God’s own country, Kerala is experiencing the wrath of nature from last one week and battering rains and landslides in the state have forced over 30,000 people to leave their homes and take shelter in relief camps. The situation is grim as over 215 landslides have occurred in the 444 villages which have been declared as flood-hit by the state government and the death toll which has touched 87 does not seem to halt. The damage to life and property has been alarming and the state which is known for its highest literacy rate and sex ratio in the country apart from being a haven for tourists is suffering in silence with little outside help and relief operations which have their roots confined in the state itself.
Ideally, this is not how relief operations work, in fact when one part of the country is affected by a natural disaster then it is the duty of the entire nation to come together and lend a helping hand to provide as much relief as possible to our brother and sisters who are suffering but this does not seem to be happening at all in Kerala right now. If we assess the scale of relief operations in some natural disasters which have previously occurred in our country then it will become evident that Kerala is being treated unfairly in terms of the help it is being offered from various stakeholders. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s latest tweets assuring help for the state is a welcoming step and I hope it transforms into actual relief assistance and rescue operations in Kerala. The nationalistic civil society organizations which are heavily funded by the central government should also now join in the relief operations after the intervention of the Prime Minister himself.
The flash floods in Kedarnath and adjoining areas in 2013 saw various stakeholders ranging from civil society organizations to the central and state governments and most importantly the common people joining hands to re build the region but nothing of that sort is visible in the scale of relief operations in Kerala. The Bhuj earthquake in 2001 and the floods in Jammu and Kashmir in 2014 also saw relief operations being carried out at large scale and people from all walks of life coming together to help their suffering brothers and sisters. In fact, what transpires after any natural disaster is a mass humanitarian movement aimed to help those who have suffered the fury of nature but nothing of that sort has happened in Kerala so far.
It is therefore important to understand and question the changes that have stopped the people of this country from uniting for Kerala and its people and standing with them in these turbulent times. The changing meaning of nation and nationalism in the era of post truth where only a certain people and their ideology is supposed to be nationalistic while all others are branded as anti-nationals is behind this silence suffering of the state. Kerala is the only state in the country which is being governed by a left party, an ideology which has been steadily and systematically branded as anti-national to the extent that anybody who is a follower of this ideology is shamed, threatened and eventually asked to go to Pakistan by the hate mongers on social media. It is therefore not surprising that hate mongers on social media are continuously discouraging people from donating to Kerala’s CMO relief fund stating that the money will be used for anti national activities and not for relief work.
This is a sad and disturbing state of affairs because if we do a reality and fact check then the contribution of the state to the development parameters have always been impeccable and best in the country, be it the highest literacy rate, the highest sex ratio or simply being at the top in terms of social progress measured through the social progress index. Thus, an entire body of politics affecting and hindering the rescue operations in Kerala cannot be ruled out and it is clearly evident that the state is paying the price for electing the only left government in the country.
These are testing times for civil society organizations and above all the people of India. It is important that these two forces join hands and stand in solidarity with the people of Kerala and contribute to the relief operations in the state. The political differences and ideologies should not come in the way of people receiving adequate help. Natural disasters often known for the destruction they bring with them also offer an opportunity to bring fore the spirit of humanity and that spirit should reign supreme in Kerala just like it has reigned supreme in all the testing times which our country has faced in the past.
The biggest disservice which we would do to humanity and to our nation is to turn a blind eye to our own brothers and sisters simply because their belief system is different from ours and hence the onus is now on us to save ourselves from committing this sin. I therefore urge to the central and various state governments, the civil society organizations and most importantly the people of India to stand with the people of Kerala in these testing times and contribute generously to the relief operations in the state.
Reality Check of Scams of India: Part 1
One of the major issues on which the BJP rose to power in the year 2014 was the issue of corruption which had severely marred the Congress Party back then with scams like Commonwealth, 2G and Coalgate in their kitty and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s famous jibe, ‘Naa Khaaunga Naa Khaane Doonga’ striking a chord with the masses of this country. Now, with the 2019 general elections in touching distance, it becomes imperative to understand how far the Modi government has delivered on its promise of corruption-free governance so that the voters can make an informed choice in the times to come especially when it comes to the issue of a corruption free India.
