Sunday, December 28, 2014

#IdeaOfCongress in Twenty-six Tweets

On the occasion of the 130th Foundation Day of Indian National Congress, I made an attempt to understand the Idea of Congress. I read the Constitution of the Party and its recent plenary resolutions. What I could learn from these sources were disseminated through twenty six tweets, during the day. These ideas remain most powerful and most suited for a country like India. Congress should strive towards strengthening these ideas rather than worrying about winning or losing an election here and there. For a political party, power (or lack of it) should not be a constraint in fulfilling its basic roles and propagating its ideology.

Here are the twenty six tweets that captures the Idea of Congress, as I understand it from the official documents of the Party:

1.    India’s unity, integrity, secular polity and democratic federalism.
2.    Being mindful of the special obligations to all poor and weaker sections of the people!
3.    Setting direction of the economy of the country, especially at critical turning points in its history.
4.    Facing the challenges thrown up by undemocratic, divisive & exclusionary political & social formations.
5.    Secularism, nationalism, social justice, social cohesion, and economic growth for all
6.    The fundamental need to give a sense of security to every Indian – to him/her, to his/her family & to his/her community
7.    Commitment to the principles of economic growth and social justice based on an inclusive growth model.
8.    Unequivocally committed to India’s ‘middle-ground’, speaking for the vast majority of the people, and fighting against fringe elements
9.    Committed to science, modern technology, inclusive innovation and job-creating growth for the youth of India.
10.  Balancing the aspirations of both young middle class India and the young deprived India
11.  Accepting people’s verdict with humility and making necessary changes to maintain/regain their trust.
12.  Firm commitment for empowerment of the weaker sections of society.
13.  Fighting corruption at all levels through systemic changes. #Lokpal #RTI
14.  Protecting the environment from the greed of cronies, through sustainable development.
15.  India’s biggest socio-economic challenge is to ensure inclusive growth with jobs, to reduce inequality.
16.  Time bound redressal of public grievances at the grassroots level through legislative initiatives 
17.  Empowering local bodies with regard to implementation of government schemes and public services. #PanchayatiRaj
18.  Committed to a rights-based approach to legislation! #MNREGA #FSA #Empowerment
19.  Committed to labour welfare through minimum wages, social security benefits, safety, and fair labour practices
20.  Committed to eliminating middlemen in welfare through direct benefits transfer, “Aapka Paisa, Aapke Haath”
21.  Will you ever expect Modi to implement an empowering scheme like RTI? That is what #IdeaOfCongress can do for India.
22.  Taking India to the 3rd largest economy through appropriate economic policies (and not dogmas) at appropriate times.
23.  #IdeaOfCongress will not appeal to those who object Food Subsidy to the poorest while enjoying subsidy on LPG!
24.  Laugh when I say #IdeaOfCongress made #Lokpal possible. Yet, forget demanding, you don't even expect Modi Govt to implement the Lokpal Act!
25.  #IdeaOfCongress means the first right of every citizen to India’s resources, irrespective of his/her religion/caste/community/political affiliations!
26.  Aberrations do happen when the history is as long as 130 yrs! #IdeaOfCongress cannot be faulted for the aberrations. Correction is the need

I am fully aware that Congress party and/or Congress leaders may have deviated from the ideas of Congress. When you have a history of 130 years, it is only natural that there will be some aberrations. As the twenty-sixth tweet suggests, aberrations do not invalidate the ideas. It only calls for corrections. Therefore, the fundamental ideas constitute a guiding light, for the Party to assume its original role. When I say the original role, it is not occupying the chair of power but ensuring the rights and welfare of all the segments of Indian people. It is the duty of Congress workers and leaders to ensure adherence to the basic ideas.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Why would They Make in India?

