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Modi is stepping towards his ‘Shah Bano’ moment and it is dangerous

Arti Ghargi

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Modi

Rajiv Gandhi appeased Muslims for vote bank, Modi is doing nothing different to Dalits by overturning SC order in SC/ST Act.  

 

The great German novelist Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe had said, “A clever man commits no minor blunder.” With the amendment bill to reinstate the original provisions of SC/ST Act, Prime Minister Narendra Modi too is going to commit a major blunder of his tenure. What is surprising about this is, the entire situation is eerily similar to that of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He committed the biggest blunder of his tenure in the Shah Bano case. With a brute majority that he had in both the houses of parliament, he overturned the 1985 Supreme Court judgment banning triple talaq terming it unconstitutional, while opening the door for dangerous precedent for the future governments to follow whenever convenient.

As they say, history repeats itself but it is up to us to learn lessons from it. On March 20, 2018, the Supreme Court while hearing three issues related to misuse of SC/ST Act against government servants ordered that the arrest of a public servant can only be made after approval of the appointing authority. Preventing the automatic arrest provision under the law, the Apex Court ruled that a non-public servant can be arrested after approval by the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP).

Modi

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Further, it said that before filing an FIR under the act, a brief inquiry will have to be conducted. The court also asked the investigating officers to make sure before handed whether the charges fall under the Act or have a political and/or personal agenda behind it. “There is no absolute bar against the grant of anticipatory bail in cases under the Atrocities Act if no prima facie case is made out or where on judicial scrutiny the complaint is found to be prima facie mala fide,” said the Supreme Court judgment. Not only was the judgment in the line of Section 438 of Criminal Procedure Code (which mandates preliminary inquiry before filing an FIR), but also upheld individual’s innocence until proven guilty. (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. Art. 11.1)

However, the Modi government’s disregard towards History has also made it skip the lesson from the debacle of Rajiv Gandhi government in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections. Retrospectively speaking, Rajiv Gandhi could have prohibited himself from interfering in the dealings of Apex Court. But even the greatest governments turn imprudent as the election year nears. Rajiv Gandhi feared that the Shah Bano judgment will turn the Muslim Community against the Congress and did the inevitable. Did it help? No. He opened the can of worms, instead. This mollycoddling of a particular community was bound to upset the other community. His government was accused of ‘Minority appeasement’ by Hindu community. To pacify the angry Hindu community, Rajiv Gandhi committed another blunder by allowing Hindus to worship inside Babri Masjid. To balance one wrong act, he committed another one and the domino effect of his mistakes finally led to the Babri Masjid Demolition which threw the country in the pit of worse communal violence, the horrors of which still echo in our memories even two decades later.

Modi

The Modi government is going to commit the same mistake. While giving out the verdict on SC/ST Act, the Supreme Court had observed that the act was never meant to be misused for blackmailing or for personal revenge. Justice AK Goel and Justice Uday Lalit who was presiding over the case even noted that the act was introduced to reduce the caste divide in the country, however, it has done the opposite with the indiscreet use of the provisions. The Supreme Court ruling spread wildfire among the Dalit community in the country. A month later, a nationwide Bharat Bandh was observed which led to violent protests in various parts of the country. The pressure was not only from the Dalit masses but also from the allies in the government. Dalit leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan, Ramdas Athawle and even Dalit leaders from BJP summoned the party to act quickly.  They were trying to save their own Dalit vote banks.

The Modi government’s conscience started trembling. The government filed a review petition in the court.  However, the court on April 3 refused to put a stay on the ruling but said it would consider the Centre’s petition in detail. But the simmering anger in the Dalit community ahead of 2019 elections cast a shadow on the “Anti-appeasement” Modi government. The cabinet has decided to bring an amendment bill in the parliament which will reinstate the original law and dilute the revisions ordered by the Supreme Court.

Maratha

The bill would a) quash the Supreme Court order that an FIR be lodged only after a gazetted officer conducting a preliminary inquiry; b) introduce a provision that the approval of a senior official would not be needed for arrest; c) the provision of section 438 of CrPC would be inapplicable to cases registered under SC/ST Prevention of atrocities act.  Won’t this rabid appeasement of Dalit community anger the other communities? To equate, Congress appeased Muslims for vote bank, Modi is doing nothing different to Dalits.

