New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

29 September, 2015

Nepal ties under strain

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Ten mnths ago, visiting Nepal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed more than 10 bilateral agreements, demonstrating his government’s readiness to go the extra mile for this small neighbour. Alluding to the efforts to frame a new Constitution, he warned that if the statute failed to reflect the aspirations of all communities, including Madhesis, Pahadis and Maoists, Nepal could face difficulties.

Nepal is facing those difficulties now.

On September 20, President Ram Baran Yadav promulgated the new Constitution, rejecting India’s plea to postpone it to provide time to make it acceptable to the largest number of people.

Madheshis, Tharus and Janjatis living in the Teria region, who have close ties with the people of the bordering Indian state of Bihar, were up in arms even before the Constitution was promulgated. They say it denies them a legitimate share in the political system. About 50 persons have died in the violence and repression in the region so far.

Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, who visited Nepal as Modi’s special envoy, conveyed India’s concern to leaders of all parties. He argued that the Constitution was not acceptable to nearly 40 per cent of the population and it should not be introduced while there was widespread unrest.

Nepal took up the task of making a republican constitution following abolition of the monarchy in 2008. As the fractious constituent assembly could not complete the task in the allotted time it was dissolved and a new one elected. Acute differences among the parties hampered its working too.

Early this month, the mainstream parties agreed on a Constitution which proclaims Nepal a secular democracy.

Many Nepalese leaders told Jaishankar they were aware that the document was imperfect but they wanted to move forward, and were ready to make suitable amendments later on.

Officially, India’s objections to the new Constitution are based on the discontent among the Madhesis and others who have familial links with India. The Modi administration’s hostile position may also be related to unhappiness over Nepal becoming a secular republic.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the fountainhead of the Hindutva ideology of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, has long been of the view that India is a Hindu nation. Its top leaders have publicly demanded scrapping of the reference to secularism in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution.

Nepal is the only other Hindu-majority country in the world, and the RSS views its endorsement of the secular ideal as an act of betrayal.

Nepal, with a population of 27 million, is a land-locked country. It has borders with India on three sides and with China on the fourth. It gets most of its requirements of essential supplies from or through India. It relies exclusively on the state-owned Indian Oil Corporation for petroleum products.

The violent agitation in areas close to the Indian borders has brought vehicular traffic between the two countries to a halt. Hundreds of trucks carrying supplies to Nepal are reportedly stranded at Indian border checkposts.

Nepalese media allege that India has imposed an unofficial blockade to force the country to accept its demand. The Indian government refutes the suggestion and claims the goods movement has stopped because of the violence on the Nepalese side.

It is in India’s interest to delink the issue of goods movement from the political problem. Some elements in the Madhesi community may want to hold up movement of goods as a strategy to put pressure on Nepal’s mainstream parties to pay attention to their grievance. India should not play into their hands.

There are reports that the Nepalese authorities are turning to China to tide over the difficulties arising from the tense situation in the areas close to the Indian border.

“Nepal has never bowed down to anyone and will not bow down even now,” Deputy Prime Minister Bamdev Gautam told an Indian newspaper. “We will establish contact with China through land and with other countries through air to get essential supplies.”

Nepal has urged China to restore immediately the road links which were snapped by a devastating earthquake earlier this year.

Meanwhile a chink has appeared in the solid phalanx the mainstream parties presented so far with former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, who is supportive of Madhesi sentiments, quitting the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and resigning from Parliament, amid speculation of an Indian hand in the development.

As the Indian government has pointed out, the problem Nepal faces is a political one. Essentially, it is an internal problem of Nepal, and its political system must be able to resolve the outstanding issues without meddling by powerful neighbours. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 29, 2015.

22 September, 2015

A legend that will live for ever

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With West Bengal’s Trinamool Congress government declassifying files relating to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the charismatic freedom-fighter who reportedly died in an air crash at Taihoku in Taiwan at the end of World War II, the Centre has come under pressure to reveal the information in its possession about him.

Successive Central governments, including the present one, have refused to publish documents relating to Bose on the ground that it may adversely affect relations with foreign countries.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has offered to meet members of Bose’s family and persons engaged in research on his life next month. His office has asked them to intimate in advance what kind of information they are seeking.

Bose’s family and ardent followers have all along refused to believe that he died in the accident. They are of the view that the accident report was concocted to facilitate his escape. If caught, he was sure to be arraigned before the war crimes tribunal along with the Japanese leaders.