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision to initiate a ‘Make in India’ campaign, I was quite skeptical about it. When the campaign was put into motion, with those promoted tweets and ads appearing on the screens, I tweeted my misgivings about the campaign’s efficacy. My tweets did not receive any traction, perhaps they might have appeared as an outcome of the ‘jealousy of the losing side!’
Couple of days back, the RBI Governor himself went on record, questioning the rationale behind the ‘Make in India’ campaign. In his Bharat Ram Memorial Lecture on ‘Make in India, Largely for India’ Mr. Raghuram Rajan minced no words when he demolished the two arguments that were being advanced in defense of the campaign. First argument relates to following the export-led growth path of China. Mr. Rajan was of the opinion that the world simply cannot accommodate one more China. “I am counselling against an export-led strategy that involves subsidizing exporters with cheap inputs as well as an undervalued exchange rate, simply because it is unlikely to be as effective at this juncture” said, Mr. Rajan. Second argument of import substitution through the Make in India and preferential tariffs is also not valid as it would only end up in reducing the domestic competition, making producers inefficient and increasing cost to the domestic consumers, as rightly pointed out by Mr. Rajan.
Now Mr. Swaminathan Aiyar has also joined the ranks of skeptics. In a column appeared in the Sunday times of India (14/12/2014), Mr. Aiyar reminded the readers, and the Prime Minister that ‘Make in India’ cannot be a policy, but only the outcome. I do not think anyone can say it any better!
Let us take a look at why this campaign is not destined to succeed.  Mr. Modi has successfully led another campaign that made him the Prime Minister of the country, almost on similar lines. Both Modi’s prime ministerial campaign and the Make in India campaigns are based on sheers promises and dreams and not on any verifiable initiatives. Mr. Modi succeeded in the first campaign. However, the promises made during the campaign were immediately given up, resulting in a record number of U-turns by (probably) any elected government. The leaders and ministers of the BJP are on record that those promises were not serious promises and governance cannot be based on promises made during the campaigns, Never mind, a lot of voters who voted Mr. Modi and BJP, based on those very promises!
Voting in elections is likely to happen on the basis of dreams and sales talk as the voters are not accountable to anyone for their decisions. Unfortunately for Mr. Modi, the decision makers who commit the precious capital, to any new venture are more accountable than the voters. Both in law and practice, the corporations are duty bound to ensure maximization of profits and value for the shareholders. All the sweet talk about corporate social responsibility and socially conscious leadership is nothing but clever marketing jargons that help the corporations in furthering their pursuit of more profits. In the light of these hard realities, let us look at that factors that might attract a corporation to undertake or shift their manufacturing activities to India or any other country for that matter.
The entire process of globalization and outsourcing are based on the pursuit of markets where the products can be made or purchased at the cheapest costs, or can be sold at the highest profits.  If we want someone to shift their manufacturing to India, we need to provide a cost advantage to them. In my view, it can happen only under five conditions. First condition is the availability of the cheapest labor, including the absence of any credible regulations that govern labor relations. In other words, the ability to establish and run the infamous sweatshops! If not anything else, a reasonably strong trade union movement in India The second condition is the presence of a strong research and development regime. We can easily ignore this condition as India is not anywhere on the R&D or technology scenario. The third condition is an atmosphere that allows easy and unchecked exploitation of the environment and natural resources. Despite the initiatives of Modi government and its environment minister in speeding up the environment clearances, India has a robust environment protection regime that any sensible investor will see the risks of circumventing those laws. Even if the government grants clearances, there is still a risk that the projects might be held up later due to enforcement of the environment protections laws by the judiciary. Therefore, this third condition will also not apply to India, unless Modi Government can ensure change in those laws, which is very unlikely.  The fourth factor is the absence of any accountability. There were reports suggesting that many sunset industries in China are looking to shift their manufacturing to India as China has launched a massive drive to relocate outdated and polluting technologies to neighboring countries.  Even though, India has incidences of unaccountability, like Bhopal tragedy, its robust judiciary and vibrant democracy are safeguards against any gross unaccountability from either the government or corporations. Indian people are quite aware of the perils of polluting industries and are not likely to meekly accept their presence in their respective localities.
All the four factors discussed above are not contributing to making India a preferred location for global manufacturing. Thus, not many global corporations are likely to look at India as their manufacturing destination for export-oriented production. That makes success of the entire campaign dependent on the fifth and last condition, which is a high level of domestic consumption. Is the domestic consumption is high, it may make sense to the global manufacturers to produce in India instead of importing it from some other place. It is no secret that India could, by and large, isolate itself from the global economic meltdowns of the recent past (albeit with a lesser rate of growth), on the strength of its domestic consumption.  It is also seen that welfare initiates like MGNREGA had increased the availability of income in the hands of India’s vast rural population, allowing them to increase the domestic consumption. With the dilution of MGNREGA by the Modi government wherein the Govt is reportedly considering reduction of spending on wages, the boom in rural consumption is also likely to go down in the coming months. Therefore, there is no evidence to suggest that an increasing domestic consumption will force the global manufacturers towards shifting to India.
As discussed above, none of the five factors having potential to attract the manufacturers, to a country are showing any promises. There has not been any initiatives (barring some hasty and questionable environmental clearances) from the government towards making any of those five factors more attractive. Therefore, despite the high volume campaign, there is nothing to make the global business towards the Indian market. The only factor is a change in government, with Mr. Modi assuming the chair of the Prime Minister. This one change may be sufficient for the Modi fans to dream that India has changed, but surely not enough for the decision makers of the global manufacturers.
If the Make in India campaign has to meet its objectives, it will require much more concrete action than mere selling of dreams and promises, and the image of a person. More so, when the responsible leaders of the ruling party dare to go on record that not all promises are serious promises!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Yet another Unsolicited Advice to Indian National Congress

One more set of elections got over, with one more drubbing to the grand old party of Indian politics. Going by the unsolicited (and unheeded?) advises pouring in for the party’s top leadership, one wonders how the Party keeps losing elections despite so many well-wishers! If all these ‘well-wishers’ worked hard for a Congress win, it would have been difficult to defeat it in elections!

                It is not just the usual detractors and the media pundits that want Gandhi family to own up the responsibility for repeated defeats and step aside from the top leadership of the party. Even some of the diehard supporters are seen promoting hashtags, calling for a Gandhi Mukt Congress. Many others are not so critical of the top leadership, but demand specific actions by the leadership, to ensure the reversal of Party’s fortunes.

                Let me share some of the thoughts that came up while reading those friendly, and not-so-friendly advises. Firstly, did anyone in their right senses expect Congress to stage a coup and reverse writings on the wall in Haryana and Maharashtra, as was visible during the recently concluded Loksabha elections? More so, when its partner NCP had ditched it just before the elections? I, for one, was not expecting any such dramatic changes and found the results more or less on the expected lines. 

                Secondly, one of the suggestions being made, to change the electoral fortunes of Congress is to empower local and regional leaderships. On the face of it, the suggestion looks logical. However, we also have a situation where Kumari Shelja has already made a demand for Mr. Hooda to own up the responsibility for the election results in Haryana. She blamed Hooda’s style of functioning, wherein, allegedly he had sidelined all other leaders. Now when you empower one leader, wouldn’t it make him more powerful than others? How will you ensure that all others in the Party remain happy and satisfied? Nobody can blame that Hooda Govt had not performed in Haryana.  By almost all indices, the state had progressed well beyond national averages under the Hooda Govt.

