God help Pakistan: View from across the LoC

Retired Lt. Colonel Abdul Rashid from Rawalpindi raises serious doubts about the integrity of Pakistan’s Judiciary, the State and the electronic media post the Contempt of Court conviction of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani  

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Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani

One impulsive, partisan or, at least, unthoughtful decision at that level, forced the apex court to eat a humble pie at the end. Conviction of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and a timid award of imprisonment till rising of the court is a dirty joke. Keeping the coveted civil rule on the tenter hooks in a destabilized state for four years, is a disservice done to democracy and economy of the country by the higher judiciary. During the course of the proceedings of the contempt case, the honorable judges realized that they have inadvertently involved themselves in a wild goose chase. They realized that the honor of the higher judiciary was being tainted by that case. Had they resorted to immediate damage control, they could have relegated the case for some future date as they had done about the Asghar Khan petition. But as they say that instead of owning a mistake if you try to cover it up you go on committing mistakes one after the other.

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President Zardari: Target of corruption probe

The witch hunt of PPP leadership by the higher judiciary was resorted to,  ostensibly, because they had returned to the country to fight and win elections through an understanding with General Pervez Musharraf’s administration, which had been responsible for sacking the judges of the higher judiciary earlier on. President Asif Ali Zardari was picked up as a target and the Swiss cases of graft were resuscitated. It is an open secret that the project was undertaken to keep those quarters in good humor that had been in the forefront during the struggle for restoration of judiciary.

The PPP government was ordered by the Supreme Court, posthaste, to write a letter to the Swiss court for proceeding against Mr Zardari. The Prime Minister refused to initiate the proposed letter on the plea that according to the constitutional provisions of the federation, president enjoyed immunity against any prosecution in the country as well as abroad. The apex court instead of taking up the debate or interpretation of the relevant constitutional provisions, simply kept insisting on letter writing, failing which the contempt proceedings were instituted. The defense council of the Prime Minister indulged in a monotonous litany of immunity of the President during all the weeks and days that he pleaded the case but the court in their best judgment ignored to give a ruling on the fulcrum point of presidential immunity. In all fairness his assertion should have been dealt on priority before proceeding with the case but at no stage even a remark came out of the mouth of any of the members of the bench regarding immunity or otherwise. After all why?

ImageIf the contempt proceedings were initiated with that much ado why did the judiciary waver at the time of handing in an appropriate sentence which must, at least, appear commensurate with the seriousness of the case? A chief executive was charged for contempt of court first time in our history. The world got the impression that something extremely serious had been amiss. Then why hand in such a mild sentence? Because during the protracted course of the contempt proceedings the court realized that the gallery had perceived the motive of hitting the skin as actually meant to hit the donkey.

A word about the defending individual, that is, Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani, the Prime Minister. It is a cardinal edict of anthropology that the real worth of a person is found out during a crisis. Instead of playing a hero and fake shaheed and opting to gain extra political mileage, he should have resigned. Ignoring the decorum of his own office as well as of the higher judiciary, he took a legal case to petty politics and public meetings. Leave alone resigning, he is so shamefacedly poised to stick to the job as if he is trying hard to prove that he is not an honorable man.

Apart from the contempt case the Prime Minister had ample other reasons to resign. His one son is involved in Haj scam and the other in narcotics. Instead of resigning he is victimizing the government officials who want to honestly proceed with relevant inquiries about these guys.

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Gilani's son Ali Musa

That was judiciary and this is executive. Two pillar institutions of Pakistani state stand exposed. God help Pakistan.

The third significant player is electronic media. We don’t blame them. They are in the middle of their teething troubles. Instead of promoting impartial journalism, every group of media has an axe to grind. These groups are the stooges of one or the other political party. As such make a mockery of our national media before the world.

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Electronic media in Pakistan

That was judiciary and executive and this is media, the third main player. God help Pakistan.

The Bofors case: a pursuit for the truth

Ayushman Jamwal

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Sten Lindstrom aka Deep Throat

Recently, the Bofors scandal of the late 1980s resurfaced when the whistleblower revealed his identity. In an interview with Chitra Subramaniam, the Hindu newspaper journalist who exposed the scandal, retired Swedish police chief Sten Lindstrom revealed that he was the elusive Deep Throat, who leaked the documents that blew the lid off the arms deal.

