Thursday, 30 January 2014

Sibling rivalry in the DMK opens up the political space in Tamil Nadu

M Karunanidhi (left) with MK Stalin
DMK leader M Karunanidhi is a troubled man these days. His party is not in power in the state and nor is it in alliance with the UPA government at the Centre — but that is the least of his concerns now. On Friday, one of the DMK leader’s sons, MK Alagiri, was suspended from the party for anti-party activities. That this came after Alagiri’s younger brother, MK Stalin, was appointed to lead the party was not lost to anyone who knew about the bitter sibling rivalry.
All this has been accompanied by the sound-and-light show that Indian politics promises the people — Karunanidhi accused Alagiri of saying that Stalin will die in three or four months; Alagiri denied it; Stalin took it in stride; Stalin supporters burnt Alagiri in effigy and a section of the party nominated Stalin’s name for the Madurai Lok Sabha seat (at present Alagiri is the MP from Madurai). It is surprising that for all his political sagacity, Karunanidhi, at the autumn of his political career, could not see this coming and planned a better transition of power.
MK Alagiri
The crisis of this sort is detrimental to any political organisation and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the DMK. The party was just about recovering from the electoral drubbing it got at the 2011 assembly elections — of the 234 seats in the state assembly the DMK managed a paltry 23 — and it was cobbling together an alliance for the general elections.
The DMK is no stranger to dissent. In 1972, MG Ramachandran broke away from the party to from the AIADMK. In 1994, Karunanidhi’s then trusted lieutenant Vai Gopalswamy (Vaiko) was expelled from the party. The relationship between the two soured when Stalin and Alagiri were given preference over Vaiko.
For more than four decades Tamil Nadu has had either a DMK or an AIADMK government. This two-party dominance has given little room for other parties to grow and the many that have sprouted out during this time have remained on the fringes or faded out. However, if the Alagiri-Stalin tiff were to hamper or even split the DMK, it could lead to a vacuum in the political space, altering the present balance. If such a scenario arises, the biggest gainer, for the moment, is actor-politician Vijayakanth’s DMDK which got 7.9% of the votes in the 2011 assembly polls. The Congress, Left parties and the PMK are other probable gainers.
Though Karunanidhi, last December, declared that the DMK would not ally with the Congress in the coming elections, the possibility of a post-poll alliance with either the Congress or even the BJP cannot be ruled out. However, the present crisis will hamper the chances of the Dravidian party to net a sizable number of seats to be wooed by either of the national parties or even for a third front. This uncertainty makes politics interesting in the state.
(This appeared in the Hindustan Times on January 30)

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Telangana: Congress disagrees with Kiran Kumar Reddy's script for Andhra Pradesh

N Kiran Kumar Reddy
‘The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing’ — this phrase best  describes the present crisis the Congress is facing in Andhra Pradesh. The Congress-led UPA at the Centre wants the creation of India’s 29th state Telangana, by bifurcating Andhra Pradesh, but the leaders in Hyderabad are literally in two minds. While chief minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy is opposing the move, his deputy, Damodar Raja Narasimha, is for a separate Telangana state. In a move that highlights this divide and which puts a question mark over the Centre’s plan to introduce a Bill for a separate Telangana in Parliament, Reddy on Saturday issued a notice to Speaker Nadendla Manohar seeking a motion for returning the draft Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill to the Centre. Mr Reddy rejected the Bill stating that it did not give a ‘reason/basis’ for the bifurcation of the state. On Monday, the divide came out in the open with repeated adjournments of the assembly and with Mr Narasimha even demanding Mr Reddy’s resignation.
At the heart of the debate are the sentiments of the people on the Telangana and Seemandhra sides — both sides feel that they have been given short shrift. While one side of the divide blames the government for delaying the creation of the Telangana state, the other side criticises the ‘unjust’ division of the state and its resources. The state government, and the Centre, should have seen this coming. They should have taken the people from both sides of the divide into confidence, listened to their grievances and arrived at a formula that was acceptable to all parties. It was not for want of time that the party finds itself in the present mess — the call for a separate Telangana has been on for decades and it has been more than three years since Justice BN Srikrishna handed over his committee’s recommendations on the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
No matter how things pan out in Andhra Pradesh, one thing is clear: the Congress has failed to read the mood of the people. It has for far too long been unclear on its commitment to the creation of Telangana. This suggests bad political management and will have an impact not only the on the state elections but also on the Lok Sabha elections, both to be held in a  few months. If opinion polls are anything to go by, the Congress, which had won 33 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from the state in 2009, will find it very hard to even get half of that tally. For a Congress that has been on the backfoot after the drubbing it received at the recent assembly elections held in four states, this is not good news.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Death Penalty: India moves a step closer to justice

