Wednesday, April 29, 2009

MINGORA/ISLAMABAD: Security forces backed by warplanes and helicopter gunships launched a new operation in Buner district near the Swat valley on Tuesday, bombing suspected Taliban hideouts in Kalil, Shera Turf, and Kandao areas.

Fighter aircraft also bombed Mushki Pur, a mountainous area of Mardan district bordering Buner.

“Today at 4pm, the Frontier Corps (FC) and military troops launched a joint operation against the militants in Buner,” Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Maj Gen Athar Abbas said at a press briefing in Islamabad. He said FC Inspector General Maj Gen Tariq Khan is commanding the operation.

Nearly 300 Taliban entered Buner from April 2 to 4 and began to terrorise the locals, in violation of the Swat deal, Gen Abbas said. “The government warned the militants but they refused to listen and staged only a symbolic withdrawal. They government was left with no option expect to use force,” he said.

According to several news agencies, he said it would take up to a week to clear an estimated 500 Taliban from Buner.

Surrender: Late on Tuesday, a private TV channel reported that the Pir Baba police station in Buner was under Taliban siege.

It said sixty policemen and troops were inside the police station. Unconfirmed reports said that three FC platoons and an SHO were disarmed and captured by Taliban in Buner, the channel added. ghulam farooq/ sajjad malik/agencies/daily times monitor

Monday, April 27, 2009

Election 2009: The Mood in West Bengal

CPM's Red Fortress Under Siege!
I have just returned to Delhi after travelling through West Bengal where I spent 10 days trying to get a sense of which way the political wind is blowing. Here are some reports that I filed for The Pioneer.

A wall painting in Howrah captures the mood in West Bengal
FRONT PAGE | Sunday, April 26, 2009 |

Left could go down to 22 seats in Bengal

Muslims, one in 3 voters, desert CPM

Kanchan Gupta | Kolkata

As people in West Bengal prepare to vote on April 30 in the first of three rounds of polling for the 15th Lok Sabha, the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Front faces what could turn out to be its worst-ever electoral performance.

According to conservative estimates cutting across party lines, the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance could notch up an impressive tally of 14 to 17 of the 42 seats in the State. If the popular mood prevailing from north to south Bengal is any indication, the Opposition could end up winning anything between 18 and 20 seats.

Whatever the final tally, there is mounting apprehension at Alimuddin Street, where the CPI(M)’s headquarters is located, that the Marxists will suffer a setback worse than that of 1984 when the Congress won 16 seats in the election that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

In that election, the Left suffered reverses in urban areas. This time, the losses are stacking up in rural constituencies. The projected losses are largely concentrated in south Bengal where the Trinamool Congress is running an aggressive campaign.

Little over a fortnight ago, the CPI(M)’s election strategists were horrified to find that the Left Front’s 2004 tally of 35 seats was at risk of being whittled down to 20 to 22 seats.

All hands were called to deck and a massive effort was launched to paper over differences within the CPI(M) and between the party and its allies in the Left Front. Simultaneously, zonal and local committees were asked to reach out to disgruntled party supporters who were toying with the idea of voting against the Left. Third, the counter-attack on the Trinamool Congress was sharpened, focusing on Mamata Banerjee's inability to come up with a positive agenda.

These steps appear to have had some impact in preventing the Left’s electoral fortunes from declining further. What has helped the CPI(M) recover some lost ground is the Trinamool’s over-emphasis on running a vitriolic campaign which includes large posters and banners that are graphically illustrated with gory visuals of charred bodies, allegedly victims of Marxist violence.

Two visuals that have been used repeatedly are those of Tapashi Mullick, who was raped and killed in Singur. The first visual shows an innocent faced teenaged girl. The second shows her half-burnt body. In a variation of this theme, some posters show four men pinning down Tapashi Mullick while a fifth man rapes her.

Such graphic depiction of violence has begun to put off people. Sensing the disquiet over the Opposition’s campaign, the CPI(M) has used all available space to publicise its ‘development agenda’ and how Mamata Banerjee is preventing the State from moving ahead. “We have a positive agenda. She is running a negative campaign,” says CPI(M) State secretary Biman Bose.

But nothing that the CPI(M) does or says at this stage will stop this poll from turning out to be the tipping point that has eluded the Opposition in West Bengal for three decades.

The push that will enable Banerjee to cross the hump which stands between victory and defeat will be provided by Bengal’s Muslims who are said to comprise 26% of the electorate but in reality could account for one in every three voters. Banerjee claims (since it suits her to do so) and most people believe (since they are

influenced by TV news) that Muslim alienation from the Marxists is on account of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s farmland-for-industry policy, which has been kept in limbo ever since the Singur disaster. But the real reason why Muslims have decided to disown the Marxists lies elsewhere.

Ironically, that reason is the revelation by the Sachar Committee, which was supported by the Left to spite the BJP, about how Muslims in West Bengal are far worse off than in any other State, including Narendra Modi’s Gujarat. Confronted with this reality, Bengal’s Muslims have begun to question the wisdom of supporting the Left.

The man who took the Sachar Committee’s revelation to the Muslim masses is Siddiqullah Chowdhury of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind. He has put up a dozen candidates in Muslim-dominated constituencies. But that could be a red herring, meant to divert attention as the community quietly consolidates behind Banerjee. And gives her the cutting edge she needs to defeat the CPI(M) in West Bengal.

FRONT PAGE | Friday, April 24, 2009 |

Biman says decision on Congress after results

Kanchan Gupta | Kolkata

The CPI(M) will take stock of the situation after the results are announced and accordingly decide whether to extend support to the Congress all over again. “At the moment we are focussed on winning as many seats as possible, along with our allies in the ‘Third Front’, so as to form a non-Congress, non-BJP Government at the Centre,” says Biman Bose, State secretary of the CPI(M) and chairman of the Left Front. The West Bengal party boss is also a member of the all-powerful Politburo.

“It is too early to talk about extending or not extending support to the Congress. Let us wait for the results. All the predictions that are being made (about the Left losing heavily) will not tally with the results,” Bose said in an exclusive interview to The Pioneer at the party headquarters on Alimuddin Street here, taking time off from his hectic schedule.

Defying popular sentiment which is palpably weighed against the Left, especially the CPI(M), more so in semi-urban and rural areas which were once considered ‘Red fortresses’, Bose says, “This is the impression created by a section of the media. There is an effort on to reduce Left seats by resorting to any and all means. Wait for the results. I don’t think the Left will lose many seats.” Implicit in the comment is the assessment that the Left will lose some seats.

He is dismissive about Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who has launched an all-out offensive against the CPI(M) and, by entering into an electoral alliance with the Congress, hopes that this election will prove to be the tipping point that has eluded West Bengal’s divided Opposition for three decades. “She is like a frog in the well. She cannot look beyond West Bengal. This is a parliamentary election in which people are supposed to elect a Government at the Centre. But she is running a campaign for panchayat elections,” Bose says.

As an afterthought, he adds, “Have you seen her election manifesto? There’s not a word about governing the nation. Her election theme, ‘Ma, Mati, Manush’, which she has borrowed from the title of a jatra (Bengali folk theatre), shows how limited her vision is. For us, it is Bharat Mata, the whole country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Cachar to Kutch. We have an agenda for national governance. She has nothing positive to say.”

Asked about the Government’s blunders, especially its handling of the sensitive land-for-industry issue and the protests in Nandigram and Singur, Bose is prompt in his response. “Yes, there may have been mistakes. But anybody who tries to do something, tries to change things the way they are, makes mistakes. If we had just sat around and done nothing, there would have been no mistakes. Wherever the people feel we have erred, I have been asking them with folded hands to forgive us. It is in Bengal’s culture to forgive those who admit their mistakes.”

The Left Front Government, he says, will continue to persist with its industrialisation policy as “there can be no progress without industry”. Will it go easy after its experience at Nandigram and Singur? “No, not at all. Minus industry West Bengal’s economy cannot develop.” He goes on to explain how products worth Rs 25,000 crore are sold in rural West Bengal alone. “Only a small fraction of these are produced in the State. We have a huge domestic market which can sustain industry,” he says, confident that the Nano’s exit will not affect investment.

The one issue on which Bose does not speak with equal enthusiasm is the Muslim vote, which, at 30 per cent (and that is a conservative estimate), has sustained the CPI(M) in election after election since it first came to power in 1977. This time, the Muslim voters are backing Mamata Banerjee; the Jamiat-i-Ulama Hind’s entry into the electoral arena with a dozen candidates in Muslim-dominated constituencies has further made the Muslim voting pattern unpredictable and unsure for the Marxists.