The interview mainly comprised of Lindstrom’s personal struggle with the case and his rant about how politics needs to be more responsible. But like the ending of the first movie of a trilogy, he raised more questions, said he will release more information but gave no answers to the key questions of the case. Isn’t that what whistleblowers coming out of the wood work supposed to do?

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Ottavio Quattrocchi

The problem with trilogies is that you don’t know when the next movie will come out. With no new information, the ‘revelation’ was reduced to being used as a tool for political bashing. The usual mud slinging battle ensued between the Centre and the Opposition both in Parliament and on the evening news. The BJP reps emphasized a link between the Bofors middleman Ottavio Quattrocchi and the Gandhi family, while the Congress accused the BJP for ‘flogging a dead horse’ and not pursuing the case when they were in power. It was similar to the mud slinging of the past when the scandal was revealed. But that caused a turbulent political storm that led to the fall of the Rajiv Gandhi government and ushered in the BJP supported VP Singh government.

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Bangaru Laxman accepting a bribe from Tehelka journalists

As the semantic storm abated, the truth, however, gained no mileage. Even after Lindstrom, the BJP couldn’t repeat history. The political playing field was equalized on Friday when former BJP leader Bangaru Laxman was convicted and sentenced to four years in jail for corruption, exposed by a sting operation by Tehelka magazine in 2001. The citizenry and the media are now the two remaining stakeholders who may have an interest in the truth. But as the standard shouting matches have dominated the media, the Bofors case seems to be once again dying a natural death and may subsequently be eroded from the public mind.

I think people have been swept by the political effect of Lindstrom’s appearance and not with the facts of the Bofors case. Those facts have existed before the retired Swedish officer came into the limelight but no one made any noise. Lindstrom has simply triggered the political and public upheaval, but the case is not moving ahead because we are not asking right questions. It is a mistake for the media and the citizenry to look at the scandal with political lenses, focusing on Bofors vs. Banagaru comparisons. They should instead be addressing the questions the case has thrown up over the decades. In my opinion, some of those questions, which we need to refocus on, are as follows,

Question 1: On the 26th of July 1993, CBI Joint Director, K Madhavan advised the probe agency to immediately alert all immigration check posts in India not to allow Quattrocchi to leave the country. Why was Quattrocchi allowed to leave India for Kuala Lampur a few days later on the night between 29-30th of July without being interrogated?

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Hansraj Bhardwaj

Question 2: In December 2005, why did the UPA I Law minister, Hansraj Bhardwaj order the Additional Solicitor General, B. Dutta to de-freeze Quattrocchi’s London accounts – after they had been frozen by the CBI; after Quattrocchi’s appeal to de-freeze them had been rejected in the British courts; and while the case against him was still active?

In an email from the British authorities cited in India Today it was said, “Mr Datta conveyed his instructions on behalf of the Government of India, the Ministry of Justice and the Central Bureau of Investigation that no useful purpose will be served by maintaining the Restraining Order dated July 25, 2003, as there is no longer any reasonable prospect of the case against Mr Quattrocchi proceeding to trial.”

In January 2006, a Public Interest Litigation was filed in the Supreme Court and the CBI was ordered to prevent the withdrawal of money from Quattrocchi’s London accounts until the reasons behind the government’s decision were clarified. However, even before the Supreme Court decision was given, the accounts were emptied of the amount of $4 million.

Question 3: In April 2009, why did the CBI withdraw the Red Corner notice (international arrest orders aiming for extradition) against Quattrocchi from Interpol, that had been in effect since February 1997?

Question 4: In October 2009, why did the CBI seek judicial permission to withdraw the case against Quattarocchi, arguing that his continued prosecution and persecution was unjustified?

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Ajay Agrawal

Question 5: In the same month Ajay Agrawal, a Supreme Court lawyer filed an RTI application seeking documents relating to the de-freezing of the London accounts and the grounds for which the CBI sought the withdrawal of the case against Quattrocchi. Why was his plea refused a month later in November?

Question 6: In December 2010, the Income Tax Tribunal asked the IT department to pursue a case against Quattrocchi and the son of Win Chaddha to get tax dues from them. When the order was brought to the notice of the Supreme Court in February 2011, it deferred it for the 4th of March. However, when the date arrived, why did the Court approve the CBI’s plea to withdraw the case against Quattarocchi?