The Supreme Court of India
It is the most inviolate of all rights, the right to life. This is why the death penalty raises such extreme emotions in those opposed to it. The penalty itself is a violation of Article 3 and 5 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that ‘Everyone has the right to life’ and the right to not be subject to ‘torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. While the death penalty is yet to be abolished in India and is awarded only in the ‘rarest of rare’ cases, the Supreme Court on Tuesday gave a landmark verdict which can be seen as moving a step closer to abolishing it. The apex court, while commuting the sentences of 15 death row prisoners to life imprisonment, said the “inordinate and inexplicable” delay in executing the sentences was akin to “torture” of the prisoner and was in violation of Article 21. The three-judge Bench of Chief Justice P Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh has also done a signal service in overruling the court’s earlier decision in the Devinderpal Singh Bhullar case that a delay on deciding on a mercy petition was not a ground on which a death sentence could be commuted. The apex court verdict, which makes it mandatory to give a gap of 14 days between the rejection of the mercy petition and execution, is definitely a welcome step as it will help the convict and the family to prepare for the final act.
Devinderpal Singh Bhullar
That the gallows are no deterrent to preventing crimes is proven fact if one looks at the nations that still resort to this medieval form of justice year after year. China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and even the United States, with 39 in 2013 alone, have a high number of  executions per year and yet there is little evidence to prove that it is acting as a deterrent. Given that there is a possibility of executing people who have been wrongly convicted, the cry for abolishing capital punishment is on the rise. Experts are of the opinion that given the cost involved and the amount of resources required for the process, it is wiser and much more effective if the State focuses on the prevention of crime.
Taking the life of a person with the sanction of the State, no matter the method of execution, is a reminder of how the system has failed. If India wants to grow and mature as a strong democracy, it should take befitting actions that earn it the respect of other nations. It is quite natural that the largest democracy in the world would seek more humane methods of preventing or punishing crime and set an example for others.

Monday, 20 January 2014

AAP vs Delhi Police: Kejriwal defends the indefensible and stoops to 'politics'

No one expected AAP to have a smooth ride, but no one quite expected its ministers to turn out to be its worst enemies. Faced with growing internal spats, with MLA Vinod Kumar Binny accusing the government of moving away from the party’s goals and members like Captain Gopinath and Mallika Sarabhai questioning the government’s actions, it now has added problems. Last week, Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti, along with a few volunteers, demanded that the police raid a house in South Delhi saying that he had information that the foreign nationals — from ‘Nigeria or Uganda’ according to Mr Bharti — living there were pushing drugs and running a prostitution racket. According to media reports, two women were forced to undergo medical examination in the night. It seemed to have slipped Bharti’s mind that it is illegal for the police to raid a place without a search warrant and as per the Code of Criminal Procedure the police cannot take action against women after sunset. On the same day, women and child welfare minister Rakhi Birla accused the police of shielding suspects in a dowry harassment case.
The Delhi Police ‘refusing’ to co-operate with the state government, as pointed out by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in a press conference on Thursday, points to a larger issue of who controls the police control and police reforms that needs to be addressed on a policy level, and not on the streets of Delhi in the night by people who are not authorized to do so. The irony in Kejriwal’s statement “We warn the Delhi Police to mend their ways….the police are only shying away from their duty” cannot be missed as it was the same AAP, under Kejriwal’s leadership, which attacked then CM Sheila Dikshit when, after the December 16 gang rape, she said that her government had no control over the Delhi Police which comes under the Union home ministry. Kejriwal holding dharnas till the cops who did not comply by the ministers’ orders are suspended will not improve the security situation in the capital.
 Many of the government’s actions seem to show that AAP is yet to move from an activism mode to understanding the intricacies of running a government. The people have reposed great faith and hope in AAP and are ready to give it a very long rope. This is all the more a reason for AAP to be extra cautious before resorting to insensitive statements and acts of vigilantism.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Nirbheek - 'the Gun': A harebrained way to protect women

Rowdies, bullies, and other men who think it’s ‘fun’ to taunt or molest a woman, beware! The Indian Ordnance Factories (IOF) has come out with what they think will help women protect themselves from anti-social elements. The IOF’s latest piece in its kitty is a 7.65 mm .32” revolver, ominously named ‘Nirbheek’. While it might not transform women in India into a Sharon Stone in The quick and the dead or a Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil,  the deadly weapon is a ‘valuable contribution to women’s security’ — to quote an advertisement by the Field Gun Factory in Kanpur. Going by its confidence that a guns ‘protect’ women, it can be only said that the folks back in the IOF are on an overdose of James Bond and Lara Croft movies where the leading ladies effortlessly use firearms to tackle evil forces and save the world — of course after saving themselves.
At just 500 gms this titanium alloy gun, priced at around Rs. 1.22 lakh, could be the Indian women’s best friend. So, where the mobile apps, pepper sprays, taser guns and even China’s ‘hairy leg stockings’ have failed, the .32 is expected to hit the eye. Only if addressing women’s safety was so easy. Such lightheaded ideas come across only as an advertisement gimmick — and a poor one at it — to boost the sales of the product.
The safety of women is often a neglected subject in India. And in a society where such issues are seldom discussed, it is refreshing to see the IOF to produce a firearm keeping the safety and security of women in mind. But where it is way off target is to think that arming women will make them safer. If guns were to make people safer, America, with its liberal gun laws, would have been the safest place on earth. Going by the alarming number of shooting in malls, gas stations and even schools, it is clear that more guns is not equal to more safety. Moreover, how does a gun help a woman in a crowded train or on the dark street?

