Saturday, April 21, 2007

Once Upon A King

King Gyanendra, Armourless
  • He is no longer the head of the state—laws do not require his assent before they are promulgated; can’t receive credentials of diplomats
  • Nepal’s currency will no longer carry the king’s visage
  • Can’t travel outside Kathmandu without the PM’s permission
  • Royal property to be nationalised; personal income to be taxed
  • A stone-pelting crowd greeted his entourage on Mahashivratri day
  • Moves afoot to slash the royal security personnel from 3,000 to 400
  • Muncipality to demolish the boundary wall of his palace in Hetauda, 150 km south of Kathmandu; unthinkable earlier.
His Income
  • Rs 80 million worth of shares in Soaltee Hotel; Rs 6.5 million in Himal Goodrick; Rs 33.6 million in Surya Nepal and Rs 2,50,000 in Himal International Power Corporation

What He Owes The Government

  • For July 2005-June 2006, he owed Rs 5.6 million for water, Rs 8.3 million for electricity, and Rs 2.6 million for telephone.

How Has He Taken The Change ?

  • Initially became a recluse, retreated to Nagarjun hills outside Kathmandu.
  • Grew beard and moustache. And though he has shaved off his beard, he still has the moustache. Perhaps to remind people of his slain brother King Birendra whom people loved and respected.
  • Smokes heavily, over 20 cigarettes a day—and in public. Earlier, never smoked during cabinet meetings.
  • Often drives his own car like any ordinary citizen; no siren or getting police to clear roads for his cavalcade.
  • Has appeared in public thrice, apart from attending marriages in the family of his erstwhile ministers.
  • New habit: diligently reads all articles about him and politics daily.
Can He Save Himself ?
  • Perhaps, only by abdicating in favour of his grandchildren.
On the balmy evening of April 14, 2005, King Gyanendra was celebrating the Nepali new year at the army headquarters in Kathmandu, holding a glass of whisky and talking to officers fawning over him. His mood was upbeat: only two months ago he had usurped power to rule directly over Nepal. Suddenly, the glass of whisky slipped out of Gyanendra's hand and shattered. "I might break but not bend," he declared imperiously.Now, a year after the popular upsurge restored democracy to Nepal, the king is palpably bending every passing day to the insuperable will of his people. And now the once-hallowed institution of kingship could shatter for good. Not only are the Maoists baying for the abolition of kingship, even PM G.P. Koirala, earlier considered a votary of constitutional monarchy, said recently, "King Gyanendra through his actions has paved the way for the republic, the constituent assembly will declare Nepal a republic."

Even before Koirala's dire comment, the past few months have been traumatic for Gyanendra, who has watched silently the stripping of his powers. He's no longer the head of the state—bills of parliament no longer require his assent; he can't receive diplomatic credentials; he can't administer the oath of office to heads of constitutional bodies; no longer will the currency of Nepal carry the king's visage. The ambiguity of his status is such that he has to even seek the PM's permission to journey outside Kathmandu.
For instance, Koirala 'advised' the king to not visit Hetauda, 150 km south of Kathmandu, where he had wanted to spend a fortnight in December.

His ambiguous status was perhaps the reason why Gyanendra didn't attend the wedding of Devyani Rana, daughter of Pashupati Shumsher Rana, to Aishwarya Singh, grandson of Union HRD minister Arjun Singh, in Delhi last month. Palace sources say the king sent a pair of gold bracelets as a wedding gift for Devyani, whose alleged affair with crown prince Dipendra—and his family's opposition to it—was the cause of the royal massacre of June 2001.

Symbolically, the cruellest blow came when the government discontinued the tradition of observing Prithvinarayan Shah's birth anniversary on Jan 11 as the national integration day. Prithvinarayan wasn't just the founder of the ruling Shah dynasty; he also welded the country, in 1768, into Nepal as it exists today. The hatred against Gyanendra provoked agitators during last year's pro-democracy protests to deface the statue of Prithvinarayan in Kathmandu. A year later it hasn't been repaired; the statue is shrouded in cloth to save the dynasty from the revolting sight of its shaming.

