A double threat

Silencing dissent, and sowing hate

JOHN DAYAL

The report of the Intelligence Bureau under the government of the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, demonising Non Government Organisations, NGOs, and several activists including a Catholic priest, the late Fr. Tom Kotcherry, for working against Indian national interests was a precursor of more direct action to come. The administration took immediate action, ordering Greenpeace, which it had targetted as the prime culprit in delaying if not preventing big money projects in Tribal areas, to take prior permission before it sought any funding from international agencies. That is not to say that the earlier Congress had not used the notorious Foreign Contribution Act to punish NGOs in Tamil Nadu, including a Catholic diocese, for supporting the movement of the local people against the Koodmakulam nuclear power plant which the Union and State governments wanted not so much for the electricity it would produce but for the political gains it could bring to the Congress and the all India Anna DMK. And the risks from the Russian made reactor could be overlooked in the name of development.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government in New Delhi differs in a critical area from its Congress predecessor. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government led by the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, was pilloried for its sloth, its corruption and its inability to control the price line. But it had a human face that changed the life of the rural poor through a slew of welfare programmes that did reduce a little from the pain of poverty. Above all, it did not seek to divide the people on lines of religion or egg them on to violence.

Mr. Modi’s government carries a deadly political baggage that seeks to do just that, polarise communities, ranging the majority faith against religions that it brands as alien. In the mineral rich and heavily forested tribal belt that extends from Jharkhand to Madhya Pradesh and beyond, including much of Chhattisgarh and Orissa, this polarising of the countryside has the immediate impact of almost totally wrecking the unity of the people against exploitative and environmentally destructive industrial and mining projects of national and international monopolies. By demolishing ethical NGOs empowering people on the one hand and people’s unity in mass movements on the other, the government opens the hinterland for exploitation by crony capitalists.

It is in this light that one has to see the move in May 2014 by several village Panchayats in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, prompted by the Sangh Parivar’s units such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, to ban the entry of Christian workers, and worship, in their areas. The resolution came to light a few days ago. The Panchayat diktat is that only Hindu religious workers will be allowed into the village areas in the Tribal belt. This is of course entirely illegal, and violative of the provisions in the Constitution of freedom of expression and of movement. The coercive methodology of branding every Tribal as a Hindu, and to turn him or her to oppose Christians, injures the secular nature of society, and the peace that has existed over a long time.

Such bans on a particular faith and the friction they breed, can so easily lead to violence against religious minorities. Memories of the massive violence in Kandhamal in 2007 and 2008, which had its roots in such indoctrination and communalisation, are still fresh, and the struggle for justice for the victims still continues in the High court and the Supreme Court. The Governments of the State of Chhattisgarh and the Union must therefore act urgently to stem this explosive evil while there is still time.

 

 

 

 

 

The Report of the Intelligence Bureau on NGOs

A Blow to social action

 

Church work for the marginalised may suffer as Government cracks down on NGO activities on empowering people

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

The Church in India – Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal – may in future confine itself to just worship and running Colleges, schools, hospitals and some charity activities, if current political trends play out their expected course. The church’s ‘preferential action for the poor,’ its track record in giving a voice to the voiceless and activities in the training and empowerment of Tribals, the Dalits and other marginalised groups, would invite close government scrutiny in the future. And in a worst case scenario, its resources could be cut off and its personnel find their activities restrained under the twin onslaught of a major move to take the infamous Foreign Contributions Regulation Act to new levels of strictness and harshness, and a fresh bout of police and political action – including by self styled ‘social-cultural’ groups such as the right wing Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its branches such as Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram which works in central India’s vast Chhotanagpur Tribal belt.

 

The Church will not be alone in being impacted in this doomsday scenario of something horribly gone wrong in India’s political discourse and its development landscape. Keeping it company will be major Non Governmental Organisations, NGOs, funded by international organisations involved in rights-based campaigns against the denudation of forests and ravaging of rivers, and supporting people’s protests and movements against genetically modified crops such as cotton and brinjal, the dangers of suspect nuclear power plans in the post Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japanon 11 March 2011, or the resistance of Orissa Tribals to the attempts of Korean giant Posco to mine their sacred hills and forests.

 

This seemingly alarmist projection is born of the enthusiastic support of the new government in New Delhi led by Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party to a report by the Intelligence Bureau [IB], leaked to select media, on what it says is the loss to the national exchequer, and to the country’s development, by the work of organisations receiving foreign funding through the FCRA. The report, which hogged Television News headlines for days, specifically focused on a short list of NGOs and some of the country’s most well known rights activists. Highlighted were the activities of such organisations as Greenpeace, and such people as the late Fr Tom Kotcherry of the Fisherman’s movement, Vandana Shiva working on food and crop issues and S P Udaykumar of Tamil Nadu who was involved in the struggle of sea coast dwellers who were afraid the nuclear power plant being built by Russian assistance in Koodmakulam in Trinalvelli district of Tamil Nadu was not safe and would poison the coastal waters. The government had already blacklisted the European finding agency Cordaid. It went on to now put severe restrictions on the FCRA licence of Greenpeace, saying it would have to take prior permission before it could receive funding in future for its projects.

The Church of the region was in the past dragged into the controversy, and the FCRA of a Catholic diocese was impacted. Some of its clergy and religious were also subjected to police scrutiny, and action.

 

This reporter has an e-copy of the photocopy of the IB report, which was leaked on TV and is now going viral on the Internet. The document says the NGOs’ activities are “contributing to the negative impact on India’s GDP growth assessed to be 2 – 3 % p.a. The IB did not indicate how it reached this conclusion or the data on which it was based. Circumstantial evidence suggests that this targetting of NGOs would benefit international companies such as Vedanta and Posco, and some of the Indian corporate giants whose projects have faced popular protest.

 

It is important to quote the TimesNow reportage on the IB report as it was the first news channel to which the intelligence agency gave its secret document.

 

On 12th June 2014, its prime time report said:

“NGOs use funds for fuelling protests: IB report to PMO — An Intelligence Bureau report to the Prime Minister’s Office and other departments has noted that funding of several Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) is “cleverly disguised” as donations for issues like human rights and instead used for funding protests to stall
developmental projects. These funds were mostly used to fuel protests against developmental projects relating to coal, bauxite mining, oil exploration, nuclear plants and linking of rivers, resulting in stalling or slowing down of these projects, the report said.  The report submitted to the PMO and other important ministries like Finance and Home also claims that laptop of one of the foreign activists of an NGO contained scanned map of India with 16 nuclear plants (existing and proposed) and five Uranium mine locations marked prominently.
“It [the IB report] said that some organisations in Western countries have also developed “deniability” by pursuing “transit-funding models” where by European donors and also governments are asked to fund some NGOs in India.  ”These include the Netherlands and Danish governments and multiple state funded donors based in these countries, apart from some Scandinavian NGOs, which normally focus on the environmental impact of development,” the report, submitted also to National Security Adviser and Cabinet Secretariat, alleged.  It said that in the last few years, the country has been facing problems from these organisations which have stepped up efforts to encourage growth retarding campaigns in India, focused on extractive industries including anti-coal, anti-uranium and anti-bauxite mining, oil exploration, Genetically modified organisms and foods, climate change and anti-nuclear issues.
“The report named two anti-nuclear organisations National Alliance of Anti Nuclear Movements (NAAM) and People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE)– spearheaded by US-educated S P Udayakumar who allegedly received “unsolicited contract” from a US university.  During effective monitoring, “Udaykumar’s contact in Germany—Sonntag Rainer Hermann—was deported from Chennai on 2012 and his laptop contained scanned map of India with 16 nuclear plants (existing and proposed) and five Uranium mine locations marked prominently,” the report said.  The map also included contact details of “50 anti-nuclear activists hand written on small slips of paper along with Blackberry PIN graph and was sent through email to five prominent anti-nuclear activists including Udayakumar.”  ”Sustained analysis revealed that the name slips on the map were hand-written in order to avoid possible detection by text search algorithms installed e-gateways,” it said.”

 

Udaykumar, and everyone else mentioned in the IB report denied every single charge, stressing the legitimacy of their work, and the transparency of their funding. Udaykumar specially maintained he was being framed and his remunerations as a researcher and writer published by respected international journals were being called clandestine funding.

 

Church organisations have not commented on the report. This silence has been noticed. Civil society has been vocal, even though activists have also noted the silence of several prominent voices that are perhaps afraid of the system, or anticipate action against them if they side with the protests.

 

Researcher and writer Pushpa Sundar who has written a book on the subject of NGOs and development, says; “What is disturbing about the report is that the room for legitimate dissent by civil society seems to be shrinking. It is only when governments refuse to listen to grievances that peaceful protests turn ugly and civil society organisations resort to action to hold up projects. The action initiated by NGOs is on behalf of the sections of society that have no voice in corridors of power. If the political representatives play their role well then civil society would not need to resort to agitation. Besides, it is not necessarily foreign money, which is used for agitations. The anti-corruption movement was genuinely a people’s movement, funded by small donations, and even those donations that were received were from Indians settled abroad. Even here foreign funding was used to discredit the movement.”