                Other Maharashtra leaders are also complaining that it is an empowered Prithviraj Chavan that has caused the loss in Maharashtra!  Again, in Maharashtra, people seem to have not appreciated how the leadership persisted with a Mr. Clean as the CM! Chavan and Hooda represented two styles of politics, but both did not work for Congress. It only shows that perhaps many factors including the continuing honeymoon of voters with Narendra Modi and natural anti-incumbency mood against multiple term governments contributed in ousting the Congress.

                Last but not the least, is the demand for the top leadership (Sonia and Rahul) to step aside. The demand comes from two sources. First source is the genuine outrage and frustration of the Party supporters for whom it is a pain to see repeated electoral reversals. The other source is the opponents who are drawing some pleasure by attacking the leadership when it is most vulnerable. Many in the Right Wing considers Nehru-Gandhi family as the only stumbling block in their quest for a Congress Mukt Bharat, which is necessary for them to pursue their majoritarian agenda.

                In principle, I am not in favour of dynasties in democracy. However, I am a pragmatist who recognizes the role of Gandhi family in holding the Congress Party together. The experiment involving Sitaram Kesri and Narasimha Rao had shown how difficult it will be for the Congress Party to stay together when there is no glue of a Gandhi name to hold it together. Just like RSS holds BJP together, Congress is held together by the Gandhi name. Also, the role of families in Indian politics (same as in other businesses and even professions) cannot be overcome so easily. In India, all political parties, with the exception of Left Parties are controlled by one or other family. Even the BJP, which is controlled by the RSS is not free from the role of families, with a large number of second and third generation members already representing it in the legislative bodies.  There is no evidence to suggest that Indian electorate detests the role of families in politics. Therefore, the question of dynasty and its effect on electoral fortunes may be misplaced.

                All these points clearly show that there are no readymade solutions for Congress to adopt. Every formula can be seen as tested and failed at some point in time. No Party can afford to discard its leadership each time it suffers an electoral setback. It is also a fact that currently there is no leader who has the stature to merely step into the shoes of Sonia or Rahul and start leading the Party with the full support from all sections of the Party and the wider electorate. Therefore, it has to take a more long-term view and strengthen itself from the grassroots level.

                The Party is out of power at the national level and in a majority of the states. The fortune hunters have either moved to BJP and got elected or are in the process of getting in the good books of Modi. Only the committed workers will remain with the party. The party has to take steps to energize this core support base and develop it into a strong force. It is in this context that I would like to place my unsolicited advice on record. Rahul Gandhi can play an important role in executing this suggestion and kill many birds with a single stone.

                The suggestion is to introduce genuine internal democracy in the Party. Rahul had tried this in bits and pieces. However, to derive any benefit from it the adoption has to be universal and wholehearted. Let no leader get any position except through an election. Right from the local committees, to the AICC President let all positions be occupied by those leaders elected by the party members.  Let local and regional leadership emerge on their own right and not as ‘empowered’ by the High Command. Let the candidates for lections also be decided by the primaries (the system was piloted during last Loksabha elections). Even Rahul Gandhi should contest and win whatever party post that he aspires for, instead of continuing to be entitled on the basis of a surname. If the leaders elected through genuine internal elections decide to elect Rahul Gandhi, he would have finally buried the tag of dynasty and emerged as a leader, in his own right.

For the beginning, let the Party announce final timelines for the next round of organizational elections. According to a reported statement by the Chairman of the Party’s electoral authority, Mr. Mullappaly Ramachandran, the entire election process is expected to be completed by July 2015. Let it be made known to all that there will be no exemptions from its process. This will energize the workers who might be demoralized from the recent setbacks, and make them work instead of merely waiting for the ruling side to commit blunders. It will also ensure healthy competition among leaders and result in emergence of a set of leaders who have the backing of the party workers.

                I can foresee the objections to the above suggestion. However, I don’t buy the arguments that internal elections will weaken the Party. Party is already weakened by the present system, and there is no guarantee that continuing with the same system will produce any better results. Kerala presents an example where different groups are functioning within the Party and yet the Party continues to do well, organizationally and electorally.

A party that is committed to democracy must be willing to accept the risks in adopting that same democracy. Leaders who cannot live by democracy cannot aspire for its fruits alone!  Winning elections is necessary, but it is not the only end in democracy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Abusers on Twitter: An Interesting Experience!

Today, I woke to an abusive tweet from a handle that I had never noticed as one of my followers on Twitter.  The anonymous handle is named ‘Angry_AJ’ and the short bio on the profile introduces the user as an “Abusive when Abused else Easy loving Girl.” I did not remember abusing anyone including this handle on Twitter. So, I was curious as to what prompted this otherwise ‘Easy loving Girl’ to become so abusive!

Last night I saw a Time of India tweet that said, “Gujarat set to become India’s manufacturing and petrochemical hub: Anandiben Patel" Since our PM Modi has always been claiming that Gujarat is already a most developed manufacturing and industrial hub, I felt that the present CM’s use of future tense is an insult to him. I commented, sarcastically, on the story and tweeted as follows:

Jay_Ambadi: Set to become? Trolling Modi? ;) RT "@timesofindia: Gujarat set to become India’s manufacturing and petrochemical hub: Anandiben Patel"

Nilim Dutta  responded:

‏@NilimDutta:  @jay_ambadi After sooo many years of 'development' and #VbrantGujarat? :p  @timesofindia

This tweet prompted the Angry_AJ to abuse me and Nilim Dutta by tweeting:

‏@Angry_AJ: @NilimDutta @jay_ambadi  two of the biggest MCs of a Twitter now talking about Gujarat which is alive like salt in every dish bhenchos

The first thing I read when I woke up in the morning was this abusive tweet. As I am used to receiving such tweets from unknown handles, at first I decided to ignore it. However, it did not end there. Perhaps this ‘Easy loving Girl’ understood my silence as a weakness. So, ‘she’ came back to attack me further when I retweeted the following response to the Union Minister, Ms.Uma Bharati’s outrageous comment on electric crematoriums:

@utterflea: Uma Bharti babe plis go ahead and opt fr a log cremation. As fr me, Id rather not have my pristine knee caps floating down the Ganges

Our ‘Easy loving Girl’ responded by this tweet:

@Angry_AJ:@utterflea die before she succeeds @jay_ambadi

When I saw this, I was convinced (going by my past experiences) that this handle is not going to let me tweet in peace unless I confront and settle the matter. So, I responded in the same tone:

‏@jay_ambadi: @Angry_AJ And you, rot when she succeeds! @utterflea

Though my intention was to get back at the handle, but there was an element of truth in my response. If we go by the suggestion of Ms. Uma Bharati and do away with electric crematoriums we all will have to rot, to some extent! Isn’t the half burned bodies thrown into Ganges so infamous?

Let me quote the tweet exchange that followed:

@Angry_AJ: @jay_ambadi bastard you I didn't referred you son of a bitch don't dare again @utterflea

Now the ‘Easy loving Girl’ is not only abusing, but also warning me not to dare, to respond again! I decided to call the bluff and responded:

‏@jay_ambadi: @Angry_AJ :-)) Thanks, but no thanks! So, please take that back. @utterflea

The exchange that followed went like this:

@Angry_AJ: @jay_ambadi  nope u deserved that , don't interfere when not needed everybody is not Gandhi, you get twice the hit             

‏@jay_ambadi: @Angry_AJ What are you? Godse? You tagged me in a reply. I didn't tag you or follow you. I don't take abuses, I just return it to the giver.

‏@Angry_AJ: @jay_ambadi nw shut up AH

Now that 'she' wanted me to shut up, I decided to push it further!

‏@jay_ambadi : @Angry_AJ You started it by barging into my TL. Come on, bring out your worst abuses. Let me see how much your parents have taught you.

‏@jay_ambadi: @Angry_AJ But I reserve my right to block you, just to keep the dirt out of my TL.

‏@jay_ambadi: @Angry_AJ What is the worst abuse that you were taught? Or you finished your quota? I am waiting eagerly to know your standards

That is when she decided to make the expanded form of AH clear to me so that I don’t miss her message!

‏@Angry_AJ: @jay_ambadi I said shut up asshole

I was in no mood to give up, yet. I wanted to take the conversation to its logical end!

‏@jay_ambadi: @Angry_AJ You are a coward &you cant silence me. You can only abuse me &show your upbringing. I am ready for the challenge. bring it on.

By now the ‘Easy loving Girl’ has decided it is not worth pursuing. What can you do to a person who is not getting upset with the stock of your worst abuses? You cannot obviously attack him physically on twitter (or even in the real world when you are too scared to lose your anonymity)! When there was no further response, I checked the status and found that Angry_AJ has already unfollowed me.

I brought the conversation to an end by sending this tweet:

@jay_ambadi: @Angry_AJ Glad to know that you have unfollowed me now :) Have a great day ahead!

Obviously, I received no further responses! Thank you, Sri Buddha, for devising the best strategy to deal with such vicious abusers!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Constructive Use of Social Media: An Example from Trivandrum Division of Indian Railways

Very often we get to hear, even from the users of social media that the social media is full of trolling and negativity. I admit there is an element of negativity and abusiveness prevalent on social media, perhaps due to the false feeling of anonymity. However, like any other medium or technology social media is also a double-edged sword. The outcome of its use depends on how and for what purpose we use it, rather than on the medium itself.

                These thoughts came to my mind when I noticed an exchange that took place on Twitter. The incident may seem silly, but knowing how our systems function I cannot but appreciate an excellent and positive use of Twitter by the people involved. Let the pictures speak further:

#tvcdrive Sir, the condition of rail bridge over State Highway 5 close to KAYANKULAM JN Railway station @sunilbajpai
6:21 PM - 27 Sep 2014 

The flex board in Malayalam cautions bike riders to be careful about the human excreta that may fall on them through the gaps in the railway over bridge when the trains are passing. I am told the condition was persisting for quite some time now.  As you can see from the tweet above, Mr. Renjith informed Mr. Sunil Bajpai who is the Division Manager of Indian Railways, Trivandrum Division. Obviously, Renjith was making use of the new initiative by Trivandrum Division, in using a Twitter Hash-tag #tvcdrive for ensuring cleanliness. The Hash-tag is created as a part of Trivandrum Division's Clean Railways initiative for October 2nd, Gandhi Jayanthi day. As you can see from the tweet below, Mr. Bajpai replied in less than four hours:

@MrCo_OL Thanks a lot! Your tweet is already taken note of by the concerned officer.
9:58 PM - 27 Sep 2014

The concerned Officer replied Renjith, by next day, via following tweet:

@MrCo_OL @sunilbajpai Planned for attention on monday.
12:52 PM - 28 Sep 2014

Mr. Sreekumar followed it up, promptly, with a satisfaction report by next day:

@MrCo_OL @sunilbajpai Photo of Bridge after attention #tvcdrive

As if evident from the picture above, the problem was solved with a simple solution, no doubt providing much needed respite to the users of the road. The social consciousness of Mr. Renjith and the responsiveness and sense of duty of Mr. Bajpai and Mr. Sreekumar are great examples for all of us social media users to emulate. Let us also help Indian Railways in making their #tvcdrive a grand success on October 2nd.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Raging Controversies: Time for Kerala Government to Turn the Tables?

