Sunday, September 1, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Will Ordinance check criminalisation of politics?

When politicians betray people’s trust
V. Eshwar Anand
he President’s assent to the Representation of the People (Amendment) Ordinance, 2002, is a major setback to yet another conscious attempt made by the Supreme Court and the Election Commission to cleanse the system of the twin evils of corruption and criminalisation of politics.

Setback to poll reforms
M.G. Devasahayam
he President and the intellectuals were given a profound lesson on the “soul of our Constitution” and “practical functioning of Indian politics” by a gentleman called Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav heading a political party with the dubious distinction of having criminal elements as its “leadership” base.




Harihar Swarup
Tackling corruption, his main challenge
he major challenge to the new Central Vigilance Commissioner, P. Shankar, will be the five major players identified by his illustrious predecessor, N. Vittal, in the weird world of politics; “neta, babu, lala, jhola and dada”.


Pawar behind Jaya’s outburst against Sonia?
he pick of news developments this week easily was the outburst of one powerful woman politician against a more powerful one. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J.Jayalalithas’s salvo against Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the capital this week has intrigued many political observers as they were curious to know the real reason behind it. 

  • Jaswantspeak

  • Survival of fittest

  • Missing portrait

  • Cong vs BJP show


Humra Quraishi
Tribals have the right to freedom and dignity
ugust 9 is the International day of World's Indigenous People. And here on August 31 the All-India Denotified Nomadic Tribes Association organised a day-long convention at the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature. Well known author Mahasweta Devi was in the chair.

  • Gujarat carnage

  • That extra bit…

  • Cynical but…


Blurring the line between civic protest and secessionist rhetoric
David Devadas
was interviewing a leader of the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference a few days ago when the noise of chaos erupted outside. The leader I was with leapt up and scurried to a window on the other side of the building while I tried to peer out of a window of the room in which we were sitting.Top


Will Ordinance check criminalisation of politics?
When politicians betray people’s trust
V. Eshwar Anand

The President’s assent to the Representation of the People (Amendment) Ordinance, 2002, is a major setback to yet another conscious attempt made by the Supreme Court and the Election Commission to cleanse the system of the twin evils of corruption and criminalisation of politics. By returning the Ordinance to the President “as it is” for his assent, the Union Government not only abdicated its responsibility from having a second look at it but also refused to take into consideration the widespread resentment it had evoked from various sections.

President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam can’t be faulted for having given his assent to the Ordinance, meant to operationalise the proposed Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2002, (to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1951). In our parliamentary system of government based on the Westminster model, the President does not enjoy any overriding authority over the Union Government. Under Articles 74 and 75 (the President’s powers vis-a-vis the Union Government) and Article 123 (powers relating to the promulgation of an Ordinance when Parliament is in recess), his authority is very much limited. Yet, as the conscience-keeper of the nation, the custodian of people’s rights and privileges and the symbol of people’s aspirations, he returned the Ordinance to the Centre on issues of critical importance.

Reports suggest that Attorney-General Soli J. Sorabjee had briefed the President on the matter. But was it all that the government could do when the President sought clarifications on vital matters concerning the quality and character of our lawmakers which, in essence, has a bearing on the future of the country’s polity?

In any case, having returned it to the government for reconsideration, the President not only highlighted the feelings of the people but also set an example which future occupants of this high office will find it difficult to ignore. In a way, he was also endorsing the spirit behind the Supreme Court’s ruling of May 2 and the commission’s directive of June 28. For one thing, ever since the Centre and the political parties sought to circumvent the commission’s fiat, there has been widespread condemnation of their move from various sections, including the intelligentsia and the general public. It looked as if the entire political class had ganged up to protect its own narrow interests in preference to the long-term interests of the people. With amazing alacrity and unprecedented unity, the two all-party meetings of July 8 and August 2 endorsed the draft Bill with a view to short-circuiting the commission’s directive.

The August 8 meeting, in particular, was all the more brazen and devious in nature in that it diluted the quintessence of the Supreme Court’s judgement — the people’s right to information under Article 19 (i) (a) of the Constitution. This provision is sacred and sacrosanct and it directly flows from Chapter III dealing with Fundamental Rights of the Constitution. By including this provision in its directive following the court ruling, the commission provided an opportunity to the people to make a judicious choice of the candidates based on information input. Pray, how will the voters get to make an informed choice if they don’t know the details of the candidates’ background such as their qualifications, assets and liabilities and, more important, their criminal antecedents? And in what way would the voters be benefited by the clause in the Ordinance that makes it mandatory for winning candidates to file their statement of assets after the elections and, that too, to the presiding officers of the respective legislatures? Clearly, as the government did not care to address the Presidential querry in this regard in the name of “all-party consensus”, its professed commitment to cleansing the system rings hollow.