This telling political symbolism became nastily real on Feb 17, when the king visited the Pashupatinath temple to offer puja on the occasion of Mahashivratri. Impatient to enter the temple, the assembled pilgrims began to pelt stones at the royal entourage, angry at having to wait for the king to perform puja.
Security officials managed to whisk Gyanendra to safety. Two years ago these pilgrims would have eagerly waited to catch a glimpse of the king who's revered here as an incarnate of Lord Vishnu.Worryingly for Gyanendra, a cabinet committee has been tasked to initiate the process of nationalising the royal property he inherited. A law has been also enacted to bring his personal assets and income under the tax net. The imminent nationalisation of royal property could financially sap him. He and his family together have Rs 80 million worth of shares in Soaltee Hotel; Rs 6.5 million in Himal Goodrick; Rs 33.6 million in Surya Nepal and Rs 2,50,000 in Himal International Power Corporation—no doubt an eye-popping amount for ordinary mortals, but a mere lavish icing for the royal family which has ruled the country for ten generations. (Nepali Re 1 equals Indian Rs 1.60.)

The existing royal paraphernalia is due for trimming: the king's security personnel is to be slashed from 3,000 to 400, and the exclusive palace cadre merged with the civil administration, says a cabinet committee member. The irreversible logic of a future republic has emboldened the municipality of Hetauda to earmark the boundary wall of the king's palace there for demolition and widen the adjoining pavement for pedestrians. Unthinkable till last year, officials delight in leaking to the press the king's dues to public utilities. Computed for all his palaces and houses, the amount is embarrassingly high—for July 2005-June 2006, it was Rs 5.6 million for water, Rs 8.3 million for electricity, and Rs 2.6 million for telephone.The king is on his knees. Before his people, in changing times. For Gyanendra, the whittling down of his privileges must be depressing. His response was to retreat to the royal forest lodge located in the dense woods of Nagarjun hills on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Built by his brother Birendra, Gyanendra has added a gym and sauna to the lodge. The lodge remains his home from where he drives to his office at Narayanhiti palace. Humility has replaced the arrogance of the past.

At traffic intersections, motorists have been surprised to see in their rearview mirror Gyanendra at the wheel of his car. No wailing siren, no stopping of traffic to provide the monarch a free passage.

In office he keeps busy poring through piles of newspapers, particularly those articles critical of him—and sharing his opinion about these with his secretaries, sometimes even asking them for their opinions. The day's work over, he returns to the solitude and greenery of the Nagarjun hills, rarely ever visiting, sources say, Nirmal Niwas, where resides the notorious crown prince Paras.

In the initial months, Gyanendra kept away from public ceremonies. His first public appearance was during the Dashain festival in October-end. Thereafter, he again took to a cloistered existence, growing a moustache and a beard, perhaps a reflection of his state of mind. Though he appeared clean-shaven on the Vasant Panchami day, Jan 23, he retained the moustache, styled like his deceased brother's, in the hope of reminding people about his association with a man still immensely popular.
In the last two months Gyanendra has been meeting a select group of people. Some of them told Outlook that he not only smokes heavily now (more than 20 cigarettes a day), but doesn't refrain from lighting up before them either. (Earlier, he'd sit through lengthy cabinet meetings without smoking.) These audiences are aimed at eliciting the opinion of 'experts' to save the monarchy. A politician who met the king recently told Outlook, "Some advise him to abdicate in favour of his six-year-old grandson Hridayendra, given the implausibility of securing popular support for him and his son, Paras. The king listens to them patiently, silently nodding his head."