HW News through this exclusive series of articles will delve into the major scams which have brought the Modi regime under the scanner of the opposition and the media and has considerably weakened its stance on the anti-corruption movement it so vigorously led in 2014. These scams are clubbed into two prominent categories, the ones which directly implicate the Prime Minister and important members of the ruling party like the infamous ‘Rafale Deal’; the miraculous 16,000 times increase in the turnover of Jay Shah’s company, the son of BJP President Amit Shah; Vivek Doval’s hedge fund in Cayman Island, a tax haven, contradictory to the views of his father Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor of India, a close aide of Prime Minister Modi and also the man who in the year 2011 called for a crackdown on tax havens and offshore entities.
The other category of scams are the ones which have taken place under the nose of the Modi government by private firm owners like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi who fled India with crores of money of public sector banks like the State Bank of India and Punjab National Bank. These fugitives have also raised suspicions against the will of the ruling party to fight corruption. We will begin with the two controversies which implicate the two most prominent members of the ruling party, Prime Minister Modi himself and his closest aide and BJP President Mr. Amit Shah.
Rafale Deal: The Rafale deal is a can of worms which does not seem to die down, the opposition has continuously accused the Modi government of corruption and favouritism in the purchase of 36 Rafale aircrafts from the French Government. The Congress party has accused the government of causing a huge loss of taxpayers’ money by signing the deal worth Rs. 58,000 crores as the cost of each aircraft is three times more than what the previous UPA had negotiated with France in 2012. It has also claimed that the Anil Ambani led Reliance Defence Limited has been unfairly picked to be the French firm’s Indian partner. The Supreme Court of India has dismissed all the petitions seeking a probe into the alleged irregularities in the deal, and gave a clean chit to the Modi government on all the three aspects of the deal that were challenged in the court i.e. the decision making, pricing and selection of Indian offset partner.
Reality Check: Even after the Supreme Court’s verdict, the Rafale deal is far from a closed chapter as recently the media released a letter of the Defence Secretary of India addressed to the then Defence Minister of India, Manohar Parrikar complaining of intervention by the PMO in the negotiations of the deal with the French government. This absolutely establishes the fact that the PMO was interfering in the deal when it was supposed to go only through the Defence Ministry officials. The comments of the former French President, Francois Hollande that the Indian government had asked the French government to nominate Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence Limited has also not helped the cause of the Modi government. Now, the latest controversy which has engulfed the Rafale deal is the report of the CAG which was tabled in the Parliament and the Congress party has alleged conflict of interest of the CAG, Rajiv Mehrishi, as a former union finance secretary and a part of the Narendra Modi government’s internal negotiations in the Rafale Deal.
There is a new development and set of controversies which emerge out of the Rafale deal every single day which only strengthens the fact that there can’t be any fuel without fire. The demand of the Congress party for a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee has been neglected time and again by the Modi government ignoring the fact that a JPC was also constituted to probe the infamous 2G scam and if they have nothing to hide then they should not shy away from a JPC probe. As of now, Rafale deal is not Rafale Scam, especially with the SC’s verdict on its side but with so much contradictory evidence coming up every single day and almost an established fact that the PMO was interfering in the negotiations of the deal, the Rafale Deal, can’t be given clean chit either. In the interest of the country, a JPC should be set up so that the Rafale deal can be probed and the truth of Rafale reaches the people of India.
Jay Shah’s miraculous rise: The Wire, a news portal, in the year 2017 did an exclusive story on BJP President Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah’s company, the Temple Enterprise Pvt Limited and highlighted the miraculous increase in the turnover of the company by 16,000 times in the year following the election of Narendra Modi as the prime minister of India and the elevation of Amit Shah to the post of party president. Company balance sheets and annual reports accessed from the Registrar of Companies by the Wire revealed that in the financial years ending March 2013 and 2014, Shah’s Temple Enterprise Private Ltd. engaged in negligible activity and recorded losses of Rs 6,230 and Rs 1,724 respectively. In 2014-15, it showed a profit of Rs 18,728 on revenues of only Rs 50,000 before jumping to a turnover of Rs 80.5 crore in 2015-16.
