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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Crisis of Federalism in India: Center on a Warpath

After vowing to promote and strengthen "cooperative federalism" in the country, the much maligned Narendra Modi government at the center has taken another U-turn and has decided to go on a warpath with regards to the states in view of its nosediving popularity day by day and thin chances of getting elected with a majority in the forthcoming assembly elections in Assam and West Bengal.

President's Rule in Uttarakhand

The Center imposed President's rule in Uttarakhand a day before Chief Minister Harish Rawat was to prove his majority on the floor of the house. The decision to impose President's rule was taken by an emergency cabinet meeting chaired by the Prime Minister himself, who cut short his tour to Assam to fly back to Delhi.

Earlier, 9 Congress MLAs had rebelled from the ruling party, sparking the crises in the state. The rebellion occurred when the MLAs demanded vote division on the Appropriation Bill on the floor of the house in writing on March 18. The Speaker rejected their demand and announced the appropriation bill as passed. The decision of the Speaker is final with regards to proceedings in the house and the only way to dismiss the government in the state, as prescribed by the Constitution, is by passing a vote of no-confidence against it. CM Harish Rawat, as duly instructed by the Governor, was to face this no-confidence motion on March 28. The opposition BJP, unable to cobble up a majority of its own, sent SOS signals to the center, which imposed President's Rule on March 27.

Earlier, Center's Rule in Arunachal Pradesh

A similar script played out in Arunachal Pradesh in January when 21 Congress MLAs rebelled against the Chief Minister and were supported by the BJP and Independent MLAs to form their own government after the Center imposed President's Rule.

The role of the Governor was questioned when he allowed the rebel legislators as well as the BJP and independent MLAs to hold an assembly session a month before it was scheduled to take place, that too without consulting the Chief Minister and also implored the assembly to consider a motion for removing the speaker! The Governor also cited cow slaughter, 'threats' and misbehaviour among the reasons for recommending president's rule in the state while forwarding his report to the center.

The Supreme Court lashed out at the decision of the governor to allow the assembly session to be convened outside the assembly premises but expressed its inability to scrutinize the report sent by the Governor recommending president's rule as he enjoyed constitutional immunity. It was only able to fume that it "cannot be a mute spectator while democracy was slaughtered" as the Parliament approved the imposition of Central rule in the state. 

Flagrant Violation of Supreme Court Directives

The exercise of emergency powers under Art 356 of the constitution to remove inconvenient state governments was almost a routine with post-Independence central governments until the landmark case of S. R. Bommai vs. Union of India in 1994 screeched halt on that practice. In that case, briefly, the Supreme Court laid down the following directives, which have been brilliantly summarized by Praveen Swami in a Frontline article here:

1) In all cases where the support of the Ministry is claimed to have been withdrawn by some legislators the proper course for testing the strength of the Ministry is holding the test on the floor of the House.

2) The assessment of the strength of the Ministry is not a matter of private opinion of any individual be he the Governor or the President.

3) Whenever a doubt arises whether the Council of Ministers has lost the confidence of the House, the only way of testing it is on the floor of the House. The sole exception to this will be a situation of all-pervasive violence where the Governor comes to the conclusion - and records the same in his report - that for the reasons mentioned by him, a free vote is not possible.

4) It is not each and every non-compliance with a particular provision of the Constitution that calls for the exercise of the power under Article 356(1). The majority in Bommai sanctioned dismissal of a State government only under the most extreme circumstances.

5) Situations which can be remedied or do not create an impasse or do not disable or interfere with the governance of the State according to the Constitution would not merit the issuance of the proclamation under the Article.

None of the five directives were followed by the Central government while imposing President's rule in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, thus violating the constitutional right of the democratically elected governments of these states to continue in office.

It is quite well known that the Prime Minister and his colleagues harbor a dream of Congress Mukt Bharat. It seems that they will let neither the Supreme Court, nor the relentless criticism from the Media or the Civil Society come in the way of achieving this long cherished ambition of theirs.

Himachal Pradesh and Manipur: Next in Line?

Eminent Constitutional and Legal experts have slammed the decision of the Central Government to impose President's Rule in these two states without following the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court. However, The Congress High Command is in no mood of taking chances and has sounded high alert to its governments in Himachal Pradesh and Manipur, fearing a similar revolt will be manufactured by the Center in order to justify the imposition of President's Rule in the two states.

