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How Karunanidhi rose to political relevance with Kallakudi protest

Arti Ghargi

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Karunanidhi

He is still the popular Kalaignar for his supporters. As a matter of fact, Tamil Nadu politics cannot be described without M Karunanidhi.

Situated nearly 300 kms away from Chennai, Kallakudi is a small Village in Tamil Nadu’s Ariyalur. The tiny village on the map of Tamil Nadu has a sizable population. Though the village doesn’t often make it to national headlines, the quiet village stands as a witness to the beginning of political relevance of Karunanidhi.

At 94 years, the DMK Chief M. Karunanidhi is India’s one of the oldest politicians. He has been at the helm of Dravida Munnetra Kazhgham since last 50 years, is the longest-serving president of an Indian party. Even at this age, he hasn’t let go of his ambition to become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu again, for the sixth time. Senior Journalist still praises his political sharpness at this age. He is still the popular Kalaignar for his supporters. For the matter of fact, Tamil Nadu politics cannot be described without M Karunanidhi.

However, the popularity and the support wasn’t spoon-fed to him. For the Dravidian leader, it all started in the small village of Tamil Nadu-Kallakudi.

Karunanidhi

Karunanidhi during one of the Anti-Hindi protest

Around the 1950s, Dalmia- a north Indian businessman set up a cement factory in Kallakudi. To honour his contribution to the local development, the original name Kallakudi was changed and replaced with Dalmiapuram. With Dravidian values rooted deep in the Tamil soil, the locals and activist saw it as an invasion of north Indians on Tamilians, an attempt to impose Hindi on the Dravidian heartland which took pride in its native language. The DMK decided to launch an agitation to restore the original name of the village Kallakudi.

On July 15, 1953, under the leadership of Karunanidhi, the protestors took to streets and pasted papers with Kallakudi written on it on the major buildings of the village. They even pasted the papers on the name boards painted at the railway station. As the protest was raging a train arrived at the station around 10 AM. However, the DMK cadre blocked the rail track.

Karunanidhi

Anti-Hindi protests in Tamil Nadu

To mark dissent, Karunanidhi and four other DMK workers laid on the railway track and refused to move aside. The police arrested all the five, including Karunanidhi. However, that did not deter the DMK Protestors. An hour later, next batch of protestors laid on the tracks blocking the train route. This time 26 protestors were arrested. But the protestors did not stop. At around 2 PM another batch of about 40 protestors led by Kannadasan laid on the track. However, police responded with lathi-charge this time.

Though it was just a symbolic form of protest, the DMK cadre actually risking their lives to protect the Tamilian heritage struck a chord with people. They started shouting and opposing the lathi-charge. As the police realized, the lathi-charge did not work, they opened fire to disperse the swelling crowd. Ten protestors were injured in the firing while two innocent passengers too were hit by bullets and died.

Karunanidhi

Train painted with the Anti-Hindi slogan

The dramatic lying down in front of the train caught national headlines the next day while the shots of criticism were fired upon police for mishandling the situation. Following the arrest, Karunanidhi and other protestors were sentenced to five months in prison and a fine of 35 Rupees each. However, instead of paying a fine Karunanidhi chose to spend one more month in jail. Immediately, Karunanidhi became a hero in this agitation and his popularity climbed also within the party. Though the then Indian and Madras government refused to restore the original name of the village to Kallakudi, the successful leadership of the agitation earned Karunanidhi the title of “Kallakudi Veerar” (warrior of Kallakudi)

Years later, when the DMK government rose to power in 1967 election, it changed the name Dalmiapuram to Kallakudi with the approval of the Indian government. Though the surrounding areas in the village are still known as Dalmiapuram, as a symbol to honour the historic protest the name of the railway station was changed to Kallakudi.

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Kerala Floods: Is our disaster response system flawed?

Arti Ghargi

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Kerala Floods

The Kerala floods is a grim reminder that India’s disaster management policy is flawed.

 

Amidst the ongoing rescue operation in Kerala, Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducted an aerial survey of the state. The southern state is suffering from the worst ever deluge since 1924. The catastrophic monsoon rain has wrecked a havoc in the state with several districts of the state submerging in the water. The state has suffered losses to the tune of 19000 crores while the human casualty in the devastating Kerala Floods has reached 324.

