A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 17 No. 22 27 MAY - 2 JUNE 2014
Initial Symptoms and Signals
As Narendra Modi takes over as Prime Minister, and a BJP Government takes the reins of power, what are the signals his Government is sending out?
Even as Modi calls himself the 'Mazdoor No.1', the most powerful 'maaliks' – corporate biggies Ambani, Adani and Hinduja – were prominent at his swearing-in ceremony.
The invitation to foreign guests was essentially more of an exercise to secure international projection for Modi than a concrete foreign policy initiative. The choice of invitees was also subject to controversy and questions. The invitation to Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse, notorious for war crimes and an ongoing policy of majoritarianism and ethnic cleansing of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, has led to anger and protests, especially by the people of Tamil Nadu. Apart from SAARC countries, Mauritius, an invitee to SAARC, was a guest at the swearing-in – begging the question why other SAARC invitees who are also India's immediate neighbours, like Myanmar and China, were not invited?
Modi's 'minimum government' mantra seems to mean concentration of key Ministries and decision-making in the PM and a coterie of Ministers – effectively a super-PMO and super-Cabinet. The clubbing of Finance and Corporate Affairs ministries indicates that economic policy priorities of the Government will be led by corporate interests.
Modi's decision to give a Ministerial berth to Muzaffarnagar riot-accused Sanjeev Baliyan is a deliberate step, intended to display majoritarian arrogance and impunity for the riot-accused. We can recall that Modi had likewise patronised Maya Kodnani in his Gujarat Government, until a Court convicted her for her role in the 2002 communal violence.
The choice of retired Army General VK Singh for Minister of State (Independent charge) for North East Affairs is also significant. The Modi Government is indicating quite brazenly that it will view the North East from a military prism, mocking the demands for scrapping the discriminatory and draconian AFSPA.
The statements of various newly appointed Ministers are cause for concern. Najma Heptullah, Minister for Minority Affairs, has declared that Muslims are too large in number to qualify as a genuine minority, and that Parsis – a genuine 'miniscule minority' in her view - will instead be a priority for the Government. The fact is that Muslim and Christian minorities in India are the ones at the receiving end of the maximum violence and discrimination, while Muslims are the minority community that is economically and socially most deprived and stigmatised. To pit the Parsi minority against other minorities, and to declare that Muslim minorities are not really deserving of the Government's protection, is another early display of brutal majoritarianism by the Modi Government.
Jitendra Singh, MoS in the Prime Minister's Office, has declared that the Modi Government is 'already' taking steps to abrogate Article 370 that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir. How can the PMO claim to move independently to meddle with a key Constitutional provision like Article 370, without any discussion in Parliament?
Given that Modi's USP is his personal leadership over every aspect of his Government, these statements by Heptullah and Singh cannot be seen as mere 'loose canon' remarks, but as indications of the RSS footprint on the Modi Government's policy orientation. With daily RSS-BJP parleys over Cabinet formation and policy-making, the RSS control over this Government is blatant, with no pretence of being covert.
The Modi Government, right from day one, has displayed its readiness to twist and distort the law to suit its whims. The appointment of a former TRAI Chief to the post of PS to the PM was in violation of the TRAI Act that forbade post-retirement Government jobs for TRAI Chiefs. When this came to light, the Government promptly promulgated an ordinance to do away with this safeguard on conflict of interest, and 'legalised' the illegal appointment post facto!
There are other worrying signals that the new Government will wield power to ensure impunity for its political partners and its own leaders. RSS leader Indresh Kumar, accused in terror blast cases, campaigned for Modi in Banaras – and has now demanded payback, saying that the Modi Government must 'review' terror cases in which RSS elements are implicated. Why should the politics of the accused be the basis on which terror cases will be reviewed? The induction of Baliyan likewise indicates that the Central Government is likely to back the demand for release of key Muzaffarnagar riot-accused. And the first statement by the new Minister of State (Home) has been that the Government will 'review' the Snoopgate probe – in which Amit Shah and Modi are both seriously implicated in the illegal surveillance of a young woman and several other citizens.
Emboldened by the Modi victory, lumpen saffron brigades have indulged in violence in several places: these include communal violence and minority-baiting by a BJP victory procession in Karnataka, communal violence in Ahmedabad on the eve of Modi's swearing-in, and the attack by ABVP on a seminar held at the AN Sinha Institute in Patna. Other disturbing signals include the arrest of some individuals for anti-Modi remarks on social media, the crackdown on several protests in the capital city in the name of Section 144.