In the current context, I think it is important to ask,

Question 7: Will the documents now produced by Lindstrom be authenticated? Will Lindstrem be cross-examined?

Question 8: Will the supposedly new revelations be subject to a judicial commission?

The questions highlight how the CBI seems to be far from an independent organisation and the extent to which governments can abuse their position to sidetrack justice for political interests. But at the same time they emphasize how we should not get swayed by a Wikileaks style pseudo-revelatory wave even if it appeals to our political sentiments. Lindstrom requires the same level of scrutiny as the Bofors case files.

The Bofors case has for decades eroded the integrity of the justice system in India, exposing how politically convenient justice is the most likely one to be achieved. However, after 26 years, the case has transcended from being just about corruption to one raising serious questions about the capacity of the Indian state to bring probity into public life.

The government and the Opposition must be hammered with these questions, to help the truth see the light of day and to prevent the issue from becoming just another media savvy political squabble. Since the political will behind the case has been neutralized, people other than Lindstrom, like K Madhavan and Ajay Agrawal, who have pursued the truth, must come forward and rattle the Government with questions. The citizenry as well as the media must find it their duty to help them make that noise.

The Jessica Lal case, 2G and the Commonwealth scam case are a testament to what Indian citizens and the media can achieve when we are driven to seek out the truth. Let’s make a start by at least believing that we can seek it out by asking the right questions and demanding the right answers.

The elusive right to free speech and expression

Ayushman Jamwal

Growing up in India, I was always curious about life across the border in Pakistan and China. It baffled me how our education system and popular culture freely reflected, and almost celebrated the West, thousands of miles away but was intellectually alienated from our neighbours. Be it school, the news media or interactions with my family, there was a knowledge deficit about the social-political culture of India’s two most prominent neighbours.

My curiosity was quelled while studying in the UK where I freely interacted with students from Pakistan and China. I realised that both nations suffer from a culture of information control. Since its inception, China has explicitly cracked down on free speech, censoring the press, television and regulating the web.

ImageEven though Pakistan for the first time has enjoyed an almost complete term of democratic rule and a thriving media culture, both are directed by a legacy of military rule and elements of Sharia law, namely – the blasphemy law, enforced not only by the state but extremists who believe they are doing a service to ‘God’.

While my generation in those countries aspires for a right to free speech and expression, I felt very proud and fortunate that my country enjoys a Constitution that not only guarantees an Indian citizen that freedom, but allocates the duty to exercise it to defend the moral integrity of the nation. The law under Article 19 clause 1 sub-clause (a) states,

“All citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression”

Clause 2 argues,

“Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”

This right amongst others is a cherished legacy of the architects of India. It represents the realization of a universal human aspiration for freedom, equality and liberty which our freedom fighters and thousands before them around the world have fought and died for. Yet, the past few months have shown how such a universal right can fall prey to the medieval nature of politics in India.

Till this day, The Satanic Verses, a book allegedly critical of Islam, is banned in India due to the outrage of Muslim interest groups. Its author Salman Rushdie was not allowed to attend the Jaipur literature festival in January due to ‘security reasons’.

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A K Ramanujan

This month, an essay by scholar AK Ramanujan titled 300 Ramayanas was removed from the Delhi university history curriculum. The essay positively highlights how the virtuous story of the Ramayana has been retold and modified in several languages around the world. The essay has been attracting the indignation of right wing Hindu activists.

In fact, in 2008, members of the BJP-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad barged into the Delhi University history department to protest the teaching of the essay and vandalised the place.

In West Bengal, a Jadavpur University professor, Ambikesh Mahapatra created a cartoon which described the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee conspiring with party member Mukul Roy to oust former Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi. Even though people across the country knew the cartoon depicted the truth, Mahapatra was jailed and allegedly harassed by Mamata Banerjee’s party workers.

In other cases, exercising the right to free speech and expression when criticising the state has got people slapped with sedition charges and censorship. Ashwin Kumar’s documentary Inshallah, Kashmir was banned by the Central Board of Film Certification. The documentary chronicles the human rights violations by the Indian Army in Kashmir through interviews of civilians and suspected militants.

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Inshallah, Kashmir poster

The move by the CBFC is indicative of the government’s fear of transparency in the Kashmir issue. With the current narrative dominated by – the Indian government’s ‘peace keeping role’ and ‘militancy from Pakistan’, the government seems to be intolerant of any negative coverage.

