Gurugram has a Hindu-Muslim problem far bigger than the namaz row
On April 20, eight or ten young men from two villages, Kanhai and Wazirabad, rode their motorbikes to the public ground just as the Muslims were about to start their prayers and asked them to pack up, leave, and never return.
On 10 June, a Hindu priest and his followers met at a budget bar in Gurugram (previously Gurgaon) to declare war on Muslims. The alcohol had been replaced by a vegetarian buffet, the doors and windows thrown open to light up the dark interior, the tables and chairs rearranged to host a press conference, but the smell of cheap whiskey remained thick in the air.
Ignoring the inappropriate setting, Narsinghanand Saraswati stared hard at the collected members of the press and made his urgent announcement: “We are about to launch a revolution on the land of Gurgaon.” Just out of arrest for trying to set himself on fire in front of Haryana’s chief minister’s residence to protest public namaz in Gurugram, Sawaswati said he was going to organise a maha havan in the city to “destroy the enemies of Hindus.” The president of All India Saints Council, Saraswati, who has built an army of 15,000 young Hindus to fight ISIS, was asked by journalists if he is counting on the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party in his “revolution”.
He fulminated in response. “No political party can save us. Advani ji is too old, retired. Modi ji hasn’t done anything for Hindus in four years to inspire any faith. I don’t know whether Yogi ji is with us or not anymore.” He said all he needed are young Hindus burning with anger, “Our motto should be: Gita in one hand and Gun in another.”
Living and Dying for Hindus
Sitting on his left, young and muscular Amit Hindu twirled his goatee. A wrestler trained in his village’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh akhada, the 23-year-old, who insists that he be known by his chosen last name, said he had only goal in life: “to live for Hindus and to die for Hindus.” This is what he used to do all day with a bunch of unemployed friends, each affiliated with a local Hindu organisation, in an empty ground near his village, Kanhai, in Gurugram’s Sector 53. “We used to treat the space as our office. We discussed problems, like the smuggling of cows, and came up with plan of action,” he said. This land was their turf for every day of the week except Friday when Muslims gathered there to offer the afternoon’s namaz. It made them very angry.
On April 20, eight or ten young men from two villages, Kanhai and Wazirabad, rode their motorbikes to the public ground just as the Muslims were about to start their prayers and asked them to pack up, leave, and never return. Yelling ‘Jai Shri Ram’, the young men spread through the crowd of worshippers and spelt out consequences. Shot on a mobile phone, a video of the incident became instantly viral (“five lakh searches in five days”) and sparked off similar disruptions of namaz all over Gurugram the following Friday. On April 27, Sector 53’s police arrested six friends of Amit for outraging religions feelings, disturbing religious worship and criminal intimidation. They were let out on bail three days later.
By June 10, two of them had been arrested and released again. “They had a fight with someone and busted his head,” Arvind Dahiya, the officer in charge of the police station, said. The young men keep making trouble, he added. “If it’s not Muslims, it will be someone else. Most of them are in and out of jail.”
Going to jail doesn’t make anyone a criminal, argued Sube Singh Bohra, the ex-headman of Wazirabad and the father of BJP’s councillor from the village, who rallied Gurugram’s administration for the bail out of the six young men. Holding out a plate of homemade sweets, the village patriarch proceeded to offer a series of justifications on their behalf.
“BJP’s president Amit Shah was also in jail on criminal charges. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“I just got out on bail myself. I had been arrested for threatening the police commissioner of Gurugram.”
“What do you think happens in any fight? You either break someone’s head or someone breaks your head.”
A member of the newly formed Sanyukt Hindu Sangarsh Samiti, an umbrella organisation for Gurugram’s vast network of Hindu-interest groups, Bohra said the rising number of Muslim migrants in the villages left the native Hindus with no other option but to fight for survival. “Otherwise a day will come when we will cease to exist”. In his own village, he later mentioned, Muslims made up less than 2 percent of the population.
“This city is sitting over barrels of gunpowder,” said Rajeev Mittal, a leading light of the Sanyukt Hindu Sangarsh Samiti. “Sparks have been flying across the two sides. The matter has been under control because of the tolerance of Hindus, but things can blow up any day,” he said. “Our own Muslims we can live with, but the majority of Muslims arriving in Gurugram are from Bangladesh. All of them undocumented. Most of them Rohingyas,” he said, checking his phone for alerts from WhatsApp groups buzzing with Hindu solidarity. The Gurugram police deny the presence of undocumented migrants from Bangladesh in the city. Official denials do not rattle Rajeev Mittal, however. “It is not a small issue,” he maintained. “These people aren’t worthy of living in civilized society by nature or by behavior. Do you know that Rohingyas burn people alive and eat their flesh?”
