Saturday, 18 October 2008

Politicising Encounters

After having driven Ratan Tata out of Bengal, Mamata Banerjee seems to have forgotten about getting acquired land back for the farmers of Singur. And she's now doing a good turn to Amar Singh who was there to lend her moral support on Singur. So Mamata-di and Singh are chorusing on the Batla House encounter and demanding an enquiry.

Mamata-di has said if the inquiry proves the encounter was not fake, she will resign. Singh was thundering in Azamgarh today that the youth arrested on terrorism charges were innocent and if it is proved that they are terrorists, he himself will shoot them.

The antics of these two is amusing but this entire debate over the Jamia encounter and the so-called branding of all Muslims as terrorists raises several issues.

One, are probes any use? If the findings don't suit a section, the report will be debunked. If an inquiry finds the encounter was a genuine one and the slain youth were actually terrorists, will Singh, Mamata, Mushirul Hasan and sundry others insisting the youth are innocent accept it? They won't. Just like the BJP won't accept the U C Banerjee report on Godhra and the secular brigade won't accept the Nanavati report. Each side will question the credentials of the author of the report, no matter how upright and honest he/she is.

Two, always questioning the police version on everything, if it doesn't suit us. I am no admirer of the Indian police force. It is perhaps the most venal, corrupt and insensitive force in the world. Yes, it has sullied its hands with fake encounters and some which are bizarre mistakes (like the Connaught Place shoot out, where it was just a case of mistaken identity). But to question every arrest or encounter is carrying things a bit too far. The media is also to blame for this. Every time a suspected terrorist is arrested, off it goes to interview the parents who then say their son is innocent, he wouldn't harm a fly, he is being framed. What else will a parent say? Regardless of what the charge - drunken driving or rape or terrorism - parents will always say their child is innocent. But whether it is the Jamia shootout or the arrest of Yahoo engineer Mohammed Mansoor Asghar Peerbhoy for sending terror emails, the police is unearthing evidence, incriminating documents etc. Surely all this can't be fake?

It is a bit hard to believe that the police randomly pick up innocent youth without any leads and then put them behind bars or engage and kill them in an encounter. Why does the police zero in on only XYZ innocent Muslim youth and not ABC or GHI? These charges that the police are picking up innocent youth gives the impression that the police does eenie-meenie-mina-mo every morning with a list of Muslim names and then just goes and arrests/kills them without any proof. This is ridiculous.

That brings me to the third issue - this whole fuss about racial profiling and the lament that all Muslims are being viewed as terrorists. I think that is exaggerated. Ordinary people are not branding all Muslims as terrorists. It is the Amar Singhs and the so-called secular brigade who are giving terrorists and ordinary criminals a religious identity. A terrorist is a terrorist. Why, if he has a Muslim name, should it mean all Muslims are being targeted? If a terror suspect happens to have a Muslim name, should the police not arrest/question him? The counter to that may well be that how come only Muslims are being picked up? But if the terror is being unleashed in the name of Islam, are Hindus, Christians and Sikhs to be picked up? During the Punjab trouble, Sikhs were picked up, in Sri Lanka Tamils are picked up, in Ireland, Irish were picked up. That is natural. Terrorists are known by the cause they espouse.

These people who claim to speak on behalf of the ordinary Muslims are doing them a terrible disservice. By rushing to sympathise with a terrorist (instead of distancing themselves and saying the law must take its own course) just because he has a Muslim name, it is these people who are indulging in racial profiling.

Finally, it is not my case that the police don’t pick up innocent people or torture suspects. The human rights of all have to be protected. But the right way of doing that is not to rant against arrests, but ensure that those arrested get whatever rights are due to them. It was appalling that the police did not allow the families of the Delhi blast accused to meet them even as it allowed journalists to interview them. That is absolute nonsense and it is good that Prashant Bhushan and other public spirited citizens got a court order to allow a meeting with the families. That is a perfectly valid way to help the accused. But to say that all arrests are frame ups and all encounters are fake is a bit much.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Don’t get involved with this Tiger

It was quite distressing to read about the Prime Minister giving in to pressure from the DMK and making a statement calling for a negotiated political settlement in Sri Lanka and the need to respect the human rights of minorities, particularly Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka.