The Kerala floods is a grim reminder that India’s disaster management policy is flawed. While the centre and states are trying their best to carry out the disaster relief work, the framework has restricted them on many fronts.  In the wake of 2013 Uttarakhand floods that took as many as 5000 lives and Jammu floods in which as many as 300 were declared dead; the government of India launched the National Disaster Management Plan in June 2016. The plan was drafted ten long years after the Disaster Management Act came into force.

Kerala Floods

The National Disaster Management Plan or NDMP was aimed at making India disaster resilient and reducing the loss of human lives and assets significantly. According to the government, the NDMP was based on Sendai framework which had also been adopted by the UN member-states at the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015 in Japan’s Sendai.

The plan is said to cover all stages of disaster management- Right from prevention, mitigation, response to recovery. The official statement also said that it would provide a framework to reduce bureaucracy and provide for horizontal and vertical integration among all the agencies and departments of the government. The plan is based on the four priority themes of the Sendai Framework that are- A. understanding the disaster risk  B. improving disaster risk governance, C. investing in disaster risk reduction and D. disaster preparedness.

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Though it says that the plan has been developed on the lines of Sendai framework, there are several flaws in the NDMP. First and foremost is the general and vague identification of activities in case of disaster. The plan also fails to set up pragmatic guidelines for the disaster relief. The major problem as pointed out by PG Dhar Chakrabarti, The Energy and Resources Institute fellow is, it does not set up a particular target or clear goals with respect to resource mobilisation and implementation of disaster relief activities. He further points out that the plan does not provide a particular time frame for undertaking these activities beyond vaguely prescribing that these must be taken up in short, medium, mid- and long-term basis. To sum up, the NDMP leaves many loose ends, similar to the NDRF guidelines.

The NDMP mentions under the para 4.6 mentions that the “Central Government supplements their (state government) efforts through logistic and financial support during ‘severe’ disasters as requested by the State Governments.” However, it does not provide any parameters to determine what situation has to be considered severe. This kills a lot of time which is especially precious during large-scale disasters. By the time help arrives, the damage would have been done.

Kerala

This again takes us to the question of whether India is equipped in case of massive scale natural/ manmade disasters. The answer is No. The most perfect example of this is the Kerala Floods. The disaster relief work faced hurdles due to non-availability of the base to land for choppers/Helicopters. The bad weather and consistent rain hampered the relief work. In such a situation, boats were the only option for evacuation. However, as pointed out by Kerala MLA from Chengannur, Saji Cherian, the NDRF boats were useless as they were too small. He said, “If the fishermen had not arrived in time, then it would have been a catastrophe.” There was also a huge gap between the demands made by the state government and assistance provided by the centre to carry out relief work.

Kerala floods are just a recent example. There are many such incidents in the past devastating enough for the Indian government to realise that India’s disaster preparedness has still a long way to go.

 

 

 

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Kerala Flood: a grim reminder of why India must revise the NDRF guidelines

Arti Ghargi

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kerala

The NDRF procedure of assessment not only neglects the fact that during natural disasters like Kerala Flood, time is most precious.

If you want to see what devastation really is, look at Kerala. The southern state which is also popularly known as God’s own country is suffering from the worst ever flooding since 1924. The catastrophic monsoon rain has wrecked a havoc in the state with several districts of the state submerging in water. The human casualty has reached 164, while many stranded people are turning to social media to ask for help.

Over the past week, Kerala lost 8,316 crores worth of economic assets. The unremitting showers led to a horrific landslide that damaged many houses, roads and other infrastructure. As many as 60,000 people have been shifted to makeshift relief camps. However, as the downpour continues the water has started entering into some of the relief camps. Though the intensity of the rainfall has receded, according to the India Meteorological Department it may increase again till August 17. Following the prediction, the state has issued a red alert in all thirteen districts except Kasaragod.

Kerala flood

The incessant rainfall has led to filling of most of the water reservoirs in the state. However, as the water level reached the danger mark, the gates of reservoirs in the Idukki system, a giant hydroelectric project, and several other dams were opened which swamped the downstream habitations alongside the rivers.

In the cases such as this where the public life at large is affected by the cataclysmic crisis, the government is the insurer of the last resort for the citizens. Over the past few weeks, several legislators from the state have demanded that the crisis should be declared as the National Calamity. A fresh request was made for the same by VS Achuthanandan, Administrative Reforms Commission chairman. Last month, CPM leader P Karunakaran had raised this issue in the Lok Sabha.