Being Muslim in Gurgaon
A native of Nadia district in West Bengal, Akbar Ali can live on fish curry. It’s what he has been cooking every day for a living since he left his village ten years ago. Two months ago, he left his cooking job in Mumbai to join his uncle’s restaurant in Sector 49’s Bengali Market in Gurgaon. The market caters to the needs of blue-collar migrants from West Bengal who provide their services to white-collar residents of South City, one of Gurugram’s many private townships, as maids, cooks, drivers, security guards and construction workers. Dozens of people from Nadia live in Ali’s tenement; hundreds from other districts live around Bengali Market; and thousands from his state live in the backyards of shopping malls, gated colonies, and private townships across Gurugram’s newly developed sectors. Akbar Ali has an Aadhaar card of which one copy remains in the possession of his landlord. He is happy to not live in one of Gurugram’s migrant ghettos where the landlords affix the renters’ identification papers to the gates.
However, the right to privacy isn’t as big a concern for him and his people as the right to offer namaz in the vicinity of their homes or workplaces.
Of Gurugram’s ten official mosques, eight lie in the older areas and remain largely inaccessible to the Muslim migrants settled on the other end of the district. Some travel the long distance nevertheless. Many of them head to their nearest empty ground --park, pavement, parking lot-- during lunch time on Fridays. Ali doesn’t have many options himself. He could pray inside the tin shed put up in the middle of the market by fellow shopkeepers, but its surfaces sizzle in the summer. For now, he travels in his uncle’s auto rickshaw to New Gurugram’s only (unfinished) mosque in Sector 57 where thousands of Muslims offer namaz in four shifts every Friday.
“There must at least be at least 100,000 Muslims offering namaz every Friday if 500,000 are estimated to live in Gurugram,” said Altaf Ahmed, an entrepreneur who lives in a gated colony. For years he offered Friday’s prayers in an open space in Sector 45. “I used to work in Unitech’s Cyber Park in Sector 39 and it was the closest public space available near my office. Most people who prayed there were office-goers,” he said.
Responding to pressure from the Sanyukt Hindu Sangarsh Samiti, the district authorities reduced the number of approved public sites for namaz from 73 to 37. “People are not offering namaz in open by choice. Just try offering namaz under the sun for half an hour. You will know. We are not asking anyone to give us space for free. Assign us land where we can build mosques,” Ahmed said.
A Divided City
Having lived in Gurugram for 11 years, Ahmed said that even his privilege doesn’t shield him from the petty prejudices bubbling under the city’s cosmopolitan facade. “In the offices, Muslims don’t want to bring up their Muslimness to the table. They know the perception others have of them: we marry several times, we eat meat from morning to night, our wives wear burqas and our fathers keep beards,” he said. “In her posh school, my daughter is asked, ‘are you from Pakistan?’ She is too young to even know what Pakistan is.”
Gurugram, argues Radha Khan, a resident of the “millenium city” for the past ten years, is a “place built for Hindus.” The social inclusion consultant asks how a place that thrives on migrants can call itself city when it can’t accommodate their religious diversity. “Where are the mosques, the churches, the gurudwaras?” To feel Gurugram’s Hindu dominance, she said, one needn’t venture out of their high-rise apartment. “Hindu festivals are publicly celebrated, from karva chauth to krishnashtami. Space is cleared for people to play with colours on Holi or burst crackers on Diwali. Cultural performances are organised. In a Resident Welfare Association (RWA) meeting that my husband once attended, the proposal to build a temple came up, but it was later vetoed.”
On Eid, though, she said, Muslim residents wonder if wishing each other openly is too loud an expression of their religious identity. “Muslims in these housing societies are increasingly aware of the constraints under which they live. Many of them no longer carry meat from the markets for the fear of being branded as beef eaters but order it home from supermarkets.”
At Wellington Estate, a housing society in DLF’s Phase 5, only 1 or 2 percent of the residents are Muslims, said Ajay Jain, the secretary of its RWA. He briskly added that 99 percent of maids and cooks who work in the society are “Mohammedan ladies. Mostly Bengali.” Almost all of them, he mentioned, go by Hindu names. It keeps things simpler, he explained. Jain doesn’t think the lack of namaz space for a society’s residents or their staff should be an RWA concern. The issue wouldn’t have come up in the first place, he argued, if Muslims didn’t insist on praying in public. “Don’t the Hindu residents carry on with their bhajan-kirtan inside their homes?”
When historian Veena Oldenburg hired a maid for her house in Phase 3 of DLF’s Cyber City 13 years ago, she knew her as Usha. “Later, she revealed that she is Kohinoor. It’s a common story. No one will give them a job in the city if they identify themselves as Muslim,” she said. Irrespective of the discrimination they face in the city, Bengali migrants continue to pour into Gurugram in search of opportunity. “First Kohinoor came with only her daughter. Thirty of her relatives have joined her since: three sisters, two brothers, their mother,” said Oldenburg who has been researching Gurugram’s history for over a decade.
All About Land
The region has no deep-rooted history of communal tension, Oldenburg mentioned, because it has had few Muslims until a few years ago. “It being a Hindu-dominated society, the tension among communities was based on caste. Khap panchayats ruled on social conflicts and their focus was on controlling the women.” The arrival of Muslims has changed the social dynamic of the villages, Oldenburg argued.
Like most things in Gurugram, this too revolves around land.