It is interesting to hear some dissenting voices now — from the Congress, the CPM, and the Trinamool Congress. But how is it that none of them raised their voice against the provisions either during the all-party meetings or at least before the Presidential assent? In her statement on August 27, the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi was quite vocal in her criticism of the Ordinance. She made it clear that the Congress was in favour of submission of the statement of assets, bank balances of the candidates while filing nomination papers and before the elections. However, given their past record and lackadaisical attitude to electoral reforms, people will not be carried away by their concerns which are belated and reflect false pretences.

Of course, there are some genuine fears among the politicians over certain provisions in the commission’s directive. For instance, the provision empowering Returning Officers to reject nomination papers of the candidates is one. Ideally, there is need to allay apprehensions, if any. At the same time, there is a well-established convention that the acceptance rather than rejection of one’s nomination papers is the norm. Moreover, the commission has clarified that a nomination is liable to be rejected only if there are “substantial proven defects” and not merely because of some technical shortcomings. Thus, politicians’ fears seem exaggerated.

The issue in question is that our politicians have, over the years, successfully thwarted every effort at making them declare their assets. In this context, the Congress, which ruled the country for well over three decades, is as guilty as successive non-Congress governments at the Centre. Since as far back as 1967 muscle and money power have become major factors for winning elections, which are gravely flawed in their processes, procedures and rules. While the first-past-the-post system ensures that a person with a vote bank of around 25-30 per cent could be sure of victory,, communal and casteist considerations further reinforce the corrupt system. Consequently, the candidates’ character and record have become irrelevant.

Corruption in the elections and day-to-day governance has increased so much that a public office is seen as the quickest route to private gain. Enormous power, pelf, privileges and patronage have become synonymous with public offices. Candidates spend lakhs and crores of rupees to get themselves elected. The statutory ceiling on election expenditure (Rs 15 lakh for Lok Sabha and Rs 6 lakh for Assembly elections) is followed more in its breach than in practice. And once they are through in the unequal battle of the ballot, an MP or MLA (not to speak of the minister) gets the authority to decide everything — from postings, transfers, promotions, contracts, tenders, licences and projects to fixing political opponents and filing police cases against them. Referring to the intricate web of corruption and brazen abuse of office by ministers, MPs and MLAs, Robert Wade says while influence, power and authority flow in one direction, money flows in the opposite direction.

A pernicious linkage to corruption is the criminalisation of politics. Political parties need money to fight elections and one way of getting it is through mafia dons and criminals. Muscle power is used to stamp out all opposition in the constituencies where a particular party is dominant. And when political parties start accepting money from whichever source it comes, they become obliged to the fund-givers. Inevitably, they are from organised criminals, smugglers, extortionists, narcotic traders and illicit liquor barons. Once they obtain a hold on the leaderships of political parties, the cadres of organised crime exert pressure on law-enforcement agencies, dictate policies and start fielding their men as candidates for elections.

According to an estimate, of the 4092 representatives in our legislatures, as many as 700 have a criminal background. In the 1996 Uttar Pradesh elections, 185 out of 420 MLAs were believed to be history-sheeters. There was no improvement in the last elections.

The Supreme Court addressed this problem in its ruling. But there are reasonable apprehensions among political parties that there would be ample scope for the state governments to play havoc with Opposition candidates through pliable Returning Officers. False cases can be foisted against political opponents and obliging Returning Officers can mar their prospects, armed with the weapon of disqualification. The Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Dr Manmohan Singh, told senior journalists of The Tribune recently that a Returning Officer could not be expected to check the criminal antecedents of a candidate within 15-20 minutes while scrutinising his/her nomination papers.

However, the larger question remains: how to check the entry of criminals into our representative institutions. The judicial process is so cumbersome and time-consuming that even after years of trial, it becomes difficult for the prosecution agency to bring criminals to justice. The system of filing election petitions only at the High Court level at present, that too after the polls are over, is no answer to the problem. These petitions drag on for years at various levels. Constitution of special courts, at the Supreme Court or High Court level, with the opportunity for only one appeal, for expeditious dispensation of justice is eminently desirable. Organised crime can be tackled by subjecting it to intensive intelligence surveillance by a dedicated agency. The authorities should have the powers to tap the telephones of those suspected of involvement in criminal activities.