Subhas Chandra Bose lived a life full of stuff that legends are made of. After qualifying to become a member of the coveted Indian Civil Service he refused to serve the colonial regime and joined the freedom movement. Elected President of the Indian National Congress in 1938, he won a second term against Gandhi’s wishes.

While under house arrest in Kolkata, he slipped out in disguise and travelled to Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, hoping to challenge the British militarily with foreign help. Rejected by the Soviet Union, he went to Germany. From there he reached Japan after a perilous submarine journey.

He took charge of the Indian National Army, which comprised officers and men of the British Indian Army whom the Japanese had taken prisoner, and expanded it by recruiting Indian expatriates, who hailed him as Netaji (leader).

Heeding his Dilli Chalo (Onward to Delhi) call, the INA marched to the border state of Manipur and laid siege to its capital, Imphal. A turn in the tide of war forced the Japanese and the INA to retreat.

Though the military campaign ended disastrously, Netaji had an opportunity to set foot on free Indian soil. As head of the Azad Hind (Free India) government, he had flown to the Bay of Bengal islands of Andaman and Nicobar, which the British abandoned during the war, and renamed them Shaheed and Swaraj.

After the war, the British arraigned three Indian army officers who had switched loyalty to the INA before a military court. The Congress engaged a team of lawyers to defend them. Massive protests against the trial raged across the country.

The military court found all three officers guilty and sentenced them to death. However, the British Commander-in-Chief commuted the sentence to cashiering.

The spontaneous manifestation of public support to the INA officers and the small mutinies that broke out in the three wings of the military convinced the British that they could not hold on to the Indian colony much longer. They made a policy shift: from ‘divide and rule’ to ‘divide and quit’.

A British military officer, John Figgess, who investigated the Taihoku crash in 1946, concluded that Bose was in the plane and had died of burns in a hospital after it crashed. The body was cremated and the ashes taken to Tokyo, he said.

As reports that Netaji had been seen at various places surfaced from time to time, the Indian government ordered inquiries in 1956, 1970 and 1999 to unravel the mystery.

Shah Nawaz Khan, one of the three INA officers who had faced court martial, headed the first inquiry. He and another member of the inquiry committee upheld the air crash story, but Netaji’s brother, Suresh Chandra Bose, who was the third member, dissented.

G.D. Khosla, a former high court chief justice, who conducted the second inquiry, too, endorsed the air crash story. He said the motives of those who propagated alternative theories were not altruistic.

The third inquiry was by MK Mukherjee, a retired Supreme Court judge. He said the evidence of those who supported the air crash theory was not reliable. The ashes kept in Tokyo were a Japanese soldier’s, not Bose’s, he added.

The Bengal government papers have not settled the controversy. In all probability, doubts will persist even after all pertinent facts are in the public domain.

Legends like Subhas Chandra Bose are rare in the history of any nation. Such legends live for ever. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 22, 2015.

15 September, 2015

Modi in campaign mode

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With Bihar, the second most populous state, going to the polls to elect a new Assembly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in campaign mode again.

Under the rules laid down for ensuring that the elections are free and fair, once the poll dates are finalised the Central and State governments cannot take any policy decisions which may influence the voters’ choice. Modi, therefore, flew to the state before the Election Commission announced the poll schedule and offered the state a bonanza of Rs 1,250 billion in the form of a special development package.

The state government had been asking for a special package, but when it came Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said Modi had merely repackaged development projects which had been announced earlier. Some of them were already under implementation for as long as six years while some others, like a new airport for the state capital, Patna, were yet to take off, he added.

He also pointed out that the package meant nothing as it lacks budgetary support.

The Bihar elections are important for Modi personally since Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), which was a constituent of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, had broken away from it in protest against the party’s decision to name him its prime ministerial candidate.

Modi devoted special attention to the state in his tempestuous Lok Sabha campaign and the NDA earned a rich reward. The BJP got 22 out of the state’s 40 seats and its allies, Lok Janshakti Party and Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, picked up six seats and three seats respectively. The JD(U) got only two seats.

Following the debacle, Nitish Kumar resigned and installed Jiten Ram Manjhi as the chief minister. After a while he ousted Manjhi and became the chief minister again. Manjhi then floated his own party, Hindustani Awam Morcha, which the NDA happily accommodated as an ally.