One chuckles to recall that the same BJP, when it was in the opposition, used to raise such a hue and cry in the name of "preserving the federal structure" of the country. Sushma Swaraj, as leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and Arun Jaitley as leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, had targeted the government many times, accusing it of weakening the federal structure. In fact, it was none other than the current Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi himself who moved the resolution slamming the UPA government for "destabilizing the federal structure" of the country and launching an "attack on federalism" in the BJP National Executive meeting in Lucknow in 2011. The resolution also said that the centre, through its “insidious and colorable attacks on the states”, was usurping their law making powers and was “poaching” on their domain.

Today, Mr. Prime Minister is proactively toppling democratically elected governments, Sushma Swaraj is silent and complicit in the exercise and Mr. Jaitley, known for his legal acumen, is masterfully pretending to have forgotten even the basics of the Constitutional scheme for the center and the states. How far have we come from the halcyon days of "attack on federal structure" to total annihilation of federal structure! 

It is clear that massive opposition from the intelligentsia, counter mobilization across various university campuses, vehement criticism in the press and one failure after another on the policy front have unsettled the nerves of the Prime Minister and his advisors, and they have now become desperate to capture total power in all states in order to quell dissent and to pave the way towards recapturing of power in 2019. The dream of a Congress Free India is not turning out to be so easily achievable as before. The charm of "Modi wave" seems to be fast eroding for the BJP leadership as tides turn against it slowly and steadily. The only option, it seems at the moment, is to wait and watch with baited breath for the next course of events to play themselves out.

P.S: Shortly after this blog was written, the Nainital High Court stayed the President's Rule imposed in Uttarakhand by the Center and ordered Harish Rawat to face the floor test in the assembly on 31st March in the presence of all the MLAs.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bhagat Singh as a Protester in Hyderabad Central University

Yesterday was the Martyrdom day of Sh. Bhagat Singh, Sh. Sukhdev and Sh. Rajguru. Their huge contribution in the freedom struggle of our country will remain alive in the hearts of the people as long as our country exists on the face of the earth. Young men, only 23 years old, challenged the hegemony and imperialism of the mighty British Empire and raised their voice against communalism, sectarianism and the exploitation by man of man and happily went to the gallows for the cause of independence. The independence they desired was not only political, but was also economic and social and bravely demanded an end to the oppression in the name of religion, caste, sex, language etc. As citizens of India, we should be proud that such bold and fearless sons have risen from the soil of our country and have shown us the way forward with their sacrifice.

Yet, sometimes, given the current political, economic and social condition of our country, one is forced to introspect, and then, hang one's head in shame. The question that strikes one's mind, like a thunder bolt, again and again is, have we betrayed the struggle and sacrifice of these freedom fighters? Have we lived upto the standards of democracy that guided their vision and soothed their souls? Have we, as free Indians living in a free country, done justice to the hard work and labor of these revolutionaries, whose blood provided the fuel for our independence?

News announcing the execution of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru in Lahore. The Tribune, March 25, 1931.

The answer to such a question must not venture into the laborious details of our achievements in our past, for the achievements of the state are not a charity by its politicians but the right of its citizens. Therefore, the true measure of our independence cannot be provided by the well off and the haves; it can only be narrated by the deprived and the marginalized - the have nots. And whenever one tries to listen to the voice of the have nots, the cries of injustice and cruelty ring out in the same manner as they have since the ages.

Who are these have nots to whom we must ask these questions? At least, who were these people in Bhagat's imagination? He had an affinity for the entire Indian society, and one can even say, the entire human society. However, more specifically, peasants, workers, youth and women formed the centerpiece of his vision and ideology. Where do these four sections of our society stand today?

A Broken Peasantry

One can know about the overall condition of the peasantry by glimpsing Maharashtra, where 14,708 villages out of a total of 43,000 villages have been declared drought hit for the second consecutive year. In Latur, authorities had to invoke Sec. 144 in order to prevent mobs from resorting to violence due to acute lack of drinking water. More than 60,000 farmers in Maharashtra and more than 300,000 farmers nationwide have committed suicide since 1995. Just last month, a task force appointed by the Maharashtra government to deal with the agrarian crisis suggested pretty much everything under the sun to bring the situation under control. The Government's very own Attorney General has demanded separate statehood for Marathwada, accusing the government of total failure in curbing farmer suicides.

How has the Government responded?

