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This is not the first time the fear of �Greater Nagaland�, comprising parts of Manipur, has been made an election issue. But the intensity of this campaign is clearly owing to the Centre�s ill-advised move on the ceasefire extension. Apart from the ethnic tension this has created, the �territorial� debate has pushed to the background more important issues. One would have expected the election campaign to focus on the crucial question of political stability in the state. Unscrupulous politicians, routinely switching party loyalties for short stints in power, have made Manipur notorious for political instability. This poll was caused by the toppling of several short-lived governments. It was to be expected that the people would teach the politicians a lesson this time. They should seize the opportunity to do this instead of being drawn into the cesspool of ethnic passions, which have taken a heavy toll on life and communal amity in Manipur. Manipur�s economic and social wellbeing has long been hostage to sectarian conflicts involving Meiteis, Nagas, Kukis and other ethnic groups. It is time the people realized that they have had enough of this divisive politics.
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On the other side, there is no doubt that the Congress muffed it. In contrast to the BJP and Shiv Sena, the Congress and the NCP fought the contest each on its own, and evidently succeeded in dividing the votes. Nothing else can explain the loss of Nasik to the enemy, for example, because the town had been a Congress stronghold for a long time. The NCP was left with nothing there, although its leader and the deputy chief minister, Mr Chhagan Bhujbal, comes from the region. Infighting has always been the Congress�s bane, and the couple of sex scandals just before the elections has not helped it at all. Add to it the Congress�s unlimited ability to let go of every opportunity offered by its opponents. Such mismanagement was again in evidence when the allegations of corruption against BJP-Shiv Sena councillors slipped through the Congress�s fingers. It is amazing that the conclusions of the Tinaikar committee report came to nothing. The Congress�s failure is particularly striking not because the BJP-Shiv Sena overcame the anti-incumbency factor, but because the Congress-NCP combine is the incumbent in the assembly. The discomfort that the two partners are increasingly feeling in each others� company may be exacerbated by the outcome of the civic elections. It has to be noted that the people did not react to the charges of corruption against the BJP-Shiv Sena as was expected. The Congress had it made, only, as usual, it was busy with other things.
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Strangely enough, it was only with the use of the Ram temple movement as spearhead that the party made major inroads, and emerged in 1991 as the single largest political formation in the state, a position it has not yet been dislodged from. Its vote-share even climbed marginally in the next round of assembly polls to reach 33 per cent. But since then, things began to go awry. Its ministries have rested either on post-poll deals with Mayavati or else on its own ability to engineer defections and splits in the smaller parties.
This has enabled it to ride out most of the last five years in power in Lucknow, but has achieved little more than that. A closer look shows a high degree of vulnerability. In the last assembly polls, facing a disunited opposition, the party did not do so well as it hoped. Its candidates led in just 157 assembly segments. It won by a margin of less than five per cent or less in more than one of three of these seats.
The actual comparison should be not with the last assembly polls in 1996 but with the last general elections in 1999. Unlike in 1996, the BJP had been in power in the state for over two years. More than the wages of anti-incumbency, what probably marred its chances was its non-performance in power. It led in only 125 segments. More ominous for it was the sobering home truth that the Kargil card did not yield a vote dividend. And that too in an election where Atal Bihari Vajpayee was virtually a presidential candidate in the tradition set by the late Indira Gandhi. The inability of the party to get its act together prompted a change of guard in the state but the acid test lies ahead.
The battle is far from being won. The implications are disturbing for the ruling party. As of now, it does not rule a single other large Hindi-belt state. Outside Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, it does not have any state governments that are completely saffron. More than the handful of saffron ministries in the states, there is the critical role of UP in national politics. It may have dimmed in its influence but it still counts for a lot.
The BJP�s spell in power in New Delhi since 1999 has not seen it exposed until now to a direct fight with a dogged opponent in a state that has been its stronghold for over a decade. With its back to the wall, the saffron fraternity has played not one, but two, cards. The mandir was an obvious choice for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. It had hoped to resolve the dispute in its favour by the middle of March. Now, even L.K. Advani admits that a dispute with such a long lineage and history cannot be resolved with a deadline like that in mind.
Going even further, the party president, Jana Krishnamurthy, has asserted that his party will be bound by the National Democratic Alliance agenda until 2004. Power in Delhi is more important to the party than a home for Ram lalla. Either the law or a mutual settlement is the only feasible way out. Unable to play the Ram issue owing to compulsions of power, the revamped Mandal card has been brought into play. But Kalyan Singh�s exit has deprived it of a front-ranking leader from the other backward classes. More seriously, this marks a tacit victory for the hardened advocates of reservation like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayavati. Far from the Hindutva agenda overwhelming all, it is caste-based mobilization that has won legitimacy from the votaries of saffron.
