ACTIVISTS JOINING POLITICS: A WELCOME SIGN FOR INDIAN DEMOCRACY

“I have been fasting for the last 16 years. I haven’t got anything from it yet. I am ending my fast today. I want to try a different agitation now. I will contest against the Chief Minister of Manipur in the upcoming state elections.”

Another activist joining politics – that is always a welcome step for Indian democracy. On July 31, Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, two pivots of the 2011 anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare, announced that they would launch their political party formally on October 2, on the Gandhi Jayanti Day.

Yogendra and Prashant are from the latest crop of the experimental activists who are joining politics after trying their hands in activism for a long period and we can hope that their experience would push them to cleanse the system as they claim and would deliver a politics that would truly be common man centric.

We can say it all began with the Anna’s movement in 2011. It was a massively successful civil society movement in India after decades that forced the government to take notice.

First it was Arvind Kejriwal and his group of supporters from ‘India Against Corruption’ who took the political plunge after they saw that their movement was losing direction and the government was getting an upper hand. Initially, Yogendra and Prashant were with Kejriwal. But later difference cropped up resulting in Kejriwal expelling Yogendra Yadav, Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan from the party. In the wave that began with Anna’s movement, many other activists from across the country soon joined the new political party that emerged from the movement – the Aam Aadmi Party.

That is a spontaneous reaction from the people who have been fighting honestly for the last many years – that is spontaneous with Irom Sharmila who has become a global icon of peace and the struggle for it. It is heartening for Indian democracy that the trend has continued and Irom Sharmila is the most notable addition to it after Arvind Kejriwal.

The world has seen the resolve Irom Sharmila has and so we can say she will follow her course even in the future with same zeal. She is yet another in the growing list of activists who are taking a plunge in the mainstream politics and that is a welcome sign for Indian democracy.

Democracy is a participatory process. Every citizen of the country needs to participate in the process to nurture it, to make it strong. Likewise, they need to participate in the acts to keep a check on the factors that weaken it.

A democracy is run by its political institutions.

To continue..

©SantoshChaubey

NOVEMBER 19 RESONATES FOR A DAY NINE YEARS AGO: SHANMUGAM MANJUNATH

November 19 resonates for a day nine years ago. In 2005, an honest and promising youngster, who was trying to live his ideals, the ideals that are supposed to be followed universally, as parents expect from their children, as is taught in all schools, as all the scriptures scream to convey, was shot to death for following these universal principles of human civilization.

The 27-year old IIM Lucknow MBA and Indian Oil Corporation’s ‘Marketing Manager Grade A’ was killed while carrying out his duty honestly, living the ideals the way we all are supposed to do, the way the oath given to ministers, legislators and bureaucrats expects – not compromising on values of honesty and integrity while holding the office.

And that behaviour in office reflects the conduct in personal life.

And the universal norms expect them to be voluntary and not forced.

But he was living in a time when ‘honesty is equated with foolishness’ and when ‘honest people are fools’ had become, for long, valid themes for public discourses and when ‘corruption had become a way of life’. Corruption has, very much, become a way of life.

Yes, he was not alone. But humanity gets such souls rarely, the commoners who stand up and speak up for what is right, without fear, with an unflinching resolve. He was one among the rare breed of leaders who continue to show us the light in spite of our betraying attitude; they continue to put their lives in grave danger for the principles of humanity, for the social ethos of human civilizations, that societies tend to undermine.

I caught somewhere an article on a college debate on S. Manjunath titled ‘Was Manjunath idiotic or heroic?’ with the team behind the biopic ‘Manjunath’. Its director Sandeep Verma here talks about his meeting with Manjunath’s parents in Karnataka. The observations on conversation he had with them is an eye-opener on the social ethos today.

Here it goes:*

“I met Manjunath’s family in Karnataka. I knew that Manjunath had come from a humble background. I met his grief-stricken but proud parents. I could discern that his mother was shocked that people were implying that Manjunath could have exposed the scam in a different way. He could have been more patient, used different methods, that he was stupid or naïve, and that is why he was killed. People made them feel almost ashamed that they had a son who could not adjust to a situation. While the students absorbed Verma’s statement, the director looked angry as he stated, “This was really a barometer of how society treats its heroes. It was a reflection of us. I was angry when I heard this. Manjunath’s mother told me she does not want a single rupee from this movie. She only wants me to show that her son was not stupid but courageous.”””

People like Shanmugam Manjunath are the reminders of what we have become, in the name of civilized societies of a thriving democracy where a ‘Goonda Godman'(Rampal, Hisar, Haryana) takes on a state machinery and refuses to bow before the Constitution of the land.