He informed the Lower House of parliament that this is one of the worst floods in the history of Kerala considering the large-scale devastation across various parts of the state. He had even said that centre should provide funds beyond what is due under the NDRF. The centre did, however, release interim relief of 100 crores for the state but the state government retorted back saying that for the damage and destruction that scales up to almost 8000 crores of loss, the relief amount is meagre.

Kerala Monsoon

Aerial View of Kerala during the flood

Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac in a tweet lashed out saying that the Immediate mitigation and rectification expenditure to the state is around Rs. 3,000 crores. “The central grant precious Rs. 100. And that too if it is from regular disaster management fund due to Kerala, I don’t know!” he tweeted.

His response came after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday announced that the Centre will be granting 100 crores interim relief to the state. Rajnath Singh tweeted, “I understand the suffering of the people of Kerala from the present crisis. Since the assessment of the damage will take time, I hereby announce immediate relief as an advance of Rs. 100 crores,” the home minister had said on Sunday.

Though natural disasters occur unannounced and there is no measure to speculate on the amount of damage it can cause, the Indian government has a framework in place regarding the relief work. The legal framework deals with the responsibilities of state as well as central governments while carrying out relief works. It lays down guidelines as to when the centre can intervene in the relief work and when the state has to fare on its own.

The guidelines on constitution and administration of the state disaster response fund and national disaster response fund issued by the Ministry of Home affairs in 2010 lists the procedure to be followed for the assessment of the disasters.

According to the guidelines, once the state government requests for central government’s help in case the SDRF isn’t sufficient, the memorandum first goes through preliminary examination.  If it reveals that there are enough funds in the SDRF then the state is advised accordingly. In case, the preliminary examination finds that the state needs assistance then a central team is put on the job of on the spot assessment. The report of the central team is then examined by the National Executive Committee which is then sent to a High-Level Committee. This committee approves the quantum of immediate relief.

Kerala Flood

Furthermore, only the natural disasters that are considered to be of “severe nature” by the Indian government qualify for the relief fund by the Centre. Here, the guidelines leave a loose end as to what should and should not be considered as a severity by the Indian government. This also means unless it is assessed that the disaster is of severe nature- the process for which is lengthy and time-consuming, central help will not arrive.

The procedure of assessment not only neglects the fact that in case of natural disasters time is most precious but also withdraws from the reality that it risks thousands of lives by indulging in bureaucracy. The delayed action cost innocent civilians their lives as it happened in case of Kerala floods or even during cyclone Ockhi.

Kerala Flood

You can find the entire document here: Guidelines for National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF)

The centre though did not declare it as a “national calamity” as requested by Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu but acknowledged the cyclone as “rare and extraordinary”, which again has different norms.  This leads to the killing of valuable time. By the time Centre and state resolve as to who would perform what responsibility, the damage would have done. What can be the more apt example of this than the 2014 Jammu Floods or the 2013 Uttarakhand deluge? The relief did come but it was already late and the scale of human and infrastructure casualty has gone up.

The governments cannot divorce itself from the fact that mere providing relief is not enough. Providing it on time has to be the priority.

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Remembering Atal Bihari Vajpayee: journey of a statesman through pictures

Arti Ghargi

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Remembering Atal Bihari Vajpayee, perhaps the greatest statesman India has witnessed, we look back at the different stages of his life.

 

It was the April of 1980 when a new party was born on India’s political map- The Bharatiya Janata Party. “Andhera Chhatega, Suraj Nikalega, Kamal Khilega.” This is how the party chief Atal Bihari Vajpayee introduced this new political party to India. True to his words, the dream was realized more than 15 years later. The victory of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and that of BJP was significant. His government was the first non-Congress government in India’s 50 years long political history to complete its term. But that’s not the only reason why the former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee will be immortalized in India’s political history.

For the parliamentarian who had spent more than 4 decades inside the temple of democracy, the praise- “right man in the wrong party” wasn’t new. Some even described him as the “Nehru of the right”. He even mentioned this in his speech in the Lok Sabha before the trust vote in 1998. However, he managed to break the spell and the very next year, NDA led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s BJP swung back to power.

