Friday, March 9, 2018

Tripura Ends CPM Tedium By Trading Decency For False Eldorado

Tripura Ends CPM Tedium By Trading Decency For False Eldorado
                                                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

The extraordinary feat the BJP has pulled off leaves one breathless. Which other Chief Minister in the country will have a decorated Director General of Police, B.L. Vohra, write in his book, Tripura’s Bravehearts, “Manik Sarkar was definitely unlike any Chief Ministers whom I had seen, met, worked with and heard about…. He was honest personally and that had percolated down to all echelons of the government again one cannot find many examples of his ilk unfortunately in the country.” This level of decency has been traded by the Tripura electorate for mobs who pull down statues.

The universal assessment of Manik Sarkar even among opposition leaders in Tripura would flatter any politician. It was not just that he was himself a gentleman but he appeared to have instilled his qualities in his cabinet colleagues and the administration across the board. By all accounts his predecessor and Guru, Nripen Chakraborty, was even more admirable. The staff in the Chief Minister’s house had never ever dreamt that they would serve a boss whose groceries were purchased on a ration card and who never saved enough money to open a bank account. This may be syrupy stuff in an era when materialism is the mantra, but do, for a moment, reflect on the Chakraborty-Sarkar duo against the amoral wasteland that stretches as far as the eye can see.

Also, it is elementary that 25 years of CPM rule could not have lasted only because of the leadership’s decency. Despite the economic crunch, the government in Agartala implemented every central scheme with greater efficiency than any other state. 96% literacy? Show me another state. The gender ratio is something of a record. That is how Tripura’s middle class was created. True, having created a new middle class, the government found itself flat footed. It could not cope with the next stage of aspirations. It produced distributive justice but found itself bereft of ideas to generate wealth to accommodate the educated unemployed and to promote two wheel drivers to the four wheel level.

Upon arrival in Agartala I was able to find accommodation only in a government guest house. When I asked the CM if the absence of reasonable hotels was state policy, he was frank: “we are not in a position to cope with social imbalances that come with five star hotels, bars and restaurants.”

This may sound odd, but the reasons for the rout of the CPM in Tripura are, to some extent, similar to the ones responsible for the decline of West Indian cricket.

Never again will the likes of Weekes, Sobers, Viv Richards, Michael Holding and Brian Lara adorn world cricket. In the 70s and the 80s, the West Indies cricket team was like Don Bradman’s invincibles. The culture of cricket was their inheritance from the British colonial period.

Aggressive globalization of the 90s, placed the West Indies in the sphere of American media. US centered television beamed at the islanders not cricketers but basketball and baseball stars like Michael Jordan and Jose Ramirez, with proselytizing persistence. Within a generation, all that remained of the cricketing legends were their fading photographs in the scrap books of schoolboys of the 80s in former British colonies.

A CPM government in Tripura was, likewise, as remote from any Left ruled enclave as the West Indies are from cricket’s birth place. After the end of Left rule in West Bengal, it had no structure to lean on. In this friendless era it was exposed to hostile TV bombardment. Riding the crest of economic liberalization, market fundamentalism galloped at breakneck speed to accommodate advertising for rampaging consumerism marketed by dream merchants, architects of plush malls and multiplexes.

CPM Chief Minister, Manik Sarkar’s controlled austerities withstood this barrage of televised razzmatazz for 25 years. By this time another generation had arisen, torn between a lifestyle of simplicity and the Eldorado on the horizon that metropolitan centres of control teased and tempted them with.

Agartala is in trauma. Before they find their feet, the stunned CPM cadres are having to adjust to another reality: Party sympathizers are suddenly not making eye contact with them. Some, with an eye on the main chance, have been seen on the margins of mobs attacking CPM offices, even pulling down of the Lenin statue.

To a considerable extent, the outcome in Tripura and elsewhere in the North East is the Congress’s gift to the BJP. Himanta Biswa Sarma, a genius in electoral management, walked out of the Congress because he could not bear Rahul Gandhi’s insulting silences. Tarun Gagoi, the former Assam Chief Minister, was eager to create his own dynasty, make his son Gaurav the Chief Minister. This would cut out Sarma whose political brilliance underpinned the latter half of the Gogoi years.

This kind of a dynamo, backed by money power that would make Nirav Modi salivate and an adversarial centre controlling the purse strings this is how the Left was uprooted in Tripura. Just imagine, when state after state is implementing the 7th pay commission, Tripura found itself stranded at the 4th pay commission. CPM dogma also stood in the way: “7th pay commission made some demands which were anti people.”

The change of cultures was imminent from the day the BJP planted Tathagata Roy as Governor of Tripura. The genteel tone of Chakraborty-Sarkar gave way to a inelegant vocabulary. “They should be buried head first in pig’s excreta”, said the Governor by way of a recommendation for dealing with terrorists.

Pulling down of statues is a milder form of retribution compared to the coarse standards set by the Governor.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Can Corporate Media Allied With Executive Oust Popularly Elected CMs?

