Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The Army has withdrawn from the state capital which leaves the field clear for the civil administration to de-notify Imphal Valley and other select areas as “non-disturbed”, thus rendering the Armed Forces Special Powers Act nugatory until and unless any new emergency arises. Sentiments matter.

Another Republic Day

Despite the pessimism and cynicism there is room for optimism as another year of the Republic rolls by.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 17 January, 2011

Another Republic Day brings with it the usual review of what has happened and hopes for the future. 2010 was a year of inflation, scams, judicial and media alarms, parliamentary paralysis, stone-pelting in Kashmir, standoff in West Bengal, trouble in Manipur, a brewing crisis over Telengana, and concerns over growth with environmental activism thrown in.

There was much pessimism and cynicism that evoked both anger and despair, especially over mounting corruption and the sense of immunity and impunity surrounding it. Yet events in Bihar provided relief and Assam and J&K, now, seem poised for a possible turn around.

With Arbinda Rajkhowa and other senior ULFA leaders coming in from the cold there is prospect of direct peace talks in Assam leading to a resolution of what has been a painful exercise in revolutionary futility. It was difficult to fathom ULFA’s real grievances and goals as this stern critic of illicit immigration sought refuge in Bangladesh and killed its own people, mostly innocents, in a fatuous demand for sovereignty. The prospects changed once the new Bangladesh determined to eject these brash intruders.

Rajkhowa has spoken of plans to establish a new party and contest the elections. He should be encouraged to do so and translate his dreams for a better Assam into reality through institutional processes, as Laldenga did in Mizoram. Simultaneously, one must hope the stalemate in Manipur will yield to reason. The Army has withdrawn from the state capital which leaves the field clear for the civil administration to de-notify Imphal Valley and other select areas as “non-disturbed”, thus rendering the Armed Forces Special Powers Act nugatory until and unless any new emergency arises. Sentiments matter.

Meanwhile, Mizoram has announced a bold new land use policy to wean away farmers from jhumming and take to settled farming through plantations, horticulture and food processing. The potential here is high and there would be ready markets in other parts of the country, besides Bangladesh. The modernization and upgradation of its farm sector could be the basis for uplifting the Northeast’s economy.

Elsewhere, stung by corruption all around it, a bruised Congress has announced a package of proposals that include a transparent procurement policy, limiting the discretionary powers of ministers; fast-tracking corruption charges against public servants, doing something about state funding of elections, cutting red tape that shields officials, and reviewing norms for CBI prosecution of officials. These partly beg the question. Why not simply abrogate the notorious “single directive” that mandates government permission to prosecute senior officials and ministers? Why not grant the CBI autonomy and an independent prosecution wing to initiate action automatically on finding cause for action? Why not institute a Lok Pal by ordinance? Why not “ratify” and incorporate into national law the potent UN Convention on Corruption which would help catch the Quattrochhis and Win Chaddhas of this world and help unearth those holding secret bank accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere? Making an example of a few influential wrongdoers would send out a strong message that dishonesty does not pay.

The Government’s lapses do not however justify the dangerous path the BJP and Left have chosen to travel by wrecking the parliamentary system. Nor does their folly extenuate the Opposition’s tit for tat in Karnataka. Caught on the back foot by the damaging Aseemanand confessions suggestive of its complicity in terror – charges yet to be proven – the BJP has irresponsibly started on a long march to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on January 26 to celebrate Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s demonstrative opposition to Article 370 and autonomy for J&K. The marchers had best be stopped before they cross into J&K and unleash avoidable mischief.

Yet things are changing in Kashmir after the long, hot summer of 2010. There have been some noteworthy developments. Six thousand Srinagar youth thronged a J&K Police recruitment centre last week to seek enrollment. They not merely seek jobs but apparently do not bear any deep hatred for the guardians of law and order, the separatists’ sworn enemy. Abdul Ghani Bhat, a moderate Hurriyat leader, publicly declared in Srinagar that the late Mir Waiz, Maulvi Farooq, the Hurriyat leader, Abdul Ghani Lone and many intellectuals had been brutally killed not by the State, as alleged, but “by our own people”. This is well known, but had been long mocked by silence and fear, the victims being celebrated by their murderers and mentors as “martyrs”. This is part of the Big Lie that some have propagated and others have been brainwashed into believing.

Now the Army Chief has unveiled another truth: that justice is sometimes a fugitive value in the Valley as those dispensing or assisting justice and due process are strongly biased against the Indian state or else live in fear should they move out of step. So there is an insistent clamour for all manner of inquiries that end up nowhere or are simply not allowed to proceed under due process as outcomes are pre-ordained or subverted. The alleged Shopian rape and murder of two siblings early last year is a case in point. The forensic refutation of the initial evidence was so devastating that the matter has been allowed to languish.

The Home Secretary has also hinted that the para-military forces in the counter-insurgency grid may be reduced if the situation improves. This is not a decision but a hint of the direction things can take if the separatists do not raise the ante. The Army has pulled out of Srinagar and most populated areas and removed several bunkers from the capital. The Centre is also considering issuing multiple entry visas for six months at a time for cross-LOC visits.

The J&K Interlocutors are doing a good job and have begun to draw out sections of the population, including regional players who have their own grievances. All this will help configure a road map over the next few months. Meanwhile, Salahuddin, the United Jihad Chief in Muzaffarabad, has spoken against the Hurriyat’s hartal policy last summer which he feels only brought grief. He has expressed willingness to participate in the peace process across borders if Delhi is “sincere”. This offer should not be lightly dismissed.

There is growing disillusionment in J&K about the future of Pakistan and its fundamentalist Islamic orientation. The Aasia Bibi blasphemy life sentence, the assassination of the Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer, who criticised it, and the fervour which the Governor’s assassin has been publicly lauded by the Mullahs, lawyers and Islamists has appalled democratic, liberal Pakistanis who see the country slipping away from reason to medieval barbarism. There is change in the air.

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