Saturday, October 21, 2017

Three Characters who need to be understood between the lines – A review of Apu Triology

Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, its sequel Aparajito and the final instalment Apur Sangsar, which form the famous Apu Trilogy based on the works of Bibhuti Bhusan Bandopadhyay, is not the story of Apu but everything and everyone around him that makes him possible. 

Set in early 20th century colonial Bengal and Banaras, the story set forth a canon of films which were later catalogued as Parallel Indian Cinema. Even though Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen were already making original socio-political commentaries by the time Pather Panchali came out, but it launched the movement to a global audience.  

Every story is larger than life if it is told in that way. Pather Panchali was made on a shoestring budget of Rs 1.5 lac on real locations outside studios. Both path-breaking for the period. After a long struggle to find a producer, Satyajit Ray got the money from the West Bengal state government, which produced the movie. It was a time when digital media was not even thought of, and even retakes in film reels cost a lot. 

Even though it apparently looks like a story of the boy Apurbo Kumar Roy. Yet, the story has many characters which need to be taken into consideration. All of them remain central to the development of the plot. 

Harihar was a Brahmin, albeit a poor landless one. He learnt the Vedic rituals and customs and also studied Brahmanical literature extensively, but ended up being jobless. Thus, he had to move out to Banaras in search of income leaving behind his family to their fate. And this is set in the pre-Gandhian Indian society (the early 1920s). The notion of class and caste interplays here. It is one example, even though in fiction, that clearly depicts that in India class and caste need to be analyzed together. An upper caste Brahmin might be poor and oppressed too.   

To me, however, the central character remains Sarbajoya, not Apu. The story is about her struggle to keep her family alive and well in a late colonial rural society. Harihar represented that rural Indian class which couldn't get out of the Brahmanical structure even when modern education had reached the length and breadth of the country. But Apu did, but only because of the fight that Sarbajoya fought, against a patriarchal world which left no stone unturned to let her and her insignificant family perish. She moved on from all the deaths that came in her way and let her son do as he wished. As a reward, Apu turned into an educated young man in modern Calcutta breaking all ties with his 'purohiter chele' stereotype. The story is about Sarbajoya's journey, not Apu's. 

Everyone who has seen the movie would say that the tragedy reaches its peak with Durga’s death. Maybe it does, but we grossly ignore one very important aspect of the story which has been invoked by Bibhuti Bhusan very subtly and Satyajit Ray portrays it brilliantly: Senior Citizen as a social class. 

Indira Thakrun, who was fondly called Pishima by the kids was representing that class of the society which lives and dies in dilemma. Her life becomes like that of a parasite hopping from one home to the other at the mercy of her younger generation. Even though she was dead old and behaved mostly like a kid, Sarbajaya doesn’t even think twice to turn her away from the home when she got a chance. 

It is not surprising to find her singing “Hori din toh gelo, shondhe holo, paar koro amare…

During Shoot : Satyajit Ray working with Chunibala Devi, who played the role of Pishima

Even though the patriarchs are treated with a sense of revere, the elder retired women are not even considered for advice in our society. We can see it unfolding in the story too. The only people who consider the old woman’s words seriously are the kids. But ironically Sarbajaya argues that Pishima should behave and be less demanding for the future of kids are at stake and they need to be taken care of first. Maybe somewhere Sarbajoya was convinced that Pishima was a useless burden while the kids were her future pillars. But in Karmatic justice, even Sarbajoya dies alone as Apu could not make it in time to attend her on her deathbed. 

In the trilogy, Apu remains the most visible character. Durga and Aparna remain the characters which attract a lot of sympathies. But, to me, Pishima and an old and dying Sarbajoya remain the most important and engaging characters. These characters got me into thinking if we are doing moral justice to the senior citizens as a society. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

JNUSU Elections 2017: Left retains citadel but without unity it could crumble under ABVP, BAPSA onslaught

(This is a collaboration work with Saib Bilaval which was first published on Firstpost. Click on this link to go to the original article)

The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union (JNUSU) elections were once again swept by the Left Unity panel comprising AISA-SFI-DSF (All India Students' Association, Students' Federation of India, and Democratic Students' Federation respectively).

The voter turnout was slightly lower in terms of percentage – 56 percent as compared to 59 percent last year. However, in absolute numbers, the voting was much lower due to a reduced total, as the JNU administration had cut nearly a 1,000 seats for the current academic session. For a comparison with elections at full academic strength, it would require adding roughly 150 votes to the totals of the top three major parties, given a similar turnout.

Out of 4,620 votes polled for the president's post, AISA's Geeta Kumari secured 1,506 votes, leaving behind Nidhi Tripathi of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) by almost 460 votes. For the vice-president's post, Simone Zoya Khan got elected with 1,876 votes. SFI's Duggirala Srikrishna got a massive 2,082 votes to be elected as the general secretary, grabbing the highest number of individual votes for any post as well as the highest margin of victory. He also got the highest voting percentage out of all the central panel candidates from the school they studied in. DSF’s Shubhanshu Singh got 1,755 votes to secure the post of joint secretary.

As had happened last year, the ABVP emerged as the single largest party on campus, placed with concrete 950-odd votes on average for every central post, and over 10 councillor posts at the school-level, primarily from science. However, as compared to 1,200 total last year, ABVP's votes went down.

ABVP pushed the Ambedkarite party, Birsa Phule Ambedkar Students' Association (BAPSA), to the third position in every central panel post, with average votes in the late 800s, despite being backed by the Muslim group Students Islamic Organisation (SIO). Last year, Rahul Sonpimple from BAPSA had been a particularly strong runner-up for president, securing 1,488 votes.

