Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Judicial Ray of Hope

Shaikh Dastagir, a victim of September 8, 2006 Qabristan blasts

Ashwani Kumar, director of Central Bureau of Investigation, and his committed team of sleuths have suddenly discovered that power is not absolute in a secular democracy. Power comes with responsibility and subject to checks and balances by the short arm of legislators and by the long arm of judiciary. CBI sleuths were so confident of power that they went on to sleep for three long years before being woken up by a judicial bite. Isn’t it amazing that CBI took three years just to utter one sentence – which everybody in Malegaon knows – that accused of Malegaon 2006 blasts are innocent. Had it not been the deep and effective judicial bite of Justice J.N. Patel, CBI would have slept till eternity!

The response of judiciary was quick; Bombay High Court came out with its terse judgment in three months. There was no political response for three long years. Should one assume that the two arms of a democratic republic are in complete disharmony? Should one equate Manmohan Singh-led UPA with notorious CBI? Where PC Chidambaram’s golden-rule of democracy is which he very keen taught to Muslims at Deoband? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, National Security Advisor and Home Minister must admonish CBI in two words: perform or perish.

Before being bitten by the judicial jaw, CBI had an opportunity to prove and reaffirm nationwide belief that it is indeed country’s most trusted and prestigious investigating agency. CBI had a golden chance to capitalize on the so-called “public outcry” which rose from Malegaon. It had a golden opportunity to score over ATS. But unfortunately it treaded the path of ATS which has a dead end. It followed the misleading footprints of a “communal” (that’s how SM Mushrif describes KP Raghuvanshi in his new book: Who Killed Karkare?) officer like KP Raghuvanshi. CBI inquiry may have been a ray of hope to some in Malegaon but it has proved to be eyewash.

The demand for CBI inquiry was not because of “public outcry” as the public prosecutor has claimed in the high court. It was a personal outcry borne with the desire to fill Muslim leadership vacuum. The lone voice filled the empty spaces in newspapers’ columns and each one of us accepted it as a gospel. It was S.M. Mushrif alone who publicly castigated and criticised this insane decision to demand a CBI inquiry on October 10, 2006 at KC College auditorium. CBI inquiry converted an easy puzzle into a complicated riddle.

The formation of Kul Jamati Tanzeem (KJT) did not help; it, in fact, made matters worse. KJT wanted to spearhead a democratic movement in order to release the accused but yet it forgot a golden-rule of democracy: to take help of secular activists. It aggressively portrayed itself as a Muslim organization which proved suicidal. It is precisely for this reason that KJT refused to cooperate and share its report with Teesta Setalvad and Justice Kolshe Patil. The inflated egos of its members must have further inflated when it submitted its so-called “report” to CBI. Is CBI a court of law? Was CBI legally bound to follow the report? Has KJT got any legal credentials that country’s premier investigating agency will follow its diktat?

CBI sleuths must have mocked at this blind and insane decision. The decision to handover the report was a collective mockery of people of Malegaon. KJT is guilty of connivance; it presented all the “evidence” to CBI the way a fresh bowl of soup is given to guests!

Centre and State government have been playing the role of hide and seek. Both are morally and politically responsible to pressurize the concerned agencies to speed up the pace of investigation. Home Minister PC Chidambaram need not become a judge to discover that justice is one of the foremost problems of Indian Muslims. He would do well to remember what American editor and reformer Frederick Douglass was fond of saying,
“I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

Frederick once wrote:

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

Judges have performed their duty. Politicians have not.

Sunday Inquilab, November 22, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Raj Thackeray: Dissecting a lingual terrorist

The worst way to reason is to have no reason. There may be reasons not to have a reason. No reason is a good way to keep people guessing the reason. If you have the reason, you can’t actually fool people not to know the reason. The reason has to be real and not imaginary.