The FCRA and NGO data has been on the Internet ever since the coming into effect of the Right to Information Act – itself the successful product of a prolonged NGO movement which first began in Rajasthan.

 

  • 22,702 of the estimated 20 lakh NGOs filed returns on funding in 2011-12
  • 13,291 NGOs received foreign funds; 9,509 reported receiving no foreign contribution
  • Rs 11,546.29 crore is the quantum of foreign funds received by NGOs in India
  • Rs 7,000 crore received by NGOs in five states: Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka
  • Rs 233.38 crore, the highest amount received, by World Vision of India, Chennai
  • Rs 99.20 crore was the highest donation, from Compassion International, USA
  • Rs 418.37 crore was the donation from the Netherlands
  • 148 NGOs received foreign funds in excess of Rs 10 crore
  • 178 NGOs received funds between Rs 5-10 crore; 1,702 between Rs 1-5 crore
  • 39.73% was the highest year-on-year jump in foreign contribution to NGOs, in 2006-07
  • Rs 2,253 crore of foreign contributions to NGOs goes towards ‘non-core’ activities

[Data from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs 2011-2012]

 

Among the definite purposes for which foreign contribution was received and utilized, the highest amount of foreign contribution was utilised for Establishment Expense, followed by Rural Development , Relief/Rehabilitation of victims of natural calamities, Welfare of Children and Construction and maintenance of schools/colleges.

 

Among the recipients have also been religious organisations, including some very prominent Hindu god-men and god-women.

 

The government does not release data on how much does the Indian corporate and business sector, the only other non-governmental group that can finance the NGOs, actually spends that money on social outreach. Most critics have slammed this sector’s much flaunted Corporate Social Responsibility as a sham, and an excuse to contribute to society just a minor percentage of the profits it makes from the people and by exploiting the country’s natural resources.

But neither the media nor the government want to highlight another major recipient of foreign money, the Sangh Parivar, and much of it is not even through the FCRA bank channels. Writers Pragya Singh and Abhijit Mazumdar in a recent article in Outlook magazine pointed out “The RSS itself is an unregistered body and submits neither income tax returns nor does it have a licence to receive money from abroad. But many of the NGOs affiliated to it are among the NGOs in India that received foreign money.

 

“The growth of the RSS provoked a group of US intellectuals in 2002 to ask around about its funding. They published a detailed account of how the American charity, India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), donated much of its basket to the RSS, VHP and other Sangh-affiliated NGOs in India. Information in the public domain shows that between 1994 and 2000, most of IDRF’s $5 million fund poured into Sangh-affiliated NGOs.  In those years, when a donor asked IDRF to pick an NGO on their behalf, 83 per cent of the donation wound up in a “Sangh-affiliated” one, the study discovered.. The campaign had explored the IDRF’s role in funding the ‘Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra’  which promotes “ghar wapasi” (conversion of Christian tribals to Hinduism) of tribals even at the cost of escalating violence and tensions. The IDRF annual report for 2012 shows that over $1.2 million (Rs 7.2 crore) was sent to India during the year. The following year, another million dollars (Rs 6 crore) found its way to NGOs, including Vanvasi Kalyan cen­tres across India, especially in tribal regions like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.”

 

Needless to say, RSS-affiliated NGOs receive large sums also from governments of states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies. No data, however, is officially available.

 

The rule of thumb seems to be that organisations and NGOs that have political patronage or deemed to be nationalistic and benign, where as those that work with the people in the areas that government and others do not want to enter.

 

But it must be said that the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, is following in the footsteps of his predecessors Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh, is trying to stifle dissent by starving NGOs of foreign donations.

 

As I have pointed out in my writings in the past, the FCRA has an evil history – it was conceived in sin, so to speak, and nurtured in suspicion and hate. It was an illegitimate child of the State of Emergency” that was imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975. The law was brought about to curb foreign money coming to certain institutions associated, ironically with Jay Prakash Narain and some Gandhians, who, she feared, were hell bent on fomenting a coup against her.

 

Successive governments chose not to repeal the FCRA though they demolished several other measures she had installed during the Emergency. The 1977 elections that threw her out and brought the first Janata party into power, with Morarjee Desai as Prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee as foreign minister, George Fernandes as Industry minister and Lal Krishna Advani as Information and Broadcasting minister, retained it. Charan Singh and Rajiv Gandhi, in their premierships, also retained the law, as did Rajiv’s cabinet colleague turned foe, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, socialist “Young Turk” Chandrashekhar, “poor farmer” Deve Gowda mild mannered “punjabiyat” ambassador Inder Kumar Gujral when it came their turn to rule. Each found some reason to stick with the FCRA despite a sustained outcry by civil society and developmental NGOs who saw in it nothing but memories of a tyrannical and dictatorial period in India’s history.

 

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was arguably the worst ever in its record of misusing the FCRA provisions to curb dissent and throttle the voices of civil society. Their home minister, “Iron man” Lal Krishna Advani   added innuendo to the normal rhetoric, repeatedly insinuating that Christian organisations were receiving massive funds for conversions, and Muslims were getting money for setting up madrasas to teach terrorism. Ministers from Mr. Advani downwards hinted they had direct evidence of all this, but each one of the worthies has shied away from the open demand by human rights groups and Christian organisations that the government come up with the proof. Dr. Manmohan Singh in his time made the FCRA provisions even harsher.

 

If honest investigations were to be done, many things would be clear. Terrorists, Muslims, Sikhs, Maoists or Hindus, or other insurrectionist groups, do not get their money from banking channels that the FCRA imposes. They get their money through Hawala or the underground drug, gun-running and the human trafficking rackets use.

 

In fact, FCRA has hurt innocent NGOs and well-meaning social workers. It has led to the fattening of crooked chartered accountants and consultants who specialize in expediting FCRA clearances, obviously in league with corrupt officials and politicians. It has also led to corruption among some sectors of civil society.

 

Experts have pointed out that if government has any concerns that the there is inadequate compliance with reporting the cure lies in strengthening overseeing bodies like the charities commissioner and the registrars of societies rather than penalizing a whole sector and creating ever more procedures which will only burden these bodies more.

 

But in real terms, there is no place for such a law in a democracy. Laws such as FEMA – the Foreign Exchange Management Act – for the corporate sector and other statutory provisions not only take care of all concerns but prevent the isolation and targetting of the apolitical social sector, of which the Christian church is such an important part. FCRA will always mean a knuckle-duster, if not a bludgeon, in the hands of a hostile and coercive regime, or a crooked official.

 

Expectations from the Narendra Modi Government 2014 — An agenda beyond development

To make a country without fear

 

John Dayal

 

A lynching in the country is not a good backdrop for a new government to begin the serious work of good governance that was promised in the winning election 2014 manifesto. Nor is it a good omen as a new Lok Sabha begins its inaugural session of a five-year tenure that perhaps will be less stormy and contentious than the one preceding it, its peace assured by the overwhelming majority of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The numbers leave little space for dissent, even if the emasculated and truncated Opposition to the initiative to raise issues that the Treasury benches and the government collectively think of as contentious. The riotous assemblies of the past on issues such as Telengana, the Women’s Reservation Bill, the Prevention of Communal Violence Bill, albeit very briefly, and even the Tamil issue will arguably remain just in the memories of the media and the TV-watching public.

 

Long before the general elections, the re-structuring of the Bharatiya Janata Party had given an indication of the vision for the future, with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and Mr. Narendra Modi together micro-managing the nation-wide choice of the candidates, with the cadres deployed all the way down to the electorate at the level of individual booths. There were close to a million polling stations, so that should a fair indication of the scale of the exercise and the numbers of cadres involved, working with other BJP supporters, and surely with excellent lines of information, command and control.

 

The long election campaign was vicious and unsparing, bruising, divisive and coercive, even threatening in a manner never seen before. The sophisticated social media, presumably manned by “modern” and educated young men and women, many of them living in the United States of America, often crossed the lines of legality, while their trolls operated essentially on the wrong side of the Information Technology legislation. Political leaders and activists, among them many who are now in the Union Council of Ministers, pandered to the lowest common denominator in an effort, so very successful in retrospect, to consolidate the majority communities. The electoral rout of the so-called secular parties and those representing the marginalised and the subaltern groups indicates how wide the communal chasm had grown in the last one year, peaking in Muzaffarnagar, with that infamous pogrom in turn fuelling the separation of peoples. It is a matter of speculation as to how long it will take for wounds to heal and suspicion to fade away. That, of course, would also depend on how long it will take for the defeated political parties and groups to recover, regroup and rebuild themselves into potent political entities. And that, in turn, would depend on whether the vanquished have learnt lessons from the battle. That, some say, seems a tall order.