“I can’t say just now which way the Muslims will vote. But they are rational people and can decide for themselves which party is a better bet. Nobody can doubt the secular credentials of the Left Front as a whole,” he says. But that’s an answer which underscores the sense of uncertainty that prevails in the Left today. For all its brave words, the CPI(M)’s leaders know that the ground beneath their feet is beginning to shift. This election could come as the rudest shock to the Marxists in the past three decades, ruder than the setback they suffered in 1984.

| Thursday, April 23, 2009 |

Colourful past may haunt Mamata’s Kabir

Kanchan Gupta | Kolkata

He is a guitar-swinging wannabe Bob Dylan who took the Bengali music scene by storm in the early-1990s. He is a self-confessed agnostic who scoffs at faith in god and thinks it is an invention to divert attention from the reality around us. He believes “marriage is another form of bondage … a besetting sin” which he has committed more than once, tying the knot, by his own count, with five women. His concept of liberation focuses on “liberating the body”. He is a Bengali Brahmin from a conservative family who embraced Islam to marry a Bangladeshi singer. And, pushing 60, he is a pot-bellied ‘revolutionary’ who dresses in faded jeans and T-shirts, sports a stubble and shaves his balding head.

Meet Kabir Suman, the Trinamool Congress candidate for the prestigious Jadavpur parliamentary constituency in Kolkata. We catch up with him while he is campaigning in the lanes of Bagha Jatin, riding an open jeep with another fitted with blinding halogen lamps following him. The theme of what he says, every time he stops to address a motley crowd in the dark — there’s a power outage, the sweltering heat is oppressive — is pegged to the Trinamool slogan plastered all over Kolkata: “Krishak merey Tata prem; shame, shame CPM” (Peasant killer, Tata-lover, CPM Shame! Shame!).

Kabir Suman — no, you can’t call him either Kabir or Suman — recounts the horrors of Nandigram where the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government unleashed a reign of terror after failing to acquire land for a special economic zone to be set up by the Salem Group. He reminds people about the “mass struggle” against the Tata small car factory at Singur. He mocks at Tata Motors for turning tail and fleeing West Bengal.

“We will chase out big industry. Do you remember the old Communist slogan which the CPI(M) has forgotten? No, you are too young to remember. Let me remind you. Tata-Birla'r kaalo haath bhengey daao, guriye daao. (Break and smash the black hand of Tata and Birla). The CPI(M) has discarded that slogan, but we have adopted it,” Kabir Suman says. His audience is truly ignorant: Nobody bothers to remind him that the slogan was “Congress’er kaalo haath bhengey daao, guriye daao”.

He doesn’t use the original version for good reason: He is supported by the Congress which has entered into an electoral alliance with the Trinamool Congress. Although it is doubtful whether Sonia Gandhi, whose beaming picture adorns Kabir Suman’s election posters, is aware of the ‘free-wheeling’ lifestyle, which some would call licentious, of this radio journalist-turned-Sandinista activist-turned Marxist bard-turned-Muslim-turned-Mamata fan-turned-Trinamool candidate. In between his various personality changes, Kabir Suman has been accused of physical abuse by his now-separated German wife Maria. He survived the charges; today, Kabir Suman is eloquent in his condemnation of “atrocities against women like Tapashi Mullick by CPM goons”.

Kabir Suman lived in Germany and the US between 1975 and 1989, working for German International Radio and Voice of America. He returned home to Kolkata, claiming he had had enough of the West’s ‘materialistic life’, and set up a one-man travelling band.

He sang ballads with an earthy appeal and his first album, Tomaakey Chaai (I Want You), was an instant hit. He would often appear at CPI(M) rallies and enthral the crowds with his songs about the ‘oppressed masses’ and the ‘struggling working class’. According to one of the early stories about him, he was a Naxalite who fled India in 1975 to escape the police. Kabir Suman never denied that version; now he says he was never a Naxalite, never had the time to dabble in such nonsense.

He would often travel to Bangladesh for concerts. During one such visit, he met Bangladeshi singer, Sabina Yasmin, quite unknown at the time. This time, he also ‘liberated’ himself from his Bengali Hindu Brahmin identity and converted to Islam. Thus was Suman Chattopadhyay reborn as Kabir Suman.

He says he is still married to her, although in a recent interview to a Kolkata daily he said, “I am a polygamous man. Maybe I am still searching for love.” Sabina Yasmin remains a Bangladeshi citizen. “He is a charlatan,” says CPI(M) activist Saibal Mukherjee, “He became a Muslim to marry Sabina Yasmin. But now he is going around saying he discarded his Hindu identity to protest against the murder of Graham Staines. Chhi!”

Jadavpur is considered a high profile constituency. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee represents the Jadavpur Assembly segment. In 1984, Mamata Banerjee had defeated Somnath Chatterjee in Jadavpur on a Congress ticket, delivering a stunning blow to the CPI(M) and emerging as a leader in State politics. Since then, this constituency has swung between the CPI(M) and Trinamool Congress. Sujan Chakraborty of the CPI(M) wrested it from the Trinamool Congress in 2004; he is the party’s candidate this time too.

Mamata Banerjee obviously hopes to cash in on Kabir Suman’s ‘Muslim identity’ with the large number of Muslim voters in the constituency who could hold the key to victory in a stiff contest. After delimitation, Muslims comprise nearly 20 per cent of the voters, concentrated in Assembly segments like Bhangar and Sonarpur. The CPI(M)’s narrow lead in the 2006 Assembly election in the outlying Assembly constituencies, further depleted in last year’s panchayat polls, could work to its disadvantage. The Muslim consolidation in support of Mamata Banerjee post-Nandigram is further cause of worry in the Marxist camp.

Ironically, the CPI(M) has, in the past, used Kabir Suman to play the Muslim card. In 2002, he was the CPI(M)’s mascot at protest meetings against the Gujarat riots. The party now hopes that the conservative, Hindu middle class voters of the urban areas of Jadavpur, most of them refugees from East Pakistan and their descendents, will vote against Kabir Suman for two reasons: He has “converted to Islam to marry a Muslim”, and has a “lifestyle that would shock madhyabitta Bengalis”. A whispering campaign is on about the various scandals involving Kabir Suman.

Near Thakur Baari, Kabir Suman stops to address a cluster of curious onlookers and holds forth on why the people should reject the CPI(M) and elect him. And then brazenly adds, “I know they are spreading scandalous stories about me and my dharmantaran. But I don’t care. In Hollywood, agencies are paid by stars to spread such stories which makes them more famous. Similarly, the CPI(M) is making me more famous.” Jeeyo! shouts a lungi-clad man carrying a Trinamool Congress flag. His friend puts his fingers in his mouth and lets go a piercing whistle, the sort that used to be heard from the front stalls at first day first shows before multiplexes became the rage.

EDIT PAGE Main Article
| Wednesday, April 22, 2009 |

Gurung dons his guru’s mantle

Kanchan Gupta

Darjeeling: There’s an air of quiet confidence about Mr Bimal Gurung, the president of Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha which is now spearheading the movement for a separate Gorkhaland comprising Darjeeling district and the Dooars region of West Bengal. He speaks softly, oozes humility and remembers the smallest of courtesies. If there’s anything that gives away his razor sharp mind which is constantly outguessing opponents and planning the next move on the chessboard of Gorkha politics after checkmating his erstwhile mentor Subash Ghising and chasing him out of the Darjeeling hills, it’s the Mephistophelean smile that lurks around his tightly pursed narrow lips.

It’s difficult to imagine that this nattily dressed man who, with as little as a snap of his fingers, can move mountains and men is a junior school dropout. During the mid-1980s, when Mr Ghising led a violent agitation to press his demand for a separate Gorkhaland — the hills literally burned for months as activists of the Gorkha National Liberation Front ran amok, indulging in arson and worse — Mr Gurung made a quiet entry into Gorkha politics as a trusted bodyguard of the now disgraced, discredited and disinherited leader. If Mr Gurung’s phenomenal rise and emergence as the sole spokesman of Darjeeling’s Gorkhas has stunned politicians and plebeians alike, it has left Mr Ghising, currently camping in the plains, stupefied.

After the August 22, 1988 peace accord which led to the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council that the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mr Jyoti Basu, thought would serve to meet Gorkha aspirations and mollify those demanding a separate State, Mr Gurung steadily climbed the ladder of the GNLF hierarchy and came to be recognised as Mr Ghising’s most trusted lieutenant, his second-in-command. Mr Ghising was ruthless in putting down potential challengers and those who dared question his decisions, but he was more than indulgent towards Mr Gurung. The protégé responded in equal measure; for him, the master could do no wrong.

