Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Red Terror unabated, India watches football

Maobadis slaughter 27 CRPF jawans
.According to Chhattisgarh DGP Viswa Ranjan, at least 15 Maobadis were possibly killed when CRPF personnel retaliated during the ambush. The bodies of the Maobadis have however not been found. Maobadis are known to take away the bodies of their cadre killed in encounters with security forces.
.Around 100 Maobadis, who struck with automatic rifles, were involved in the ambush and the gunbattle lasted for two to three hours.
.The death toll in Tuesday's attack on CRPF personnel has gone up to 27 after the body of a CRPF constable was found by search parties.

Maobadis have struck again, this time in Chhattisgarh, killing 27 CRPF jawans in a deadly ambush on Tuesday, June 29. Eight security personnel (among them four SPOs of Chhattisgarh Police) were injured, five of them seriously. The attack took place while the CRPF jawans were returning after clearing a road in a remote area of Chhattisgarh's Narayanpur district. Among the dead is Assistant Commandant of the force Jatin Gulati.

Union Home Secretary GK Pillai said in New Delhi: “A large number of heavily-armed Maoists, perched on a hilltop, opened fire from automatic weapons on a 63-member security contingent which was returning on foot from road opening duty.”

The latest attack by Maobadis comes three months after the massacre of 75 CRPF jawans and one Chhattisgarh policeman in Dantewada district on April 6. On May 17, Maobadis blew up a bus carrying 50 people, including 18 special police officers, near Sukma in Dantewada. Only six people -- all seriously injured – were believed to have survived that attack; the rest, including women and children, were killed. On May 8, eight men of the CRPF were killed when Maobadis blew up a vehicle in Narayanpur district.

On May 28, Gyaneswari Express was derailed in West Bengal’s Midnapore district after men of the PCPA, a Maobadi front organisations, damaged the tracks. At least 141 passengers died after a goods train came and rammed into the derailed express almost immediately.

[My views on Maobadi attack on Gyaneswari Express on NDTV special programme.]

Some points to ponder upon:

. UPA Government continues to flounder in its search for an effective counter-Maobadi strategy.
. Ongoing security offensive remains largely ineffective as there are no well-defined objectives.
. In the absence of well-thought out tactics, Maobadis continue to have the upper hand.
. The Prime Minister is either indifferent or incompetent to deal with the Maobadi challenge.
. Manmohan Singh says Maobadis pose ‘single biggest threat to internal security’; does nothing.
. Home Minister P Chidambaram’s efforts to launch a fight-back are stymied by a ‘limited mandate’.
. CCS meets and disperses without even discussing counter-Maobadi strategy.
. Army and IAF chiefs speak out of turn ruling out military intervention.
. Coordination among States remains abysmally poor, near absent.
. Senior Ministers continue to speak in different voices on how to confont the menace.
. Sonia Gandhi and her cronies like Digvijay Singh are pushing for ‘dialogue’ and a soft line.
. Congress is a divided house: Nobody wants to take a firm stand.
. Congress’s ally Trinamool Congress won’t let UPA act with firm determination.
. Mamata Banerjee refused to blame Maobadis for Gyaneswari derailment.
. CBI inquiry shows PCPA (a Maobadi front) planned and executed Gyaneswari disaster.
. Maobadis continue to enjoy upper hand; jawans, innocents regularly with impunity.
.India continues to bleed. Urban middleclasses, since they are not affected, are not bothered.
. Media glosses over Maobadi crimes, offers platform for ‘intellectuals’ to propagate Maobadi ideology.

Trust the National Human Rights Commission, now headed by retired Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan, to claim the ‘human rights’ of Maobadis are being violated by security forces! A statement issued by NHRC on Tuesday, June 29, says:
The National Human Rights Commission has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports depicting photographs of security men carrying the bodies of Naxalites, including women, with their hands and feet tied to bamboo poles.
The report was published on the 18th June, 2010. It was alleged that the photograph was taken following an anti-Naxal operation in West Midnapore, West Bengal.
The Commission in its proceedings on the 21st June, 2010, observed that the report, if true, raises a serious issue of violation of human rights of the victims.
A notice has been issued to the Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India inviting factual report in the matter by the 27th July, 2010.
In a major success, security forces had gunned down 12 Maoists, including three women (among them one who had led the attack on the EFR camp at Sildah, West Bengal, in which 24 jawans were killed) in a fierce encounter in Ranja forest of Salboni in West Midnapore on June 16.

Since NHRC is so bothered about the ‘human rights’ of the practitioners of inhuman barbarity, they should take note of this story from Jhargram, West Bengal, filed by PTI on June 29:
A 10th class student was killed by Maoists at Jamirdiha village in West Midnapore district. Police said the bullet-riddled body of Phulchand Mahato, still in his school uniform, was found on the side of Kasmar canal Tuesday morning. The Maoists left a poster near the body proclaiming Mahto as a ‘police informer’.
Mahto had attended classes on Monday and left his Banspahari High School building in the afternoon but remained untraced ever since, prompting his family to lodge a missing report at Belhapari police station Monday night. The family identified the body on Tuesday.
It may be recalled Maobadis had raped a 16-year-old girl in Jharkhand for daring to stand up to them, and threatened to kill her if she went to the police.
Whose side is NHRC on? The people of India or those who are waging war on the state and the people of India?
Another report says:
Five Maoists, including a top aide of the outfit's senior leaders Kishenji and Telugu Dipak, were arrested from the outskirts of Kolkata on Tuesday. Acting on a tip off, five Maoists were arrested from South 24 Parganas. Of the arrested Maoists, Madhusudhan Mondal alias Narayan, Rajesh Mondal, Sachin Ghosal were arrested from Amtala, while Siddhartha and Sanjay from Garia in the district. Madhusudhan alias Narayan was the zonal committee secretary of the Maoists during the Nandigram movement and was close to Kishenji and Telugu Dipak. He arranged the stay of Kishenji when he went to Nandigram.