There are three desirable changes in our fundamental laws which can be implemented without amending the Constitution. First, no political party should be recognised by the Election Commission or any other authority unless it is willing to maintain audited accounts of all its receipts and expenditure. The greatest source of corruption in public life is the total immunity of political parties from accountability. All politicians should be subjected to intensive income-tax scrutiny. These along with the audited accounts of the political parties should be publicised and put on their website for public scrutiny.

Secondly, it seems essential to introduce partial proportional representation (PR) in the Lok Sabha. Half of the Lok Sabha members should be elected on the basis of PR, which is in vogue in several countries including Germany. To prevent the mushrooming of political parties and splinter groups, the benefit of PR should be made available only to those parties which secure a minimum percentage, say 5 per cent, of the votes cast in a region. PR in the Lok Sabha is permissible under Article 81 of the Constitution which only requires “direct election”. Therefore, the desired change can be accomplished by amending the Representation of the People Act.

Thirdly, some minimum qualifications should be prescribed for the candidates. Up to now Parliament has prescribed only disqualifications. There is need for some positive qualifications. President Kalam made a point when he sought clarifications from the government on this vital issue. How is it that while an applicant for even a peon’s post is expected to be qualified, the politicians who influence the lives of more than 1000 million of our fellowmen and women, are not required to have any education at all? The argument that any such step will be again-st the principle of universal adult suffrage is both fallacious and ludicrous.

The quality of a nation’s public life depends not on how comprehensive or foolproof its laws governing such behaviour are, but on the values and norms of society and the political conventions of fair play and integrity evolved over a period of time without having been spelt out in a formal code or legislation. It cannot be said that the ruthlessly competitive system we are engaged in building, with its emphasis on self-aggrandisement, a distortion of individualism that promotes strain in every sphere, is conducive to the establishment of such norms and conventions both in society and in public life. To that extent, laws and codes can achieve little. Nonetheless, perhaps, in such societies, the need for moral benchmarks is greater. A piece of legislation in conformity with the Supreme Court’s May 2 ruling would have served as such a benchmark at a time of drift when a moral vacuum seems to exist. It would have also demonstrated that the nation has not given up altogether the attempt to set standards in public life. These may not be particularly high. But any standard is better than no standard at all.


Setback to poll reforms
M.G. Devasahayam

The President and the intellectuals were given a profound lesson on the “soul of our Constitution” and “practical functioning of Indian politics” by a gentleman called Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav heading a political party with the dubious distinction of having criminal elements as its “leadership” base.

This was the gentleman who had anchored the candidature of Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for the presidency. It was, therefore, no surprise that President Kalam signed the Ordinance within minutes of the same landing back on his table “as it is”. The reason given by the Union Cabinet for returning the Ordinance without giving any clarification as sought by the President was because it felt that “the Government had the backing of the entire political class on how and at what rate the process of decriminalisation of the electoral process was to be accomplished”. The Cabinet had no concern for the severe damage this would cause to the highest institutions of democracy — the President, the Supreme Court and the Election Commission. It is a different matter that this self-assumed “political consensus” has been stoutly denied by certain political parties.

Just days earlier responding to the Election Commission's firm no to contrived early Assembly polls in Gujarat, the same Cabinet moved for a Presidential reference to seek the Supreme Court's opinion in order to nullify the decision of the EC. This was a clever ploy to play one constitutional authority against the other, provoking them to take conflicting positions, thus damaging their credibility in the public eye. While the bulwarks of democracy are busy probing the constitutional niceties, the political class would continue to perpetuate criminalisation and communalisation of politics for which they have a “consensus” among themselves.

The President has been rebuked, the Supreme Court slighted, the Election Commission snubbed and people slighted — all these to perpetrate criminalisation and communalisation of politics that is destroying the very fabric of the country. The political class has arrived at a 'consensus' that it is above the law and criminals are a legitimate part of it. The Centre and the states celebrate elected criminals as leaders and lawmakers, providing them with special category security and protection. Civil servants and policemen bow to the dust before them competing with each other to do their bidding. The gullible treats them as role models and venerates them just because they wield power and influence grabbed through criminal acts! This indeed is the “practical functioning of Indian politics”!