The report further highlighted the ugly nexus of politicians and crony capitalist behind Jay Shah’s prolific rise and implicated many in the government who were directly or indirectly responsible for this alleged money embezzlement. Ironically, the story was reported by Rohini Singh, a journalist who in the year 2011 also broke the story of Robert Vadra’s business dealings with DLF on which the BJP took anti-corruption mileage just before the 2014 general election and a déjà vu is running in mainstream media again with the Enforcement Directorate’s recent grilling of Robert Vadra.
Reality Check: This case went into an absolute limbo as Jay Shah proceeded with both criminal and a whopping Rs 100 crore civil defamation suit against the Wire. The founders of Wire snubbed the move publicly as an attempt to intimidate and arm-twist the media but at the same time moving to the court also indicated that Jay Shah was willing to be in a position to prove to the court that he and his company have earned his profits by fair means. Since then the Wire and Jay Shah have been sparring in the courts and even the Supreme Court has suggested them to settle the matter outside the court. The Congress and other opposition parties have also surprisingly gone easy on Jay Shah and his company with the Rafale Deal taking the major portion of the limelight and also a tacit understanding among political parties to go easy on their kith and kin, after all for four and a half years of its tenure, the BJP also did not find time to prosecute Robert Vadra. The corruption cases involving family members of politicians only end up becoming election gimmick and ammunition for the opposition parties during the elections with no concrete actions and that very well might be the fate of Jay Shah also in the future. The only thing which is certain by the information accessed from the Registrar of Companies is that, there indeed was an increase in the turnover of Jay Shah’s company by 16,000 times which he claims is done through fair and honest means and we can only wish that every Indian with or without a political god father achieves such growth in the future.
In the next article, we shall discuss the many fugitives in the Modi regime that do not directly implicate the government of corruption but definitely raise questions on its seriousness to fight corruption and nail the heavy loan defaulters who take the Indian economy and banking system for granted.
Reservation on the basis of economic backwardness: A positive step, if implemented well
In 2014 when the BJP managed to cross the 272 mark on its own and secure an absolute majority in the parliament, it was not only an indication of the Modi wave which definitely was one of the factors in the party’s landslide victory but also a reflection of the disappointment of the people from coalition governments in the center without much spine to take concrete actions. The country was tired of the blame game which the coalition partners used to play and the inability of the single largest party in the coalition to meet the aspirations of the people citing the compulsions of coalition politics. The atmosphere back then was different and the people of India decided to vote for a stable government in the center and the rest is history.
In the last 4.5 years the people of India have seen both the pros and cons of a stable turned all powerful government at the centre, demonetization was one of the much-debated moves which only a stable government at the center could have taken. It is evidently clear that demonetization and GST have not gone down well with the people of this country and no matter how much the BJP defends the long term benefits of these moves; the short term losses were too big to be neglected and forgiven. The 150 human lives lost and the distress faced by the workers in the informal sector during demonetization will not be forgotten and forgiven for long.
However, finally the Modi government has realized that it was given an absolute majority by the people of India to take pro-poor and pro-development measures minus the crony capitalists and that is what the government has done through the 124th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2019 that shall award 10 per cent reservation to economically weaker sections in the general category. Never ever before have I seen a bill being passed by the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and getting the Presidential assent in a matter of four days. This is true, the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on Jan 8th, in the Rajya Sabha on Jan 10th and approved by the President on Jan 12th and this was not the end, it has already been implemented by the state of Gujarat, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh so far and I so wish that the central, as well as government in the states, start acting like this for their entire tenure of five years instead of waking up during the election season.
While the timing and intentions of the ruling party must be questioned, the purpose of the bill to give 10 % reservation to economically weaker sections in the general category is definitely a step in the right direction and therefore should not be politicized. To set the record straight, it is important for everyone to understand that this reservation is not being awarded to economically backward sections in the upper caste. In fact, there is no upper caste in the society and there is no more a lower caste either, all these categories have been outlawed with the abolition of untouchability by article 17 of the Indian constitution. Yes, there are categories which club different castes together and these categories are Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backwards Classes and the General category but being clubbed in one category does not make a caste lower just like being clubbed in any other category does not make a caste upper or privileged. All these connotations of lower and upper caste are historical and not constitutional in nature.