So, when the relationship turned bitter, virtually overnight, everybody was taken by surprise. This happened after Mr Ghising agreed to accept Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling after a series of meetings with representatives of the West Bengal Government and the Union Government from which he excluded his senior party colleagues. Surprisingly, even Mr Gurung was asked to sit outside the room while Mr Ghising confabulated inside. It was after one such meeting that Mr Gurung just walked out of the GNLF and severed all ties with Mr Ghising: The protégé became the master’s foe and swore vengeance.

There’s no dearth of apocryphal stories about why Mr Gurung turned against his guru at a time when he was battling to retain his absolute control over the hills. The promised special status under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution was to serve as a placebo for those who had begun to complain about how nothing had changed in the two decades when Darjeeling’s affairs were handled by the DGHC, headed by Mr Ghising, first as an elected representative of the people and then on extended tenure by way of a political favour done by West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

But unfettered power and unrestricted access to public funds had dulled Mr Ghising’s amazingly sharp and crafty mind. For the first time he under-estimated the anger of those who once adored him and over-estimated his ability to ride the storm that followed his decision to opt for special status for Darjeeling under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Mr Ghising suddenly found himself in an awful minority, with his senior colleagues, led by Mr Gurung, deserting him when he needed them the most.

After listening to several of the apocryphal stories about the breach between Mr Ghising and Mr Gurung, two possible reasons emerge for the separation that led to the birth of the GJMM — or Gojamumo, as it is called in the hills — in end-2007. First, non-tribals among Gorkhas, of whom there are many, were appalled by the idea of tribals becoming all powerful and the main beneficiaries in a political dispensation under the Sixth Schedule which is essentially meant to provide administrative autonomy and special privileges to tribal areas. Second, Mr Ghising had begun to marginalise Mr Gurung, fearing he was becoming a parallel power centre; he would increasingly keep him out of the loop, as he did during the talks on granting special status to Darjeeling under the Sixth Schedule.

An elderly couple in Darjeeling, who has spent the past six decades in the hills and are a treasure trove of fascinating stories that date back to the dying days of the British Raj over dinner that stretches late into the night at their dollhouse-like cottage precariously perched on the slope of a hill that overlooks Kanchenjungha, offer a third reason. Mr Ghising had begun to interfere with the religious practices, rites and rituals, of the Gorkhas, insisting that Hindus, Buddhists and Christians should give up their individual faith and embrace tribal animism. The Gorkhas, deeply religious, irrespective of their faith, were mightily offended. Among those repulsed by this forced repudiation of faith was Mr Gurung.

Whatever the real reason, Mr Gurung, upset, slighted or enraged, seized the opportunity to stage a coup and dislodge Mr Ghising at a time when his ratings had hit rock bottom, accusing him of striking deals on the sly and compromising the interests of Darjeeling. He floated his own organisation, and posited the GJMM as the real champion of the Gorkhas’ demand for separate statehood.

Mr Gurung began by organising minor protest meetings and small rallies; gradually, he co-opted the cadre of the GNLF who were tantalised by his dramatic assertions of securing a separate State for Gorkhas at any cost. His incipient insurrection soon turned into a tidal wave of popular anger that washed away all vestiges of the GNLF and Mr Ghising’s hugely corrupt and callous administration that had increasingly come to rely upon thugs to maintain its stranglehold over the region and its people.

Most of Mr Ghising’s supporters, including his party’s MLAs and corporators, have switched allegiance to Mr Gurung. Those who refused to do so have been hounded out of their home and hearth and banished from the hills. Some have fled to Nepal; others have sought shelter in Siliguri. Mr Gurung does not believe in political plurality and dissent, but since he claims to be a ‘Gandhibaadi’, he lets his militia of vigilantes do the needful with knuckle-dusters.

Between last spring and this summer, Mr Gurung and his GJMM have replaced Mr Ghising and his GNLF. The dying embers of the Gorkhaland agitation have been stoked back to a roaring fire. Can Mr Jaswant Singh, if elected on a BJP ticket with GJMM support from Darjeeling parliamentary constituency, ensure it does not turn into an all-consuming blaze in the hills and plains of West Bengal?

FRONT PAGE | Tuesday, April 21, 2009 |

‘Gorkhaland’ pits plains against hills

Kanchan Gupta | Darjeeling / Siliguri

The revived demand for Gorkhaland, which is the sole election issue in Darjeeling district and the Dooars region of West Bengal, has polarised voters as never before. Gorkhas and Bengalis stand divided along ethnic lines, determined not to let the other score a victory.

Gorkhas, who form the overwhelming majority in the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong of the Darjeeling parliamentary constituency and have a sizeable presence in the foothills, view this election as a crucial step towards realising their dream of a separate State. The Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha, which is really a reincarnation of the now-discredited Gorkha National Liberation Front, and whose leader Bimal Gurung claims to be the sole spokesman of the ‘hills people’, is backing BJP candidate Jaswant Singh.

With the BJP promising to “sympathetically consider the long-standing demand” of the Gorkhas, the GJMM believes it can secure Gorkhaland by roping in a national party to back its cause. Jaswant Singh has strengthened this expectation by voicing enthusiastic, often emotional, support for a separate Gorkha State in his election rallies. Within a fortnight he has gained amazing popularity in the three Assembly segments in the hills despite being, as Congress candidate Dawa Narbula describes him, an “outsider”.

But in the plains it is a different story. The Bengalis of Siliguri and the three other Assembly segments are equally determined to demonstrate that the demand for Gorkhaland does not have majority support and cannot be conceded. With nearly 55 per cent of the votes in the plains, they believe they can defeat the BJP-GJMM alliance and nip, what a Bengali lawyer in Siliguri describes as “a grand conspiracy against West Bengal hatched by anti-Bengali politicians” in the bud.

The BJP had substantial support among the plains Bengalis, especially those who came as refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan and are now alarmed by the phenomenal rise in the population of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. “I voted for the BJP in 2004,” says Dileep, while negotiating a hairpin bend on the road to Kalimpong from Siliguri. “So did most people in my colony.” This explains why the BJP candidate in the 2004 Lok Sabha election, despite being a Gorkha from Darjeeling, polled nearly 10 per cent of the total votes, almost entirely in the plains.

Jaswant Singh’s strategists believe this vote-share will remain with the BJP and give him a cutting edge over his Congress and CPI(M) rivals. But it is unlikely Dileep and others who voted for the BJP in 2004 will vote for the party on April 30. “I would like to vote for the BJP. But since the party has decided to support Gorkhaland, I won’t vote for it,” says Dileep. Whom will he vote for? “May be the Congress. Dawa Narbula is from the hills, but he doesn’t talk of Gorkhaland.”

“The BJP claims it stands for unity. And see what’s happening here! The BJP is backing those who want to partition Bengal again. The Gorkhas refer to us as Madhesis, they abuse us, call us jatha. Why should we vote for the BJP which now stands for Gorkhaland?” says a young tea taster in Siliguri. “It’s a ‘separatist’ movement aimed at a third partition of Bengal. How can you divide West Bengal yet again? What will remain of this State? Don’t Bengalis matter? Are settlers more important than the people of West Bengal?” These questions of his find a resonance with most Bengalis in the plains and beyond.

What has lent credence to the anti-Gorkhaland feelings which are running high in the plains is the ‘ban’ imposed by the GJMM on the Congress and CPI(M) candidates from campaigning in the hills. Both Dawa Narbula and Jibesh Sarkar, who is the CPI(M) candidate, have been forced to restrict their campaigning to the plains and some areas of the foothills with mixed populations. This has only added to their vitriol against the GJMM and the BJP.

Sarkar doesn’t miss any opportunity to berate the BJP as an “opportunist party” out to “disrupt the unity of West Bengal”. At every election meeting, he darkly hints at the “frightening consequences” if the GJMM-BJP win this election. “We (the CPI-M) stand for unity and peace,” he tells the voters.

Narbula is more forthright in his attack. He calls Jaswant Singh an “outsider” who “will do nothing for Darjeeling”. And after a pause adds, “I am the only hill man in the contest.” This doesn’t quite upset the voters in the plains because Narbula, the sitting MP, has been steadfast in his opposition to Gorkhaland. He doesn’t say so, but skirts the issue entirely at his public meetings.

So, which way will the vote go on April 30? The voters of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong will, without doubt, vote for the BJP and Jaswant Singh can count on a huge lead in these three Assembly segments. But in the plains, the CPI(M) has a clear edge in all four Assembly segments. This by itself is unlikely to add up to a victory for Sarkar. A split in the anti-Gorkhaland vote between the Congress and the CPI(M) will see the BJP through.

