked all States to get this land bank ready by June 2015. In the last week of December, Raghubar Das took over as Chief Minister of Jharkhand, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the All Jharkhand Students’ Union forming a coalition government.

For most of 2015, despite the deadline, the State was unable to set up an online land bank. An assessment of the State’s record in implementing business reforms prepared by the DIPP in September 2015 stated that availability of land for investors was an area that Jharkhand needed to improve upon.

The same month, another action plan, this time a 340-point “Business Reform Action Plan”, was prepared by the DIPP. It asked the States to implement four things to ensure land availability for private investors: a) make information on land banks for industrial use available online, b) earmark industrial land parcels with specific criteria (such as type of industries, pollution levels, and so on) for industries that can be set up on such land, c) design and implement a geographic information system (GIS) providing details about the land earmarked for industrial use, and d) ensure that the GIS provides details about available infrastructure such as roads and sources of water.

The pressure from the Centre worked. On January 5, 2016, the Chief Minister announced the setting up of an online and real-time land bank for investors. “Make available land for companies who have been awarded coal blocks from the land bank and also earmark land for food-processing parks soon” was the initial direction of the Chief Minister to his officials. One of those officials, Revenue Secretary K.K. Son, shared the following details about the land bank: “In the State, there are 21,01,471.99 acres of land available. This includes Gairmajrua Khas, Gairmajrua Aam, Gairmajrua Jungal-Jhari and lands unutilised by government departments. For the convenience of investors, land availability has been divided into multiple categories: 1 to 50 acres; 50 to 100 acres; and there are multiple links for 100 and above acres.”

To an outsider unfamiliar with the complexities of land issues in Jharkhand, the sheer variety of types of land available in the State in terms of size and official description might appear impressive and full of possibilities for business. Indeed, the State government’s publicity machinery and the Centre’s eagerness to do away with processes of land acquisition or introduce new ones give that kind of an impression. But a close scrutiny reveals that the government’s decision to offer Gairmajrua, or GM lands, as they are alternatively called in official records, in the land bank for investors to consider setting up projects may have put many vulnerable individuals and community land owners at risk of forced displacement.

Gairmajrua lands are peculiar to this part of the country, especially Jharkhand. According to a State government-sponsored study of land governance in the State prepared in October 2014 by the Ranchi-based National Institute of Study and Research in Law, the state of Gairmajrua lands in Jharkhand is poor. It observes:

“[Gairmajrua Aam lands are] under the control of State government on which every common people [ sic] has rights. However, in reality much of the pieces of this land have been encroached upon by influential persons. So the entries in land records may not reflect the actual status of possession.” The observation on Gairmajrua Khas lands was: “Earlier Gairmajrua Khas Land was recorded in the name of local zamindar [landlord] and zamindar had the power to settle individuals on these lands through registered deeds and in many cases through sadda hukumnama [unregistered deeds]. After abolition of zamindari, these lands are vested in State government and this type of land can be settled with raiyats, that is, individual settlers, through lease or regular settlement or patta to persons belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and backward classes. In the government record lakhs of acres of Gairmajrua Khas land are available but in reality Gairmajrua Khas have been distributed by the previous landlords (zamindars).”

When a senior official from Jharkhand’s Revenue and Land Reforms Department was asked about the vulnerability of owners of Gairmajrua lands on account of this decision about the land bank, he said: “Only land belonging to the government was put up for the consideration of investors and no private land owners are affected.” A cursory glance at the land bank shows that land offered to investors is of the four types mentioned by the Revenue Secretary during the launch of the online portal. Two of these are Gairmajrua-type lands. In Godda district, activists claim many small landowners from the oppressed castes, who have been paying taxes for decades and using Gairmajrua lands, have received notices of eviction.

Independent observers warn that the manner in which the land bank has been created in Jharkhand is creating fresh problems of forcible displacement. Dr Prabhat Singh, an associate professor in the Anthropology Department of Ranchi University, told Frontline: “The government is showing raiyati land as Gairmajrua land. This is unjust towards the raiyats who have been paying taxes to the government on the lands they have been using for decades. They are not encroachers. Setting up a new project only means displacing the existing landowner from the Gairmajrua land despite his livelihood being dependent, in a large number of cases, upon it.”

Prabhat Singh also found problematic the identification of Gairmajrua Aam land as government land up for grabs in the land bank for private investors: “All common lands belong to the community, not the government. Including such land in the land bank for industry means giving away lakes, grazing lands for animals, temples and similar public places to private companies.”

Meanwhile, the campaign to realise the investment potential of private capital goes on relentlessly. After the State’s maiden “Global Investment Summit”, Raghubar Das announced that his government was “committed to implementing 172 out of 201 MoUs signed with investors on the ground in the next one year”.

Akshay Deshmane

“How can you deny an objective fact?”

THE release of the much-awaited documentary on the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen by the National Award-winning film-maker Suman Ghosh has met a hurdle, with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) asking for the deletion of the words “Gujarat”, “Hindu”, “Hindutva” and “cow”’ from the documentary. Ghosh, who is also a professor of economics at Florida Atlantic University, has refused to comply with the board’s directive and is now gearing up for a long-drawn battle with the establishment. In an exclusive interview to Frontline, he talks about the making of the documentary, which he began in 2002, and his run-in with the CBFC. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that this film would be controversial”, he said. Excerpts from the interview:

Tell us about this documentary on Amartya Sen.

I started making this documentary in 2002, and in early 2017, I shot more footage with Amartya Sen and Kaushik Basu in Santiniketan. Even though I had made the film in 2002, I realised the importance of a person like Amartya Sen is much more now in the changed world scenario. So I shot some new footage and re-edited the entire thing and wanted to release it as The Argumentative Indian.

The documentary focusses on his life and work, and through them presents the person or the human being Amartya Sen. You see, the two are completely intertwined and that is what I wanted to bring out in the film.

Structurally, I did not want to make a documentary with the typical voice-over, etc. So I thought, how about an “adda” [a uniquely Bengali term for unstructured, enlightened discussions] rather than a conversation between Kaushik Basu and Amartya Sen? Kaushik Basu was his student and is very close to him. I weave in visuals and other interviews around that “adda”. The entire documentary is, in fact, structured around it.

Did you expect this kind of censorship from the CBFC?

Not at all. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that this film would be controversial. I was really taken aback when I heard from the CBFC that those words were sensitive or controversial.

Did the board tell you what exactly they found controversial in those words?

I inquired about their objection to the word “Gujarat”. The riot that took place in Gujarat is an objective fact, so how can you deny an objective fact? I told them that the Gujarat riot did not happen anywhere else, but still they thought that it was perhaps targeting a particular State. It was the same case with the other words as well. Take, for instance, the word “cow”; it is a fact that there are lots of discussions going on about the issue of cow slaughter. This, again, is an undeniable fact in the country, and Amartya Sen has definite views on the issue. That is why I decided not to bleep out any of those words. I told the CBFC people when I met them that I was not going to compromise on a single word. It would be an insult to Professor Amartya Sen.

Did they specify what their problem was with those words?

There is a set of censor guidelines that has been operational for more than half a century. But to me, it is very subjective how you interpret [on the basis of these guidelines]; any objective fact can be interpreted as an insult to the state or a religion or a caste. They said they were just following the guidelines. Honestly, a clear explanation was not given to me.

Later, I got a letter from the CBFC which said that the board had come to the conclusion that the film was suitable for unrestricted public exhibition, provided I carried out the modifications that they had listed. Along with the four words I had mentioned, they wanted me to mute the words “In India”, uttered by Sugata Bose (Trinamool Congress MP), and the words “used” and “these days”, uttered by Amartya Sen. I forget in what context those last two words were used.

Is there an excessive reference to the words “Hindu”, “Hindutva”, “cow” and “Gujarat” in the documentary that the CBFC felt they needed to intervene?

Not really. For example, Amartya Sen talked about the country sometimes being interpreted in narrow terms like “Hindu India”, which is, again, a fact. Now, you can oppose it or disagree with it, but the fact is that the country is being interpreted as “Hindu India” by certain groups.

Regarding the word “Gujarat”, just after the riots in 2002, Amartya Sen, in one of his lectures in Cornell University, was talking about the importance of a viable political opposition in any country. In that context, he was talking about the “criminality” of the government in Gujarat. But what surprised me was the CBFC asking me to delete the word “Gujarat” rather than “criminality”.

They could have asked me to delete that whole sentence, but they asked me to remove only “Gujarat”. I didn’t really understand the logic of that, and I also found it rather ad hoc. He had openly talked about this in interviews on television before, but for some reason, I was not allowed to show it in the film.

Do you think the CBFC would have behaved in a similar manner if it were a documentary on anyone other than Amartya Sen?

I am sure it has something to do with that, given the history between Professor Sen and the current government. But I cannot say if they would have been so vigilant in the case of others.

What is your next move?

I am told there is a process to be followed here. Because of the schedule of my current project, which is being shot now, I have not had the time to go through the process that I have to follow. First, I have to respond to their letter, in which I will have to say that I do not accept their terms; and then I think the matter will go to a tribunal. Whatever it is, I will contest [the board’s demands] and see how far I can go.

The film was supposed to be shown to the public on July 14. What about putting it up on the Internet?

In any case, I would have put it up on the Net. I planned to put it up at the end of this year, after a limited release. I had organised several screenings earlier—it was shown at the New York Indian Film Festival in May, and in June it was shown at the London Indian Festival, the venue of which was the London School of Economics.

We have some other screenings lined up. Unfortunately, I cannot show it in India or send it for any of the national awards but in December I will release the film online.

Dubious distinction

the-nation

ON the surface of it, the preventive legislation to contain the activities of anti-social elements that Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran mooted on January 5, 1982, was an innocuous one. However, over time the law underwent a few mutations (1988, 2004 and 2006) during both DMK and AIADMK governments. In 2014, the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa gave it a draconian edge by amending it to drop the word “habitual” from its provisions. This gave the government and the police a free hand to expand its use in a large number of situations that were until then outside the ambit of the Act.

The 2014 amendments on pre-charge detention said: “There are instances where a single act has the potential to disrupt public order and therefore it will not be meaningful to wait for habitual commission of offences by a person before resorting to preventive detention.” At that time Frontline carried a detailed analysis of the dangers of its possible abuse at the hands of the powers that be (“Alarming Act”, October 3, 2014).

Once a person is detained under the Goondas Act, his/her family members have 12 days to apply for release, and it is only after seven weeks or 50 days of detention that they can approach the advisory board formed under Section 10 of the Act. After exhausting these options, the aggrieved person can approach the High Court. The habeas corpus petition has been the most favoured option for those held under this Act in the majority of the cases.

Official sources claimed that 1,364 persons had been detained under the Goondas Act in Tamil Nadu in 2011; the number was 1,896 in 2012 and jumped to 3,125 in 2013. A total of 8,450 persons, a record of sorts, were detained under the Goondas Act and the National Security Act for protesting against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project. A media report in October last year said that Tamil Nadu had the dubious distinction of being the top among States for detaining people under the Goondas Act. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data show that as many as 1,268 persons, including 21 women, were detained under the law in 2015 in Tamil Nadu. It was followed by Telangana (339), Karnataka (232) and Gujarat (219). Sixty-two of the 1,268 detainees were graduates or postgraduates. The majority of them were released either by the advisory board or by the higher judiciary. Some 400-odd people have served the full 12-month term under the law. A study carried out by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, New Delhi, points out that Tamil Nadu witnessed the largest number of agitations in the country last year, accounting for more than 25 per cent of them.

Ilangovan Rajasekaran

Bihar

Power games

NITISH KUMAR’S choice of words to describe his return as Chief Minister of Bihar at two different junctures in the past 20 months is a study in contrast. In November 2015, immediately after the Mahagathbandhan—the grand alliance consisting of the Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress and the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United)—swept to power defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Chief Minister sought to place the electoral triumph in a larger sociopolitical context with ideological overtones. He stated that the most important message of the victory was the resounding popular acceptance of one development paradigm and the emphatic rejection of another; the Bihar electorate apparently had voted for development with social justice and democracy while categorically repudiating the notion of development that promotes crony capitalism and seeks to cover up this anti-people mission by perpetuating communal divisions in society.

Approximately a year and a half later, when Nitish Kumar broke up the Mahagathbandhan and revived his erstwhile alliance with the NDA and once again took oath of office as Chief Minister, political and ideological formulations were conspicuous by their absence. The single most important thrust of the pronouncements of the four-times-sworn-in Chief Minister was individualistic. “My conscience did not allow me to continue in the Mahagathbandhan,” he said, adding that he would not compromise when it came to corruption in governance and the development of Bihar. The reference to corruption was, of course, in relation to the cases and investigations that came up recently against the first family of the RJD, including party president Lalu Prasad and son Tejashwi Yadav, Deputy Chief Minister in the Mahagathbandhan government.

Political observers and analysts were quick to deduce the rise of the “Me” element in Nitish Kumar’s latest manoeuvre and the abdication of the sociopolitical paradigm he had expounded in November 2015. “The invocation of the ‘my conscience’ phrase is almost like a political Freudian slip. It unravels the urge of a particular type of hyperindividualism that seeks to acquire and cling on to power at the personal level, whatever the social cost,” pointed out the veteran socialist Shivanand Tiwari.

The former JD(U) Rajya Sabha member told Frontline that the maudlin conjuration of “conscience” needed to be analysed in a political and historical framework, both in the immediate and in the medium term. “The leader holds forth on morality, conscience and all that one evening and what does he do in the next six hours? Join hands with the very forces he had castigated as communal and crony capitalist in a hard-fought election barely a year and a half ago. If he was such an epitome of political and personal morality, the right way would have been to dissolve the Assembly and call for a fresh mandate. But what does he do? Creep in less than 24 hours through the back door,” said Tiwari.

Disowning a development model

Tiwari also pointed out that it was Nitish Kumar himself who had chosen to present the 2015 electoral victory and the rallying of political forces that created it as a model for the rest of the country to adopt and advance the politics of development with social justice. Tiwari said: “He had held forth that there is a pointer to India as a whole in this massive ratification of the development paradigm. He had explained that this paradigm as well as the political leadership that advanced it were more suited than its rival to the interests of the socially and economically marginalised sections of the country. It was also argued [that] the Bihar Mahagathbandhan paradigm nourished democracy and through that the lives of the people, while the Modi model helped a select few get richer and unleashed economic hardships and social divisions in society, literally debilitating democracy. Now, those were proclamations laden with a great sense of responsibility towards the country, its social ethos and its people. Why is that there is no prick of conscience in the abandonment of this national responsibility?”

Tiwari went on to add that he could not see much merit in Nitish Kumar’s discovery of troubling corruption charges against his erstwhile deputy, Tejashwi Yadav. “In any case, the case against Tejashwi is only at the investigation stage. It may get proved or not. Why not let the law take its on course? What is the need for this hurry?” he asked.

Tejashwi Yadav reflected the sentiment. Talking to Frontline on phone, he said that when Nitish Kumar aligned with the RJD in 2015, his party’s president Lalu Prasad was already convicted on corruption charges. “Where was Nitish Kumar ji’s moral compunction then?” he asked.

A number of political observers spread across Bihar, including the advocate Ramkumar Choudhary of Arah and Anisur Rehman of Bhagalpur, told Frontline that a closer analysis of the sudden moral righteousness of Nitish Kumar exposed it as completely hollow. “Barely a week before the developments in Bihar, a renowned editor of an academic journal was forced to resign. His crime was that he had made bold to expose the tweaking of rules in relation to special economic zones [SEZs] by the Modi government in order to impart benefit to the tune of Rs.500 crore to the Gautam Adani Group, considered close to the Prime Minister. Nitish ji is indeed crying hoarse about corruption, but why has this slipped his attention?” asked Rehman.

“Scores of such corruption cases involving BJP leaders and friends of the BJP, including in places like Kerala where the BJP is still a fledgling party, have been deliberately ignored by Nitish ji in his overwhelming urge to rejoin the BJP’s political team,” said Choudhary. Rehman was of the view that the current flip-flop and the reasoning advanced for it had brought down Nitish Kumar’s credibility considerably. He was also of the view that this would start reflecting significantly in popular support in due course.

Already, the idea has gained resonance within the JD(U). While two senior Rajya Sabha members of the party—Ali Anwar from Bihar and M.P. Veerendrakumar from Kerala—have openly revolted against Nitish Kumar’s decision, terming it as a travesty of the party’s ideological and political orientation, former national president Sharad Yadav has initiated parleys at multiple levels to evolve concrete steps within the organisation to counter the Nitish Kumar exercise. Ali Anwar was sarcastic when he commented that “Nitish Kumar decided to form an alliance with the BJP listening to his conscience, but my conscience does not allow me to support Nitish Kumar’s decision of forming the government with the BJP”. He said that he felt “the reasons that led to a rift when we walked out of an alliance with the BJP are still relevant. In fact, those reasons are even more relevant under the present circumstances”. Anwar also maintained that he would raise his concerns within the party as and when he got an opportunity.

Realpolitik matters

A section of the JD(U) as well as a large number of political observers are of the view that it is the “Me” factor and some special considerations on retaining individual power that had led Nitish Kumar to undertake this manoeuvre. A highly placed source in the JD(U) expounded how this played out at the level of manoeuvres and realpolitik. He said: “It is true that Nitish Kumar meant every word he expressed when he helped form the Mahagathbandhan and projected it as the model alternative for the country in November 2015. But several factors that came up over the next 12 months raised doubts in him about its organisational and electoral efficacy. Apart from this, there were factors that directly challenged his political positioning in Bihar as well as at the Centre. The course of action that Nitish Kumar had imagined for himself had moves that would be initiated to project him as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the united opposition by November 2016, one year since the electoral victory in Bihar. That did not happen. The Congress, which was expected to initiate moves in this direction, did not move one bit. It was evident that for the Congress, Lalu Prasad was a more important political ally. The second upsetting factor was the rise in the credibility and acceptance of Tejashwi Yadav in a matter of six to eight months of the formation of the Mahagathbandhan government. The young leader was seen to have learnt the nuances of statecraft with consummate ease and was being applauded both by his support base and by neutral observers. This development was completely unexpected and Nitish Kumar realised that the JD(U) in Bihar might not be able to demand a higher or even an equal number of seats to contest as the RJD would in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and the 2020 Assembly elections. Evidently, Nitish Kumar’s chances of emerging as a powerful national leader or even retaining the Chief Minister’s position in 2020 were getting increasingly doubtful.”

It is in the context of all these apprehensions and insecurities that Nitish Kumar started considering the option of playing second fiddle to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said the highly placed source in the JD(U). “If I am not getting acceptance within the broad opposition ranks as a potential Prime Minister and if there is a possibility that even the Chief Minister’s position would be denied in 2020, why not retain the number one administrative post in Bihar with BJP support? That question increasingly started getting a favourable answer in his mind, and then demonetisation happened. Nitish saw the opportunity to shift sides and proclaimed support for that. The rest, as they say, is history,” he said.

Post-demonetisation, things moved pretty fast, with State BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi facilitating communication with the party’s central leadership. By all indications, the larger political plan was devised and orchestrated by BJP president Amit Shah himself. Apparently, this included deploying the dirty tricks department with the specific aim of targeting the Lalu Prasad family as a whole and clipping the wings of an emerging Tejashwi Yadav. The orchestration moved along with the presidential election. Right from that time, there was a feeling within sections of the JD(U) that the last week of July would be momentous.

Some in the party projected the date as July 28 while others talked about a future date. But then the orchestrated event happened earlier than that, on July 26. Nitish Kumar resigned as Chief Minister, and within minutes Narendra Modi tweeted his approval. Again, within minutes, the BJP convened its Central Parliamentary Board and came up with the decision to support a new Nitish Kumar-led government. It was immediately conveyed to Sushil Kumar Modi in Patna. The numbers, of course, were in place. The JD(U) had 71 MLAs and the BJP and allies 58, which gave the new alliance a majority of 129 in the 243-member Assembly. Later, two independents joined the coalition, taking the number to 131.

Larger plans

By all indications, the plans afoot in Delhi that go beyond mere politics visualise a complete subjugation of the Lalu Prasad family with a vigorous pursuit of corruption cases against its members. “Indeed, BJP leaders, including Chief Ministers like Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana and Raghubar Das in Jharkhand, are facing colossal charges of corruption, but that would not be followed up in any haste. Union Ministers like Nitin Gadkari too, who are facing umpteen charges, will roam around freely. But Lalu Prasad is the prime mover behind the efforts to build a grand opposition alliance, trying to bring together the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party and the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party, and he and his political outfit need to be neutralised at any cost,” said the highly placed JD(U) source. The calculation, apparently, is that once Lalu Prasad and the RJD are neutralised, the opposition alliance will collapse on its own, especially given that the Congress’ current leadership is synonymous with lack of political initiative and creativity. Clearly, the Nitish Kumar manoeuvre founded solely on personal aggrandisement and retaining individual political power has dealt a crippling blow not only to the RJD in Bihar but the entire mainstream opposition in India. It remains to be seen how the opposition parties, especially the Congress, face this situation and evolve counter-strategies.

Many smaller political groups representing a wide range of ideological shades and opinions and non-political groups have highlighted points for an opposition action plan that seeks to focus on the BJP’s own corruption and its aggressive pursuit of diversification of land use to favour BJP-friendly corporate groups, including the Adanis. However, this too has remained in the conceptual stage for a long time. The unmistakable message of the Nitish Kumar manoeuvre and its follow-up plans is that the BJP and its top two leaders, Modi and Shah, have already started a no-holds-barred campaign for the 2019 elections. And, as in many instances in the recent past, they have taken by surprise the opposition which is floundering about for a tangible and effective counter-plan.

Land Acquisition: Maharashtra

Grand scheme

LYLA BAVADAM the-nation

IN Maharashtra, a State whose economy is effectively in the red, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has put all his might behind fulfilling his dream of building an eight-lane Mumbai-Nagpur expressway that will traverse 10 districts, covering a distance of 710 kilometres. This gigantic project is estimated to cost Rs.46,000 crore. But there is an even higher price that the State will have to pay for the project: 20,820 hectares of land.

The grandly named Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg, or prosperity corridor, is not just about a highway that cuts the travel time by half between the two capitals of the State (traditionally, Nagpur hosts the winter session of the State legislature) but more about developing the region lying between them. This euphemism for land grab for industrial development is all too clear in this case. Of the 20,820 ha, a mere 8,520 ha will be needed for the expressway; the remaining 12,000 ha is meant for developing 24 townships. These townships, or development nodes, will house industries that range from agro-processing to information technology.

The expressway will run through 354 villages spread across 30 taluks. Close to 80 per cent of the land, that is, 17,499 ha, that is to be acquired for the project is agricultural land, 399 ha forest land and 2,922 ha unused land.