The reservation granted to the people in SC, ST and OBC category so far by the constitution has been on account of both social and economic inequality faced by them in a historical context and aims at fighting that social inequality of the past and developing a more egalitarian society in the future. Reservation in India to any category will always be a positive step until and unless we become a truly egalitarian society and that will not happen any time soon. A report by Oxfam in 2018 found that India’s 1% elite hold 73% of the total wealth of this country leaving only 27 % of wealth for the rest 99 % people. Therefore any reservation on the grounds of economic backwardness is the need of the hour and the only category which was deprived of such benefits were the poor in the general category and with the implementation of the 124th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2019 they will have their due. For those who argue that the basis of reservation should be social backwardness and not economic backwardness, the reality is that both of these are complicated interrelated concepts and more often than not one ends up having an influence on the other. Also, with the introduction of reservation for poor in the general category, the longtime debate on the issue of the reservation will end as effectively every category will now enjoy the benefits of reservation.
The tricky part I believe will be the righteous implementation of the bill so that the reservation reaches to those who are last in the queue in the general category. The government has for now introduced the Bill in a hasty manner and is unclear on many aspects of the Bill which will evolve with time. For example, the cap of Rs 8 lakh or 5 acres of land is being considered as too high for giving the benefits of reservation but this is not a problem which cannot be solved. A thorough analysis of data on poor in the general category and a bit of honest help from economic and social think tanks will rectify these issues. Eventually, if implemented well, the Bill will ameliorate the lives of poor and the downtrodden in the general category and at the end the aim of any society should be to assimilate and bring to fore those who have been left behind socially, economically or historically because only then the aim of having an egalitarian society will be achieved.
Sabarimala: Why is Kerala being made a victim of politics of hate?
It has been barely a few months that the state of Kerala suffered a devastating earthquake, an unfortunate calamity which brought the state to a standstill and marked a huge loss to life and property. Back then, the silent and isolated suffering of the state and the apathy of the central government did not go unnoticed and eventually led the common people of the country to unite in body and spirit for the cause of rebuilding the state. The focus of the state and its resources should have been on recuperating from the natural disaster it so recently faced but unfortunately a situation of mass riots is brimming under our nose in the state and the politicization of the Sabarimala issue by right and left wing extremism might end up leaving the state in tatters once again, a fate which the Keralites definitely don’t deserve.
At the onset, I would like to clarify that as a social activist and a scholar of women and gender studies, for me, the Sabarimala verdict by the Supreme Court last year which lifted the ban on entry of menstruating women in the Sabarimala shrine is a progressive step leading towards gender equality and is in accordance with the democratic principles enshrined in the Article 14 and Article 17 of the Indian constitution. However, because now the issue has surpassed the binary of faith and women empowerment and has entered the stormy waters of politics of hate and politicization of both faith and women empowerment, it becomes important to understand the impending threat on the state of Kerala which the politicization of the issue of Sabarimala poses.
First, for a layman, I would like to explain what women empowerment means in the words of actress Anushka Sharma when she was being attacked by trolls for playing a role in her movie ‘Sultan’ in which she portrayed a woman wrestler who gave up her career for motherhood. To this, she tweeted and I quote, “Choosing motherhood over a career is empowering. Choosing your career over motherhood is empowering. The freedom to choose is empowering.” I could have used any other academic definition to define what women empowerment means but the freedom of choice in a conducive environment for making those choices is what women empowerment essentially entails. The apex court has taken a step in making the environment conducive by its verdict and now it is up to the women to decide whether they want to enter the temple or not. If a set of women say, that we do not see entering the temple as mark of women empowerment or want to keep their faith above the issue of gender equality then that should also be respected as their own micro perspective but in the larger scheme of things nobody can be and should be denied entry in a temple or any other public place based on their gender, religion or caste. Similarly, no woman should be belittled for the choice of practising her faith and not entering the temple as far as the social milieu in which they make these choices is conducive and not dictated by patriarchy. This is precisely the reason that feminism is not a monolithic entity and the third world women have rejected the western notion of feminism of the white women.