Unless there is a silent consolidation in support of either Narbula or Sarkar. Subash Ghising, the disgraced Gorkha National Liberation Front chief who has been chased out of the hills by the GJMM and is camping in Siliguri, has asked his followers to boycott the election. Many feel this is a ruse; that he will quietly tell his supporters to vote for the Congress. Narbula is also confident of GNLF support, or what remains of it, since he won in 2004 with Ghising’s backing.

Narbula has a further advantage. He is contesting on a Congress ticket but has the support of the Trinamool Congress which can, if it wishes, transfer its vote to him. The newly-emergent anti-CPI(M) vote may also go his way. The substantial tribal vote remains an unknown factor.

But the fact remains that whichever way the vote goes the ethnic polarisation will only get stronger. If Jaswant Singh loses, the GJMM will up its ante and launch a fresh round of agitation. If he wins, the plains will be up in arms. Either way, trouble lies ahead for both victor and vanquished.

FRONT PAGE | Monday, April 20, 2009 |

Jaswant looks set for massive victory

Kanchan Gupta | Kalimpong

With a Gorkha cap that has an exquisitely carved miniature khukri pinned to it worn rakishly, a Gorkha scarf jauntily tied around his waist and a soldier’s demeanour that sits easily on him, Jaswant Singh takes the podium as the huge crowd gathered at Kalimpong’s Mela Ground breaks into applause. It is late afternoon and the joint BJP-Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha (GJMM) election rally began mid-morning; the April sun is unusually strong and the humidity exceptionally high. But the people, who have trekked from distant places to hear the latest protagonist of Gorkhaland, have been waiting patiently for this moment.

Those who have spoken before Jaswant Singh have explained at great length why the GJMM has entered into an alliance with the BJP (the voice of the ignored Gorkha will now be heard at the national level) and how the people of Darjeeling parliamentary constituency are lucky to have Jaswant Singh, a “stalwart leader who ranks after Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani”, as their representative in the Lok Sabha (the result of the April 30 poll is a foregone conclusion in the hills). It is now the ‘stalwart’ leader’s turn to endorse all that they have said.

Jaswant Singh does not let down either the GJMM’s top leaders on the dais or the eager-faced audience in the maidan. “My heart aches when I see the neglect of the Gorkhas,” he says, “I am shocked by your humiliation.” A hush descends on the jam-packed sprawling Mela Ground in the heart of Kalimpong town. He launches into a tirade against the CPI(M) and the Congress; describes the latter as the “bandhua mazdoor” of the Left parties. “Therefore, I am not surprised that neither the CPI(M) nor the Congress has done anything to make Gorkhaland a reality. The BJP will do what they have not done,” he adds with a flourish.

There’s loud clapping. Someone whistles and women, wearing saris with an identical ‘Gorkha’ pattern, lustily cheer their new patron. An old woman who wants to bless Jaswant Singh is ushered on to the dais by a teenaged boy in a body-hugging blue-and-yellow tracksuit with ‘Gorkhaland’ emblazoned on it. There are three alphabets printed just below that: ‘GLP’. They stand for ‘Gorkhaland Police’.

The teenaged boy is a member of the ‘police force’ that has been set up by Bimal Gurung, who heads the GJMM, with its own intelligence wing and cadre trained in combat tactics. The West Bengal Police has deployed its own armed men for the rally, but they are standing in a corner — asked by the GJMM to stay away from the dais and the audience — while ‘GLP’ cadre with inscrutable faces take care of security. Bimal Gurung may not have a State as yet, but he has his own police force.

“Gorkhas have been protecting India since ages. Gorkha soldiers have been laying down their lives for this country. If we can trust them with our protection, why can’t we trust them with a State of their own? It is my destiny to correct this grave injustice that has been done to you. This is why god has picked me up from the desert of Rajasthan and placed me in the laps of the Himalayas. From now on, this is my karmabhoomi.” By now the crowd is delirious. Here was a man from the plains, from distant Rajasthan no less, speaking their language, commiserating with their sorrows, echoing their sentiments. They couldn’t have asked for anything more.

By the time the rally gets over, it's almost early evening. People begin their long trek back home as dusk descends in the hills. Their decision has been made; all that remains is casting their vote on the election day. A tired, though beaming Jaswant Singh returns to the hotel for a short break. There’s a second meeting scheduled later in the evening at Town Hall where Kalimpong’s intelligentsia will gather to hear him speak. Bimal Gurung wears a satisfied smile — his political gambit has not been in vain.

Nobody doubts that Jaswant Singh will sweep the three hill sub-divisions of Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Kurseong of Darjeeling constituency. The GJMM is riding an amazing popularity wave and the BJP is riding the crest of that wave. The other two contenders, Dawa Narbullah of the Congress who won this seat in 2004 with a 45 per cent share of the vote, and Jibesh Sarkar of the CPI(M) have not yet forayed into the hills. Even if they wanted to, they would have been prevented from travelling beyond Darjeeling More in the plains. Such is the overwhelming anger and hostility of the people towards both parties.

Of the seven Assembly segments in Darjeeling parliamentary constituency, the GNLF of Subash Ghising won the Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong Assembly seats in the 2006 election. With the GNLF discredited and a disgraced Ghising forced into exile (he now camps in Siliguri), the GNLF MLAs have switched allegiance to GJMM, as have all other elected functionaries. The GJMM's domination of the hill sub-divisions is absolute. Discordant views are voiced after swearing you to secrecy and in hushed whispers.

But the story in the plains is different. The four Assembly segments here were won by the CPI(M) in 2006 with thumping majorities. After delimitation, Islampur Assembly constituency has been replaced by Matigara-Naxalbari, a Left stronghold. Therefore, the political profile of the parliamentary constituency remains unchanged. With more votes in the plains than in the hills, the Congress, which is contesting this election in alliance with the Trinamool Congress, and the CPI(M) are concentrating on voters in these four Assembly segments.

Had it been a direct contest, then this strategy would have worked to the advantage of Jaswant Singh's opponent. But with the pahadi votes consolidating in support of Jaswant Singh, the plains votes will be split between the Congress and the CPI(M). Unless there is tactical voting in the plains to defeat the BJP and thus diminish the perceived clout of the GJMM, Jaswant Singh will win with a handsome margin. It could even be an unprecedented landslide victory. Since there are no signs yet of a tactical consolidation of votes in the plains, this is one seat the BJP can count as already won. The price of victory, however, is another story.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Congress Role in 1984 Massacre of Sikhs

When a mighty tree fell...

A street dog sniffs at the corpse of a Sikh burnt alive by Congress goons in November 1984 to avenge the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

4,733 Sikhs were killed in the pogrom for which nobody has been punished by the Congress.

Manmohan Singh and Congress suffer from selective amnesia as they rake up the 2002 Gujarat violence to malign the BJP. But even if they choose to forget the 1984 pogrom that left more than 4,000 Sikhs dead, the story remains fresh in the minds of many, among them survivors waiting for justice for 25 years

Kanchan Gupta

Caught on the wrong foot over the brazen manner in which it tried to absolve Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar of the serious charges that have been levelled against them by survivors of the 1984 pogrom that resulted in the slaughter of 4, 733 Sikhs, the Congress has struck back at its principal political adversary, the BJP, by once again raising the bogey of the 2002 post-Godhra violence in Gujarat.

Addressing a Press conference in Mumbai on Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who would like people to believe that he was “not informed, not consulted, over the CBI’s clean chit to Jagdish Tytler” although that is an impossibility, has said, “Nor will I be found wringing my hands in frustration while one of my Chief Ministers condones a pogrom targeted at minorities.”

Ironically, even as the Prime Minister was seeking to resurrect the Gujarat ‘pogrom’ and remind people of the ‘atrocities’ committed against Muslims, the Special Investigation Team set up by the Supreme Court and headed by former CBI director RK Raghavan submitted its report, refuting the allegations that have sustained the myth-making aimed at demonising Mr Narendra Modi and tarring the BJP’s image.

The SIT’s report shows Mr Singh’s description of the Gujarat violence as a “pogrom targeted at minorities” is as fanciful as his denial of any knowledge about the CBI exonerating those who are accused of leading murderous mobs during the 1984 violence, planned and executed by Congress ‘leaders’ to avenge the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi. Noted writer and veteran journalist Khushwant Singh, recalling those terrible days of 1984, told the Nanavati Commission of Inquiry, set up by the BJP-led NDA Government, that the hideous bloodletting left him “feeling like a Jew in Nazi Germany”.