 

The all-conquering Mr. Narendra Modi, the new prime minister has taken early and dramatic steps in an effort to prove that he is his own man, with a visible bow to his alma mater, the Sangh. The core group of his Cabinet is men and women fiercely loyal to him, even as the bulk of the lesser portfolios are filled by Sangh nominees, including a man who is an accused in the Muzaffarnagar violence, and representatives of the allies in the National Democratic alliance. The minorities, Dalits and Tribals have token representation. He has accommodated one competitor, the redoubtable Mrs. Shushma Swaraj, but has kept out patriarchs Mr. Lal Krishna Advani and Mr. Murli Manohar Joshi.

 

His swearing-in sought to mute fears of a hawkish image by an invitation to the heads of government of the countries of the neighbourhood, including the prime minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif even though some of his senior party colleagues, including former BJP president Mr. Nitin Gadkari, had all but declared that India reserved the nuclear option if Islamabad provoked the country. Every neighbour obliged. His inaugural address as Prime minister spoke of development and inclusiveness. The oath taking ceremony further spelled out the economic agenda, so to speak, in the major presence of India Inc., led by the Ambani family, fellow Gujaratis, as well as the more controversial Mr. Adani, and many more. And while perhaps the promise of inclusiveness was reflected in a number of Bohra leaders, and some other Muslim religious heads, also Protestant Christian Bishops and pastors, this was rather offset by the entire Sangh hierarchy present on the front seats at the Rashtrapati Bhawan ceremony. The man not present was Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh head, Mr. Mohan Bhagwat. The Organiser, the official mouthpiece of the Sangh recorded that those present included religious leaders Sri Sri Ravishankar, Jagadguru Ramanandacharya, Swami Ramandrachrya as well as Mr. Rameshbhai Ojha, Acharya Balkrishna, Mr. Bhaiyujji Maharaj, Sadhvi Rithambhra and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Mr. Ashok Singhal.

 

And perhaps therein lies the fear that extreme religious elements may see in the BJP-Modi landslide – that it was on a 31 per cent of the vote is largely irrelevant in the popular discourse – an opportunity for themselves, if not a licence.

 

The French political scientist, Prof. Christophe Jaffrelot who has written several books on the rise of the saffron brotherhood, noted “Except in Uttar Pradesh, where polarisation was the repertoire Mr. Amit Shah [the BJP campaign manager] orchestrated for delivering votes in a key state, Mr. Modi projected a rather soft Hindutva-based discourse this time. Whether this style will continue to prevail will largely depend on how his government will succeed in delivering economic growth. If he can quickly achieve positive results on the economic front and revive growth and create jobs, and can thus remain popular – the economy is definitely his top priority – then the development plank will be sufficient for him. If, however, he is not successful on the economic front, there will be strong criticism not just amongst the liberals but in his own camp. He may then resort to the Hindutva-based polarisation strategy.”

 

Delivering on the economy is not one man’s job, or even of one government. In his election rhetoric, Mr. Modi spoke of development, but never spelt it out in detail. It remained a phrase, a matter of interpretation. The United Progressive Alliance government of economist Dr. Manmohan Singh was accused of policy paralysis. Mr. Modi has done away with collective decision making mechanism thought of by his predecessor, including such holy cows as Groups of Ministers, and Empowered Group of Ministers [which by the way were instruments that led to the creation of Telengana]. Mr. Modi made it clear that it would be he, and not his cabinet colleagues, who would take policy decisions, leaving them the job of the day-to-day running of ministries whose numbers would also be reduced in time through the clubbing of several departments. He appointed a Principal Secretary using a Presidential Ordinance to overcome some legal barriers. He met with the heads of all the departments, Secretaries to the Government, and told the bureaucrats they had a direct access to him on the mobile phone to get the work done. Mr. Modi would indeed be the Chief Executive Officer of the new dispensation.

 

But India now lives in a globalised economic world and everything from Foreign Direct Investment to join ventures needs willing partners in the US and Europe even as they struggle in their own economic doldrums. The balancing of internal development, infrastructure projects and the vexatious issue of transferring land and forests to industries for exploitation and use remains a political landmine that can turn quite few friends into enemies, and provoke mass unrest in sensitive regions.

 

Thought inevitably turns to Prof. Jeffrelot’s common-sense premonition. In a very short time, there have been voices from within the council of ministers and the larger political family that the election verdict is for implementing the most confrontationist subjects on the agenda. Within a day of taking oath, a junior minister in the Prime Minister’s office spoke of reopening the issue of abrogating Article 370, which is critical to the state of Jammu and Kashmir’s ascension to the Union of India. The minister said talks had begun with stakeholders, provoking an ominous statement from the state Chief Minister that “long after this government is memory, either Article 370 will remain, or Jammu and Kashmir will not remain in India”. The political spectrum of the valley of Kashmir came together on the point, and Dr. Karan Singh, the last Maharajah’s son and himself the last Sadr-e-Riyasat, in a rare statement advised caution on an issue that had international as well national implications.

 

As if that were not enough, there has been a very visible attempt to raise the national temperature by immediately bringing up the issue of a Uniform Civil Code, which is seen as thinly veiled attempt against Muslim personal law. Other religious communities too have in the past vigorously opposed such a move unless there is a universal code which a citizen can voluntarily adopt, much as he Special Marriages Act. This has been a pet project of the Sangh Parivar, which sees the Muslim community as the font of a demographic conspiracy to overwhelm India. Its most obscene representation was in the slogan “Ham Panch, Hamare Pachhis”, suggesting that a Muslim man and his four wives would produce twenty-five offspring to upset the religious population balance in India. In actual fact, polygamy is the Muslim community is perhaps no higher than the hidden polygamy in some other communities.

 

The second pet project, “Indianising Indian education” was tried out in NDA-I under the venerable Mr. Tal Behari Vajpayee as Prime Minister and the learned Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi as minister for Human Resource Development. Much of the strategy revolves around changes in the curricula, in the text and ancillary books and in pedagogy. The Madhya Pradesh government’s Surya namashkar and efforts to make Yoga compulsory in schools is but a dramatic sign of it.

 

The tens of thousands of Ekal Vidyalayas and Shishu Mandirs run by the Sangh, often in remote villages, practice this education system. Their target is to have one such school, mostly a single-teacher institution, every one of the 6,38,000 villages in India. They are far away from the target, but they plan to get there. Even in their present numbers, such schools outstrip the total number of Christian schools and Islamic madrasas in the country, though official figures are not available.

 

The new HRD cabinet Minister, Mrs. Smriti Zubin Irani, mired in an unseemly controversy about her undergraduate status, has nonetheless announced that the education system would have to look into Indian culture for inspiration. Her fans in academia have seen this as the go ahead for purging textual material and curricula of things seen as Nehruvian, western, or for that matter, Islamic. Several leaders, and smaller fries including those who lead moral policing groups, want a drastic overhaul, restructuring the entire secondary school system. These perhaps are explained as the over-enthusiasm of a euphoric group.

 

All these are issues pertaining to the system, and will require major administrative and legislative action. They can also not be done in a day, or even by the next academic session howsoever hard Mrs. Irani, and those pushing her, may try. Despite the crushing majority in the Lok Sabha, Mr. Modi may also not try major amendments to the Constitution. The fierce independence exercised by the leaders of ruling groups in Tamil Nadu, Orissa and West Bengal, as well as insufficient numbers in the Upper House, the Rajya Sabha, are current bulwarks against such adventure. But that is not to say Mr. Modi and his government may not launch another Constitution Review Committee on the pattern of the Justice Venkatacheliah-chaired National Commission to review the working of the Constitution was set by NDA Government of India led by Vajpayee on 22 February 2000 for suggesting possible amendments to the Constitution of India. They have the mandate of numbers to do this, though one would like to hope Mr. Modi will not exercise this option.

 

What concerns the common people, specially members of religious minority communities as well as Dalits and Tribals, are matters of security, issue of their self respect, welfare, economic development, identity, and of course the protection of the law. They also want safeguards against the excesses of the law, and of the law-keepers.

 

The UPA government led by the Congress was not innocent in this. In fact, it was very guilty. There was large-scale community profiling. The government could not deliver on safety and security. It waffled on bringing forth Equal Opportunity Commission laws. It betrayed the minorities by almost deliberately and cynically ensuring that the Prevention of Communal and Targetted Violence Act was never passed by Parliament. Its Home Minister of the time, Mr. P C Chidambaram must take much if the blame. The blackest mark against the UPA on this score was the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which was used to arrest, humiliate, torture and incarcerate a large number of Muslim young men, as also those of the Christian and Sikh communities, if in much less numbers. And the Congress government could not either tame or contain extremist political elements spewing hate and indulging in violence.