According to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, compensation for the land should be based on market rates. But the State government often chooses to buy land under the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation Act or the National Highway Act. For the Mumbai-Nagpur expressway, the government is offering farmers the option of land pooling or a one-time settlement. Land pooling is seen as a convenient method of land acquisition for large projects because it eases the problem of acquiring small holdings. Essentially, local landowners have to pool their land and give it to the acquiring agency that will develop it. The owners are guaranteed a certain percentage of the land back for their use once it has been developed.

The other option on offer is developed land, which will be a percentage of the total land acquired. For irrigated land, farmers get a compensation of 30 per cent of the total acquired land. In the case of unirrigated land, it will be 25 per cent. The land offered is in the same area. This formula was arrived at in the belief that the value of the land will be high because of industrial development in the area. The government likes to say that farmers are being made partners in the project since they are given plots in the developed zone. This promotional campaign is not going down well with farmers, who are only too aware of the plight of farmers elsewhere in the country who had to hand over their land for development, especially those who had to part with their lands because of the proposed special economic zones, which were allowed to be used for non-industrial purposes. Though it is a presumption that the farmer will want to monetise his land in the future, the farmer is eventually forced to consider selling the land because farming is practically impossible when the land is surrounded by industrial or developed zones.

Recent protest

The most recent protest against land acquisition was organised in April by the anti-Mumbai-Nagpur expressway Samruddhi Mahamarga Shetkari Sangharsh Samiti. Thousands of farmers blocked the Mumbai-Agra highway, saying they would be rendered landless and jobless if they gave up farming.

In May, farmers from Sinnar and Igatpuri taluks in Nashik district protested outside the district office of the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which is the nodal agency for the project. Fearful of losing their irrigated land and unsure of what they will receive by way of compensation, they demanded that the road be realigned so that their lands are left out of the project. The MSRDC rejected the suggestion because it would have meant encroaching upon the Kalsubhai Harishchandragad Wildlife Sanctuary. The MSRDC is discussing the possibility of an elevated road to save the irrigation sources of farmers and also lessen the extent of land that will have to be acquired.

As of now the State has not tried to forcibly acquire land, but clashes between the police and the local people who protested against surveys being carried out have been reported. In fact, other methods of persuasion are being used.

Interlocutors

The MSRDC has appointed interlocutors to allay the fears of the villagers. It is interesting to note that the number of interlocutors has been increasing as farmers are refusing to relent. There are plans to redesignate land use, and this will affect the status of forests and green zones. It is unlikely that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change will oppose them. In the recent past, it has shown itself to be an aid to industry instead of safeguarding the environment as was seen in the case of the proposed port at Vadhavan, where the Ministry has started proceedings that will finally result in the closure of an environment protection authority that is opposing the port.

Farmers have been resisting land acquisition for other large infrastructure projects as well. In June, farmers in Palghar district north of Mumbai demonstrated against land acquisition for the Mumbai-Vadodara expressway and for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train. The local people have also been protesting against the gigantic multipurpose, all-weather port at Vadhavan. Farmers in Chakan near Pune are opposed to plans for a new international airport.

South of Mumbai, in Raigad district, there is opposition to land being acquired for the Mumbai-Delhi Industrial Corridor. Another project that is on the cards is the Virar-Alibaug multi-modal corridor, which is yet to begin the process of land acquisition. The protests are unlikely to halt the construction of the Mumbai-Nagpur expressway. At the most, farmers’ resistance will result in higher compensation. Although there is resistance to the project, it is expected to stay on schedule and be completed by 2019. The project has everything going for it. Fadnavis, who hails from Nagpur, wants to be remembered by this gigantic infrastructure project, and his clout as the Prime Minister’s favourite Chief Minister will ensure that it is completed at any cost.

Land Acquisition: Madhya Pradesh

Solar betrayal

DIVYA TRIVEDI the-nation

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, launched in 2010 by the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, as part of India’s plan to combat climate change, is considered one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s current pet projects. Across the country, States (especially those governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]) have been vying—at least on paper—in the race to achieve the revised target of 1,00,000 megawatts (MW) by 2022. Large tracts of land have been earmarked for the setting up of exclusive solar power parks, and plans are afoot to amend land use regulations and tenancy laws in order to facilitate aggregation and leasing of land by farmers/developers for these projects.

In order to understand the impact of one such solar power project set up by Welspun in 2013, Frontline visited Neemuch district in Madhya Pradesh.

Located 60 kilometres from Mandsaur, the nerve centre of farmers’ protests across the country in June, the village of Bhagwanpura in Neemuch district is home to over 200 families from the Adivasi/nomadic communities of Gurjars and Bhils. For generations, they had grazed their cattle on government land, subsisted on rain-fed corn and jowar and water drawn from the ponds nearby, lived in homes hewn out of the rocky terrain, and worshipped their gods in little stone shrines. In short, they had been self-sufficient communities who lived well within their means, and with dignity.

When prime ministerial candidate Modi arrived in early 2014 to inaugurate a solar power plant by the Gujarat-based group Welspun on 1,600 bighas of land, the villagers’ lives took an irrevocable turn for the worse. Located between the villages of Bhagwanpura, Chirmikheda, Diken and Khatikheda, the mammoth Welspun Solar M.P. project is now complete, but the local population is a dejected lot. As many as 70 people lost their lands to the solar power project, and once self-sufficient communities now face the prospect of abject poverty. A few of the villagers who had penalty receipts from the tehsildar’s office, which proved that they had lived and were dependent on the said land, were promised land elsewhere; however, nothing has materialised to date. The villagers also recalled the solar power plant official Manish Pandey’s promise of jobs for “each and every ration card holder of Bhagwanpura panchayat”, but that has not come about either.

Unfulfilled promises

Most of the labour working on the solar power plant has been hired from outside Bhagwanpura, while a few from nearby villages are on contract. Some of them have not been paid in the last three months. “When they asked for their salaries, they were threatened with outright dismissal. So they kept working without being paid,” said a villager.

There is deep resentment amongst the villagers towards the labour brought in from elsewhere. “Why have they brought Nepalis to work as security guards? Aren’t there people from our village who can do that job?” asked Gopal Katariya, identified as a “troublemaker” for raising issues of rights. No villager is allowed inside the solar plant, not even to visit the shrines which now fall within the plant’s territory. “I am not scared of speaking to you, but there is no telling what they [officials] might do,” he told Frontline.

About 15 villagers who launched a campaign for land rights were framed under false charges of theft and jailed for up to 40 days. Among those arrested were Ramlal, who lost two bighas of his land to the solar plant, and Saanwra, who lost his house. “We asked for a job, and got a jail term,” said a villager. Raju bhai, who had proof of land ownership, lost not only his land but around 35 trolleys’ worth of stones valued at Rs.50,000, which were buried under the construction of a new road through the village. “The officials kept telling me not to worry and assured me that they would compensate me with twice the amount of stones once the project was completed. I am still waiting,” he told Frontline.

The experience has dealt a huge blow to the villagers’ confidence and nipped the campaign in the bud. “We had to run from pillar to post to obtain bail. Even now, those with charges against them have to attend the hearings regularly. We don’t understand the intricacies of the law and are afraid to overstep the rules,” said Gopal. In summer, entire families have been forced to migrate, cattle in tow, to other villages in the district. When they graze their cattle in the nearby forest land, they run into trouble with officials. Their only source of income currently is selling cow milk at Rs.18-20 a litre.

The villagers claimed that they did not have access to jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act as the sarpanch got all such jobs done by JCB earth movers. “He asks his men to register for the jobs. The moment they get the money in their accounts, they are supposed to hand it over to him,” one of them explained matter-of-factly. A few villagers’ job cards had been cancelled, and their children were forced to drop out of school as the families did not have enough money to buy notebooks. “Textbooks are provided by the government school, but we don’t have money to buy notebooks,” said a parent.

Among the other complaints are the unfulfilled promises made by solar plant officials to add classes in the local government school from Standards 8 to 12. The villagers alleged that the officials fixed a source for drinking water in the village but removed it after a year. A veterinary doctor who used to attend to the cattle stopped visiting after the solar plant did not pay his salary for a year.

Government schemes not functional

Most government schemes do not appear to be functional in Bhagwanpura village. As many as 40 per cent of the people who built toilets under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan claimed they had not received the promised money in their accounts. Bhagwanpura may be located in the backyard of a solar power plant, but its streets do not have electricity. Electricity in village homes incurs inflated bills of Rs.800 or more a month. The villagers had been promised electricity to draw water from the well when the solar plant was being installed but that has not happened either.

Although most people in the area are poor, with little or no income to their name, they have not been registered as below the poverty line (BPL). “Ever since the BJP government came to power in the state [13 years ago], it has discouraged distribution of BPL cards,” said a villager. “We have heard that the Chief Minister gave orders to register more people under APL [above the poverty line] to show improved numbers of poverty reduction. This will be added to the countrywide data to show how the Modi government has been successful in alleviating poverty,” said a social worker in Neemuch.

For the past year, the government has cancelled provision of sugar to households and reduced the allotment of kerosene from four to two litres a household through the public distribution system. The villagers claimed that whenever they approached the government or solar plant officials, they were treated like criminals. “When we went to meet him, the BJP MLA Om Prakash Saklecha, son of former Chief Minister Virendra Saklecha, said he wouldn’t support thieves.” They are not even sure whether their letters have reached the Chief Minister’s office at all. “Police, tehsildar, patwari sab mile hue hain [all government officials work hand in glove]. Who will listen to people like us who have no political or economic backing?”

Meanwhile, according to Manu Srivastava, Principal Secretary, New and Renewable Energy Department, Government of Madhya Pradesh, Welspun has sold the project to the Tata Group. “The Tatas want more assets in the solar field, whereas Welspun wanted to reduce its debt burden,” Srivastava said. He said that the Welspun project was the first solar public-private partnership (PPP) he had signed and added that the steep decline in solar power rates would be a better story angle to pursue. “Why are you going to Neemuch? There isn’t much to write about there. You should go to Rewa, which is the largest solar project in MP and is being written about globally,” he told Frontline.

Land Acquisition: Maharashtra

Grand scheme

LYLA BAVADAM the-nation

IN Maharashtra, a State whose economy is effectively in the red, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has put all his might behind fulfilling his dream of building an eight-lane Mumbai-Nagpur expressway that will traverse 10 districts, covering a distance of 710 kilometres. This gigantic project is estimated to cost Rs.46,000 crore. But there is an even higher price that the State will have to pay for the project: 20,820 hectares of land.

The grandly named Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg, or prosperity corridor, is not just about a highway that cuts the travel time by half between the two capitals of the State (traditionally, Nagpur hosts the winter session of the State legislature) but more about developing the region lying between them. This euphemism for land grab for industrial development is all too clear in this case. Of the 20,820 ha, a mere 8,520 ha will be needed for the expressway; the remaining 12,000 ha is meant for developing 24 townships. These townships, or development nodes, will house industries that range from agro-processing to information technology.

The expressway will run through 354 villages spread across 30 taluks. Close to 80 per cent of the land, that is, 17,499 ha, that is to be acquired for the project is agricultural land, 399 ha forest land and 2,922 ha unused land.

According to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, compensation for the land should be based on market rates. But the State government often chooses to buy land under the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation Act or the National Highway Act. For the Mumbai-Nagpur expressway, the government is offering farmers the option of land pooling or a one-time settlement. Land pooling is seen as a convenient method of land acquisition for large projects because it eases the problem of acquiring small holdings. Essentially, local landowners have to pool their land and give it to the acquiring agency that will develop it. The owners are guaranteed a certain percentage of the land back for their use once it has been developed.

The other option on offer is developed land, which will be a percentage of the total land acquired. For irrigated land, farmers get a compensation of 30 per cent of the total acquired land. In the case of unirrigated land, it will be 25 per cent. The land offered is in the same area. This formula was arrived at in the belief that the value of the land will be high because of industrial development in the area. The government likes to say that farmers are being made partners in the project since they are given plots in the developed zone. This promotional campaign is not going down well with farmers, who are only too aware of the plight of farmers elsewhere in the country who had to hand over their land for development, especially those who had to part with their lands because of the proposed special economic zones, which were allowed to be used for non-industrial purposes. Though it is a presumption that the farmer will want to monetise his land in the future, the farmer is eventually forced to consider selling the land because farming is practically impossible when the land is surrounded by industrial or developed zones.

Recent protest

The most recent protest against land acquisition was organised in April by the anti-Mumbai-Nagpur expressway Samruddhi Mahamarga Shetkari Sangharsh Samiti. Thousands of farmers blocked the Mumbai-Agra highway, saying they would be rendered landless and jobless if they gave up farming.

In May, farmers from Sinnar and Igatpuri taluks in Nashik district protested outside the district office of the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which is the nodal agency for the project. Fearful of losing their irrigated land and unsure of what they will receive by way of compensation, they demanded that the road be realigned so that their lands are left out of the project. The MSRDC rejected the suggestion because it would have meant encroaching upon the Kalsubhai Harishchandragad Wildlife Sanctuary. The MSRDC is discussing the possibility of an elevated road to save the irrigation sources of farmers and also lessen the extent of land that will have to be acquired.

As of now the State has not tried to forcibly acquire land, but clashes between the police and the local people who protested against surveys being carried out have been reported. In fact, other methods of persuasion are being used.

Interlocutors

The MSRDC has appointed interlocutors to allay the fears of the villagers. It is interesting to note that the number of interlocutors has been increasing as farmers are refusing to relent. There are plans to redesignate land use, and this will affect the status of forests and green zones. It is unlikely that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change will oppose them. In the recent past, it has shown itself to be an aid to industry instead of safeguarding the environment as was seen in the case of the proposed port at Vadhavan, where the Ministry has started proceedings that will finally result in the closure of an environment protection authority that is opposing the port.

Farmers have been resisting land acquisition for other large infrastructure projects as well. In June, farmers in Palghar district north of Mumbai demonstrated against land acquisition for the Mumbai-Vadodara expressway and for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train. The local people have also been protesting against the gigantic multipurpose, all-weather port at Vadhavan. Farmers in Chakan near Pune are opposed to plans for a new international airport.

South of Mumbai, in Raigad district, there is opposition to land being acquired for the Mumbai-Delhi Industrial Corridor. Another project that is on the cards is the Virar-Alibaug multi-modal corridor, which is yet to begin the process of land acquisition. The protests are unlikely to halt the construction of the Mumbai-Nagpur expressway. At the most, farmers’ resistance will result in higher compensation. Although there is resistance to the project, it is expected to stay on schedule and be completed by 2019. The project has everything going for it. Fadnavis, who hails from Nagpur, wants to be remembered by this gigantic infrastructure project, and his clout as the Prime Minister’s favourite Chief Minister will ensure that it is completed at any cost.

Land Acquisition: Madhya Pradesh

Solar betrayal

DIVYA TRIVEDI the-nation

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, launched in 2010 by the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, as part of India’s plan to combat climate change, is considered one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s current pet projects. Across the country, States (especially those governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]) have been vying—at least on paper—in the race to achieve the revised target of 1,00,000 megawatts (MW) by 2022. Large tracts of land have been earmarked for the setting up of exclusive solar power parks, and plans are afoot to amend land use regulations and tenancy laws in order to facilitate aggregation and leasing of land by farmers/developers for these projects.

In order to understand the impact of one such solar power project set up by Welspun in 2013, Frontline visited Neemuch district in Madhya Pradesh.

Located 60 kilometres from Mandsaur, the nerve centre of farmers’ protests across the country in June, the village of Bhagwanpura in Neemuch district is home to over 200 families from the Adivasi/nomadic communities of Gurjars and Bhils. For generations, they had grazed their cattle on government land, subsisted on rain-fed corn and jowar and water drawn from the ponds nearby, lived in homes hewn out of the rocky terrain, and worshipped their gods in little stone shrines. In short, they had been self-sufficient communities who lived well within their means, and with dignity.

When prime ministerial candidate Modi arrived in early 2014 to inaugurate a solar power plant by the Gujarat-based group Welspun on 1,600 bighas of land, the villagers’ lives took an irrevocable turn for the worse. Located between the villages of Bhagwanpura, Chirmikheda, Diken and Khatikheda, the mammoth Welspun Solar M.P. project is now complete, but the local population is a dejected lot. As many as 70 people lost their lands to the solar power project, and once self-sufficient communities now face the prospect of abject poverty. A few of the villagers who had penalty receipts from the tehsildar’s office, which proved that they had lived and were dependent on the said land, were promised land elsewhere; however, nothing has materialised to date. The villagers also recalled the solar power plant official Manish Pandey’s promise of jobs for “each and every ration card holder of Bhagwanpura panchayat”, but that has not come about either.

Unfulfilled promises

Most of the labour working on the solar power plant has been hired from outside Bhagwanpura, while a few from nearby villages are on contract. Some of them have not been paid in the last three months. “When they asked for their salaries, they were threatened with outright dismissal. So they kept working without being paid,” said a villager.

There is deep resentment amongst the villagers towards the labour brought in from elsewhere. “Why have they brought Nepalis to work as security guards? Aren’t there people from our village who can do that job?” asked Gopal Katariya, identified as a “troublemaker” for raising issues of rights. No villager is allowed inside the solar plant, not even to visit the shrines which now fall within the plant’s territory. “I am not scared of speaking to you, but there is no telling what they [officials] might do,” he told Frontline.

About 15 villagers who launched a campaign for land rights were framed under false charges of theft and jailed for up to 40 days. Among those arrested were Ramlal, who lost two bighas of his land to the solar plant, and Saanwra, who lost his house. “We asked for a job, and got a jail term,” said a villager. Raju bhai, who had proof of land ownership, lost not only his land but around 35 trolleys’ worth of stones valued at Rs.50,000, which were buried under the construction of a new road through the village. “The officials kept telling me not to worry and assured me that they would compensate me with twice the amount of stones once the project was completed. I am still waiting,” he told Frontline.

The experience has dealt a huge blow to the villagers’ confidence and nipped the campaign in the bud. “We had to run from pillar to post to obtain bail. Even now, those with charges against them have to attend the hearings regularly. We don’t understand the intricacies of the law and are afraid to overstep the rules,” said Gopal. In summer, entire families have been forced to migrate, cattle in tow, to other villages in the district. When they graze their cattle in the nearby forest land, they run into trouble with officials. Their only source of income currently is selling cow milk at Rs.18-20 a litre.

The villagers claimed that they did not have access to jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act as the sarpanch got all such jobs done by JCB earth movers. “He asks his men to register for the jobs. The moment they get the money in their accounts, they are supposed to hand it over to him,” one of them explained matter-of-factly. A few villagers’ job cards had been cancelled, and their children were forced to drop out of school as the families did not have enough money to buy notebooks. “Textbooks are provided by the government school, but we don’t have money to buy notebooks,” said a parent.

Among the other complaints are the unfulfilled promises made by solar plant officials to add classes in the local government school from Standards 8 to 12. The villagers alleged that the officials fixed a source for drinking water in the village but removed it after a year. A veterinary doctor who used to attend to the cattle stopped visiting after the solar plant did not pay his salary for a year.

Government schemes not functional

Most government schemes do not appear to be functional in Bhagwanpura village. As many as 40 per cent of the people who built toilets under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan claimed they had not received the promised money in their accounts. Bhagwanpura may be located in the backyard of a solar power plant, but its streets do not have electricity. Electricity in village homes incurs inflated bills of Rs.800 or more a month. The villagers had been promised electricity to draw water from the well when the solar plant was being installed but that has not happened either.

Although most people in the area are poor, with little or no income to their name, they have not been registered as below the poverty line (BPL). “Ever since the BJP government came to power in the state [13 years ago], it has discouraged distribution of BPL cards,” said a villager. “We have heard that the Chief Minister gave orders to register more people under APL [above the poverty line] to show improved numbers of poverty reduction. This will be added to the countrywide data to show how the Modi government has been successful in alleviating poverty,” said a social worker in Neemuch.

For the past year, the government has cancelled provision of sugar to households and reduced the allotment of kerosene from four to two litres a household through the public distribution system. The villagers claimed that whenever they approached the government or solar plant officials, they were treated like criminals. “When we went to meet him, the BJP MLA Om Prakash Saklecha, son of former Chief Minister Virendra Saklecha, said he wouldn’t support thieves.” They are not even sure whether their letters have reached the Chief Minister’s office at all. “Police, tehsildar, patwari sab mile hue hain [all government officials work hand in glove]. Who will listen to people like us who have no political or economic backing?”

Meanwhile, according to Manu Srivastava, Principal Secretary, New and Renewable Energy Department, Government of Madhya Pradesh, Welspun has sold the project to the Tata Group. “The Tatas want more assets in the solar field, whereas Welspun wanted to reduce its debt burden,” Srivastava said. He said that the Welspun project was the first solar public-private partnership (PPP) he had signed and added that the steep decline in solar power rates would be a better story angle to pursue. “Why are you going to Neemuch? There isn’t much to write about there. You should go to Rewa, which is the largest solar project in MP and is being written about globally,” he told Frontline.

Land Acquisition: Jharkhand

Losing in India

AKSHAY DESHMANE the-nation

Over two days in mid February this year, some of India’s most influential politicians and corporate tycoons assembled for a mega event at an unlikely location: the Harivansh Tana Bhagat Indoor Stadium in Jharkhand’s capital city, Ranchi. It was the eastern State’s maiden “Global Investment Summit”. Among those in attendance were Union Cabinet Ministers Arun Jaitley, Piyush Goel and M. Venkaiah Naidu and corporate tycoons, including Ratan Tata, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Anil Agarwal, Naveen Jindal and Shashi Ruia.

The meeting was the most high-profile event organised as part of the ongoing “Make in Jharkhand” campaign being implemented by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led State government to promote the State as an attractive investment destination in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative. The investment climate in the mineral-rich State has been undergoing a steady change since the current government came to power. At the inaugural session, Chief Minister Raghubar Das told the assembled businessmen: “This is an appropriate time for you to come ahead and invest in Jharkhand. The State government has developed conditions favourable for industry and investment in Jharkhand, which is full of mineral resources, easy [read easily available] labour and natural resources. The State government’s pro-investment policies will play the role of a catalyst in your efforts.”

Seeking to assure his audience that the government had an inclusive vision, Das said: “We are preparing a model of development in which the local population will participate adequately in industrial and economic progress and it will always be the chief stakeholder in the social and economic progress of the State. Perhaps this is truly sabka saath sabka vikas.”

In the comfortable confines of the indoor stadium, the Chief Minister’s speech received applause from the businessmen and senior politicians present in the meeting.

There are no echoes of that applause, though, in the districts where, far from the State capital, the government’s “investor-friendly” policy makes itself felt in an aggressive manner of implementation of projects. The manner in which land is being acquired, or is sought to be acquired, for projects seems to have created resentment among farmers and landowners against the government. Less than three months before the February meeting, opposition parties sought to tap into this resentment with a State-wide bandh to protest against the government’s controversial and hasty amendments to two historic laws protecting tribal rights to land in the State—the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act. The protests had the intended effect. In June, Governor Draupadi Murmu returned the amendments passed by the Assembly. The Raghubar Das administration in July withdrew the amendments that had been passed hastily in November 2016 to ensure easier acquisition of tribal land for infrastructure projects. There will be extensive consultations before amendments to the two laws are made again, the Chief Minister promised. Acquisition of land for projects continues through other laws, but not without protest.