It is possible that Mr Manmohan Singh has no memories of that massacre; selective amnesia is a disease from which too-clever-by-half politicians tend to suffer. It is also possible that he and his patrons in the Congress believe that by pretending nothing of note happened in 1984, those born after Congress mobs ran amok on the streets of Delhi, garlanding Sikhs with burning tyres, can be persuaded to vote for a party which claims to stand against the BJP’s ‘divisive politics’.

Such sanctimonious self-righteousness is best avoided by the Congress, not least because its then president — and India’s Prime Minister — Rajiv Gandhi had no qualms about justifying the carnage. “Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji,” Rajiv Gandhi said on November 19, 1984, even as thousands of families grieved for their loved ones killed by Congress hoodlums, “We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed India had been shaken. But when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little.” Some riots? Only natural? Shake a little?

Of course, Mr Singh would claim no knowledge of any of this. Perhaps he would even insist that he was “not informed, not consulted” by Rajiv Gandhi, or, for that matter, the mobs that bayed for blood (and feasted on it) for four days before someone called the Army in.

Twenty-five years is a long time. Public memory is notoriously short and it is unlikely those who have attained the right to vote in these 25 years would know what the protest against the Congress deciding to give party tickets to Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar is all about. It would, therefore, be in order to recall the chain of events lest we be persuaded to believe that nothing of consequence happened by a Prime Minister who spends sleepless nights worrying about a terror suspect held in distant Australia but blithely disowns responsibility for the shocking attempt to whitewash the crimes of his party and its ‘leaders’ committed against thousands at home.

So, here is the story, briefly told, of how more than 4,000 Sikh men, women and children were slaughtered; in Delhi alone, 2,733 Sikhs were burned alive, butchered or beaten to death. Women were raped while their terrified families pleaded for mercy, little or none of which was shown by the Congress goons. In one of the numerous such incidents, a woman was gang-raped in front of her 17-year-old son; before leaving, the marauders torched the boy.

For three days and four nights the killing and pillaging continued without the police, the civil administration and the Union Government, which was then in direct charge of Delhi, lifting a finger in admonishment. The Congress was in power and could have prevented the violence, but the then Prime Minister, his Home Minister, indeed the entire Council of Ministers, twiddled their thumbs.

Even as stray dogs gorged on charred corpses and wailing women, clutching children too frightened to cry, fled mobs armed with iron rods, staves and gallons of kerosene, AIR and Doordarshan kept on broadcasting blood-curdling slogans like ‘Khoon ka badla khoon se lenge’ (We shall avenge blood with blood) raised by Congress workers grieving over their dear departed leader.

In mid-morning on October 31, 1984, Mrs Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh guards posted at her home. Her death was ‘officially’ confirmed at 6 pm, after due diligence had been exercised to ensure Rajiv Gandhi’s succession. By then, reports of stray incidents of violence against Sikhs, including the stoning of President Zail Singh’s car, had started trickling in at various police stations.

By the morning of November 1, hordes of men were on the rampage in south, east and west Delhi. They were armed with iron rods and carried old tyres and jerry cans filled with kerosene and petrol. Owners of petrol pumps and kerosene stores, beneficiaries of Congress largesse, provided petrol and kerosene free of cost. Some of the men went around on scooters and motorcycles, marking Sikh houses and business establishments with chalk for easy identification. They had been provided with electoral rolls to make their task easier.

By late afternoon that day, hundreds of taxis, trucks and shops owned by Sikhs had been set ablaze. By early evening, the murder, loot and rape began in right earnest. The worst butchery took place in Block 32 of Trilokpuri, a resettlement colony in east Delhi. The police either participated in the violence or merely watched from the sidelines.

Curfew was declared in south and central Delhi at 4 pm, and in east and west Delhi at 6 pm on November 1. But there was no attempt to enforce it. PV Narasimha Rao, the then Home Minister, remained unmoved by cries for help. In his affidavit to the Nanavati Commission of Inquiry, Lt-Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, decorated hero of the 1971 India-Pakistan war, said, “The Home Minister was grossly negligent in his approach, which clearly reflected his connivance with perpetrators of the heinous crimes being committed against the Sikhs.”

The first deployment of the Army took place around 6 pm on November 1 in south and central Delhi, which were comparatively unaffected, but in the absence of navigators, which should have been provided by the police and the civil authorities, the jawans found themselves lost in unfamiliar roads and avenues.

The Army was deployed in east and west Delhi in the afternoon of November 2, more than 24 hours after the killings began. But, here, too, the jawans were at a loss because there were no navigators to show them the way through byzantine lanes.

In any event, there was little the Army could have done: Magistrates were ‘not available’ to give permission to fire on the mobs. This mandatory requirement was kept pending till Mrs Indira Gandhi’s funeral was over. By then, 1,026 Sikhs had been killed in east Delhi. Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were among Congress ‘leaders’ who, witnesses said, incited and led mobs. Both deny the allegation, but the evidence is overwhelming.

A report on the pogrom, jointly prepared by the PUCL and PUDR and published under the title, Who Are the Guilty? names both of them along with others. The report quotes well-known journalist Sudip Mazumdar: “The Police Commissioner, SC Tandon was briefing the Press (about 10 Indian reporters and five foreign journalists) in his office on November 6, at 5 pm. A reporter asked him to comment on the large number of complaints about local Congress MPs and lightweights trying to pressure the police to get their men released. The Police Commissioner totally denied the allegation… Just as he finished uttering these words, Jagdish Tytler, Congress MP from Sadar constituency, barged into the Police Commissioner’s office along with three other followers and on the top of his voice demanded, ‘What is this Mr Tandon? You still have not done what I asked you to do?’ The reporters were amused, the Police Commissioner embarrassed. Tytler kept on shouting and a reporter asked the Police Commissioner to ask that ‘shouting man’ to wait outside since a Press conference was on. Tytler shouted at the reporter, ‘This is more important.’ The reporter told the Police Commissioner that if Tytler wanted to sit in the office he would be welcome, but a lot of questions regarding his involvement would also be asked and he was welcome to hear them. Tytler was fuming…”

The slaughter was not limited to Delhi, though. Sikhs were killed in Gurgaon, Kanpur, Bokaro, Indore and many other towns and cities in States ruled by the Congress. In a replay of the mayhem in Delhi, 26 Sikh soldiers were pulled out of trains and killed.

After quenching their thirst for blood, the mobs retreated to savour their ‘revenge’. The flames died and the winter air blew away the stench of death. Rajiv Gandhi’s Government issued a statement placing the death toll at 425!

Demands for a judicial inquiry were stonewalled by Rajiv Gandhi. Human rights organisations petitioned the courts; the Government said courts were not empowered to order inquiries. Meanwhile, Rajiv Gandhi dissolved the Lok Sabha and went for an early election, which the Congress swept by using the ‘sympathy card’ and launching a vitriolic hate campaign.

Once in office, Rajiv Gandhi was desperate for a breakthrough in Punjab. He mollycoddled Akali leader Sant Harchand Singh Longowal into agreeing to sign a peace accord with him. Sant Longowal listed a set of pre-conditions; one of them was the setting up of a judicial commission to inquire into the pogrom.

Thus was born the Ranganath Misra Commission of Inquiry, which took on the job of crafting a report that would suggest extra-terrestrials were to be blamed for whatever had happened. Worse, submissions and affidavits were passed on to those accused of leading the mobs; some of these documents were later recovered from the house of Sajjan Kumar. Gag orders were issued, preventing the Press from reporting in-camera proceedings of the Commission.

For full six months, Rajiv Gandhi refused to make public the Ranganath Misra Commission’s report. When it was tabled in Parliament, the report was found to be an amazing travesty of the truth; neither were the guilty men of 1984 named, now was responsibility fixed.

Subsequently, nine commissions and committees were set up to get to the truth, but they were either disbanded midway or not allowed access to documents and evidence. India had to wait for the report of the Nanavati Commission for an approximate version of the real story.

Justice Nanavati’s report said, “The Commission considers it safe to record its finding that there is credible evidence against Jagdish Tytler to the effect that very probably he had a hand in organising attacks on Sikhs.” This is not an indictment, Mr Manmohan Singh and his Government decided, so why bother about it? Four years later they remain unrepentant, their attitude remains unchanged.

Two thousand seven hundred and thirty-three men, women and children killed in Delhi, another 2,000 killed elsewhere, scores of women raped, property worth crores of rupees looted or sacked. Families devastated forever, survivors scarred for the rest of their lives.

But the Congress doesn’t care!