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Dr. Binayak Sen

In another case, in December 2010, a lower court in Chhattisgarh convicted and sentenced Dr Binayak Sen, a vocal critic of the state government’s counter-insurgency policies against Maoists, to life in prison for sedition.

India’s sedition law enshrined in section 124A of the Penal Code, prohibits any words either spoken or written, or any signs or visible representation that can cause “hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection,” toward the government.

However, in 1962, a landmark ruling in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case, the Supreme Court ruled that unless the accused incited violence by their speech or action, it would no longer constitute sedition as it would otherwise violate the right to freedom of speech.

The court argued: “[C]riticism of public measures or comment on Government action, however strongly worded, would be within reasonable limits and would be consistent with the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. It is only when the words, written or spoken, etc. which have the pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order that the law steps in to prevent such activities in the interest of public order.” India has also ratified The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1979 which prohibits restrictions on freedom of expression on national security grounds unless – they are provided by law, strictly construed, and proportionate to address a legitimate threat.

Dr Sen took his case to the Supreme Court and on April 15, 2011, he was granted bail. The bench observed that, “We are a democratic country. He may be a sympathiser (of Naxalites) but it did not make him guilty of sedition. He is a sympathiser. Nothing beyond that.” It also added, “We are concerned with the implementation of the judgment as even no case of sedition is made out.”

Given the diversity of India, it is inevitable that politics will be based along cultural and communal lines. Unfortunately, such politics are perpetuated through poverty, lack of education and gansterism. This, I believe, leads to ‘cattle class’ politics where an ideology or sentiment is declared unquestionable, and radically enforced through both state and non-state actors. It’s a shame that speech and expression can be banned through such pressure politics and not be subject to intellectual debate, discussion and most importantly, the rule of law. Political parties fear and find opportunity in such protest. There is an overall aim to maintain vote banks and so on particular issues, major parties can contravene social freedoms to avoid the wrath of sizable communities while at the same time, appease their flaring anger to gain favour. Yet, why is the citizenry quite? Why are the media with all their strength and influence quite? Don’t both enjoy and thrive on the universal freedom of expression? The long-term effect of an apathetic stance is that communal actors get more emboldened to politicise cases and trample on the freedoms guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

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Politics along communal lines

It is also unfortunate yet true, that in this country, both history and irresponsible leadership have created and perpetuated anti-nationalist sentiments. From Kashmir, to the northeast to the Red corridor in central India, groups have, to a great extent, been driven to fight for political rights, autonomy and even independence. These are politically potent and complicated issues. Such sentiments are not born of malice, but long term social, political and economic disengagement. Can’t Indian citizens sympathize with such sentiment? Can’t they criticise the excesses of the state? Why is it considered a right course of action to silence such views? Why doesn’t the political class address the sense of disengagement in these regions to counter anti-nationalist sentiment and in so doing tackle participation in armed insurgencies?

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Anti-India expression in Kashmir

I have heard the argument many times from the state that such voices are suppressed because they are provocative and allow the spread of anti-nationalist opinions. The argument is nothing short of India waving a white flag to those opinions; it is an abuse to those who wish for an amicable solution; a ridicule of the intellectual integrity of the Indian citizenry, and a deviance from our democratic and libertarian heritage. It is very simple – gagging free speech and loosely imposing sedition is unconstitutional, and dictatorial by nature.

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A famous quote by French philosopher Voltaire

Any such cases cannot be tolerated. Every Indian must confidently believe that they are promised the right to free speech. It is an essential right enshrined in a Constitution which political parties are charged to uphold. While we must cherish the right, they must respect it. If the state tramples on the principles of the Constitution, we citizens must invoke its articles; mobilize the power of collective citizenry by exercising our right to free speech, protest and most importantly, our vote. The political class is dependent on the sentiments of citizens. As democracy is not perfect, we the citizens of India must be the true defenders of the Constitution.

Boomerang: A Gandhian writes in…

Peter Ruhe, CEO of the Gandhi Serve Foundation in Germany had this to say in reply to the recent article, What’s valuable: Gandhi’s teachings or his 64-year-old dry blood stain?

To Ayushman,

Your ideas expressed at the end of your article are nothing but noble, genuine and idealistic.You’ll be patted on the back for your noble views, and they’ll be forgotten the next second. I fully share your views and idealism but reality in India is different. This destructive and hypocritical attitude towards Gandhi made me leaving the country long ago.