The JD(U) has forged a Grand Alliance with former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress. The attempt to bring former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party into the alliance failed as he was not satisfied with the seats offered to the party.

According to early opinion polls, the NDA has a slight edge over the rival alliance at the moment. The final lineup of candidates was not known and the campaign was yet to pick up when the survey was conducted. The fight is still open. Nitish Kumar wants to come back to power.

In all the Hindi heartland states, the BJP had done exceedingly well in the Lok Sabha elections. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan its main opponent was the Congress. The BJP was in power in both the states. That explains the BJP’s good performance there.

In Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, the Congress is not a major factor now. The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party had overtaken both the Congress and the BJP in the state and reached a stage where they could come to power on their own. Yet, in the Lok Sabha poll, the BJP and its local ally took 73 of the state’s 80 seats, wiping out the BSP totally, and limiting the SP to five seats and the Congress to two seats respectively.

Voters often back different parties in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. The Bihar elections will show if endorsement of Modi at the national level will translate into support for the BJP at the state level. It will also provide answer to the question whether Delhi state’s big rebuff to Modi and the BJP after their triumph in the parliamentary elections was just an aberration or an indication that the Modi magic was over.

The BJP will face a similar test when UP goes to the polls next year. Among the other states where Assembly elections are due next year are Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal, where historical factors have kept the Hindutva forces at bay. A good showing in Bihar and UP can boost the BJP’s chances in these states, especially among voters who tend to incline towards the winning side.

Judging by Modi’s performance so far, his strength lies in campaign skills, not in governance. In Parliament, the opposition has held up his plans to speed up work on development projects. He is yet to demonstrate the political sagacity to tackle the problem. His administration is pursuing, with single-minded devotion, vindictive measures against individuals and voluntary organisations seeking to uphold democratic values, viewing them as his real enemies.

08 September, 2015

Modi’s mentors are pleased

BRP Bhaskar
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and most of his Cabinet colleagues appeared before the leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party, last week and reported on the work they have done since his National Democratic Alliance government took office.

The occasion was a three-day meeting of the RSS-BJP Coordination Committee.

The RSS team, comprising more than 90 leaders, was headed by its supremo, Mohan Bhagwat. They evaluated the performance of the ministers, who are members of the organisation, and provided inputs for future course of action.

Modi came on the last day and gave an overview of the government’s activities. Mohan Bhagwat said later the government’s performance was “very satisfactory”.

The RSS, founded in 1925, says its mission is to carry India to the pinnacle of glory by “organising the entire society and ensuring the protection of Hindu Dharma”. Its membership is limited to Hindu males. Its definition of Hindu includes all “who live in Bharat (which the Constitution recognises as another name of India) and who subscribe to the world view of Bharat,” whatever faith they profess. However, the Muslim and Christian minorities are “others” in its scheme of things.

The BJP and its predecessor, the Jana Sangh, were formed with the blessings of the RSS. The first BJP Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, could operate without being troubled by the RSS bosses as he had to hold together a coalition of more than 20 parties. His government worked on the basis of the NDA”s common minimum programme, keeping the Hindutva agenda in abeyance.

Unlike Vajpayee, Modi owes his prime ministership entirely to the RSS. If it had not intervened on his behalf, he could not have become the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate overcoming the resistance of party veterans Lal Kishen Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi.

The RSS, which has a network of 50,000 units across the country, pressed into service more than 100,000 volunteers to work for the BJP’s candidates during the Lok Sabha elections. It can, therefore, claim credit for the party’s electoral triumph.

Led by the Congress, the opposition came out against the BJP ministers’ meeting with the RSS leaders. They claimed that the RSS was an extra-constitutional authority holding the remote control and that the ministers had violated the oath of office by discussing government programmes with it.

Senior RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabele retorted that the Congress which ran the government by remote control had no right to question them. He said the RSS leaders had only exchanged ideas with their associates who had become ministers.

The Opposition criticism of the exercise as violation of the ministerial oath misses the real point, which is the impact of the RSS’s direct entry into governmental decision-making. Earlier the government had appointed persons handpicked by the RSS as heads of various academic and cultural bodies, opening the way for promotion of Hindutva ideology through them.