OPED | The Pioneer | Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Manmohan Singh Blithely Miseads India

Callous Congress, feckless PM

A mob of Congress hoodlums set a Sikh on fire in Delhi hours after Mrs Indira Gandhi's assassination on October 31, 1984.

Kanchan Gupta

If we lesser mortals were to be found misleading someone intentionally, we would be accused of telling a lie. To be called a liar is as good as being told your integrity quotient is zero. Telling the truth, as we all know, may be difficult but is considered a virtue; telling a lie is sinful, a vice to which the feckless and the irresolute are given. But what about someone who holds high office and misleads the nation in the most casual (some would say sly) manner? Does vice become a virtue when your are the Prime Minister of India? I refer to Mr Manmohan Singh’s comment on Friday in response to a query on the shameful Jagdish Tytler-Sajjan Kumar episode. “I was not informed, not consulted, over the CBI’s clean chit to Jagdish Tytler,” he told members of the Indian Women’s Press Corps whom he hosted for tea.

In this age of lazy journalism it is unlikely anybody will bother to raise a doubt or two about the Prime Minister’s claim. But this needs to be done, if only to expose him for what he is, which is definitely far-removed from what he would like everybody to believe he is. So let’s check out the facts. The CBI, contrary to popular notion, does not report to the Ministry of Home Affairs; it reports to the quaintly named Department of Personnel and Training, otherwise known as ‘DoPT’, which is headed by a Minister of State. The DoPT is part of the portfolio of responsibilities held by the Prime Minister to whom the Minister of State in charge of that department reports. While routine administrative issues are directly dealt with by the Minister of State, he or she keeps the Prime Minister fully informed on sensitive issues, including high profile cases being handled by the CBI. In fact, files related to such cases are routed through the Prime Minister’s Office, which is known to have issued instructions to the CBI on certain occasions — recall the letter written by a senior PMO official, known for his proximity to 10 Janpath, directing the agency to deal with one of the accused in the Ayodhya case in a particular manner. In brief, it is an intimate relationship, never mind the Supreme Court’s directive that the CBI should function as an autonomous agency. It is highly unlikely, and that is putting it mildly, that the CBI would have sought closure of the cases against Tytler without discussing it with the DoPT, which in effect means the PMO. In other words, Mr Singh would have been aware of the CBI’s move.

Even if he were blissfully ignorant of it, surely Mr Singh reads newspapers and watches 24x7 news channels, at least those which don’t tire of extolling his ‘abilities’, such as they are. The CBI submitted its closure report to the trial court on April 2. The story was prominently published by every newspaper and found more than passing mention on prime time news. On April 7, when Jarnail Singh, a reporter with the Dainik Jagran, apparently upset over Mr P Chidambaram’s rude response to his questions on the Government giving Tytler and Kumar a clean chit despite the evidence — by way of affidavits, submissions and eyewitness accounts — of their role in the horrendous bloodletting of 1984 when 4,733 Sikhs were massacred after Mrs Indira Gandhi’s assassination, hurled one of his shoes at the Home Minister. It is only then that the Congress got into the act. Between April 2 and April 7, for full five days the Prime Minister did nothing, although he obviously knew about it, if not through the DoPT then from media reports.

For Mr Singh to now say “I was not informed, not consulted” is more than astounding. But there’s a pattern to his denying any knowledge about the actions of the CBI and pretending great surprise every time the Government has been caught on the wrong foot. When the CBI manipulated the de-freezing of two London bank accounts where Ottavio Quattrocchi is believed to have parked his share of the Bofors payola, thus helping the Italian wheeler-dealer who is a fugitive from Indian law to grab the money and run, similar lack of knowledge was proclaimed. Indeed, the Prime Minister has rarely been upfront; on the contrary, effortlessly and with great ease, he has excelled in slyly misleading the nation time and again, as he did most stunningly on the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement.

In his memoirs, A Prattler’s Tale, economist Ashok Mitra is ruthlessly honest in his description of Mr Singh: “His timidity is the product of his civil servant’s mind, which many mistake as humility.” He also recounts an incident from his days as a member of the Rajya Sabha when Mr Singh was the Union Finance Minister. At a meeting of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee attached to the Ministry of Finance, Mr Mitra wanted the Government to supply copies of an RBI report listing the identities of individuals and corporates who owed more than a crore of rupees in unpaid bank loans adding up to more than Rs 50,000 crore. “The Finance Minister (Mr Singh) had a quick consultation with the Finance Secretary, who was sitting next to him, and agreed to place copies of the report before the members (of the committee)... Then the fun started. Days went by, then weeks, followed by a full month, but we did not receive copies of the report. I wrote to the Finance Minister but there was no reply from him. I sent him another letter... the silence was unbroken. At the next meeting of the committee, I hit the roof. Manmohan, however, was unfazed. He feigned surprise, ‘What, did I really make such a promise? I do not remember. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding’.” Mr Mitra has other stories to tell about our economist Prime Minister, but since he hasn’t committed them to paper, I shan’t either.

But Mr Singh’s proclivity to mislead others is not the only trait that raises discomfiting questions about India’s ‘accidental Prime Minister’. Nor should we needlessly cavil about his fake humility. What is relevant is his, to quote Mr Mitra, “lamb-like devotion” to the Nehru-Gandhi family, his “worshipful frame of mind”. It is this which prompts him to behave in the most craven manner, heaping treacly praise on the person who wields the authority of the office he holds, and which sets him apart from his senior colleagues like Mr Pranab Mukherjee. “Obviously the decision (to field Tytler and Kumar as candidates for the Lok Sabha election from Delhi constituencies) was reversed. It shows the Congress party’s sensitivity towards the Sikh community and for this you should compliment the Congress party,” he told members of the Indian Women’s Press Corps during his Friday’s interaction. Everybody knows that the decision was reversed by the Congress president. So the praise he solicits is not for the party but its president. As for ‘sensitivity towards the Sikh community’, had Mr Singh’s assertion been true, he would not have allowed the CBI to do something so reprehensible. But that would have required courage and integrity.

Column: Coffee Break | The Pioneer | Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Taliban in India: They are already here!

Forget Swat, fear Taliban amid us
Kanchan Gupta

There is, we are told, disquiet among Muslims over Justice Markandey Katju’s comment, “We don’t want to have Taliban in the country”, while rejecting the petition filed by Mohammad Salim, a student of Nirmala Convent Higher Secondary School in Madhya Pradesh, for quashing the school’s regulation requiring students to be clean shaven. The student’s counsel, Mr BA Khan, a retired judge, argued that Article 25 of the Constitution guaranteed protection to Salim to pursue his religious practice of keeping a beard and the school regulation was violative of the right to freedom of religion. He said forcing the student to shave his beard was against “his religious conscience, belief and custom of his family”. Mr Khan, who made an elaborate case linking the student’s faith and his beard, does not sport one himself. This prompted Justice Katju to point out, “But you don’t sport a beard!”

While rejecting Mohammad Salim’s petition, and rightly so, the Supreme Court bench made two points. First, if Salim found the school’s rules abhorrent and unacceptable, he could join some other institution. “But you can’t ask the school to change the rules for you.” Second, “If there are rules, you have to obey. You can’t say that I will not wear a uniform I will (wear) only a burqa.” Justice Katju’s comment, “We don’t want to have Taliban in the country”, was presumably directed against those who wish to imitate the Taliban and their subversion of the secular state and destruction of civil society in the name of practising Islam and enforcing Islamic injunctions.

This week we had a glimpse of what that means, thanks to a two-minute video shot with a cellphone in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and smuggled out by those who are alarmed by the prospect of the Taliban’s ruthless enforcement of “religious conscience, belief and custom”. The video showed a 17-year-old girl, a resident of Kabal, being held face down on the ground by men while a Taliban commander flogged her with a leather strap. The girl kept on pitifully begging for mercy and screaming in pain — “Leave me for the moment... you can beat me again later...” But this did not have the slightest impact on her tormentors: The flogging continued as a large group of men stood around, watching intently at this public display of Islamic fervour.

The girl was punished, the Taliban claimed, in accordance with shari’ah for stepping out of her house without being escorted by a male family member. But this may not be the real reason: Another account said she was falsely accused of violating shari’ah after she refused to marry a local Taliban commander.

The public flogging of the teenaged girl has revived memories of the Taliban executing Zarmeena, a mother of seven children, in Kabul’s sports stadium on November 17, 1999. In more recent times, two women were executed by the Taliban outside Ghazni city in central Afghanistan in July last year. In Swat, too, women have been punished in a similar manner. On November 26, 2008, Bakht Zeba, a former member of the Swat district council, was dragged out of her home by the Taliban and brutally assaulted before being shot dead. Her crime, according to shari’ah as laid down by the Taliban: She criticised the ban on girls attending school.