Mahatma Gandhi

All over the world are hundreds, if not thousands of artifacts which, at some stage, belonged to Gandhiji. Just visualize the myriads of visitors Phoenix Settlement, Tolstoy Farm, Kochrab, Sabarmati and Sevagram Ashram have had over the years when Gandhi was alive. These people never came with empty hands. Moreover, on his numerous travels throughout India and abroad he received many personal presents which were neither meant nor apt for the Harijan Fund or any other of his funds.

Gandhiji rarely kept presents for himself, but distributed them amongst his associates. They in turn gave them to their relatives and friends, of whom many descendants live abroad nowadays. The auctions that took place in the past years were just the peak of the iceberg. If these auctions are discouraged, discredited or even made impossible, the same artifacts are sold underground and the Indian Government never gets a chance to get hold of them. Instead of acting against these auctions, people should be encouraged to bring their artifacts to the surface and either offer them in an auction or straight to the Indian Government, if a fair deal by the Indian Government is provided.

Arun Gandhi

In the years after Gandhi’s death it was legitimate and appropriate to request people to donate these items to museums or the National Archives. But since Gandhi’s own grandson, Arun Gandhi, got his father’s (Manilal Gandhi) correspondence with Gandhiji auctioned in the mid-1980’s, it is equally justified to get such material auctioned, especially – but not only – if it benefits a “good cause”.

Another aspect is quite a delicate one: Provided the provenance of the auctioned grass blades is waterproof, the blood drops can be used to ascertain Gandhiji’s DNA which will be quite important in the future as there are still his fingernails, hair, bonepieces, a tooth and ashes around, which have been used or may be used in future exhibitions and may also be offered in auctions eventually. Without knowing Gandhiji’s DNA, it is impossible to proove the authenticity of these things no matter what interests are involved.

So, I would suggest that the Indian Government sets up a title for the acquisition of artifacts on and by Gandhiji and India’s independence movement. As these items are just beginning to pop-up, it is perhaps the last chance to buy them for comparatively reasonable rates. Just imagine the market rates for Gandhiji’s letters, dhotis, sandals, dishes etc. a 100 years from now … or after the wealthy Chinese or Google enter the market and start buying them!

Gandhi's statue facing the Indian Parliament

Such a title would be peanuts in the budget of the Indian Government but it would help tremendously to preserve the legacy of the man India is – rightly- so proud of, and is identified with the world over, and will forever!

What’s valuable: Gandhi’s teachings or his 64-year-old dry blood stain?

Ayushman Jamwal

An auction of Mahatma Gandhi artifacts in London has been drawing criticism from social circles in India. The items went on sale on Tuesday and included Gandhi’s famous round rimmed glasses which sold for 34,000 British Pounds; his spinning wheel went at 26,000 Pounds and autographed letters in English and Gujarati sold for between 2000 and 7000 Pounds each. Bizarrely, a handful of soil and bloodstained blades of grass from the place Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi in 1948, where the Martyr’s column at the Gandhi Smriti stands today, sold for 10,000 Pounds at the auction.

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Gandhi artifacts on auction in London

The soil and grass were contained in a glass topped box in a small wooden casket. It came with a letter of provenance saying that the recipient “has today received the most sacred of all relics a fraction of the pinch of soil I collected on 30 January 1948 from the spot where the father of our nation MK Gandhi fell to the bullets of his assassin…”

Outraged by the auction, members of the Gandhi Peace Foundation Centre have pledged to go on a hunger strike. Earlier this month, Giriraj Kishore, a celebrated Hindi writer and a recipient of the Padma Shri Award, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, asking him to prevent the auction of the items.

“There should be a law to prevent it. We can’t even protect his blood? It is shameful for us to be silent on this matter,” Kishore wrote in his letter.

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Padma Bhushan winner Giriraj Kishore

“Gandhiji is the Father of the Nation and everything related to him belongs to the nation whether it is his glasses, his spinning wheel or the blade of grass on which his blood fell when he was hit by the bullets. How is it that our national heritage is auctioned off in foreign countries and we are unable to stop it?”