The presidential debate did not change the outcome of the election significantly the way it had, in 2015, when it had propelled Kanhaiya Kumar to victory, or Rahul Sonpimple in 2016. The showstopper of the presidential debate this year was an independent candidate, Mohammad Farooque Alam, who was the only major male candidate and a colourful speaker. He secured 419 votes, leaving the AISF candidate Aparajitha Raja, who had been widely expected to dominate the presidential debate, behind at 416 votes. His performance is a sign that the campus is still open to a candidate critical of the hegemony of party politics and one who talks about 'chatraneeti' and not 'rajneeti'.

Interestingly, on posts other than the president, the number of NOTA votes, representing liberal and progressive voter dissatisfaction with the Left, were seemingly high this time. In the vice-president and joint secretary post, the number of NOTA votes were 495 and 501 respectively.

But, in a surprise, SSS didn’t vote a single NOTA in the councillor posts maintaining the character of the school as a highly opinionated one. Congress's students’ wing, National Students' Union of India (NSUI), could not secure more votes than NOTA in any of the office-bearer posts.

Newly elected JNUSU president Geeta's relatively lower margin of victory is not necessarily an indicator of a weak candidacy. Firstly, to compete with her name recognition and popularity, every party nominated a female candidate for president, attempting to herd the female vote back into party lines.

Secondly, NOTA votes in JNU are an indicator of dissatisfaction with the incumbent Left, and right-wing votes never go NOTA. The NOTA votes at the president's post were far fewer than other posts, showing a relatively higher voter satisfaction with the choices and the candidate of the incumbent (as evidenced by the NOTA votes in other positions, where the fight was between the Left, ABVP and BAPSA).

At the general secretary post, there was a huge NOTA vote count despite the Left candidate having the highest margin for any post. Thirdly, unlike last year, and unlike at the other posts, there was a strong second Left candidate, namely Aparajitha of AISF.

Apart from the central panel, the Left got majorities in all the three big schools viz School of Social Sciences (SSS), School of International Studies (SIS) and School of Languages, Literature and Culture Studies (SLL&CS). In SLL&CS, out of the total 1,481 votes polled, AISA’s Aditi Chatterjee, who was running for a second term, secured the highest number of votes at 678. The other winners are Gulam Qadeer, Parveen Sheikh, Raju Kumar and Swati Singh – all from the Left panel.

In SIS, out of a total 806 votes, Marie Pegu got 302 votes, topping the list. The other elected councillors are Aishe Ghosh, Pramod Kumar, Sarthak Bhatia and Shashi Kant Tripathy. In SSS, a lacklustre outgoing set of councillors led to Umar Khalid's organisation Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students' Association (BASO) fielding its only candidate Chepal Sherpa, topping the list with 552 votes out of a total 1,285 votes polled. The other councillors are Sudhanya Pal, Aejaz Ahmad Rather, Shreyasi Biswas and Satish Chandra Yadav, all from the AISA and SFI, with votes in the late 400s.

ABVP’s biggest success is that they have successfully penetrated the SLL&CS over the past decade. Even though the elected councillors in SLL&CS are all from the Left camp, ABVP still has a large share of votes coming from the school, which has been a Left base for years. Further, in the science schools, ABVP and ABVP-backed candidates maintained their bastion, though the margins were slightly reduced.

BAPSA, on the other hand, with its espousal of Dalit causes and combative anti-Left rhetoric, has maintained its position, showing it is here to stay, a force which the Left and the Right must take account of. In just a few years of formation, they have made a significant presence and it seems they have a concrete cadre base and a stable vote bank (800-1000 votes of SC/ST and some of the OBC vote, along with the vote of those dissatisfied with the Left parties. BAPSA and ABVP are nearly on equal footing – enough to stand a shot at victory if the Left alliance crumbles in the future, or against a badly performing incumbent.

AISA, in particular, has lost most of its Dalit and much of its Muslim base (which along with the liberal/progressive OBC vote gave full AISA panels victory over Left and ABVP competitors in the past till 2015), and the Left Unity alliance has been reduced to consolidating the liberal segment of the upper caste, OBC and Muslim sections of the student community, which were earlier strewn among various Left parties.

Further, preoccupation with national politics and media visibility as well as non-performance of Left panel school councils last year led to reduced vote share for the Left at the school level, with specific candidates campaigning on school-level issues doing better than their panel members in SSS.

The entry of BASO into electoral politics and elected office has many implications. BASO, formed in 2016 out of Democratic Students' Union (DSU), another far-Left organisation, did not contest elections till this year, being an anti-Lyngdoh Committee party. With the prospects of its political mileage due to the national coverage its leaders received in the February 2016 controversy eventually drying out, it joined the electoral fray.

Despite fielding only two candidates (one of whom won), and not differing substantially from the mainstream Left on campus issues (being outspoken and more radical on national-level issues), the organisation is currently seen to stand for alternative Left politics on campus – a charge it will be measured up to, which the party has not yet had the chance to prove. Non-performance would lead to it being lumped with the other Left parties in the eyes of the voters, further leading to disillusionment with the Left as a whole on campus-level issues.

Electoral violations also seemed to be on the rise. AISF members were allegedly wedging their election manifesto in students' doors at 5:40 am on a no-campaign day. Further, former JNUSU vice-president Shehla Rashid alleged in a Facebook post that the ABVP had indulged in a series of electoral violations.

The AISA-SFI-DSF led Left Unity has got an absolute majority mandate in the campus for another year. However, it must deal with trappings of its own incumbency, the many issues the campus is facing – such as the seat cut row, infrastructure issues, the Najeeb Ahmed case and issues on gender justice. It must also address the increasing divide between public needs on campus and the political deeds of parties on national issues.