The global outrage over the public flogging of the teenaged girl is believed to have ‘shaken’ the so-called civilian Government of Pakistan into ordering an inquiry. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, to whom many jihadis owes a huge debt of gratitude for interceding on their behalf and ordering their release from prison when Gen Pervez Musharraf was in power, has tauntingly dared Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to arrest the barbarians of Swat and put them behind bars.

That, of course, is a tall order for an effete regime which shamelessly capitulated to the Taliban’s jihadi terror in Swat Valley and signed a ‘peace agreement’ with Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi, one of the many organisations that are collectively referred to as the ‘Pakistani Taliban’, on February 16. As part of that deal, mullahs have been allowed to impose shari’ah and set up Darul Qaza or qazi courts, replacing the Pakistani justice system, such as it is.

Ironically, the ‘peace agreement’ has been endorsed by the US in preparation of President Barack Hussein Obama opening negotiations with the ‘good Taliban’. Just how good the ‘good Taliban’ is has been shockingly exposed, though not for the first time, by the smuggled video of a teenaged girl being flogged. For those who may still nurse doubts, here’s some more visual evidence: The photograph published along with this article shows a young Taliban fighter with the hands of a man that were chopped off for an unstated crime. In the land of shari’ah, these would be considered no less than trophies to be proud of.

It is this Taliban and Talibani mindset that we should be scared of; both are already there in our midst. Mohammad Salim is not alone in wanting to emulate those who flaunt their “religious conscience, belief and custom” to the exclusion of a secular state’s enlightenment. What the Taliban are practising in Swat Valley and in the wastelands of Afghanistan is being preached by mullahs in India. And they are doing so openly. A casual reading of the fatwas listed on Darul Uloom Deoband’s Website,, will prove this point. Here are some randomly selected examples:

Fatwa 1587/1330=L/1429: “The best purdah for woman is that the palms and no part of her body and adornments is exposed, ie, the whole body is covered from head to toe. If it is possible to see through the purdah, then the eyes also should be covered...”

Fatwa 1141/1141=M/1429: Family planning is haram and unlawful in Islam. You should apprise your wife of the commandment of shari’ah...”

Fatwa 691/636=D/1429: It is not a good thing for women to do jobs in offices. They will have to face strange men (non-mahram) though in veil. She will have to talk and deal with each other which are the things of fitna (evils).”

Fatwa 1386/227=TL/1429: “It is unlawful for women to go out after applying perfume.”

From here to chopping off the thumbs of women who use nail varnish is a very small step.

The Pioneer
| Wednesday, April 8, 2009 | Editorial Page Main Article

Congress style communal politics

Congress deals Muslim card

Kanchan Gupta

The Congress clearly treats Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s sentiments with utter contempt. Worse, it makes no effort to keep this a secret. So much for Ms Sonia Gandhi praising him sky high this past week. Why else would the Congress have gone and inked an electoral pact with Ittehad-e-Millat Council in Uttar Pradesh? No, there is no reason for Mr Singh to celebrate his party’s alliance with a rank communal organisation which openly preaches Islamic fanaticism in a language not dissimilar to what is heard on tapes containing messages from Ayman al-Zawahiri that Al Jazeera periodically telecasts to keep the jihadi spirit from flagging. For, this is a marriage of convenience, which will be consummated during the Lok Sabha election, and not an extension of the Prime Minister’s odious ‘Muslims first’ policy of appeasement.

The Congress believes that it will be able to consolidate the votes of Muslims by striking a deal with a Muslim organisation headed by a maulana who had openly called for the assassination of Mr George W Bush while the US President was visiting India in March 2006 and offered a reward of Rs 25 crore to anybody who would undertake the ‘holy mission’. Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan, who appeared at the party office on Thursday to pledge his support to the Congress, now says that the “issue has lost its relevance as Bush is no longer in power”. Which only underscores the fact that he saw it as being ‘relevant’ so long as Mr Bush was in office.

Now, look at the contradiction between the Prime Minister’s feelings and his party’s deeds. Everybody knows that Mr Singh “deeply loves” Mr Bush, that he rarely, if at all, missed the opportunity to declare that love, although he would do it in the most cravenly maudlin manner. His feelings, it must be presumed, have not diminished with Mr Bush’s exit from the White House; honourable men do not disown their friends and benefactors. Yet, the Congress has embraced Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan, seemingly unmindful of the fact that he had wanted the man whom Mr Singh so admires and for whom he has nothing but fulsome praise, to be killed.

Of course, Mr Bush is not the only person whom the maulana wanted to be despatched to the other world: He had offered a similar reward to anybody who would murder the Danish cartoonists who had allegedly lampooned Prophet Mohammed in the pages of Jyllands-Posten. Just in case you are curious where the prize money would have come from had someone taken up his offer to kill either Mr Bush or the Danish cartoonists, here is what he said on Thursday: “Rs 25 crore is the sum total of one-rupee contributions from each of the country’s Muslims.”

The explanation raises certain discomfiting issues. First, are there 25 crore Muslims in India? If yes, then the Census reports are not to be trusted and should be immediately labelled as bogus. Second, is every Muslim in India as blood-thirsty and hateful as this obnoxious maulana? This question must be answered with a resounding no. Third, does he represent the Muslims of India? Obviously he doesn’t. Then why is the Congress eager to seek his help in Uttar Pradesh? Because the party thinks Muslims are ‘like that only’ and can be influenced by peddlers of hate into parting with their votes on polling day. This is how the Congress has manipulated the ‘Muslim vote’ for six decades; tragically, more often than not Muslims have allowed their vote to be thus manipulated.

The Congress’s alliance with Ittehad-e-Millat Council is of a piece with its strategic decision to pander to the community’s lowest common denominator by lacing its poll campaign with hate speech meant to rouse communal passions and thus consolidate the ‘Muslim vote’. On March 15, the Congress held an election meeting at the ground adjacent to the Jama Masjid in Chandigarh. Ms Mohsina Kidwai, a senior Congress leader, Mr Imran Kidwai, chairman of the AICC’s Minorities Cell, and Mr Pawan Kumar Bansal, Minister of State for Finance and Parliamentary Affairs in the UPA Government and the Congress candidate for Chandigarh parliamentary constituency addressed the meeting, largely attended by Muslims.

And what did Mr Imran Kidwai say in his fire-and-brimstone speech, seeking the votes of Muslims for the Congress? “Arre mujhe to badaa afsos hai yaaron... ki main mufti nahi hoon. Pawan Bhai, main mufti nahin hoon iska mujhe badaa afsos hai, kyunki mufti log hamare yahaan fatwa wohi de sakte hain. Aur agar main mufti hota to sirf ek fatwa deta main. Aur fatwa yeh deta, ki Musalmaan ka BJP ke saath jaana kufr ke baraabar hai... aur main yeh saabit kar sakta hoon... yeh aise hi nahi keh raha hoon main...” (I regret that I am not a mufti... Pawan Bhai, I truly regret I am not a mufti, because a mufti alone can issue a fatwa... Had I been a mufti, I would have issued a fatwa that for Muslims to go with the BJP is similar to going with kafirs.) Pawan Bhai and the other Congress stalwarts nodded their heads approvingly.

The Election Commission of India has in its possession a copy of the CD containing the recording of Mr Imran Kidwai’s hate speech. It has also received an official complaint from the BJP, pointing out the gross violation of the law as well as the model code of conduct by the Congress. But it has not so much as lifted its little finger in admonishment, leave alone seek an explanation from the Congress. Nor has the Election Commission found it fit to take note of the CPI(M)’s alliance with Abdul Nasser Madani in Kerala whose People’s Democratic Party is a facade for activities that are clearly inimical to communal amity and national unity, and who, the police believe, has active links with Islamist terrorists. Madani, it may be recalled, was accused of masterminding the bombings at Coimbatore on February 14, 1998, in which 46 people — 35 men, 10 women and a child — were killed. Thanks to the DMK Government’s secular credentials, the prosecution ‘failed’ to prove the case and Madani escaped the punishment he so justly deserved.

The Election Commission, however, is greatly exercised over Mr Varun Gandhi’s alleged ‘communal’ remarks in Pilibhit, from where he is contesting the Lok Sabha election on a BJP ticket. In an unprecedented move, it has gone to the extent of asking the BJP to drop Mr Gandhi from the party’s list of candidates without even going into the merits of the case or checking the tape of Mr Gandhi’s ‘hate speech’ for authenticity. Such self-righteousness and moral posturing ill suits an Election Commission which has made it a point to gloss over the transgressions of the ‘secular’ parties while attacking Mr Gandhi for standing up for Hindu rights. By doing so, it has betrayed its bias and diminished its stature. From Election Commission of India it has become the Election Commission of Pilibhit.