“Gurugram’s development began with villagers selling and leasing their land. Some landowners sold their land and suddenly had more money than they had ever seen. Some drank it away, others bought big cars, went on big holidays, threw lavish weddings. Several went broke. They remain uneducated, unskilled, but they have a chip on their shoulder about having owned land in the past. They are the core of the bloodthirsty lot who hate any intrusion into their villages. They have nothing to rent out. They mark out poor migrants,” said Oldenburg.
Then she described a different kind of Gurugram’s landowners.
“They did better. Some sold their land and re-invested the money into the property business. Some went into partnerships with real-estate companies. Others held on to a portion of their land and built multi-storey tenement houses with basic rooms and common bathrooms to rent out to labourers arriving to build the new Gurugram. They don’t want the migrants to be driven away.”
War And Peace
The conflict between their interests came to a head with the row over public namaz. On May 27, after two weeks of namaz disruptions, 200 people representing different faiths from 360 villages of the district convened at a mahapanchayat to call for communal harmony to keep alive “the cosmopolitan culture of the international city.”
“When I went village to village mobilising support, the villagers spoke about their anxieties,” said Pradeep Zaildar, a Congress leader. “Gurugram’s development has brought in companies and companies have brought in migrants, who live on their property and work in their remaining farms. They are afraid that if the communal incidents persist, the companies will leave Gurugram, its progress will stop, and they will end up starving. They have no option but to come together.”
On 10 June, hours after the “Hindu revolution” was “launched” in Sector 10,” Zaildar repeated the call for peace at an “interfaith iftar” organised to resist Gurugram’s polarisation in Sector 27. “We can’t allow ourselves to be scared by this intimidation. We must come together and fight. This evening is a slap in their faces,” Mohammed Amin, a factory worker from Manesar, called out to the city’s secular citizens in one of the speeches. “I have lived in a bubble for far too long,” said Rita Jain, an optician circulating plates of fruit around the hall. For a few years now, my clients have been making divisive statements such as, ‘this is my country. We can accomodate Muslims but they must know their place.’ I can’t sit and listen anymore.”
“This isn’t going to change the world, said Veena Oldenburg, “but there was a message and it went out.”
It may not be enough to stop the agitating Hindus in their tracks. Amit Hindu said his group would prevent namaz being offered in public after the month of Ramzan that ended in mid-June. On 29 June, a group of Muslims were stopped from reading namaz in a vacant plot in DLF Phase 3. An officer at the local police station said they had received a complaint alleging misuse of public land. A similar incident was reported from Sector 34 on the same day.
Regardless of the disruptions, Altaf Ahmed said the city’s Muslim community will continue to push for their rights. “We will put up a united front against them.”
Hindustan Times, Gurugram
No end to the AAP dispute
The AAP Government of the Union Territory of Delhi has, apparently, won a famous victory. Or so it claims, insisting that the reiteration of the constitutional status of the Delhi Government, a B-Category State, by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court represents a vindication of its stand. Which is that it is the lord and master of the capital in all matters barring the three – namely, land, police, and law and order. The status of the Lt Governor of Delhi is not that of a Governor of a State, the court said on Wednesday, tentatively putting to rest a long-festering dispute between the Centre’s appointee and the popularly elected Delhi government.
The apex court was disposing an appeal against the order of a two-member bench of the Delhi high court which had accorded primacy to the Delhi LG. However, the SC verdict is unlikely to end the dispute between the Kejriwal Government and the LG since there remain several grey areas which can always cause confusion and conflict. Notwithstanding the great show of triumphalism by the Delhi Government following the apex court order, in reality the verdict merely reiterates the old and long-standing constitutional division of powers and functions between the Delhi Government and the LG, the Centre’s representative. The AAP can legislate on matters in the state and concurrent lists barring the reserved subjects but a central legislation on the same subject would enjoy primacy. As Shiela Dikshit, the former chief minister of Delhi for fifteen years, said, contrary to the grandstanding by AAP, the court verdict offers nothing new, merely re-emphasising the old position.
Yes, as far as possible, the LG should concur with the decisions of the State government but he retains the power to differ and withhold assent. The court has counseled that the LG should not be ‘obstructionist’ while it has prescribed to the AAP Government that it should refrain from being ‘anarchist’. However, for the smooth working of the Delhi government, it is absolutely necessary that it should cease to be confrontationist against the LG and the Centre. If all the major opposition chief ministers can get along with the Centre despite sharp political differences, it is hard to comprehend why the chief minister of a B-Category State with vastly restricted powers should fail to appreciate constitutional limits on hid power and instead seek to constantly engage the Centre and its representative in Delhi, the LG, in a daily shouting match. If Kejriwal feels obliged to prove that he is different from the run-of- the-mill chief ministers, he must find some other constructive way to prove it. Throwing stones indiscriminately at all and sundry to attract attention helps neither his own cause nor anyone else’s. Indeed, it is this lack of trust and mutual respect that within hours of the apex court verdict, a fresh fight between the AAP and the LG broke out on the question of appointment and transfer of officials.