Raj Thackeray, the nefarious nephew of Bal Thackeray, has been on rampage citing a single reason: imagined insult to Marathi language. Does speaking Hindi or any other language in the state of Maharashtra belittle Marathi? By taking oath in Hindi Abu Asim Azmi has not shown any disgrace and disregard to Marathi language. Raj Thackeray’s elected goons’ rampage in Maharashtra assembly has proved that Abu Asim Azmi can alone bring disrespect to Marathi language! Is Marathi language and culture so hollow that it can be brought to disrespect by the utterance of a single being? In the recent past Raj Thackeray’s men have targeted Bollywood personalities. Jaya Bachchan’s unintentional utterance that ‘she will speak Hindi because she is from Uttar Pradesh’ did not go well with Raj although Jaya had apologized right there to the people of Maharashtra for not speaking in Marathi. Is Hindi, our national language, a threat to Marathi, Maharashtra’s official language? Can’t Hindi and Marathi co-exist in Maharashtra? Language should promote harmony and not hatred.

Raj must salute India’s tolerant democracy that allows him to indulge in lingual terrorism. Raj believes in lingual hegemony of aggression. He portrays himself as a messiah of Marathi language and Marathi manoos (Marathi population). Will his intolerant attitude towards Hindi promote Marathi? Aggression does not promote a language. It degrades the language and covers it with the dirt of exclusivity. If Raj sincerely wants to promote Marathi, he should rebrand his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) as Multi-National Sena!

State government must make provisions to recognise ‘lingual terrorism’! The term “lingual terrorism” must find space in terror statues!

Raj is using his mother-tongue to flex his political muscle and put himself on the state’s political radar. The explosive entry of MNS in the assembly is a result of espousing a so-called ‘Marathi’ cause. Politics is the art of the impossible and Raj is very keen to master that ‘art’ even if he has to coin his own slogan of regionalism which is an antithesis to the very idea of Indian nationalism.

Raj’s theatrics began with the formation of MNS when he felt that he is being ‘sidelined’ by Udhav, Bal Thackeray’s son. A political party needs an ideology and issue to keep breathing. Raj raised an issue which became the core ideology of MNS: to check uncontrolled migration to Bombay from North India especially from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This might have been a valid issue to an economically-impoverished Marathi but Raj’s constant maneuvering and tirade transformed it into venom. Raj suddenly jumped to language from economics. What happens when a politician propagating regional economics tries to become a linguist? He becomes a political snake whose bite is communicable.

Bal Thackeray became the first victim of the snake-bite when he had blasted Shahrukh Khan as an “outsider” who calls himself a “Dilliwala.” Why should Bollywood become a battleground for the uncle-nephew political rivalry? The answer lies in one question: What have the uncle-nephew done to improve the lot of hapless Marathis? They have only paid lip-service while Bollywood has paid fat cheques. Not many would know that Bollywood, the world’s biggest film industry, employs thousands of Marathis. To cover their collective failure, Bal Thackeray and Raj are competing with each other to target a symbol of economic success: Bollywood.

In the past, state has acted like a mute spectator. The reason was simple: The Congress-NCP alliance was in no mood to offend Marathi sensibilities. It had adopted an old British dictum: Divide and rule. It tacitly supported Raj’s rants in order to divide Sena’s Marathi votes. This political trend can’t survive any more.

Maharashtra’s mainstream political parties have reacted cautiously to issue of Marathi language after infamous slap-episode in assembly. Any official utterance is bound to have a long-term consequence. Marathi mass will not gain from this political game because players involved in this game are concerned about their private rather than public interests!

It is a dangerous game where Indian nationalism is being challenged by Marathi jingoism.

Lingual compulsions cannot succeed in a country like India. How would Raj react if Marathis working in the Middle East are forced to speak Arabic at public functions? Will Raj support the compulsion?

Bombay is a city that does not belong to any particular community. It is a city which has produced Suketu Mehta and Salman Rushdie. It equally belongs to Dileep Padgaonkar and Shobhaa De`. It is a city of dreams where a Marathi as well as a Bihari co-exist to eke out a living. It is a city of irony where thousands come for bread and butter. And a few have come here in search of the bomb as well. Bombay is Bombay not because of Marathis like Raj but because of Gujaratis, Parsis and Muslims who have nurtured this city into a cultural mega polis.

Having stayed in Poona, I know the fact that Marathi is a civilised language. Raj Thackeray and his frustrated men are making a mockery of Marathi. Average Marathis must realize the fact that lingual compulsion as demanded by Raj is not going to improve their condition. Raj is using it as an “ideology”. The empty Marathi stomach can not be fed by an ideology. The last word should be left to a Pune-based Marathi friend:

“If proficiency in speaking in Marathi was the only criteria, why not subject these politicians to examinations and elect them on that basis, rather than wasting resources on elections.”