The Modi government is walking on a two-edged sword here. Maharashtra has been reeling under the Maratha Morcha. The community is majorly demanding the dilution of atrocious provisions in the SC/ST Act. One of the demands of the community also includes reservation in education and government jobs. The protest has turned even violent with the suicide deaths of Maratha youths. But not only the Modi government is amending the SC/ST Act but also has filed a review petition in Supreme Court favoring reservation to SCs and STs in the promotion. It is bound to upset Maratha community. This vicious chain does not end here. Would Modi government repeat the history and commit another irrevocable mistake? We can’t deny the possibility.

Maratha

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What effect will it have on the nation in entirety? Rajiv Gandhi had the golden opportunity to show the true statesmanship by standing firm on the SC decision, but he thought of elections instead. Modi still has the golden opportunity with him. This is his chance to act like a statesman and pull our future generation from the venom of caste divide. Will he?

Opinion

Sabarimala Showdown: when defiance took over devotion

Arti Ghargi

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Sabarimala

What the Sabarimala stand-off then leaves us with? Should the judiciary keep off from matters of faith?

 

Martin Luther a seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation who defied the practices of the Roman Catholic church had once said, “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things.” I recall this statement at a time when the Sabarimala row has gripped the nation in a not-so-unfamiliar frenzy.

The Sabarimala stand-off today entered the third day. Since the five-judge constitution bench of Supreme Court on September 28 lifted the ban on entry of women of menstruating age in Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, the state has been stricken with a widespread protest. The Supreme Court in its 4:1 verdict said, “Right to worship is given to all devotees and there can be no discrimination on the basis of gender.” The bench further added that “The practice of barring women in age group of 10-50 to go inside the temple is violative of constitutional principles.”  The sole woman judge on the bench, justice Indu Malhotra, however, disagreed with the majority judgement and pointed out that judiciary mustn’t interfere in matters of faith. She also noted that diversity must not be misunderstood with discrimination. “It is not for the courts to determine which of these practices of a faith are to be struck down, except if they are pernicious, oppressive, or a social evil, like Sati,” her opinion said.

sabarimala

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Well, as the majority judgement prevailed, the prohibition on women’s entry in Sabarimala was diluted. As expected, while a section of society accepted and welcomed the judgement, a majority of the people rallied behind the age-old tradition restricting women between age 10-50 from visiting the celibate deity of Ayyapa. When the gates of the Sabarimala temple were opened for the first time after the judgement on Wednesday, everyone waited with bated breath for a confrontation between the protestors and women devotees who wanted to go to Sabarimala. However, what happened on the ground was more than confrontation. The violent protest, heckling of women journalists and attacks on many others who were trying to enter Sabarimala turned the holy site in a war-like zone.

The women vigilantes from the hundreds of protestors that turned up at the base camp at Nilakkal apparently, stopped each vehicle en route Sabarimala and checked whether a menstruating woman was in it or not. Several women journalists of prominent news channels were attacked by the protestors. There is no justification for the violence in the name of protest and defending a ritual. It has to be condemned through and through.

What also should be condemned in the same breath is hurting the sentiments of Ayyappa faithful in the name of defiance. On the third day, two women attempted to enter the temple amid tight police protection. 24-year-old Kavitha Jakkala, a Hyderabad based news anchor and another woman, identified as Rehana Fathima from Ernakulam, were heading towards the sanctum sanctorum of the Sabarimala temple when they were stopped midway. The women were asked to head back after it was found that they were activists.

indu malhotra

The incident is enough to fathom how the Supreme Court verdict opened the floodgates for it to be misused. In an editorial dated October 1, the managing editor of HW News, Mr Sujith Nair had expressed a strong possibility that some women might turn up at Sabarimala as an act of defiance rather than out of sheer devotion for Lord Ayyappa. Now, the question here is how do we decided who are devotees and who are not? Furthermore, who will decide it?

As a matter of fact, devotion is a personal choice. Devotion comes when there is faith and sometimes faith goes beyond logic and reasoning. The rituals followed by the faithful thus, are a part of devotion. The #ReadyToWait campaign against the PIL filed in the Supreme Court was started by women faithful of the Lord Ayyappa deity and derails the entire argument that women of certain age-group not entering Sabarimala is a result of patriarchal rituals and traditions. The women who entered Sabarimala today, as they even admitted were not devotees. Then why should the brazen defiance and mocking of the devotion be acceptable?