In such a situation whither electoral reforms which forms the basis of democratic governance? The reforms being advocated by the intellectual class whom Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav refers to with contempt seek to address the following concerns: Criminals contesting and winning elections with ease; abuse of unaccounted money power; electoral irregularities of flawed electoral rolls, impersonation, rigging and booth capturing; autocratic, unaccountable political parties; purchase of Rajya Sabha nominations; defections for personal gain and the deficiencies of an electoral system that enables candidates and parties polling low percentage of votes to get elected and grab power. The political class condemns these intellectuals as “half-baked” who have no understanding of the “practical functioning” of Indian politics! So where does it leave the EC and its reform agenda?

The answer is contained in a memorandum signed and submitted by about 60 prominent citizens of Tamil Nadu to the Election Commission recently in the context of a farce of an election conducted in the Saidapet Assembly constituency. The memorandum was “an effort to stem the gathering perception that elections are mere ‘gutter fight’ between political parties and anti-social elements with the electors and the Election Commission as mere passive spectators”. The memorandum pointed out that “If this perception holds sway then elections will be rendered a meaningless farce and the Election Commission would become a non-entity despite being vested with enormous powers”.

The Saidapet byelection had brought the entire concept of “free and fair elections” to total disrepute and shame. It was depressing to see a democracy depending on the army/ paramilitary forces to conduct elections. What is worse despite the clear finding of the EC observers that the “integrity of the electoral process” was severely undermined in nearly 30 per cent of the polling booths, the EC did not countermand the election but only resorted to the patch work remedy of repoll knowing fully well that most of genuine voters will not turn up for a repoll. It is this blatant failure of the Election Commission to strictly implement rules and procedures already in existence that is the root cause of the present electoral malady. In the event, the Group of Concerned Citizens suggested a four-pronged action to make our electoral process work against criminal elements trying to hijack our democracy.

First, set a deadline by which electoral rolls are updated and voter identity cards issued to all citizens. Under one pretext or other states have been dragging their feet on this work. If the states are unable or unwilling, the Election Commission should explore alternative methods of getting it done instead of allowing the voter identification process to be derailed or diluted.

Secondly, the EC should hold procedural integrity and peaceful elections to be an inviolable norm. Any violation of this norm should result in countermanding the election because the integrity of the electoral process cannot be compromised at any cost. Politicians and political parties would then get a clear and loud message that criminal activities like coercion, fraud, booth-capturing and bogus voting will get them nowhere because any reported instance of such practices would immediately result in the polls being countermanded.

Thirdly, during the elections, the EC has administrative control over the civil and political officials thereby seeking to end “political interference” stated to be the root cause of electoral malpractices. But then, violence and booth-capturing have been taking place under their very nose, sometimes with active participation. There has not been a single reported case of any penal action having been taken against any official for dereliction of duty while functioning as a polling officer or discharging any duty relating to election. The EC should address the issue in all seriousness.

And finally, the Chief Electoral Officers in states, under the administrative control of the EC, are expected to perform their tasks as independently as the Commission itself. But being officers of the State, they are unable to do so due to severe pressures and constraints. The EC should seriously consider posting of Chief Electoral Officers in States from outside the State.

With the electoral process fast losing its integrity and sanctity, the very future of India's democracy is in peril. Given the polluted political atmosphere in the country and the abrasiveness of the political class, electoral reforms are a very long shot. But strict implementation of existing electoral laws and procedures is very much within the power and control of the EC and it would do well to concentrate on this task regardless of what happens on the reform front.

The writer is a former IAS officer.


President’s queries

* Why the Ordinance omits the reference to the criminal antecedents of the candidates contesting elections despite the Supreme Court’s direction.

* Why the Ordinance did not take cognisance of Section 8B of the RP Act which provides for disqualification of candidates facing court proceedings in two separate heinous crimes.

* Why the Ordinance has made no reference to the assets and liabilities of the candidates, their spouces and children.

* Why the Ordinance has not made it compulsory for the candidates to furnish their educational qualifications.

Attorney-General Soli J. Sorabjee’s clarification:

* The Bill was formalised after evolving a political consensus.

* The Union Government has no desire for a confrontation with the President.

* The Union Government would consider the President’s suggestions at the time of legislating the Ordinance in Parliament.


Circumventing court ruling

The Representation of the People (Amendment) Ordinance, 2002, promulgated on August 25, 2002, envisages the following:

* Candidates would furnish information to the Election Commission if they have been convicted for any offence, entailing a jail term of one year or more.

* A candidate would also tell the Commission whether any court has framed charges against him/her for any offences, entailing a jail term of two years or more on conviction.

* A candidate, within 90 days of his election, would apprise the presiding officer of the legislative body of his/her personal assets.