The journey of Atal Bihari Vajpayee is as mesmerizing as it is inspiring. Remembering perhaps the greatest statesman India has witnessed, we look back at the different stages of his life. A journey down memory lane through pictures:

  1. The Angry Young man
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Atal bihari vajpayee with his father

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was born to Krishna Devi and Krishna Bihari Vajpayee on 25 December 1924 in Gwalior. His father was a poet and a schoolmaster in his hometown. Vajpayee did his schooling and higher education in Gwalior itself. He attended Gwalior’s Victoria College (now Laxmi Bai College) and graduated with distinction in Hindi, English, and Sanskrit. He completed his post-graduation with an M.A. in Political Science from DAV College, Kanpur, and was awarded a first-class degree.

There is an interesting story about his student life, which people may rarely know. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his father studied together in the college. Krishna Bihari Vajpayee joined the law course after his retirement from service. The son-father duo attending college together had left many amusing.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee had 3 brothers and 3 sisters. All of them got married. But when his turn came, he categorically rejected the idea saying that he has vowed to devote his life for the service of his motherland.  His activism started with Arya Kumar Sabha. Later, he also joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1939. Even at that time, the wordsmith in him peeped out in the form of poems and speeches that were inspiring.

Vajpayee was inspired by the freedom struggle and actively took part in anti-British protests as a minor. He even spent twenty-four days in jail. The political master was taking shape during these early days.

The Bharatiya Jan Sangh days:

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee speaking at Jana Sangh meeting

In 1948, the RSS was banned for its alleged role in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1951, he was seconded by the RSS, along with Deendayal Upadhyaya, to work for the newly formed Bharatiya Jana Sangh, a Hindu right-wing political party associated with the RSS. He was appointed as a national secretary of the party in charge of the Northern region, based in Delhi. He soon became a follower and aide of party leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. In 1954, Vajpayee was with Mukherjee when he went on a fast-unto-death in Kashmir to protest against the perceived inferior treatment of non-Kashmiri Indian visitors to the state.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Deen Dayal Upadhyay

First Lok Sabha win:

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Celebrations after Atal Bihari Vajpayee was elected to Lok Sabha

In 1957, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was elected from Balrampur. Coming from a small party against the Congress in the heydays of Pandit Nehru, Vajpayee performed exceptionally well as a debutant parliamentarian. He soon became the face of Jana Sangh inside and outside the parliament with his oratory skills par excellence. This young parliamentarian raging with passion soon caught the attention of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Pandit Nehru was so enamored with his fluency in Hindi that he had even predicted that Vajpayee will be the prime minister of India in future. While introducing Vajpayee to a foreign dignitary, Nehru had said, “This young man one day will become the country’s prime minister.”

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee leading protest before Indo-China war

After the death of Deendayal Upadhyaya, the responsibility to lead Jana Sangh fell on the shoulders of Vajpayee. He became the national president of the Jana Sangh in 1968. This was also a time when the Jana Sangh saw the beginning of the rise of the party to national prominence.

The External Affairs Minister in Janata Party government:

 

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee with foreign delegates

During Janata Party government days, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as the External Affairs Minister. He was also the first non-Congress external affairs minister to attend UNGA. It was a historical day as well. Vajpayee delivered a speech in Hindi at the UN General Assembly, raising India’s stand on key issues like nuclear disarmament, state-sponsored terrorism, and reforms at the world body.  “I am a newcomer to the United Nations, but India is not, having been associated actively with the Organisation from its very inception,” he said.

“As one who has been a parliamentarian in my own country for two decades and more, I feel a special sense of exhilaration in attending this assembly of nations for the first time,” Vajpayee said in the historic address. It was the first time that an Indian leader had delivered the speech in Hindi at the UNGA as other Indian leaders had opted to speak in English, the dominant language at the forum.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee at United Nations

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Indira Gandhi

 

Formation of Bharatiya Janata Party:

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the formation of Bharatiya Janata Party

After the Janata Party banned dual membership of RSS and the party, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani along with some leaders broke away from the party and established Bharatiya Janata Party in April 1980. Presiding over the first session after the formation of the party, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said that the post of the BJP president is not a piece of jewelry to boast about. “This post is not a prestige, it is a challenge,” he said.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani at first BJP National Executive meet

At this session, Vajpayee ji resolved to fulfill the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi and Jay Prakash Narayan. While dismissing the politics of manipulation, Vajpayee ji had said that the BJP would do politics related to land, politics in political parties, politicians, to restore the lost faith of the people, which was a big thing in itself. It was at this meeting that he said, “Andhera Chhatega, Suraj Nikalega, Kamal Khilega.”

