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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

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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