There are three controversies, currently raging, in Kerala. The first one has to do with a racket that blackmails powerful and rich persons, using video recordings of their sexual escapades with the women from the racket. Apart from the TRP conscious news channels, perverts and others starved of healthy sex, this issue is not of much importance. The other two issues are with far more social and financial implications for state and its people.
The first issue arose from the closure of 418 liquor Bars that failed to maintain certain standards, in the past. A large number of these Bars now claim to have created those necessary standards and, therefore, complain that their closure is not justified. The matter is before the High Court, and the Govt is required to make up its mind on whether to allow these Bars (or such of them that have created the necessary standards by now) or to revoke their licenses permanently.
There are various claims for and against the permanent closure of these Bars. Those who are against reopening any of these Bars (irrespective of their current status) is led by a powerful section of the ruling Congress party and its State President VM Sudheeran. Many of the coalition partners are also in favour of the closure, at least in their public posture. This group also draws power from the anti-liquor groups and religious leaderships. The other group that includes the Chief Minister and the concerned Minister argues that government cannot arbitrarily close these Bars without any rational differentiation. There are close to 400 other Bars operating in the state, some of them surely without necessary facilities. They argue that all the Bars that meet the necessary standards should be allowed to operate and the rest asked to close down, irrespective of whether the Bar belongs to the group of 418 or not.
The government currently caught between the devil and deep sea must try to become proactive and create a policy that seeks to get the population out of the vice grip of alcohol. As a beginning, it should consider closing down all the Bars and restrict liquor sale only to the government owned Beverages Corporation outlets. Let us not make it easy for the addicted, to obtain liquor.  No doubt, there might be a problem from the revenue that will have to be foregone in the process. A part of it might be offset by the increased revenue of Beverages Corporation. Even otherwise, the revenue earned at the cost of people’s health and so many other vices including ‘increasing crime rates,’ is not worth or sustainable for a democratic government.
Before I proceed to the remaining issue, let me clarify that I am not in favour of a forced prohibition, which only leads to the strengthening of liquor mafia and seller of spurious liquor. On principles, I also believe that government should not arbitrarily act against one set of Bars while allowing others to continue with their business. However, the government is not left with many options at this stage. It cannot easily go against the powerful ‘public opinion’ being created in favour of not opening the 418 Bars. Also, it cannot escape the accusations of supporting the Bar owners, for extraneous consideration, even if the Bars are eventually allowed to reopen through a court order. So, why not turn the tables and adopt a general policy of no Bars that is in consonance with the demand of a large proportion of the population?
The third controversy relates to the allocation of new Higher Secondary (Plus Two) Batches, to accommodate the surplus students who have passed the last year’s 10th standard examination. This issue is also before the High Court, where the Government has already been subjected to some severe criticism.  The controversy mainly stems from the fact that every management is putting pressure on the government to allocate more Batches to them. The Aided School lobby of Kerala remains one of the most powerful, with all the major religious / community leadership being so keen to increase their level of services to the students of Kerala. It is not a secret that this interest has to do more with their power to appoint teachers for the additional Batches, rather than any genuine desire to provide educational services. For each appointment in Higher Secondary school, the management usually take bribes to the tune of more than a million. These bribes are, of course, in cash, and not reflected in the accounts or tax returns. At the same time, the salary and other benefits of the teachers appointed by the management are paid by the state Government.
Government paying the salary to individuals who are appointed by management without giving any consideration to the merit or fair selection, is against all the principles of natural justice and the Constitution. The fact that no government has been able to correct this injustice until now is only a reflection on the power of the education lobby in the state.  It is said that the present allotment of additional batches alone will cost the state exchequer more than Rs.200 crores! Imagine the amount of black money that can be collected by the management while appointing teachers to these new posts. No wonder, they are willing to fight it out to the end!
Again, government is faced with allegations of kickbacks and corruption in allotting the new Batches. To overcome all these issues and turn the table on those who are challenging the government’s decision, let the government take a policy decision to make the appointments to aided schools, through the state Public Service Commission, just like in the case of government schools. Of course, there will be a backlash from the vested interests, but at least the Government can gain the goodwill of a large section of the population and break the power of the management lobby, once for all.
No doubt, there will be cries about the rights of minorities and communities to carry on educational activities. Let them continue to do so. There are a large number of unaided schools in the state. These organizations can also continue their educational services in the unaided sector. If and only if, they want government to pay the salaries, they must remain in the aided sector and allow the Government to appoint teachers through competitive selection. There is no justification for any discrimination between teachers of aided and unaided schools.
The effective leadership is in converting adversities into opportunities. These two decisions can not only break the efforts of the adversaries of the current government, but also positively impact the state’s governance in future. I am not too optimistic, but let us wait and see how the government headed by Chief Minister Mr. Oommen Chandy tackles these adversities. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Counter-Terrorism - POTA Style

                In its judgment dated 16th May 2014, on the Akshardham terror attack case, the Supreme Court of India stated that the “POTA was repealed for the gross violation of human rights it caused to the accused persons due to abuse of power by the police” (Para 73, Emphasis mine). POTA or the Prevention of Terrorism Act was infamous for its provisions that allowed the Police to use draconian powers, to frame innocent people as terrorists. Police has to merely obtain a confession from the suspect, and that confession will be sufficient proof to even award death penalty to the suspect. No doubt, the law demanded corroboration of such confession made to a police officer under POTA. In the above referred judgment pronounced by Supreme Court after hearing the appeal against concurrent judgments of conviction from the POTA court and Gujarat High Court, it was noticed that the corroboration was achieved by more confessions obtained from persons who claimed to be accomplices of the accused. 
                At least some of the readers might be wondering why the Supreme Court decided to set aside the death penalty awarded to three persons and life/rigorous imprisonment to another three, in such a notorious case as terrorist attack of Akshardham temple. After all, the courts below have only punished the suspects based on their own confessions. Therefore, it becomes necessary to see how these confessions were obtained by the police.  I will not discuss the details of the case or the judgment as I have already included them in my previous post on the subject.  I will merely excerpt the retraction statement of one of the accused, Mr. Ajmeri Suleman Adam the accused no. 2, reproduced by the Supreme Court in its judgment:

“I, Ajmeri Suleman Adam, state in writing that five to six officers of Ahmedabad City Crime Branch from Gaekwad haveli came in maruti car at the corner of my mohalla at about 1.30-2.00 in the night and they called me. They asked my name and occupation. I told the officers that I am rickshaw driver. They told me to sit in our maruti car. We have to take you for enquiry. They told me that the rickshaw which them that the rickshaw that I drive is not be theft. He has owner. Then the officer abused me, beat me and seated me in the car by coercion. I was taken into the crime branch office at night they tied a strip on eyes and placed me at such a place that I do not know. Then I could not sleep for whole night. I was thinking that I have not done any wrong. Then why I was brought here, then on 10-8-2003, on next day at 1.00 noon a constable came and told me to come with him as higher officer call you. At that time a strip tied on my eyes. The constable caught me and put in an office and opened the strip from my eyes. I saw four officer sitting there. Shri Vanzara, DCP Shri Singhal, ACP Shri Vanar PI and Shri patel PI, I came to know afterwards that these officers are from crime branch. Shri DCP Vanzara asked me whether I know after works that these officers are from crime branch. Shri DCP Vanzara asked me whether I know why I was brought here. I replied that you other officers told me that the rickshaw that I drive is by thefts and I am to be asked about it. He told me that I was not brought here for that crime but for other crime. I told that I not have made such crime that I should be brought here. Then Singhal Sahib abused me and told that should agree to what they say. I should agree that I am the criminal of Akshardham carnage. I told them that I have never gone to Akshardgam nor have I seen it. Kindly do not involve me. He immediately called five or six persons and told me to have handcuffs and fetters. Vanar Saheb beat me on soles. Shri Singhal Saheb told me that I agree with the crime of Askhardham, they shall not beat me and have some benefits. Then they beat me in such a way that I became unconscious and fell down. ..
...When I became conscious I was near Vanar Saheb office. I suffered much difficulty. I was weeping. It was night. At that time one constable came and told me that superior sahib was calling. I had no strength to walk or stand. I was caught and taken to Vanzara Saheb office. All four officers were present there. They told me to agree the crime, otherwise I shall be encountered. But I did not believe. Then they brutally beat me. There was bleeding in back portion....They gave me currents. Then I told them, sir, have mercy on me. I am not culprit. Pardon me. Please don’t make me criminal wrongly. I do not know anything in this regard. They threatened me to harass me and my family members. Even though I have not committed any crime, they wanted to agree Akshardham crime.”
(emphasis laid by this Court)
(translation extracted from the Additional
documents submitted on behalf of the State of Gujarat)”

A-2 further stated:

“One day Singhal Saheb called me to office and asked me to do as we say. I know that you are a good congress worker. The relief materials received from congress at the time of godhra episode were distributed among Muslims and poor persons as said by congress leader you contested as an independent candidate in 1998. We know that congress candidate was defeated and BJP candidate won the election. You made a case against BJP in the High Court. The case was extended to Supreme Court but you could not do anything. What shall you able to do now....
...I was harshly beaten from 9-8-2003 to 28-8-2003 without my fault and behaved rudely.
...Singhal Saheb came to my office at night (29-8-2003) and told me, “We have declared you as criminal. We shall take you to court and present before Judge. You should not speak anything against us, otherwise we shall get you down on the way and encounter you. You shall not come alive. Then I requested Vanzara Saheb, Singhal Saheb, Vanar Saheb and Patel Saheb that you have beaten the truth and placed lying in a higher position......They told me to sign where they say...
...They threatened me and presented to the court . Hon.Court gave remand. During court, I was in crime branch. Shri Vanzara Saheb, Singhal Saheb, Vanar Saheb and Patel Saheb behaved with me as if I am an animal. During that time, I was taken to VS Hospital. They told me one thing that I should not narrate my difficulties to the Doctor, otherwise I shall be harassed like anything. I should say to the doctor I am healthy and I shall get treatment from the private doctor who comes in crime branch for any trouble. ...
....Singhal Saheb seated me in his office on 4-9-03 at night and told me to write in my handwritings as he says, otherwise I shall be finished. I went to writing as he stated. I have not written this willingly but as per wish of Singhal Saheb. If I would not have written so, I would have been encountered on that very day or night. I was frightened and I wrote on account of fear. I was taken to Ahmedabad airport on 5-9-03. Vanzara Saheb, Patel Saheb, AA Chauhan Saheb and other three PSI s were with me....IG Shrinagar called me on 7-9-03. At that time three officers of Shrinagar were present. He told me to tell the truth. Then I told on oath of kuran-sharif true facts. I was arrested on 9-8-03. Till them I am beaten. I do not know anything about Akshardham. They have threatened my family members and threatened me to encounter. I have been forced to agree to the crime. I told officers of Shrinagar to help me, otherwise these officers shall kill me. Then they told me that we also know that you are innocent...
.....I reached to Ahmedabad on 9-9-03....Then I was taken to POTA Court. Prior to it Singhal and Vanar Saheb told me that I was to be taken to the Court. “If you complain, you shall not be kept alive. You might not be knowing what we can do. We can take out prisoner from the Central Jail and encounter him, while you are with us. Latif was in jail. We brought him out and killed. What can you do against us.” I was not allowed to speak anything in the Court...I was taken on 23-9-2003 with strips on my eyes. I was told that Doctor had come for my treatment. ..I was given two injections on my right hand....On the next day I told them that I have many difficulties on account of your injections. Then Vanar Saheb and Patel Saheb told me that our work is over and I am not required now. On 25-9-03, Vanar Saheb, Singhal Saheb and other officers seated me in a jeep and took me to old high court. Singhal Saheb and vanar Saheb informed me that here in big judge. You should sign where he says, otherwise you know what we can do. Here court is ours, Govt. is ours, polics is ours and judge sahib is also ours. I was taken to judge sahib room. There were some written papers. I do not know what was written in it. Without allowing me to read anything judge sahib and crime branch officers took my signatures thereon.....Singhal,Vanar and other officers at in judge hamber. They took snacks and tea. After one hour all officers came out smiling saying our work is over. We shall present him in Pota court and send them to Central Jail....
...I request you that since last two months I remained in crime branch as helpless and humble....
...If you want the truth in this case to be revealed, hand over the case to CBI officers. It is my humble request to you to hand over the investigation to the CBI and truth shall be revealed to you. Sir, when I was sent to central jail I told the jail authorities that I required treatment...
...I am hopeful that you shall prevent me and my family from ruin and do justice. I am hopeful that you shall do justice to me and my family after considering my request.”
(emphasis laid by this Court)
(translation extracted from the Additional
documents submitted on behalf of the State of
Gujarat)” (Para 115)