Not only that. There is an inherent contradiction between projecting Rajnath Singh as a saviour of the state and relying on backward-class mobilization. Singh is the first Rajput chief minister since Bir Bahadur Singh. His trump card is his ability to rally the upper caste, disillusioned by Kalyan Singh�s open advocacy of a non-savarna, populist Hindutva. Now, Singh has to exorcise his predecessor�s ghost while playing the OBC card. This would be a tall order in any situation and is all the more difficult today.
There continues to be speculation in sections of the press about the possible adverse impact of a defeat in UP for Vajpayee�s government. It is indeed true that the Union ministry may not fall like ninepins. The aftermath of the 1998 winter elections led to the withdrawal of support by a key ally, and fresh general elections. But the entire opposition knows that this worked in favour of the NDA and its leader. Further, in the winter of 1998, it was the Congress that was the challenger and main beneficiary. In UP, it is hardly in the running except to be a balancing force. The contest seems to be between Yadav, who hopes to supplant the BJP, and Mayavati, who hopes to undercut him and emerge as the lynchpin of power.
Either result would be a more complex one, leaving some elbow-room for Vajpayee and his allies. Much depends on who makes the post-poll ministry. If the house is hung, as it has been three of the last four times, it will all hinge on who wins how many seats, and who can combine with whom and for how long. But this still leaves open another possibility. In the past, even governments that were stable and rock-solid in the seat of power in New Delhi have lost steam after major state-level electoral reversals. This happened to Indira Gandhi in 1983 and P.V. Narasimha Rao after 1996, when the Congress was trounced in two key southern states. For Vajpayee�s party, UP may not mark the end but it could well be a milestone in the decline of the pre-eminence that the party has enjoyed in much of north India.
It would exacerbate tensions with allies, especially the ones who feel slighted. More critically, a defeat would set off a fresh round of debate on how ideologically charged a party the BJP ought to be, and whether it can thrive in the absence of emotive slogans like the ones on the Ram temple. And it would have put paid to any hopes of economic reform and deepen the sense of drift on policy matters. As in the past, the outcome in UP will have major repercussions for national politics. In 1997, it was by aligning with Mayavati, and then by breaking her party, that the BJP set itself up for a major run for power in New Delhi. Now, the boot may well be on the other front and a fresh re-alignment of forces may be the first major outcome of the elections in the country�s most populous state.
The author is an independent political analyst and a visiting assistant professor at Cornell University, Ithaca
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The problem with this reasoning is that often the distinction between actual terrorists and others get blurred. In the war-like atmosphere that prevails in the US and many other countries, this danger gets multiplied many times over. And India is no exception.
Here, too, the tendency to link entire communities with terrorism has gained ground in recent months. This is evident from the increasing clampdown on many Muslim religious bodies and the suspicion that has been aroused about the community in general.
Take the December 27, 2001 ban on a conference of the All India Minorities Educational Board in Surat. The police reportedly swooped down on the meet, claiming that it was actually a gathering of the banned Students� Islamic Movement of India. Over 120 people were arrested under the Unlawful Activities Act.
The committee for the protection of democratic rights, Mumbai, has been arguing that there is little or no evidence to substantiate the police claim. According to the CPDR secretary, �Even if we unquestioningly accept the �evidence� proffered by the police, there is still little justification for the assertion that it was a SIMI meeting.� Those arrested include lawyers, professors, engineers and professionals from different parts of the country. They can hardly be classified as �terrorists�, the CPDR secretary argues. The AIMEB is a registered body set up in 1994 with headquarters in Saharanpur, and the Surat meeting was just another of their �routine gatherings.�
Although six blank membership forms of SIMI had been seized from the meet, one cannot reach the conclusion that this constituted enough reason to detain 123. It has been alleged that the prisoners were subjected to cruel and degrading treatment. Packed into cramped quarters, they were apparently also denied water and beaten up occasionally. Several of them also complained to the magistrate of being of ill-treated in police custody.
The CPDR is however trying to focus on wider issues. The organization suspects that there is an increasing tendency on the part of the government to clamp down on institutions and individuals who do not subscribe to its ideology and this tendency is often related to the religious identity of the citizen. This is a damning indictment of some of the strategies adopted by the government and implemented by state police forces
If the CPDR�s report does not persuade the government to avoid knee-jerk reactions in times of war, then history can be invoked to show the danger of such reactions. Communities can be maligned and points of view conveniently eliminated from public discourse. The plight of the Japanese American community during World War II has been too well-documented to bear repetition, but what is not so well known is that 11,000 German Americans were also interred during the period under the Alien Enemy Act of 1798, which remains in effect even today. Many reports suggest that the human cost of these actions was high � families were disrupted, reputations destroyed.