Even before the ink was dry on the court verdict, the Kejriwal Government citing it transferred some officials only to be told by the Services Department of Delhi that without the withdrawal of the 2015 central notification, only the LG or the Centre could exercise such powers. In any case, Kerjiwal should introspect as to why the Delhi Government employees, too, are disgusted with his style of working. Maltreating the employees, abusing them, imputing motives, blaming them for your own faults is unlikely to elicit their cooperation. If Shiela Dikshit faced no difficulties for five years working with the Vajpayee Government under the same provisions of the Constitution, why should Kejriwal constantly fight with the LG and the Centre instead of working for the good of the people of the nation’s capital. On the other hand, now that the AAP has triumphantly announced that the apex court has given it full freedom to work, the onus is on it to deliver on various promises made to the Delhi voters. It will no longer have an excuse to blame the BJP for its own failures. On their part, the LG and the Centre will do themselves a great favour if they allowed Kejriwal a free hand. He is unlikely to be able to do hard work. And will instead indulge in various eye-catching gimmicks to hoodwink the people. The SC judgment leaves Kejriwal with no option but to prove that he is capable of working hard for the welfare of the people of Delhi who only a little more than three years ago gave him 67 out of 70 Assembly seats.
India, Swiss banks and black money
Last week, the political climate was charged with accusations that the government had actually begun encouraging the promotion of black money. Prima facie, the charges seemed to have some merit in them. Swiss bank deposits from India had swelled by 50%, one of the largest increases in recent times (see chart). But the accusation was a bit uncharitable. For three specific reasons.
First, even though the percentages seem high, the total amounts involved in Indian deposits with Swiss banks are not. At CHF 1.02 billion – even after accounting for the 50% jump – the amount is significantly lower than the CHF 6.46 billion in 2006 when the UPA was in power. In fact, Indian deposits with Swiss banks had been declining for the past three years – right from 2014 when Prime Minister Modi formed his government. It was only last year that the trend was broken and Swiss deposits began climbing again.
The second reason was that Indian deposits with Swiss banks account for just 0.07% of global deposits with Swiss Banks. That is one of the lowest levels ever during the last decade, overshadowed by an even lower share of 0.05% in 2017. At such percentages, India’s deposits with Swiss Banks are not much to rant and rail about.
There is a third reason why people who are tracking black money should not be looking at Swiss Banks. True, they were the best shelter for clandestine money in the past. But Switzerland has entered into several bilateral treaties for making disclosures about bank deposits to requesting states. That includes a treaty with India to provide real-time information with regard to Indians from January 2019. Obviously, any Indian who wants to stash away black money will not do so with Swiss Banks, because he would stand exposed.
There could, thus, be one credible explanation for the quantum of deposits in Swiss Banks going up. It could be found in the government’s decision to ram through amendments to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCRA) in March this year (http://www.asiaconverge.com/2018/03/corruption-collusion-legislative-filibustering/) which seeks to exempt political parties from disclosing their source of funds from overseas. The courts had earlier demanded that political parties make these disclosures and the government thought it wiser to try and change the law instead. This move is now being challenged before the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional by public spirited persons like EAS Sarma (http://www.asiaconverge.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/2018-02-16_EAS-Sarma-Retrospective-amendment.pdf). The decision of the court is still awaited. The amendment to the FCRA technically permits politically connected parties to put their money back with Swiss Banks where it is safer than in tax havens with not-so-unblemished a banking record. If this explanation is correct, one could say that the government, in collusion with all other political parties (all have kept quiet about these amendments), are responsible for the spurt in Swiss deposits.
As mentioned in these columns earlier, if people want to look for black money, they should first demand a full fledged investigation into the agriculture income disclosures before the tax authorities during 2011 and 2012 (http://www.asiaconverge.com/2018/02/aadhaar-npci-uidai-pnb-and-corruption/). What makes those disclosures horrifying is (a) they were larger than ever before; (b) the cumulative value of disclosures during the two years was a mind-boggling Rs 874 lakh crore (Rs 874 trillion); (c) the cumulative value of disclosures was eight times India’s GVA for 2013, and almost 100 times the total tax collected in that year.
It can be found in the decision of the enforcement authorities of not auctioning off properties they have seized in the past – irrespective of whether they relate to the NSEL Scam (http://www.asiaconverge.com/2014/06/auction-off-nsel-defaulters-assets-restore-investor-confidence/) or the politicians who are being investigated for corruption (on extremely narrow charges). Attachment of properties makes for big news, full of sound and fury. But the refusal to auction them off points to collusion.
It can be found in the files of scores of senior officials who were suspended, when fraud was discovered, and then reinstated when public memory died. It can also be found in the files that routinely get burnt in fires that take place at government offices – possibly aimed at making evidence disappear – especially when it comes to corrupt deals and land development scams.
But these are things politicians do not like to talk about. Many of them are collusive partners in the generation of black money. Their silence in permitting the amendments to the FCRA is ample proof of their willingness to allow a cover-up. The rantings and ravings against Swiss Banks are, therefore, of no consequence.
R N Bhaskar is consulting editor with FPJ.