The Sabarimala issue, in its current form, has trespassed both the issues of faith and women empowerment and is solely riding on the politicization of both these issues. When right wing extremists, masquerading as devotees create havoc in the state and stop women from entering the temple even after the verdict of the Supreme Court then it no more remains a question of faith but becomes a way to manipulate faith for vote bank and divisive politics. Similarly, the left wing state government misusing its authority to manufacture the consent of women on the issue and deliberately allowing the situation to escalate is not women empowerment but politicization of women empowerment for vote bank politics. This politicization of religious issues by the central and state governments is not going unnoticed; intellectuals and academicians have been continuously exposing their agenda of hate.
“It has become a completely political issue now. On one hand the state is taking religious matters to the court on so many social cultural issues and on the other hand their local leaders are mobilizing the mob to protest. They do not want any practical solutions and are not focusing on sensitizing people on the rights of women but are only trying to create a sharp divide between both the genders. Going to a temple or Dargah is an issue of an individual choice of a woman and no trust or board has the right to make a rule on this.” says, Dr. Firdous Azmat Siddiqui, Associate Professor, Sarojini Naidu Center for Women Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia.
The 620 km long chain formed by women in Kerala for supporting the Supreme Court verdict is a historic moment of women unity and a welcome step but there were women in those lines who did not know why they were there and were either lured through money or forced to become a part of the chain. On the condition of anonymity a senior journalist revealed to me that his sister who is a government officer was forced to become a part of the chain by her seniors even though she did not want to be a part of it and with her own will does not want to enter the temple as a matter of following her faith. Regional media in Kerala has reported about many such women in the human chain who were forced to become a part of the chain and did not even know what the issue was. The state government with its law and order needs to implement the verdict of the Supreme Court and not simply take a progressive stand on it and allow the situation to escalate. What has stopped the state government to deal with the right wing miscreants posing as devotees in the shrine and blocking the entry of women for the last few months? How come the women who were going to the shrine were forced to return multiple times when they were given police protection? It is evident that the left wing government is also trying to keep its base of voters intact and then trying to lure a new base of Muslim and women voters who are against the right wing extremism but in doing so the government is risking the life of women trying to enter the shrine and is also allowing a riot to brim under its nose eventually thinking that it would enhance its voter base through polarization.
The Sabarimala issue has collectively exposed all the three political parties who are in a tussle over claiming the maximum political mileage from this binary of faith and women empowerment and their politicization. The central government led by the BJP has seriously compromised the sanctity of the apex court and has started using its judgments as per its own sweet will and convenience. The apex court judgment in the Rafale deal suits them so they are flagging it everywhere but are blatantly challenging the Sabarimala verdict in the state through it right wing forces. Similarly, the Prime Ministers in his recent interview referred to the importance of going through the dissenting view of Justice Indu Malhotra in the Sabarimala verdict but very conveniently ignored the dissenting view of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud in the case of activists arrested for their alleged role in Bhima Koregaon Violence. The hypocrisy of the Congress on the issue of Women Empowerment has also been fully exposed as the party and its President is known for invoking Women Empowerment in every line of his interview has walked hand in hand with the right-wing forces in protesting against the judgment of the Supreme Court.
The left-wing government in Kerala has though maintained a progressive stand on the verdict but has still hardly walked its talk and has also put the state in danger in an attempt to politicize the issue. The people of Kerala do not want violence and disruption of peace in their state at the hands of these political parties. “Sabarimala is a sensitive issue and the solution should also be dealt with sensitively. Even if temple entry is allowed, which it should be, it needs to be coupled with practical solutions so that the transition is smooth. All the stakeholders need to be taken in the fold, such as the Dewaswom board, the priests. That being said, it is a question of access of public spaces to all, and it should be made available smoothly and safely.” says, Puja Menon who is a native of Kerala and has completed her post graduation in Social Work from the University of Delhi.
Puja’s voice resonates with a lot of people in Kerala because it has concern and compassion for her native place and an understanding that her state has already suffered a lot at the hands of political apathy in the last six months and therefore any further politicization of such a sensitive issue would only end up creating more problems for the people of Kerala. I would therefore like to conclude by saying that the state which leads the way for the rest of the country in areas of literacy, standard of living, sex ratio and gender equality deserves better than this and the people Kerala will look through this phase and will emerge as a stronger and united group than ever before. This politics of hate and religion will not survive for long because the people of Kerala will eventually defeat it.
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