Can Corporate Media Allied With Executive Oust Popularly Elected CMs?
                                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

Every time AAP walks into a carefully laid trap by the establishment and the media bays for its blood, I suspect the effect on viewers is not what the channels expect. A relentless anti AAP tirade has begun to give shape to an underdog syndrome. Aggressive anchors obviously find it profitable otherwise why would they place every AAP related figure in a Roman Arena. Mauling AAP to boost TRPs is dependent largely on Sambit Patra’s lung power:
“Dekhein buland kaun hai, aur pusst kaun hai,
Sambit Patra se zabardast kaun hai?”
(Who will win and who will flop,
Sambit Patra is always on top.)

In attacking AAP with such frequency, channels go well outside their established TRP boosting formula: stick to the four Cs – cinema, crime, cricket and communalism. The reason for this detour is simple: corporates who control the channels would like to restrict the national game to the BJP and the Congress, parties they have nurtured.

Opinion polls by media houses in Congress-BJP states will never survey electoral prospects in Delhi where AAP is the principal contender. That is why it required Anandabazar Patrika, headquartered in Kolkata, to sponsor a survey of electoral preferences in the Delhi Capital Region.

According to the ABP-Nielsen survey published last week, AAP will, despite the exertions of the channels, win 48 out of 70 seats. Polls indicate it will get 47 percent of the vote share. The sample is limited 5,101 voters spread over 28 assembly seats. Of these 35% said AAP performance has been good; 15% said it has been “very good”.

If the AAP has come down in its popularity from 67 seats in a house of 70, to 48 seats, in which direction are the remaining seats shifting? In the direction of the BJP. If elections were held in Delhi today, the BJP tally would increase from three to 22 seats. The Congress remains where it is: a cipher.

The poll was conducted by ABP, one of the country’s most powerful media houses but which happens to be headquartered in Kolkata where it has been in conversation with the Trinamool Congress supremo, Mamata Banerjee.

Obviously the ABP has seen the writing on the wall. Time was when editor-in-chief Aveek Sarkar was advising CPM’s Secretary General Sitaram Yechury and the Congress to gang up against Mamata in the assembly elections. It was an absurd line because in simultaneous elections in Kerala, the Left and the Congress were at each other’s throat. Not only was the Yechury line trounced in West Bengal, but his party colleague, Prakash Karat, subsequently prevailed on the party to reject any arrangement with the Congress anywhere.

A common strand running through AAP and Trinamool is their equidistance from the BJP and the Congress. The core grouping Kejriwal and Mamata are in search of for the 2019 General Elections will be equally distant from the Congress and the BJP. It was clearly with this in mind that Kejriwal undertook an exploratory journey to Madurai to participate in the inauguration of actor Kamal Haasan’s new political party, Makkal Needhi Maiam. Telugu Desam leader, Chandrababu Naidu has also indicated enthusiasm for the new Tamil outfit at a time when he is changing his options.

It is all very early days but a great deal of bluster is already accompanying furtive, drawing room parleys. In almost every private gathering there is that inevitable wag in the corner, flailing the air with his hands: “this lot will not give up power easily”. What, pray, will the Modi-Amit Shah duet do towards this end, that of not giving up power? A great deal of waffling follows – electronic voting machines will be fixed, mega communal riots will be orchestrated, the temple issue will be set ablaze and, ofcourse, there is that frightful speculation about action across the Pakistan border which will make surgical strikes look like pinpricks.

Sensible folk in the BJP are already beginning to contemplate life after Narendra Modi. It is elementary that in UP, Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh etcetera where the BJP scored exceptionally well to obtain an absolute majority with 31 percent of the vote, it will be substantially diminished, requiring a coalition builder which Modi is not.

What is limiting the BJP’s electoral tactics is Rahul Gandhi’s relentless temple hopping, ofcourse, but also keeping Muslim at a distance. This denies the BJP the use of an instrument which has enabled it to come to power. It has become that much more difficult to affect communal polarization. If polarization is not the name of the game, what purpose does an exceptionally hard line on Pakistan serve? What electoral game plan does the BJP have upto 2019 particularly when development is not visible to the voter.

In this ever expanding scenario, stretching upto 2019, why is everybody ganging up on AAP which is confined to Delhi? Well, it is not confined to Delhi. In its very first outing in the Punjab it is already the principal opposition. As major parties face an uncertain future, the AAP has dug its feet in Delhi by doing exceptional work for the poor in education, health, electricity and water supply. In fact water pipelines in bustees are being laid on an emergency basis.

Only if solid work at grassroot can be defeated by propaganda and executive fiat should there be any danger to Kejriwal. Equally in the line of fire is Chief Minister Manik Sarkar in distant Tripura. He is as much an affront to the corporate driven establishment in the North East as Kejriwal is in Delhi.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Hashimpura, Srebrenica And Rohingyas in Rakhine: Similar And So Different

Hashimpura, Srebrenica And Rohingyas in Rakhine: Similar And So Different
                                                                                               Saeed Naqvi

Incidents, similar in their chilling monstrosity, came to mind when I saw photographs of a row of Rohingya Muslim young men, on their knees, their hands tied behind their back. Gun wielding military police, lurking within the frame, eventually mowed them down.