Contentious projects

To find out how land acquisition is being carried out and why it is attracting sustained opposition in the State, Frontline took a close look at two prominent and contentious projects: the National Thermal Power Corporation’s (NTPC) coal mining project in Hazaribag district and Adani Power (Jharkhand) Limited’s (APJL) thermal power project in Godda district.

Jharkhand has India’s most plentiful coal reserves and a large number of new projects—either proposed or under implementation—are directly or indirectly related to coal mining and thermal power. Since many of these projects require significant areas of land, they also end up displacing people and affecting livelihoods and are thus controversial. A closer look reveals that the projects planned by the NTPC, a public sector undertaking (PSU), and AJPL, a special purpose vehicle set up by Adani Power Limited, have courted controversy for similar reasons. Civil society activists and local residents say they are worried not only about the potential displacement; they allege that the government has worked in favour of the companies and has silenced leaders who articulated people’s opposition by foisting “false” legal cases on them and putting them behind bars.

Hazaribag

One afternoon in mid July, dark monsoon clouds brought light showers and strong winds to Jugra village in Hazaribag district. Bhagirati Sao, 65, a small farmer from the village, seemed nonchalant and focussed on digging mud and levelling his farm’s broken boundary. “Someone, most probably the farmer over there with a larger land parcel, might have broken the boundary by driving his tractor over it. But we didn’t want to fight, so we are repairing the boundary ourselves,” Bhagirati’s son Sukhdev told this correspondent to explain why his father was hard at work despite the rain. But Bhagirati or Bhaglu, as he is known locally, had a bigger worry on his mind. He said that in late May, the NTPC began constructing a 10-metre-wide concrete road by taking over some parts of his and a few other farmers’ land without their consent. The concrete road will provide access to the NTPC’s two controversial coal mines located in the vicinity, Pakri Barwadih East and West, for transporting coal.

In protest, Bhagirati joined a hunger strike of local residents for 10 days, but that produced only a temporary halt on the road construction. This is the season for paddy cultivation, and farmers across the State are busy in the fields. Most of those who lost land because of the construction refused monetary compensation to register their protest. This was corroborated by a company official.

The compensation package was recently revised to Rs.20 lakh an acre. Asked why he refused it and preferred to go on working on his relatively small land pockets spread in the village and together constituting some five-odd acres, Bhagirati said: “Three generations of my family have relied on this land. Currently, there are 15 people in my family. They can be fed and the household’s expenses taken care of, to some extent, because of this land and whatever I get out of farming it, apart from working on others’ farms as a daily wager. How can I sustain my family with the money the company wants to pay us? The money will finish in no time, but the land will stay with us.”

There is only one kind of compensation he is ready to consider in exchange for all his multicrop land: he and the other farmers who lose their productive fields are given farmland and resettled in a common village elsewhere. “Land for land and village for village,” he said.

Bhagirati seemed to reflect the dominant opinion among Jugra’s residents, who have been among the most vocal in resisting the NTPC’s coal mine project. The project was planned in 2006, but work started in earnest only in early 2016. The NTPC’s “revised mining plan and mine closure plan” document, prepared in January 2016, envisages mining 18 million tonnes of coal per annum in the Pakri Barwadih block in Hazaribag district.

The project is spread over 4,695 hectares spanning 27 villages in two blocks, involving multiple land types, such as forest land, tenancy land and government land. The actual mining, being rolled out in phases, is restricted to 1,982 hectares, that is, 42 per cent of the total project area.

At present, two mines in the block are operational: Pakri Barwadih East and West. They supply coal to existing thermal power plants of the NTPC. Curiously, the document says that even when full opencast mining resumes, “29 per cent of total project area shall be unutilised due to various reasons such as presence of hills and rationalisation etc”.

The document puts the “cumulative population” of project affected persons (PAPs) at “approximately 8,339”.

In an interview with Frontline, the NTPC’s group general manager, T. Gopalakrishna, said approximately 8,000 households would be affected. Civil society activists such as P.K. Siddharth, president of the Bharatiya Suraaj Dal, and Birendra Kumar, member of Ekta Parishad, said the actual number of affected people was far higher. Both of them have been involved in the legal battle against this project in the Jharkhand High Court. In separate interviews with this correspondent, they said more than 40,000 people might be affected, assuming five members for each of the 8,000 households. The company, conscious of the opposition it faces, has so far attempted to acquire a limited quantum of land. In villages that are not as united in their opposition to the project as Jugra is, some people have accepted compensation packages. However, company officials conceded that only one village had so far fully accepted compensation. Most others have, at best, made mixed responses.

The document says the NTPC will ensure rehabilitation of affected people. “These PAPs shall be relocated at Rehabiliation and Resettlement Colony which shall be constructed near Denga village on the South Eastern part of the block,” the plan says.

A colony was, indeed, established near Barkagaon, but it quickly became controversial for its poor quality. The Chief Minister had to order a third-party quality inspection after village residents complained. The quality of resettlement colony and the sheer number of people likely to be affected by mining is, however, only a minor reason for the project courting controversy.

In October 2016, as protests peaked against the project under the leadership of former Congress Minister Yogendra Sao, tensions simmered in Hazaribag, which is also veteran BJP leader Yashwant Sinha’s former Lok Sabha constituency. It is currently represented by his son, Union Minister Jayant Sinha. So the protests also acquired an overtly political colour.

A protest led by Sao’s wife, Congress MLA Nirmala Devi, witnessed brutal police firing and violence. Four people were killed and over half a dozen were injured in the violence. Both Sao and his wife are now in jail. The police firing curbed subsequent protests but also brought further infamy to the project. The Chief Minister’s attempts to undo some of the damage have not been very effective in terms of winning genuine popular support for the project.

In the absence of a sustained grass-roots political campaign against the project, at present much of the resistance seems to have moved to the courts. One petition was filed with the Jharkhand High Court and another in the National Green Tribunal’s Eastern Zone in Kolkata. P.K. Siddharth and Birendra Kumar’s writ petition in the High Court, filed soon after the firing incident in 2016, has accused the company and the district administration of multiple violations of law, including a) acquisition of forest land through manipulation of records and/or without following the due legal processes, especially consent of the gram sabha; b) acquisition of farmers’ land under the old land acquisition law of 1894, which is incorrect because possession is yet to be taken of the entire land, so the 2013 law on acquisition needs to be applied; and c) violation of the 2013 land acquisition Act by pressuring farmers to accept compensation and the threat of action against them under the Coal Bearing Act on failing to do so.

In their responses, both the district administration and the NTPC strongly refuted these charges. T.S. Gopalakrishna said: “Such inadequate and incorrect information by the petitioners demonstrates their casual approach for getting cheap publicity.”

This provoked a sharp response from the petitioners. The legal battle is far from resolution anytime in the near future. On the ground, the tension and uncertainty among villagers persist. Bhagirati Sao’s son, Sukhdev Sao, stays in Delhi looking after his small cosmetics business when he does not have to be in Jugra. But this time, his visit home seems to be longer than expected. “I don’t know when I will visit Delhi next, for the time being I have to be here, otherwise they may take over our land,” he lamented.

Godda

Among the residents of Motiya and Gangta Gobindpur villages in Godda district, where the APJL’s thermal power project is to come up, there is uncertainty about what will happen as no actual work can be witnessed in their vicinity. As of July, not much work had begun on the project, though green clearances had arrived. But the project is playing on people’s minds.

When this correspondent visited Gangta Gobindpur, a small Adivasi village comprising a couple of hundred families, in mid July, monsoon showers seemed to have taken a reprieve. Families were drying corn in their front yards in the afternoon by carefully spreading individual corn pieces over floors paved with cow dung, which exuded a sharp smell in the sun. The grasslands near the village were bright green, occasionally faint yellow, with cattle feasting hungrily on them. To the untrained eye of an outsider, the landscape appeared idyllic.

But outsiders did not seem welcome, and the idyll might, at best, be transitory. Wariness was writ large on the faces of the residents. Most would avoid a conversation and only hesitantly give directions for specific addresses. Subodh Soren (25) was an exception. When asked for a specific person’s address, he showed the way to reach it. However, when asked about Adani’s thermal power project that villagers believe will displace them and/or take away their land, Soren spoke after some hesitation: “Why are you asking this? Why should we give away our land? We cultivate crops on it through the year and so our livelihoods are dependent upon it.”

Suraj Hembram, a former schoolteacher known locally as Masterji and whose house Soren had shown the way to, was livid: “I don’t know who you are, so I will only speak if you get mukhiya ji here,” he said. The mukhiya ji, or village head, he was referring to is actually the husband of the real village head of both this and a neighbouring village named Motiya. Ram Yadav, who seems to wield most of the powers of the actual village head, has been vocal against the project. He explained why people of Gangta Gobindpur were so wary of outsiders: “That entire village is going to be affected adversely by the project. If you go there now, they will call you Adani’s man. They are very scared. Anyone [who is not from the village] who goes there is not let in.”

In the four other villages where APJL proposes to acquire 917.37 acres of land, reactions to the 1,600 MW thermal power project are mixed. But a significant section of those who may lose land are concerned about their future prospects. According to official documents, the thermal power plant is being built predominantly to supply power to Bangladesh; only 25 per cent of the total power produced may remain for consumption in Jharkhand. APJL signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Jharkhand in February 2016 (for stage I) and October 2016 (for stage II) to set up the plant. In October 2016, it proposed to acquire 2,120.59 acres in 10 villages of Godda. In December 2016, it revised this figure to 1,199.97 acres spread across nine villages. By March 2017, this figure was further reduced to 917.37 acres in six villages.

During those months, the mandatory legal processes concerning land acquisition and environment clearance were getting the project mired in controversy. Specifically, two public hearings that were organised by the district administration saw intense protests. The first was held in December 2016 for seeking public feedback as part of the social impact assessment (SIA) process. The second was held in March 2017 as part of the environment impact assessment process. Both hearings were violent and tense.

A resident of Motiya village said, on condition of anonymity: “Landowners opposed to the project were not permitted to attend the public hearing. Instead, a large number of outsiders filled the space as the hearing was conducted. Yellow and green coloured cards [parchas] were distributed and entry inside the venue was regulated.”

Such claims are aired liberally in the two villages where hearings were held. Motiya was one of them. These claims, though not confirmed, were serious enough for the State government to announce a three-member team to investigate them. The team’s findings, if they have been filed, have not been made public yet. This is partly the reason why those opposing the project do not believe the claims made in the SIA report. It said two specific things: a) no homestead land is being acquired, so there is no physical displacement of any landowners and b) 841 families and 5,339 people will be adversely affected by the project by way of loss of livelihood options. The report has suggested monetary compensation to make up for this loss. Interestingly, the report claims 85 per cent of those assembled at the public hearing gave their consent to the project.

The previously quoted resident of Motiya, who is also a member of the Bhumi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, a front opposing the project, said: “It is possible that about 60 per cent of the people gave their consent by March in the second public hearing. But this SIA report is completely unbelievable.” He claimed lack of any conclusive action against those responsible for the botched up December hearing led to more resentment among people. “We said that the process of land acquisition should be immediately stopped until the committee gives its report, but that has not happened,” he said.

The March 2017 hearing saw strident protests, stone pelting and police caning of protesters. The officially recorded minutes of the meeting, though, mention none of this. They record dissent in one single sentence on the last page: “Some villagers present in the public hearing were also shouting slogans not to provide the land to support the project.”

A month after this hearing, in April, Pradip Yadav, Member of the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly from Poraiyahat and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) leader, started an indefinite hunger strike against the project. A week into his protest, he was arrested. It was alleged that he had provoked violence at the public hearing in March. The MLA’s supporters, like Motiya resident Lakshman Yadav, alleged that the police filed a false case against the MLA because his protest was effective. He continues to be in jail.

In this context, the Chief Minister’s optimistic pronouncements at the investment conference ring hollow. At one point in the inaugural speech, he said: “Our State animal elephant is flying. This is not an unusual flight. It is the matter of transforming unfavourable conditions into opportunities. This is the flight of our dreams. This is the flight of the dreams of 3.25 crore people [of Jharkhand]. Our flying elephant has got wings and they are green. Green symbolises relentless efforts for progress while conserving nature. Its blue ears symbolise peace and security of the state. The elephant’s red colour reflects our passion for all round progress, it shows a revolution in which everybody’s dreams have got wings.”

Anti-lynching law

Dodging duty

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI the-nation

THE continuing incidents of lynching in the name of the cow and rampant bovine vigilantism in the past few years have stirred a debate on the need for a separate law to deal with mob lynching and acts of administrative omission and commission. The murder of 16-year-old Junaid, a resident of Khandawali village in Faridabad district of Haryana, at Ballabgarh on June 22 on a Delhi-Mathura train by a communally charged mob was the tipping point. Junaid was subjected to communal slurs when he was attacked. The incident repulsed national sensibilities to a large extent and evoked opprobrium abroad, with some international newspapers commenting on the rising vigilantism in India. But bovine “vigilantism” continued even after the Ballabgarh incident.

In the Rajya Sabha, a notice for a short-duration discussion given by 130 members on the “situation arising out of reported increase in incidents of lynching and atrocities on minorities and Dalits across the country” resulted in an intense debate for two days with less than satisfactory answers from the government. Opposition benches made a common demand for a Central law banning vigilantism while individual members detailed the context and factors that were causing polarisation, including various statements made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding cow protection in the past few years. The members also pointed out the economic losses to the meat export and leather industry apart from livelihood losses due to vigilantism.

‘Cow revered’

The intervention by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, and the replies by Minister of State for Home Hansraj Gangram Ahir and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley seemed to play down the gravity of the insecurity faced by sections of the minority community. Naqvi said the incidents were of a criminal nature and should not be linked to “communalism”. He also stressed that in each incident, the persons concerned had been arrested. Ahir said that the National Crime Records Bureau did not maintain a separate category of crimes listed under “mob lynching”.

Jaitley explained the reasons for the enactment of the laws preventing cow slaughter and how Article 48 came about in the Directive Principles of State Policy, essentially saying that the matter was a State subject. He said no one should eulogise cow slaughter where it was prohibited, referring obtusely to a Chief Minister in a Congress-ruled State for having declared a fondness for beef. He also decried the public slaughter of a calf in Kerala. Echoing the Prime Minister’s words, he said “as far as the cow was concerned, there is a huge segment in the country that reveres it”.

It was stated that personal enmities, too, could be behind the lynching incidents and that anti-social elements were using cow protection as an excuse for violence. In fact, it seemed that the government was not at all interested in making a distinction between such violence and general violence, including political violence.

During the course of the heated debate in the Upper House, the treasury benches tried to shift attention to the political violence in Kerala, which was quite unrelated to the lynching incidents, the bulk of which, according to IndiaSpend, an online data journalism initiative, had occurred in States governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The portal’s content analysis found that around 86 per cent of those who died in cow-related violence since 2010 were Muslim and that 97 per cent of the attacks occurred after 2014, that is, after the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government was formed at the Centre; 32 of the 63 bovine-related cases came from States governed by the BJP; and 2017 was the worst year for cow-related violence.

At the all-party meeting on July 16, before the commencement of the Parliament session, Modi exhorted all State governments to take strict action against those violating the law in the name of cow protection but cautioned that cow vigilantism should not be given a political and communal colour as the nation did not benefit from such a posture. The caution was clearly aimed at the opposition parties and at his detractors.

According to agency reports, he said that there was a “widespread belief that the cow was like a mother but this should not let people take the law into their own hands”. The caveat that “cow vigilantism” should not be given a political colour despite its obvious ideological underpinnings seemed to indicate that the spate of vigilantism was to be considered just another law and order problem.

Draft of law

Contrary to what the government might feel about the lynching incidents, there is an increasing recognition that such murders are not just random events, irrespective of the motives involved. Lynch-mob justice has become the order of the day, especially lynching by bovine vigilantes. In a conversation with an online media portal, Jalaluddin, Junaid’s father, welcomed the idea of a law against lynching.

There are enough data to show that in 2017 alone nearly 20 incidents of vigilantism centred around the cow took place and that the majority of them involved systematic targeting of members of the minority community. The idea of a separate law to deal with lynching came up in the specific context of Junaid’s murder, though the drafters of the law, a group of individuals and legal experts, have aimed at addressing a gamut of lynching incidents. A draft of the law titled “The Protection from Lynching Act, 2017”, or Manav Suraksha Kanoon, was submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office on July 12. At a joint press conference on July 9, representatives of leading opposition parties—the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Janata Dal (United)—declared their support for the Bill and said that if the government failed to enact it, it would be taken up as a private member’s Bill.

The senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, who along with the entrepreneur Tehseen Poonawalla was one of the drafters of the proposed law, told Frontline that the drafting team was not fixated on the terms of the law. It was for the government to do that, he said. “If the Centre enacts it, it would be welcome. As many States have enacted cow slaughter prevention laws, an anti-lynching law can surely be enacted,” he said. The draft legislation addressed the build-up to the violence, the processes, and all the dramatis personae involved. To the argument that the present provisions in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) were enough to deal with assault or murders committed by lynch mobs, it was explained that in ordinary murders, the victim and the perpetrator invariably would have known each other.

“The law needs to be much more severe where the mob is both judge and executioner. Culpability is not only on the mob but on those inciting it through various means, through the social media, through public statements, etc. The culpability has also been affixed on the police and district officials who ‘look away’ when such incidents occur,” Hegde said.

The proposed legislation describes lynching as “any act or series of acts of violence, whether spontaneous or planned, committed to inflict extrajudicial punishment or as an act of protest and caused by the desire of a mob to enforce upon a person or group of persons any perceived legal, societal and cultural norms/prejudices”.

The IPC does not define lynching. The proposed law makes all offences cognisable and non-bailable and provides for investigations only by officers of the rank of Inspector of Police and above. It seeks to protect the “constitutional rights of vulnerable persons, to punish acts of lynching, to provide Special Courts for the expeditious trial of such offences, for rehabilitation of victims of lynching and their families”. It defines a mob as two or more individuals assembled with the intention of lynching.

The draft legislation also covers the “processes” involved, such as “offensive material” used to incite a mob or lynch a person, which includes material promoting lynching on the grounds of “religion, race, culture or any other grounds”. It suggests that police officers and station-in-charges are required to take steps to prevent lynching, including its incitement and commission and, therefore, identify instances where offensive material has been disseminated or other means employed to incite or promote lynching of a person or a group of persons. Going further, they are also required to make efforts to identify patterns of violence in the area under their jurisdiction that indicate occurrence of targeted violence, including the creation or the existence of a hostile environment against a person or group of persons.

Similarly, if the District Magistrate has apprehension that an act of lynching may occur, he or she would be required to prohibit any act that might lead to incitement and commission of the act of lynching itself. The punishment for the offence of lynching ranges from imprisonment for seven years, 10 years to life, depending on whether the act results in hurt, grievous hurt or death respectively. The offences are accompanied by fines with the amount graded according to the severity of the offence. Interestingly, the proposed Act provides for the same punishment for any conspirator or abettor to the act of lynching. In order to overrule patronage and interference, it provides for punitive clauses for obstructing the legal process and threatening witnesses. There are clauses that make punishable the dissemination of offensive material and dereliction of duty by the police and also the District Magistrate.

The Act provides for the recording of statements of victims and witnesses within six months or 180 days from the date of the incident; ensuring witness and victim confidentiality if so demanded; and free legal aid if demanded by the victim. It also enjoins on the State governments to provide for witness and victim protection and compensation.

Petition against violence

In September 2016, much before the campaign for an anti-lynching law began, three petitions were filed in the Supreme Court seeking directions to State governments to rein in cow protection groups, or gau raksha dals, and to the Central government to ban such groups. The petitioners, who included a survivor of a lynching incident, sought the removal of violent content uploaded by these groups on social media and compensation from State governments for victims of vigilante violence in their States. One petition pleaded that State governments give identity cards to vigilantes, especially where they have been guaranteed status and protection by cow protection laws.

In one of the petitions filed by Martin Macwan, a known Dalit activist, it was pointed out that the Gujarat Animal Preservation Act, 1956, for instance, provides that all persons under the Act shall be “deemed to be public servants within the meaning of Section 21 of the IPC”, and that “no suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall be instituted against any person for anything which is done in good faith or intended to be done under this Act or the rules thereunder”. These provisions, the petition stated, were “ mutatis mutandis with the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1956, and the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964”. The Gujarat Animal Preservation (Amendment) Rules, 2011, also provides that authorised persons shall include “office bearers of Panjrapol, infirmaries, gaushalas and societies for prevention of cruelty to animals and animal welfare organisations”. There were some 200 gau raksha dals in Gujarat alone that “frequently resort to violence”, the petition stated.

Other petitions have asked for decriminalising the possession of beef and the handling of cattle. In April, the Supreme Court issued notices to the Union government and governments of six States where the incidents of “bovine” lynching were reported. Only Karnataka and Jharkhand submitted written replies to the court. Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra and the Centre did not submit their replies in spite of repeated court orders. On July 21, in the course of a hearing on the matter, the Centre told the court that it had no role in ending violence by “gau rakshaks”, which was a State subject.

Continuing unabated

Cow vigilantism is continuing unabated despite a national outcry. On July 24, a truck carrying meat packets was torched on the national highway in Ganjam district in Odisha following a rumour that it was carrying beef. Replying to the short-duration discussion in the Rajya Sabha on attacks on Dalits and minorities, Jaitley said that “violence can never be a partisan issue”. Yet, in bovine-related lynching, violence has taken a partisan form, a fact which the government, for obvious reasons, is loath to recognise.

Whether a Central law or a State law can prevent mob action of all kinds is one thing; admitting that mob violence, more so of a specific kind directed at minorities and Dalits, exists is quite another.

Education

Distorting history

ZIYA US SALAM the-nation

THE much-anticipated “achche din” may have proved illusory for the common man, but they have certainly arrived, albeit posthumously, for Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the original purveyor of Hindutva. Not only has he stolen a march over Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) ideologues like M.S. Golwalkar and his guru K.B. Hedgewar, he is even marginalising the Father of the Nation.

History textbooks are being revised to impart a retrospective halo around Savarkar, the man who played a limited role in the national freedom struggle in the first decade of the 20th century. He was an atheist then. Later, when he donned the Hindutva cloak, he became a British loyalist. In a classic case of a molehill being transformed into a mountain, Savarkar now has pride of place in Rajasthan school history textbooks. Ignored are his numerous apologies to the British, his promise to work for the perpetuation of British rule, and so on.

His anti-Muslim stance seems to make up for all his sins of omission and collusion. Even his stand on the cow—remarkably, he did not consider the cow to be the mother of all Hindus or sacred—is no dampener in times when the lynching of innocent people in the name of gau raksha is commonplace.