Firstly, that inconvenient Attorney General has been sacked. Secondly, the data submitted to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) by the state has been fudged to the very end so as to make sure that farmer suicide levels do not cause unnecessary outrage. A BJP Member of Parliament has said that it's fashion among farmers to commit suicides. While the state government of Maharshtra has been trying to pinch the money meant as compensation for the farmers through bureaucratic jugglery, the union government at the same time has written off more than Rs 5,51,000 crores in corporate debt - money that could have significantly expanded the NREGA in a time of great agrarian distress.

Students on the Streets

Even as I write this, students in Hyderabad Central University, protesting the institutional murder of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula and the reinstatement of the VC Appa Rao, have been brutally lathi charged and denied access to water, food, and electricity. 36 students have gone missing while some of them are battling for their lives in ICU.

This shameful state of affairs comes on the heels of massive protests in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Film and Television Institute of India, IIT Madras, Osmania University and Jadavpur University against the massive fund cuts in the sphere of education and a contemptuous disregard for the will and opinion of the student community regarding the appointment of University administrators, protests against the curbing of constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech, expression and association as well as the institutional murder of Dalit scholars by the university administration.

Today, the field of education has become a battleground in the name of wresting control of the minds of young students by the people who had no role at all to play in the fight for our freedom. In fact, the RSS actively colluded with the Britishers to break the back of the freedom movement in the country. The government, which is making a great pomp and show out of the matyrdom anniversary of these valiant young men, does not give two hoots for their sacrifice in reality. Is it surprising then, that Bhagat Singh opposed these communal opportunists tooth and nail while he was alive?
Workers and Women in Revolt

Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt famously threw bombs in the Central Assembly to protest against the draconian Trade Dispute Bill being passed by using the Emergency powers of the Viceroy. Interestingly, today independent India's very own government is making changes to labor laws that would have left these young martyrs red faced. According to the proposed changes, it will become tougher to form trade unions and easier to fire workers. What about Child Labor? Forget trying to stop this abhorrent practice, the government is set to make it easier for children aged between 14-18 years to work by diluting the definition of 'hazardous industries'. All this is done in the name of ease of doing business.

At the same time, women protesters cutting across various issues are being brutally lathi charged, molested and threatened with rape. Soni Sori, tribal activist and AAP politician from Chhattisgarh, has been tortured, beaten and attacked with an acid like chemical for speaking out against police atrocities. Now her family is being targeted. Irom Sharmila, the Iron Lady of Manipur, has completed more than 14 years of continuous hunger strike against the draconian AFSPA which allows army men to kill without consequences. Several women protesters and public figures, speaking out on social media, are daily targets of constant abuse and vilification. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems that women face in India today.


How would Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru respond to these atrocious happenings under a democratic government in India today? For one thing, they would refuse to be a part of the system which lets these atrocities take place with such impunity in the first place. If they were really alive today, they would have sat in protest against the government in each of the universities mentioned, especially JNU and Hyderabad Central University, against the unconstitutional diktats of a casteist and neo-fascist government.

Anybody familiar with the life and works of Bhagat Singh would know that he would have proudly lend his voice to the thousands of voices crying "Lal Salaam!" and "Jai Bheem!" across various campuses today. He would have taken part in marches, participated in sit-ins and morchas and would have hit out against the communal frenzy promoted by this government.

Perhaps it is a hyperbole to compare any protester with Bhagat Singh today. But what cannot be denied that each and every protester fighting for the constitutionally guaranteed rights of his brothers and sisters marching beside him embodies the same spirit of revolution that these martyrs promoted and died for.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Timeless Tombstone - A Visit to the Taj Mahal

For Guruji Rabindranath Tagore, the Taj Mahal was a "teardrop on the cheek of time". However, a question that kept swirling in my mind as I went around the architectural wonder was "whose teardrops?" Were they the teardrops of a heartbroken king, accumulated over a decade, that resulted in this poetry in marble, or was it the teardrops of those thousands of labourers who worked to build this monument of their slavery? The Mughals and Marx frequently clashed in my mindscape as I inspected the hauntingly beautiful landscape as a part of the ordinary multitude.

It has been more than 5 years since I came to Delhi. However, circumstances had conspired so far to keep me from visiting this wonder of wonders which stands at a distance of only 3.5 hours from the capital. So, when I had to go to Vijaipur (my hometown) via bus because of the lack of train reservation, I made the most of the opportunity.

Here are some pictures from the visit.

P.S: What does it say about the fate of love in our times when all we care about is a 20 rupee ticket in the beginning and an ice-cream at the end? Where is the time for things such as reflection, commitment and poetry amid wailing children and scowling parents? :)