* Any wilful omission by any legislator would be treated as breach of privilege. The presiding officer will have the power to adjudicate the case of breach of privilege, which would entail a sentence of jail term up to six months.

* The Ordinance is silent about the educational qualifications of the candidates.


Historic order

The Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices M.B.Shah, B.P.Singh and H.K.Sema ruled on May 2, 2002, “Democracy cannot survive without free and fair elections. Without free and fairly informed voters...votes cast by uninformed voters...would be meaningless”.

* Whether the candidate has been convicted /acquitted/ discharged of any criminal offence in the past and whether he/she has been punished with imprisonment or fine.

* Prior to six months of filing nomination, whether the candidate was accused in any pending case of any offence punishable with any imprisonment with two years or more and in which charge is framed or cognisance is taken by the court of law. If so, the details there of.

* Details of the assets (immovable, movable, bank balances etc.), liabilities, if any, of a candidate and his/her spouces and that of dependents.

* The educational qualifications of the candidate.


EC’s directive

In its June 28 directive, to enforce the Supreme Court ruling from July 1, 2002, the Election Commission said:

* Every candidate at the time of filing his nomination paper for any election shall furnish full and complete an affidavit.

* Furnishing of any wrong or incomplete information or suppression of any material information by any candidate in the affidavit may result in the rejection of his nomination by the Returning Officer, apart from inviting penal consequences under the Indian Penal Code.

* The Returning Officer shall disse minate the information furnished by each candidate in the affidavit by displaying a copy of the affidavit on the notice board of his office and also by making the copies available freely and liberally to all other candidates and the Press.

* If any rival candidate furnishes information to the contrary, by means of a duly sworn affidavit, such affidavit of the rival candidate shall also be disseminated along with the candidate’s affidavit.Top


Right to inform should prevail over right to privacy

FALI S.NARIMAN, former Attorney-General: There would have been no scope for confusion and criticism had the Union Government stuck to the Supreme Court’s May 2 directives. The Union Government’s view has to prevail. But it should have been well thought out.

P.P.RAO, senior lawyer: The Ordinance is likely to be challenged in the Supreme Court and has the possibility of being struck down. It is the fundamental right of the people to know the antecedents of their candidates. The ruling party, like all other parties, cannot resist the temptation of hiding people who have questionable records.

G.V.G.KRISHNAMURTHY, former Election Commissioner: Why shouldn’t the voter have the right to know the qualification of a candidate? Do you give a job without knowing the qualification of the candidate? Never. The Supreme Court has entrusted the Election Commission the duty to enforce this fundamental right of the voter.

YOGENDRA YADAV, psephologist: I have no doubt that compulsory disclosure of assets by candidates will do a lot of good to our democracy. But I am not sure if this can be achieved by scrutiny of the candidates’ nomination papers.

JAYAPRAKASH NARAYAN, IAS (retd) & civil society activist: In a democracy, the ultimate sovereign is the people, from whom parliamentarians have drawn power. The citizens’ right to be informed should prevail over the candidates’ right to privacy when there is a conflict. The present stand-off is dangerous. Politicians have a responsibility for they were voted to change the system. The solution is to have proportional representation, where there will be little incentive to spend on elections.Top


Tackling corruption, his main challenge
Harihar Swarup

The major challenge to the new Central Vigilance Commissioner, P. Shankar, will be the five major players identified by his illustrious predecessor, N. Vittal, in the weird world of politics; “neta, babu, lala, jhola and dada”. The five players have been all pervasive in the realm of corruption, afflicting almost all walks of life in India. To quote Vittal, corruption is rampant “among bureaucrats, among the business community, among the political community and even the NGO”. The domineering corruption can be traced to criminalisation of politics which flourished because of the need for ever increasing funds for political purposes. Like Vittal, the challenge before Shankar too will be how to evolve a systematic approach for fighting corruption and restructuring the monolith known as bureaucracy. The fight against corruption is indeed a long drawn one.

At the end of his four-year term, Chief Vigilance Commissioner N.Vittal will remit office on September 2 and pass on the baton to Shankar. The biggest achievement of the outgoing CVC was to raise the credibility of the Commission and giving it greater visibility while his regret was his inability to punish corrupt IAS officers. The new CVC is decided by a high-level committee comprising Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani and Leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi. They zeroed in on Shankar who, like Vittal, had retired after a long and distinguished tenure in the IAS. So well known Shankar was for his integrity and uprightness that Vittal almost instinctively commented: “Shankar will do much better as CVC than myself”.