It seems the changing times have chastened him. Another politician told Outlook, "The king candidly admits that though his takeover was in the best interest of the people and caused by the failure of political parties, the palace machinery simply failed to feel the pulse of the people." No doubt he's weary and worried, but philosophical to the loss of his powers. To barbs routinely thrown by politicians, he shrugs his shoulders and reportedly says, "This is part of politics, I understand that." He has chosen not to counter accusations of fanning the unrest in the Terai and conspiring to kill American officials to discredit the Maoists. The only time he broke his silence was when he had his office issue a press release expressing deep hurt over a book, Raktakunda (A pool of blood), written by a journalist who claimed to have been told by a maid in the palace about the conspiracy underlying the royal massacre of 2001.

The pathos of the king in the times of an emerging republic, unfortunately for Gyanendra, evokes little sympathy among the masses who know the end of the dynasty is inevitable. They narrate the popular folklore of how Guru Gorakhnath, Nepal's most venerated saint, blessed Prithvinarayan Shah at the time he founded his dynasty and said, "Ten generations of your family will rule this kingdom." King Gyanendra belongs to the tenth generation of the Shah dynasty. In a country deeply religious, as also superstitious, the folklore has persuaded people that the abolition of the monarchy has been guaranteed by the gods.
Source: Outlook

Friday, April 20, 2007

An Uncivil Society

To some, the media’s collective outburst of indignation at the assault on a television office may seem a little excessive given the general scale of atrocities and violence in India — from the Northeast through the Naxalite rage of middle India to the misery of the Kashmir Valley. Doubtless there are cynics who will say there was only damage to cars and property not to life and limb; that the media is too sensitive about its own rights, and not so about those of others.
To take such a view is to the miss the picture. The assault on the Star News office in Mumbai is symptomatic of many dangerous things that have taken root in Indian public life. This includes the dwindling of basic tolerance, the arrogance of the lumpen, the rapid death of every sacred cow. The ironic thing is that the story that provoked the assault — by a rump fundamentalist group no one has ever heard of — was itself a cry against religious bigotry, bringing to light the plight of a young Hindu-Muslim couple. The kind of story free, liberal media must always embrace.
The scary part of the attack is that it happened in broad daylight in what many consider India’s most cosmopolitan city. The rampaging ruffians — swinging hammers and lathis — seemed to carry no fear of police and legal reprisals. Simply, they were offended by a media story and were going to teach the television channel a lesson.
A great deal of the blame for this growing uncivil society must be borne by the Indian political class. In Parliament and out of it, public discourse has been reduced to a low level vulgarity. When the vocabulary of a people degenerates, all conduct becomes infected with canker. If men with responsibility and power cannot speak the right word then there is no reason for the man on the street to adhere to any moral nicety.
Language is critical, even in these our visual times. That’s why the birth of every free nation — from America to India — has been heralded by men who spoke a lofty language. The freedom of speech is fundamental to a democracy and a free society — but to safeguard it we may have to insist that everyone, media and politician alike, raises its quality.
Apr 28 , 2007

OHCHR Releases Report on Gaur Killings

OHCHR-Nepal has released on 20 April the findings of its investigation into the killings in Gaur and surrounding VDCs on 21 March.

The report rapped government, Madheshi Janaadhikar Forum and the Maoists for their parts that led to the killings of 27 indivuduals, most of them Maoists.

The report said the incident on the Rice Mill field was sparked when about a dozen young men destroyed the CPN-M stage adding that the killings could have been prevented had the government been well prepared for security, MJF resorted to peaceful means of countering any disturbance and the Maoists avoided the clash by not coinciding its programme with MJF programme.