Kishore chronicled Gandhi’s struggles as a lawyer in South Africa in the book ‘Pahla Girmitiya’ which means, ‘The First Indentured Labour’. He had pledged to give up his Padma Shree if the government did not intervene to return the items to India. Even India’s champion of Gandhian non-violence, Anna Hazare, criticised the auction. He told Headlines Today on Tuesday, that the items from Gandhi’s “inspirational” struggle for India’s Independence should not be auctioned.

Kishore’s protest is supported by Hindu interest groups such the Rashtriya Jan Jagran Manch and the Manas Sangam. They have demanded an apology from Dr Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil for not stopping the auction. The protest coalition claimed to have collected a large sum of money, which they argued the Centre could have used to purchase the items. Failing to push the Centre into action, Kishore wrote to President Pratibha Patil yesterday, seeking a date to return his award.

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Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi’s revered image is being dragged through a petty prestige battle raised by people who have come to take for granted the enlightening values and philosophy he left not only India, but the world. Why does the sale of banal things like Gandhi’s spectacles and dirt lead to such a hue and cry when the man’s name drives politics in this country; when his words and life are entrenched in our culture and education system; when his remains lie in the capital of our nation; when Rajghat and Sabarmati Ashram serve as magnificent symbols of his non-violent struggle and unbreakable spirit. This is what Mahatma Gandhi means to me and millions of people across the world.

Kishore’s book is a great service to future Indians to help them understand Gandhi’s fight against discrimination and he was rightly awarded the Padma Shree. The book reflects the motivational effect of Gandhi’s teachings which Kishore must remember and cherish as it transcends by leaps and bounds the mundane value of a few possessions.

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Anna Hazare criticised the auction

Anna Hazare last year made people across India realise the power of the individual citizen and the force of collective citizenry. He has been a potent figure of Gandhian principle and practice for modern India and must not cheapen that image by expressing outrage over the auction.

For generations, Gandhi’s actions and his philosophy have guided people to realise that they have the potential to be more than a person in a crowd. He has been an inspiration to human rights champions of the last century like the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King Jr, and Aung San Suu Kyi. Gandhi is a motivation to the every human being’s right to liberty, justice and empowerment.

His actions which mirrored his teachings of Ahimsa and Satyagraha are the true inheritance of the Indian people, something no amount of money or auction can take away from us. We must acknowledge the worth of that legacy.

A landmark development in Indo-Pak relations: View from across the LoC

Since its inception, Pakistan’s military has implemented an aggressive foreign policy with India. It has undermined the efforts of democratic governments for rapprochement,facilitated war and decades of mistrust and animosity. President Zardari’s government has given positive signals to New Delhi on improving bilateral relations. Breaking away from the cycle of history, the military establishment under the leadership of General Kayani has welcomed the move.

In his latest contribution, Retired Lt. Colonel Abdul Rashid from Rawalpindi gives his take on the improving civil-military relations in Pakistan and how it portends harmonious relations with India.

Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani

There have never been permanent realities during the past annals nor can we expect that in the future. It had always been almost blasphemous for a military leader to address India other than ‘enemy’, leave alone declaring in loud and clear terms the need for rapprochement with India. The army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, during his visit to the Gayari sector of the Siachen glacier, synthesized, in so many words, the concept of peaceful co-existence with India. He stressed the need to demilitarize the sector and also wished success for the ongoing peace process between the two countries. It was an important policy statement by the army chief, given after due deliberations and not an impulsive slip of the tongue.

The futility of the war path treaded by the Pakistani leadership with India for over six decades is staring us in the face, while the world community has been mocking us for all this while. Why? The answer is that the religious right trailing behind the army leadership maintained the hype of Indian animosity. The damage done to the humanity living in the sub-continent due to this flawed premise is colossal and immeasurable. Instead of bewailing the past we welcome the transformation, taking solace in the adage:  “It is never too late” or “it is better to be late than never”.

Our defence establishment, our political leadership and the people carry vivid memories of applying violent means to solve our problems with India. Every exercise in this regard resulted in a bloody nose to us and colossal economic downturns that substantially added to the miseries of the people of Pakistan. The dictates of knowledge and common sense suggest that we give peaceful means a chance to resolve our problems with neighboring India. Without the army leadership’s support no political administration could succeed in that. Now since the Pakistani army leadership is on board for the ongoing peace initiative with its Indian counterpart, one could logically hope to expect better results.