This came after an all-party meeting in Tamil Nadu where a resolution was passed giving the Centre a two week ultimatum to the Centre to stop the war against Tamils in Sri Lanka, failing which all 39 MPs from the state would resign from Parliament. DMK supreme Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi has already sent in her resignation to her father.

This is utterly ridiculous. Sri Lanka, these Tamil MPs need to be told, is not an Indian state that can be pulled up by the Centre. Even within India, the federal structure puts limits on what the Centre can do. Sri Lanka is another country altogether. The Indian government cannot do anything that will impinge on its sovereignty.

The government is treading on extremely dangerous grounds here. It is nobody’s case that human rights in Sri Lanka should be given the complete go by. Remember, however, that the country facing a separatist movement, which it is trying to address through a mix of political and military means. Remember also that the violence is not one-sided. The Tamil terror groups also have the blood of thousands on their hands.

India, coping with its own problems, cannot get involved in this. If it does, then it will have no right to get worked up every time Pakistan makes a similar charge about India in the context of Kashmir. Indians cannot get all hot and bothered when other countries ask us about Muslims killed in riots or attacks on Christians. India’s Tamil politicians will probably argue that the two cases are not similar, that what is happening in Lanka is far more serious than what is happening in India. But that is all a matter of perception.

We have already paid a heavy price for our involvement in Sri Lanka – Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by Tamil militants. It is surprising that a government run by a party headed by his widow should go soft on Tamil terror.

More than that, the principle of respecting another country’s sovereignty has to be respected.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Politicising Development

I had, to take a dig at the Luddite leftists and tongue firmly in cheek, drafted the following press release the day the announcement of the Nano plant to Gujarat happened.


We, the self-appointed upholders of the secular fabric of India, strongly condemn the decision of Tata Motors to shift the Nano plant to Gujarat. This is nothing but a victory for communal forces in the country. It is shocking that industrialist Ratan Tata who is a member of a minority community - perhaps the smallest minority community in India - has decided to shake hands with Narendra Modi, that unrepentant butcher of minorities. Ratan Tata's ancestors may have hailed from Gujarat but that is no mitigating excuse.

This action of Ratan Tata is doubly damned because it came after he spurned the abject pleadings of a communist government and preferred to go along with a communal government instead. He also did not seriously consider the offer from a relatively secular Maharashtra government, which is the state where Tata Motors head office is located.

It also puts a greater burden on all secular socialist forces to fight this evil combination of capitalism and communalism. We will not be found wanting in this fight. Our failure to get Modi out of Gujarat will not dampen our spirits. We got Tata out of Bengal, we can drive him out of Gujarat too.

To continue our struggle, we allocate the following work to the following persons - Medha Patkar to sit on dharna at the Tata site, with her ragtag bunch; Arundhati Roy to write a cover story in Outlook on the capitalist-communal conspiracy, Teesta Setalvad to devote an entire issue of Communalism Combat to ranting about this unholy, oops sorry, un-comradely nexus, and Tehelka to reveal previously undisclosed footage on Modi, Tata and Mamata planning a grand conspiracy to keep Bengal in a de-industrialised state.

When I wrote this, I had stopped watching the news, so didn't see Sitaram Yechury's reaction, when he said it was sad that Tata had shifted to a BJP-ruled state! So I was bang on, as it turned out.

Would it have been better for Bengal if Tata had chosen a site in a non-BJP state? Yechury's reaction is understandable; he is in politics and politicizing development is second nature for our politicians.

But how does one account for journalists writing about the Nano plant shifting to Gujarat giving credibility to Narendra Modi? When I had emailed the above press release to some friends, one of them wrote implying that I was trying to convert people into a Modi fan!! After that there have been edit page articles bemoaning how Modi will use this to his advantage.

I have a few questions to all these people.

# Must business decisions be based on politics? Shouldn't business environment and infrastructure be the guiding principles?

# Assuming that politics must be a factor, then, if industrialists should shun Gujarat because of Modi's inaction during the 2002 riots, should any industry go at all to China, where state-sponsored genocide in Tibet is no secret? Why shouldn't all countries boycott China and snap all economic ties with it? And why should new businesses be set up in Delhi, where hundreds of Sikhs were butchered in 1984, and which now has had a Congress government for 10 years?

# If industry doesn't go to Gujarat while Modi is chief minister, who will suffer? Modi? Or the people of Gujarat? Or is it the case that the Gujarat public deserves to be punished for electing Modi?