The Rajasthan government in particular has stepped up its pace of rewriting history. Without any noise, Mahatma Gandhi is being marginalised in books meant for school students. Jawaharlal Nehru, too, predictably, is fading away. In their place come the likes of Savarkar, Hedgewar, Deen Dayal Upadhyay and religious leaders like Vivekananda and Aurobindo. The Rajasthan government has introduced textbooks for students of class VIII onwards that often belittle the contribution of Gandhi and Nehru to the freedom struggle and eulogise Savarkar’s contribution.

In a class X textbook, Savarkar is hailed as a great revolutionary whose “lifelong sacrifices… for the country's independence is beyond words”. A chapter on the Civil Disobedience and Quit India movements consigns Mahatma Gandhi to the sidelines. Whereas these movements, along with the Non-Cooperation movement, were earlier dealt with at length in the curriculam for senior secondary school students, they now get a fleeting mention. Gandhi’s role in them is downplayed, while Nehru’s role is completely omitted. He does get mention as one of the torchbearers of the freedom struggle, but he is put on a par with Deen Dayal Upadhyay, whose role in the freedom movement was not worth a mention. Nehru’s vision of the Non-Aligned Movement is completely ignored. The Congress’ politics of inclusion as opposed to the politics of exclusion practised by the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha is also ignored. Savarkar is elevated to the level of a great leader on a par with Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and B.R. Ambedkar. No mention is made of Nathuram Godse’s role in Gandhi’s assassination or of Savarkar’s possible link with it.

All this should not come as a surprise, given Savarkar’s track record. As a 12-year-old boy, he is said to have led a march of his classmates to stone a mosque after rumours of cow slaughter gained currency. This was his “revenge” against the “atrocities” committed against Hindus during Hindu-Muslim riots.

As noted by Jyotirmaya Sharma in Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism, “Savarkar’s own account of this act speaks of his rage against the deeds of physical violence committed against the Hindus by Muslim rioters. (For him, it was always the Muslims who initiated a riot.) So, when Hindus killed Muslims in acts of retribution, Savarkar and his friends would dance with joy.”

If Savarkar stoned a mosque as a boy, it is almost in the fitness of things that today he is being resurrected in school textbooks by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has in its ranks men and women who watched or abetted the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Not many would have forgotten Union Minister Uma Bharti’s infamous line, “ Ek dhakka aur do” (give it one more push), as she sat watching the Babri Masjid being demolished by kar sevaks. Today, temples of learning are being tampered with.

Interestingly, the whole attempt to find a place for Hindutva heroes centres around Savarkar. Luminaries like Hedgewar and Golwalkar are not so much in the limelight yet.

The apparent anomaly is explained by Professor Aditya Mukherjee, who co-authored RSS, School Texts and The Murder of Mahatma Gandhi: The Hindu Communal Project, with Mridula Mukherjee and Sucheta Mahajan: “Savarkar was the original ideologue of Hindutva. Golwalkar and others borrowed the idea from him. He was the one who gave the idea of pitrabhoomi and punyabhoomi whereby only a person whose birth-land and sacred land happened to be here could claim to be Indian.”

Rizwan Qaiser, who teaches history at Jamia Millia Islamia, said: “If you see a long-term trajectory, they have picked up distinctive figures. Some people like Hedgewar were not as well promoted, but Savarkar is highlighted. He was more articulate than others. The halo around him was not seen with Golwalkar or Hedgewar. The very fact that he was sent to the Andamans is enough to raise people’s hackles if you question him in Maharashtra. He is seen there as ‘veer’, somebody willing to sacrifice. His cell is projected as a site of pilgrimage. They tried to project Deen Dayal Upadhyay, too, but it was like deadwood. It did not work. Savarkar remains their most easily identifiable icon. This despite his association with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.”

Savarkar was sent to the Andamans for supplying a pistol to members of the Abhinav Bharat Society. It took him just a month to send his first mercy petition. In his subsequent petitions, he even claimed that his fellow prisoners were given certain privileges that were denied him. The British refused to be swayed. Soon, he even called himself a “prodigal son”.

He wrote: “The mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the paternal doors of the government.” The mighty did relent in 1924 when he was finally released. Before that Savarkar had cried for mercy a few more times. He promised to be “the staunchest advocate of loyalty to the English government”.

Now Savarkar is being hailed as a great patriot who sacrificed much for the freedom of the country. Qaiser said this was a “travesty”: “Often an image outlives a man. This image of Savarkar has been assiduously cultivated. It has to be countered.” He added: “Savarkar opposed the British in Bombay in 1909, for which he was subsequently sent to the Andamans. His apology letters from there are well known, how he pledged to work for furtherance of the British rule if clemency was shown to him. Interestingly, in all the photographs around the Andamans, while all other prisoners are shown in prison uniform and in shackles, Savarkar is seen wearing a Konkani suit. This is intriguing.”

Back in 1906, before setting sail for England, he founded the Free India Society to organise Indian students to fight for independence. He wanted laws to be changed by the British not just to include more Indians in the legislature but also give them the right to frame the laws. That was in the early years of his student and public life before he became a votary of Hindutva.

Interestingly, Savarkar worked actively to enrol Indians in the Army to perpetuate British rule. The Quit India movement had the tacit support of almost all leaders except Savarkar.

two-nation theory

Not only did Savarkar work to help India’s colonial masters, he was the first to moot the concept of two states. “Savarkar was the first to coin the mantra for two different states, one for Hindus, another for Muslims, the idea being the two communities are incompatible. In many ways, with his demand for a Hindu Rashtra in 1923, he paved the way for M.A. Jinnah’s demand in 1938,” said Qaiser, adding: “Jinnah in 1928 attended an all-party conference in Kolkata. There was no call for a separate state of Pakistan. The call for Pakistan came a decade later.”

Mukherjee chipped in: “He and Jinnah represent two ends of the same ideology.”

Giving space to Savarkar in textbooks is probably inevitable for a government driven by Hindutva ideology. However, why do it at the cost of the Father of the Nation? “That is because he [Gandhi] was the foremost and the most visible opponent of Hindutva. He was a practising Hindu yet opposed Hindutva. He was not a communalist. He had to be killed. Today, they are wiping out his name from books,” Mukherjee said.

“The RSS is deeply uncomfortable with a figure like Gandhi. He cannot be dismissed as ‘pseudo-secular’ or a leftist. He represents someone who is a Hindu believer and yet organically against communalism. His Hinduism is very different from Savarkar’s Hindutva. He also represents a strong belief in non-violence. Both these positions are not in sync with the current dispensation, and hence a marginalisation of Gandhi,” stated Charu Gupta, an associate professor of history at Delhi University. There is an oft-repeated allegation that in the history written by Leftist historians Hindutva icons were not given space. Mukherjee said: “How can anybody give due to apologists? To people who sent God-knows-how-many mercy petitions to the British for clemency. He claimed he never did any politics, just like the RSS claims it is a cultural organisation. Who is to believe that? It is pertinent to remember that upon his release he [Savarkar] became the president of the Hindu Mahasabha.”

In one of his mercy petitions, Savarkar had said: “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...”

Notwithstanding the current glorification of Savarkar, Qaiser is not pessimistic: “As a student of history, I would say they will not succeed. It is not like you write something and it becomes history. This regime is not forever. The truth has to come out. They may rewrite textbooks for kids which is dangerous considering students are at an impressionable age, but what about the 72 collected works of Gandhi? What will happen to that? People know it across the world. It is an ideological battle. There are great pitfalls. More so when you consider young minds are being poisoned from day one, but it is a war that we will eventually win. We have to.”

“We are living in paradoxical times,” Mukherjee said. It is pertinent to recall what he has written in his book: “Let us not forget that.... the writers of hate textbooks make it possible for the Modis and the Togadias to successfully mobilise fascist mobs who revel in pulling down places of worship or dismembering women and children.” A note of warning the Rajasthan government would do well to heed.

Controversy

Bleeping out Amartya Sen

THE Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) under the chairmanship of Pahlaj Nihalani once again exposed its intolerance and authoritarian attitude when it raised a bizarre objection to the use of words such as “cow”, “Gujarat”, “Hindu” and “Hindutva” in a documentary, The Argumentative Indian, on the life of the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.

Suman Ghosh, who made the documentary, which was slated to be released in Kolkata on July 14, said he was asked by the CBFC to mute these words in the film. Said Ghosh: “They told me to bleep out four words: ‘Gujarat’, which Amartya Sen had used in the context of the Gujarat riots; and ‘cow’, ‘Hindu’, and ‘Hindutva’. If these are bleeped out, then only they will grant me the U/A certificate. In the past two years, we have been seeing curbs on freedom of expression not just in films but in other fields as well. I have told them I will not omit a single word.” He pointed out that Amartya Sen’s was a very topical voice in the current world scenario, and ironically, it was a documentary on him they were trying to curb. With Ghosh refusing to abide by the recommendations of the CBFC, the film will be available in India only on the Internet when he releases it online by the end of the year (see interview with Suman Ghosh).

In the hour-long documentary, the story unfolds around a central narrative in the form of a free-flowing conversation between Sen and Kaushik Basu, the eminent economist and former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India, and a former student of Sen. The entire conversation was shot in Santiniketan, the university town set up by Rabindranath Tagore, where Sen spent his childhood. Kaushik Basu, who has also worked as Chief Economist with the World Bank, and is the C. Marks Professor of International Studies and Professor of Economics at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, told Frontline: “CBFC’s censorship of Amartya Sen is extremely unfortunate and damages India’s long-standing tradition of free speech and open debate. This has received so much global attention because people are baffled that India is imitating the very nations it criticises for intolerance.”

The CBFC’s move has triggered a strong reaction in intellectual, academic and political circles; even the general public has expressed outrage at what is being perceived as an absurd action. The internationally acclaimed film director Buddhadeb Dasgupta feels that a dangerous trend is developing. “It is not just ridiculous, it is very dangerous. Our Constitution guarantees us freedom of expression, and yet, we see the words of someone of the stature of Amartya Sen being censored. Where is this leading to? It is a cause for concern for the entire intelligentsia of the country and people pursuing creative work,” he told Frontline. Writers, artistes, and entertainers cutting across political divisions have come forward to condemn the incident in one voice.

Archaic guidelines

Ananya Chakraborti, a former member of the board of the CBFC, pointed out that the guidelines followed by the CBFC were archaic and needed to be reformed, but nowhere in the code was it written that one could not use words such as “Hindu”, “Hindutva”, “cow” and “Gujarat”. “It is clearly an agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre. Both documentary and commercial film-makers are having a terrible time. Even common colloquial expressions cannot be used if there are references to Hindutva. This was not the way it was before. I was on the board myself, and we used to try and push the films through, knowing how much time, effort and money had gone into their making, unless, of course, there was something that was grossly offensive,” she told Frontline.

She said that earlier the CBFC comprised artistes, writers and intellectuals, “but now I am told it is mainly RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] cadres [who are on the board]”.

According to Madhuja Mukherjee, the film-maker and associate professor of film studies in Jadavpur University, censorship of this kind has been taking place since 1918. “There have been quite a number of cases like this, most notably one involving K.A. Abbas and, more recently, another involving Anand Patwardhan. They all took up the challenge and went to court. It is up to the film-maker to fight it out. A film-maker who is particularly dealing with political issues should also have the courage to counter various political forces and agendas working against her,” said Madhuja Mukherjee. She felt that the CBFC’s stand on The Argumentative Indian was “politically and ideologically motivated”.

Like her, there are many others who see the CBFC’s cuts as an act of political vindictiveness. Relations between Sen and the BJP have never been cordial. Sen has been vocal in his criticism of the political and economic policies of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre, and the BJP, in turn, has lashed out at him from time to time. In February 2015, Sen withdrew his candidature for another term as Chancellor of Nalanda University, a post that he had held for the previous nine years. Though the university’s governing body had recommended renewal of his term, the Central government remained non-committal. “It is hard for me not to conclude that the government wants me to cease being the Chancellor of Nalanda University after this July, and technically it has the power to do so,” wrote Sen in his resignation letter. He added: “I am also sad, at a more general level, that academic governance in India remains so deeply vulnerable to the opinions of the ruling government, when it chooses to make political use of the special provisions.”

In the past four years, Sen’s views have made him a target of verbal attack by the BJP. Earlier this year, West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh questioned Sen’s contribution to India’s development. “A fellow Bengali among us has won the Nobel Prize and we are proud.... But, what has he done for the State? What has he given to the nation? …He is in extreme pain because he was removed as the Chancellor of Nalanda University. Such people are spineless and they can be purchased or sold, and can stoop to any level,” said Ghosh, drawing widespread criticism.

In the latest controversy involving the CBFC, condemnation from political circles has been as loud as that from social and intellectual circles. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted: “Every single voice of the opposition is being muzzled. Now, Dr Amartya Sen. If somebody of his stature cannot express himself freely, what hope does the common citizen have?” Sujan Chakraborty, senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and leader of the Left Legislative Party, said: “It is clear that the BJP is not willing to listen to anything other than the sound of their own drumbeat; even if the words happen to be those of Amartya Sen.” Even some members of the BJP registered a mild protest. The BJP leader Chandra Kumar Bose, grand nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose and grandson of Sarat Chandra Bose, tweeted: “We may not agree with Amartya Sen, but the Censor Board has no right to strangle voice of any. Discussion on issues is a fundamental right.”

If the intention of the CBFC was to curb Sen’s voice, it only succeeded in whetting the interest of people in the film. The celebrated historian Sabyasachi Bhattacharya pointed out an interesting parallel between the controversy and a medieval Chinese practice. He said: “It reminds me of a political practice in medieval China recorded by the French Sinologist Jean Chesneaux. It seems that the mandarins developed a practice of deleting from records and from history undesirable people by calling them ‘fei’, a negative grammatical expression denoting non-persons. A similar denial of the existence of certain people and things appears to be the aim of various forms of censorship by those in power in India today. The fact that Amartya Sen has been censored brings this issue to public attention, but it happens in many other instances unnoticed. However, such erasure did not work in China and elsewhere in the world in the long run. And it will not work in India.”

Air India

Bowing to privatisation

V. SRIDHAR economy

THE Maharajah, Air India’s mascot since 1946, has been reduced to a crude caricature of his once-regal self. The airline’s status as India’s “national carrier” would appear incongruous in the hands of a private owner, yet this is exactly what the Narendra Modi government announced on June 28. The Union Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs gave its “in-principle” approval for a “strategic sale” of its ownership in the airline, which implied handing over management control to a private entity while retaining a portion of the stake in the company. The Cabinet constituted the Air India Specific Alternative Mechanism (AISAM) consisting of a Group of Ministers headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to guide the process of disinvestment.

The sale is the first big-ticket privatisation of the current National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, which brings to mind the disastrous and egregious round of privatisation under the government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The ghosts of Balco, the aluminium company that was sold off to the Vedanta Group, Centaur Hotels, which was sold off on terms that bore the hallmark of a scandal; and the aborted sale of Air India during the Vajpayee era now threaten to resurface as the Modi government shifts gears towards aggressive privatisation of public assets.

The AISAM was mandated to decide the key issues in the stake sale. Among these are questions of how Air India’s whopping debt, amounting to more than Rs.52,000 crore, ought to be handled; whether some assets (and not-so-insignificant liabilities) ought to be hived off into a shell entity; the modalities of the strategic sale and the disinvestment in three of Air India’s profitable subsidiaries; the question of how much of stake to sell off; and, finally, who and which entities would be eligible to participate in the grand bargain.

The sheer range of these weighty imponderables raises a fundamental question: how can a stake sale be approved even before what is to be sold is decided? An Air India pilot, with almost 20 years’ experience with the company, echoed this: “It is like selling off your house without knowing where it is located or without even knowing what it looks like! How do you take an ‘in-principle’ decision to sell off the company without determining what you want to sell?” For obvious reasons, he prefers to remain unidentified. His fears are not without foundation. A circular issued by the Air India management in June warned retired employees against making “negative remarks” to the media or even on their personal social media accounts. The circular warned retired employees that “negative comments” would result in the “cessation of post-retirement facilities”. “If this is the fate of those who are no longer with the company, imagine what would happen to me if I am named,” the pilot told Frontline.

The Cabinet, on June 28, also approved “strategic disinvestment” in five of Air India’s subsidiaries: Air India Engineering Services Ltd (AIESL), which provides maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) services; Air India Air Transport Services Ltd (AIATSL), its ground-handling venture; Air India Charters Ltd (AICL), which operates Air India Express; Airline Allied Services Ltd (AASL), which operates Alliance Air; and Hotel Corporation of India Ltd (HCI, which owns Centaur Hotels). Apart from these subsidiaries, Air India also has a joint venture with SATS Ltd, the ground-handling and in-flight catering service provider at Changi Airport in Singapore, called Air India SATS (AISATS). It is significant that AIATSL, Air India Express and AISATS have been profitable, unlike the parent company. In fact, Air India posted operating profits in the last two years, for the first time in a decade.

About a month before the announcement of the decision to privatise Air India, the NITI Aayog, the government’s think tank that is a pale shadow of the Planning Commission that it replaced, submitted a report on privatising Air India, after “unbundling” it, a clever euphemism for separating the loss-making portions for retention by the government while selling off the profitable portions of the largest Indian airline. Although the report is not available in the public domain, several aspects of it have been selectively leaked, and these raise serious concerns. The first is the obvious issue of Air India’s outstanding debts, amounting to more than Rs.50,000 crore. Media reports indicate that the NITI Aayog had suggested that the aircraft-related loans and working capital borrowings be passed on to the strategic investor; the think tank has apparently suggested that the government take a hit on the remaining portion of the debt by writing it off. The Union Minister for Civil Aviation, A. Gajapathi Raju, provided a perfect example of the government’s doublespeak by terming the NITI Aayog’s recommendation of an aggressive sell-off as suggestions “for a strong and viable airline”.

Jaitley justified the stake sale in Air India, arguing that the public money being pumped into the airline would be better used by investing it in education and health. The recent decision of the NITI Aayog to privatise services in urban district hospitals points to the vacuous nature of this logic. “It is not as if Air India is snatching money away from the poor, the infirm and those in need of education, nor is the airline responsible for their plight,” a retired Air India pilot told Frontline.

Selective amnesia

The Cabinet announcement on June 28 was greeted with glee by the champions of privatisation in the media and in industry. It has been welcomed as a sign of the government’s commitment to reform. The privatisation of the bleeding airline that has been suffocating under a mountain of debt that was not of its making is seen by these advocates as paving the way for deliverance for the humble taxpayer. But what is truly staggering is these advocates’ selective amnesia about how Air India came to such a pass and how the humble taxpayer was not invoked in all these years when the country’s premier airline, and unique institution, was systematically driven into the ground.

But that is a story that started unfolding over two decades ago, roughly coinciding with the Indian adventure with liberalisation. It has all the trappings of corporate intrigue, policy capture and the brazen but multifaceted attack on the two public sector airline companies—Indian Airlines, the domestic carrier, and Air India, the international carrier—that were later merged to form a single company known as Air India.

Broadly, the assault was on three realms, each of which was fatal for the two public sector carriers. The first of these was the manner in which the government, after repeatedly stalling the Indian carriers’ efforts to expand their fleet for almost a decade since the mid 1990s, suddenly pushed them into deals for 111 aircraft in late 2005 and early 2006. This was the time when air travel was expanding, no doubt fuelled by the rising income levels among the upper tiers of the Indian middle class after liberalisation. The decision of the two companies to purchase aircraft like sacks of potatoes or onions has haunted the companies ever since and remains the only reason for the fatal surge in Air India’s debt.

The second aspect of Air India’s sorry state pertains to the manner in which the two airline companies were merged, one year after the fatal bulk purchase of aircraft, with utter lack of preparation. This was a shotgun marriage from which the combined entity has still not recovered. The third dimension of Air India’s travails stems from the “open skies” policy of the government, which hit Air India’s international operations particularly hard even as foreign carriers exploited the free run they were allowed in India.

A notable feature of the policy regime in the last two decades is the remarkable continuity under two different political dispenasations— the ruling NDA led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Although the UPA must take a larger share of the blame for wrecking Air India, not merely because of its longer reign at the helm of affairs but also because significantly more severe damage was done to the airline’s health during its tenure, the two BJP-led coalitions also contributed to Air India’s miserable downfall. After all, it was the Vajpayee government (1998-2004) that first initiated the privatisation of Air India in 1999. Although it did not materialise, it caused significant damage because the airline’s urgent need to augment its ageing fleet was not possible under the cloud of an impending disinvestment. After all, it would not have made sense for the government to invest in aircraft when it was on the verge of handing over the company to a private player. There is much irony in Jaitley steering Air India into the hands of a private player 18 years after his first failed attempt.

The deal that sank Air India

There is no doubt that the biggest blow to Air India—and the erstwhile Indian Airlines that merged with it in 2007—was caused by the reckless and egregious decision to order 111 aircraft at an overall cost of Rs.46,549 crore in 2005-06. Air India placed an order for 50 Boeing aircraft (with GE engines), including a whopping 27 medium-capacity long-range Dreamliners. Air India Charters, its subsidiary, signed a deal with Boeing for 18 aircraft fitted with CFM engines (CFM is a joint venture between GE and the French company Safran). The combined value of the two orders was Rs.38,149 crore (at the then prevailing exchange rate of Rs.44 to the U.S. dollar). The deal was signed on December 30, 2005. In February 2006, Indian Airlines followed it up with an order for 43 Airbus aircraft in a deal that was valued at Rs.8,400 crore.

The manner in which the deals were rushed through, the cost of the acquisition and the long-term unsustainability of the two airlines have been clearly documented in several parliamentary committee reports and by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2011. Although it is difficult to establish categorically, circumstantial evidence in terms of the timing of the deal, especially the manner in which it was rushed through in a matter of months after years of dithering over the acquisition of a much smaller fleet by the two airlines, points to the possibility that the acquisition was tied to the India-U.S. nuclear deal by the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government as a quid pro quo.

The CAG audit found that Air India’s request for three aircraft in 1996 was not approved and that even six years later, in 2002, committees were still considering the options. It was only in 2003 that the technical committee in Air India (significantly, under the control of bureaucrats in the Ministry of Civil Aviation [MoCA]) decided to place orders for 17 medium-range and 18 short-range aircraft with Boeing and Airbus, the two premier international aircraft companies. It is important to note that during this time the NDA government was calling the shots and that the inaction was causing severe losses to the two airlines when the market required capacity expansion; in fact, the airlines’ inability to deploy aircraft resulted in an opening for private airlines waiting in the wings. After the UPA came to power in 2004, when Praful Patel was the Union Minister for Civil Aviation, the government asked Air India to go back to the drawing board on its acquisition plans. In April 2005, Air India submitted a fresh proposal for acquiring 35 aircraft on “firm” basis, with an option to acquire 15 more, if necessary. But by December 30, the Prime Minister’s Office decided that a firm order should be placed for all 50 aircraft, apart from the 18 aircraft for Air India Charters. Air India signed the deal with Boeing the same day.