When PV Narasimha Rao trusted the opposition leader:

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee with PV Narasimha Rao

India faced a big challenge when Pakistan on 27 February 1994, moved to UN Human Rights Commission and tabled the resolution through OIC that condemned India for violation of human rights in Kashmir. If the resolution would have passed, India would have been put on UNSC economic sanctions. Faced with challenges on several fronts, PM Narasimha Rao took the matter into his own hands. The same month he flew from Davos (where he was attending World Economic Forum) to Germany.

He formed a team of delegates all carefully chosen to represent India. Despite being the leader of the opposition, the then PM PV Narasimha Rao trusted Atal Bihari Vajpayee and included him in the delegation to represent India at UN. The delegates also included Salman Khurshid, E. Ahmad, National Conference head Farooq Abdullah and Hamid Ansari. It was the time when keeping the political differences aside, Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to Rao’s decision. This also proves the “Nation first” policy of Vajpayee.

In Prime Minister’s chair:

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee swearing in as a PM

Victory in the Gujarat and Maharashtra assembly elections in March 1995 and a good performance in the Karnataka assembly elections 1994 led BJP to a greater political prominence. During a BJP conference in Mumbai in November 1995, BJP President L. K. Advani declared that Vajpayee would become the PM candidate of the party. Subsequently, the BJP won the May 1996 parliamentary elections.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee in PM chair

Though BJP was the single largest party, it could not gather the majority and Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to resign. The elections were again conducted in 1998. The BJP again won and this time with allied parties formed the government. However, it only lasted for 13 months until AIADMK withdrew its support. In 1999 general elections the BJP-led NDA won 303 seats out of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, in the aftermath of the Kargil operations. This time Atal Bihari Vajpayee completed a full term as a Prime Minister.

Pokhran Test:

In May 1998, India conducted five underground nuclear tests in Pokhran desert in Rajasthan, 24 yrs after India conducted its first nuclear test (Smiling Buddha) in 1974. This test is called Pokhran-II. The tests were held just a month after the government had been in power. Vajpayee has been the strongest proponent of India as a nuclear power. In 1964 he had said in the parliament, “The answer to an atom bomb is an atom bomb, nothing else.” When he took office in 1996, he began taking steps in the direction of nuclear test. However, before the plan could materialize, his government fell within 13 days. When the BJP government came back to power in March 1998, with Vajpayee at its helm again, the party veteran and prime minister began laying the ground for the nuclear tests. On 8 April, he summoned Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) chief R Chidambaram and DRDO chief APJ Abdul Kalam to give them the thumbs-up for the tests.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee after successful Pokhran test

The entire operation was conducted in such high secrecy that nobody except the aforementioned and home minister LK Advani knew about it. Defense Minister George Fernandes was told about the tests on 9 May. The next day, the three service chiefs and foreign secretary were informed.

The Lahore summit: 

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif

In late 1998 and early 1999, Vajpayee began a push for a full-scale diplomatic peace process with Pakistan. With the historic inauguration of the Delhi-Lahore bus service in February 1999, Vajpayee initiated a new peace process aimed towards permanently resolving the Kashmir dispute and other conflicts with Pakistan. The resultant Lahore Declaration espoused a commitment to dialogue, expanded trade relations and mutual friendship and envisaged a goal of denuclearised South Asia. This eased the tension created by the 1998 nuclear tests, not only between the two nations but also in South Asia and the rest of the world.

Kargil war:

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Indian army soldiers

During Kargil War, Operation Vijay was launched in June 1999. Indian military fighting thousands of militants and soldiers in the midst of heavy artillery shelling and while facing extremely cold weather, snow and treacherous terrain at the high altitude. Over 500 Indian soldiers were killed in the three-month-long Kargil War, and it is estimated around 600-4,000 Pakistani militants and soldiers died as well. India pushed back the Pakistani militants and Northern Light Infantry soldiers. Almost 70% of the territory was recaptured by India.

Vajpayee sent a “secret letter” to US President Bill Clinton that if Pakistani infiltrators did not withdraw from the Indian territory, “we will get them out, one way or the other” – meaning he did not rule out crossing the Line of Control (LoC), or was the use of nuclear weapons.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Sonia Gandhi

Though the Vajpayee government was uprooted by the Congress-led UPA in 2004, Atal Bihari Vajpayee still remains one of the last politicians in India who command respect across the party lines.

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