What the Sabarimala stand-off then leaves us with? The judiciary should keep off from matters of faith? Or the judgement is a result of constitutional equality to women? Or the fact that the verdict has indeed opened floodgates which will lead to the display of superfluous defiance laughing at the devotion?

 

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Opinion

Sabarimala Showdown: CPM is equally responsible for the politicization of the issue

Arti Ghargi

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Sabarimala

Earlier this year, the CPM government in Kerala tried to amend a law enabling non-Hindus to be appointed on the boards of Devaswom temples including Sabarimala.

 

The volcano of public anger against the recent Supreme Court ruling striking down the age-old restrictions on women’s entry in Sabarimala temple, exploded on Wednesday when the temple gates were thrown open. A massive crowd of protestors gathered around Nilakkal and Erumeli, the two base camps for the pilgrimage to prohibit the women devotees from entering Sabarimala. Since the Supreme Court ruling, several organizations including the Pandalam royal family have asserted a strong disagreement with the apex court’s decision. While the state government refused to file a review petition in the Supreme Court, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also stressed that the state government will take steps to provide safety and security for women who may want to visit the shrine.

sabarimala

On one hand, the state government is determined to implement the Supreme Court decision, a large section of Hindu society of the state have taken it to the streets under “Save Sabarimala” campaign. As the pilgrimage day started, the protesters blocked roads leading up to Pamba and women devotees even frisked the vehicles passing by to check if there were women on board. Some women devotees who tried to visit Sabarimala were forced to return. A number of female journalists who were reporting from the spot were heckled and attacked by the protestors. As the area surrounding Sabarimala has turned into war-zone with violent protests, the law and order situation has been difficult to handle despite the deployment of heavy security.

What is Sabarimala Controversy?

The Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity at Sabarimala was adopted by King Rajashekara, the foster-father of Lord Ayyappan belonging to the Pandya dynasty. As the legend goes, Lord Ayyappa is a “Naishtika Brahmachari”- a celibate and thus, menstruating women are barred from the hill shrine. The custom has been followed since ages.

sabarimala

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In 2006, Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a PIL before the Supreme Court challenging the Sabarimala Temple’s custom of excluding women. The PIL was filed by five women lawyers namely- Bhakti Sethi, Laxmi Shastri, Prerna Kumari, Alka Sharma and Sudha Pal. The Association made a case that custom of banning women entry violates the rights to equality under Article 14 and freedom of religion under Article 25 of female worshipers. Later, one of the five lawyers, Prerna Kumari said that when she filed the petition in this matter, she was not fully aware of the facts of this case.

What was the Supreme Court’s decision?

Supreme Court in its 4:1 majority judgement lifted the ban on entry of women in Sabarimala. Interestingly enough, the only women judge in the five-judge constitution bench Justice Indu Malhotra dissented and opined that the judiciary should not interfere in the matters of faith and religion. Delivering the Judgment, the bench said, “Right to worship is given to all devotees and there can be no discrimination on the basis of gender.” The bench further added, “The practice of barring women in age group of 10-50 to go inside the temple violates constitutional principles.”

indu malhotra

Political snowball:

Though the Sabarimala issue is primarily a cultural and religious one, it did not take much time for it to turn into a political one. While the Left Front government in Kerala supported SC decision, the BJP-RSS after initial silence took a U-turn and opposed the ruling. Congress, on the other hand, seem confused as the state unit under the leadership of Ramesh Chennithala has echoed the BJP-RSS stand while the central unit welcomed the SC decision. There were hundreds of RSS-BJP cadres among the protestors who swamped Sabarimala today.

sabarimala

Reacting to the police action on protestors, Kerala BJP leader Shobha Surendran said, “I am warning the Chief Minister that if the police resort to lathi-charge on Hindu devotees, the BJP will firmly rally behind these pilgrims. I also want to tell the CM that consequences will be severe.” Adding that the protests will change “the face of Kerala”.

State government’s response:

The fact that Sabarimala issue has always been a political one can be understood by the fact that the state’s response to the PIL over the year changed as per the change in state government. The then CPM-led government under the leadership of VS Achuthanandan favoured the entry of women of all ages when the court seeking its opinion in 2007.