Read the complete report here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Apply Gandhian principle for transformation of conflict in Nepal: P. V. Rajgopal

P. V. Rajgopal has been one of the prominent peace campaigners in South Asia for the last few decades. He is the vice chairman of Mahatma Gandhi Peace Foundation and chairman of Ekta Parishad. Both of these organisations work for peace around the world. Rajgopal is also associated with South Asian Peace Alliance, an initiative of the peace lovers of South Asia for stability, peace and prosperity in this region. He has edited and authored dozens of books on peace and Mahatma Gandhi.
As part of lobbying for peace in the region and providing training to young people on this campaign he was in Kathmandu last week. Our correspondent Indra Adhikari talked with Rajgopal on Gandhian principle of conflict transformation, its applicability in the present context of Nepal and other relevant issues. Excerpts:
How do you view the conflicts in India, which is the land of Gandhi, and the South Asian region? How effective has been Gandhi’s teaching of peace in resolving the conflicts?
See, Gandhi was used by Indians as a political tool. Indian leaders wanted Gandhi to help get freedom from the British. Once freedom came, they forgot Gandhi. Then we followed the model of Europe for development rather than helping the farmers and villagers restart the industrialisation. Industrialisation is the process to take the resources of poor people and make a few people richer. So, we have Tata, we have Mittal etc. But poor people are still poor. We have more than 40 percent people below the poverty line. Many others are not even paid a minimum amount of wage. In a country where so many people are poor, we will have violence. Violence is the result of politics that we followed. If we had gone with Gandhi's line, we would not have such violence. We would have become a model for all.
People generally say, political system has two models: one capitalist model, the other is communist model. But I say there is Gandhian model as well. But world leaders have failed to understand the Gandhian principle of social justice and economic revolution. That is why the world leadership has failed.
What Gandhian philosophy says on peaceful transformation of conflict?
Gandhian philosophy says: create a situation where there would be less and less conflict. There are two theories propounded by Gandhi. He says the world is enough for everybody's need but not anybody's greed. If you promote greed, some people would become richer and others would become poorer. This brings conflict. The first thing is don't create conflict. Gandhi’s other theory is a model of development that says what should be made by hands should be made by hands and what should be made in village should be made in village. What cannot be made by hands, in village or in cottage industries, should be made in the big factories. This is the model of economy that makes villages powerful. Gandhi said India should be the nation of over 5 lakhs economically self-sufficient and self-managed villages. He never dreamt there would be Mumbai, Kolkata, New Delhi and Man Mohan Singh would dictate from centre to all villages. So, we didn’t follow the principle of Gandhi and, through our current development model, we have created such an attitude that it brings conflict in our society. For instance, the Indian government is trying to conserve the jungle and asking the tribal groups to leave their places. This brings conflict. Why the government does not protect the forest and wildlife with the help of these tribal groups and Adhivasis?
Why are the Dalits are fighting? Because the land they are tilling is owned by rich people. Basically, the land should be owned by the Dalits. The government has not been able to transfer the resources from the hands of rich people to the poor. Because of the wrong policies, the conflict has come now. So, the only measure to address the conflict is to correct these policies. Military suppression is not the way a government should react. The leaders are elected to manage the governance, the population and if they don't have that conscience then there is no reason to stay there any more. So, we need to address every problem through political dialogue.
How helpful do you think Gandhian philosophy would be in the peaceful transition of Nepal?
Nepal is in a great situation at this moment. When you are transforming a violent society into a non-violent society, you have a lot to do. Don't think there won't be any fault. There were a large number of young people in the jungle carrying guns. They had a lot of power in their hands because they had guns. Now, without guns, they would not have the same power. You need to teach them differently. Otherwise they would be frustrated. There are school dropouts; they need technical education. I heard there were inter-cast marriages when they were in the jungle. The society may not accept them. You can realise the real situation of society only when you don't have guns in your hand. You need a lot of trained people to work with them. You cannot leave them just saying 'now you are Maoists, have no guns and you are ordinary citizens'. If you don't address the problems of victims created by both the sides, there would be another conflict. The external conflict is over but internal one has not. That is where the Gandhian techniques should be used. There is need to educate them to love peace and Gandhian movement is happy to be part of this if needed.