What we have become reflects in her mother’s worries that people see his brave and honest son as ‘stupid or naive’, as someone who could not ‘adjust to the situation’ when we need to live the spirit with which he lived the ideals of personal and professional integrity.

People like Shanmugam Manjunath are the guiding spirit for them who still believe in the universal values of humanity, the human life and the societies should follow. For them, November 19 reflects more on lives like S. Manjunath than the ‘high and mighty’ names like Indira Gandhi whose birth anniversary also falls today.

Manjunath CollageCollage created from photographs sourced from Internet resources

NOVEMBER 19 RESONATES FOR A DAY NINE YEARS AGO: SHANMUGAM MANJUNATH

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

*Was Manjunath idiotic or heroic? Mumbai college debates
http://www.mid-day.com/articles/was-manjunath-idiotic-or-heroic-mumbai-college-debates/15777168

IROM SHARMILA RE-ARRESTED: PATHETIC IRONIES OF THE STATE CONTINUE

It was expected. It has been happening ever since.

We have seen it happening year after year – Irom Sharmila is released and is re-arrested.

And yes, we know, the state has been behind it- complicit, willingly and comfortably. Her annual release is basically technical in nature otherwise the state would not let her go, unless the court rules so, something that happened this time, something that that gave her a freedom of more than a day.

Indian rights activist Irom SharmilaImage courtesy: Reuters

The court order came on August 19 quashing the charge of ‘attempt to commit suicide’ – she was released on August 20 evening – the police approached her on August 21 for the usual round as Sharmila continued with her fast not taking food and water and refusing medical checkup – and on August 22 morning, she was taken by the police again to the same ‘isolation’ ward of the Imphal hospital where she has spent so many years demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act – and where a chief judicial magistrate remanded her to 15 days of judicial custody.

So, the pathetic annual exercise of the state had a differentiator this time – Sharmila had some extended hours of freedom where she expressed about and broke down on her desire for freedom – she spent some time at the site of her protest where she began almost 14 years ago – she spent some time without the tube attached to her nose, something she has been with since November 2000 – she met people – she spoke and she interacted – and the whole world wrote about her freedom this time – because the extended hours gave us the direct access to her – one to one – reaching out,  speaking out.

Irom Sharmila-IEImage courtesy: Indian Express

In previous years, this window was not available, as without a court ruling freeing her of the charges of ‘attempted suicide’, the police would release her as one year would come to an end – only to meet the technical requirement of the law – the Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with ‘attempted suicide’ and has a jail term of one year – and then re-arrest her immediately.

This year, when the Sessions court of Manipur East ruled that Sharmila never said ‘fast-unto-death’ and freed her of charges under the Section 309 of the IPC, a Section that is set to be decriminalized by the Indian government, many of us thought the sense would prevail and the state would act with sanity.

But – but, the state is notorious by its stubbornness – it is one of the bottlenecks of our functional democracy – a democracy that has been able to survive and grow – we saw it in case of Dr. Binayak Sen – we saw it in case of Himanshu Kumar – we have seen it in many other cases – and there is no end to it in the near future – the re-arrest of Irom Sharmila reaffirms that.

The state’s pathetic ironies continue.

THE NORTH-EAST CRISIS

Yes, both, the pro- and anti- AFSPA debates have takers but what negative has happened and is happening due to the AFSPA – with many incidents including the November 2, 2000 Malom Massacre – the massacre that called Irom Sharmila, who was 28 then, to begin her protest fast-until-the AFSPA-repeal on the same day – must be accepted honestly by the state in order to come up with some better and ‘acceptable-to-most’ alternative – like has been the demand always – like has been the need always.

It is true some North-Eastern states like Nagaland, Assam, Meghalaya, and Manipur have deep-rooted insurgencies and terrorists there enjoy local ethnic support and survive by exploiting the anti-mainland India sentiments. The intense ethnic divide among the tribal groups has only exacerbated the crisis. They are fighting with the Union of India and they are fighting among themselves.

Tripura was the similar story until it got a sensible political leadership in Manik Sarkar, one of the few honest politicians the country has. The security apparatus of the Union of India and the local wing of the state’s politics can learn from Tripura’s experience to look for tools to adopt in handling and overcoming the insurgency. But, so far the condition remains volatile in other crisis hotbeds of the North-East India.