Raj Thackeray’s terrible 13 should press to implement the above suggestion!

Sunday Inquilab, November 15, 2009

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Vande Mataram and Rise of Religiosity

30th General Session of Jamiat Ulema at Deoband

Jamiat Ulema has breathed a fresh leash of life into a decaying body called Sangh Parivar. The legitimate and illegitimate babies of the Sangh Parivar, who were on a deathbed, have suddenly discovered the art of resurrection and are on a revival path – thanks to Jamiat’s endorsement of an old fatwa of Darul Uloom Deoband against singing of the controversial song Vande Mataram. It’s akin to activating the dying cells of BJP! One doesn’t intend to question the validity of fatwa since it has already been settled by Darul Uloom. The subsequent endorsement by Jamiat and its timing are questionable since the matter has been decided by Supreme Court and it’s not mandatory. Also the issue of Vande Mataram was not at all being discussed!

Before we discuss the historical significance of Vande Mataram; three important issues must be made clear. First, the song is completely Un-Islamic. One may not agree with the second issue but many Muslims believe that Jamiat has always been the stooge of Congress. And thirdly the sound health of ‘Hindutva forces’ is a pre-requisite condition for the so-called secular parties to entice Muslim community on emotional issues, so that it may forget its legitimate demands and throw them into oblivion. The strengthening of Hindutva forces means that Muslims will be likely to go with the so-called ‘secular’ parties. This creates a conducive environment and greater prospects for secular parties to capture Muslim votes through false slogan of ‘secularism’.

One may recall that a few years ago, it was Arjun Singh, the then HRD Minister, who declared that the centenary of Vande Mataram would be celebrated with its singing in all institutions. Muslims reacted aggressively giving an opportunity to Hindutva forces to spew venom against the community. Arjun Singh later withdrew the circular and emerged a secular figure in the eyes of the Muslims! The purpose, perhaps, was served: to divert community’s attention from its main problems!

The unholy nexus between ‘Hindutva forces’ and the ‘fictitious secularism’ is the most effective instrument since independence to deceive Muslims.

Indian Muslims must understand the fact that Vande Mataram is more than a hundred year old-trap.

The controversial song Vande Mataram occurs in Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s novel Anand Math which was published in 1882. The song was originally written in 1876. Bhavananda, the hero of the novel plans an armed struggle against Muslims of Bengal. While reciting the song, he meets Mahendra. When Mahendra asks the meaning the song, Bhavananda replies, “Our religion is gone, our caste is gone, our honour is gone. Can the Hindus preserve their Hinduism unless these drunken Nereys (a term of contempt for Muslims) are driven away?” When Mahendra is not convinced, he is taken to temple and shown four-armed Vishu, with two decapitated and bloody heads in front. The priest tells Mahendra, “She is the Mother. We are her children Say ‘Bande Mataram’. The same procedure is repeated at the temple of Kali and Durga. Others have been portrayed as saying, “Will the day come when we shall break mosques and build temples on their sites”? The land of Bengal has been identified with a Hindu deity. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that Vande Mataram is a religious homage rather than national tribute to ‘Mother India.’

Nirad C. Chaudhuri describes the times in which the song was written. “The historical romances of Bankim Chatterjee and Ramesh Chandra Dutt glorified Hindu rebellion against Muslim rule and showed the Muslims in a correspondingly poor light. Chatterjee was positively and fiercely anti-Muslim. We were eager readers of these romances and we readily absorbed their spirit.”

Congress Working Committee which met on October 26, 1937 decided that the first two stanzas out of five will be sung (The last three stanzas have got religious connotation and therefore considered controversial). The first two stanzas began to be sung in some provinces and gradually it became associated with India’s freedom struggle. Commenting on this noted jurist and writer A.G. Noorani wrote in 1999, “’National’ songs do not need political surgery; the songs which do, do not win national acceptance.”

A.G. Noorani has termed Vande Mataram as “unconstitutional” citing Article 28 (1) and (3) of the Constitution which read:

(1) No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds.

(3) No person attending any educational institution recognised by the State or receiving aid out of State funds shall be required to take part in any religious instruction that may be imparted in such institution or to attend any religious worship that may be conducted in such institution or in any premises attached thereto unless such person or, if such person is a minor, his guardian has given his consent thereto.