Shankar’s selection to the sensitive post was not without hassles. He had powerful competitors and that included Cabinet Secretary T.R. Prasad due to retire in October, this year. At a Cabinet meeting, of all the persons, Union Finance Minister Jaswant Singh gave vent to his feelings on the appointment of retired officers to constitutional posts. Jaswant Singh reportedly described the retired civil servants as “that breed” which has the knack of becoming a law unto himself. He then quoted the example of T. N. Seshan, V.K Shunglu, N. Vittal and M.S. Gill and said (as reported by a national daily) they were “meek mice” and deferential of their ministerial masters while in service but turned into lions who would like to roar at the establishment once they were assured to their tenures. Jaswant Singh was right; Shankar may turn out to be tougher than Vittal. With J.M. Lyngdoh, already breathing down the neck of the ruling dispensation, Shankar may become another headache for them.

After her return to power, Jayalalithaa realised the importance of an efficient bureaucracy and in a flash came to her mind the name of Shankar, then functioning as Secretary, Oil and Natural Gas. She brought him back to Chennai and made him the Chief Secretary but it was very difficult for an upright officer to work with the mercurial lady. Nevertheless, Shankar managed ably to run the administration in those traumatic days with Jayalalithaa, having been involved in legal battles, could spare little time for official work. The next phase was her resignation, followed by the caretaker government of Paneerselvam and then the anti-climax; the return of a triumphant Jayalalithaa after five uncertain months. All these months Shankar, as Chief Secretary, managed the state’s affairs effectively. He was behind the bold measures to restructure the revenue collection system which enabled Tamil Nadu to come out of the financial mess. Politically, managing the situation in the aftermath of DMK leader, M. Karurnanidhi’s arrest in the midnight drama was a daunting task indeed.

Shankar was, apparently, piqued when the Chief Minister carried out a massive reshuffle in the bureaucracy involving a large number of IAS and IPS officers. With only one year left for the end of his career in the IAS, he decided to call it a day and proceeded on leave preparatory to retirement. He had not thought even remotely that the government would select him for the post of CVC to succeed an eminent person as Vittal.

When in Delhi, only Shankar could have the gumption to cross swords with the powerful Ambanis. Ambanis have large stakes in the oil sector and, it is believed, when they decide to get something, nothing can come in their way ; no rules, no laws . With rule-bound and upright officer like Shankar at the top, Ambanis faced problems. Shankar soon got the marching orders but never obliged Ambanis. Shankar had also wide range of postings in his home state — Tamil Nadu — and in Delhi. When the DMK Government decided to abolish horse racing, he was appointed Special Officer, Madras Race Club.

Shankar will now have to complete the unfinished agenda of Vittal and maintain the visibility of the Central Vigilance Commission. His main challenge will be tackling corruption in the corridors of power which has menacingly made inroads in bureaucracy.


Pawar behind Jaya’s outburst against Sonia?

The pick of news developments this week easily was the outburst of one powerful woman politician against a more powerful one. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J.Jayalalithas’s salvo against Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the capital this week has intrigued many political observers as they were curious to know the real reason behind it. Political grapevine has it that the Great Maratha of the Nationalist Congress Party, Sharad Pawar, was the force behind Amma’s political show in the capital.

Pawar, who sees the political usefulness of his outfit in the weakening of the Congress, had a meeting with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan. Mahajan told him that the Vajpayee government would not be averse to forge closer ties with AIADMK. Pawar, who has old ties with Jayalalithaa and has been a friend in need to her in the past, went to Chennai and had a meeting with the Chief Minister at her Poes Garden residence. The script of Amma’s anti-Sonia outburst on August 28 is believed to have been written there.

The original gameplan relied on planted questions from a friendly journalist. At the high-voltage press conference which was telecast live by most of TV news channels, Amma did not wait for the planted question and went ahead with her now-famous demolish-Sonia-Operation in which she said a person of foreign origin cannot become Prime Minister of India.


How good Jaswant Singh proves himself in his new position as the Finance Minister remains to be seen. But he is unquestionably effective when it comes to giving a witty touch to straight forward remarks. At a recently organised national awards function by the Small Scale Industry Ministry, where he was the chief guest, Singh did not hesitate to add in his address how much he had been reflecting as to why he had been invited for the function.

The audience was in splits when he said that he finally realised that he had been invited not because of his physical appearance or “middle aged looks” but because “you expect something from me as a Finance Minister” Much to the joy of the small-scale industrialists, the minsiter didn’t take much time after this to declare a few sops for the SSIs.