Another disturbing symptom is the unwillingness of much of the mainstream media to live up to its professional responsibility. The Supreme Court verdict holding the Gujarat police and then Home Minister Modi responsible for framing innocents in the Akshardham blasts case was buried by most of the media. Likewise the media's discussion of the Cabinet formation and new Government innings largely avoids questioning the appointment of a riot-accused as a Minister, or the issuing of an ordinance to legalise an illegal appointment to the PMO, or the propriety of the Government insulating its leaders from being investigated in the Snoopgate matter.
The Modi Government is just beginning its innings. It must be held accountable to its promises to end price rise, corruption and unemployment, as well as farmers' distress and the rights of students and youth. The PM who calls himself Mazdoor No.1 must make his stand clear on labour laws and the rights of workers. And the Government must be held accountable to the strictest Constitutional obligations – including the rights and liberties of all citizens including dissenting voices, minorities, women and the oppressed castes. With the diminished Opposition inside Parliament, and the self-censorship embraced by much of the media, the role of the people's opposition on the streets will be crucial.
The Other Verdict of 16 May 2014
In an ironic coincidence on 16 May 2014, alongside the electoral verdict, the Supreme Court too delivered its verdict on Akshardham Temple Terror Attack case (of Gujarat, September 2002), acquitting all the six accused including three who were sentenced to death by a lower court, and slamming the Gujarat Police for framing innocents.
Acquitting all the six convicts, the judgment said: "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, police caught innocent people and got imposed the grievous charges against them which resulted in their conviction and subsequent sentencing,"
The Supreme Court in its judgement categorically slammed the then Gujarat home minister – today, Prime Minister of India - for "non-application of mind" and failure to verify the criteria for granting sanction to prosecute the 6 under POTA.
The verdict says, "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."
The verdict notes that for a year after the Akshardham attack, "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." The verdict notes that "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." On 29.08.2003, 5 of the accused were arrested, and the next day, POTA was invoked.
The apex court commented on how these dates give rise to suspicions of framing: "This shrouds our minds with suspicion as to why such a vital witness- D.G. Vanzara, who discovered the link to the accused persons, was not examined by the Special Court (POTA). The courts below accepted the facts and evidence produced by the police without being suspicious about the extreme coincidences with which the chain of events unfolded itself immediately that is, within 24 hours of the case being transferred to the Crime Branch, Ahmedabad. ...We are reminded of the legendary lines of Justice Vivian Bose in the case of Kashmira Singh's case (supra) wherein he cautioned that: 'The murder was a particularly cruel and revolting one and for that reason it will be necessary to examine the evidence with more than ordinary care lest the shocking nature of the crime induce an instinctive reaction against the dispassionate judicial scrutiny of the facts and law.' The courts below have not examined the evidence with 'more than ordinary care'."
The court concluded that the confessional statements of the accused were invalid in law, and that there was no evidence of their having participated in any conspiracy. Categorically holding them to be innocent, the court ordered their release without a stain on their character.
One of those wrongly convicted, Mohammed Saleem, said after his release that the Gujarat Police had given him the "choice" of being implicated in the Godhra train burning, Haren Pandya murder and Akshardham terror! He was sentenced to life under POTA for involvement in the Akshardham case, before being freed by the Supreme Court. Another, Qayyum, was quoted by a newspaper as saying, "The police tortured and forced me to write the letters. They claimed the letters were found from the pockets of the fidayeen killed during the attack. But the Supreme Court noticed that the letters were clean, not torn, or soiled/stained with blood or soil — which was highly unnatural and improbable as the terrorists' bodies were covered with blood and mud, and their clothes had multiple tears and holes due to the bullets." All six were proved innocent after 11 years. Two of those who have been exonerated in the Akshardham case today, have already served the term of their sentence. They have already been punished for a crime of which they are totally innocent.
Who Will Compensate for the Lost Years, Ruined Lives?
Let us not forget, post-Godhra and post-Gujarat pogrom of 2002, a grand narrative unfolded in Gujarat and went on unabated till 2006: there was Akshardham temple terror attack (24 September 2002, 25 dead, 77 injured) and a series of "encounters" of the alleged "Islamist terrorists" out to kill Modi and his men. These encounters include that of Samir Khan Pathan (2002), Sadiq Jamal (2003), Ishrat Jahan (2004), Sohrabuddin Sheikh (2005), and Tulsiram Prajapati case (2006). All the incidents had more than one similarity: a common narrative of 'terrorists targeting Modi', all under the same set of police officers and political leaders, all involving the killing of 'conspirators' who allegedly belonged to terrorist outfits like LeT or Jaish, and all, now, carrying the taint of fake encounters. Politically, each episode went to build up Modi's image as a 'Hindu nationalist' hero being targeted by so-called 'Muslim terrorists'.