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Casualties of the Salala incident

A serious breach had occurred in US-Pak relations after the Salala incident in November 2011. NATO forces engaged Pakistan security forces at two checkpoints at the Salala area of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The incident lead to the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers and wounded 13. Both US and Pakistan realized the need to fill this breach. Pakistan’s political leadership, instead of the old practice of taking dictation from the army, chose to take the Parliament in confidence to get the terms of reorientation of the nation’s ties with the US formulated by the legislators of the state. The army, in an obvious manner, expressed solidarity with the Parliament in this regard. Some pundits, instead of calling it a welcome change, brushed it aside terming it ‘window dressing’ by the defence establishment. The follow up statement by the army chief during his visit to the Gayari Sector has a substantive link with the parliamentary exercise mentioned earlier. Kayani’s statement signifies a definite change of heart of the army leadership regarding Pakistan’s foreign policy.

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The Religious right: Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed at a rally in Lahore

The religious right, having failed to secure a place in the mainstream political canvas of Pakistan, has made a common cause with the army to perpetuate non-democratic rule in the country. The aim has been to isolate the populace from, secularism, globalization, and modernity which, in turn, would facilitate exploitation of the people by religious pundits. That arrangement worked as long as governmental highhandedness and the anarchic working of the security establishment remained ‘hush-hush’ affairs.  A decade of free media gradually exposed the misdeeds of all and sundry. Army being the best organized institution in the country began to realize the importance of transparency and realism ahead of all.

General Kayani will go down in history as a realist aiming to break the cycle of perpetual conflict with neighboring India. It is now well understood that the religious right, left high and dry by the defence establishment, will fight tooth and nail to resist this wave of change. But they seem to be on the wrong side of history as the roller coaster of peace, enlightenment and democracy is poised to move in top gear and rubbish all obstacles.

Horrible actions of the religious lobby, the government and the security establishment have systematically been laid bare before the citizenry by the media during the last decade. The process of transparency thus imposed on all state and non state actors makes it impossible to reverse the process by any stretch of imagination.

This landmark development will go a long way in diluting the distrust between the Indian and Pakistani states. The democratic governments of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto in the past and Asif Ali Zardari during the current epoch tried their best to initiate the process of normalization of relations with India. However, neither the Indian leadership nor the world at large took these overtures seriously as, in our case, foreign policy was dictated by the defence establishment and not the democratic governments. Therefore, all the endeavors for rapprochement amounted to placing the cart before the horse.

India-Pakistan amity

The important policy statement by our army chief will be taken to be from the horse’s mouth by the Indian leaders as well as the world community. I sincerely hope that the ongoing peace process with India will gather lot of momentum from the event, and we will be a lot closer to our destination of resolving all our issues including the core issue of Kashmir, and achieve a lasting peace with our estranged neighbour.

Shame, Shame Didi!!

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Don of Bengal: Mamata Banerjee

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has done it again. Not since former Bihar head, Laloo Prasad Yadav has a CM treated their state as their personal backyard. Mamata’s Trinamool Congress has beaten up Bengali communists, banned English dailies from state libraries, roped in media heads for favourable coverage, and has unflinchingly rooted out any element of political dissent. She has lived up to the oxymoron term ‘democratic dictatorship’ frequently used by the Chinese government. Beyond Bengal, ‘didi’ has strutted her stake in the UPA government, successfully bullying the Centre on the NCTC, FDI in retail, and blocking the passage of significant Railway reforms by pressuring the Centre to sack the former Railway minister, Dinesh Trivedi, who also happened to be her party member.

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The cartoon that caused the stir

But now Didi has gone too far. On Thursday night, Ambikesh Mahapatra, a chemistry professor from Jadavpur University in Kolkata was arrested by the police for posting a cartoon on the internet which made fun of Mamata Banerjee. The cartoon depicted her as conspiring with Mukul Roy, the TMC member she later appointed as Railway minister, to get rid of Trivedi. Mahapatra was charged with offences related to defamation, insulting the modesty of a women and cyber crime. He spent a night in Jadavpur jail and was released on bail on Friday. The same day, he filed a counter complaint alleging that he was assaulted by four TMC workers who forced him to give a written declaration that he was a Communist Party of India member and circulated the cartoon on orders of the party. On Saturday, four TMC workers of the New Garia area inSouthern Kolkatawere arrested, but released soon after getting bail on personal security bonds. Mr. Mahapatra released a statement on Saturday,

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Ambikesh Mahapatra

“I am still to come to terms with the assault and my subsequent arrest Not only my family and I are apprehensive of our security, even other residents of the housing society are now scared.”