The minorities of India seem to be facing a similar situation. The arbitrary acts of the state forces merely serve to reinforce the prevalent stereotypes about India�s Muslims. Isn�t this merely another kind of terror?
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Barely into the new year, I was sitting in Mumbai when I read about a group in Calcutta which represents �young couples and lovers�. They demanded from the state government a New Year�s gift of �love zones�, where lovers could �meet, talk, kiss and hold hands� without being harassed by the police. I had a hearty laugh, for what I thought were all the right reasons. A group calling itself the Lovers� Organization for Voluntary Exhibition � which seemed a random choice of words to fit the acronym �LOVE� � led by a person bearing the name, Rupak Manush, was bizarre enough. But the flicker of reality was inescapable. A Marie Antoinettesque thought crossed my mind about the poor souls whose moments of intimacy are rudely intruded upon by policemen, hawkers and inquisitive passers-by in the Victoria Memorial, Nandan and the Lakes. Let them rent hotel rooms for a day or a night, I thought.
A couple of weeks later, back in the deceptively secure arms of Calcutta, I tried to do exactly that. And failed. No hotel in the city, barring the star-rated ones, would let a young man and woman occupy a room, or even separate rooms. The excuses ranged from the easily detectable lie of �no vacancy�, to our failure to produce heavy luggage, to the arrogant claims that �such� things could not be allowed. None, save one, advanced to the stage of asking for proof of identity, although one of them seemed a little too eager to know more about the relationship between the prospective occupants. It is a matter of passing interest that several of these hotels have dubious reputations, which earn them frequent visits from the police.
This is not the best of times for the hotel industry in India, primarily because of some very real security threats. The resultant financial recession makes it all the more difficult to believe that hotel after hotel would refuse prospective clients even when they did not pose any kind of security threat (there was not even any luggage, remember).
If the refusals were indeed on grounds of security, wouldn�t they be more frequently encountered in Mumbai, or in New Delhi, both being cities of greater strategic importance than Calcutta? Yet, in Mumbai, a city I have come to know quite closely, few questions would be asked in an identical situation. More important, where questions must be asked, they do not blatantly betray a misplaced fear of immorality. No hotel in a modern city has any business asking how, or if at all, two customers are related to each other.
It might have been premature and presumptuous to infer from the experience that the refusals were premised on moral grounds had I not learnt about two other incidents. In one, an older man and a woman, obviously unrelated to each other and sans luggage, had no difficulty getting a double room in a Calcutta hotel. Neither did two young gay men, in spite of the fact that they too had no luggage to show.
Perhaps the experience in Calcutta would not have sparked off such disappointment and helpless anger if there was not the experience of another city like Mumbai to set it off against. In many ways, the two cities are similar in their respect for the past. And yet, while Mumbai has negotiated successfully with modernity, Calcutta has failed to prove itself up to it. Calcuttans are easily scared, and nothing scares them so much as the prospect of moral degeneration.
Another set of incidents would perhaps make the picture clearer. In December last year, a matrimonial portal based in Mumbai had invited single men and women to a restaurant in the city. The end in sight, of course, was the promotion of the website; the means, to organize a meeting of prospective brides and grooms in the hope that some marital alliances would materialize. Given that only those who had registered with the website were invited � they were encouraged to bring friends along though � the appearance of close to 70 men and women was surely encouraging. There were the usual party games before the men and women gathered were left alone to mingle and get to know each other.
What appeared the best parts of the event at the time were the novelty of the concept and the enterprise of the organizers. However, when, in January 2002, a report appeared about a similar meet being organized in Calcutta, the Mumbai meet could not but be reconsidered in a different light. The organizers of the event in Calcutta were a marriage consultant firm, and this was their maiden venture. While the Mumbai event targeted the potential brides and grooms, the organizers in Calcutta made the participation of their �families� a precondition for entry. It was evident from the latter�s comments that, for them, matrimonial alliances are still very much the domain of the elders rather than the persons getting married.
The contrast does not end here. No one raised an eyebrow when, at the restaurant in Mumbai, people left in twos because they felt they needed to know each other better than would be possible within the crowded confines of the restaurant. It can safely be said that under similar circumstances at the Calcutta meet, populated with parents and guardians, more than an eyebrow would be raised � perhaps cudgels.
