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India This Week

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Silence of Arjun Singh; Nepal - Another Bloody Chapter?; Northeast - Order of Contempt; Kashmir’s Lost Youth

Silence of Arjun Singh

Congress veteran Arjun Singh, whose silence has created a political storm, is anyway not given to impulsive reactions. Nor is the former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh known for doing anything without a substantial reason.

What has led Singh to keep mum is now as big a question as who let off Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson after the December 1984 gas leak that killed and maimed thousands in Bhopal. The political class is agog with theories as to why Arjun Singh has allowed himself to be caught in the eye of this storm even though he could easily reveal who ordered him to facilitate Anderson’s exit from Bhopal to Delhi. 

Singh, who met Congress President Sonia Gandhi on 9 June, has preferred to keep quiet since the verdict in Bhopal gas leakage case. And within the Congress, no one is willing to hazard a guess about the exact reasons for Singh’s decision to follow his spiritual guru, Mauni Baba. Those in the know of things wonder why this shrewd politician is helping the Nehru-Gandhi family deflect uncomfortable questions on Anderson’s exit, even as the Congress leadership has done everything to marginalise him.

Singh, who was Human Resources Development Minister in the first UPA Government, has lost all his influence within the party in the past few years. So pathetic is his position in the Congress that his daughter was denied a party ticket in the last Lok Sabha election, and he himself could not make it to the Cabinet in UPA-II.

One theory on his silence is that he is doing so to retain his image as a loyalist of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Another theory lays stress on the fact that Arjun Singh is too pragmatic a politician to waste a political weapon just to prove his loyalty, especially at a time when the family has closed its doors on him. This theory goes on to claim that Singh must have extracted his pound of flesh before shutting his mouth. Whatever be the reason, seldom has silence been used so politically as this Congress veteran has done so far.


Another Bloody Chapter?

Nepal seems set to slide further into chaos and bloodshed with the Nepali Congress (NC) joining the list of parties with their own militia. NC leader and former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba announced the raising of Tarun Dosta, a 900-strong force of young men trained in martial arts, last weekend. Maoists already have the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that it wants integrated with Nepal’s regular army, a demand that’s being stiffly opposed by all other parties. Then there’s the Young Communist League (YCL), which Maoists frequently unleash against their political rivals. The Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) has the quasi-military Youth Force that clashes frequently with the YCL. The two major parties from Nepal’s volatile Terai region have their private armies, and some minor parties also boast of their own militia.

 Observers fear that with tensions running high between political parties, what with the Constituent Assembly’s failure to draft a new Constitution by 28 May and a showdown imminent between Maoists and other parties, these private armies will be used to fight street battles. This could usher in another bloody chapter in Nepal’s gory history. 

Human rights and civil society groups have urged parties to disband their militias. But with Maoists rejecting suggestions to disband the PLA or YCL, other parties, too, have ignored the pleas. Observers apprehend clashes between the militias will break out once Maoists step up their campaign to force the resignation of CPN-UML leader and Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who heads an alliance of non-Maoist parties.


Order of Contempt

What’s bad for Karnataka is good enough for the Northeast. This is what New Delhi apparently feels, as has been demonstrated once again by the transfer of Karnataka High Court Chief Justice PD Dinakaran—who is facing an impeachment motion over land-grabbing charges—to Sikkim. New Delhi has bowed to pressure from the legal fraternity in Karnataka to shift the judge out. And since no other state in ‘mainland’ India will accept him, the most convenient dumping ground seems to have been the Northeast. For people of this backward and long-neglected region, this has come as yet another instance of New Delhi’s disdain for them. 

In terms of infrastructure and communication links, the Northeast trails behind all other parts of the country. But what’s more galling for the people of the region is the disregard and even contempt that New Delhi shows towards them. Chief ministers of the eight states in the region are routinely ‘summoned’ to New Delhi, something the latter wouldn’t dare to do with, say, a Karunanidhi or Badal. Union ministers who visit the region patronisingly announce packages and doles. The Union Government, and many states as well, open their purse strings liberally when Bihar is flooded by the Kosi river, but relief is meagre at best in the case of Assam, which suffers far more devastating floods each year. 

It doesn’t stop here. An industrial policy with a slew of incentives for investors that was framed exclusively for the Northeast (North-east Industrial Policy, 1997) gets extended to North Indian states, which means that investors rush to those states instead, giving the region a miss. A coach at the National Sports Academy in Imphal gets a measly Rs 4,500, while his counterpart in other states outside the region gets at least four times that amount. 

A few thousand people of Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh are currently starving after landslides disrupted road links to the area ten days ago. But New Delhi deems it fit to fly only one helicopter sortie to airdrop food to the hungry masses there. 

Tomes could be written detailing such examples which contribute to the acute sense of alienation that people of the Northeast harbour. But does New Delhi  even care?


Kashmir’s Lost Youth

The Kashmir Valley is reeling under a series of protests following the death last week of a teenager, Tufail Ahmad Mattoo, who was hit by a teargas shell fired by the police during a confrontation with stone pelters. Angry youth have been appearing on the streets and are pelting stones at security forces, demanding that the policemen responsible for Tufail’s death be arrested. 

Without doubt, human rights violations need to be condemned, and those guilty for such actions should be brought to justice. But one must not be blind to the fact that the Valley’s youth are being used as cannon fodder by Kashmiri separatists. It is now a known fact that certain youth are paid to ignite protests across the Valley, largely in downtown Srinagar. But in most cases, it is the innocent who end up paying the price, like Tufail did. 

Even the security forces haven’t been spared by such protests. Over the past few years, about 1,700 soldiers of the CRPF alone have been injured in incidents of stone-pelting. According to a report, in April alone, 57 were injured in north Kashmir’s Sopore area. Under such trying circumstances, if they react aggressively, who should one blame but the separatist leaders who incite the gullible youth? The separatist leadership should realise that such actions serve no purpose except leading to deaths of those like Tufail. And that is too high a price to pay to show that the flame of ‘freedom’ is still alive in the Valley.