As lynchings rise, government tells WhatsApp to curb spread of misinformation
New Delhi: The government on Tuesday directed WhatsApp to immediately take steps to prevent the spread of “irresponsible and explosive messages”, saying the social media platform cannot evade its responsibility, amid a spate of lynching cases purportedly triggered by posts circulated on such popular messaging apps.
WhatsApp has also been asked to immediately contain the spread of such messages through application of technology, even as law and order machinery takes steps to apprehend the culprits. Noting that miscreants were repeatedly circulating provocative messages triggering a spate of violence, the government today said it has “conveyed in no uncertain terms that WhatsApp must take immediate action to end this menace and ensure that their platform is not used for such malafide activities”.
Conveying its deep disapproval to the top brass of WhatsApp, the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) stated that the Facebook-owned company “cannot evade accountability and responsibility”, according to the official statement. When contacted, a WhatsApp spokesperson told PTI, “WhatsApp cares deeply about people’s safety and their ability to freely communicate”. “We don’t want our services used to spread harmful misinformation and believe this is a challenge that companies and societies should address. For example, we recently made a number of updates to our group chats and will be stepping up efforts to help people spot false news and hoaxes,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
India is the largest market for WhatsApp with over 200 million users. In a separate statement today, WhatsApp said it would be instituting awards for research on spread of misinformation on its platform. The government’s warning to WhatsApp comes in the wake of a spate of incidents involving lynching of innocent people because of certain “fake and motivated” messages being circulated on the widely used messaging app.
Last week, five people were lynched in Dhule district in Maharashtra on suspicion of them being part of of a gang of child-lifters. In a similar incident in Tripura recently, two people were lynched and six others thrashed. Assam, too, witnessed a case of lynching last month on similar ground. Terming the “unfortunate killings” in states like Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura and West Bengal as “deeply painful and regrettable”, the ministry in its statement today said the abuse of platforms like WhatsApp “for repeated circulation of such provocative content” is a matter of deep concern.
“MEITY has taken serious note of these irresponsible messages and their circulation in such platforms. Deep disapproval of such developments has been conveyed to the senior management of the WhatsApp and they have been advised that necessary remedial measures should be taken to prevent proliferation of these fake and at times motivated/ sensational messages,” the statement said.
Pulled economy out of morass, ‘jobless growth’ an opposition construct: Modi
New Delhi: The NDA government in 2014 had got the economy in a much worse condition than expected, so much so that making its details public would have been widely damaging for the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said, stressing that his government worked hard to bring the economy back on track bit by bit.
In an interview with the “Swarajya” magazine published on Monday, Modi also debunked the opposition’s allegation of “jobless growth”, pointing out that if state governments had been claiming of creating lakhs of jobs, how could one say the Centre was creating joblessness.
Asked why his government did not bring out a White Paper on Indian economy in 2014, as was being expected by many, Modi said: “The details about the decay in the Indian economy were unbelievable. It had the potential to cause a crisis all over. In 2014, the industry was leaving India. India was in the Fragile Five. Experts believed that the ‘I’ in BRICS would collapse. Public sentiment was that of disappointment and pessimism.
“Now, in the midst of this, imagine a White Paper coming out giving intricate details of the extent of damage. Instead of being a mollifier, it would be a multiplier of the distress.”
The Prime Minister said what the new government led by him saw (of the economy’s condition) left them “shocked” as things were “terrible” and even the budget figures were “suspicious”.
He said there were several “landmines” laid in various sectors and his government accepted this uncomfortable truth and hit the ground running from the very first day to stabilise things so that the Indian economy could be strengthened for the long haul.
Modi said the positive results of government’s approach are for everyone to see.
“Today, India is the fastest growing large economy of the world with strong fundamentals to propel further growth. Foreign investment is at an all-time high, GST has revolutionised the tax regime, India is an easier place to do business than ever before and, most importantly, we are seeing unprecedented levels of trust and optimism,” he said.
On the lack of jobs — something that the opposition has been vociferously alleging to corner the government, Modi blamed a “lack of consistency” in the political debate around job creation.
“We have data put out by state governments on employment. For example, the previous Karnataka government claimed to have created 53 lakh jobs. The West Bengal government said it created 68 lakh jobs in the last term.
“Now, if states are all creating a good number of jobs, is it possible that the country is not creating jobs? Is it possible that states are creating jobs but the Centre is creating joblessness?” Modi asked.
He said that more than a lack of jobs, the issue was a lack of data on jobs.
“Our opponents will naturally exploit this opportunity to paint a picture of their choice and blame us…no one has an accurate data on jobs,” Modi said.
He said that the traditional matrix of measuring jobs is “simply not good enough to measure new jobs in the new economy of New India”.
“For example, there are close to three lakh village-level entrepreneurs who are running Common Service Centres across the country and also creating more employment. Start-ups are working as job multipliers and there are around 15,000 start-ups which the government has helped in some way, and many more will be operational. Aggregators of various kinds employ thousands of youth.
“If we look at numbers for employment, more than 41 lakh formal jobs were created from September 2017 to April 2018 based on EPFO payroll data,” Modi said.