Saib Bilaval is a PhD research scholar in Modern and Contemporary History at Centre for Historical Studies, JNU. Pinak Pani Datta is an MA scholar in Modern and Contemporary History at Centre for Historical Studies, JNU.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

JNUSU election: Improving campus facilities rule all manifestos; ABVP adds check on anti-national activities

(This article was first published on Firstpost, click on this link to go to the original article)

The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) election is one of the high profile democratic practices in the country composed of intense debate on national and international issues and larger than life political rhetoric. This year, the Left-wing parties have again teamed up to contest the union council. Unlike last year, there is a minor shuffle and the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) splinter group Democratic Students’ Federation (DSF), has joined the ‘Left Unity’ along with All India Students’ Association (AISA) and SFI. Surprisingly, Kanhaiya Kumar's All India Students’ Federation (AISF) is contesting independently out of the so-called Left Unity.

The other influential forces are Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association, the champions of the marginalised, who came out as the single largest party in last year’s election and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parisad (ABVP), which is backed by right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) which is the students’ wing of Congress has also fielded its candidates but they have never been able to mobilise crowd to their benefits. All in all, it’s a three-way battle between the Left, the Right and the Ambedkarites.

JNUSU elections are unique in the sense that it is fully student-managed and the administration doesn't interfere in the process. Along with that, there has been a culture of strong check on all anti-democratic practices during the elections. So, unlike Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) elections, here money or muscle can’t bag one votes.

The campus is aware of all political activities and rhetoric at play. The battleground mostly comprises in and around the ideological differences of the political forces at play. The Left, as always, tries to lure new voters by creating an atmosphere of fear about the coming of Right-wing ABVP and its medieval policies.

The ABVP, on the other hand, accuses the Left of being progressive only on posters and allege the Left for not bringing key infrastructural development measures even after controlling the union for decades.

The Ambedkarites also fight on ideological grounds attacking the Right for favouring Manusmriti and Hindutva, while they accuse the Left of being Brahmanical since its inception. BAPSA claims to be the numero uno voice of the marginalised.

Any political party has two functions at hand, firstly, to capture power and dominate the political rhetoric and secondly to deliver good governance or better public administration. But in JNU, the capturing of ideological space becomes so important that the other part gets grossly ignored, as observed by this author.

One crucial yet ignored aspect of the JNUSU elections is that nobody cares about the manifesto or agendas of the parties as long as one particular ideology maintains its hegemony. In this article, we will try to judge the big four — Left Unity, ABVP, BAPSA and NSUI — on the basis of their pre-election promises.

The election has some core issues which are a point of discussion in and around the campus. These top priority issues include the massive seat cuts that were implemented by the university administration this session, the disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed last year, maintaining the autonomy of the university from outside influence mainly the BJP government, upholding the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH), an autonomous body to check all forms of sexual harassment, and ensuring social justice in the campus, so on and so forth.

But it is surprising that, even while campaigning or delivering public speeches, the candidates are involved more in ideological fist-fighting than raining actual campus issues. But, maybe due to the sake of formality, all the parties have issued a list of agendas on which the voters are supposed to vote.

Let us compare the big four on the basis of the issues they take up:

Left Unity
Hostel for all from day one. Demand for construction of new hostels.
Yes (Promises to fight it in court even if they lose)
Ensuring effective internship and placement cells in all Schools
Installing sanitary pad vending machines in all Centres and girls’ hostels; 24 Hour health care facilities
Yes (Also, they want girls’ toilet in boys’ hostel!)
Yes (Also Health insurance for all students)
Yes (only asks for opening health center on Sundays)
Increasing MCM and non-NET fellowship
Yes (demand to double the fellowship amount)
End of the seat reduction policy and bringing seats again in MPhil and PhD.
Yes (They want to expose ‘seat scam’)
Introduction of transport facilities in the campus like E-rickshaws and metro feeder buses
Yes (also bus connecting Damodar Hostel)
Yes (only e-rickshaws)
Yes (Want eco-friendly shuttles till Hauz Khas metro)
No. 1 agenda!
Availability of good hygenic food till late night, reopening of night dhabas
No mention about night canteens, but talks about the improvement of school canteens.
Talks only about quality and price regulation of eateries.
Wheel Chair facility at every school
Talks about PWD students’ rights, no particular agenda.
Asks for a PWD friendly campus only
Installation of washing machines in all hostel floors
Increasing library reading space and improving reading rooms and library in general.
Talks in detail with the demand for a JNU Press.
Agenda on top priority
A strong check on all anti-national activities

Above, we listed some of the most important (also some ridiculous) issues taken up by the parties and compared them.

Now, the manifestos also have their own political dynamics. The ABVP took out the list of demands almost weeks ahead of the election in a small leaflet. BAPSA followed up with a relatively small but important list of issues. The Left, composed of the three giants of the campus, published their agenda only a few days before the presidential debate. But it is a four-page magna carta, which if they win, has to be taken care of.

Following that BAPSA and ABVP published their own four-page agenda lists. Even though most of it was a copy-paste job from the Left manifesto, there were some unique points too. The ABVP demand for a 'digital JNU' consisting of single window admission and registration with online mode of fees payment should be encouraged. The most eye catcher which was common in all parties is the demand for a JNU press.

Supposing all conditions remain in their favour, like always, then the Left Unity is likely to control the union for one more year. And strikingly, they have the most unique, creative and rational set of demands which discuss even the school level issues in detail. But, even if BAPSA or ABVP gets a mandate, they have to at least do some justice to the long list of demands they have put out to seek votes.

One can only hope that whoever wins the JNUSU polls does justice to their agenda and delivers before their term ends.

The author is pursuing post-graduation in Modern and Contemporary History at the Centre for Historical Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Tipraland’s Genesis and Prognosis: Tribal militancy and politics in Tripura

(This article was first published on Firstpost, click on this link to go to the original article)

The protests in Tripura led by Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura (IPFT) have entered the seventh day without any fruitful outcome. The Tripura government run by the CPM-led Left Front has not responded yet. All prominent parties have refused to support the demand for a separate state. But, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promised the upgradation of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) to Autonomous State Council (ASC) which will be funded directly by the Centre without any interference from the state government, if it comes to power.

