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India This Week

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There’s No Way to Please Them All; Even Hobsbawm Can’t Bail Karat; Separatists Must Unite; No Country for Old Memories; MPs’ First Call of Duty: Show Up

There’s No Way to Please Them All

In the aftermath of the Women’s Reservation Bill being steamrolled by the UPA, the Congress has started pressuring the Government to implement recommendations of the Justice Rangnath Mishra Commission. This, the party believes, would neutralise the anger that the passage of the Bill may have created among Muslims. However, this move could anger Dalits. Sources say Minorities Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed is already preparing an action taken report on the commission’s report. The report will be discussed in Parliament during the second phase of the budget session. The move is part of Congress’ strategy to counter the ‘propaganda’ of the Yadav chieftains—Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad and Sharad Yadav—that reservation for women would hurt Muslims most. Of the three ways suggested by the commission, to reserve seats for minorities, the alternative that Congress leaders consider most viable calls for including Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians in the existing Scheduled Caste (SC) list. This, the commission says, can be done by an executive order deleting Para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, which first restricted the SC  net to Hindus and later included Dalit Sikhs and Neo-Buddhists, thus still excluding from its purview Muslims and Christians. This move could anger Dalits because the inclusion of Muslim and Christian ‘castes’ in the SC list would create pressure on the existing quota for Dalits. The other two alternatives are said to complicate the matter even further. One calls for regarding Muslims as being highly under-represented and ‘earmarking’ 10 per cent of posts in central and state governments for them. The other way involves creating a Muslim sub-quota of 6 per cent within the OBCs’ 27 per cent.


Even Hobsbawm Can’t Bail Karat

The Hobsbawm affair is getting muddier in West Bengal. The latest episode in the drama—a denial by Eric Hobsbawm, published in CPM daily Ganashakti in which the Marxist historian claimed that Prakash Karat did not make that grim forecast to him about the upcoming Assembly polls in the state—has further complicated the matter for the party general secretary. “Hobsbawm must have issued the denial on a request from Karat. But he hasn’t said he was misquoted in the interview and hasn’t disowned whatever he said in that interview. That means Karat did tell him all those damning things about the CPM in Bengal,” says a CPM state committee member while talking to Open.  The British historian had, in an interview to New Left Review, claimed that Karat had told him that Marxists felt ‘beleaguered and besieged’ in West Bengal and expected to do very badly in the 2011 Assembly polls. 


Separatists Must Unite

The chief of United Jihad Council (an umbrella group of all terrorist organisations working in Jammu & Kashmir), Syed Salahuddin, has warned Kashmiri separatists that they should unite, failing which “we shall take control of affairs leaving no role for them”. In a telephonic interview to a Kashmiri news agency, Salahuddin also rejected the offer of a safe passage to Kashmiri militants holed up in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The call for unity comes days after supporters of two separatist groups clashed with each other. Salahuddin proposed that the leaders set up a ‘tribunal’ to probe the incidents. Expressing concern over suggestions that  separatist groups had been infiltrated by Indian intelligence agencies, he said, “It seems the agencies (intelligence) have intruded into the ranks of separatists and some elements are hindering the process of unity.” He further issued a warning: “If we sense that our sacrifices are going waste due to the discord among leaders, we shall take control of affairs…”


No Country for Old Memories

When Home Minister P Chidambaram, speaking in the Rajya Sabha last week, expressed his ignorance about the Kuka Namdhari movement of the 1860s and early 1870s, he did more than just display his lack of knowledge about one of the most heroic phases of the freedom struggle. He also revealed the ruling establishment’s changing attitude towards the not-so-old legacy of the anti-colonial struggle.
The sacrifices made by Kuka Namdharis form a vital part of Punjab’s contribution to the freedom movement. Guru Ram Singh, the leader of this movement, is even held as a precursor to Mahatma Gandhi in the sense that it was he who first used the programme of non-cooperation and civil disobedience against the British government. Also, Kukas were among the revolutionaries blown up by cannons by British forces after 1857.
Jawaharlal Nehru acknowledged the pioneering and heroic role of these Kuka Namdharis on several occasions. In a 1935 article, he wrote, ‘Congress merely followed the path shown by them and attained Independence.’ Indira Gandhi said in 1981, ‘The contribution of the Namdhari sect of Sikhs to the [freedom] movement has been specially significant and unique in its own way.’ And Bhagat Singh extolled their heroism in one of his writings: ‘They were not foolish, but they were so imbued with patriotism that standing in front of cannons, they laughed, screamed and shouted Sat Sri Akal.’
Chidambaram, however, looked baffled during Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha on 10 March when a member sought to know whether the Kuka Namdhari movement was granted the status of ‘freedom movement’ and whether the Government had conducted any survey of the descendents of the Kuka revolutionaries who were blown up by cannons.
“What movement is this?” Chidambaram asked. The murmur in the House was quite perceptible. Addressing the Chair, he then said, “Sir, I confess I do not have information about what he [the concerned member] is saying.”
 True, Parliament is not a natural setting to discuss history. And senior ministers are not expected to undergo a crash course in India’s freedom movement. Yet, Chidambaram’s remarks show there is something curious in the change of attitude of the Parliament and ruling establishment towards those who shed their lives for the country.
“The rulers of today do not require history any more. The anti-colonial struggle must now remain restricted to a few big symbols alone. So what if hundreds of Kuka Namdharis were blown up or hanged by British forces? Times have changed,” says 86-year-old Shashi Bhushan, coordinator of the National Committee of Freedom Fighters and a former Congress MP. “Could you expect this kind of ignorance by a home minister under Nehruji or Indira Gandhi?” he adds.
The sarcasm in Bhushan’s tone and the question raised by him address something vital.  Are our memories so short that we do not care to remember how we got to the stage where we have a Parliament of which the  Home Minister is but a part?


MPs’ First Call of Duty: Show Up

Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s outburst against truant MPs of her party may have been caused by the humiliation the Government suffered in the Lok Sabha because of their absence, but absenteeism has now become all-pervasive.
So upset was Gandhi on the issue on 16 March that she said, “Even to sit and listen to parliamentary proceedings is an education in itself. The time has come to take poor attendance on the part of the members seriously.”
It’s good that the ruling party has finally awakened to the issue. The problem is not new; it has been highlighted by the Left parties on a regular basis for many years. But the ruling dispensation has never taken the problem seriously.
Sometime back, Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari had expressed his displeasure, saying, “It looks as if the virus of absenteeism by Members of Parliament during Question Hour has spread to the Upper House.”Ansari was upset that six of the members, whose questions were listed for reply, were absent. He stressed the necessity to amend rules so as to ensure the presence of members on the floor of the House.
So all-pervasive has the problem been that during the first phase of the UPA Government, BJP leader LK Advani had to pull up his party MPs on several occasions for being absent. He had also got the parliamentary party of the BJP to reprimand its truant MPs in writing. He was particularly irked after a number of party MPs did not turn up for elections to various boards in 2004.
It’s high time the Government took stringent steps to end the malaise. Otherwise, it will erode the very purpose of India’s parliamentary democracy.

Dhirendra K. Jha