The Prime Minister pointed out that job creation in the formal sector could have a “spinoff effect” on job creation in the informal sector too, which constitutes “around 80 per cent of all jobs”.
He also reiterated that his government had a “four-pronged strategy” to double farmers’ income — decrease the input costs, ensure proper prices for the produce, ensure minimal harvest and post-harvest losses, and create more avenues for income generation.
“Not only will the farmers get minimum support price of 1.5 times their cost, they also have more avenues to get the right price with the help of e-NAM (the electronic National Agricultural Market, which provides price, production and market information to farmers),” Modi added.
The Emergency then and democracy now
An all-out war of words broke out last week between the BJP and the Congress on the 1975 Emergency. Observing June 26 as a ‘black day’, several BJP leaders targeted the Congress at events held across the country to highlight the Emergency’s excesses. Leading the charge with a sharp attack on the Congress was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Addressing BJP workers in Mumbai last Tuesday, the prime minster said the country still refers to June 26 as a ‘dark period during which every institution was subverted and an atmosphere of fear was created’.
Without naming the Nehru-Gandhi family, Modi said the Constitution was misused at the behest of one family. He further went on to say that the mentality of the family had not changed even now after 43 years of the Emergency. ‘Whenever the family feared loss of power, it keeps shouting that the country is in crisis,’ the prime minister added. Expectedly, the Congress hit back with equally sharp criticism of the Modi government, equating Modi to Aurangzeb. It alleged that the prime minister was even crueller than the Mughal emperor as Modi has “enslaved democracy” in the country for the past 49 months with an “undeclared emergency”.
The 21-month period from 1975 to 1977, when the then prime minister Indira Gandhi had declared Emergency, was indeed a dark chapter in India’s democratic history. This was the third national Emergency – the first one was in 1962 when China invaded India and the second was in 1971 during the war with Pakistan – and the only one to be declared citing the “internal disturbances”. During the 1975 Emergency, opposition leaders were arrested, civil rights curbed, elections postponed, anti-government protests crushed and press censored. It shook India to its core as the freedom to liberty, dissent and express ceased to exist. All this is well-known and in public domain. Therefore, what was so special about the 43rd anniversary of Emergency that the BJP observed as ‘black day’?
Bringing back memories of the Emergency days was clearly aimed at striking at the Congress’s weak spot. It was also meant to neutralise Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s frequent ‘murder of democracy’ gibes directed at the Modi government. This was not entirely unexpected in a pre-election year; neither was the Congress’s equally sharp response by likening Modi to Aurangzeb. As 2019 general elections approach, not only the political exchange between the two parties will gather momentum, but over the next 10 months, election-driven rhetoric, name-calling, inane allegations and historical debates will increase. Reminding Congress of the Emergency is just the beginning.
While terming the Emergency as an ‘aberration’, the Congress has never expressed any remorse about the dark chapter in its history or condemned it. Claiming that during Emergency, Mrs Gandhi targeted the rich, black marketers, hoarders and zamindars is no justification for curbing civil liberties and press freedom and neutralising the opposition. The hesitation to admit Emergency as a major mistake has denied the Congress an opportunity to reassert its commitment to democratic values, though it was the primary builder of democracy in India after independence.
The Emergency happened 43 years ago and both, Mrs Gandhi and the Congress, lost power because of it in 1977. Since then, the Congress has ruled at the Centre several times without resorting to emergency measures. On the contrary, it has shown its commitment to democratic order and liberal values far better than the current BJP-led government. The Emergency of 1975 and the violations of civil liberties and press freedom were all real. But its parallels can be drawn with the contemporary situation, which is marked by erosion of institutional independence and integrity, rising intolerance and increasing mob violence which stems from the ideological support of the ruling party.
The right-wing assaults on constitutional institution and individuals’ democratic rights are for real, though there is no Emergency in force in India today. While conventional opposition leaders and parties have the liberty to become more than conventional Opposition and there is also the rising wave of resistance to right-wing assaults on individual rights and institutions, it is also true that there are whiffs of Emergency sentiments in the air and the strains of the Emergency doctrine and pulsations of fear are quite obvious. The Congress is not entirely off the mark when it accuses the Modi government of ‘undeclared emergency’ as the freedom of the media, people’s freedom of expression and their right to live without fear have come under new kinds of threats.
There is no overt press censorship but the government has tried to muzzle and manipulate the media through various means. A section of the media has either caved in to the fear of administrative power or fallen for the lure of money-power. Apart from the media, there have been sustained attempts to weaken and misuse other constitutional and non-constitutional institutions, including the judiciary. Interestingly, all this is happening when the BJP is in power and questioning the Congress’s commitment to the principles and practice of democracy, while the BJP has diluted its own commitment to the philosophy of parliamentary democracy, liberal values and press freedom.
This is quite surprising because while the taint of Emergency continues to haunt the Congress, the BJP, despite its proud status of a party whose leaders were at the forefront of the struggle against the Emergency 43 years ago, is not deterred to misuse the levers of power against its political opponents, ‘difficult’ sections of the media, and independent or ‘inconvenient’ voices that question the government on various issues. With scant regard for critical debate and plurality of views under the current ruling dispensation, what we are seeing now is some kind of a role reversal. Mrs Gandhi subverted institutions to retain power. The BJP is trying to do the same by weakening the same institutions.