Tipraland or Twipraland is like the mythical phoenix. It emerges from its ashes every now and then, mostly when elections in Tripura are around the corner.

Tribal politics and militancy: early phase

The Communist Party of India (CPI) had emerged in Tripura as a mass literacy and tribal land rights movement against the Tripura Royal House. In the mid-20th century, when the Gana Mukti Parishad (Peoples’ Liberation Council) movement had started under Nirpen Chakraborty, Dasarath Deb and Biren Dutta, it was seen as the liberator of the hill people, the tribal. Deb was called the uncrowned king of the Borok people. Chakraborty, who was born in Bikrampur, Dhaka district (now part of Bangladesh), could speak fluent Kokborok. The Congress, on the other hand, can be seen as a patron of Bengali migration from East Pakistan after the Partition till Bangladesh was created in 1971.

After a long rule of Congress, the Leftists came to power by popular vote in 1978. One of the primary agendas of the CPM, which came overground after a brief period of armed class struggle, was the formation of the TTAADC. After coming to power under the leadership of Chakraborty, the Left administration started to work on the implementation of the TTAADC under the (present) sixth schedule of the Constitution. The communists had massive tribal support back then. The Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti (TUJS) also supported the cause of autonomous district council for the tribal areas.

But, things seemed out of order throughout the 1978-1988 Left rule. The seeds of separatism in Tripura were sown in 1978 with the emergence of Tripura National Volunteers (TNV), the first armed insurgent group in the state which asserted ethno-national claims of 'Tripura for Tribals'. It was led by the romantic idealist leader Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl who saw an opportunity to negotiate in the Mizo way. During 1979-80, when the TTAADC issue was at the centre of all events, TNV often declared bazar bandhs (market strikes) which led to violent communal riots. After a very bloody riot and amid heavy opposition from Congress and Amra Bangali (We are Bengalis), Chakraborty’s government was able to establish the TTAADC in 1982, one year before the Assembly election which he won comfortably for a second term.

In its active ten years, TNV fueled bloody riots killed thousands. Mandai — where more than 300 were killed in a single night — remained a shivering example for generations to come. The TNV almost ran a parallel government in the hills. In the riots of 1980, people died on both sides of the line. Ananda Marg backed Amra Bangali, a political party comprising Congress deserters that still exists, also committed one of the most atrocious crimes during the riots. Ironically, the TNV surrendered with the defeat of Left front in 1988. The demand for separation almost vanished as they negotiated for only three more Scheduled Tribe reserved seats in the state Assembly making it 20 out of the 60 seats. Hrangkhawl joined mainstream politics to form the famous 'jut' (coalition) with Congress.

Second Wave of militancy

With time, the 'jut amol' (coalition era) became a synonym of atrocity and misrule. And, in the hills, two more insurgent groups came up — the National Liberation Front of Tripura and All Tripura Tiger Force. If one were to believe the rumours, then NLFT was formed out of the rebels who didn't follow BKH into mainstream politics and continued their struggle for independence in the guerrilla style. While NLFT was an extreme subnational separatist group opposed to the CPM, the ATTF was a military outfit 'created' to counter NLFT. ATTF was more pro-CPM. But both had cadres from the disbanded TNV in its rank and file.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Tripura saw the worst form of gang wars vis-a-vis 'struggle for independence'. It was a civil war. ATTF launched a movement called ‘Operation Roukhala’ whose main aim was ethnic cleansing of the Bengalis. The NLFT later joined them. It continued throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. The NLFT later gave a call for a ‘Christian Tripura’ with the backing of the Baptist church. It was chaos all around.

The top players

The TTAADC has been always controlled by CPM except for two brief terms — 1990-95 when a coalition of Congress-TUJS controlled the council and 2000-05 when the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) controlled it. In the Autonomous District Council elections of 2000, the NLFT declared that only IPFT can contest. In a highly tensed election CPM and IPFT were the only two parties who contested for 28 seats in the ADC. The IPFT got a majority assuming power for the first and only time in the council.

The TUJS had been the overground political wing of the TNV during its heyday. When Hrangkhawl quit militancy, and returned to constitutional politics, he joined the ranks of TUJS and became its leader. The IPFT was founded in 1997 with the primary objective of securing tribal rights. In 2002, the two parties were merged to form Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT) as pressure came from NLFT to unite all tribal fronts under one umbrella.

The IPFT took a rebirth in the backdrop of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections under the leadership of NC Debbarma with the sole objective of Tipraland — a separate state comprising the ADC area. n 2010 ADC elections they got a little over 2,000 votes altogether. But gradually they hijacked the tribal vote base from INPT. In the 2015 ADC elections they came in the second position securing over a lakh votes among the four lakh odd voters. But they fell short of winning even a single seat and the Left Front white washed the elections.

After the 2003 Assembly election, CPM was the majority party throughout the state and was in a position to track down the militants. The Tripura State Rifles was empowered and massive combing operations were started. The Indo-Bangla border was sealed as well. The militants, who by now forgot their original freedom struggle, and were being cut off from supplies took to cheap businesses like pornography.

The Future

By 2010, insurgency-related incidents in Tripura were almost negligible. The state returned to peace even though the draconian law AFSPA continued till as late as 2015. But, in these times of peace, we can at least say that the ADC area has one-degree college and several schools.