Many of the top cops involved in these acts are behind bars today. One common actor among them, DIG D. G. Vanzara, languishing in Sabarmati Central jail since 2007, in an explosive letter in September 2013, explicitly charged: "Gujarat CID/Union CBI had arrested me and my officers in different encounter cases, holding us responsible for carrying out alleged fake encounters. If that is true, then the CBI investigation officers of all the four encounter cases of Sohrabuddin, Tulsiram, Sadiq Jamal and Ishrat Jahan have to arrest the policy formulators also as we, being field officers, have simply implemented the conscious policy of this government, which was inspiring, guiding and monitoring our actions from very close quarters… I'm of the firm opinion that the place of this government, instead of being in Gandhinangar, should either be at Taloja Central Prison in Navi Mumbai or at Sabarmati Central Prison in Ahmedabad."
In January 2012, a Supreme Court Bench, acting on petitions filed before it since 2007, appointed a Monitoring Authority to probe 22 cases of fake encounter deaths in Gujarat from 2003 to 2006. And a week before the 2014 verdict, another Supreme Court verdict rebuffed the Gujarat Government's plea seeking uniform guidelines for dealing with cases of encounter killings. The highest Court dismissed the pleas saying that there cannot be such an advisory in a federal structure.
Would the Prime Minister today, who touts his 'Gujarat model' on every occasion, take responsibility for this terrible miscarriage of justice on his watch as Chief Minister? Will he apologise for the framing, torture, forced confessions of innocents, and failure to prosecute the real culprits? Will he offer any compensation and public apology to the innocents? Will he take steps to ensure that FIRs are filed against the cops implicated in framing the innocents in the Akshardham case, and punishment ensured?
The habit of framing innocents, however, is not exclusive to the Gujarat police. Police all over the country routinely use torture as a substitute for investigation. And in terror cases, the media and public opinion also tends to give police a licence to torture and frame innocents, with communal prejudice and the enormity of the crime serving to silence or stigmatise any questioning voices. It is high time that the terror laws like UAPA and NIA Act that legalise the violation of rights and create space for torture, are scrapped.
Why are protest spaces being closed off even the new Government prepares to assume office?
Why is the Delhi police using Section 144 to arrest protesters or prevent protests in public spaces? JNU students planned to protest at Gujarat Bhawan to demand justice for the Akshardham innocents, but cops hijacked their bus and took it to Jantar Mantar!
The protest was inspired by the Supreme Court acquittal of the 6 Akshardham convicts; the SC held that they were all innocents who had been framed by the Gujarat police, and held that the then Gujarat Home Minister, Narendra Modi, had 'not applied his mind' when he gave sanction for prosecution under POTA. Actually the 'non-application of mind' by Modi in Gujarat's terror cases, is pretty deliberate - just like Manmohan Singh's looking the other way in scam cases.
Students wanted those cops who framed innocents punished, apology and compensation for innocents, also scrapping of draconian laws. But Delhi Police did not allow protesters to reach Gujarat Bhawan - it detained students, entered the bus and made the driver go to Jantar Mantar instead!
Why is Section 144 being deployed like a weapon in Delhi to prevent protests at places where protests have been held routinely for years? Since when is it illegal to hold protests at State Bhawans in the capital?
Students held the protest at Jantar Mantar; the demonstration was addressed by JNUSU President Akbar Chawdhury, and leaders of AISA, DSF, DSU, AISF, SFI, Untouchable India, Jamia Solidarity Forum, and DU Queer Collective.
After the protest at Jantar Mantar, the cops 'escorted' students back to JNU!
The anger of young people when Section 144 was invoked to prevent/suppress anti-rape protests in 2012 December is still fresh in people's memory, also when Section 144 was used against anti corruption protestors by the Congress and UPA.
Courts have taken Delhi Police to task for illegal, repetitive and unjustified use of Section 144. In its judgment in the Ramlila Maidan midnight crackdown incident involving Ramdev's supporters, the Supreme Court had said that Section 144 must be invoked only in emergency situations having grave consequences. In a May 2011 order, the Delhi High Court had criticised the Delhi Police for "passing of repetitive orders" under Section 144 and had disposed of the writ petition after the police submitted in an affidavit that the "repeated use of power under Section 144 CrPC has been discontinued in the New Delhi district".
The UPA Govt's prolific use of Section 144 to suppress protests was one of the reasons people punished it with defeat. But now, even before the new Govt has taken the reins, the Delhi Police is going on the offensive, arresting AAP activists for 'violating Section 144 at Tihar Gates' and preventing a peaceful dharna at the gates of Gujarat Bhawan by students! The memories of BJP leaders are notoriously short, of course. The same BJP leaders who waxed outrageous at the UPA Govt's use of Section 144 and raised the cry of 'Emergency' when the Congress and UPA did it, now tell us that indiscriminate use of Sec 144 is perfectly fine.