The Emergency should serve as a warning to political parties: threats to democracy and people’s constitutional rights – either directly or indirectly – create resentment and negative public opinion against government. The Emergency created a unity among opposition parties that never existed before and became the cause of Mrs Gandhi’s defeat. It is too early to say whether the Modi government’s attempts to misuse democratic institutions for his party’s narrow interests and the right wing attacks on institutions and rights of citizens will help create similar kind of opposition unity, which will determine the outcome of 2019 elections.
A L I Chougule is an independent senior journalist.
— By A L I Chougule
Myanmar military leaders guilty of ‘crimes against humanity’: Amnesty
BURMA: More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee Rakhine state after a military crackdown that the United Nations has said amounts to “ethnic cleansing”.
Myanmar’s military has denied targeting the stateless minority and said it was defending itself against Muslim militants who attacked police posts in August 2017.
But a new report from Amnesty said army commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing and 12 other senior military and security officials oversaw an orchestrated campaign of violence in the restive state where the Rohingya have been historically marginalized.
“The ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population was achieved by a relentless and systematic campaign in which the Myanmar security forces unlawfully killed thousands of Rohingya, including young children,” said the report.
It also accused security forces of sexual violence, torture, forced displacement and burning markets and farmland that starved communities and forced them to flee.
“These crimes amount to crimes against humanity under international law, as they were perpetrated as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Rohingya population,” the report said.
The report said some senior military figures and border guard police oversaw units that directly carried out alleged atrocities, while others knew of subordinates’ actions and failed to prevent, stop or punish the crimes.
The 186-page document is the first attempt to name and implicate senior figures in the widespread violence that sparked the mass exodus and humanitarian crisis that followed.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have settled in squalid camps in neighboring Bangladesh, many too scared to go back despite a repatriation agreement with Myanmar that rights groups have said does not guarantee a safe return.
The report is the most detailed account of the crisis to date and follows fresh sanctions from the European Union this week against seven security officials accused of serious crimes including sexual violence and killings.
Min Aung Hlaing was not subject to the sanctions but six people on the EU list are also named in the Amnesty report, which is based on more than 400 interviews in Myanmar and Bangladesh from September 2017 to June 2018.
The authors also used satellite imagery, forensic analysis and confidential military documents.
The report also details alleged abuses carried out by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the Muslim militant group that attacked police posts on August 25, 2017.
It said ARSA killed informants and people with military links and massacred dozens of Hindus in the area, which the militant group has denied.
Amnesty says it requested a response from Myanmar’s military and the office of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi but did not receive a reply.
Myanmar has previously rejected calls for an ICC probe, arguing that it is not party to the treaty that governs the court.
Record 68.5 million people displaced worldwide: UN
Geneva: A record 68.5 million people have been forced flee their homes due to war, violence and persecution, notably in places like Myanmar and Syria, the UN said on Tuesday.
By the end of 2017, the number was nearly three million higher than the previous year and showed a 50-percent increase from the 42.7 million uprooted from their homes a decade ago, according to a report by the UN refugee agency.
The current figure is equivalent to the entire population of Thailand, and the number of people forcibly displaced equates to one in every 110 persons worldwide, it said. “We are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren’t left dealing with this alone,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. But around 70 percent of that number are people from just 10 countries, he told reporters in Geneva ahead of the report’s launch.
“If there were solutions to conflicts in those 10 countries, or in some of them at least, that huge figure, instead of rising every year, could start going down,” he said, calling for more political will to halt the crises driving so many from their homes.
– Every two seconds –
The report showed that 16.2 million people were freshly displaced last year, and included those forced to flee for the first time as well as those who had been previously displaced.
This equates to some 44,500 people being pushed out of their homes every day — or one person every two seconds, UNHCR said.
Most people flee within their own country, and are defined as internally displaced people, or IDPs.
By the end of 2017, there were some 40 million IDPs worldwide, down slightly from previous years, with Colombia, Syria and Democratic Republic of Congo accounting for the greatest numbers.
Another 25.4 million people — more than half of them children — were registered as refugees last year.
That is nearly three million more than in 2016, and “the highest known total to date”, it said.
– South Sudan numbers soar –
Syria’s seven-year conflict alone had, by the end of last year, pushed more than 6.3 million people out of the country, accounting for nearly one-third of the global refugee population.
Another 6.2 million Syrians are internally displaced.
The second largest refugee-producing country in 2017 was Afghanistan, whose refugee population grew by five percent during the year to 2.6 million people.
The increase was due mainly to births and more Afghans being granted asylum in Germany, UNHCR said.
South Sudan meanwhile saw the largest increase last year, with the number of refugees fleeing the world’s youngest nation soaring from 1.4 million at the beginning of the year to 2.4 million at the end.