Now, if we take a close look at the map of the ADC even though the tribal areas have a large portion of landmass full of flora and fauna, the major centres of economic and social activities are out of it — in the urban spaces. Most of the sub-divisional headquarters are out of it. The two universities, medical colleges, NIT, and all important educational and other institutions like district hospitals are out of the TTAADC. The area is totally incapable to function as a federal state of the Indian union as it doesn’t even have the basic infrastructure to sustain the lives of twelve lakh people residing in it.

Above all, even if a separate state is created, the CPM is still going to rule over it as it enjoys an absolute majority in the TTAADC. So, practically a separate statehood makes no sense in democratic terms. If one considers the electoral performance of the IPFT in the recent past. They have improved exponentially in the last few years and are mobilising a large number of crowd in their public meetings.

So, instead of going on 'naked' protests, the right course of action would have been to follow the electoral path and win the ADC elections, which doesn’t seem impossible given the rise of BJP and the bad phase of CPM in the state. The IPFT can actually follow the TUJS of 1990s and join hands with BJP, a national party which is in power at the Centre and is also eyeing the state Assembly. If the objective is to gain tribal rights and develop the ADC area, then capturing power at the state Assembly is more feasible and wiser.

The Author is doing his post-graduation in modern and contemporary history at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Delhi government may soon ban carpooling services offered by cab aggregators.

(This multimedia article was first published at please click on the link to find it)

Ola Share and Uberpool, popular features of the two app-based cab aggregators which allow users to share rides at a cheaper rate with other commuters could soon be banned by the Delhi government.

The Delhi government’s City Taxi Scheme, 2017 is currently being scrutinised by senior officials and will soon be finalised. "The scheme, which is a regulatory framework for cab services in the city, will ban shared cab rides as it is not compatible with the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988”, an unnamed AAP official was quoted as saying by Mint. Currently, Karnataka is the only state where these services are banned.

Taxis in the city run on contract carriage permits, which allow them to be hired from one point to another. This means taxis cannot pick up or drop multiple passengers on a single route. Only vehicles with a stage carriage permit, such as public buses, are allowed to pick and drop passengers at multiple points (on a fixed route).

“In principle, we are in favour of cab sharing as it not only provides an affordable commuting option to passengers but also reduces the number of vehicles on roads. However, such operations don’t come under the present legal framework as taxis are only allowed to be hired from one point to another and cannot pick and drop passengers,” a government official was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.

Newslaundry went around Delhi to find out what citizens who use these carpool services think about this.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

#TripuraAssemblyElections2018: With the Left Front in crisis and tribal politics on the rise, the final battleground for CPI(M) and BJP is getting set.

Communist Party of India (Marxist), which came to power in 1993, has been ruling Tripura for a generation now. It is led by Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, known for his clean Gandhian-Marxist image, since 1998. But as it seems, the saffron forces led by BJP have been hijacking not only the opposition space from Congress and Trinamool Congress but also making their way to capture power in the upcoming 2018 assembly elections. Apart from a shaky Kerala, Tripura is the last unfallen fort of the Left Front in India led by the CPM.

A huge amount of money has been injected to hijack the popular rhetoric of working-class politics and blend it with regional sub-nationalism. BJP has in a very short time made its presence felt in the interior tribal areas which have remained the Left base for decades. Most of the regional parties, except Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura (IPFT), which is an extreme sub-national party demanding a separate state called Twipraland for tribals, have aligned themselves with the BJP.

The Opposition has been very weak for the last 20 years in the state. The Left Front came to power after a very weak coalition government led by Congress that lost in 1993. They knew they were going to stay for long. After a brief five-year term by veteran tribal leader Dasarath Deb as chief minister, Sarkar took over as the head of the government in 1998. His first challenge was to stop statewide insurgency and restore law and order. His government in order to decimate the armed groups and fronts militarised the state. One of the outcomes of this militarization has been the construction of good roads in the interiors, which helped the state propaganda as indicators of development.

In order to obliterate the ideological basis of ethnonationalism, Sarkar’s government expended enormous energy in reinventing the narrative of Tripura’s immutable connection to Bengal, visible in the vigorous attempts to rename places and historical sites. The renaming of the Agartala airport after Rabindranath Tagore has been resisted time and again by the indigenous people led by royal scion Pradyot Bikram Kishore Debbarman who want it to be renamed after Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya, the last king of Tripura who built the airport in 1942. Sarkar is now seen more as a Bengali nationalist than as a communist leader. Now, his government has sought to campaign, successfully, to brand itself as the government which has been able to usher Tripura towards development, create communal harmony and project itself as a model government. It can now boast of achievements, such as putting Tripura on the literacy map, influencing tribal minds to shun militancy and return to the mainstream and building the modern jail in Bishalgarh.

Outside Tripura, people speak of the purest and poorest chief minister of India, but not of the poor population. Today in Tripura, Tripura State Rifles camps are strategically located between Bengali habitations and tribal villages to keep peace. The Left Front in its self-proclaimed “golden era” of Tripura is also in its weakest position. It is holding power while crushing any form of ethno-nationalist assertion. This has given space to not only BJP but also regional right-wing parties to mobilise people in their own terms.

The politics of victimhood played by IPFT, a regional tribal based party, has mobilised the tribal population like never before. In regards to their long-standing demand of a separate state Twipraland they have called a blockade of National Highway-8 and the railway link to Agartala on 10 July, 2017. Banned insurgent group National Liberation Front of Tripura is also supporting the blockade, according to some reports.

Even CPM ground level cadres are shifting bases citing betrayal by the party. They allege that the party practices democratic centralism only on paper, while in practice it’s a totalitarian monopoly of power. Sarkar is at the helm of affairs. Being the only politburo member, he is virtually the party chief in the state. When faced with criticism at the party level, he deals it with the governmental machinery, and when someone points finger at him as a chief minister, he kicks the person out saying that they are drifting away from class struggle. The present cabinet is two decades old and has hardly any new or young face in years. Thus, the youth have time and again deserted the party.