CAG’S objections

The CAG took serious exception to the manner in which the deal was consummated, by contrasting the long delay by the government, from 1996 to 2004, in considering Air India’s request for acquisition with the speedy manner in which orders were placed with Boeing. It observed that the sharp increase, from 28 aircraft to 68, between January and November 2004 suggested lack of application of mind. On the basis of the circumstantial evidence before it, the CAG concluded that the MoCA applied pressure on Air India to inflate the scale of its acquisition. In particular, the increase in the order for long-range aircraft, from 10 initially to 50 finally, resulted in the acquisition budget increasing from $1.10 billion to $6.15 billion.

The CAG also pointed out that Air India’s justification for the acquisition of eight ultra-long-range aircraft was based on inflated forecast of traffic on non-stop flights to Chicago and New York following the acquisition of the aircraft. It pointed out that the India-U.S. sector was “historically a loss-making sector, and this trend of commercial unviability continued even with the introduction of non-stop India-USA flights”. The CAG also noted the Planning Commission’s comments that the traffic projections made by Air India after the acquisition were “risky” and its observation that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s (DGCA) statistics did not warrant the assumption of increase in traffic on long-haul flights. It concurred with the Expenditure Department’s observation that the entire acquisition exercise rested on the assumption that increase in capacity would translate automatically into higher demand for traffic on Air India’s long-haul flights. The CAG also noted that the Public Investment Board, which approved the deal, ignored the reservations expressed from within the government by the two agencies. The CAG also observed that Air India had made no effort to determine, through “commercial intelligence gathering”, or set benchmarks for price negotiations with Boeing.

As far back as 1996, Indian Airlines initiated its acquisition programme, but this was effectively derailed by the NDA government’s decision to divest the government’s stake in the airline. In 1999, the airline shortlisted 15 aircraft from Boeing and Airbus and received bids from the aircraft manufacturers. But the entire process was stalled because the government had already decided to disinvest. It took a full 10 years for the deal to be concluded with Airbus for 43 aircraft. In this case too, the CAG found that revenue assumptions, based on fare increases, were unrealistic in an extremely competitive environment. The CAG noted that a smaller scale of acquisition, with an option to place orders for more aircraft later, would have been a more prudent option for Indian Airlines. It pointed out that although its fleet increased from 67 to 97 aircraft between March 2005 and March 2009, its market share declined from 37 per cent to less than 17 per cent in this period. The CAG also maintained that Indian Airlines ought to have reduced capacity on international routes and, instead, evolved “a common strategy” with Air India for its international operations. The CAG found a shocking lack of coordination between the two airlines, which merged barely two years after the deals with Boeing and Airbus, while making their respective aircraft acquisitions. Both companies made highly leveraged acquisitions: while Air India borrowed Rs.32,274 crore for the acquisition, Indian Airlines borrowed Rs.8,335 crore. It did not require great foresight for the MoCA to recognise that this scale of borrowing would be simply impossible to repay with the scale of revenues it could be reasonably expected to generate. Or, if one fancies conspiracy theories, was this done deliberately to push them to the brink?

The bungled merger

Incredibly, even as the MoCA was pushing the two airlines to go on an aircraft-acquisition binge, it initiated the process to merge the two companies. Two years earlier, Air India had commissioned a study by A.T. Kearney, a management consulting company, which suggested that the two airlines collaborate on fleet deployment and developing a common network. The MoCA was quick to give its “in-principle” approval for the merger, but significantly, the CAG did not find evidence of any “detailed justification” for arriving at this decision. By March 2007, the Cabinet had approved the merger and on August 22, 2007, the two companies were dissolved and incorporated into the National Aviation Company of India Limited (which was later renamed Air India).

Shockingly, it took more than four years for the merged entity to implement a common ticketing system for the two airlines. As a result of the tardy implementation of systems, Air India’s entry into the Star Alliance, a global alliance of airlines that promotes pooling of resources and economies of scale, was significantly delayed. Air India’s entry into the alliance was delayed primarily because the two entities were still using separate codes.

A former top executive in Air India told Frontline that neither the senior management nor the staff and their unions were consulted on the merger. He pointed out that India’s bilateral Air Service Agreements with other countries had the provision for two national carriers, but after the merger, the vacated slots on international routes were quickly occupied by private airlines such as Jet Airways and Kingfisher. A Chennai-based Air India pilot told Frontline that private Indian airlines were allowed to indulge in predatory practices. The pilot, who was a regular flier to Kuala Lumpur, said: “One airline was allowed to take off a few minutes before the Air India flight on both legs of the journey, something that is unheard of in the business of aviation.” He pointed out that this was the case on many routes. Private airlines were allowed to occupy prime slots for ticketing counters, lounges and other facilities that enhanced passenger comfort inside Indian airports, often at the cost of the national carrier, he said.

International commercial air traffic rights are usually termed “freedoms of the air” in which the 1st Right refers to the right to overfly another country’s territory, the 2nd Right confers the right to refuel or carry out maintenance in a foreign location, the 3rd and 4th Rights allow carriers from one country to fly to and from another country, and the 5th the right to fly between two foreign countries while originating or ending in one’s own country (for example, New Delhi-Frankfurt-New York). But an additional Right, the so-called 6th Freedom, has become important in the last two decades. It allows airlines carrying traffic between two foreign locations to stop within their own country, usually their home hub. Such airlines have worked in close coordination with and with investments by their national governments because what is critical to their operation is not just the airline business but the provision and development of a hub. Etihad/Abu Dhabi, Emirates/Dubai, Qatar Airways/Qatar, Cathay Pacific/Hong Kong and Singapore Airlines/Singapore are some examples of this kind of partnership. Until 2003-04, foreign carriers were only allowed to operate from the major airports in India, but since then they have been allowed to serve locations in the interior.

Liberalised bilateral agreements allowed foreign carriers to significantly enhance capacities. For instance, on the lucrative and high-traffic routes to West Asia, seat capacities for airlines from Dubai increased almost fivefold between 2003-04 and 2008-09. While foreign carriers were operating at almost 99 per cent capacity in 2008-09, Indian carriers were operating at less than 50 per cent. It was obvious that the foreign carriers were able to ramp up capacity utilisation not merely by carrying point-to-point traffic, but by using their 6th Freedom advantage to carry traffic to their hubs and destinations beyond. While Air India was hampered by an inadequate fleet, Indian Airlines was hit hard by the fact that foreign carriers such as Emirates were allowed to operate even from smaller towns such as Kozhikode. In fact, an analysis of air traffic to and from India for 2009-10 by the CAG (2011) revealed 6th Freedom traffic of Qatar Airways, Gulf Air (Bahrain) and Etihad was more than 75 per cent of their overall traffic to/from India. In the same year, Lufthansa’s 6th Freedom traffic was 87 per cent, British Airways 61 per cent and Air France 73 per cent (the overall proportion for European carriers was 74 per cent). More than half the traffic to and from South-East Asia carried by foreign airlines was 6th Freedom traffic, especially in the case of Cathay Pacific.

More critically, the Indian public sector carriers, which were hampered by fleet constraints and hit by the opening up of international routes to private Indian carriers, were unable to even carry the traffic they were entitled to through the bilateral agreements. In 2008-09, for instance, while Jet Airways almost doubled its international passenger traffic, the combined traffic of the public sector carriers fell by almost 20 per cent. Air India pointed out at that time that its problems were compounded by overcapacity, price undercutting by private Indian carriers and by the fact that the private carriers were flying to/from the same destinations that it was serving. It was clear that the abuse of the so-called 6th Freedom rights enabled foreign carriers to use bilateral agreements, in which such rights are not explicitly guaranteed, to serve their commercial rights with no matching benefits for the country.

The CAG observed that the terms of the bilateral agreements thus resulted in the “lack of a level playing field for Air India” before it was ready to face competition. The implicit recognition that the government’s own aviation policies and its direct role in the disastrous acquisition of aircraft and the equally disastrous merger of Air India and Indian Airlines was what made the Manmohan Singh government initiate a turnaround and financial restructuring plan in 2012. The government has so far provided Rs.23,993 crore for the plan out of the overall commitment of Rs.30,000 crore. The move to privatise Air India comes despite a steady improvement in performance in the last few years on several key operational metrics and the sharp reduction in losses (see the accompanying tables and graphs). So, why privatise now, especially after the government—which was after all responsible for wrecking it—has sunk significant capital into the company aimed at reviving it?

Untruthful portrayal

The untruthful portrayal of Air India as the sole truant airline in India reveals that a deep-seated prejudice is at play. What else was Kingfisher, which borrowed recklessly from Indian banks and whose owner Vijay Mallya is eluding the Indian authorities? Nor do prejudiced minds care to recall the number of airline companies—23 of them at the last count—that have disappeared after a short-lived cameo (remember East-West, Modi-Luft and so many others?). Even Jet Airways was on the brink until Etihad bailed it out; SpiceJet too was very close to shutting down not very long ago, leaving thousands of passengers in the lurch.

Truth be told, the airline industry is basically oligopolistic in nature, but with a serious twist that requires government policies, regulations and its own direct involvement. In an industry that is of strategic importance, one in which capital costs are high and in which economies of scale are critical, the industry was for a long time a natural monopoly that required government presence. In the last two decades or so, the government’s role as a monopoly provider has yielded ground to private players even as the government continues to play a critical role. Take the case of all the “national” carriers operating out of their national hubs and it is evident that airlines have been promoted aggressively by national governments; government policies have played a key role in developing airports and other infrastructure; and governments have been aggressively promoting their own airlines in bilateral negotiations.

Seen from this perspective, Air India’s story is that of an outlier in the world of civil aviation. It has been nobody’s child, neglected and kicked around by its own parent. It is a scandal of gigantic proportions. But is not privatisation always that anyway?

( With inputs from Anupama Katakam.)

Goondas Act

Act of suppression

M. VALARMATHI, 23, a final-year postgraduate student of mass communication and journalism at Periyar University in Salem, would never have imagined that she would be dubbed a “goonda” by the Tamil Nadu government and detained by the police under the Goondas Act. Her offence: organising protests for public causes and distributing a few pamphlets to students in Salem town in support of the ongoing protests against the ONGC’s oil exploration projects at Neduvasal in Pudukottai district and Kadiramangalam in Thanjavur district.

Activists said the charges were “frivolous” and did not justify the use of the Goondas Act. This was, they pointed out, probably for the first time that a girl student had been booked under the Goondas Act in Tamil Nadu. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, who also holds the Home portfolio, defended her detention on the floor of the Assembly by saying that she “has been causing disturbances to the public by taking part in various protests”.

Six cases, according to the Chief Minister, were registered against Valarmathi under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and she, despite these cases, “refused to mend her ways”. He also warned that those who were found to be causing disturbance to public peace would be detained under the Act, which has emerged as the government’s favourite weapon. Political observers said this implied that dissent of any nature would not be tolerated.

Soon after the Chief Minister’s statement, the police, under the guise of maintaining law and order, arrested a few activists and youth under various sections of the IPC for being proactive against the acts of commission and omission of both the State and Central governments. Among them were the Dalit woman activist and documentary film-maker Divya Bharathi, 28, of Madurai and A. Kuberan, 32, a research student at Annamalai University in Chidambaram. Two youths who put up posters against the “abuse” of the Goondas Act in Madurai and another youth from Madurai, Senthil Murugan, who put a poster on the wall of the Director General of Police’s (DGP) office in Chennai against the gutkha scam in which a few senior police officials are allegedly involved were also arrested. Human Rights Watch called it “criminalisation of social activism”.

‘Defective’ in nature

Legal luminaries and activists claimed that the detention order against Valarmathi was “defective” in nature. “The reasons cited for Valarmathi’s detention under the Goondas Act are far from convincing,” said R. Parthipan, a lawyer and Salem district president of the Bahujan Samaj Party. He said that on July 12, Valarmathi was arrested along with Jayanthi, 40, her friend’s mother, a housewife, on the charge of distributing pamphlets to students of the Government Women’s Arts and Science College, Salem, on the Neduvasal and Kadiramangalam issues. Frontline has access to an e-copy of the pamphlet, which prima facie does not have anything objectionable, although it exhorted students to extend support to the agitating farmers of the two villages. “While Valarmathi was detained at the Salem Women’s Prison, Jayanthi was released on bail by the Salem Fourth Judicial Magistrate for want of sufficient evidence,” said Parthipan, who argued their case for bail at the Salem court.

However, on July 17, the government, acting on a note from Salem City Police Commissioner Sanjay Kumar, claimed that Valarmathi “has acted in a manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order and public peace and as such she is a ‘goonda’” and gave its nod to detain her under the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug offenders, Forest offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic offenders, Sand offenders, Slum grabbers and Video Pirates Act, 1982 (TN Act 14/1982), known otherwise as the Goondas Act. Justice K. Chandru, retired judge of the Madras High Court, told Frontline recently that the use of the Goondas Act was an “act of perversion”.

The Police Commissioner’s note, a nine-page classified document on the proceedings that laid the grounds for her detention, which Frontline has in its possession, traced her activities from her days at Annamalai University, where she did BSc in agriculture. According to the note, two cases were registered against her and a few other students at the Annamalai Nagar police station in August 2014 for attempts “to hold a revolt against Annamalai University”. Cases under Sections 294(b), 447 and 506(i) of the IPC were registered against her. But her father, Madhaiyan, claimed that she had staged only a brief dharna on the university premises to demand the disbursal of scholarship amounts meant for Dalit and Most Backward Class students.

The note further claimed that the Salem City Police had registered two other cases against her in March 2017 for staging road blockades in Salem town—one for demanding a compensation of Rs.1 crore for the family of Muthukrishnan, a Dalit PhD student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, who was found dead under mysterious circumstances, and another in support of the Neduvasal farmers.

In yet another case, which reportedly had come to the adverse notice of the State government, she and six other activists, all youths, were arrested at the Kulithalai railway station when they were on their way to Neduvasal on April 15, 2017, for which the police invoked Sections 153 and 505(i)(b) of the IPC read with 7(1)(a) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act. Valarmathi was arrested and later enlarged on conditional bail by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court. Other cases against her, according to the Police Commissioner, were pending in various courts.

Referring to the Kulithalai case, the Commissioner pointed out: “[They] planned to spread wrong information among the public, so that they can illegally raise the public to cause revolt against the government… launching warfare against the government by the way of arson attacks, bombings against Central and State government properties such as trains, bus transports and vital installations.” Ironically, he also claimed that at the time of arrest, the police had seized from them a musical instrument (thappu vathiyam) with stick, chart paper and cardboard with mssages in Tamil condemning the Neduvasal project, besides Rs.305 in cash. These articles were recorded in the seizure mahajar too. He said in the note that if they were allowed to proceed, these persons “would cause destruction, damage to Central and State government properties”.

While mentioning the July 12 incident in Salem, in which pamphlets were distributed, he alleged that both Valarmathi and Jayanthi, belonging to the Iyarkkai Padukappu Kuzhu (Nature Protection Council) and the Pothunala Maanava Ezhuchi (Students’ Public Welfare Rise), had “induced the students by asking them to destroy, demolish the Central, State government properties during the demonstration, and thereby the said ladies conspired to burst out a huge law and order problem in the entire State of Tamil Nadu”. Valarmathi “acted in a manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order and peace, [and hence] she is a goonda as contemplated under Section 20(f) of the Act”, he argued.

Despite stiff opposition from activists and civil society groups, Valarmathi, who was in judicial custody, was served with the Goondas Act order and shifted from Salem to the Coimbatore Special Prison for Women on the night of July 17. A senior police officer told Frontline that the police had been monitoring her activities closely since she hailed from Veemanur-Chinnanur, a hamlet near Pallikoodathanur village in Veeranam block in Salem district, which in police records has long been noted as one among a cluster of villages having strong Maoist-Leninist leanings.

‘Paranoid over protest’

In fact, the State Q Branch (intelligence wing), which deals with issues relating to naxalites and religious fundamentalists, launched a campaign to paint the student activist as an extremist element. Several political leaders and activists condemned her arrest. “The State government appears to be paranoid that even a tiny spark of protest, if permitted, would end up as a spontaneous struggle similar to the one on the Marina in January this year. Hence, they react snappily with force,” said the Dalit writer R. Ravikumar, who is also a senior functionary of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK).

Tamil Nadu Makkal Urimai Katchi (TMUK) State president Poomozhi said that detaining a girl student under the Goondas Act was outrageous. “It is her right to freedom guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Based on it, she executed her public responsibility. Trying to portray the girl as an extremist shows the present dispensation’s fascist approach to its citizens. This would stifle the involvement of women in public causes,” he said.

The Salem-based environmentalist Piyush Sethia, who faces multiple cases for his activism, pointed out that those who talked about their rights and on water and common land issues were viewed as anti-nationals. “Any responsible citizen, leave alone activists, if he or she comes out for their rights, is an anti-social today. For a case involving sedition charges registered against me in 2010, the Salem Police filed a charge sheet in 2017. It is how they studiously build up a case against voices of dissent. It is a puppet government. The opposition parties such as the DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] are meek against such oppression,” he said.

Madhaiyan told Frontline that he and his family members were informed late on the night of July 17 about his daughter’s detention and subsequent shifting to the Coimbatore prison. “She is not a criminal. She took part in protests in support of the people. Is this not a democratic country? We do not know what to do and whom to contact. When the looters of public money and natural resources, smugglers, corrupt and rowdy elements, drug peddlers, etc., are roaming free, my daughter, who has been raising her voice in support of the poor and the needy, is being harassed and hounded. It is a shame on the government to detain a girl student under the Goondas Act,” he said.

Cases against activists

Before the detention of Valarmathi, the pro-Tamil movement activist Thirumurugan Gandhi of the May 17 Movement and four others who organised a candlelight vigil on the Marina in memory of dead Sri Lankan Tamils were detained under the Act. The Tamil Nadu unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Amnesty International India too strongly condemned these arrests.

On June 30, the police arrested and jailed 10 people, including the anti-methane project coordinator Prof. T. Jayaraman, an academic, for staging a protest against the ONGC project in Kadiramangalam. Ironically, the State government has not spared even women, children and common people protesting against common livelihood issues such as water scarcity and liquor shops in their localities. Such protests either are not permitted or are put down with force.

A dispassionate perusal of the arrests of activists and civil society members who fight for their rights reveals a pattern. If the police find no sufficient reason to invoke the detention laws, they, by peddling incredible claims, invoke stringent non-bailable sections of the IPC, read with 7(1)(a) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, and Section 124 (a) of the IPC, also known as the sedition law, to muzzle the forces that fight against social injustice. All these sections that are routinely used against protesters deal with wrongful restraint, voluntarily causing hurt, trespass, and disobedience to public servants, thus shrinking the space the Constitution provides its citizens.

Political vulnerability

The excessive use of preventive detention laws seems to indicate the State government’s vulnerability at the political level. “It fears everything since it is suffering from instability. Allegations of scams and scandals against Ministers make it further susceptible. Even a primary school student who carries a placard denouncing a liquor shop in his village in Kancheepuram district can ‘scare’ the government and pose a ‘threat’ to its sovereignty. His parents were summoned and warned,” said a Dalit activist in Kancheepuram who served a term under the Goondas Act a few years ago.

Why else would the police arrest a research student of Annamalai University who mobilised support on social media for the people of Kadiramangalam? Divya Bharathi, who made a compelling documentary on manual scavenging, Kakkoos (Toilet), was arrested on July 25 in a case registered against her in 2009 when she was a student of the Madurai Law College.

She was released on bail the same day by the Madurai Judicial Magistrate Court II although a senior officer of the Madurai City Police claimed that it was “a routine legal procedure of executing a pending warrant issued by the Madurai court”.

“The police told me that a warrant was pending in a case against me for organising a road blockade in front of the Government Rajaji Hospital, Madurai in 2009 to demand better living conditions in the Madurai Adi Dravidar Boys’ Hostel after a resident died of snakebite. But today they sprang up all of a sudden, arrested me and took me to the court directly from my house. The police have banned the screening of my documentary on manual scavenging in cities and towns across the State saying that it would create a law and order problem. I smell a rat. We will wait and watch,” said Divya Bharathi, who belongs to the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). CPI(ML) State committee member Chandramohan, in a statement, condemned the arrests of the women activists in Tamil Nadu.

Ravikumar said that Tamil Nadu today was witnessing two types of dissent—spontaneous and organised. “Spontaneous dissent is people-centric, while the organised one is by political parties. When political parties fail, people come out on the streets to fight for their rights. Spontaneous dissent started with the Koodankulam stir and moved on to the Marina and Neduvasal and Kadiramangalam protests. It shows an erosion of the people’s trust in the political class, besides the murky political manoeuvrings and a shift in the leadership at the top in the ruling party,” he reasoned. He said that detentions for minor infractions stifle the voices of dissent and contravene the tenets of fundamental rights as guaranteed in the Constitution.

The actor Kamal Haasan was the latest victim of intolerance. He had to face verbal abuse from a bunch of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) Ministers for his comments on corruption. “Those who raise their voices in dissent are put down brutally. The State government is a monolithic entity and hence dominant and authoritative and intolerant,” said Ramu Manivannan, Professor and Head of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Madras, who extends support to the actor on this issue.

Said A. Marx, social activist and writer: “After facing raids from Central agencies such as the Income Tax Department and more allegations of corruption, the present dispensation is afraid of an ‘invisible’ force that remotely operates it by employing threats and intimidation. If we go through the cases behind the arrests of both Valarmathi and Thirumurugan Gandhi, we can find a link. They were arrested for their anti-BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] stance.”

Valarmathi took part in a road blockade in Salem organised as part of a protest against Union Minister Pon. Radhakrishnan when he came to pay homage to the Dalit student Muthukrishnan. “Among the many cases against Thirumurugan Gandhi are those for his participation in protests against demonetisation and against the decision of the Centre to classify the public distribution system into priority and non-priority households. Now it will be easy to recognise those who are behind such repressive acts in Tamil Nadu,” said A. Marx.

The senior lawyer N.G.R. Prasad told Frontline that any detention law violated the very spirit of the rights enshrined in the Constitution. “Detentions should be subjected to the natural process of law and trial. The provisions of the Goondas Act violate all these democratic and constitutionally guaranteed principles. The Act has become a convenient tool in the hands of the State government to silence voices of people. It only shows the failing democracy here,” he said. The higher judiciary, he said, should debate whether preventive laws are needed for a constructive administration.

The lawyer Balu Kaliyaperumal of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) said whenever the government was questioned or it found itself in an embarrassing situation, it resorted to such “anti-people and anti-democratic” acts. “Anyone can be detained as a goonda if the government wishes. Activists, politicians and people from all walks of life should come on a platform to fight against its abuse,” he said, adding that when 108 PMK functionaries were detained under the Goondas Act some three years ago, no one had come to their support.

Ramu Manivannan said that such oppressive acts were not unexpected when a proxy government was in power.