 

The world is watching if the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, can rise to the occasion and contain these forces that so intimidate society with their violence, their moral policing and their efforts, so successful in the short run, to bridle the freedom of speech. Collectively, the result is great tragedy, and further dividing of people.

Mr. Modi will have to ensure that the death of a 28-year-old Information Technology professional in Pune, Mr. Mohsen Sadiq Shaikh, will be the last such incident of intolerance, psychotic hysteria and brutal violence during his term in office. The police say Mr. Shaikh was waylaid and bludgeoned to death in the wake of a morphed image the late Shiv Sena patriarch Mr. Bal Thackeray and Maratha icon Chhatrapati Shivaji on Facebook. Mr. Shaikh sported a beard and wore a skullcap, easily identifying him as a Muslim. That he was entirely innocent did not matter. That he was a Muslim, did. He paid for his identity with his life. His alleged killers, belonging to the Hindu Rashtra Sena, exchanged an ominous message on their mobiles: ‘Pahili wicket padli’, The first wicket has fallen, according to Pune joint commissioner of police, Mr. Sanjay Kumar. Considering the content of the message exchanged by the accused and the weapons they were carrying, the police are probing whether the attack was planned in advance. The city was under curfew for several hours.

This ideology surely cannot be allowed to propagate, or continue. The law must, of course, take its course. But it is for the government now in power in New Delhi to send out strong messages of comfort and reassurance to a traumatised people who otherwise may fear the worst. There can be no licence allowed to self-styled moral and cultural police groups. Mr. Modi and his party, the BJP, will have to show in word and deed that they are genuinely inclusive, and that every Indian citizen, whichever religious, cultural or ethnic group he or she may belong to, enjoys the Constitutional right of life and liberty and the freedom of faith in full measure. The law and justice system will, it is to be hoped, ensure this, with the backing of the political dispensation in power. Mr. Modi will have to see that such groups do not hold the government hostage, even if they think they helped it come to power.

Development alone, however visible it may become under Mr. Modi, will have little meaning for a people who are otherwise living in fear of any sort.

 

 

 

 

The Narendra Modi Cabinet

Modi stamp on government, but the Sangh Parivar too has its say

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

Strengthened with the massive popular mandate he got in the Indian General elections 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Damodarbhai Modi has structured a federal Council of Ministers consisting of personal loyalists, and a few others nominated by allied parties and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, which had played such a stellar role in propelling him to power. Subsequent presidential notifications make it abundantly clear that while the ministers have vast powers, all policy decisions will be taken by Mr. Modi himself, a rather unusual assertion in India where the Prime Minister is famously said to be the first among equals. It is not seen as a concentration of power in one man’s hands, but a way to ensure that the government fulfills Mr. Modi’s promise of ”minimum government, maximum governance”, a catchy phrase never really spelt out in the acrimonious election campaign.

 

He also stunned his critics by taking a bold step by inviting the heads of government of India’s neighbouring countries in South Asia – including fellow nuclear weapon state of Pakistan – to his oath-taking ceremony in New Delhi’s presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhawan. Every single state, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Mauritius, the last not a neighbor but with a very large Indian and Hindu population, sent either its President, prime minister or a ranking representative. This was a gathering not seen outside the annual general meetings of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation, SAARC. If Mr. Nawaz Sharif dared his politically active military to make the symbolic visit, Sri Lanka’s president, Mr. Mahinda Rajpaksha, faced vocal opposition at home and in India’s state of Tamil Nadu, who remember the genocide of the Tamils in the Island’s recent civil war.

 

Though the dialogues between Mr. Modi and the two leaders were brief and to some extent formal and ceremonial, they were important. In Sri Lanka, India retains an important leverage with the Sinhala-majority government to guarantee human rights and to expedite national reconciliation. Pakistan is a much more complicated issue. Both countries have large nuclear arsenals. They also have a plethora of issues that fuel a hostile confrontation that sees frequent gun battles across the border, and a war-mongering rhetoric by hyper national political groups on both sides. Pakistan and India have had four major wars – one of which led to the creation of Bangladesh.

 

The 68-year-old face-off over Kashmir remains a constant possible flash-point. Pakistan invaded Kashmir, a former independent Muslim-majority state in British India ruled by a Hindu Maharaja, which joined the Indian union when the country was partitioned into two nations on the basis of relgion in 1947. The new-born Pakistan captured a large chunk of the state, and now controls it as Azad Kashmir. The part that remains with India, is plagued by a separatist movement and violence by terrorists operating out of camps in Pakistan. This has led to the mass migration of Hindu Kashmiris to New Delhi and Jammu. Partition, as much as Kashmir, have played a big role in souring relationship between India’s two major religious communities.

 

Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif have promised to take the dialogue further, and it would seem that both leaders, who have each won popular electoral mandates, may perhaps be able to do so if nit hampered by domestic issues. The Congress government which recently ceded power never could dare take such initiative, ironically, for fear of the Hindu right wing political groupings led by Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party and its parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.

 

Mr. Modi’s success would, however, depend on how he assuages Hindu feelings and how he manages to convince the Sangh, which thrives on militant postures against Pakistan and demands tough action on popular ferment in the Muslim majority Kashmir valley.

 

An early warning that this may not be very easy came, in fact, the day after the new government took office.

 

The junior minister in the Prime Ministers Office, Mr. Jitendra Singh, a Sangh activist, called for a debate on Article 370 of the Constitution, which gives a special status to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact the state had joined the Union of India on condition that it would get special status, which included autonomy on most issues of governance barring defence, currency and internal security. Outsiders cannot buy land in Kashmir, and most jobs are reserved for local people. The BJP and the RSS have for decades demanded the scrapping of this special status, alleging it encourages local Muslim populations to seek independence. The BJP manifesto highlighted the promise if scrapping Article 370. [Constitutional experts believe that this law cannot be repealed at all. It also to some measure acts as deterrence to any major meddling in the valley by Pakistan.]

The minister’s statement drew an instant and angry protest from Indian civil society, the opposition Congress party and all political groups in Kashmir, including the state’s chief minister, Mr. Omar Abdullah, in a rather ominous statement on television said “Long after the Modi government is a distant memory, either Jammu and Kashmir will not be a part of India, or Article 370 will exist. This article is the only constitutional link between Kashmir and India.”

 

The minister’s statement was on camera, but he maintained he was misquoted. There was no attempt by the Prime Minister to contradict Mr. Jitendra Singh. This strengthens conjecture that the minister’s statement may well have been a trial balloon by the government and the party to see how far they could go in implementing the election promise to the country’s Hindu majority.

 

For Mr. Modi, this poses a major political dilemma. His credibility with the masses, who took him at his word that he would bring in good governance and development, depends on early reforms, a tweaking of the administration and checking the sort of corruption that exists at eh grassroots. International approval is also of essence for Mr. Modi, who was denied a visa by the United States for ten years because of his alleged involvement in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat state of which he was then chief minister. His building on the south Asian peace initiative he has begun, could give him the stature of a statesman that he craves. He may overcome the 2002 taint if he can keep at bay the fundamentalist Hindu chauvinist elements who think the sweeping election victory is a charter to implement their Hindutva agenda which would reduce India’s religious minorities, totaling perhaps 200 million, to second grade citizens.

 

The Aryan Ruler?

India celebrates democracy, with hope and with some trepidation

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

India’s billion and a quarter people celebrated democracy with hope, and some anxiety, on the morning of 16th May 2014, as results from the electronic voting machines showed an absolute majority for the Bharatiya Janata Party and its National Democratic alliance led by Mr. Narendra Modi, and the rout of the Congress ruled by the mother son duo of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi.

 

Mr. Modi will take oath of office as Prime Minister next week, succeeding the phlegmatic Dr. Manmohan Singh who led India into a globalized economy, passed several pro-poor landmark legislations including the right to food, but floundered on the incompetence of his party and the corruption of his government.

 

For India’s 200 million religious minorities, including some 27 million Christians – Mr. Modi’s stunning victory brings with it some dangerous baggage. This is the stranglehold that the extremist Hindu group called the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh has on the new ruling party. Will Mr. Modi, who is proud of his career in the Sangh, allow the Sangh to dictate policy remains to be seen.

 

An early analysis of the election results shows the Muslims are still far away from the Bharatiya Janata Party and Mr. Modi. The Christians have voted in different manners. The traditional old people have voted for the Congress, many youth and others have voted for AAP, the Aam Admi Party that in two avatars launched the national campaign against the corruption in the Congress government. Some young people have voted for the BJP, supporting the slogan for change. There has therefore been a division of vote. The Dalit Christians were very annoyed with the Congress, which betrayed them by denying them their Scheduled Caste rights for ten years. They may therefore have voted for other parties, especially in Tamil Nadu where Chief Minister Dr. J. Jayalalitha supported their rights. But there is realization in the community that at the end of the day, they seem to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. “We respect democracy and the voice of the people. We accept the results with grace and with optimism even. We will have to find out how we can tell the new government of our problems and our fears, and our expectations of a strong secularism, and hold it accountable for its misdeeds whenever it falters in giving us our security and our freedom of faith”, the All India Christian Council said in its first statement.