The power, though Stalinist in nature now, is at its all-time lowest self-confidence due to a goof-up in the recruitment of 10,323 teachers in government schools which were declared null and void by the Tripura High Court. All the 10,323 teachers, some even married with a family lost their jobs. The state has provided them no alternative as the order came from the high court. It is important to note that Tripura has no indigenous industrial economy of its own. The agrarian sector also is a poorly sustainable one with relatively no growth. Thus, the working-class politics largely revolves around the 2.9 lakh government sector employees and pensioners. Unlike other states, Tripura has a largely homogenous but bi-polar vote bank comprising only Hindu Bengalis and tribes. Thus, the political strategy is designed centered around the government sector working class mostly.

The Tripura state government pay structure is still stuck in the 4th Pay Commission of the 1980s. There has been a lot of criticism about the government for not implementing the 7th Pay Commission recommended pay structure in the state. The state BJP in a memorandum before the governor said that Tripura government constituted a Pay Review Committee in 2008 and a Pay and Pension Revision Committee in the present year against all norms. The BJP alleged that the recommendations of such committee have led to a huge gap between the pay and allowances drawn by the state and Central employees, officers and pensioners. While most states have decided to accept the recommendations of the 7th Central Pay Commission, the Left Front government of Tripura refuses to do so.

According to this report by Tripura Infoway, former finance minister Badal Chowdhury had raised the employees issue several times in the cabinet meetings in the last three years. But, it was Sarkar, at his Stalinist best, who had not allowed the then finance minister to pass the ‘increased salary structure’ of the state employees in the cabinet. The idea is to keep the poor as they are, as it works best for the class party to function, alleges many.

Earlier, BJP president Amit Shah and Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal had promised to implement the 7th Central Pay Commission at the earliest if BJP is voted to power scheduled to be held next year.

The state government as always blames the Centre for not providing enough funds to provide an increment.

On 13 June, in an attempt to checkmate the BJP, which has already promised a salary hike, finance minister Bhanulal Saha announced a massive 19.68 percent increase in all sectors of state government. Saha told reporters that the average increase for Group D employees will be Rs 4,000, for Group C employees it will be Rs 5,500, for Group B officials the average increase will be Rs 9,500 and for Group A officials, it will be Rs 15,000 per month. There were some other incentives as well like holidays on every fourth Saturday along with the present second Saturday holiday. "Although we cannot offer pay package on par with the 7th Pay Commission, the government has given its best keeping in mind of its financial constraints,” he said.

According to a press note issued by the state government, the upgradation in pay structure comes into effect from 1 April, 2017. There have been mixed reactions following the decision. Many, including opposition BJP and TMC have called it a publicity stunt to recapture the voter emotions months before the election. While state Congress chief Birajit Sinha welcomed the move by saying “something is better than nothing”.

Trinamool Congress is being seen as the third force in the upcoming elections as it comprises most of the veteran leaders of the former opposition Congress party. But a section of the leaders led by Sudip Roy Barman is trying lobby with the BJP and may even end up voting for NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind in the upcoming presidential election on 17 July. The internal turmoil in the party has been such of late that according to some reports six top leaders of the party were shown the door. The bickering within the TMC, which has been seen as a pro-Bengali party since its inception in the state, now looks weaker than the Congress.

Despite the salary hike, the government employees are not quite happy with how things have turned out during this long Left Front rule, making the government vulnerable to anti-incumbency. The tribals have remained a concrete voter base of the communists since the 1960s but this bastion is too under threat. In these circumstances, it is not surprising at all to see that the BJP with its winning spree all over the country of late has sniffed a possibility of overthrowing the Left rule in the state. But before the state poll, it is the magnitude of the 10 July protests of the IPFT demanding Twipraland that might add another dimension to the whole political scenario in Tripura.

The author is pursuing his master's degree at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

#Report : Green Alliance formed under the leadership of Irom Sharmila

Manipuri rights activist Irom Sharmila Chanu was unanimously elected as the chairperson of the Green Alliance, a forum of various environmental organisations that came together to form a single national-level platform on Sunday.

The idea for an “eco-political party” was floated and the forum resolved to form a separate political front called “India Greens” which is to be headed by acting convener Suresh Nautiyal.

In a brainstorming conference at the Indian Social Institute over the weekend, ideologues and activists spoke on issues ranging from water scarcity, tribal rights, media and alternative politics.

Water and community activist Siraj Kesar spoke of the grave situation in rural areas and the problems faced by the extremely poor including issues of “water wives” and “water orphans”. “In Maharashtra, patriarchs marry twice or thrice just because someone from the family needs to go miles to fetch water. So, one wife goes to fetch water and the other stays at home doing daily chores. Apart from that, many people have committed suicide because of unavailability of water leaving behind orphans to suffer,” he said in his presentation.

Kashmiri activist and journalist Sahil Maqbool talked about a village in the valley called Begonada. He said, “The dwellers of that village were born speechless for a long time. Due to superstitions, the real problem was never found until recently, when, a government survey found that the people in the area suffered from iodine deficiency. With the coming of iodised salts, the people of the village have started to talk again.”

Academician and activist Bhupen Singh questioned the role of corporate media and politics and spoke about new media as a platform for alternative politics. He said the media is mostly corporatised and one cannot expect good journalism from these so-called media houses.

Speaking on the occasion, anthropologist Daniel Taghioff said, “We need to have effective politics around the natural resources, as the declining labour movement is to be substituted well by green politics.” He added that green was not a rightist or a monolithic idea.

Journalist and former Green Peace activist Prashant Tandon talked about the perceptual war in dominating the narrative, if a Green Party is formed.