A small thing, but of vital importance, needs to be considered at this point. Even if a boy and a girl, who got introduced to each other at such a meet in Calcutta, wanted to get away from the crowd to spend some time together, where could they possibly go? The question brings us back to the beginning of this discussion: to cities, to Calcutta, to the problems of urban living, to the demands of modernity, and most important, to questions of individual liberty and private space.
These are difficult problems to negotiate, rendered more difficult by the fact that familiarity with the city, and its comforts and securities cleverly conceal the problems most of the time. If a matrimonial party in Mumbai gathers 70 men and women and another in Calcutta manages to gather 500, is it fair to conclude that Calcutta displays greater enthusiasm for events of this kind? Or that the organizers in Calcutta are more enterprising than those in Mumbai? Could the numbers also indicate that young people in Calcutta are more inclined to take the nuptial plunge than their counterparts in Mumbai? If yes, the question that must follow is: would the numbers have been any different had Calcutta offered the same kind of �liberties� as Mumbai?
Life in a city is beset with problems of myriad kinds; poor traffic control, lack of sanitation, shortage of power are a few of them. But if these need to be redressed, so do the equally relevant problems of private space and public morality. Every individual has his private and public selves, and each has its own charter of demands. To fulfil some and deny, even ignore completely, the others is double standards at its worst. The problem is compounded by the fact that in cities like Calcutta, the citizen himself, often without realizing, subordinates his needs as a private being to the demands of his public self. If, for instance, it is not unsafe for a young girl to return home alone late at night � a freedom that ought to be quite natural � then, by some warped logic, it is considered unreasonable to demand greater privacy.
What the hotels in Calcutta displayed was a tradition of suspicion based on moral considerations. The organizers of the matrimonial meet extended it further by exposing a complete lack of faith in the ability of two adults to make decisions regarding their own lives. Both, seen together, demonstrate the failure of a city to offer the amenities and choices to its citizens which enable them to conduct their lives exactly the way they want to. In the long run, this shapes and informs the outlook and attitude of individuals, and is expressed in their interactions with others. Young people from Calcutta, it has often been observed in the recent past, are less sure of themselves when compared to their counterparts in Mumbai or New Delhi. This trait works to their disadvantage in the cut-throat modern job market.
One other manifestation is the tendency, easy to come across in most Calcuttans, to look for a shortcut or bend the rules even when it is uncalled for. It is not a problem to get accommodation in a �no vacancy� hotel or a hospital if one happens to be an acquaintance of the owner or manager or anyone who is in a position of influence. In one of Mumbai�s reputed cancer hospitals, one could see Bengalis from Calcutta trying, as is their wont, to jump the queue and seething in rage on finding that they could not.
Domestic life in Indian cities in general and Calcutta in particular has always been about curfew, censure, unease, anxiety. Ways have been evolved to accommodate, and get accommodated within, the moralistic framework of the urban Indian family. Of these, half-truths, white lies and manipulations are probably the most common. The domestic boundaries perhaps make it all the more important that there be a space which offers the freedom that the family does not. This space is as much a physical entity as it is a construct of the mind. Experience shows that there has been a conspicuous lack of such spaces in Calcutta. While Calcuttans have preferred to be smug about whatever there is and gloss over the rest, cities like Mumbai have silently gone about creating such spaces. The results are for everyone to see.
It may not be possible to sustain the smugness for much longer. The forces of the market have made sure that the individual comes forward and is counted. In more real terms, when the hotels find it difficult to make ends meet, if their discriminatory policies deprive them of paying customers, or when match-making parties take place in empty halls, the economics of the ventures will play the catalyst in bringing about a change. It is unfortunate that what could have been a fruitful and enjoyable encounter with modernity must now be witnessed as a petty and unpleasant fight.
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Fight the other warSir� The nomination of the president of the United States of America, George W. Bush, and the British prime minister, Tony Blair, for the Nobel Peace Prize, 2002, by a member of the Norwegian parliament is ironical (�Bush, Blair nominated for Nobel� Feb 6). What is even more disturbing is the fact that the two leaders have been nominated for taking prompt action in the aftermath of September 11. Given that Bush�s much publicized war against terrorism has accomplished very little other than the killing of civilians in a rather pathetic display of muscle-power and a flagrant violation of the Geneva convention, one wonders what makes him worthy of this award. What then could prevent Osama bin Laden, who has also killed civilians and violated human rights, from receiving this award? It does not take a great deal of imagination to think that the two self-proclaimed world leaders have used their influence to bag the nomination. Why else would a member of the Nobel committee, Bishop Gunnar Staalsett, criticize the committee�s decision?