The above narration, by a person who had to undergo over ten years of imprisonment and the mental torture from a death penalty hanging over his head, must open the eyes of every concerned citizen. We can easily ignore this by stating that it is the fate of someone else from somewhere else and it does not concern us. Probably, until the year 2003, Ajmeri Suleman Adam also must have shared the same views. Like what befall upon Ajmeri Suleman Adam on a fine day in 2003, this can happen to any one of us, irrespective of who we are. Obtaining a confession under torture or threat of an encounter must be an easy task for any police team, who are not concerned about the repercussions or principles of law. A police officer who wants to seek the glory of solving a high profile case, or a Home Minister or Chief Minister who wants to project a non-nonsense image in matters of internal security might find one of us convenient, to be picked up and charged with a crime of terror.  

                The Akshardham case is an eye opener in many sense. Our police in its current form is not credible enough to be entrusted with draconian powers. This case shows how the police and state can terrorize innocent citizens, for their narrow and selfish objectives.  Let me again quote the Supreme Court here:
“We intend to take note of the perversity in conducting this case at various stages, right from the investigation level to the granting of sanction by the state government to prosecute the accused persons under POTA, the conviction and awarding of sentence to the accused persons by the Special Court (POTA) and confirmation of the same by the High Court. We, being the apex court cannot afford to sit with folded hands when such gross violation of fundamental rights and basic human rights of the citizens of this country were presented before us” (Para 131).

If you are one of those who advocate POTA like laws (I still find many of them), consider yourself, for a second, in the shoes of Ajmeri Suleman Adam. Would you not prefer to be a victim of cross-border terrorism, rather than of state sponsored terror in the name of counter-terrorism? At least, in the former case, you will not be branded and condemned as a traitor of your own nation and people!

1. The errors appearing the excerpts are part of the original translation. All emphasis in the excerpt are by the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Supreme Court Verdict in Akshardham Terror Case- Some Thoughts

                When I read the shocking headline “They asked me to choose: Godhra, Pandya or Akshardham” attributed to Mr. Muhammad Saleem, one of the six people to be acquitted by the Supreme Court in the Akshardham terror attack case, in The Indian Express, it made me curious to study the judgment, in its entirety. The case involved the appeal against concurrent judgments of the POTA Court and Gujarat High Court, awarding, inter alia, death penalty to three persons and life imprisonment / rigorous imprisonment to the remaining three. All six accused persons were acquitted, and that included one accused who did not appeal as he has already completed the sentence while all others have spent more than ten years in jail.

                This 258 page judgment issued on 16th May 2014 did not get much attention from the national media. This lack of Media attention was not surprising, given the fact that the general election results were announced on the same day and the Media was euphoric about the huge mandate received by Sri Narendra Modi.  The date of the judgment, however, was significant as the underlying case was directly related to the same Narendra Modi, in more ways than one.  Modi was the Home Minister and Chief Minister of Gujarat State when the terror attack that killed 33 persons and injured another 86 persons, took place. Modi government received accolades for solving the terror cases, including this one, with determination. No doubt, such ‘decisive and uncompromising actions against terrorism’ was among the many factors attributed to Modi’s subsequent rise within the Party, leading to the massive mandate for his elevation to the post of Prime Minister of this country.  It is a mere coincidence that the judgment came to be pronounced on the same day!

                As I stated, Modi was the Home Minister of the state when the terror attack took place on Akshardham temple, on 24. 09.2002. Both the attackers were eliminated by soldiers of the NSG, by early morning on 25.09.2002. There were conflicting versions from the prosecution itself (as noted by SC) as to the identity of the attackers. The Gujarat police began investigations, immediately, to unearth any wider conspiracy behind the attack. Let me quote the judgment itself, to show how the investigation progressed:
“The investigation process post Akshardham attack happened as under:
• The incidence of Akshardham happened in the intervening nights between 24.09.2002 and 25.09.2002. An FIR was registered by PW-126 on 25.09.2002.
• According to the instruction of Superintendent of Police, the investigation of the complaint was handed over to Police Inspector Shri V.R. Tolia (PW-113).
• The investigation was then handed over to the Anti Terrorist Squad on 03.10.2002.
• The investigation was thereafter handed over to the Crime Branch which was assigned to PW-126 on 28.08.2003 at 6:30 p.m.
• The statement of PW-50 was taken at 8 p.m, on the same night of 28.08.2003, after receiving verbal instruction from higher officer-D.G. Vanzara in the morning.
• A-1 to A-5 were arrested on 29.08.2003.
 • POTA was invoked on 30.08.2003.
• The I.G.P. Kashmir sends a fax message to I.G.P. operations ATS Gujarat state on 31.08.2003 regarding A-6 being in the custody of Kashmir Police and that he has stated that he was involved in the Akshardham attack.
• A-6 was brought to Ahmedabad on 12.09.2003 and was arrested at 9:30 p.m.