The Pioneer| Sunday, March 29, 2009 | Coffee Break

Bullet Congress
By Mukesh on 4/2/2009 10:31:27 AM

Its an established fact that hindus and muslims do not have any thing in common and they can not live together. History is witnessed to it. also wherever they are in majority they make other citizens life miserable and even led to killing kafirs. so their is no point in promoting them in any manner. Civil war will start if insane like our PM talks about first right of minoirty on its resources. this is clear that he wants hindu community weaken further. Why, who has given him that right?

Bullet pandering of no avail
By Ganesh on 4/2/2009 7:54:54 AM

With all their terror friendly policies like pension scheme for terrorist families,financial aid to Madarasa,unfair upgrading of Madarasa education and so on one might expect the terrorists to be more benign towards congress led govts. But the ground reality shows that the attacks are growing with every passing day.The confused govt announces more doles. This vicious circle goes on and on.This is more on the lines of street level extorsion to sell peace to a timid and pusilanimous govt.

Bullet Congress on rampage
By sg on 3/31/2009 12:33:51 PM

Congress will disintergrate the nation in couple of decades if they continue this appeasemnt of muslims. Rather than knitting them into the fabric of India, they always promote them to be a different species and fuel their irresponcible leaders and community. So much so that they help in hating the hindus, and this has been going on for centuries then continued by the nehru-gandhi family. If the nation does not realize this today, we will end up in a hot pot of violance soon.

Bullet Congress deals Muslim card
By A.Sathyamurthy on 3/30/2009 9:59:18 PM

Mr Gupta's article has thrown light on the designs of the Congress, the party that has been fooling the people for over six decades. The Congress and other 'secular' parties play the Muslim card only because they take the Hindu votes for granted. Once they fear a reaction from the majority of the Hindus--which is highly due now--they will drop the card like hot iron!

Bullet Congress deals Muslim card
By S.Raguraman on 3/30/2009 7:26:58 PM

Mr.Kanchan Gupta has asked "Is every Muslim in Indian is as blood-thirsty and haeteful as the Maulana" and answers with a resounding "no". His answer is right. But, it is also a fact that, Muslims, by and large have sympathy for the fanatics among them, though they may not explicitly express them. How many 'secular' Hindus write to newspapers, condemning the comparitively harmless 'extremists' among Hindus ? But, do you find a single letter from a 'secular' Muslim, condemning the atrocities ?

Bullet Godhra Muslim ex-Congressman...
By A Resident Of Godhra on 3/30/2009 3:10:32 AM

BJP is not highlighting that one of the muslim attackers of Godhra, who burnt hindu Kar sevaks, women and children travelers of the Sabarmati Expresss Train, was a congress counsellor of the Godhra Municipality. This man is still on the run (or in hiding). In Gujarat where more communal incidents took place before Modi (2001), during Congress reign and none of the phony seculars did pay any attention.

Bullet Congress practices double standards!.
By A.Seshagiri Rao. on 3/29/2009 11:26:01 PM

The Congress leaders often talk through their hats. While accusing others they play communal card unabashedly !. Did not Rajiv Gandhi conduct ‘shila nyas’ at Ayodhya , promised ‘Ram rajya’?. If BJP does the same they call it Hindu communalism!. The Congressmen practice double standards and the minorities though placated will not buy their bluff! The Congress has become a ‘private limited company’ sans principles except with only programme ie. to come to power by any means!. God save India.

Bullet Shame of India "Congress"
By Anand Dubey on 3/29/2009 10:40:34 PM

Gandhi vs Gandhi, How members of one family are miles apart in thier ideology and character. Which again is miles apart for the real Gandhi family. Gandhised 'Nehurs" show how much they work hard for the welfare of minority. In fact they work against majority and minority both. This party has never seen country with one eye. This secular congress is most religiously, caste, and regionalism oriented party. If congress wins this election, India will be rewarded with-More bombings inside and outside.

Bullet What more could Congress party do to damage India?
By Aam Admai on 3/29/2009 6:52:11 PM

The Congresss party's electoral pact with ttehad-e-Millat Council in UP speaks for its so called secular credentials. Save India! Save your children!

Bullet Congress deals Muslim card
By Murali on 3/29/2009 5:05:01 PM

Congress will have pact even with the devil to retain power .

Bullet Congress Deals Muslim Cards
By Murali on 3/29/2009 4:47:58 PM

Congress will pact with any devil to destroy India!

Bullet secularism in india
By darsan on 3/29/2009 4:44:39 PM

indian secularism's key tenet is anti-hinduism. the Pope's followers scream secularism as a ploy for conversion.the congress held the butcher's hand in partition and has graduated now.

By B S GANESH on 3/29/2009 4:35:36 PM


Bullet Bleating of Vir Sanghvi
By Dr Ramalingam on 3/29/2009 3:00:51 PM

Today there was an article in Indian Express where Vir Sanghvi bleated about how a scion of the Nehru Gandhi family had blotted the family escutcheon by saying he is a Hindu and how he showered hatred on Muslims etc. The secular press is really sad that one Gandhi has totally overshadowed the other weak and stupid one, who is not even a college graduate but claims to be an M.Phil!

Bullet Cong's propaganda machine more dreadful than Goebbel's
By Reader on 3/29/2009 1:07:08 PM

The Media is Goebbelised by the Neo-Fascist Communal Junta called "Secularists". Why BJP is not exposing Cong to the people as the mother of all communlisms and the greatest threat to democracy in India?

Bullet Congress Minister of Gujarat sent to 20 years jail for planting bombs
By Shankar on 3/29/2009 12:31:19 PM

BJP is not highlighting this judgement which came in Oct 2008. The court convicted Surti, along with 11 others, in connection with the April 1993 grenade blast at Surat Railway station.

Bullet Election Commission (Sonia)
By Krishen Kak on 3/29/2009 11:03:28 AM

The Varun Gandhi ruling/advice was unanimously agreed to by all three ECs, and Kanchan Gupta incisively details its pseudo-secular bias. It has become the Election Commission (Sonia). Shri Gopalaswami appears to have blotted his copybook at the very end of a distinguished career. He should have resigned when the President rejected his Chawla recommendation. PS Note too the Congress electoral support to terrorism-related convict Sanjay Dutt.

Bullet Why is the BJP silent on a Terrorist Congress minister.
By Shankar on 3/29/2009 8:36:04 AM

Dear Sir, I do not know why the BJP is defensive on many issues.It should highlight that a Congress Minister was actually a terrorist.I have not seen any BJP anchors on analysts mentioning it in the news shows. Pl forward to Mr Ravishankar Prasad,Arun Jaitley,Siddhardh Singh,Praksash Jawedkar.This judgement came recently and therefore can be taken up as an active issues. This should have been hammered during Mayabens arrest.

Bullet Article by Mr. Kanchan Gupta
By C. L. Sharma on 3/29/2009 5:58:44 AM

I found the article by Mr. Gupta extremely enlightening. It reveals that the Congress Party is full of hypocrites and sycophants. It is a communal party that seeks to promote the interests of the dominant minority at the cost of the other segments of the society. It pursues an appeasement policy to stay in power for ever. I hope that the people would unite to defeat its nefarious designs, by giving it a crushing defeat.

Bullet Duplicitous
By Manish Maheshwari on 3/29/2009 5:58:38 AM

This, to my mind, is a matter that should agitate the minds of all Hindus --- there clearly are two sets of laws now in this country: one for Hindus and one for non-Hindus.

Bullet Congress plays a divisive politics
By Gopal on 3/29/2009 3:42:59 AM

Congress is the one who plays communal politics. They are all out to appease minorities at the cost of all other Indians. What a shame? Our weakest PM Manmohan under the the influence of madam Sonia Gandhi advocates for "First Muslim" share on all Indian resources. People should vote BJP Canditates to make India stronger under the able leadership of Sri Advaniji.

Bullet Election Commission of India has in its possession a copy of the CD ...
By anil on 3/29/2009 1:22:07 AM

EC took the decision overnight in Varun's case. How will it take for EC to delve into this. This only paints EC in poor colour and can not but come to a decision that it may as well be hand in globe with some dark forces.

Bullet Secularism in India
By anil on 3/29/2009 1:13:51 AM

Secularisn in India constitutes giving a free hand to Congress & its allies so they can advance their communal, sometime criminal & family oriented agenda every where. One wonders how this party can become a national party and call India the largest democracy in the World.