One downSir� The much awaited arrest and subsequent deportation of Aftab Ansari, the man who had masterminded the January 22 attack on a police picket outside the American Center, has turned out to be a major victory as well as a morale booster for the Indian authorities. As has been pointed out in the report, �Ansari arrested before flight to Islamabad� (Feb 10), the United Arab Emirates authorities deserve to be congratulated for their prompt action against Ansari and his accomplice, Raju Sharma, alias Rajinder, who were wanted by India for a series of crimes committed on Indian soil.
However, the Central Bureau of Investigation should not get carried away by these early successes. Despite possessing adequate proof against the accused in criminal cases, CBI prosecutors have on many occasions been unable to nail them. Further, the Indian authorities should also remember that the involvement of the Federal Bureau of Investigation played a large part in securing the cooperation of the UAE. Would the deportation of Ansari have been as easy had he attacked an Indian defence establishment instead of the American Center? It would also be pertinent to ask why criminals like Anees Ibrahim (brother of Dawood Ibrahim), Chhota Shakeel, Abu Salem and others who reside in and operate from Dubai have not been deported to India even though the CBI has furnished evidence of their involvement.
Ansari�s link with Pakistan and the Inter-Services Intelligence has now been established beyond doubt. According to the CBI, he has also admitted his role in the formation of a countrywide network of arms and narcotics smugglers who would carry out illegal activities in India. It is also clear now that the killing of the policemen was only incidental. It happened because the terrorists could not go through with the original plan of attacking the American Center owing to the delay in the procurement of equipment and the death of Asif Reza.
One hopes that in the light of current events, the United States of America will toughen its stand on Pakistan and urge it to hand over the 20 terrorists wanted by India.
Sir � The report, �If Emirates can, why can�t Pak?� (Feb 10), was interesting. However, the question posed in it can only be answered by the Central government and the Pakistani authorities and not by the people of Calcutta or India. Calcuttans can only hope that the extradition of Aftab Ansari can set the ball rolling for Pakistan toaccede to India�s demands.
Ansari�s confession to the CBI seems to have established his links with the ISI. The next logical step for India would be to exert pressure on Pakistan to force the extradition of Dawood Ibrahim to India. The Centre must use this opportunity to convince the US of Pakistan�s complicity in the events that have taken place.
Sir � The arrest of Aftab Ansari has demonstrated the utility of teamwork and thoroughness. Even though India has an extradition treaty with Abu Dhabi, deportation was a more attractive alternative since it is usually faster and more effective.
The arrest of one terrorist will not rid the country of terrorism. But this is probably the first time that so many regional police departments have coordinated to bring about a breakthrough in a case.
Sir� On January 26, The Telegraph brought out a special supplement entitled, Proud to be Indian. While it is easy to appreciate the sentiment behind the publication, I was surprised to find that no military personnel, who are constantly braving the odds to protect our borders, were asked what patriotism meant to them after more than 50 years of independence. The Telegraph, however, interviewed a politician who had spoken in favour of China during the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962.
The supplement also mentioned that 31 per cent of those interviewed thought that the Indian army was incompetent. I would like to urge these individuals to work with the army for a year and take part in counter-insurgency operations. Only then would they be in a position to judge the army�s competence or lack of it.
Sir� The idea of bringing out two special supplements, Catch 2002 and Proud to be Indian, on Republic Day was innovative. It was, however, shocking to see that those social events that had already been held in the city during the first three weeks of January, were recommended. Perhaps the supplement was scheduled for an earlier publication. But this need not have been made so evident.
Sir� The findings of the survey conducted by TNS-Mode and published in The Telegraph are shocking. While their pride in being Indians would prevent many of the respondents from wearing the Indian flag as a dress and make them condemn the liberation of Kashmir, they have, however, chosen to remain silent against communal and casteist parties and their policies.
Indian patriotism is at its jingoistic best now. While expressing itself in fanatical hatred towards Pakistan, it fails to take into account divisive forces like the United Liberation Front of Asom and the Naxalites. On another front, millions may subsist on mango kernels but investment in nuclear programmes must assume top priority.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that 49 per cent of those who were interviewed felt that Satyajit Ray had tarnished India�s image abroad by depicting poverty and other harsh realities in his films. Unlike the so-called �patriots�, Ray was guilty of failing to uphold India�s great tradition abroad and instead, chose to expose the superstitions and the rampant corruption which is a part of Indian society. Therefore, while Ray�s films were brilliant enough to win an Oscar, the man himself was unpatriotic for not sweeping under the carpet India�s innumerable problems.
It was good to find that one of the respondents thought he serves his country best by helping younger generations and students, although it might be the most unfashionable thing to say.
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