 

 

The pronouncements of Mr. Modi’s associates in the party and the Sangh have not been very reassuring. On the eve of the declaration of results, powerful leaders of the Sangh set the agenda for the new government – it must work to do away with Article 370 of the Constitution, which gives a special status in the federal polity to the state of Jammu and Kashmir which ahs a large Muslim population, which is now fife with anti-India sentiments. They also want such other things as a Lord Rama Temple at a contentious site in the city of Ajodhya, and the enactment of a Common Civil Code, seen as targetting Muslims who are now governed by Sharia personal codes. In the past, Chrisians too have been cold to a Uniform Civil Code, demanding instead a Unified Code that will incorporate the personal laws of all religious communities and will not be Hindu-centric.

 

The long-drawn out and acrimonious election campaign — occasionally violent with a reported 100 deaths which includes those killed in a clash between the Bodo tribals and Muslim Bengalis in Assam, and deaths in Maoist violence – did seem to polarize the country.

 

It is not just the religious minorities who look at the future with trepidation, going by Mr. Modi’s record in his home state of Gujarat where he has been ruling for more than two decades. It is not merely the majorianism of the winning group that is worrisome. Civil society, human rights activists and those on the Left of the centre in the political discourse are perhaps even more worried sat the autocratic and authoritarian style of governance that Mr. Modi has made his own in his years in office. As chief minister, he all but presided over the massacre of Muslims in 2002, and did his best to ensure that the victims were denied justice. Eventually he watched sourly as a cabinet minister, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to a life term in prison. There were a series of assassinations of innocent youth in police “encounters”, and custodial killings. Several police officers are now in jail for their role in this bloodshed. There is yet another issue, the penetration by Sangh ideology into India’s vast education system, something that happened when the BJP first came to government in 1998.

 

Mr. Modi’s electoral promise of “good governance” will therefore be examined with great care, and watched closely through the process of government formation and the early days in Parliament and budget making. The party has scoffed at the pro-poor legislations of the Congress in the last ten years. Mr. Modi’s proximity to the largest of India’s industrial and business corporations do indicate his economic policies will be designed to benefit the business and industrial sector with possible reduction in money flows to the social programmes. The markets have indeed responded very enthusiastically to Mr. Modi’s resounding victory, his party getting an absolute majority on its own and the National Democratic Alliance crossing the 300 mark with east, out of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament.

 

He has to reckon with a string of very strong provincial satraps who have defied the “Modi Wave” sweeping north and west of India, and have retained power in southern and eastern states. Their presence, though they will not be a part of the ruling alliance, will, it is hoped, be a modifying and salutary influence on the government. As a corollary, the very poor showing of the Dalit-based Bahujan Samaj Party disempowers the voice of India’s former untouchable castes who have, after 67 years of Independence – not yet been fully integrated into the mainstream.

 

India’s neighbours too, perhaps are anxious. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh have said they look forward to working with the new government – similar if not identical statements have been made in the Untied Kingdom, Europe and even in the USA which ahs denied Mr. Modi a visa all these years for his role in the 2002 pogrom against Muslims. Bangladesh is a much smaller country, but the BJP has always spoken against the migration of Bengali Muslims into India, accusing them of changing the demography of bordering states, specially Assam.

 

With the Pakistan, the issues are deeper. At one level is Pakistan’s support for Islamic extremists in India, and many terrorist organisations have their bases in that country. India also seeks nuclear supremacy over Pakistan, and in one controversial statement, a Modi aide said their government would end the “No first strike” principle that India has followed since it exploded its nuclear bomb in the government of BJP icon Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee a decade and a half ago. Saner voices in the BJP immediately disowned the remark, but it rankles. Pakistan also has a terrible record against Hindu and Christian minorities. More than 5,000 Hindu refugees cross over into India every year and are given shelter, if not citizenship, by the government in New Delhi. Mr. Modi’s minister for external affairs will have his or her task cut out to present a moderate, and peace loving non aggressive India which abhors sabre rattling and is committed to resolving sub continental issues through dialogue and bilateral negotiations.

 

Mr. Modi can be expected not to have major problems with the West, other than issues of human rights, that is, and such niggling matters as persecution of Christians. These were everyday happenings even during the Congress regime, therefore for activists of freedom of faith and human rights matters, it will just be a continuation of their struggle.

 

Mr. Modi with his dominant persona will face no hurdles in government formation and policy making, but will still have to go out of his way to mollify the many egos he has bruised in his race to the top. Among them are some very prominent leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party. How he accommodates them will be the first signal of his skills at taking people along with him. His election campaign, aided and abetted by a huge war chest and a galaxy of technocrats based in India, the US and the UK, made his social media and grassroots campaign a close approximation to a US Presidential race. It is time for him to come down to the Indian reality of a more gentle democracy where the poor have to be looked after even as Industry and business are given their head for growth.

 

Indu and Christian minorities. More than 5,000The

The Narendra Modi Victory

The weight of a tsunami victory

 

JOHN DAYAL

 

The victories and defeats of India Election 2014 were a foregone conclusion, but the magnitude, specially of the defeats, has confounded analysts and political pundits, and of course both the Bharatiya Janata party, which swept to power, and the Congress and other north Indian regional parties who collectively may not be able to number more than twenty. The 800 billion strong electorate has given the Bharatiya Janata Party and its National Democratic alliance led by Mr. Narendra Modi a tsunami victory, drubbing the Congress ruled by the mother son duo of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi, to a figure which is the lowest in its history.

 

The formal final tally was not announced by the Election Commission of India at the time of going to press, but unofficially the BJP had got 283 seats, a conformable majority in the 543 member Lok Sabha, the lower House of Parliament. With its allies in the National Democratic Alliance, the party garnered an unbelievable   337 seats, with the Congress coming a pitiful and distant second with 45 seats, the victories of Mrs. Gandhi and her son the saving grace in north and west India. The BJP swept the entire north, collecting 72 seats of the 80 in UP and 30 of the 40 in Bihar, apart from sweeping Maharashtra’s 45 seats, these three states propelling BJP leader Mr. Narendra Modi to the chair of the Prime Minister. In actual fact, Mrs. Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi were the only two seats the Congress won in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP of course retained almost every seat in its strongholds of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Mr. Modi’s winning margin in Ahmedabad, 5.70 lakh voters over his Congress rival, will be a world record.

 

While the three regional satraps, Mr. Naveen Pattnaik in Orissa, Ms. J Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu and Ms. Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal managed to hold their own in a display of strong regional loyalties, elections marked a failure of such regional groups as the Bahujan Samaj party, the Samajwadi party which rules the state of Uttar Pradesh, and the Janata Dal United. What this means to federalism in India, and does it augur a return to two party political discourse of the 1950s and 1960s, is a subject of study For the Congress, the only relief was in Kerala.. The rest of its tally came in ones and twos across the rest of the country.

 

Mr. Modi will take oath of office as Prime Minister next week, succeeding the phlegmatic Dr. Manmohan Singh who led India into a globalized economy, passed several pro-poor landmark legislations including the right to food, but floundered on the incompetence of his party and the corruption of his government.

 

Religious Minorities

 

For India’s 200 million religious minorities, including some 27 million Christians – Mr. Modi’s stunning victory brings with it some dangerous baggage. This is the stranglehold that the extremist Hindu group called the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh has on the new ruling party. Will Mr. Modi, who is proud of his career in the Sangh, allow the Sangh to dictate policy remains to be seen.

 

An early analysis of the election results shows the Muslims are still far away from the Bharatiya Janata Party and Mr. Modi. The Christians have voted in different manners. The traditional old people have voted for the Congress, many youth and others have voted for AAP, the Aam Admi Party that in two avatars launched the national campaign against the corruption in the Congress government. Some young people have voted for the BJP, supporting the slogan for change. There has therefore been a division of vote. The Dalit Christians were very annoyed with the Congress, which betrayed them by denying them their Scheduled Caste rights for ten years. They may therefore have voted for other parties, especially in Tamil Nadu where Chief Minister Dr. J. Jayalalitha supported their rights. But there is realization in the community that at the end of the day, they seem to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. “We respect democracy and the voice of the people. We accept the results with grace and with optimism even. We will have to find out how we can tell the new government of our problems and our fears, and our expectations of a strong secularism, and hold it accountable for its misdeeds whenever it falters in giving us our security and our freedom of faith”, the All India Christian Council said in its first statement.