Some in Indian politics even comment that some politicians are gaining political advantage just because of their surname ‘Gandhi’ whereas they don't have anything to do with Gandhi’s teaching! How do you react to this?
This is the problem of our society because we come from feudal socio-cultural structure. There are many people who use their surname as Gandhi or Nehru. This is because, when someone says Gandhi, you automatically remember Mahatma Gandhi. But this is not good. People should not exploit Gandhi's name for their advantage. See, unless you don't act like Gandhi, there is no reason to carry on with his name and get benefit out of it. If you really believe in Gandhi, act like him. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi should understand what Mahatma Gandhi wanted to do in India, what his message was.
Unfortunately, we cannot do anything with that because they have been using the surname since long time for political benefit. This is the result of the Gandhi's failure to bring his children into politics. Gandhi sent his children to ordinary schools that they could not compete with others and surface into politics.
How do you view Mahatma Gandhi’s personality as a politician, a philosopher or a citizen?
Gandhi is all in one. He was a great philosopher because he could see the present and future problems of the world clearly and he was able to give us directions on how to deal with these problems. He was a politician because he fought against the British regime, mobilised the people politically to free India and consequently liberated the country. In think, along with fighting for political freedom in India, he was fighting for freedom of humanity at large. He lived very simple life. So he was a civilian as well. At times you may even see him as businessman because he was sensitive towards mobilising financial resources, taking responsibility and accountability of this money and allocating it for movement appropriately. He was like an expert in managing public money. Thus, he has various with roles in the society. That is the reason why Gandhi has been inspiration for people of all walks of life.
Why Gandhi’s principle of wearing simple cloths and supporting the poor did not attract people in general?
Gandhi was very interested with dresses when he was young. You see him in a smart dresses with necktie and coat when he was practicing law in South Africa. After he came back to India, he travelled through the country to understand the Indian life. He found the fellow Indians so poor. That was the turning point in Gandhi's life.
Now people are trying to present themselves with more sophisticated and fashionable dresses as far as possible. Whether it is in dress, food habits, houses we live or expenditure we make in marriage, the scenario has substantially changed. People have become less sensitive to poverty. Many people live on foods that are thrown outside on baskets. Our leaders are very less sensitive towards these poor people. The reason for all these is our education system. In schools we teach children who is richest person in world, who wears most expensive dress, who looks most fashionable but we don't teach them who is poor, how they live. We are helping these children's brain to grow but we are not helping their heart to grow. Unless we include these subjects in school or college education, nobody is going to be sensitive to this issue. So we intend to create heart in young people that is sensitive to poor people and their suffering.
As a follower of Gandhi and a propagator of his principles for a long time, what you found in Gandhi that other people do not know?
Lots of people use Gandhi's name and many of them have known him deeply. But there are also many people who take Gandhi as a theory. They say Gandhi is a past’ Gandhi is a history. I say Gandhi is present and future. When he fought against British, he fought against injustice. Now there is lot of injustice and exploitation and Gandhi is needed here. So, why don't you use Gandhain techniques now? They were relevant hundred years back and still relevant to fight against injustice. The best means to tackle injustice is peaceful uprising like his Satyagraha. In future society, these would become even more important. What I argue again and again is that don't use 'Gandhi is the past'. Many people are trying to present Gandhi as past and get rid of any responsibilities. What Gandhi did hundred years ago, we should do it now and our generation should be able to do that tomorrow. We should see radical Gandhi. Don't worship him; make him relevant to our age. That is not very new but people don't use that part of Gandhi.
How successful has the South Asian Peace Alliance been in its effort?
This is an effort to bring peace in South Asia. We will have some training on non-violence and peace and a campaign across South Asia for peace and non-violence. We will also create a forum of senior peace expert who can intervene in conflict areas. At bottom level, there would be training for young people for peace and at top, experienced people would intervene in the areas of violence. Create a situation where conflict would not emerge and create a situation where you can instantly act on emergency of conflict.