This is the face of the horror the world will remember. In a state of funk, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief, General Min Aung Hlaing has admitted mass graves in one village: Inn Din 50 km north of the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe. Journalists have scoured many other mass graves.

The other gruesome episode etched on my mind is Srebrenica in Bosnia (1995). Hashimpura in Meerut (1987), ofcourse, is our very own tragedy, still lingering. In each one of these macabre events, Muslim youth had their hands tied behind their backs and shot by the local army.

In the latest massacre of the Rohingya in August 2017, the local Buddhist clergy and army turned upon the Muslims. The number killed exceeds 6,700 according to the NGO Doctors without Borders.

In Srebrenica, the orthodox Christian troops of the Bosnian-Serbian army, murdered 7,000 Muslim youth and expelled 20,000 civilians from the area.

In Hashimpura, forty two young men were lined up along a nearby irrigation canal and shot by soldiers of the Provincial Armed Constabulary. These soldiers were Hindus. Can their denomination be spelt out? Apparently not, given the manner in which Asaduddin Owaisi of the Ittehadul Muslimeen has been shouted down for having dared to mention Muslims as “martyrs” because in the latest outrage it is mostly them who have been killed by terrorists.

Owaisi was making a simple point. Patriotism of Indian Muslims is regularly challenged on prime time television which places them on the wrong side of the secular line. But five out of seven killed in the Sunjwan army camp happened to be Muslims. Why is this detail missing from reports? Such stories would go some distance in bridging communal divide. No, said the anchors almost in chorus, “Owaisi is communalizing the army”. Pray, how? “By reporting that five of the seven killed in the camp were Muslims”? Muslims must never upstage Hindu soldiers in the martyrdom stakes?

Given this attitude, the killers of the 42 Muslims in Hashimpura must be seen only as instruments of the “secular” state. That 19 PAC personnel, under the platoon commander, Surinder Pal Singh, rounded up Muslims in the Hashimpura neighbourhood of Meerut, should be blandly reported without mentioning religious identities. Religious identity must only be mentioned if terrorists turn out to be Muslims which is what they are when police shoots them down. The number of youth taken away is still unclear, but the police narrative suggests 42, mostly weavers and daily wage earners, who were taken in a truck to the upper Ganga canal in Murad Nagar, near Ghaziabad.

The men were blind folded, and shot. Their bodies were dumped in the canal. This was not the only such operation following a series of communal clashes in Meerut that year since March.

On May 24, 2007, 20 years after the massacre, 36 members of victim’s families filed applications under the Right to Information Act at the office of the Director General of Police in Lucknow. The inquiry revealed that all the accused remained in service. In their Annual Confidential Reports there was not even a hint of their involvement in the Hashimpura massacre. The secular state was protecting its own.

The case has dragged on, zig zagged without any evidence of the establishment really searching for justice. News is expected from the High Court on February 20. Reporters recall the Minister of State for Home, P. Chidambaram, outside his North Block office actually scream at officials. “Crush them” he shouted. He was very hands-on during the Meerut riots and the aftermath. Subramaniam Swamy actually named Chidambaram as an accomplice but the allegation, coming from Swamy, became prima facie suspect. In the fullness of time, the PAC men involved in the case, including Surinder Pal Singh, have all departed to their maker, one by one.

I have given the fairly common place details of the tragic saga of Muslims in the Hashimpura case simply to establish the contrast with massacres in Srebrenica and Rakhine in Myanmar. Orthodox Christians in one instance and Buddhists in the other brazenly targeted Muslims and for which they have been or are being punished. But in India the secular edifice would be weakened if the religious identity of police or armymen who kill Muslims is mentioned. And the case will be dragged on eternally.

In Serbia-Bosnia, the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia concluded that what happened in Srebrenica was “genocide”. It pinned the blame on senior officers in the Bosnian Serbian Army.

Bill Richardson, former Governor of New Mexico and US Ambassador to the UN, resigned last week from a Myanmar Advisory Board on the Rohingya crisis. He called it a pro government “cheerleading squad”. Richardson has been a friend of the country’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. This did not prevent him from expressing his anger at what he said was a whitewash in which she was complicit. “She has developed the arrogance of power”, he said.

For the horrors of Srebrenica senior commander Ratko Mladic and a host of his accomplices, have been awarded long sentences at the International Court of Justice. In Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi and her military accomplices are inching towards global opprobrium and eventual justice.

Why then are the perpetrators of Hashimpura, the oldest of the three massacres, still scot-free?

Supposing Owaisi were to lift the scab from another raw wound and say “wheels of justice, even when the complainants are Muslims, move faster in non Muslim theocratic states than in pretentious secular ones”. Would he be shouted down again?

Most Indians shy away from a glaring reality. Eruptions in former Yugoslavia and Myanmar took place when Muslims were in bad odour globally after the wars in the Arab world.

Communal clashes in India, particularly police versus people, have been endemic since the Partition of 1947. And the world does not take much notice because it is a routine “internal affair” of a sovereign state.

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