 

 

The pronouncements of Mr. Modi’s associates in the party and the Sangh have not been very reassuring. On the eve of the declaration of results, powerful leaders of the Sangh set the agenda for the new government – it must work to do away with Article 370 of the Constitution, which gives a special status in the federal polity to the state of Jammu and Kashmir which ahs a large Muslim population, which is now fife with anti-India sentiments. They also want such other things as a Lord Rama Temple at a contentious site in the city of Ajodhya, and the enactment of a Common Civil Code, seen as targetting Muslims who are now governed by Sharia personal codes. In the past, Chrisians too have been cold to a Uniform Civil Code, demanding instead a Unified Code that will incorporate the personal laws of all religious communities and will not be Hindu-centric.

 

Election Campaign

 

Patently, many factors have led to the NDA landslide. Mr. Modi is just one of them, the face of it, with his persona and his promise to give a tough government to the country after their experience with the non-governance of Dr. Manmohan Singh. In fact, many would say the Congress is chiefly responsible for the BJP-NDA-Modi tsunami. After a passable first five years in United Progressive Alliance –I which stole a march over the NDA in 2004, Mr. Manmohan Singh frittered away every opportunity he had. He pandered to industry, but lost them when the global meltdown and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s insistence that he show some mercy to India’s poor, made him take some reluctant steps which India Incorporated did not like. Mrs. Gandhi made him bring such momentous legislation as the Right to Food and the Right to Education laws, apart from the Right to Information and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Programme which gave an assured 100 days of work to the teeming millions in India’s countryside. But his own communication skills, and those of his government, were so abysmally poor he never could communicate to the poor that his regime had done so much for them.

 

His worst sin, perhaps, was not being able to control corruption in his coalition government. He led the notorious leaders of the DMK of Mr. M Karunanidhi steal what they could in one scam after the other, and what they left out, there were others from his cabinet and party, willing to take home from coal minuses, forests and other natural resources. The stink rose to the high heavens, and though the culprits were caught by government agencies, the mud stuck to Mr. Singh and to his government, and the Congress party’s leadership.

 

The first blow against corruption was struck by retired army driver Hazare of Maharashtra, and taken up in earnest by former Income Tax officer Arvind Kejriwal who formed the Aam Admi party, AAP, and actually became chief minister of Delhi on an agenda of cleaning up the nation of graft. His party ahs now made its debut in Parliament, from Punjab where the corruption of the Akali Dal, controlling the state government, was at par with that of the Congress. The BJP took it up from there, its army of media managers and social media content engineers taking it to a fever pitch that swayed the young and the upwardly mobile middle classes. It is educational to remember that the killing edge of the BJP victories came from a ten per cent of more increase in the voting percentage, the people consistent of young first time voters in cities and small towns right through the country, but specially so in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

 

But the real reason for the landslide is the micromanagement of the entire election process by the Sangh Parivar, right from preparing the party for the task ahead, selecting its president and its prime ministerial candidate, hosing the election managers, specially in UP and Maharashtra, nominating the candidates, quelling internal rebellions and finally in a master stroke, converting the media hype and popular sentiment into actual votes. Every opposition candidate, every political party was scientifically targetted.

 

Much of the credit for this must also go to Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh headquartered in Nagpur. He saw early that the BJP till then dominated by Atal Behari Vajpayee, critically ill for some years now, and his comrade in arms Lal Krishna Advani was not equipped to tackle an election dominated by a younger India with issues of economy and governance. The party was also cleft with many internal quibbling’s, with leaders such as Sushma Swaraj, Advani himself, Raj Nath Singh, Narendra Modi and the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, pulling in diverse directions. What the party needed was a supreme leader, second only to Bhagwat, that is. The first step was to ensure that the BJP had a new president in Raj Nath Singh. The second, and critical step, was to effectively silence all the other leaders by choosing former Sangh pracharak and currently the very powerful chief minister of Gujarat, Mr. Narendra Modi, as the prime ministerial candidate. Everyone else was cowed into submission.

 

The choice of Mr. Modi also effectively poised him in contrast to the Congress leader, Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s seen as a novice and a namby pamby with no communication skills and his asset only being his mother’s son. In a campaign that quickly went viral, this was posited a san American presidential contest, man against man, two candidates from which the public would be asked to elect one. This caught the fancy of the young, and the twitterati and eventually catapulted Mr. Modi to the prime ministerial seat.

 

But equally powerful a propellant was the poisoning of the election campaign in a direct appeal to religious and community sentiments. The long-drawn out and acrimonious election campaign — occasionally violent with a reported 100 deaths which includes those killed in a clash between the Bodo tribals and Muslim Bengalis in Assam, and deaths in Maoist violence – did seem to polarize the country. The violence in Moradabad had sowed the seeds of this some months ago. It will take a long time for this poison to be leached out of the body politic.

 

 

The Reaction

 

It is not just the religious minorities who look at the future with trepidation, going by Mr. Modi’s record in his home state of Gujarat where he has been ruling for more than two decades. It is not merely the majorianism of the winning group that is worrisome. Civil society, human rights activists and those on the Left of the centre in the political discourse are perhaps even more worried sat the autocratic and authoritarian style of governance that Mr. Modi has made his own in his years in office. As chief minister, he all but presided over the massacre of Muslims in 2002, and did his best to ensure that the victims were denied justice. Eventually he watched sourly as a cabinet minister, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to a life term in prison. There were a series of assassinations of innocent youth in police “encounters”, and custodial killings. Several police officers are now in jail for their role in this bloodshed.

 

There is yet another issue, the penetration by Sangh ideology into India’s vast education system, something that happened when the BJP first came to government in 1998. So is the threat of saffronisation of state structures, including the police and the judiciary.

 

Mr. Modi’s electoral promise of “good governance” will therefore be examined with great care, and watched closely through the process of government formation and the early days in Parliament and budget making. The party has scoffed at the pro-poor legislations of the Congress in the last ten years. Mr. Modi’s proximity to the largest of India’s industrial and business corporations do indicate his economic policies will be designed to benefit the business and industrial sector with possible reduction in money flows to the social programmes. The markets have indeed responded very enthusiastically to Mr. Modi’s resounding victory, his party getting an absolute majority on its own and the National Democratic Alliance crossing the 300 mark with east, out of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament.

 

India’s neighbours too, perhaps are anxious. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh have said they look forward to working with the new government – similar if not identical statements have been made in the Untied Kingdom, Europe and even in the USA which ahs denied Mr. Modi a visa all these years for his role in the 2002 pogrom against Muslims. Bangladesh is a much smaller country, but the BJP has always spoken against the migration of Bengali Muslims into India, accusing them of changing the demography of bordering states, specially Assam.

 

With the Pakistan, the issues are deeper. At one level is Pakistan’s support for Islamic extremists in India, and many terrorist organisations have their bases in that country. India also seeks nuclear supremacy over Pakistan, and in one controversial statement, a Modi aide said their government would end the “No first strike” principle that India has followed since it exploded its nuclear bomb in the government of BJP icon Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee a decade and a half ago. Saner voices in the BJP immediately disowned the remark, but it rankles. Pakistan also has a terrible record against Hindu and Christian minorities. More than 5,000 Hindu refugees cross over into India every year and are given shelter, if not citizenship, by the government in New Delhi. Mr. Modi’s minister for external affairs will have his or her task cut out to present a moderate, and peace loving non-aggressive India which abhors sabre rattling and is committed to resolving sub continental issues through dialogue and bilateral negotiations.

 

Mr. Modi can be expected not to have major problems with the West, other than issues of human rights, that is, and such niggling matters as persecution of Christians. These were everyday happenings even during the Congress regime, therefore for activists of freedom of faith and human rights matters, it will just be a continuation of their struggle.

 

Mr. Modi with his dominant persona will face no hurdles in government formation and policy making, but will still have to go out of his way to mollify the many egos he has bruised in his race to the top. Among them are some very prominent leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party. How he accommodates them will be the first signal of his skills at taking people along with him. He has also promised to take the truncated Opposition with him in crucial decisions. His election campaign, aided and abetted by a huge war chest and a galaxy of technocrats based in India, the US and the UK, made his social media and grassroots campaign a close approximation to a US Presidential race. It is time for him to come down to the Indian reality of a more gentle democracy where the poor have to be looked after even as Industry and business are given their head for growth.

 

Mother Teresa canonisation delayed

Early sainthood for Mother Teresa, Please!

 

John Dayal

 

The recent twin canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II have raised hopes in the faithful in India that Pope Francis will consider an early declaration of sainthood for some of the six Indian church greats, including Mother Teresa and Joseph Vaz, who are now in the category of the Blessed.

 

No one cavils the speeded up processes for the two Holy fathers whose historic work for the church, and in world affairs, merits them the position of saints, to be honoured and revered, their intercession sought in our prayers. Both are dearly loved in India. John XXIII’s empowerment for the laity, his concern for the peoples of the third world – the developing countries – and in many ways ending the western ethos of the Catholic church and making it truly universal in liturgy are signal contributions which have been noted by both clerical and lay faithful scholars and community leaders.