Should a particular religion play any role in a secular democracy like India? The question is obviously rhetorical. The deadly mixture of majority religion with India’s democratic framework has acquired frightening proportions.

Why do public servants break coconuts inaugurating new buildings? Why are religious mantras recited in the presence of bearers of public office? Why do judges invoke goddess Saraswati inaugurating a new court building? What has goddess Saraswati’s picture got to do with Indian judiciary? All this has happened recently at the inauguration of new court building in Malegaon in the presence of Chief Justice of Bombay High Court.

All this injures the spirit of world’s longest Constitution whose preamble contains words “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic.” It is the duty of judiciary and law enforcement agencies to check potent mixture of religion and public life.

Since singing Vande Mataram is not compulsory, Supreme Court must take suo moto cognizance of Bal Thackeray’s utterance that those who refuse to sing it, their tongues must be chopped off. Thackeray’s statement amounts to contempt of court. KG Balakrishanan, Chief Justice of India, must intervene to reassure that India does not believe and practice jungle law.

Sunday Inquilab, November 8, 2009

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Crime: the Swine flu of politics

Ashok Chavan: The Man in command needs to take initiative

Now that the electoral dust has settled down in Maharashtra, its time we carefully studied each of our representatives with a magnifying glass of honesty. Each one of them is our elected representative and therefore in a democratic parlance our mirror-image. The image which emerges is a collective reflection of us, the voters. It may be beautiful, ugly, twisted and in some cases a camouflage to delude ordinary individuals but nobody can deny the fact that we, the voters, are responsible for that image. Narendra Modi has presided over the genocide of innocent Muslims in Gujarat but he remains a democratic symbol and representative and therefore a mirror-image of Gujaratis. This paradox of democracy is like a bitter pill which each one of us has to swallow it.

We must have celebrated the hat-trick of “clean” and “secular” Congress-NCP alliance. Many of us would have been relieved that voters rejected “communal” and “filthy” saffron brigade. But there is one factor which cuts through all party lines – criminal record of elected members of legislative assembly. Not many would have noted this phenomenon. And those who are aware of this societal reality may not care about it. Or perhaps it makes little difference in their lives.

According to the data compiled by National Election Watch, an NGO working for electoral reforms, Maharashtra leads the list of largest number of legislators with criminal cases pending against them followed by Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh. Out of 288, 143 MLAs have a criminal background or some criminal case is pending against them. Almost half of our representatives come from a criminal background or done some nefarious activity which entitled them to enroll themselves in the muster roll reserved for criminals. The magical figure of 145 is required to form government in Maharashtra. What will happen if all the MLAs with criminal cases pending against them come together to cobble up an alliance and manage to get support of two more MLAs? Will Maharashtra government be led by criminal-like-creatures? This assumption should never come true but the number of 143 is a collective blot on our conscience. It’s a blot on the very idea of democracy because there is no law in India which bars persons with criminal cases from contesting elections. This democratic flaw has enabled some criminals win an election right from inside the jail!

Shiv Sena has 33 MLAs with criminal cases pending against them, the highest from a single party. Congress and BJP are on the second position with 26 MLAs each. NCP is ranked third with 24 MLAs. Then there are 36 successful candidates who are either independents or from other regional parties and have criminal cases pending against them, according to National Election Watch data.

India’s democratic framework is such that crime and politics have always been intertwined. Money and muscle power are supposed to be the first steps in climbing up the political ladder. This political trend does not necessarily apply to all because this election has produced the candidates who have won against the might of money and muscle power. But there can be no denying that fact that use of money and muscle power lead to criminal cases.

The 143 tainted MLAs are dirtying Maharashtra’s political pond. Each one of us is responsible for this criminal contamination. Each one of us is guilty for injecting the criminal blood which is polluting the entire Maharashtra. Each one of us owes a responsibility to wipe out this swine flu which is slowly eating us without our realisation.

Perhaps judiciary can play an important role in the operation cleanup. If not, we can’t expect much from our legislators! Legislators of all hues – green, red and saffron – will come together to save themselves! Therefore, a people’s movement seems to be the last and the most practical option.

Is Mr. Ashok Chavan listening?

Sunday Inquilab, November 1, 2009