“The government looks powerless today. It attempts to run its administration through its police. De-socialising youths and students to prevent them from being socially conscious is what the government is attempting now. Targeting activists and civil society members for their pro-people approach by suppressing their voices bares one dominant factor, the decay of the political culture, which also needs a public debate,” he said. The simmering anger in civil society is too obvious to be missed today. So are the despair and fear of the government’s surveillance tactics against its own people. A State that has witnessed strong movements of historical, social and cultural importance in the seven decades since Independence may now be standing at its lowest point in democratic governance.

Development Issues

Private interests & public resistance

THE economic reforms that started in India in the 1990s have created a growing demand for land in anticipation of gains through land transactions. This speculative nature of the land market overwhelms the demand for land in the recent period, which is intertwined with the increasing demand for land for non-agricultural purposes—for infrastructure, industrial expansion, mass housing projects, resource extraction, and so on. The tendency to acquire more land than needed for industrial projects to be set up by private entities shows how land is being commoditised. Yet, the growing demand for land cannot be met by the simple working of the price system as the maximum price that the prospective buyer is willing to pay typically falls far short of the minimum price that the seller is willing to accept. Furthermore, the overwhelming presence of smallholders in rural areas makes the transaction costs high for the buyer who wants a large chunk of land. The “friction” of this kind in the land market has ostensibly given rise to the state’s intervention in the form of direct acquisition of land from the smallholders in the name of “public purpose”, even though the real purpose often transcends the meaning of the word “public”. The definition of public purpose has been stretched to include any economic activity irrespective of whether it will be conducted by a public agency or a private entity.

Land acquisition by the state and its redistribution in favour of private capital with the ostensible objective of industrialisation, resource extraction and material development, which has been characterised by scholars as “accumulation by dispossession”, triggered protests and resistance, and eventually the state was forced to balance the small-holders’ interests with the requirements of land for public purposes by enacting in 2013 the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (Land Act, for short). However, the notion of “fair compensation” can hardly be settled as there seems to be a perennial conflict between the economists’ justification of land acquisition in terms of macro level efficiency of transferring land from agriculture to high-value uses and the micro level rationality of small-holders to hold on to their small pieces of land in the absence of better exit options.

This recent scenario around the issue of land acquisition by the state comes in sharp contrast to the earlier scenario where the state was expected to redistribute land in favour of the landless, the formal expression of which was the series of Land Reforms Acts passed in the 1950s and the 1960s. One should also note in this context that the redistribution of ceiling surplus land in favour of the landless was only one of the several components of the land reforms agenda, and one of the least accomplished as well. The recent turnaround in the role of the state from one that would push progressive redistribution in favour of the landless (at least in terms of intentions if not in deed) to one that would redistribute in favour of big private capital seems to be the most crucial political economy issue in contemporary India. As the land issue frequently overwhelms the popular discourse because of the development-dispossession dynamic, it is hard to step back from the rough and tumble of the short run and take a hard look at the larger picture of how land fits into the contemporary Indian political economy. In this context, one might refer to the much-discussed phenomenon of global “land grab” in the contemporary world, particularly in some African and Latin American countries. However, the major difference between the contemporary reality of land dispossession in India and these countries is that it is domestic capital rather than foreign capital that is responsible for large-scale expropriation of land from the peasants.

Public policy outcomes can largely be explained in terms of the choices resulting from conflicts among competing interests that take place within political institutions. Politics over land can therefore be seen as a distributional struggle between various classes, with the state and other institutions heavily influencing the outcome of the struggle. There is considerable pressure to transform land into a commodity to be bought and sold in the market for non-agricultural purposes. The motivation behind this dramatic turnaround in how land is used is driven by India’s contemporary economic development concerns, such as industrialisation, development of infrastructure and special economic zones (SEZs), and real estate expansion. This is not inconsistent with capitalist development thus far and the possibility of even greater capital accumulation over the longer term. What is fundamentally different now is that land no longer acts as the source of economic surplus nor is there any motivation on the part of the state to make agriculture dynamic in the capitalist sense. On the contrary, acquisition of land today is entirely directed at non-agricultural development. For example, in the well-known Singur case, the State government acquired land on behalf of a business group to set up an automobile factory. The conversion of agricultural land or dispossession of Adivasis for various industrial and infrastructural projects is not new in India. What has changed is the role of the state in securing land by way of “eminent domain” or using the “public purpose” argument, in some instances coercively, less for itself and more on behalf of business.

Accumulation sans dynamic agriculture

As a source of providing livelihood for a large number of people in rural India, the importance of land has been declining, even though its importance has been increasing as a form of asset that is mainly perceived as a store of value rather than one that yields a regular flow of income. The 70th round of the National Sample Survey (NSS) reveals that an average agricultural household earns less than Rs.6,500 a month from all sources, and for a large number of such households the reported net income from agriculture is negative. Clearly, agricultural land can hardly be seen as a source of economic surplus, which is partly because of the fact that subdivision and fragmentation of land have made a typical holding rather small and therefore unviable as a production unit. More importantly, the failure of the state to make the sector dynamic with a good dose of public investment has further exacerbated the declining potential of agricultural land as producer of economic surplus.

NSS data further show that the average area owned per rural household has declined from 0.725 hectare in 2002-03 to 0.592 hectare in 2012-13, and about 83 per cent of rural households own less than one hectare each. While the percentage of total area owned by large landowners has declined, that by marginal owners has increased. This does not mean that the average size of land owned by the marginal category has increased, since the percentage of households in this category has also increased. What is to be noticed is that the distribution of land is still very unequal as the top 7 per cent of the rural households own close to 46 per cent of land area and the top 2 per cent of households own 24 per cent.

Land is unequally distributed and is becoming fragmented , which suggests differential rates of growth across classes and pronounced social differentiation in the countryside. In India, neither the peasantry has completely disappeared nor has a large industrial proletariat appeared despite a fair degree of structural transformation through non-agricultural development. This raises questions about the inevitability of capitalist transition of the kind that is believed to characterise the Western experience. The land question in India today is less about transition (from pre-capitalist to capitalist mode of production) and more about the conflicts and the political economy of the differential benefits of circulation of land, often through involuntary exchange.

Land acquisition, violence and ‘double movement’

The colonial government enacted the Land Acquisition Act in 1894 and invoked the “eminent domain” argument to acquire land for many government projects—railways and irrigation in particular. The continued use of this proviso even in independent India was justified on the grounds that land was needed for public sector projects ranging from infrastructure to large capital goods industries. Constitutional amendments repealed the provisions relating to property rights so that those provisions no longer acted as hindrances to the acquisition process. Two amendments passed in 1962 and 1984 to the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 specified the procedure for land acquisition for private companies, and as a consequence, instances of the state resorting to “eminent domain” to acquire land on behalf of the private sector have been more frequent than earlier. Ironically, even the stipulations made in the 1984 amendment, which allowed the state to acquire land for private entities, have been violated.

A series of audit reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on land acquisition in a number of States in India provides a comprehensive account of acquisition of land over the first decade of this century. Odisha, for example, had acquired 29,769 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) of private land until 2012. Nearly half of this land—14,297 acres for 33 companies—was acquired under the section governing land acquisition for “public purpose”. This violated the law because land for private companies must be acquired under Part VII of the Land Acquisition Act, which was introduced in 1984. Part VII lays down rules for land acquisition for non-government companies and mandates that the government acquire land for private companies only after the company fails to buy land directly from farmers. The company must also sign an agreement not to use the land for any other purpose without the government’s approval. The agreement allows the government to take back the land in cases of misuse, non-use or partial use. An agriculture officer is consulted before acquisition of agricultural land, which can be done only if non-agricultural land is not found suitable for the project. All these mandates were violated by acquiring land under the wrong section. This clearly indicates the growing influence of Indian big business on state policies and a shift in the state-capital relationship.

Almost as an antithesis to this recent trend, resentment against the process of acquisition and against the use of the justification of “public purpose” has also grown over the years, with millions of people awaiting proper resettlement and rehabilitation. With the violence in Nandigram and Singur in West Bengal and the relocation of the proposed automobile factory to Gujarat by Tata, an intense public debate started in India in 2007. The acquisition of land and compensation and rehabilitation became the central issues in the debate. Article 246(3) of the Constitution of India assigns exclusive power to State legislatures to make laws relating to subjects in the State List, in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. Item 17 of this list relates to land, which gives State legislatures the exclusive power to legislate on matters relating to land. However, Article 249 empowers Parliament to legislate even on matters in the State List if not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting in the Rajya Sabha pass a resolution declaring that such legislation is necessary or expedient in the national interest.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government managed to pass the Land Act on September 27, 2013, under this proviso. The ostensible aim of the Land Act was to block the increasing trend of invocation of eminent domain to acquire land forcibly to serve the myriad private business interests, including mining and real estate. The Act provides for compensation of up to four times the market value of the acquired land. It requires the consent of 70 per cent of the landowners whose land is to be acquired in the case of public-private partnership (PPP) projects and 80 per cent in the case of private sector projects. Compulsory social impact assessment by independent experts and local government representatives was made compulsory.

NDA’s dilution attempt

With the passing of this Act as well as others which had a clear pro-poor tilt, UPA leaders had hoped that it would help them regain popularity. But contrary to their expectations, the UPA failed to come back to power as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won with a thumping majority in May 2014. Soon after, the new government proposed 19 amendments to the Land Act. These amendments could significantly dilute the provisions of the new law, which were meant to protect the interests of the land losers. An amendment sought to eliminate the consent requirement for private or PPP projects in the case of defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure. Another sought to exempt the same five classes of projects from social impact assessment.

However, the Bill to make these amendments could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha, where the Bharatiya Janata Party government could not muster the required two-thirds majority. It was argued that the proposed amendments were required to unblock a large number of stalled infrastructure projects and revive the investment climate.

However, on close scrutiny it turns out that the Land Act has little to do with stalled projects, especially in the private sector. In its analysis of stalled projects, the Economic Survey 2015 did not even cite land acquisition as a factor for private sector projects. The major factors accounting for stalled projects were identified as unfavourable market conditions, lack of funds, raw material and fuel supply bottlenecks or loss of promoter interest.

This entire episode of forcible acquisition, violence and resistance movements culminating in a partially accommodating state reminds us of the well-known social thinker Karl Polanyi’s concept of “double movement”, which he used to analyse the late 19th and early 20th century England where complete proletarianisation of the working class was followed by workers’ struggle and unionisation. This in turn led to institutionalisation of social security by an accommodating state. To what extent the state will be forced to accommodate demands from below depends on a variety of factors, including the role of political institutions.

Achin Chakraborty is Director, Institute of Development Studies Kolkata.

Land Acquisition: Telangana & Andhra Pradesh

An Act undone

KUNAL SHANKAR the-nation

ON April 30 this year, Telangana undid one of India’s landmark pieces of legislation in less than half a day. In a rare joint session of the Assembly and the Legislative Council convened hurriedly on a Sunday, Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao rose to object to the fundamental provisions of The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act, 2013, or simply Act number 30 of 2013, enacted by Parliament after almost a decade’s deliberations on the need for a new law to regulate government takeover of private property for public purpose.

Until then, government acquisition of land was governed by the colonial era Land Acquisition Act, 1894. This Act gave the government sweeping powers to take over lands without providing explanations to private owners, fix prices arbitrarily, and evict occupants forcefully if required based on the principle of eminent domain.

Since coming to power in mid 2014, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which heads the government in India’s youngest State, has faced stiff opposition from mainstream parties and civil society groups alike to its ambitious irrigation and industrial projects.

It began on July 30, 2015, when the government issued an order to take over agricultural lands for an expansive “industrial park” in the Chief Minister’s home district of Medak. According to this, a National Investment and Manufacturing Zone (NIMZ) was to come up on 1,000 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) of assigned lands—small plots earmarked for landless Dalits and Adivasis—and another 500 acres of farms. The cryptic Government Order, now infamously referred to as GO 123, set up “Procurement Agencies” to buy “lands for public purposes from willing landowners”. GO 123 also created District Level Land Procurement Committees, with the District Collector as chairman, and the Joint Collector, a Revenue Divisional Officer, an Executive Engineer from the Roads and Buildings Department, the District Registrar and “a representative from the Procuring Agency” as members. This was used to circumvent the LARR Act as officials complained that the process had become loud, cumbersome and long-drawn-out.

A year later, Justice Suresh Kumar Kait of the Hyderabad High Court struck down the order as “arbitrary, unconstitutional and illegal”. In his well-reasoned order on August 3 last year, Justice Kait argued that GO 123 had not taken into account several issues, ranging from paying a premium on the revised market value of the land to the question of a fair rehabilitation and resettlement of the villagers concerned in a democratic and participatory manner, which also allowed for monthly compensations for loss of livelihood for agricultural workers, artisans and other communities dependent on those lands.

The government challenged this almost immediately and proposed several measures. The proposals included a monthly compensation of Rs.3,000 per Dalit family for 20 years, which would increase on the basis of the consumer price index, or a one-time settlement of Rs.5 lakh. The government also proposed a combined resettlement and transport cost of Rs.1 lakh for every displaced family.

The bedrock of the 2013 Central law is the social impact assessment to elicit how best the community that would be displaced could be reaccommodated through a participatory mechanism of meetings at the panchayat level. The LARR Act also envisaged one job for every displaced landless family and one acre for every landed family at the new project site. These provisions have now been dropped from the State law.

The High Court, in its August 16 order, disallowed eviction of owners until a “compliance report” was filed by the government on the measures proposed by it but allowed it to register the sale deeds of lands taken over under GO 123.

But subsequently, the government complained that almost all its projects had come to a standstill. These included the ambitious Kaleshwaram irrigation scheme, which envisages 18 new reservoirs dotting Telangana from its north to the south drawing water from the Pranahita river, a tributary of the Godavari. Bureaucrats said contractors backed out from projects despite the High Court’s order.

The dubious ways used by the government to force villagers to sell farmlands have been well documented (“A fight for their land”, Frontline, September 2, 2016). GO 123 is in English, making it beyond comprehension for most villagers. The order stated that owners would forsake the right for a higher compensation in any court of law. This made the sale under GO 123 final, with a one-time settlement towards land value, rehabilitation and the “perceived loss of livelihood”. In effect, the very purpose of Act 30 of 2013 was undone through GO 123.

The government’s patience grew thin following widespread protests led by mainstream parties with support from the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC). The TJAC is led by the respected and popular retired political science professor of Osmania University M. Kodandaram. It was the fulcrum for the last phase of the separate Statehood movement, culminating in the formation of Telangana in 2014.

Mainstream parties have almost been reduced to nought in the Assembly and the Legislative Council because of steady poaching by the ruling party. With 63 seats, the TRS had a wafer-thin majority in the 119-seat Assembly on June 2, 2014. Today, it has well over 90 seats, after heavyweights from the opposition were offered key Cabinet berths. Speaker S. Madhusudhan Chary of the TRS, who has the sole prerogative as per law to dismiss a legislator who has shifted allegiance, has not acted against any of the defectors.

On May 17, Telangana notified the amended land acquisition Act following presidential assent. The amendments exempt virtually all categories of land acquired for public purpose from the Second and Third Parts of the 2013 Act. Part Three disallows acquisition of multicropped farmland, except for exemplary “emergency” purposes, in order to safeguard food security. The amendments also enable the District Collector to effect a sale deed with the “consent of the interested person without making an enquiry”. In other words, without the deliberations as laid out under the social impact assessment (Part Two) clause of the 2013 Act, the amendments allow the government to provide for a one-time settlement “in lieu of rehabilitation and resettlement”.

The presidential assent, however, came after months, with the Union Law Ministry suggesting the vital change of making the law applicable retrospectively to insulate the government from any further legal wrangles. The amendments have been effected retrospectively from January 1, 2014, the day the Central Act became executable following the framing of rules. Telangana framed rules in mid July giving teeth to the amendments.

Chandrasekhar Rao has also reneged on his promise to close down opencast coal mines, which he made during the campaign for a separate State. They dot northern Telangana’s tribal and forest belt in the Singareni Collieries region. Instead, 20 new opencast and 11 underground mines have been proposed citing exponentially rising power needs. Villagers have been demanding that mines be dug underground entirely if there is such a dire need, as a lot of the land is fertile and the existing opencast mines have led to disastrous health consequences, apart from poisoning surrounding farmlands. But the government has argued that the coal in Khammam and Adilabad districts are half a kilometre below ground, making it infeasible to dig underground tunnels. Besides, it says, the cost of underground mines is prohibitive.

Andhra Pradesh experience

Telangana’s amendments come after Gujarat’s and Andhra Pradesh’s, which have undermined the LARR Act. Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) eagerly canvassed for Ramnath Kovind’s victory in the presidential election hoping that its unflinching support for ally Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate would pay off with an assent for the new law passed by the Assembly on March 28 this year.

Andhra Pradesh’s amendments almost mirror those of Telangana except for the provision of a payment “equal to 50 per cent of the compensation” for acquired lands as “lump sum compensation” to each affected family towards rehabilitation and resettlement. In other words, rehabilitation and resettlement would be limited to a single monetary compensation equal to half of the value of the land being acquired. There would be no other relief such as mandatory employment for affected families, transport allowance, location of suitable sites for alternative housing and creation of commensurate public infrastructure that would be wiped out in the process of land acquisition.

The Andhra Pradesh government has exempted “industrial corridors” and “infrastructure projects, including those in public-private partnership, but where the land vests with the State government” from the social impact assessment and food security clauses of the Central Act. It also exempts all such acquisition from land registration charges. The only redeeming feature of Andhra Pradesh’s amendments is making offences under this Act cognisable under the country’s criminal statutes.

Land Pooling Scheme for Amaravati

Chandrababu Naidu has been arguably the most innovative of Chief Ministers when it comes to circumventing the LARR Act. The Land Pooling Scheme he initiated for the construction of Andhra Pradesh’s new capital, Amaravati, attempts to mirror some aspects of the 2013 Central law, such as land for every acre of farmland acquired and rehabilitation of affected families within the capital region, but there has been no single payout based on the market rate plus markup value for the lands under consideration.

Indeed, there has also been no social impact assessment or considerations of food security. The 217 square km of lands acquired for Amaravati lie along the banks of the Krishna and are among the most fertile across India. They are home to multicrop farms with two or three harvests a year, supplying agro-based produce for both domestic and international markets, and employing millions in the Krishna and Guntur districts of Andhra Pradesh ( “Capital punishment”, Frontline, September 4, 2015).

Over and above these lands, the Andhra Pradesh government has sought diversion of another 12,444 hectares of forests, that is about 125 sq km for “Capital City Infrastructure Projects”, according to its April 2015 proposal to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Denotification of forest lands requires approval from the Central government following the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. But none of these proposals seems to suggest that it is essential for any “national security/defence” related purposes.

A June 30, 2017, report in Economic & Political Weekly on Andhra Pradesh’s proposal lists one of the several land uses as a biodiversity park. The proposal has various other parks too. “In close to 40% of the forest that has been requested, the State government wants to come up with a Cultural & Creative Industrial Park in one block and a Cultural theme park in another; Heritage, Adventure Eco Theme Park and Institution; Aerospace & Green Mobility Industrial Park; Integrated Cut Flower & Spice Park; and Integrated Infrastructure Park.”

There are several other massive land acquisition plans under way in Andhra Pradesh. Leading them is the half-a-century-old Polavaram irrigation scheme on the Godavari river, located on the border of Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, which was designated a national project in 2014 following the State’s bifurcation and is now entirely funded by New Delhi. A January 22, 2017, report in The Economic Times quotes sources in the Polavaram Project Authority as admitting that nearly two lakh people, that is, 51,047 families in 216 villages living in the proposed area, would be displaced. Andhra Pradesh’s amendments to the LARR Act make it possible to do the bare minimum—a one-time compensation for generations of affected families.

One of the main enablers of legalised land grab has, however, been the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act, 2005. Enacted by Parliament much before the protests against the scrapped Tata Motors small car plant in Singur, West Bengal, began, the SEZ Act was intended to create industrial infrastructure, boost exports and provide employment as the state steadily shifted to private-capital-driven economic solutions. Successive Congress and TDP governments in Andhra Pradesh enabled a corporate land grab arguably unmatched elsewhere in the country.

In replies filed at the Supreme Court by the Union Ministry of Commerce in March this year on a petition filed by a group of farmers displaced because of SEZs in 2016, the Central government said that Andhra Pradesh had 24 notified SEZs with a total land bank of 9,308 hectares, that is 93 sq km, as of January 31, 2017. Out of this, 3,324 hectares (33 sq km), that is, over one-third of the land, lies in “non-operational” SEZs. To put this in perspective, the proposed new Andhra Pradesh capital has been planned to expand over 217 sq km. In other words, the SEZ land bank of Andhra Pradesh constitutes nearly half of what is required to build a new capital. And yet, only one SEZ of 20 hectares located in Visakhapatnam district was denotified between 2014 and 2016. All the others lie in private hands, while the government cries foul over lack of land for “urban infrastructure projects”. The situation is not any different in Telangana. There is a total of 2,054 hectares (20 sq km) of land in SEZs in the State, out of which 621 hectares (6.2 sq km) are located in “non-operational” ones. Chandrasekhar Rao has said he intends to “take back this land for other development projects”.

Natural disaster

Assam’s sorrow

TWO waves of floods in July left a trail of devastation in Assam. The State government’s statistics show that the floods claimed 60 lives and affected 25 lakh people across 29 districts. The administration set up 1,098 relief camps and relief distribution centres in the affected districts. The flood damage across the State prompted political parties and student and youth organisations to reiterate their demand for the floods and erosion in Assam to be declared a national problem.

Opposition parties alleged that flood-hit Assam did not get the desired attention of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre and that the BJP-led coalition government in the State failed to respond to the situation by ensuring quick and adequate distribution of relief materials. They also criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not visiting the State to assess the situation.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal told journalists in New Delhi on July 19 that Modi had been constantly monitoring the flood situation and that the State government had received Central assistance to manage it. He also reiterated that relief-and-rescue operations were going on without any hiccup and that there was no shortage of funds as all necessary steps had been initiated to overcome the situation.

Sonowal called on the Prime Minister at Parliament House in New Delhi and requested him to launch the “Prime Minister’s Special Programme for Flood and Erosion Control” to develop road-cum-embankments stretching across 5,000 kilometres. An official release stated that Sonowal drew Modi’s attention to the fact that most of the existing embankments, constructed in the 1950s, were vulnerable to breach owing to the perennial flood situation and the resultant riverbank erosion.

“If the embankments are developed as road-cum-embankments, their regular maintenance and sustainability can be ensured,” he said. He, however, mentioned that the State lacked the resources to develop road-cum-embankments and pleaded for an exclusive programme under the Prime Minister’s supervision to prevent the damage from floods and erosion.

Sonowal also impressed upon Modi the need to constitute a high-level inter-ministerial team headed by a Cabinet Minister to study the impact of floods and erosion and suggest permanent measures to mitigate the problem. He also submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister requesting him to direct the Ministry of Water Resources for early release of the Central share amounting to Rs.1,138 crore for completion of schemes undertaken under the Flood Management Programme (FMP) in the 11th and 12th Five Year Plans. The State government took up 141 FMP schemes in the 11th and 12th Five Year Plans and also released its share but has been waiting for the Central share, the release added. He met Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on July 19 and sought his intervention in releasing the amount.