Survival of fittest

Doordarshan is gearing up to meet the onslaught of many TV channels. Vijay Jindal, former CEO of a rival TV channel, has recently taken up an advisorial assignment with Doordarshan, albeit honorary. His mission statement: to improve the brand equity of DD. Grapevine has it that DD Director-General S.Y.Qureshi has been give a free rein to bring about a total turn-around in DD. To make this happen, Quraishi has brought back the experienced Rajiv Kumar as his OSD.

Kumar, who was earlier Chief Producer (News) for the network, will now be assisting Quraishi in the implementation of programmes. A product of Delhi’s St Stephens’ College and a Fulbright scholar from Syracuse University, New York, Kumar was selected by Quraishi because of his vast experience in news and current affairs.

Missing portrait

The BJP’s Central office displays portraits of all the former chiefs of the party. 

But one portrait is missing: that of K Jana Krishnamurthy, the immediate predecessor of present BJP President Venkaiah Naidu. 

The portrait of even the Tehelka-tainted Bangaru Laxman adorns the BJP headquarters. Was it a mistake or a conscious decision?

A little bird in the BJP office tells us that Janaji, as the former president is lovingly known, was strictly against the ritual of hanging portraits of all party presidents. 

Jana’s logic: men are remembered by their deeds and actions and not through their pictures.

Cong vs BJP show

The kind of scenes witnessed outside the offices of the Congress and the BJP on Friday last were comparable to university election scenes. It was a free-for-all violence which, unfortunately, has not been condemned by senior leaders from either party. It all started with the surprise agitation of the Mahila Congress outside the residence of Pramod Mahajan in the wake of accusations by Madhu Sharma, wife of the fugitive Haryana IGP R.K. Sharma. Cocking a snook at the police, the Congress activists went to Indira Gandhi Memorial at Safdarjang Road and suddenly marched towards Mahajan’s house.

The BJP got its chance to get even when a Congress corporator from Delhi was accused of getting a colleague murdered in what was described as a ‘love triangle’. The BJP’s Mahila Morcha activists were quick to respond and landed at the residence of Sonia Gandhi. Another free-for-all ensued here. The Congress was quick to accuse the police of being biased and even alleged that the BJP Mahila Wing workers wanted to storm Mrs Gandhi’s fortress-like residence and even hurt her physically. Then came the counter-move by the Congress cadres who indulged in a violent demonstration bordering on attack, outside BJP headquarters.

Even as the police were trying to disperse the riotous activists of the two rival parties, a bystander quipped “it seems the Congress has taken Venkaiah Naidu’s statement rather seriously”. The BJP president had said in his maiden press conference recently: Ab wakt aa gaya hai, hum Congress ke saath do do haath karein (Time has come to take on Congress).

Contributed by T. V. Lakshminarayan, Satish Misra, Prashant Sood, S.Satyanarayanan, Shweta Pathak and Rajeev Sharma. 



Tribals have the right to freedom and dignity
Humra Quraishi

August 9 is the International day of World's Indigenous People. And here on August 31 the All-India Denotified Nomadic Tribes Association organised a day-long convention at the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature. Well known author Mahasweta Devi was in the chair.

Another writer, Ajeet Cour, feels equally strongly about our tribal communities. She says communities who were notified as criminal tribes in 1871 by the British administration did not become free according to the letter of law even when the rest of India attained independence. Even after Jawaharlal Nehru's declaring them 'vishesh mukti' can one really say that these tribes have truly become free?

Not only did they not progress in social, cultural and economic terms, their situation has actually deteriorated in the last half century. The vast majority of tribes is still not included in any scheduled lists. Ajeet Caur feels that the very notion of citizenship is denied to them and they are not protected through the welfare measures available to SCs and STs.

She puts a pointed question: “After 55 years of independence, don't eight crores of these tribals also have a right to freedom and dignity? Isn't this a dark and dingy and shameful aspect of the great democracy that India claims to be?”

Gujarat carnage

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom had invited three Indians and four others residing in the USA to testify on the Gujarat carnage. Those who went from Delhi Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Communalism Combat's editor Teesta Setalvad and Ahmedabad-based Father C.Prakash. And the four residing in the USA include slain Congressman Ehsan Jaffery's daughter and son-in -law and two experts on India. Robert M.Hathaway, formerly South Asia specialist for House International Relations Committee and presently the Director of the Asia Programme at the Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars, was one of them. All are awaiting what this high-powered Commission has to say about the tragedy in Gujarat.