The BJP is a political party with an electoral mandate, albeit a weak one, based on a minority of votes. It is therefore entitled to run the administration in accordance with the Constitution. The RSS is a shadowy organisation which has repeatedly challenged, in word as well as deed, the ideals of democracy and secularism and the principles of equality and equal opportunity, which are the cornerstones of the constitutional edifice.

What’s more, the RSS has been implicated, directly or indirectly, in communal riots from the Partition days to the present. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Union Home Minister, had banned it after Gandhi’s assassination. He lifted the ban and allowed it to function as a cultural organisation after it disavowed political intentions and complied with his directive to adopt a written constitution.

It was banned for a while also after its activists demolished the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya.

The RSS website is silent on the constitution it adopted at Patel’s instance. “Our one supreme goal,” it proclaims, “is to bring to life the all-round glory and greatness of our Hindu Rashtra (nation).”

The Hindu Rashtra concept is at variance with India’s Constitutional objective of a democratic, socialist, secular republic.

Modi has been able to please his RSS mentors. But the task of pleasing the people whom he promised good days remains. -Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 8, 2015

01 September, 2015

The Hardik Patel phenomenon

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

An estimated half a million members of Gujarat’s powerful Patel community turned up at a rally in the city of Ahmedabad last week to cheer a young leader who has been in public life for just a few months. Sections of the media hailed him as the new Sardar, an allusion to Vallabhbhai Patel, the tallest Gujarati freedom-fighter after Gandhi and the most powerful minister after Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in free India’s first government.

Vallabhbhai Patel was not an instant hero. A barrister at law, he organised successful non-violent agitations by peasants of Gujarat before Gandhi conferred on him the title of Sardar.

Thanks to the social media and the vast resources he commands as the champion of the interests of a community whose members have made good in business at home and abroad, Hardik Patel, 22, who comes from a family of Bharatiya Janata Party loyalists, got to the top in a jiffy.

His sole demand is reservation for the Patels in educational institutions and government jobs. Under the Constitution, the government can make special provisions for “socially and educationally backward classes”. It is not easy to squeeze into that term the Patels who reportedly own 70 per cent of the state’s small and medium enterprises.

Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, herself a member of the community, said the demand could not be conceded as the Supreme Court had set a 50 per cent cap on reservations. As much as 49.5 per cent has been dished out to various communities already.

The Patel community was solidly behind the BJP when its student wing launched a violent agitation against the Central government’s 1990 decision to accept the Mandal Commission recommendation and extend reservation, which until then was limited to the Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and the Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis), to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) as well.

The Mandal Commission was appointed by the Janata Party government, of which the BJP’s earlier avatar, Jana Sangh, was a part. It estimated that the OBCs constitute 52 per cent of the population.

The Patel agitation turned violent following a wholly unwarranted police intervention, which resulted in nine deaths. The state imposed curfew on some towns and deployed paramilitary forces to restore order.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a televised appeal for calm. He said violence could not solve any problem and offered to find a solution through talks.

Political pundits are now trying to find answers to questions thrown up by the Hardik Patel phenomenon. How could he suddenly emerge from nowhere and hold the state to ransom? Has he been set up by unseen forces with an agenda of their own? Does he really want reservation for his community or is he queering the pitch for abolition of reservation?

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue MG Vaidya and Vishwa Hindu Parishad President Pravin Togadia took the opportunity provided by the Patel revolt to call for an end to reservation.

Some powerful communities in other states were able to pressure governments into granting them reservation but the courts have blocked it.

The previous Central government classified the Jats, who are a big force in the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi, as an OBC. The Supreme Court scrapped the order.

The Maharashtra government sanctioned 16 per cent reservation to the Maratha community, which owns much of the land in the state and has provided 12 of the last 17 chief ministers. The High Court has stayed the order, pending detailed examination.

The Gujjars of Rajasthan, who have one per cent OBC reservation, are on an agitation seeking five per cent reservation as a Scheduled Tribe.

One explanation for the demand for reservation from castes with political clout is that they find that children belonging to castes which enjoy the benefit of reservation are gaining a lead over their own children in the job market by acquiring professional education.

Hardik Patel went to Delhi on Sunday to meet Jat and Gujjar leaders. His reference to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu as “our people” indicates that a broad national coalition of middle castes may be on his mind.

There are several regional and small national parties which draw support from such social groups. By and large, they are secular in outlook. They are unlikely to come under the spell of a wayward child of Hindutva like Hardik Patel. -- Gulf Today, September 1, 2015.