Friday, 10 January 2014

Right-wing violence greets AAP at its Kaushambi office

That violence has no place in a democracy is a point no matter how many times it is repeated it will miss certain groups who refuse to respect a difference of opinion or are ready for a healthy debate. In what can be seen as only an intolerant act, 30-40 people attacked the headquarters of AAP in Ghaziabad. The attackers, many of whom belong to a right-wing group called Hindu Raksha Dal, said that they were protesting against AAP leader Prashant Bhushan’s comment that a referendum should be carried out in Kashmir to decide if the Army be deployed in the Valley.
The AAP leader said that his statement was misconstrued and the party has distanced itself from Bhushan’s statement. Lumpen groups — who have a construed a narrow view about Indian culture and claim to protect it — seem to forget that Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees the right for a person to hold and express his/her view — even if it is contrarian to popular perception. Unfortunately, such acts of vigilantism are not a new phenomenon, but are the preferred route of many organisations that are high on chest-thumping empty rhetoric and low on credibility: The Sri Rama Sena’s morale policing of couples on Valentine’s Day in Mangalore in 2009, the ransacking of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune by over 100 protesters from the Sambhaji Brigade of the Maratha Seva Sangh for hurting the sentiments of Maratha people in 2004, the Shiv Sena protesting and banning Rohinton Mistry’s book from the Mumbai University curriculum claiming that it contained derogatory remarks about Maharashtrians in 2010, the examples are many.
There is little doubt that the lack of tough and visible action against mobsters during previous attacks has emboldened fringe groups, like the Hindu Raksha Dal, to act in such a brazen manner. This is evident in the fact that one of the persons behind the attack on Wednesday has been linked to the 2011 attack on Bhushan in his chamber in the Supreme Court. Confident that the long arm of the law will not catch them, they enjoy their 15 minutes of fame. However, there should be no two ways while addressing such lawlessness. No political sanction for such actions can be justified and the attack has been rightly condemned by many parties. Political parties and organisation must realise that gone are the days when such acts could gain them political mileage. Such destruction is only proof that some are still caught in the past. Today, the people want development and accountability. Perhaps it is time to ensure that people or organisations are made to pay for the destruction they cause while protesting in addition to other legal action.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Bangladesh polls: Sheikh Hasina’s Pyrrhic victory

Khaleda Zia (L) and Sheikh Hasina
One need not be a psephologist to have predicted the poll outcome in Bangladesh’s parliamentary election held on Sunday. With the main opposition party, Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), boycotting the election, it was a foregone conclusion that Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League would win a second term. However, even after bagging more than 230 seats among the 300 in the Jatiyo Shongshod (parliament), it might not be smooth sailing for Ms Hasina. Sunday’s election saw widespread poll-related violence, including the death of 18 people. And with just 22% polling (down from 87% last time) there are concerns about the validity of the process.
History will be at the back of Ms Hasina’s mind when she holds talks with the opposition on future polls. In February 1996, the BNP won a landslide victory after the Awami League boycotted the election. Following massive protests from the Opposition, fresh elections were held in June, in which the Awami League won. For the time being, however, Sheikh Hasina and her party have emerged victorious and this is good news for India — under her rule Dhaka-New Delhi ties have strengthened, especially in boosting trade and tackling terrorism. Early in 2013 Bangladesh had replaced Sri Lanka as India’s largest trading partner in the subcontinent. With trade close to $5 billion Bangladesh is an important trading partner for India.
After the general elections this summer, whichever party that forms the government in New Delhi should focus on strengthening ties with Dhaka. Rather than giving too much importance to smoothening ties with Islamabad, with no light at the end of that tunnel, New Delhi should focus on its neighbour on the east. Also, the equation is not gung with Colombo after frequent arrests of fishermen from Tamil Nadu and the picture is not yet clear with a change of government in the Maldives. The Centre should reach an agreement on water-sharing from Teesta River with Bangladesh. This would also go a long way in boosting the image of the Hasina government, which is often criticised by the Opposition for going the extra mile for India when the goodwill has not been reciprocated. Good ties with Dhaka will also help in tackling insurgency and boosting the economy in the Northeast.