Grandi said South Sudan was experiencing “a very bad emergency” which had apparently escaped the notice of both the government and the opposition who did not appear to be “taking seriously the desperate situation of their own people.”
– Most refugees in poor countries –
Refugees from Myanmar more than doubled last year to 1.2 million, as a brutal army crackdown forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to pour across the border into Bangladesh.
Tuesday’s report also highlighted large-scale displacements in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and DR Congo among others.
And as Israel marks 70 years of independence, there are some 5.4 million Palestinians still living as refugees, it said.
Despite the focus on migrant numbers arriving in Europe and the United States, a full 85 percent of refugees are living in low- and middle-income countries like Lebanon, Pakistan and Uganda, Grandi said.
Turkey was hosting by far the largest number of refugees, with 3.5 million registered there by the end of 2017, most of them Syrians.
On This Day in History: June 6, 1981 — Passenger train plunges into Baghmati River in Bihar killing more than 500 people
On this day, June 6, 1981, India witnessed one of its most dangerous train accidents. More than 500 passengers were killed when a train fell into a river in Bihar. A passenger train travelling between Mansi (Dhamara Pul) and Saharsa fell into Baghmati river of Bihar, killing more than 500 people.
The nine-car train was filled with about 1000 passengers. The actual reason of the accident is unknown but reports suggest that the train engineer applied brakes too hard to avoid hitting a cow, which was crossing the bridge over the river. The outside weather had monsoon-like conditions and heavy rains were making the track slippery.
While trying to avoid hitting the cow at all costs, the engineer applied the brakes too hard and the train derailed on the wet tracks. Seven cars of the train fell straight into the river. Since the water levels of the river were far above normal due to rains, the cars sank quickly into the river. After five days, about 286 dead bodies were found while 300 missing people were never found. The estimates of the total deaths range between 500-800 people. The tragedy is the worst train accident ever recorded in the 20th century.
Narendra Modi speaks for entire Indo-Pacific
If there is an impression that the prime minister travels abroad frequently, it may not be entirely wrong. But when the world has shrunk and the national economies are vastly integrated in the global economic order, Modi’s foreign visits are quite justified. A leader of the fastest growing economy with the second largest population in the world cannot adopt an isolationist attitude. Maybe in some cases the country could have been represented by the External Affairs Minister, but mostly the PM’s presence was warranted.
He could not have avoided going, given the needs of protocol which insists on a head of government fronting for his country when other heads of government are present. Having said that, it must be readily acknowledged that despite being new to the conduct of foreign relations, Modi has surprised by proving to be an adept practitioner. He has not only conducted himself with becoming dignity and confidence, what is more he has marshalled the delicate business of diplomatic give-and-take with foreign interlocutors with a thorough understanding and knowledge of the issues in hand. Aside from the seeming failure to mend ties with Pakistan, where the flip-flop was embarrassing and unproductive, his foray into foreign diplomacy by and large has been positive.
Relations with China threatened to go downhill, especially following the long standoff over Doklam, but to the credit of both the nuclear powered-neighbours, their leaders saw the wisdom in sending out a message of cordiality after the Modi-Xi informal summit in a resort town in China. The short point is that no-one need frown up Modi’s seemingly frequent foreign visits. These are an integral part of his job as India’s CEO. Having said that, Modi ought to be credited for elucidating brilliantly India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific in his address as the keynote speaker at last week’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Incidentally, that the world has come to accept Indo-Pacific as against the earlier Asia-Pacific, which the Chinese would have liked to persist with, is a comment on the growing importance of India for the region.
Speaking in the backdrop of credible reports about China’s aggressive designs in the region, and its maritime excesses what with it illegally building military outposts in disputed islands in the South China Sea, Modi spoke of cooperation among all the nations in the region to usher in a rule-based order. Without naming China, the PM left no one in doubt who he was referring to when he said the Indo-Pacific should not be perceived as a ‘club of limited members’, all countries in the region ought to help create a stable environment for trade and commerce. In particular, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had a major role to play to ensure that the region was peaceful to facilitate trouble-free cooperation in the wider region. In this context, he mentioned that rivalry between nations would hold back the dream of an Asian century whereas cooperation, particularly between India and China, would prove conducive.
The growing apprehensions of the relatively small nations on account of the hegemonic designs of China were not directly mentioned but it was clear from Modi’s address that he had it in his mind when he called for a rule-based order without resort to force and intimidation. The fact that China’s neighbours were apprehensive about its intentions and its occupation of the disputed islands in the South China Sea made the address further meaningful and timely. The Belt and Road initiative in which smaller nations per force felt obliged to join too was a cause of concern since it impinges on national sovereignties and in some cases pushed them into a debt trap (as in the case of Pakistan). A rule-based order alone would ensure protection of national sovereignties, equal access to all nations, freedom of navigation to all. The prime minister did not have to be more explicit to convey to the Chinese that their expansionist forays in the region will be met with resistance from small and bigger nations alike and that it should desist and return to the path of cooperation and consultation for creating conditions for open and free trade and mutual growth and prosperity. Modi’s words must have found many takers in the distinguished audience in Singapore last Friday.