 

John Paul II is in a different category altogether. Almost everyone in India remembers him, not just Catholics or faithful of other Christian denominations, but persons of other faiths. He visited India twice, going to all corners of the country, far away from the usual visits that others make to just New Delhi or Mumbai. John Paul II celebrated mass in such public places as the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, and interacted with a wide cross section of the population, among them leaders of various political groups and sages of other faiths, many of who shared the stage with him. For the political groups, he was one of the main personalities instrumental in the fall of the Iron Curtain, and for bringing democracy to a very large part of eastern Europe which was till then in the thrall of the Soviet Union. In doing so, he personified man’s yearning for freedom, and strengthened the universal struggle for freedom of faith. For the ordinary Catholics, he was already a saintly figure even when he was alive, and they knew he would be formally canonized in a short time.

 

Some memorable photographs very dear to the Indian heart show Pope John Paul II with Mother Teresa, affectionately holding her gnarled hands in his own, engaged in animated conversation, the tiny figure of the Mother in her blue bordered sari a contrast to his sportsman-like figure which was even then defying age and perhaps the early signs of his illness.

 

The Mother has been beatified, and in fact, I worship at the Blessed Teresa Parish church in East New Delhi. There are already several other Teresa Parishes in the country, a sign of the love they repose in her.

 

But more than emotions, there are other reasons why it is hoped that Pope Francis will perhaps even waive a few conditions and ensure that Teresa is canonized at an early date. Kerala does have a Saint, Sr. Alfonso, and the other three St Francis Xavier, Gonsolo Garcia and John de Brito were also from the western coast, working in the south India-Sri Lanka region. Not any in the vast reaches of North India know of them. Many would therefore say that after Saint Thomas the Apostle, the Patron Saint of India, Mother Teresa is the first candidate for sainthood who is known in every corner of India, and by everyone. Her canonization would have far reaching impact on not just the Catholic community, but on evangelisation among the peoples.

 

 

Remembering Mukul Sinha

A Mentor and a Legend: Remembering Mukul Sinha of Gujarat
JOHN DAYAL

Mukul Sinha, and his work, will haunt Narendra Modi in whichever office he holds after 16th May 2014.

Mukul Sinha lost his battle with cancer the day the 24×7 TV news channels were struggling to make their projections for the National Democratic Alliance led by tis prime ministerial hopeful, Narendra Modi, to cross the 250 mark, short of the sweep they had been screaming bout for the past three months.

From his bed, and just days before he breathed his last, Dr. Mukul Sinha, our friend the intrepid scientist turned lawyer of Ahmedabad, had tweeted, “Narendra Modi through the website ‘GujaratRiots’ is trying to mislead the nation by providing distorted account of Police Action and much more. [Our forum] ‘TruthOfGujarat’ therefore finds it necessary to go into details to disabuse the wrong perception being created by the saffron brotherhood to justify violence that was nothing but an organized pogrom against the Muslims.”

That is the sort of persistence and meticulously documented chase that Mukul Sinha had given the Gujarat Chief minister after the anti Muslim violence of 2002, and the false encounters in which several muslim youth and murders were murdered by his police in cold blood.

I had known Mukul earlier, but it was in the wake of the 2002 riots that we became acquainted with his professional brilliance and humanity, his indefatigable energy and his compassion for the poor and the week. It was for these qualities that we came to him in the wake of the 2008 anti Christian violence in Kandhamal, Orissa, where though the number of dead was less than in Gujarat, the scale of violence, displacement and arson was comparable. As my colleague, the award winning human rights activist Fr Ajay Singh remembers of one of our meetings in Mukul’s house, “He said there is no shortcut to justice. There is no way, but only the way of truth and painstaking efforts. If we are to able secure justice in mass violence, we have to be very selective and go after the case in detail. Any case built on systematic and scientific would only stand the scrutiny of the time. As he said, the choice is pretty stark—either you give in to the fear of reprisal and clam up or stand rock solid to fight for your beliefs. No matter what they throw at you.”

He himself was persistence, if nothing else. He forced the Justice Nanavati commission to examine the powerful chief minister of the state after the enquiry panel had repeatedly refused to summon the man. It was the same dogged pursuit of justice that got him to put on court records the trace of phone calls from the killers, police and ministers even as the riots were taking place in Ahmedabad and other areas in the wake of the burning of karsevaks in a train at Godhra station. The phone trace eld to the arrest of many, including Modi’s minister Maya Kodnani who was later sentenced to death, and is now serving a life term in prison. He filed a contempt petition against Modi in the Rs. 4,000 crore Fisheries scam for refusing prosecution of the state minister for fisheries, Purshottam Solanki.

But arguably, his most notable cases were the Ishrat Jahan case took up when Delhi activist-advocate Vrinda Grover who approached him with Ishrat’s mother in 2009, and the Sohrabuddin, Kausarbi and Sadiq Jamal killings. Mukul’s work eventually led to the arrest of Police officers D.G. Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian and Dinesh Kumar.

An alumni of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur with a PhD in Physics, Mukul set up a computer software firm in New Delhi with Jagat Sinha where many remember him for his sharp intellect and his ample generosity. He gave use of his technological facilities to aspiring engineers who could not afford their own. They remember Mukul as a scientist far ahead of his times.

He abandoned technology for a very successful career in law and public service, in which he was assisted by his wife Nirjhari.

Mukul was never afraid of a political spat, or a public challenge. He helped set up two now famous groups, the New Socialist Movement and the Jan Sangharsh Manch, working with the Gujarat Federation of Trade Unions. He contested the assembly elections in 207 and 2012, losing both times, but thoroughly exposing the hypocrisy and perfidy of both the Bharatiya janata party and the Congress, accusing the latter of playing it safe on the issue of the false encounters.

The victims of 2007 will miss his wise counsel and his daring court fights. Civil society will mourn an irreplaceable mentor.

Minority schools’ responsibility without RTE

Christian schools – the dilemma between rights and responsibilities

JOHN DAYAL

About a couple of decades ago, a judge of the Supreme Court of India in the course of a ruling on a case before him described schools run by minority religious groups, specially the Christian Church, as “crucibles of nation-building”.  The word were little salve to the India’s then five religious minorities – the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians – who have been locked in legal combat with the courts and the federal and provincial governments to safeguard the statutory rights the Indian Constitution gave them in 1950 to run educational institutions to preserve and nurture their culture.

In two judgements early this month [May 2014], a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court upheld these rights as inviolable which even the revolutionary Right to Education Act enacted by Parliament cannot encroach upon. This comes as a huge relief to the religious groups, and specially to the Christian community which runs thousands of schools and colleges in India, from some of the oldest and prestigious institutions patronized by the social elite in metropolises to tiny schools and hostels in remote forest villages for the young of the indigenous Tribals and Dalits, the people of the once untouchable castes.

But even as they revel in these reaffirmed safeguards of their statutory rights, the Christian Church, and the Catholic religious leadership in particular, finds itself under considerable moral and social pressure. It would have to see how it fulfills its responsibility to the country’s poor whose children are yearning for quality education to meet the challenges of the highly competitive aspirational milieu in an India of the twenty-first century.

The Right to Education Act, 2009, which became operative on 1 April 2010, provides for free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right. This brings to fruition the hopes of the founding fathers of the free Indian nation that every child has a right to full time elementary education of satisfactory and equitable quality in a formal school that satisfies certain essential norms and standards. To make it operational, the government decided that every school would have to reserve 25 per cent seats for the children of economically weaker section, and not charge them fees.

Although its medical and engineering graduates are now so visible in the United Kingdom, Europe and especially in the United States of America, India does not have a wholesome education system despite massive investments in the public educational sector over the last sixty years.

At one level are government schools, run both by the federal and the provincial administrations, which lack basic infrastructure, and, for the most, do not have even adequately trained teachers. Many schools have no blackboards and seating arrangements, almost all face a shortage of textual material. An index of the abysmal standards is the absence in many of them of toilet facilities for the children, specially their students. No wonder dropouts from school number in the tens of millions.

At the other extreme are schools run by the corporate sector, by big businessmen and professional groups that have chains or franchises of their high profile schools. The current craze is to set up “global schools”, or “international academies.” They are well beyond the reach of the poor, of course, but also of many in the lower echelons of the middle class. These schools have centrally air conditioned buildings, informational technology compliant class rooms and provisions to teach swimming in Olympic sized pools, horse riding, and sometimes, golf in their own hitting and putting greens.  The fees can run up to a million rupees a year.

Most Christian, and specially Catholic, schools do not have campus golf courses or horse stables, and they are not air conditioned, but still they firmly form part of the elite circle. They cater to sections of the social and political group –the power elite, so to say.