Nov 21 06

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Cult of Intolerance

Pakistan’s tourism minister Nilofar Bakhtiar against whom radical clerics issued a fatwa for hugging a male paratrooper during a paragliding show in Paris, fears for her life. A Pakistan Punjab minister, Zille Huma, was killed for her activism by a religious fanatic following a fatwa from the Sharia court. Nearer home, instances of religious, social and communal intolerance have been on a phenomenal rise. Fanatics and lumpen crowds take to the streets at the slightest provocation. Indeed, intolerance has almost turned into a cult and is threatening to replace all other human virtues like tolerance, understanding, sympathy, compassion and co-existence. Paradoxically, the same Indian society that renews its commitment to the parliamentary system and democracy, election after election, seems reconciled to the contradiction of street-level manifestations of all forms of intolerance and the violence stemming from them. There was the case of a couple united in an inter-religious marriage being ostracised by both Hindu and Muslim organisations in Bhopal even after the Bombay high court upheld the wedding. The Puri Jagannath temple was shut for a day and "purified" after a foreigner accidentally entered it. The precincts of the Guruvayoor Krishna temple were "cleansed" after Union minister Vayalar Ravi’s son got married there, the "impurity" sourced to Mrs Ravi who happens to be a Christian. The temple authorities are disinclined to allow reputed singer Jesudas, a Christian, entry into it though the bulk of his repertoire are devotionals dedicated to Krishna. A ten-year-old boy in a village off Patna, accused of killing a male goat, is forced by the panchayat to undergo "agni pariksha"(walking on burning coal) to prove his innocence. On Monday, a mob protesting against a television channel sheltering a couple from different religions ransacked the channel’s Mumbai office. A self-appointed moral police tends to disrupt religious and social harmony in order to perpetuate so-called Hindu or Muslim ethos and culture. By permitting it to take the law into its own hands, society is sanctioning intolerance by consent. This will kill Indian democracy and take India to chaos.
Source: Asian Age Editorial

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

‘There is no such thing as the caste system any more’

Recently in India, French political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, author of seminal works on caste and Hindutva, spoke to Shivam Vij and Avinash Dutt.

For the average Indian, is religion more important or caste?

It is sometimes not only those two but much more. The Leftist approach would consist of highlighting class as the main criterion in defining the man in the street. But we have learnt to know that there are many ascriptive identities, and religion and caste are among the most important ones, especially in politics when you have to understand how people vote.

But, between caste and religion, which becomes more important for the average voter?

It depends on the context. In 1991, after Mandal, caste was very important, which is why the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party could join hands: the anti-reservationists were so strong that the pro-reservationists had to join hands. Things changed when Advani’s rath yatra re-highlighted Hindu identity and in some places, including Uttar Pradesh, it worked. To be anti-Muslim came first. So there really is no definite answer.

In that sense, has caste played a positive role by preventing a homogenised Hindu identity from taking shape?

That is one thing. Another is that caste politics gives the plebeians a block of solidarity. Such numbers of people, in that case, work together and behave in such a way that it enables low-caste parties to win many more seats and obliges mainstream parties to give tickets to OBCs. In that sense, the caste-ification of Indian politics has been a factor of the democratisation of Indian politics.

What do you make of the current controversy on OBC reservations?

If you have reservations in the administration, you need reservations in the universities. How do you train the people who are supposed to do the job? For the Scheduled Castes, reservations in the education system came first and then in the administration. So, after giving 27 percent to OBCs in the administration, it is rather logical that they are being given 27 percent in education. And the fact that the government has committed itself to increasing the capacity of the universities by 54 percent so as not to penalise the upper castes is, to my mind, a very positive step.

But there has been great anger against reservations among the middle class.

I think the upper castes need to understand that they are going to be affected only in a limited manner, and that reservations may help stabilise social relations. By giving some upward mobility to people who may otherwise not get a chance, you defuse a source of resentment which may generate tensions. Secondly, some measures for poor upper-caste people should also be decided on.

Do you think the beneficiaries of reservation become part of the middle class and want to forget caste?