He said, “When I told people I am going to this very interesting programme today organised by the Green Forum India, they replied intriguingly asking me ‘are you going to plant trees?’” He said that the party needs to set up a public discourse. “Issues of farmers, mob lynching, Dalits being beaten up, the kind of energy being produced in the country, all these are green issues and we must talk about them.” He reminded the house that the informal sector holds 93 percent of the jobs and contributes a massive 46 per cent to the GDP. He said these people are Green and they are the target population of a Green Party.

Suresh Nautiyal, the convener of the Green Forum India, said: “I have taken my inspiration from the Uttarakhand Andolan, which rejected offers from ULFA and other separatist groups to take up arms and took the path of non-violence to assert their demand for a separate state.” He also spoke about Paraguay, the first country in the world to give its natural resources the status of being ‘alive’. And according to him, this has inspired India and now we have a law which declared the Ganga as a living being. He further spoke about the role of corporates in degrading the environment mentioning the Adani Group which went to Australia to invest huge sums in mining there.

While speaking about the prospects of a party, he said that he along with activist Anandi Sharan formed the Green Party of India a few years ago, but the idea didn’t catch on. Now, he wants to form a pan-Indian political platform uniting all the ecological activists and thinkers of India.

Irom Sharmila Chanu addressed the gathering as the last speaker. She said, “Green politics is a fairly new concept in India. I am aware of the issues concerning Mother Earth and the atrocities she is being constantly subjected to through man-made disasters, global warming, and other such issues. I would like to get a better knowledge about them and spread awareness among the masses over the same.” She said, “If it is the will of God, then I agree with your souls”, and gave a heads-up to lead the alliance. However, she said she won’t be part of the political party as of now.

A 21-member steering committee of the Green Alliance was formed consisting members from all over India. Sharmila was elected the chairperson unanimously and activist Anita Nautiyal will be the acting convener of the committee. “The constitution, manifesto, and policies (of India Greens) will be drafted according to the Global Greens Charter, 2001,” said Nautiyal.

Note : This report was first published on Newslaundry.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How Communal are we ? Let's dig in some history.

Recently there has been a series of mob lynching on the issue of cow protection. The Muslims and Dalits have been the prime victims of these self-styled ‘gau rakshaks’ who pledge to protect the holy animal even at the cost of human lives. So, I tried to trace the present political and social developments in India in comparison to the political events of the late colonial period when extreme communalism spearheaded by the Jinnah-led Muslim League led to the partition of British India or Akhand Bharat.

The Background:

Even though the League and the all-inclusive Indian National Congress started going separate ways in the 1920s itself, the event that marked their differences was the 1937 provincial elections where the League lost even in the Muslim majority provinces of Bengal and Punjab. The regional Unionist parties won in both the provinces, while, Congress swept the majority of the country. The communal issue was still very weak and Muslim League gained little popularity in minority areas like Upper Provinces (Uttar Pradesh).

At the 1940’s Lahore resolution of the League, Jinnah declared the demand for a separate state of Pakistan for Indian Muslims. Even though the idea of Pakistan was initially very vague, the UP Muslims, led by the Deobandi Ulemas and powerful section of students from the Aligarh Muslim University played a major role and later designed the whole partition plan. They compared the soon to be created Pakistan as a New Medina with absolute Sharia law, to be headed by a Caliph. It should be noted that Dr. B R Ambedkar’s book Thoughts on Pakistan, published merely four months after the Lahore resolution also played a pivotal role as he questioned the very foundation of the new nation and laid out some expert strategies for both Muslims and Hindus on their road to partition. Ambedkar supported partition.

Now let us see the key issues on which the League attacked the Congress during those days. Jinnah sought to ‘expose’ the Hindu bias of the Congress with an excellent propaganda. By imposing, ‘Vande Mataram’, the Congress flag, and Hindi over Urdu on all Indians, Jinnah alleged the Congress of pursuing a policy which was extensively Hindu. Cow, on the other hand, had become a cultural symbol since the days of the mutiny of 1857. In a letter to all the princes of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar requested the Hindu rajas to help him fight the British and in return, he will ask the Muslim Rajas to stop cow slaughter in their provinces. This was the first act of politicization of the Holy Cow.

The Present Context:

1.       The Holy Cow: In the pre-partition India Jinnah, claiming to be the ‘sole spokesmen’ of the 90 million Indian Muslims, attacked Congress on the issue of the Cow. It is to be noted that the Muslim have no religious attachment to the cow. Not eat beef is just a choice, even though it is imposed on them. While the Hindus have a religious sentiment attached to the Cow, and they keep away from beef just like the Muslims stay away from pork. Then it was politicized to gain greater autonomy and political space, today the same argument is used to suppress the minority Muslims remaining the country. Even the Dalits have been victims of this new-wave of Hindutva assertion.

2.        Vande Mataram: The League accused Congress of imposing the Congress anthem “Vande Mataram” on them during the 1937-39 Congress government. The argument was the same that is given to the present-day slogan of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” as the Muslims are monotheists and cannot bow or salute anyone other than God Almighty Allah. Subsequently, this issue led to the changing of our national anthem from Vande Mataram to Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana, a rhetorically geographical song. 

3.       Imposition of Hindi: The language problem has never been solved even after a bloody partition. In less than a decade of the partition, the Dravidian self-respect movement kicked in and India had to be reorganized on the lines of languages giving birth to many new states. The issue still seems unsolved as more and more subnational groups come up with demands of separate states. The recent being the Gorkhas who started a mass movement earlier this month after Mamata Banerjee's West Bengal government decided to impose Bengali throughout the state.

4.       The Congress flag: During the 1937-39 provincial government of the Congress, the Congress flag was unfurled on all government offices along with the Union Jack. The Muslim League argued that the Congress doesn’t represent the Indian Muslims and the flag cannot be treated as a symbol representing all Indians. Only on this issue, a series of riots took place in UP and Bihar.
In today’s India also, symbols have become more important than the people. In the past few years, there have been numerous reports of violence and public lynching in cinema halls on the issue of disrespect to the national flag and the anthem.