There's speculation in certain sections here that the findings once made public could have an effect on the political situation at least within Gujarat. Hathaway is said to have told the Commission that US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill ought to have visited Gujarat in the wake of the violence. “It would have sent a message that we do care about Muslims as well as going after terrorists!”

That extra bit…

Are extra-marital flings causing murderous turmoil today? Yes, say psychiatrists and therapists who seem to be working overtime to keep marriages ongoing. They point out that much before the ‘extra' person gets added to complete the chaos, the actual trouble starts off with a decline in the quality of marriage.

“Though extra-marital relationships have been going on from the days of Kamasutra, right through the Mughal-e-zam era, today the grim reality is that they are being accepted by not just society but even by the spouse and family… You'll find even well established men in their sixties pairing with young women and spending more time outside home, away from their spouse. The same stands true for women. All this does leave a dent which manifests itself in so many ways”, says New Delhi's well known marriage counselor Dr Avdhesh Sharma.

Cynical but…

The joke doing the rounds is whether Narendra Modi's name would crop for a special award on the International Day of Peace (September 21).


Blurring the line between civic protest and secessionist rhetoric
David Devadas

I was interviewing a leader of the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference a few days ago when the noise of chaos erupted outside. The leader I was with leapt up and scurried to a window on the other side of the building while I tried to peer out of a window of the room in which we were sitting.

The sight was more mystifying than the sound. A score or more women, who looked like mothers and housewives of the locality, were standing in the middle of the road, beating pots and hefting pieces of lumber of the sort most Kashmiris store in an outhouse or loft for winter fires. They were yelling their lungs out and stopping any vehicular traffic from passing the bend at which they had taken position.

I concluded that, since they were not ten feet from the Hurriyat office gate, it must be a women's wing of some sort, demanding freedom. I was even more confident I had analysed the situation correctly when I focussed on their chants. “Nara-e-taqbir, Allah-o-Akbar”, they shouted repeatedly. For once, I thought to myself, the basic slogan of Islam had priority over the far more common chant of freedom: “Hum kya chate? Azadi”.

When the JKLF man sauntered back in, he looked unconcerned. When I asked what the commotion was about, he waved it aside: “They are protesting against electricity department officials who are to come and read their meters today”.

The issue was as mundane as that. Yet, by the time I emerged on the road after the interview, the women had advanced to the middle of a wide stretch and were burning old tyres, straw and some packing cases. Yelling feverishly, albeit with a few friendly grins thrown in, they forced every passing vehicle to turn back.

Assertions of Islamic fervour in such utterly non-religious demonstrations, calculated to force a secular government onto the back foot, are a dangerous tactic. It challenges law enforcement authorities with the very negative image of acting against women chanting Islamic slogans. Not only do such cynical tactics cheapen the secessionist movement, they damage the sanctity of religion.

Even before this insurgency came to the fore, governments have complained that Kashmiris willfully blur the line between civic protest and secessionist rhetoric to suit immediate ends. Such emotionally-charged Islamic slogans were common in the 1980s too, in agitations strikingly similar to this one. Three persons were killed when a demonstration against increased electricity prices was fired upon in 1986 in another part of Srinagar, but nobody seems to remember — or care. Clearly, Kashmiris do not learn from even their recent past.

The women's anger I witnessed might turn out to be an early glimpse of another spiral of violent agitation on power prices. Under pressure for fiscal discipline from New Delhi and global financial institutions, the state government plans to make people pay for the power they consume. Soon after the elections that are coming up in a few weeks, it will no doubt show a more vigorous response to such protests.

The upmarket Rajbagh area in which I happened to be that day is among the first three localities in the state — two in Srinagar and Gandhi Nagar in Jammu — where digital electricity supply meters were installed barely two months ago. The women had girded that morning for the first visit of power department officials to read those new meters.

A senior engineer in the Power Development Department says the monthly bill could be expected to increase more than tenfold if consumers are charged according to those meters. These digital meters are tough to tamper with and, he says, an average home in the valley consumes around four kilowatts of power every month on just heaters, geysers and other major power-guzzling gadgets. Along with another kilowatt for lights, they might expect to pay around Rs 3,000 a month. Hitherto, most homes have been paying around Rs 100 a month.

No wonder consumers are so distraught. An engineer points to a complicating factor: Until the mid-1980s, a quota of wood was supplied at subsidised prices to each family but that has stopped. So most families have in recent years switched from wood to electricity as the fuel for heating water. Particularly in midwinter, consumption for just this one purpose is huge.

In battle-hardened Kashmir, the explosive potential of this issue is still frightening.Top

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