It is no wonder that the management of these schools run by commercial interests and the church, resent any interference by the government into their affairs, especially on such a critical issue as giving up a quarter of their revenue earning assets to the have-nots. They have therefore vigorously and some would say viciously, challenged the government on the Right to Education Act provisions for free education.  The Church has joined the corporate sector in this challenge.

The church has another grudge with the government. It has accused the government of a sustained effort to erode its statutory right to administer its institutions. There is much truth in this allegation. Governments cutting across ideologies and political hues have sought to interfere in the management of minority-run, especially Christian, educational institutions. In Kerala, the Church antagonism towards the Marxists is based not on any ideological principle but because the first elected communist government in the state wanted to run the church school managements. Other governments, including those of the New Delhi National Capital Territory, have wanted to appoint managers, or force the schools to take government permission before recruiting teachers. Church schools have had to go to the courts several times to keep governments off their collective backs.

The Right to Education Act was therefore a special red rag to school managements. And they fought it through till victory was achieved this month in the Supreme Court for them. The victory, of course was only for the parochial schools. But not for the corporate sector which will have to find the heart, and the seats, for the poor.

This is where the moral dilemma comes for the Church. Will it celebrate the Supreme Court verdict, or see it as an invitation to help the poor but without the coercion of the state. Church schools face many charges. Catholic parents in just about every one of the 170 dioceses charge that their children have been denied admission in these  schools while wards of the rich have been enrolled. The Dalit leader Udit Raj, before he joined the right wing Hindu nationalist political group, the Bharatiya Janata party, articulated the anger of the Dalits against church-run schools. On more than one occasion he told the church hierarchy “You have taught the children of the rich and the upper castes, and they have watched in silence as your community was attacked, your nuns raped, your churches burnt. If you had educated the children of the Dalits, they would have run to your rescue.”

Udit Raj exaggerates. Many of the church schools are indeed for the poor, the Tribals and the Dalits. But the visibility is of the elite and the Ivy league schools and colleges that the Church runs in New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore, which are out of reach for the common people.

The church would have to find in its conscience measures to reach out to embrace these children in these schools too. It retains its right to manage them as it will.  But this is its moral mandate in the preferential option for the poor it proclaims.

 

Church and the Indian General Elections

Politics and the Principal

JOHN DAYAL

As the newspaper headlines go in India, the Church has rattled the Bharatiya Janata Party, the right wing Hindu nationalist political party that that most commercial psephologists predict will sweep the general elections now underway in the country. This may be news to many, including in the church, as nation-wide, at 2.3 per cent of the population, Christians are not a significant factor in electoral politics, relevant only in some pockets of south and North East India, and the state of Goa on the west coast.

The Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] is used to a silent church and a supine Christian leadership. In Gujarat, the home state of the party’s prime ministerial candidate, Mr. Narendra Modi, the community has had the mortification of seeing some of its top leaders – the Catholic Bishops and a few others as being the honourable exceptions – pandering to Mr. Modi, and by default to his agenda. Christians are in a micro minority in Gujarat and do not matter in the elections other than in a seat in the tribal region of the Dangs, which had seen the burning of more than two dozen churches during Christmas 1998.

Even in Kerala, God’s own country, and home to an ancient Christianity, there have been Church leaders who have broken with the common weal and have expressed their admiration for Mr. Modi who is accused by Muslims and a significant number of Hindu groups of guilt in the massacre of Muslims in his state in 2002. Mr. Modi’s candidature, and the micromanagement of his party’s election campaign by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh [RSS], the hyper nationalist votary of a militant Hinduism, has deeply polarized the already pungent and hate-filled political debate

The immediate provocation for the BJP is an email sent to his students by Dr. Frazer Mascarenhas, the Jesuit Principal of Mumbai’s ivy league St. Xavier’s College. The college is perhaps one of the ten best educational institutions of higher learning in the country and has a hoary tradition of being a place where ideas, ideologies and social paradigms are discussed, and a platform offered to civil society movements to express their points of view. This is specially so since the massacres in Mumbai of Muslims in the fiery 1992-93 period, which saw the emergence of a popular discourse against the nexus of politics and relgion, and what in India is called communalism, a philosophy ranged against religious minorities, specially against Muslims.

In his email, Dr. Mascarenhas questioned the premise of t the so called “development model” of Gujarat which is the backbone of the BJP’s, and Mr. Modi’s, election platform. Mr. Modi has claimed his policies have brought investment and development to Gujarat, something that he would like to do for the country. Unexceptionable, one would say. But Opposition parties, development  theorists and civil society activists have challenged Mr. Modi’s claim. Gujarat still is close to the bottom in social indices, including child and women issues. Other states have done much better. Gujarat has also not been able to shed the stigma of the anti Muslim pogrom of 2002, and the ghettoization of Muslims in the state capital and elsewhere has earned Mr. Modi national opprobrium. It has also seen the United States deny him a visa to visit that country.

Dr. Mascarenhas said “the Human Development Index indicators and the cultural polarization of the population show that Gujarat has had a terrible experience in the last 10 years. He also pointed to the travails of Catholic institutions in Gujarat. He went on to quote Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s praise for national policies initiated by the federal government for the welfare of the poor, including a rural employment scheme, the Right to Education and Right to Food which have changed the development paradigm in India’s vast rural hinterland.  The principal did not name political parties, but he did exhort his students to choose wisely.

 

The BJP has lodged a formal complaint with the Election Commission, and party spokespersons have said the Principal – they chose to refer to him as a Catholic priest, and not as an academic – had violated the election code and had politicized the educational institution. Some others too have criticised Dr. Mascarenhas for either speaking out of term, or for not elaborating the sins of the Congress party to make his critique more even and balanced between the contending political parties.

Many more have however supported Dr. Mascarenhas, and in my view quite correctly. He certainly has not transgressed the election code. And while perhaps he could have also criticised the corruption in the Congress regime – not that the BJP ruled states have been free of corruption – he has been well within his right as a teacher to encourage students to debate the issues in the election before making their decision to vote.

The issue in Goa more sharply arraigns the BJP against the Church. Goa’s Christians constitute 27 per cent of its population and have a say in the election of two members to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. The church has possibly made a mess of its electoral intervention in the past. Its campaign against corruption, and silence on communalism, in a previous election saw the rout of the Congress government, which was undeniably corrupt. But also meant the coming into office of a BJP government led by Mr. Parrikar whose subsequent actions exposed him as favouring just his own community and party. Mr. Parrikar has since then sought to mollify the Christians, and has included some of Catholics in his cabinet. The state however is still mired in corruption, and a growing nexus between the mining sector and government.

In an official communication in recent weeks, Goa Archbishop Philip Neri issued a circular asking the people to pray for a secular government. The diocesan Council for Social Justice and Peace, lashed out at Mr. Modi for promoting a personality-oriented politics, and said communal and corporate elements had infiltrated India’s secular spirit.

There are questions that the church in India has to resolve as to the extent it will intervene in the election discourse, and the campaign process. There are no good precedents. India is not a secular democracy in the western sense. There is no constitutional separation between church and state because India does not have a state relgion though Hinduism, as the majority religion, impacts national popular culture and symbolism. The government formally maintains an “equi-distance” from all religions, but often falters in this promise. Even launching of navy warships are done in Hindu religious tradition.  The Hindu religious establishment is politically very active. Various religious groups have extended their support to the BJP and the candidature of Mr. Modi. Several seers, among them the Yoga Guru, Mr. Ram Dev, are campaigning aggressively for Mr. Modi.

The Muslim establishment is equally active. Various Muslim religious leaders have issued statements supporting or opposing political parties, many of them have campaigned personally, and some have sponsored candidate. Several Muslim political parties are also contesting the elections.  Victims of repeated incidents of religious violence, the Muslims fear the rise of communal politics and militant Hinduism, called Hindutva. Justifying their electoral involvement, and the intensity of their feels, they bemoan that the West does not see or understand the threat that Hindutva poses to India, and in fact to world peace.

The strengthening if secularism is important for the Church. And the threat of a militant Hindutva coming to power by default, is as much a threat to the Christian religious minority as it is to the Muslims, and to the greater idea of a secular India. But the Christian community, and the Church, perhaps is more vulnerable because of its demographic reality as a micro minority. This puts the leadership under great stress.

The way out perhaps is for the establishment to understand its role in this political matrix. I do not think the church should participate in electoral politics. This should be left to the lay faithful as citizens of the country with inherent rights and duties to be a part of the democratic process. Bishops and clergy have an important role as watchdogs, if not guardians, on issues of morality. Poverty is a moral issue. So is the dignity of the human person. This means that the church has a role in setting pace for a debate on development issues, on the rights of Dalits and Tribals, and the dignity of women, the secularity of the girl child, and the threat that nuclear build-up in the subcontinent poses to peace. But it should hold it peace when the election process has begun. They could surely exhort people to take part in the elections, and chose wisely. But election campaigns are for political parties, and for peoples groups, not for Bishops.