The main reason why Jinnah furiously spread this propaganda against the Congress was that he was ignored. The Congress under staunch socialists like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose rejected any cooperation with the League as they thought politics on communal lines would dilute their main goal of independence. They also observed that any political organization must have some political and economic agenda. In fact, League along with the Hindu Mahasabha were treated by Congress as communal organizations, more interested in claiming special privileges from the British, which whom they avoided any conflict.

Mr. Modi claims to be the great reformer of his times transforming India with his rhetoric of ‘development’. But, his comrades have already unleashed a war on the minority and Dalits on communal lines. Since September 2015, when Mohammad Aklaq was lynched for allegedly possessing beef, there has been at least 20 cases of mob lynching related only to the issue of cattle slaughter or beef possession. And the Modi administration’s silence on such social crimes has only encouraged the anarchic mob.

Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy recently tweeted quoting Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s diary which said: “the Hindu Muslim problem can only be solved through a civil war”. While he got into a controversy of advocating communal violence, the context does matter. S P Mookerjee wrote it in 1946, we did have a communal riot after that and a very bad partition as well. But, has the problem actually be solved? If we do not take lessons from the past, maybe the future won’t be as bright as Modiji dreams it to be.      

Friday, June 16, 2017

Why did the JNU students hold a ‘Tea Protest’ against their university administration.

- Guest Post by Aman Sinha

"A University stands for humanism. For tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives. If the Universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the Nation and the People."

JNU’s website proudly showcases these lines by our first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. But is JNU today really a space for adventurism of ideas or for the search of truth? Can a space of free thought like a university stand for the onward march of the human race if it’s denizens are constantly disciplined in all forms of lifestyle?

Recently, JNU’s Estate Branch issued a circular forbidding all dhabas inside campus to stop operating late night citing university rules and regulations. The dhaba owners were directed to shut down business after 11 pm or face a cancellation of license. The student community as well as the dhaba owners protested against such a dictatorial decree. JNUSU General Secretary Satarupa Chakraborty said, "We have been witnessing that the JNU administration has adopted all possible means to scuttle the rights of students, workers and teachers by imposing arbitrary rules. Closing down of dhabas at 11 pm is one such example,"

JNU is known for its rigorous academic pressure. Students have to work all day to make sure they submit their assignments on time. After a hard day, scholars have little time to socialize or get out of their caged world of books, journals, laptops and cellphone. Maybe, that is why the university has had a culture of nightlife, in the form of tea at the Sabarmati Dhaba; basketball or badminton near Tapti hostel; or humming to a guitar at PSR. It is also the time when individuals freely explore that side of themselves which get subverted in the structured life of the day. These scholars, who are engaged in their studies throughout the day, meet at the night and discuss the affairs of the world. It allows them an outlet for the pressure that they handle under such an academic setup. It also allows them an opportunity to engage and formulate new opinions outside the confines of the classroom, and this is tantamount for the growth of an individual.

JNU takes pride of its model campus, which is one of the most democratic and liberal societies in the country. Inside the campus, women and men walk freely and fearlessly day and night. There are no curfews imposed on gender specific lines. More than 50 dhabas operate inside the campus and often they become the hub of activities in the form of debates and discussions ranging from national politics to climate change and international relations. All this happens over a cup of chai-samosa or a late-night plate of chowmein. In the vibrant campus, famous for driving social change, the dhabas become the temples of nightlife.
JNU students enjoying a late night jamming session at the North-East Food Court

JNU’s famous Dr. Ambedkar library stays open 24*7. Many scholars who have to meet deadlines spend whole nights in the library often skipping their dinner. The food joints have been a lifesaver for them. Eateries inside the campus like Ganga Dhaba, North East Food Court, are one of the cheapest food joints in New Delhi. The Tomar family has been running Ganga Dhaba since 1984. Last year they were directed to vacate the university premises before August 18, 2016 and handover the possession of the dhaba to the estate branch of the varsity. After a protest by the students’ community, the administration took back their dictate on the dhaba owner. However, post 9th February, photocopy shops and bookstores don’t remain open till late at night in the campus.

Post 9-Feb incident, there has been a deliberate attempt by the administration to discipline and moral police the scholars, most of whom are adults at the time of their entry into the campus. The important question to ask here is why? Why does the administration want to dictate lives of young adults? One reason could be that the administration, backed by the Hindutva forces are scared of the liberal lifestyle of the students and see it as a threat to their agenda of a patriarchal manuwadi hindu rastra where women are supposed to stay at home, the lower castes and classes are supposed to stay unprivileged and the young students are supposed to obey their elder teachers even if they are tyrannical. Another reason could be to curb the intense political activities inside the campus which takes place mostly at night and at one of these night dhabas only.

After the recent decree, the JNUSU jumped into prompt action even though most of the students were out of campus due to the summer vacations. On 11th June, the JNUSU organized a ‘Tea Protest’ at the Sabarmati Dhaba with the slogan “Raat ko bhi khane ki Azaadi”. On 12th June, the students’union protested before the Campus Development Committee (CDC) meeting demanding the repeal of the arbitrary dhaba timings among other things. The protests gave some fruitful results as the CDC accepted their demands and extended timings of some dhabas till mid-night. The CDC also agreed to form committees to monitor price list of the various dhabas, and look after health and hygiene of sanitary workers.

Even though it is a small battle won in a long war, the student community cannot and should not give in to the disciplinary measures taken by the university administration upon young adult scholars. The curbing of the dhaba timings is only the first step. This will slowly and steadily encroach upon the autonomy of the student community if not resisted with full force.