The state government’s stand changed after Congress came to power. After former Congress MLA Prayer Gopalakrishnan was made board chief, the issue was brought to the Congress leadership’s attention, which wanted to file a fresh affidavit against the entry of women. Gopalakrishnan said the Congress government and the board were against changing the tradition.

UAE

In July 2016, when the issue came up before the Supreme Court, the current LDF regime continued with the stand of the previous Congress government taking a detour from its 2007 stand. Under fire from activists, CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan then stated that the government would file a fresh affidavit, favouring entry of women of all ages to the temple. Now, the CPM govt in the state has extended complete support to it.

 

A political conspiracy against Hindus?

The communist government is facing a strong backlash for its refusal to file a review petition in the Supreme Court. On the other hand, its perceived haste to implement the order is being seen as an alleged “Anti-Hindu” agenda of the CPIM. On July 8 this year, the Kerala govt passed a law proposing an amendment to the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institution Act. The act was constituted in 1950. The amendment proposed by the state govt to Section 29, in sub-section (2) suggested that the words “who shall be appointed by the Board. He shall be a Hindu.” shall be omitted. In simpler words, even a Non-Hindu could be appointed to the Devaswom board. This was met with a strong opposition from Hindus of the state.

Kerala Govt’s decision to implement SC order comes in a stark contradiction of the last year’s incident where the CM of the state had lashed out at the Idukki district collector for demolishing a massive cross that was erected on an encroached state government land.

Moreover, the CPM- which rules the state proclaims to be atheist by the principle which bars its members from attending religious rituals. Then why such a party feels the need to interfere in a matter of religious concern? And particularly that of Hindus?

The CPM accuses RSS-BJP of playing communal politics. Well, such decisions definitely show that the party cannot certainly take a high ground when it comes to politics over religion.

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Madhya Pradesh Election 2018

MP Assembly Election 2018: The Kamal Nath factor

Arti Ghargi

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kamal nath

The return of Kamal Nath to state politics who had remained at the Centre was considered to overturn Congress’ prospect in Madhya Pradesh.

 

“I don’t want you to vote for Congress leader Kamal Nath, I want you to vote my third son Kamal Nath,” said Indira Gandhi in a rally while campaigning in Chhindwara. Nath who traces back his family roots to UP’s Kanpur was contesting for the Lok Sabha seat from MP’s Chhindwara constituency-a constituency dominated by the tribal population. On April 26, Congress President Rahul Gandhi rejigged the Madhya Pradesh unit of the Congress Committee and handed over the reins to Kamal Nath-a 71 years old party MP and Gandhi family loyalist. In a poll-bound Madhya Pradesh where Congress has been out of power for the last 15 years, the task in front of Kamal Nath is to deliver the results when the state unit is infested with factionalism.

Kamal Nath

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Nath’s return to state politics who had for most of his political career remained at the Centre was considered to overturn Congress’ prospect in Madhya Pradesh. He has been a member of parliament for record 9 times from Chhindwara and had also held positions like Union MoS Environment and Forests, Union MoS Textiles and Minister for Commerce and industry. However, it also came as a surprise since Rahul Gandhi as a president was expected to give chance to more young force. For that matter, Jyotiraditya Scindia’s name, the royal scion of Gwalior, was considered a front-runner for the Chief Ministerial candidature. Yet, ‘importing’ Kamal Nath from Centre was a move carefully devised to keep the party flock together in the state. There are various reasons why the Kamal Nath factor was added to the Madhya Pradesh Congress chapter.

Kamal Nath- the Gandhi family loyalist:

Kamal Nath studied from a Doon school in Dehradun. He and Sanjay Gandhi were school buddies. Kamal Nath hailed from an affluent family while Sanjay Gandhi, from a family that wielded the political power in the country. Nath’s batchmate remembers him as an unconventional person who always had Sanjay Gandhi’s back. The stories of the friendship between the two still are among the hot topics discussed in Delhi corridors. Not only did he dream of Maruti car – the affordable car for the Indian middle class along with Sanjay Gandhi but also went to Tihar jail when Gandhi was put behind the bars during Janata Government days. From Dehradun to Delhi, he was a shadow of Gandhi, a part of what was then infamously called “Sanjay Ke Chhokre” (Hoodlums of Sanjay Gandhi). He was so inseparable from Sanjay Gandhi that a campaign slogan was created- “Indira Gandhi ke Do Haath, Sanjay Gandhi aur Kamal Nath.”