Yes, the political mismanagement and apathy has been largely responsible for it. The whole North-Eastern region is still a largely disconnected landmass with poor infrastructure and almost no industries. The agrarian economy that has the potential to evolve into big-ticket industrial units has been neglected while bilateral trade with neighboring countries that has not much scope has been made the focus of the industrial policy on the North-East so far. The whole region doesn’t produce industrial materials except coal, petroleum products and minerals meant for internal consumption and cannot be exported. Also, there is not enough local talent to support if large-scale industrial units are brought in the region. The paradropping of industries exercise was one of the central reasons that led to the proliferation of insurgencies as the economy was centralized in few hands and the locals did not benefit.

And the hostilities still continue, in spite of the Government of India making serious efforts now. There is a separate ministry in existence for the North-East region for over a decade now. The average per-capita central assistance to the North-East is almost four times of the all India average, Rs. 683.94 Vs Rs. 2574.98, as was in the 10th Five Year Plan and the Special Category Status is to continue till 12th Plan.

But, the hostilities continue, as the crisis has been in making for years and will take time and tough measures handling the insurgents and safeguarding the interests of the common people. The anti-mainland sentiment is still very much there to be exploited by the insurgents.

The experience of the people from the mainland has been pretty bad there, especially in Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur. Hindi cinema was banned by an insurgent group in Manipur in 2000 and is still in force. Even the biopic on Mary Kom, the Manipuri icon of the contemporary times, starring a Hindi cinema actress and produced by a Mumbai based production house has not been allowed screening. Tens of thousands have been internally displaced and thousands have been killed in the ongoing insurgency.

TOUGH MEASURES NEEDED BUT THE STATE NEEDS TO BEHAVE

The security establishment of the country does need special measures to deal with such hostile situations where the terrorists enjoy the ethnic support like is the case in Jammu & Kashmir.

But that never means allowing the security forces to go on rampage. And the AFSPA has seen many such cases – like some other draconian laws, used by the state regularly that put activists like Dr. Binayak Sen behind bars.

All such laws and special acts need to be scrutinized for the changes to be incorporated. The archaic laws need to be made contemporary. The special acts like the AFSPA need to come with enough of the stringent measures to set examples for the officers breaching the code or need to be replaced altogether with better and logical mechanisms that serve the purpose of the people as well as of the security needs of the state.

Yes, it is easier said than done. But nothing is easier in running the governments in an ethnically, religiously and culturally complex country like India that is also a functionally successful democracy. There are still many stakeholders who rightly feel left out of the process of democracy and the insurgents grow parasitic on the state and such stakeholders by exploiting the state’s apathy and the stakeholders’ frustration and such hostilities are there in the mainland India as well.

The state needs to behave when it acts with activists raising voices in democratic ways. They are our own people. They are from among us, speaking for their people, for us, and not for the insurgents.

The state needs to give space to the voices like Dr. Binayak Sen or Irom Sharmila in place of implicating them in silly cases under the draconian sections of the legal code. The wide support to these voices tells they represent for the millions who cannot speak or are not allowed to speak and the state must listen to them.

In place of forcing them in jails or in confined spaces, like has been done again with Irom Sharmila.

See the fallacy of the pathetic ironies – the law the Indian government feels is illogical and is to be done away with as explicitly told to the nation – has been used once again by one of its state governments to arrest Irom Sharmila, now a global icon of the Gandhian way of protest – by a Congress-run state government the chief minister of which invited Irom Sharmila to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha election on Congress ticket as she said after her release this time.

And see the irony holding-up the system – a judge released her quashing the ‘attempt to suicide’ charges as the state could not prove if Irom Sharmila had ever said so (fast-unto-death) – and she certainly didn’t say so since her release on Wednesday evening.

Even then, another judge found her case fit to be filed under the Section 309 of the IPC – under the charge of ‘attempt to commit suicide’ – the same IPC Section that is soon going to be decriminalized by the Government of India.

There was no need to arrest her this time or charge her for ‘attempted suicide’ and remand her to the judicial custody.

Yes, as she refused medical checkup and any nutritional intake, the police was bound to act on concerns of her health, as the Manipur East court ruling ordered, but it could have been done without arresting and charging her.

But, there is no sanity still – it was just the fear of the court order to come clean on acting in time on her health worries the police response told us – the way the police almost dragged her, as the whole nation saw in the news broadcasts, even if acting on the pretext of ‘preventing her health from deteriorating further’ – even if she was screaming – was shameful and utterly disgusting – and is to be condemned.

NDTV video: Irom Sharmila, shouting, forcibly removed from fast venue by cops

Irom Sharmila CollageImage courtesy: NDTV

Yes, the chores of the state’s pathetic ironies continue.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/