The State government’s memorandum stated that with the embankments vulnerable to breach, a flood situation that could be worse than the two waves in July loomed large. It also revealed that the State lacked the required resources to strengthen the embankments on its own. Reiterating its helplessness in addressing flood vulnerability without the Centre’s assistance, Assam is likely to bolster its demand for declaration of the twin problems of floods and erosion as a national problem. It could also demand that the Centre shoulder the responsibility of preventing recurrence of such disasters and mitigate the woes of the flood-affected people.

Against mega dams

The two waves of floods, which were described by the Assam government as “unprecedented”, also brought the issue of the construction of mega dams in Arunachal Pradesh on the tributaries of the Brahmaputra to the centre stage of the discourse on the floods and revived the agitation against construction of mega dams for power generation in the neighbouring State. There have been angry outbursts against the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) for the release of water stored in the reservoir of the 405-megawatt Ranganadi Hydro Electric Project at Yazali in the Ranganadi basin in Lower Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh.

Flood-hit people of Lakhimpur district alleged that water released from the Ranganadi dam caused massive destruction of properties and inundated paddy fields apart from disrupting road communications. The project site is 95 km off Lakhimpur town.

NEEPCO authorities, however, maintained that the floods in Lakhimpur district could not be attributed to the release of excess water from Ranganadi. According to media reports, NEEPCO authorities had claimed that the hydroelectric plant had in fact mitigated the flood situation to a certain extent by controlling the flow of water.

However, official releases of the Centre and the Assam government punched holes in NEEPCO’s claim. A Press Information Bureau release on the visit of Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju to Lakhimpur and Dhemaji districts on July 13 states: “Shri Rijiju, accompanied by the State Ministers and district officials, then inspected the breached Ranganadi embankment, which was washed away due to the release of excess water by NEEPCO, and interacted with the displaced people of Changmai village to take stock of their plight.” It further states that the Lakhimpur district administration pointed out that the release of large volumes of water from the NEEPCO dam in Yazali caused the flood crisis in Lakhimpur. Kiren Rijiju promised that the NEEPCO official in charge of the dam project would be directed to hold talks with the Deputy Commissioner, Lakhimpur, to solve the issue of excess release of water from the dam and the resultant flooding of riverine areas of Lakhimpur.

An official release of the Assam government states that Sonowal raised the issue of the “recent release of water by NEEPCO, Ranganadi project, which created havoc in Lakhimpur district causing devastating flood and taking a heavy toll on life and property” during his meeting with Jitendra Singh, the Union Minister for Development of North-Eastern Region, at Assam Bhawan in New Delhi on July 18. Sonowal requested the Minister to take up the issue with the Union Power Minister on a priority basis to prevent such incidents. “Dr Singh acknowledged the hardship faced by the people and conceded that his Ministry would engage in a meaningful dialogue with the Power Ministry for solving the vexed problem,” the release added.

The All Assam Students’ Union demanded decommissioning of the Ranganadi dam to prevent recurrence of devastation in the downstream areas in Lakhimpur district and joined other organisations in demanding that NEEPCO authorities provide compensation to the affected people and for the damage caused to public properties.

Organisations in Assam that have been opposing the construction of the 2,000-MW Subansiri Lower hydroelectric project of the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) at Gerukamukh along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border have asked the Centre and the Assam and Arunachal Pradesh governments to draw lessons from the Ranganadi experience and abandon the plan to construct mega dams in Arunachal Pradesh. They argued that the Ranganadi experience showed that the Subansiri Lower project would create a similar catastrophe of sudden release of excess water from the proposed 116-m high mega dam.

The dam construction has been stalled since December 2011 following stiff opposition in Assam. The BJP and the Asom Gana Parishad made the opposition to the mega dam a major issue in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Rajnath Singh, the then BJP national president and current Union Home Minister, joined in the protest against the mega dam project while the Congress pushed for it. But, the BJP made a volte-face after coming to power in Delhi. The Modi government has been pushing for the speedy completion of the project, with the BJP governments in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh promising their cooperation to expedite it. The National Green Tribunal is currently hearing a petition challenging the construction of the Subansiri Lower project.

Land Acquisition: Jharkhand

Losing in India

AKSHAY DESHMANE the-nation

Over two days in mid February this year, some of India’s most influential politicians and corporate tycoons assembled for a mega event at an unlikely location: the Harivansh Tana Bhagat Indoor Stadium in Jharkhand’s capital city, Ranchi. It was the eastern State’s maiden “Global Investment Summit”. Among those in attendance were Union Cabinet Ministers Arun Jaitley, Piyush Goel and M. Venkaiah Naidu and corporate tycoons, including Ratan Tata, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Anil Agarwal, Naveen Jindal and Shashi Ruia.

The meeting was the most high-profile event organised as part of the ongoing “Make in Jharkhand” campaign being implemented by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led State government to promote the State as an attractive investment destination in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative. The investment climate in the mineral-rich State has been undergoing a steady change since the current government came to power. At the inaugural session, Chief Minister Raghubar Das told the assembled businessmen: “This is an appropriate time for you to come ahead and invest in Jharkhand. The State government has developed conditions favourable for industry and investment in Jharkhand, which is full of mineral resources, easy [read easily available] labour and natural resources. The State government’s pro-investment policies will play the role of a catalyst in your efforts.”

Seeking to assure his audience that the government had an inclusive vision, Das said: “We are preparing a model of development in which the local population will participate adequately in industrial and economic progress and it will always be the chief stakeholder in the social and economic progress of the State. Perhaps this is truly sabka saath sabka vikas.”

In the comfortable confines of the indoor stadium, the Chief Minister’s speech received applause from the businessmen and senior politicians present in the meeting.

There are no echoes of that applause, though, in the districts where, far from the State capital, the government’s “investor-friendly” policy makes itself felt in an aggressive manner of implementation of projects. The manner in which land is being acquired, or is sought to be acquired, for projects seems to have created resentment among farmers and landowners against the government. Less than three months before the February meeting, opposition parties sought to tap into this resentment with a State-wide bandh to protest against the government’s controversial and hasty amendments to two historic laws protecting tribal rights to land in the State—the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act. The protests had the intended effect. In June, Governor Draupadi Murmu returned the amendments passed by the Assembly. The Raghubar Das administration in July withdrew the amendments that had been passed hastily in November 2016 to ensure easier acquisition of tribal land for infrastructure projects. There will be extensive consultations before amendments to the two laws are made again, the Chief Minister promised. Acquisition of land for projects continues through other laws, but not without protest.

Contentious projects

To find out how land acquisition is being carried out and why it is attracting sustained opposition in the State, Frontline took a close look at two prominent and contentious projects: the National Thermal Power Corporation’s (NTPC) coal mining project in Hazaribag district and Adani Power (Jharkhand) Limited’s (APJL) thermal power project in Godda district.

Jharkhand has India’s most plentiful coal reserves and a large number of new projects—either proposed or under implementation—are directly or indirectly related to coal mining and thermal power. Since many of these projects require significant areas of land, they also end up displacing people and affecting livelihoods and are thus controversial. A closer look reveals that the projects planned by the NTPC, a public sector undertaking (PSU), and AJPL, a special purpose vehicle set up by Adani Power Limited, have courted controversy for similar reasons. Civil society activists and local residents say they are worried not only about the potential displacement; they allege that the government has worked in favour of the companies and has silenced leaders who articulated people’s opposition by foisting “false” legal cases on them and putting them behind bars.

Hazaribag

One afternoon in mid July, dark monsoon clouds brought light showers and strong winds to Jugra village in Hazaribag district. Bhagirati Sao, 65, a small farmer from the village, seemed nonchalant and focussed on digging mud and levelling his farm’s broken boundary. “Someone, most probably the farmer over there with a larger land parcel, might have broken the boundary by driving his tractor over it. But we didn’t want to fight, so we are repairing the boundary ourselves,” Bhagirati’s son Sukhdev told this correspondent to explain why his father was hard at work despite the rain. But Bhagirati or Bhaglu, as he is known locally, had a bigger worry on his mind. He said that in late May, the NTPC began constructing a 10-metre-wide concrete road by taking over some parts of his and a few other farmers’ land without their consent. The concrete road will provide access to the NTPC’s two controversial coal mines located in the vicinity, Pakri Barwadih East and West, for transporting coal.

In protest, Bhagirati joined a hunger strike of local residents for 10 days, but that produced only a temporary halt on the road construction. This is the season for paddy cultivation, and farmers across the State are busy in the fields. Most of those who lost land because of the construction refused monetary compensation to register their protest. This was corroborated by a company official.

The compensation package was recently revised to Rs.20 lakh an acre. Asked why he refused it and preferred to go on working on his relatively small land pockets spread in the village and together constituting some five-odd acres, Bhagirati said: “Three generations of my family have relied on this land. Currently, there are 15 people in my family. They can be fed and the household’s expenses taken care of, to some extent, because of this land and whatever I get out of farming it, apart from working on others’ farms as a daily wager. How can I sustain my family with the money the company wants to pay us? The money will finish in no time, but the land will stay with us.”

There is only one kind of compensation he is ready to consider in exchange for all his multicrop land: he and the other farmers who lose their productive fields are given farmland and resettled in a common village elsewhere. “Land for land and village for village,” he said.

Bhagirati seemed to reflect the dominant opinion among Jugra’s residents, who have been among the most vocal in resisting the NTPC’s coal mine project. The project was planned in 2006, but work started in earnest only in early 2016. The NTPC’s “revised mining plan and mine closure plan” document, prepared in January 2016, envisages mining 18 million tonnes of coal per annum in the Pakri Barwadih block in Hazaribag district.

The project is spread over 4,695 hectares spanning 27 villages in two blocks, involving multiple land types, such as forest land, tenancy land and government land. The actual mining, being rolled out in phases, is restricted to 1,982 hectares, that is, 42 per cent of the total project area.

At present, two mines in the block are operational: Pakri Barwadih East and West. They supply coal to existing thermal power plants of the NTPC. Curiously, the document says that even when full opencast mining resumes, “29 per cent of total project area shall be unutilised due to various reasons such as presence of hills and rationalisation etc”.

The document puts the “cumulative population” of project affected persons (PAPs) at “approximately 8,339”.

In an interview with Frontline, the NTPC’s group general manager, T. Gopalakrishna, said approximately 8,000 households would be affected. Civil society activists such as P.K. Siddharth, president of the Bharatiya Suraaj Dal, and Birendra Kumar, member of Ekta Parishad, said the actual number of affected people was far higher. Both of them have been involved in the legal battle against this project in the Jharkhand High Court. In separate interviews with this correspondent, they said more than 40,000 people might be affected, assuming five members for each of the 8,000 households. The company, conscious of the opposition it faces, has so far attempted to acquire a limited quantum of land. In villages that are not as united in their opposition to the project as Jugra is, some people have accepted compensation packages. However, company officials conceded that only one village had so far fully accepted compensation. Most others have, at best, made mixed responses.

The document says the NTPC will ensure rehabilitation of affected people. “These PAPs shall be relocated at Rehabiliation and Resettlement Colony which shall be constructed near Denga village on the South Eastern part of the block,” the plan says.

A colony was, indeed, established near Barkagaon, but it quickly became controversial for its poor quality. The Chief Minister had to order a third-party quality inspection after village residents complained. The quality of resettlement colony and the sheer number of people likely to be affected by mining is, however, only a minor reason for the project courting controversy.

In October 2016, as protests peaked against the project under the leadership of former Congress Minister Yogendra Sao, tensions simmered in Hazaribag, which is also veteran BJP leader Yashwant Sinha’s former Lok Sabha constituency. It is currently represented by his son, Union Minister Jayant Sinha. So the protests also acquired an overtly political colour.

A protest led by Sao’s wife, Congress MLA Nirmala Devi, witnessed brutal police firing and violence. Four people were killed and over half a dozen were injured in the violence. Both Sao and his wife are now in jail. The police firing curbed subsequent protests but also brought further infamy to the project. The Chief Minister’s attempts to undo some of the damage have not been very effective in terms of winning genuine popular support for the project.

In the absence of a sustained grass-roots political campaign against the project, at present much of the resistance seems to have moved to the courts. One petition was filed with the Jharkhand High Court and another in the National Green Tribunal’s Eastern Zone in Kolkata. P.K. Siddharth and Birendra Kumar’s writ petition in the High Court, filed soon after the firing incident in 2016, has accused the company and the district administration of multiple violations of law, including a) acquisition of forest land through manipulation of records and/or without following the due legal processes, especially consent of the gram sabha; b) acquisition of farmers’ land under the old land acquisition law of 1894, which is incorrect because possession is yet to be taken of the entire land, so the 2013 law on acquisition needs to be applied; and c) violation of the 2013 land acquisition Act by pressuring farmers to accept compensation and the threat of action against them under the Coal Bearing Act on failing to do so.

In their responses, both the district administration and the NTPC strongly refuted these charges. T.S. Gopalakrishna said: “Such inadequate and incorrect information by the petitioners demonstrates their casual approach for getting cheap publicity.”

This provoked a sharp response from the petitioners. The legal battle is far from resolution anytime in the near future. On the ground, the tension and uncertainty among villagers persist. Bhagirati Sao’s son, Sukhdev Sao, stays in Delhi looking after his small cosmetics business when he does not have to be in Jugra. But this time, his visit home seems to be longer than expected. “I don’t know when I will visit Delhi next, for the time being I have to be here, otherwise they may take over our land,” he lamented.

Godda

Among the residents of Motiya and Gangta Gobindpur villages in Godda district, where the APJL’s thermal power project is to come up, there is uncertainty about what will happen as no actual work can be witnessed in their vicinity. As of July, not much work had begun on the project, though green clearances had arrived. But the project is playing on people’s minds.

When this correspondent visited Gangta Gobindpur, a small Adivasi village comprising a couple of hundred families, in mid July, monsoon showers seemed to have taken a reprieve. Families were drying corn in their front yards in the afternoon by carefully spreading individual corn pieces over floors paved with cow dung, which exuded a sharp smell in the sun. The grasslands near the village were bright green, occasionally faint yellow, with cattle feasting hungrily on them. To the untrained eye of an outsider, the landscape appeared idyllic.

But outsiders did not seem welcome, and the idyll might, at best, be transitory. Wariness was writ large on the faces of the residents. Most would avoid a conversation and only hesitantly give directions for specific addresses. Subodh Soren (25) was an exception. When asked for a specific person’s address, he showed the way to reach it. However, when asked about Adani’s thermal power project that villagers believe will displace them and/or take away their land, Soren spoke after some hesitation: “Why are you asking this? Why should we give away our land? We cultivate crops on it through the year and so our livelihoods are dependent upon it.”

Suraj Hembram, a former schoolteacher known locally as Masterji and whose house Soren had shown the way to, was livid: “I don’t know who you are, so I will only speak if you get mukhiya ji here,” he said. The mukhiya ji, or village head, he was referring to is actually the husband of the real village head of both this and a neighbouring village named Motiya. Ram Yadav, who seems to wield most of the powers of the actual village head, has been vocal against the project. He explained why people of Gangta Gobindpur were so wary of outsiders: “That entire village is going to be affected adversely by the project. If you go there now, they will call you Adani’s man. They are very scared. Anyone [who is not from the village] who goes there is not let in.”

In the four other villages where APJL proposes to acquire 917.37 acres of land, reactions to the 1,600 MW thermal power project are mixed. But a significant section of those who may lose land are concerned about their future prospects. According to official documents, the thermal power plant is being built predominantly to supply power to Bangladesh; only 25 per cent of the total power produced may remain for consumption in Jharkhand. APJL signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Jharkhand in February 2016 (for stage I) and October 2016 (for stage II) to set up the plant. In October 2016, it proposed to acquire 2,120.59 acres in 10 villages of Godda. In December 2016, it revised this figure to 1,199.97 acres spread across nine villages. By March 2017, this figure was further reduced to 917.37 acres in six villages.

During those months, the mandatory legal processes concerning land acquisition and environment clearance were getting the project mired in controversy. Specifically, two public hearings that were organised by the district administration saw intense protests. The first was held in December 2016 for seeking public feedback as part of the social impact assessment (SIA) process. The second was held in March 2017 as part of the environment impact assessment process. Both hearings were violent and tense.

A resident of Motiya village said, on condition of anonymity: “Landowners opposed to the project were not permitted to attend the public hearing. Instead, a large number of outsiders filled the space as the hearing was conducted. Yellow and green coloured cards [parchas] were distributed and entry inside the venue was regulated.”

Such claims are aired liberally in the two villages where hearings were held. Motiya was one of them. These claims, though not confirmed, were serious enough for the State government to announce a three-member team to investigate them. The team’s findings, if they have been filed, have not been made public yet. This is partly the reason why those opposing the project do not believe the claims made in the SIA report. It said two specific things: a) no homestead land is being acquired, so there is no physical displacement of any landowners and b) 841 families and 5,339 people will be adversely affected by the project by way of loss of livelihood options. The report has suggested monetary compensation to make up for this loss. Interestingly, the report claims 85 per cent of those assembled at the public hearing gave their consent to the project.

The previously quoted resident of Motiya, who is also a member of the Bhumi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, a front opposing the project, said: “It is possible that about 60 per cent of the people gave their consent by March in the second public hearing. But this SIA report is completely unbelievable.” He claimed lack of any conclusive action against those responsible for the botched up December hearing led to more resentment among people. “We said that the process of land acquisition should be immediately stopped until the committee gives its report, but that has not happened,” he said.

The March 2017 hearing saw strident protests, stone pelting and police caning of protesters. The officially recorded minutes of the meeting, though, mention none of this. They record dissent in one single sentence on the last page: “Some villagers present in the public hearing were also shouting slogans not to provide the land to support the project.”

A month after this hearing, in April, Pradip Yadav, Member of the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly from Poraiyahat and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) leader, started an indefinite hunger strike against the project. A week into his protest, he was arrested. It was alleged that he had provoked violence at the public hearing in March. The MLA’s supporters, like Motiya resident Lakshman Yadav, alleged that the police filed a false case against the MLA because his protest was effective. He continues to be in jail.

In this context, the Chief Minister’s optimistic pronouncements at the investment conference ring hollow. At one point in the inaugural speech, he said: “Our State animal elephant is flying. This is not an unusual flight. It is the matter of transforming unfavourable conditions into opportunities. This is the flight of our dreams. This is the flight of the dreams of 3.25 crore people [of Jharkhand]. Our flying elephant has got wings and they are green. Green symbolises relentless efforts for progress while conserving nature. Its blue ears symbolise peace and security of the state. The elephant’s red colour reflects our passion for all round progress, it shows a revolution in which everybody’s dreams have got wings.”

Development Issues

Private interests & public resistance

THE economic reforms that started in India in the 1990s have created a growing demand for land in anticipation of gains through land transactions. This speculative nature of the land market overwhelms the demand for land in the recent period, which is intertwined with the increasing demand for land for non-agricultural purposes—for infrastructure, industrial expansion, mass housing projects, resource extraction, and so on. The tendency to acquire more land than needed for industrial projects to be set up by private entities shows how land is being commoditised. Yet, the growing demand for land cannot be met by the simple working of the price system as the maximum price that the prospective buyer is willing to pay typically falls far short of the minimum price that the seller is willing to accept. Furthermore, the overwhelming presence of smallholders in rural areas makes the transaction costs high for the buyer who wants a large chunk of land. The “friction” of this kind in the land market has ostensibly given rise to the state’s intervention in the form of direct acquisition of land from the smallholders in the name of “public purpose”, even though the real purpose often transcends the meaning of the word “public”. The definition of public purpose has been stretched to include any economic activity irrespective of whether it will be conducted by a public agency or a private entity.

Land acquisition by the state and its redistribution in favour of private capital with the ostensible objective of industrialisation, resource extraction and material development, which has been characterised by scholars as “accumulation by dispossession”, triggered protests and resistance, and eventually the state was forced to balance the small-holders’ interests with the requirements of land for public purposes by enacting in 2013 the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (Land Act, for short). However, the notion of “fair compensation” can hardly be settled as there seems to be a perennial conflict between the economists’ justification of land acquisition in terms of macro level efficiency of transferring land from agriculture to high-value uses and the micro level rationality of small-holders to hold on to their small pieces of land in the absence of better exit options.

This recent scenario around the issue of land acquisition by the state comes in sharp contrast to the earlier scenario where the state was expected to redistribute land in favour of the landless, the formal expression of which was the series of Land Reforms Acts passed in the 1950s and the 1960s. One should also note in this context that the redistribution of ceiling surplus land in favour of the landless was only one of the several components of the land reforms agenda, and one of the least accomplished as well. The recent turnaround in the role of the state from one that would push progressive redistribution in favour of the landless (at least in terms of intentions if not in deed) to one that would redistribute in favour of big private capital seems to be the most crucial political economy issue in contemporary India. As the land issue frequently overwhelms the popular discourse because of the development-dispossession dynamic, it is hard to step back from the rough and tumble of the short run and take a hard look at the larger picture of how land fits into the contemporary Indian political economy. In this context, one might refer to the much-discussed phenomenon of global “land grab” in the contemporary world, particularly in some African and Latin American countries. However, the major difference between the contemporary reality of land dispossession in India and these countries is that it is domestic capital rather than foreign capital that is responsible for large-scale expropriation of land from the peasants.

Public policy outcomes can largely be explained in terms of the choices resulting from conflicts among competing interests that take place within political institutions. Politics over land can therefore be seen as a distributional struggle between various classes, with the state and other institutions heavily influencing the outcome of the struggle. There is considerable pressure to transform land into a commodity to be bought and sold in the market for non-agricultural purposes. The motivation behind this dramatic turnaround in how land is used is driven by India’s contemporary economic development concerns, such as industrialisation, development of infrastructure and special economic zones (SEZs), and real estate expansion. This is not inconsistent with capitalist development thus far and the possibility of even greater capital accumulation over the longer term. What is fundamentally different now is that land no longer acts as the source of economic surplus nor is there any motivation on the part of the state to make agriculture dynamic in the capitalist sense. On the contrary, acquisition of land today is entirely directed at non-agricultural development. For example, in the well-known Singur case, the State government acquired land on behalf of a business group to set up an automobile factory. The conversion of agricultural land or dispossession of Adivasis for various industrial and infrastructural projects is not new in India. What has changed is the role of the state in securing land by way of “eminent domain” or using the “public purpose” argument, in some instances coercively, less for itself and more on behalf of business.