A careful observation of the above said dates would show that the ATS was shooting in the dark for about a year without any result. No trace of the people associated with this heinous attack on the Akshardham temple could be found by the police. Then on the morning of 28.03.2003, the case is transferred to Crime Branch, Ahmedabad. This was followed by D.G. Vanzara giving instructions to the then-ACP G.S. Singhal (PW-126) about one Ashfaq Bhavnagri (PW-50). PW-126 was thereafter made in charge of the case on the same evening at 6:30 p.m. and the statement of PW-50 was recorded at 8 p.m., i.e within one and a half hours” (Para 131).
I am sure readers must be remembering the names like Vanzara and Singhal appearing in the above excerpts. They are the same infamous police officers who were known for conducting fake encounters and are currently under investigation/trial, in different cases. Look at the ‘inefficiency’ of Gujarat police and ATS who failed to get any information about the conspiracy for almost a year and then look at the efficiency of the Crime Branch unit that solved the case and arrested all the accused, in less than 48 hours of being entrusted with it! 

Readers may also have noted that the infamous and now repealed POTA was invoked in the investigation of this case. Another coincidence- the sanction to invoke POTA in the case was accorded by the then Home Minster Mr. Narendra Modi. Let us see what the apex court had to say about the process followed by our new Prime Minister.
“The prosecution had failed to prove that the sanction was granted by the government either on the basis of an informed decision or on the basis of an independent analysis of fact on consultation with the Investigating Officer. This would go to show clear non-application of mind by the Home Minister in granting sanction. Therefore, the sanction is void on the ground of non- application of mind and is not a legal and valid sanction under Section 50 of POTA” (para 77. Emphasis supplied be me).
At any other point of time, our civil society and Media would have been very much concerned about a finding by the Apex Court that our new Prime Minister failed to apply his mind while dealing with a matter involving, both national security and life of the accused. But then, the times are changing and the Sensex and TRP are on the rise!

                I will not go into details of the evidences adduced by both sides. Supreme Court found each and every story put forth, and each and every evidence put up by the prosecution, untrustworthy. Death penalty was awarded on the basis of retracted and invalid confessions obtained under duress and corroborated only by illegal and vague confessions of other accused person (Court found that those corroborating statements were also obtained illegally and under duress). The choice given to all the involved persons were, apparently, like what is stated by Muhammad Saleem- to choose between “Godhra, Pandya or Akshardham,” or between a terror case and immediate encounter killing. Suffice to say, the Supreme Court found, “the story of the prosecution crumbles down at every juncture” (Para 120). Supreme Court demolished the entire case in which three persons were granted death penalty, in the following words:
“Here, we intend to take note of the perversity in conducting this case at various stages, right from the investigation level to the granting of sanction by the state government to prosecute the accused persons under POTA, the conviction and awarding of sentence to the accused persons by the Special Court (POTA) and confirmation of the same by the High Court. We, being the apex court cannot afford to sit with folded hands when such gross violation of fundamental rights and basic human rights of the citizens of this country were presented before us” (Para 131. Emphasis by me).

Citizens have to be concerned when the High Courts are willing to confirm death penalties and justify insufficiency of admissible evidence by merely quoting, “Truth is stranger than fiction”. Thankfully, in this case the Apex Court countered the perverted use of the epithet by stating that the “renowned epithet by the author Mark Twain comes with a caveat that says, “Truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction must make sense” (Para 103).  However, that did not undo the damage for those citizens who had to stay for a decade in jail, with the stigma of terrorists!

What made the entire system to take such a perverted view about justice and national security? Who benefitted from such a gross violation of law? We saw how the involved police officers became blue eyed boys of the state and, subsequently, indulged in fake encounter killings with impunity (as charged). We also saw the Chief Minister becoming stronger and stronger, based on a propaganda about his government’s decisive actions against terrorism. We also saw the manner in which the person in whom the nation has now entrusted its future was taking serious actions without, as noted by the Court, any application of the mind. More sinister will be the conclusion, if we consider that the approval was indeed granted with sufficient application of mind. That will make the immediate future of this country’s justice system and human rights, at stake!

          The apex court further stated:
“Before parting with the judgment, we intend to express our anguish about the incompetence with which the investigating agencies conducted the investigation of the case of such a grievous nature, involving the integrity and security of the Nation. Instead of booking the real culprits responsible for taking so many precious lives, the police caught innocent people and got imposed the grievous charges against them which resulted in their conviction and subsequent sentencing” (Para 136. Emphasis by me).

These words are really alarming. These words from the highest judiciary of the land must cause serious thinking among concerned citizens and Media. More so, since we have now elevated the system from the Gujarat state, to the national level. Will we again hear the call for “stronger laws” like POTA to counter terrorism? Let me conclude by reminding, “POTA was repealed for the gross violation of human rights it caused to the accused due to abuse of power by the Police” (Para 73) and hope the sanctity of our justice system will not be made subservient to rulers’ image building exercise. 

PS: IN case you are interested in reading further, here is the link to the Supreme Court judgement in CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS. 2295-2296 OF 2010
Adambhai Sulemanbhai Ajmeri & Ors. …Appellants Vs State of Gujarat ...Respondent  WITH