That was the rule of the game for decades — except in the case of Dr Ambedkar. It has changed only recently when personalities like Kanshi Ram remained true to the cause. When you look at what Congress dalit mps and ministers had become, you realise that they were not strong advocates of their people. But I’m not expressing any value judgement on the middle-class dalits who are cut off from their people, because it is very difficult to be in between two worlds. It’s a schizophrenic situation.
There is probably only one way to transcend this: to embrace a new identity. Those who have become Buddhist do not face this problem so acutely. Not only does Buddhism not make them hark back to their dalit background, but they can share this identity with other dalits who have not arrived.

But some say that Buddhism has become another divisive factor in the already fragmented dalit movement.

I think, rather, that in the end it will be the crucible from which all dalits will find a platform, not only in Maharashtra but also in different parts of India.

What do you think has gone wrong with the dalit movement in Maharashtra?

In Maharashtra, dalit political leaders have often betrayed Ambedkarism for a kursi. The aftermath of the Kherlanji atrocities was very revealing in this regard. The leaders of the Republican Party of India did nothing. Ramdas Athavale was nowhere in the picture. Dalits — and among them dalit women — mobilised on their own. Had they not protested, no case would have been registered. Now at least a trial may take place, giving the judiciary an opportunity to do its job, even though the police has destroyed most of the evidence. I, therefore, would not say that the dalit movement has lost any sense of direction — its political leaders have, but socially and ideologically it is very active and alert.

You call it ‘India’s silent revolution’, but many insist caste politics is perpetuating caste and is responsible for unstable coalition governments.

To say that politics has institutionalised caste is to suggest that without this kind of politics you would not have caste.
If caste politics is a useful detour for the emancipation of the subalterns — because it enables the lower castes to form larger coalitions and to dislodge the elite who have monopolised power for centuries — it is a much lesser evil. It indeed permits some transfer of power to the plebeians.
So far as the instability of governments is concerned, I don’t think that happened because of caste politics but rather because of the regionalisation of politics, since parties broke into pieces along regional lines. But, in fact, this system is not so unstable because regional parties are now often part of coalitions which are completing the duration of their terms.

What is caste politics doing to caste?

It is forcing many sub-castes to join hands and sometimes even to merge. Look at the kshatriyas in Gujarat. This is a caste that has emerged out of a political process. In the 1950s, you had the Rajputs and the Kolis, which were OBCs. They decided to join hands against the Patels to fight this dominant caste more effectively. So a new caste has emerged, the kshatriyas.
Secondly, politics is transforming castes into interest groups. I would argue that there is nothing like the caste system anymore. There used to be one, in which the brahmins epitomised superior values for the whole of society, whereas the dalits were the opposite. Today, at least in the cities, you have the same people not in a vertical arrangement but in a horizontal line: all castes are in competition for power, jobs, seats in the universities — the public sphere is an arena where they fight. The idea of an all-encompassing social system is gone and this has resulted in some mobility. This has been one of the results of Indian democracy over 60 years.

If we could return to the OBC issue, do you think that post-Mandal reservations and OBC politics at large have hurt dalits?

Mandal, in the end, has made the OBCs more assertive and commanding vis-à-vis the dalits who often work in their fields as labourers. But the post-Mandal reservation has not taken anything to the dalits. The OBCs were really losing ground. If you look at the figures of the bureaucracy, you had many more dalits than OBCs there. That was not satisfactory because everybody needs to be represented in this. So something had to be done, to my mind, and I would argue something would have to be done for Muslims in the same way.

OBC leaders are somewhat silent in the current controversy because they want the upper-caste vote as well. The OBC is no longer a single, unified vote bank.