Its one thing if a political leader bullies and pulls strings to enforce the status quo, but the moment politics encroaches on personal freedoms, the politician responsible not only angers citizens but shames the voters who delivered political power. It is particularly disappointing for the Bengalis who voted for Mamata in hopes for change after three decades of Communist rule had spread corruption, poverty, and political gangsterism in the state. Instead, their hope for change runs the state as a fiefdom and is highly suspicious and insecure about losing political clout. Trinamool Congress dissident and Jadavpur Lok Sabha MP, Kabir Suman told CNN IBN, “The Chief Minister is the government.” He added that, “She is suffering from a strange paranoia and persecution mania.”

Political circles have criticized Mamata Banerjee for her action. BJP leader Arun Jaitley, who is frequently featured in cartoons said, “In a democracy, people should learn to laugh at themselves”.

“If caricature denigrates someone, people have the right to complain and take recourse to law,” said Information and broadcasting minister, Ambika Soni. “But arresting is taking things too far,” she added.

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CPI leader Prakash Karat

Prakash Karat, leader of the Communist Party of India and the Opposition in Bengal criticized Banerjee for undermining the democratic rights of citizens. “It’s height of intolerance and shows how the state machinery is being used to suppress democratic rights and dissent. This is becoming an increasing feature of the Mamata Banerjee government,” he said.

The citizens of India were not far behind to show their outrage. The Twitterverse exploded with anti-Mamata groups with the hashtag, #arrestmenow becoming viral. People posted comments criticizing the police for cracking down on free expression on the internet and made fun of Mamata. Few witty tweets were,

Nigel Britto @NigelBritto tweeted, “Just realized ‘Trinamool Congress’ is an anagram of ‘Strong-arm colonies’. Actually kinda makes sense, really. #RailBudget #arrestmenow”.

Anant Rangaswami @AnantRangaswami tweeted, “Mamata to Mukul Roy: Roll back all those jokes about me on twitter immediately! #ArrestMeNow”.

Shanu Singh @shanu_singh tweeted, “Mamta Banerjee is making left look heavenly. #arrestmenow”.

Silent Masochist @pradoshkj tweeted, “’di’ inBengaldoesn’t stands for didi . It stands for dictator!” #arrestmenow #Mamata

Moreover, on Saturday over 300 members of the All India Student’s Democratic Organisation (AISDO) came out in protest on the streets of Kolkata in support of Mahapatra, blocking roads and waving placards with slogans against the TMC government. Even though he expressed his fear of TMC’s goons, Mahapatra remained defiant saying, “I am not sorry and will again send such emails in the future”.

The Freedom of expression is one of the most sacred human rights enshrined in our Constitution. Indian freedom fighters fought and died for the right up against the British Raj, and people till today fight for it around the world. Mamata Banerjee’s action is not an issue just for the people of Bengal, but a case where Indian citizens everywhere must express their outrage.

It is the duty of elected officials to be aware of and measure public sentiment, address it through action and intelligent dialogue besides stomp on it using police powers. I understand that there is a thin line between the freedom of expression and defamation, but that is a matter for courts. Freedom of expression issues are ambiguous, Mahapatra required a fair trial by an independent judiciary to deliberate the extent of a crime, if any.

The case raises a troubling question – Can influential personalities if willing, get people arrested for criticism by spinning the word of a law and denying fair trails? Citizens and news media organizations across the country must demand an answer from the TMC and seek a statement from the Centre. While we citizens are disciples of the principle of the freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution, it is the same right under which the media were created; they have grown, and strived to fulfill their democratic role of being a check against the state.

Mamata Banrejee abused her powers, resorted to political thuggery, denied Mahapatra his rights, branded him a criminal and made him spend a night in jail. Similar to Mahapatra and the AISDO, it is our responsibility as citizens of India as well the news media’s to raise our voices against Banerjee’s dictatorial actions which facilitated the denial of a crucial human right. Multilateral narratives and protests from citizens and the media must be initiated to make Banerjee realize the consequences of abusing the law to undermine the constitutional freedoms of all Indian citizens. American Broadcast legend, Bill Moyers once said, “Democracy works when ordinary people claim it as their own.” We must make her understand that in the end, elected officials rise through the will of citizens and can fall by the same.