Kamal Nath

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Even after the death of Sanjay Gandhi, Nath remained close confidante of the Gandhi family. He was even named in 1984 Anti-Sikh riots. He was also Rajiv’s trusted lieutenant. His acceptability and good relations across parties made him a man Friday of Sonia Gandhi when it came to managing allies and the opposition during the UPA-2 government. Though the talks with BSP’s Mayawati have soured now, it must be recalled how Kamal Nath managed to get her to support the Congress’ Rajya Sabha candidate from MP Vivek Tankha when party fell short of two votes.

The man with a deep pocket:

It is no longer a secret that Congress party is facing the worst fund crunch currently. In the election year, this can put the party on a back seat especially compared to the rival BJP who got richer multi-folds since 2014. Some in the Congress also believe that Kamal Nath got the post because of the financial resources that he has. Kamal Nath owns as many as 23 businesses which are managed by his sons- ranging from the fields of real estate to aviation and from plantations to hospitality.

Kamal Nath

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Kamal Nath serves as president of the board of governors for The Institute of Management Technology (IMT). He is also the Chairman of “Madhya Pradesh Child Development Council” and Patron to the Bharat Yuvak Samaj (Youth Wing of All India Bharat Seva Samaj). As Livemint points out, some companies in which the Nath family has direct stakes include Span Plantations Pvt. Ltd, Alzo Investments Pvt. Ltd, Nakul Securities Pvt. Ltd, Bakul Holdings Pvt. Ltd, EMC Projects Pvt. Ltd and International Management Technologies Pvt. Ltd. Some subsidiaries include Span Air Pvt. Ltd, Centenary Trading Pvt. Ltd and Shaka Properties Pvt. Ltd. However, his business ownership has always been a low-key affair.

The hero of Chhindwara:

In the state, the Congress is banking on Kamal Nath’s Chhindwara model of development. In his constituency, Kamal Nath is worshipped for transforming the face of the town. The tremendous development work done by him in Chhindwara- which even rivals cannot dare doubt, is the main plank of Congress this assembly election. Despite not being the son of the soil, Kamal Nath is so popular that at the peak of Modi wave, he managed to win by a huge margin in 2014.  The people from his constituency vouch for the development-broad roads, big industries, IT parks, Tech parks, schools & colleges & big hospitals. He brought industries such as Western Coalfields Limited & Hindustan Unilever in Chhindwara.

Kamal Nath

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He also brought many institutes such as Raymond Cloth making training institute, Ashok Leyland Drivers Training Institute, NIIT knowledge center, Apparel Training & Design Centre & Footwear Design and Development Institute. His image as a one who is above petty politics has earned him respect in opposition camp as well.

The mastermind administrator:

Having been the longest serving member of parliament from his constituency, Nath has earned the reputation of a skilled administrator and an efficient floor manager who knows how to move the cadre and the financial resources. He is also popular as a master strategist who can effectively lead the party in a high decibel election fervor. Not only he has a good reputation among the elites but also has a strong grass root connect- a balance only a few can pull.  While many leaders draw clout from the caste they hail from, Kamal Nath has earned his base purely on the basis of his work-which also seems to work in his favor. He is entrusted with bringing the factions together. His strategy to unsettle BJP’s Hindutva pitch as soon as he took over the charge suggests the shrewd political acumen that he employs.

Kamal Nath

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Fear of another faction?

When Kamal Nath was brought in, the state unit was enthusiastic that the party will be able to put a stop on the factionalism. However, as it turned out, the party is fearing another faction supporting Kamal Nath for CM post emerging. Though former CM Digvijay Singh has been backtracked by the party for his loudmouth image, he has returned to the active politics with his ‘Narmada Ekta yatra’ after a 10- years sabbatical. He still has some support base in the party. On the other hand, the supporters of Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath are often seen sparring over social media. Even in the recent rally of Rahul Gandhi, posters demanding Scindia to be made CM appeared. Many also believe that Digvijay Singh, Congress’s coordination committee chief – who strongly supported Nath’s appointment, is running the show. This has again led to cracks in state Congress unit when the state is just a month away from polling.

Kamal Nath

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The Kamal Nath factor comes with its own advantages and fallouts. Whether the strategist and pro-development image of Kamal Nath outweigh the factionalism, will be tested in the upcoming days.

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