True, but if you compare the kind of reactions these people have today with the reaction they had during Mandal in 1990, you will in any case see a change. I think more and more parties which were reluctant then are now accepting caste-based reservations for OBCs. They can’t alienate 52 percent of the population. Look at the BJP manifestoes of the last 15 years. In ’91, they were for class-based reservations. In ’96, it was the same. In ’98, they started to say let’s implement the quota system as the Supreme Court has allowed it. Now they will not go against any caste-based policies for OBCs. So they have been convinced in less than 15 years. And they were the hardest nuts to crack. They have realised that they want all the voters, but also that the majority of the voters are OBC and that they’d better go along with reservations for them instead of opposing them at the cost of their voters.

But there are tensions between the BJP’s OBC leaders and its core, which remains strictly upper caste.

Indeed, the BJP has not promoted OBC leaders either in the party apparatus or at the Centre. If you look at the places OBCs occupy in the BJP universe, they are more at the state level as mlas or in the state governments, but not at the top of the party apparatus and were not in the important ministries when the BJP led the nda coalition at the Centre. This disjunction clearly reflects a mindset. It’s also because the RSS movement is still imbued with an upper caste — mostly brahminical — ethos. If you look at the RSS pracharaks running the show, most of them are brahmins. They are not ready to promote low-caste people at that level. It’s remarkable that there has not been any non-brahmin at the helm of the RSS except for Rajendra Singh — a Rajput. That says a lot. Eighty years of a movement with always the same social profile and ethos.

When all regions have their own parties and so do castes, is there space for national parties?

Well, there is space for national parties which are able to work in coalitions. The Congress, for instance, cannot go it alone any more. They used to try and think they could. But they realised they could only be the coordinating agency of a coalition. So they still play a useful part. They are national in the sense that they coordinate regional parties. The BJP is doing the same with the nda. The task of a national party today is to have about 150 seats and be the largest party in a coalition of 15 to 18 parties. I will be very surprised if any party in the near future is in a position to gain an absolute majority on its own.
National parties may roughly remain at their present level. This is good for democracy. Everyone is now willing to work in coalitions and make compromises. When the Congress enjoyed an absolute majority, this state of things enabled Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian rule in the ’70s and the ’80s. Today, the Congress has to discuss give-and-take with the regional bosses which support its government in Parliament.

You have just returned from Gujarat, what did you observe there?

I observed that Narendra Modi has asked Montek Ahluwalia to remove Mallika Sarabhai from Doordarshan, and then I could not resist thinking that liberty of expression for those who have a dissenting voice was not respected. And if India is a democracy, as Amartya Sen has claimed, because of the argumentative Indian, you may well need to protect those who argue — and for the right cause at that! I also heard that India’s best-known corporate houses have withdrawn sponsorships to the trust Mallika Sarabhai runs because of Narendra Modi. I find it most disturbing.

What is the importance of Narendra Modi as a signpost for the Hindutva project in the long term?

For the first time, the Hindu right has achieved what it has been longing for: to put Muslims in their place by organising ethnic cleansing and by displacing them from the cities. In Ahmedabad, they once lived in the heart of the city; now they have been sent to its periphery, they have become the second-class citizens the Hindu nationalists have always wanted them to be.
Not only that, but the Bajrang Dal has taken the law into its hands in an unprecedented manner. One of their leaders, Babu Bajrangi, who has been accused of murders in 2002 by several witnesses but who is still very much active, “rescues” against their will Hindu girls who have married Muslims or men who do not belong to their caste. He is also very good at intimidating the owners of cinema houses who may want to show films he does not appreciate, like Parzania. So far, the state has had no objection to his activities. Who will restore the rule of law in Gujarat?

Source: Tehelka

Apr 21 , 2006

Sunday, April 15, 2007

JTMM Jwala Singh Terrorizing Hilly Origin workers in Terai

The JTMM Jwala Singh faction has freshly issued and circulated press statement threatening the hill origin people, called Pahadis, of stern physical action if they do not leave the Terai region.

This is not the first time it has issued this kind of threat. Other vigilante groups such as MPRF and leftist militant extremist groups such as JTMM Goit and Terai Cobra are also involved in killing, kidnapping, extorting, raping and looting of Pahadi origin people in Terai.