Accumulation sans dynamic agriculture

As a source of providing livelihood for a large number of people in rural India, the importance of land has been declining, even though its importance has been increasing as a form of asset that is mainly perceived as a store of value rather than one that yields a regular flow of income. The 70th round of the National Sample Survey (NSS) reveals that an average agricultural household earns less than Rs.6,500 a month from all sources, and for a large number of such households the reported net income from agriculture is negative. Clearly, agricultural land can hardly be seen as a source of economic surplus, which is partly because of the fact that subdivision and fragmentation of land have made a typical holding rather small and therefore unviable as a production unit. More importantly, the failure of the state to make the sector dynamic with a good dose of public investment has further exacerbated the declining potential of agricultural land as producer of economic surplus.

NSS data further show that the average area owned per rural household has declined from 0.725 hectare in 2002-03 to 0.592 hectare in 2012-13, and about 83 per cent of rural households own less than one hectare each. While the percentage of total area owned by large landowners has declined, that by marginal owners has increased. This does not mean that the average size of land owned by the marginal category has increased, since the percentage of households in this category has also increased. What is to be noticed is that the distribution of land is still very unequal as the top 7 per cent of the rural households own close to 46 per cent of land area and the top 2 per cent of households own 24 per cent.

Land is unequally distributed and is becoming fragmented , which suggests differential rates of growth across classes and pronounced social differentiation in the countryside. In India, neither the peasantry has completely disappeared nor has a large industrial proletariat appeared despite a fair degree of structural transformation through non-agricultural development. This raises questions about the inevitability of capitalist transition of the kind that is believed to characterise the Western experience. The land question in India today is less about transition (from pre-capitalist to capitalist mode of production) and more about the conflicts and the political economy of the differential benefits of circulation of land, often through involuntary exchange.

Land acquisition, violence and ‘double movement’

The colonial government enacted the Land Acquisition Act in 1894 and invoked the “eminent domain” argument to acquire land for many government projects—railways and irrigation in particular. The continued use of this proviso even in independent India was justified on the grounds that land was needed for public sector projects ranging from infrastructure to large capital goods industries. Constitutional amendments repealed the provisions relating to property rights so that those provisions no longer acted as hindrances to the acquisition process. Two amendments passed in 1962 and 1984 to the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 specified the procedure for land acquisition for private companies, and as a consequence, instances of the state resorting to “eminent domain” to acquire land on behalf of the private sector have been more frequent than earlier. Ironically, even the stipulations made in the 1984 amendment, which allowed the state to acquire land for private entities, have been violated.

A series of audit reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on land acquisition in a number of States in India provides a comprehensive account of acquisition of land over the first decade of this century. Odisha, for example, had acquired 29,769 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) of private land until 2012. Nearly half of this land—14,297 acres for 33 companies—was acquired under the section governing land acquisition for “public purpose”. This violated the law because land for private companies must be acquired under Part VII of the Land Acquisition Act, which was introduced in 1984. Part VII lays down rules for land acquisition for non-government companies and mandates that the government acquire land for private companies only after the company fails to buy land directly from farmers. The company must also sign an agreement not to use the land for any other purpose without the government’s approval. The agreement allows the government to take back the land in cases of misuse, non-use or partial use. An agriculture officer is consulted before acquisition of agricultural land, which can be done only if non-agricultural land is not found suitable for the project. All these mandates were violated by acquiring land under the wrong section. This clearly indicates the growing influence of Indian big business on state policies and a shift in the state-capital relationship.

Almost as an antithesis to this recent trend, resentment against the process of acquisition and against the use of the justification of “public purpose” has also grown over the years, with millions of people awaiting proper resettlement and rehabilitation. With the violence in Nandigram and Singur in West Bengal and the relocation of the proposed automobile factory to Gujarat by Tata, an intense public debate started in India in 2007. The acquisition of land and compensation and rehabilitation became the central issues in the debate. Article 246(3) of the Constitution of India assigns exclusive power to State legislatures to make laws relating to subjects in the State List, in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. Item 17 of this list relates to land, which gives State legislatures the exclusive power to legislate on matters relating to land. However, Article 249 empowers Parliament to legislate even on matters in the State List if not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting in the Rajya Sabha pass a resolution declaring that such legislation is necessary or expedient in the national interest.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government managed to pass the Land Act on September 27, 2013, under this proviso. The ostensible aim of the Land Act was to block the increasing trend of invocation of eminent domain to acquire land forcibly to serve the myriad private business interests, including mining and real estate. The Act provides for compensation of up to four times the market value of the acquired land. It requires the consent of 70 per cent of the landowners whose land is to be acquired in the case of public-private partnership (PPP) projects and 80 per cent in the case of private sector projects. Compulsory social impact assessment by independent experts and local government representatives was made compulsory.

NDA’s dilution attempt

With the passing of this Act as well as others which had a clear pro-poor tilt, UPA leaders had hoped that it would help them regain popularity. But contrary to their expectations, the UPA failed to come back to power as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won with a thumping majority in May 2014. Soon after, the new government proposed 19 amendments to the Land Act. These amendments could significantly dilute the provisions of the new law, which were meant to protect the interests of the land losers. An amendment sought to eliminate the consent requirement for private or PPP projects in the case of defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure. Another sought to exempt the same five classes of projects from social impact assessment.

However, the Bill to make these amendments could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha, where the Bharatiya Janata Party government could not muster the required two-thirds majority. It was argued that the proposed amendments were required to unblock a large number of stalled infrastructure projects and revive the investment climate.

However, on close scrutiny it turns out that the Land Act has little to do with stalled projects, especially in the private sector. In its analysis of stalled projects, the Economic Survey 2015 did not even cite land acquisition as a factor for private sector projects. The major factors accounting for stalled projects were identified as unfavourable market conditions, lack of funds, raw material and fuel supply bottlenecks or loss of promoter interest.

This entire episode of forcible acquisition, violence and resistance movements culminating in a partially accommodating state reminds us of the well-known social thinker Karl Polanyi’s concept of “double movement”, which he used to analyse the late 19th and early 20th century England where complete proletarianisation of the working class was followed by workers’ struggle and unionisation. This in turn led to institutionalisation of social security by an accommodating state. To what extent the state will be forced to accommodate demands from below depends on a variety of factors, including the role of political institutions.

Achin Chakraborty is Director, Institute of Development Studies Kolkata.

Land Acquisition: Telangana & Andhra Pradesh

An Act undone

KUNAL SHANKAR the-nation

ON April 30 this year, Telangana undid one of India’s landmark pieces of legislation in less than half a day. In a rare joint session of the Assembly and the Legislative Council convened hurriedly on a Sunday, Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao rose to object to the fundamental provisions of The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act, 2013, or simply Act number 30 of 2013, enacted by Parliament after almost a decade’s deliberations on the need for a new law to regulate government takeover of private property for public purpose.

Until then, government acquisition of land was governed by the colonial era Land Acquisition Act, 1894. This Act gave the government sweeping powers to take over lands without providing explanations to private owners, fix prices arbitrarily, and evict occupants forcefully if required based on the principle of eminent domain.

Since coming to power in mid 2014, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which heads the government in India’s youngest State, has faced stiff opposition from mainstream parties and civil society groups alike to its ambitious irrigation and industrial projects.

It began on July 30, 2015, when the government issued an order to take over agricultural lands for an expansive “industrial park” in the Chief Minister’s home district of Medak. According to this, a National Investment and Manufacturing Zone (NIMZ) was to come up on 1,000 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) of assigned lands—small plots earmarked for landless Dalits and Adivasis—and another 500 acres of farms. The cryptic Government Order, now infamously referred to as GO 123, set up “Procurement Agencies” to buy “lands for public purposes from willing landowners”. GO 123 also created District Level Land Procurement Committees, with the District Collector as chairman, and the Joint Collector, a Revenue Divisional Officer, an Executive Engineer from the Roads and Buildings Department, the District Registrar and “a representative from the Procuring Agency” as members. This was used to circumvent the LARR Act as officials complained that the process had become loud, cumbersome and long-drawn-out.

A year later, Justice Suresh Kumar Kait of the Hyderabad High Court struck down the order as “arbitrary, unconstitutional and illegal”. In his well-reasoned order on August 3 last year, Justice Kait argued that GO 123 had not taken into account several issues, ranging from paying a premium on the revised market value of the land to the question of a fair rehabilitation and resettlement of the villagers concerned in a democratic and participatory manner, which also allowed for monthly compensations for loss of livelihood for agricultural workers, artisans and other communities dependent on those lands.

The government challenged this almost immediately and proposed several measures. The proposals included a monthly compensation of Rs.3,000 per Dalit family for 20 years, which would increase on the basis of the consumer price index, or a one-time settlement of Rs.5 lakh. The government also proposed a combined resettlement and transport cost of Rs.1 lakh for every displaced family.

The bedrock of the 2013 Central law is the social impact assessment to elicit how best the community that would be displaced could be reaccommodated through a participatory mechanism of meetings at the panchayat level. The LARR Act also envisaged one job for every displaced landless family and one acre for every landed family at the new project site. These provisions have now been dropped from the State law.

The High Court, in its August 16 order, disallowed eviction of owners until a “compliance report” was filed by the government on the measures proposed by it but allowed it to register the sale deeds of lands taken over under GO 123.

But subsequently, the government complained that almost all its projects had come to a standstill. These included the ambitious Kaleshwaram irrigation scheme, which envisages 18 new reservoirs dotting Telangana from its north to the south drawing water from the Pranahita river, a tributary of the Godavari. Bureaucrats said contractors backed out from projects despite the High Court’s order.

The dubious ways used by the government to force villagers to sell farmlands have been well documented (“A fight for their land”, Frontline, September 2, 2016). GO 123 is in English, making it beyond comprehension for most villagers. The order stated that owners would forsake the right for a higher compensation in any court of law. This made the sale under GO 123 final, with a one-time settlement towards land value, rehabilitation and the “perceived loss of livelihood”. In effect, the very purpose of Act 30 of 2013 was undone through GO 123.

The government’s patience grew thin following widespread protests led by mainstream parties with support from the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC). The TJAC is led by the respected and popular retired political science professor of Osmania University M. Kodandaram. It was the fulcrum for the last phase of the separate Statehood movement, culminating in the formation of Telangana in 2014.

Mainstream parties have almost been reduced to nought in the Assembly and the Legislative Council because of steady poaching by the ruling party. With 63 seats, the TRS had a wafer-thin majority in the 119-seat Assembly on June 2, 2014. Today, it has well over 90 seats, after heavyweights from the opposition were offered key Cabinet berths. Speaker S. Madhusudhan Chary of the TRS, who has the sole prerogative as per law to dismiss a legislator who has shifted allegiance, has not acted against any of the defectors.

On May 17, Telangana notified the amended land acquisition Act following presidential assent. The amendments exempt virtually all categories of land acquired for public purpose from the Second and Third Parts of the 2013 Act. Part Three disallows acquisition of multicropped farmland, except for exemplary “emergency” purposes, in order to safeguard food security. The amendments also enable the District Collector to effect a sale deed with the “consent of the interested person without making an enquiry”. In other words, without the deliberations as laid out under the social impact assessment (Part Two) clause of the 2013 Act, the amendments allow the government to provide for a one-time settlement “in lieu of rehabilitation and resettlement”.

The presidential assent, however, came after months, with the Union Law Ministry suggesting the vital change of making the law applicable retrospectively to insulate the government from any further legal wrangles. The amendments have been effected retrospectively from January 1, 2014, the day the Central Act became executable following the framing of rules. Telangana framed rules in mid July giving teeth to the amendments.

Chandrasekhar Rao has also reneged on his promise to close down opencast coal mines, which he made during the campaign for a separate State. They dot northern Telangana’s tribal and forest belt in the Singareni Collieries region. Instead, 20 new opencast and 11 underground mines have been proposed citing exponentially rising power needs. Villagers have been demanding that mines be dug underground entirely if there is such a dire need, as a lot of the land is fertile and the existing opencast mines have led to disastrous health consequences, apart from poisoning surrounding farmlands. But the government has argued that the coal in Khammam and Adilabad districts are half a kilometre below ground, making it infeasible to dig underground tunnels. Besides, it says, the cost of underground mines is prohibitive.

Andhra Pradesh experience

Telangana’s amendments come after Gujarat’s and Andhra Pradesh’s, which have undermined the LARR Act. Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) eagerly canvassed for Ramnath Kovind’s victory in the presidential election hoping that its unflinching support for ally Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate would pay off with an assent for the new law passed by the Assembly on March 28 this year.

Andhra Pradesh’s amendments almost mirror those of Telangana except for the provision of a payment “equal to 50 per cent of the compensation” for acquired lands as “lump sum compensation” to each affected family towards rehabilitation and resettlement. In other words, rehabilitation and resettlement would be limited to a single monetary compensation equal to half of the value of the land being acquired. There would be no other relief such as mandatory employment for affected families, transport allowance, location of suitable sites for alternative housing and creation of commensurate public infrastructure that would be wiped out in the process of land acquisition.

The Andhra Pradesh government has exempted “industrial corridors” and “infrastructure projects, including those in public-private partnership, but where the land vests with the State government” from the social impact assessment and food security clauses of the Central Act. It also exempts all such acquisition from land registration charges. The only redeeming feature of Andhra Pradesh’s amendments is making offences under this Act cognisable under the country’s criminal statutes.

Land Pooling Scheme for Amaravati

Chandrababu Naidu has been arguably the most innovative of Chief Ministers when it comes to circumventing the LARR Act. The Land Pooling Scheme he initiated for the construction of Andhra Pradesh’s new capital, Amaravati, attempts to mirror some aspects of the 2013 Central law, such as land for every acre of farmland acquired and rehabilitation of affected families within the capital region, but there has been no single payout based on the market rate plus markup value for the lands under consideration.

Indeed, there has also been no social impact assessment or considerations of food security. The 217 square km of lands acquired for Amaravati lie along the banks of the Krishna and are among the most fertile across India. They are home to multicrop farms with two or three harvests a year, supplying agro-based produce for both domestic and international markets, and employing millions in the Krishna and Guntur districts of Andhra Pradesh ( “Capital punishment”, Frontline, September 4, 2015).

Over and above these lands, the Andhra Pradesh government has sought diversion of another 12,444 hectares of forests, that is about 125 sq km for “Capital City Infrastructure Projects”, according to its April 2015 proposal to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Denotification of forest lands requires approval from the Central government following the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. But none of these proposals seems to suggest that it is essential for any “national security/defence” related purposes.

A June 30, 2017, report in Economic & Political Weekly on Andhra Pradesh’s proposal lists one of the several land uses as a biodiversity park. The proposal has various other parks too. “In close to 40% of the forest that has been requested, the State government wants to come up with a Cultural & Creative Industrial Park in one block and a Cultural theme park in another; Heritage, Adventure Eco Theme Park and Institution; Aerospace & Green Mobility Industrial Park; Integrated Cut Flower & Spice Park; and Integrated Infrastructure Park.”

There are several other massive land acquisition plans under way in Andhra Pradesh. Leading them is the half-a-century-old Polavaram irrigation scheme on the Godavari river, located on the border of Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, which was designated a national project in 2014 following the State’s bifurcation and is now entirely funded by New Delhi. A January 22, 2017, report in The Economic Times quotes sources in the Polavaram Project Authority as admitting that nearly two lakh people, that is, 51,047 families in 216 villages living in the proposed area, would be displaced. Andhra Pradesh’s amendments to the LARR Act make it possible to do the bare minimum—a one-time compensation for generations of affected families.

One of the main enablers of legalised land grab has, however, been the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act, 2005. Enacted by Parliament much before the protests against the scrapped Tata Motors small car plant in Singur, West Bengal, began, the SEZ Act was intended to create industrial infrastructure, boost exports and provide employment as the state steadily shifted to private-capital-driven economic solutions. Successive Congress and TDP governments in Andhra Pradesh enabled a corporate land grab arguably unmatched elsewhere in the country.

In replies filed at the Supreme Court by the Union Ministry of Commerce in March this year on a petition filed by a group of farmers displaced because of SEZs in 2016, the Central government said that Andhra Pradesh had 24 notified SEZs with a total land bank of 9,308 hectares, that is 93 sq km, as of January 31, 2017. Out of this, 3,324 hectares (33 sq km), that is, over one-third of the land, lies in “non-operational” SEZs. To put this in perspective, the proposed new Andhra Pradesh capital has been planned to expand over 217 sq km. In other words, the SEZ land bank of Andhra Pradesh constitutes nearly half of what is required to build a new capital. And yet, only one SEZ of 20 hectares located in Visakhapatnam district was denotified between 2014 and 2016. All the others lie in private hands, while the government cries foul over lack of land for “urban infrastructure projects”. The situation is not any different in Telangana. There is a total of 2,054 hectares (20 sq km) of land in SEZs in the State, out of which 621 hectares (6.2 sq km) are located in “non-operational” ones. Chandrasekhar Rao has said he intends to “take back this land for other development projects”.

Bangladesh

Judiciary vs parliament

HAROON HABIB world-affairs

The Supreme Court of Bangladesh recently scrapped a constitutional amendment that gave the country’s Parliament the power to remove Supreme Court judges for incompetence or misconduct. Many welcomed the apex court’s verdict as one that restored the independence of the judiciary, while others pointed to the embarrassment it had caused the legislature, which passed the amendment unanimously in 2014 and in effect restored Bangladesh’s original Constitution of 1972.

A seven-member full bench of the Appellate Division led by Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha pronounced the verdict on July 3, after hearing the government’s appeal for 11 days. The views of as many as 12 amici curiae were sought—nine opposed the amendment, two did not turn up, and one supported the amendment.

Manzill Murshid, the lawyer for the public interest litigation (PIL) writ petition filed by nine Supreme Court lawyers against the 16th amendment, termed the verdict “a landmark for the establishment of the independence of the judiciary”. Attorney General Mahbebey Alam expressed his dismay at the verdict, while the country’s Law Minister Anisul Huq said that the government would decide the next course of action after getting the copy of the judgment.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the main opposition now outside Parliament, and lawyers supporting it welcomed the judgment by distributing sweets. The BNP’s Joint Secretary General, Mahbub Uddin Khokon, also the secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Association, alleged that the 16th amendment had been enacted by the Sheikh Hasina government to establish “political control” over Supreme Court judges.

In May 2016, the High Court had ruled that the 16th amendment was “illegal and unconstitutional”, as it went against the principles of the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. The amendment, in effect, abolished the Chief Justice-led Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) which had the power to remove a Supreme Court judge after following due process and vested that power in Parliament as in the original Constitution of 1972.

Article 70

The arguments during the hearing of the appeal and the High Court’s observation made it clear that Article 70 of the Bangladesh Constitution, which prevents MPs from working independently, largely contributed to the amendment illegal being declared illegal. “Keeping Article 70 of Bangladesh Constitution as it is, the members of parliament must toe the party line in case of removal of any judge of the Supreme Court. Consequently, the judge will be left at the mercy of the party high command,” read the High Court verdict delivered by Justice Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque.

The judges continued: “As regards Article 70 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, we must say that this Article has fettered the members of parliament. It has imposed a tight rein on them. Members of parliament cannot go against their party line or position on any issue in the parliament…. They have no freedom to question their party’s stance in parliament, even if it is incorrect. They cannot vote against their party’s decision…. They are, indeed, hostages in the hands of their party high command.”

Article 70 of the Constitution says: “A person elected as a member of parliament at an election at which he was nominated as a candidate by a political party shall vacate his seat if he resigns from that party; or votes in parliament against that party; but shall not thereby be disqualified for subsequent election as a member of parliament.”

The government of Bangladesh tried to defend Article 70 saying that the provision itself had come into being amid allegations of “horse-trading” reported in different countries.

History of scrapped amendments

This is the fifth verdict of the apex court in which it has scrapped amendments to the Constitution. The other scrapped amendments include the fifth amendment relating to martial law regime in 1975-1979, the seventh amendment relating to the martial law regime of the deposed dictator General H.M. Ershad, the eighth amendment relating to the establishment of High Court benches in different divisions and the 13th amendment relating to the introduction of a national election-time caretaker government.

Bangladesh’s original Constitution of 1972 empowered Parliament to remove Supreme Court judges. But the fourth amendment to the Constitution in 1975 scrapped Parliament’s power and empowered the President to do so. Later, in 1978, the military dictator General Ziaur Rahman curtailed the President’s power and introduced the SJC comprising the Chief Justice and two senior-most judges. It was ratified and validated by the fifth amendment to the Constitution in 1979 when Ziaur Rahman was President.

Now that the amendment has been scrapped, the question is whether the previous system of the Chief Justice-led SJC will automatically be reinstated, thus restoring authority to the SJC.

According to Attorney General Mahbubey Alam, the judgment resulted in “a vacuum”. The SJC cannot be automatically restored by the court, he maintained. However, the senior lawyer M. Amir-Ul Islam, one of those involved in the framing of the Constitution, said that the SJC would automatically be restored following the cancellation of the amendment.

Separation of the judiciary is one of the fundamental principles of state policy and the independence of the judiciary is one of the basic tenets of the original Constitution of Bangladesh. Considered a result of the Liberation War, Article 22 of the Constitution says: “The state shall ensure the separation of the judiciary from the executive organs of the state.” On the contrary, the independence of the judiciary has been undermined on several occasions through constitutional amendments enacted during the two martial law regimes under General Ziaur Rahman and General H.M. Ershad. The judiciary was officially separated from the executive branch of the government only in 2007, following a Supreme Court verdict.

Most civil society leaders welcomed the Supreme Court’s verdict, saying it had “finally reinstated” the fundamental scheme of the Constitution that keeps the power between organs of the state separate. They were of the view that the removal of the 16th amendment would uphold the original character of the Constitution by ensuring a judiciary that would work in unison with the executive but at the same time be independent of it.

Senior Ministers and MPs from both the Treasury and opposition benches were critical of the verdict. Taking part in a parliamentary debate on the issue, the MPs urged the government to take a realistic decision on the issue and hoped that the Supreme Court would restore the 16th amendment once the government filed a review petition against the verdict.

Many of the MPs termed the verdict “unexpected” and said the Supreme Court had to prove how MPs had “challenged the basic structure” of the Constitution by passing the amendment. Their argument was, if Parliament had the power to impeach the President of the republic, the Speaker and the Prime Minister, then why could it not impeach Supreme Court judges for misconduct or incapacity? They also voiced concerns about the SJC system and asked how subordinate judges could try allegations brought against the Chief Justice, or how Supreme Court judges could judge their own misbehaviour and irregularities.

Citing examples, the veteran politician and senior Minister Matia Chowdhury said a judge had circulated leaflets urging a halt to the nation’s war crimes trial but the SJC did not deem it improper behaviour. Another judge had forged his LLB certificate, but the SJC saw no irregularities.

Some leading members of the ruling Awami League and its alliance partners, including the Workers Party and the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, alleged that there were forces trying to create “a conflict” between Parliament and the judiciary. Many MPs saw the Appellate Division verdict as “motivated” and “part of a conspiracy”.

Bangladesh is scheduled to have general elections in the next one-and-a-half years, and the Sheikh Hasina government may not want a conflict with the judiciary at this stage. But the questions raised by leading MPs will continue to be debated, in Parliament and outside it.

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Oct 9,2020