Delhi and India have a powerful record of defying arbitrary impositions of Section 144, of fighting attempts to shrink the available public spaces for protest, of reclaiming protest spaces - like India Gate - that the Govt decreed to be 'out of bounds'. The new Govt and PM rode the wave of people's anger - especially young people's anger - against the UPA Govt's craven attempts to choke off dissent and protests. But the signals the new regime is sending are unmistakeable threats to dissent and protest. Well, times of street protests for truth and justice, are truly good times, in every country and clime.
Dalits Evicted for Protesting Rape
On the night of March 23, 4 dalit teenage girls aged 13-18 were abducted from their village of Bhagana in Haryana's Hisar district, drugged and raped. They had gone to a field near their homes to urinate, when they were attacked by five men (from the dominant Jat caste), drugged, gang raped in the fields and carried off in a car. They were found outside Bhatinda railway station in Punjab the next morning.
On March 23rd, when the parents of the missing girls approached the village sarpanch Rakesh Kumar Pangal and his uncle Virender for help, the sarpanch sent them home with reassurances. Within five minutes, he called them back, saying that all four girls were with his relative in Bhatinda, and were to be fetched the next day.
The next day their families, brought to Bhatinda by Rakesh and Virender, found the girls. Rakesh and Virender put the four girls in the car and asked the relatives to go back by train due to lack of space. En-route, the girls allege that Rakesh abused them, beat them and tried to threaten them to stay silent or else lose their lives. When they reached Bhagana around nightfall, Rakesh tried to drive them to his place, wanting them to agree to marry the rapists so he could claim the girls ran away from home to get married. The girls were eventually rescued from the car by Dalit youth.
The police delayed filing an FIR. And when one was eventually filed, Rakesh and Virender's names were absent, despite the girls naming them in their testimonies. When the girls and their families refused to back down from their statement, they have been forced to flee Bhagana, and have since camped in Delhi, demanding justice.
Bhagana, like other parts of Haryana, has a history of atrocities against and eviction of Dalits. The Jats, during Rakesh's tenure as Sarpanch, have socially boycotted the Dalits since 2011, grabbed 208 acres of their common land and not let any social welfare schemes be implemented. In 2011, 138 Dalit families left Bhagana, and have since been living at Hisar's Mini Secretariat. About 150 Dhanuk families stayed back. The protest made no dent in the living conditions. Dalit girls are still harassed, molested and chased by Jat boys on their way to school, Dalit boys are beaten up for standing up for them, Dalit labourers are physically exploited and abused. Three of the Bhagan rape survivors had left school after Std. VIII, unable to face daily harassment. In 2010, Dalits had been forced to flee Mirchpur in Haryana. Now, there are only 40 Dalit families left in Bhagana. The protestors camped at Jantar Mantar in Delhi are very clear – they want rehabilitation in some other safe place, since they fear returning to Bhagana.
They have held sustained protests – at Jantar Mantar, at Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda's residence, at the SC/ST Commission. The television channels, usually avid to cover rape incidents, and which covered every minute of the protests that followed the December 16th gang rape – have, mostly ignored the Bhagana protests.
The JNU Students' Union and various student groups including AISA, along with many Dalit organisations, as well as women's organisations including AIPWA, have been with the Bhagana protestors every step of the way. The JNUSU has initiated a signature campaign to the President of India and a solidarity fund to support the protestors.
(This report has been prepared with some inputs from a report titled 'Reliving a Nightmare' by Aradhna Wal, The Hindu May 17, 2014)
JK Dhaundiyal, a progressive intellectual and close sympathiser of CPI(ML), passed away in a hospital in the national capital region, early in the morning on June 22. He was 66.
Hailing from the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, he had come in touch with the party as a student in Allahabad University, where he studied history. When he came to Delhi in the 1970s, he was among the many writers and young journalists influenced by the Naxalbari movement. He retained that strong sense of social and political commitment, even as he became a copyrighter in an advertising agency and a distinguished maker of ad films, especially about preserving our archaeological heritage.
He had been suffering from diabetes and cancer. CPI(ML) expresses condolences to his family. The revolutionary Left, along with progressive writers and cultural activists, will miss JK Dhaundiyal sorely, and remember him with warmth.
Edited, published and printed by S. Bhattacharya for CPI(ML) Liberation from U-90, Shakarpur, Delhi-92; printed at Bol Publication, R-18/2, Ramesh Park, Laxmi Nagar, Delhi-92; Phone:22521067; fax: 22442790, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: www.cpiml.org