So Nandigram wasn't a 'people's movement' after all!

And here is a chronology of Maobadi terrorism in the past couple of years:
June 29, 2008: Maoists attack a boat on Balimela reservoir in Orissa carrying four anti-Maoist police officials and 60 Greyhound commandos, killing 38 troops.
July 16, 2008: 21 policemen killed when a police van is blown up in a landmine blast in Malkangiri district of Orissa.
April 13, 2009: 10 paramilitary troops killed in eastern Orissa when Maoists attack a bauxite mine in Koraput district.
April 22, 2009: Maoists hijack a train with at least 300 people on board in Jharkhand and force it to Latehar district before fleeing.
May 22, 2009: Maoists kill 16 policemen in the jungles of Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra.
June 10, 2009: Nine policemen, including CRPF troops and officers, ambushed by Maoists during a routine patrol in Saranda jungles in Jharkhand.
June 13, 2009: Maoists launch two landmine and bomb attacks in a small town close to Bokaro, killing 10 policemen and injuring several others.
June 16, 2009: Maoists kill 11 police officers in a landmine attack followed by armed assault. In a separate attack, four policemen were killed and two others seriously injured when Maoists ambush them at Beherakhand in Palamau district.
June 23, 2009: A group of motorcycle-borne armed Maoists open fire on Lakhisarai district court premises in Bihar and free four of their comrades including the self-style Zonal Commander of Ranchi.
July 18, 2009: Maoists kill a villager in Bastar and in a separate incident torch a vehicle engaged in road construction work in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh.
July 27, 2009: Six persons killed when Maoists trigger a landmine blast at Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh.
July 31, 2009: A special police officer and another person killed by Maoists in Bijapur district.
Sep 4, 2009: Maoists kill four villagers in a forest in Aaded village in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district.
Sep 26, 2009: Maoists kill BJP MP from Balaghat Baliram Kashyap's sons at Pairaguda village in Jagdalpur (Chhattisgarh).
Sep 30, 2009: Maoists set ablaze Gram Panchayat offices at Korchi and Belgaon in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra.
Oct 8, 2009: 17 policemen killed when Maoists ambushed them at Laheri police station in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra.
Feb 15, 2010: 24 personnel of the Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) killed as Maoists attack their camp in Silda in West Midnapore district of West Bengal.
April 4, 2010: Maoists trigger a landmine blast killing 11 security personnel of the elite anti-Maoist force Special Operations Group (SOG) in Koraput district of Orrisa.
April 6, 2010: 75 CRPF personnel and a Chhattisgarh police official killed in a Maoist attack in Dantewada district.
May 8, 2010: Eight CRPF jawans were killed when Maoists blow up a bullet-proof vehicle in Bijapur district of Chhhattisgarh.
June 29, 2010: At least 15 CRPF personnel killed in a Maoist ambush in Naraynpur district of Chhattisgarh.

[Bus attack photograph courtesy ANI.]

Monday, June 28, 2010

Not a matter of faith, but of state!

Mercy petitions can't be decided by Pratibha Patil's 'religious beliefs'

The President of the Republic of India is not the head of Government, but the titular head of state whose decisions and actions are governed by the ‘advice’ of the Union Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister. In his or her official capacity, the President performs ceremonial duties, many of them a legacy of India’s colonial past, and is designated Supreme Commander of India’s armed forces. That apart, the President is the custodian of the Constitution of India and is bound by oath of office to protect and uphold its provisions, unless Parliament decides to amend any one of them. But even amendments moved by the executive and approved by the legislature cannot change the basic character of the Constitution which lays down that India is and shall remain a secular republic. By implication, no decision or action of the state can be dictated by the faith or religious beliefs of those in authority irrespective of the office they hold.

If media reports are to be believed -- and they have not been denied by Rashtrapati Bhavan so far -- President Pratibha Patil is said to have ‘informally’ communicated to the Ministry of Home Affairs that because of her religious beliefs she will not turn down mercy petitions of criminals on death row forwarded to her. Seen in this context, Ms Patil’s decision to commute the death sentence given to nine persons held guilty by the Supreme Court of committing heinous crimes deserving capital punishment into life term in jail, if influenced by her religious beliefs, is at once both outrageous and downright dangerous. The law of the land allows those sentenced to death to file mercy petitions to the President. Contrary to popular belief, the President does not unilaterally decide on mercy petitions. They are studied by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Cabinet takes a considered view, which is then communicated to the President, who either apends his or her signature to the decision or returns the file for a second opinion. If the Government sticks to its decision, the President is bound to sign on the dotted line or, if he or she feels morally compelled not to agree with the advice of the Council of Ministers, keep the file aside; in the extreme, the President has the option of resigning from office. It would be in order for the Government to clarify whether it had decided to commute these nine death sentences; if it had not, then it must explain why the decision was not reiterated and the files sent back to the President to abide by the Council of Ministers’ advice. Silence won’t do for under no circumstances can the religious beliefs of the President over-ride either the law of the land or the advice of the Council of Ministers.

The issue here is not whether capital punishment is morally right or wrong, or if there was sufficient reason to commute these death sentences. The death penalty can be debated endlessly on other fora, but till such time capital punishment exists on the statute book, it makes little or no sense to seek to upturn the decision of the Supreme Court, unless the Government is convinced that there is compelling reason which, of course, must be justifiable and have nothing to do with either religious beliefs or moral compunctions, to commute the sentence. This has been the practice all this while; of the 77 mercy petitions in the past three decades, only 10 have been considered fit for commutation. The larger issue here is of the undesirability of a President dragging his or her religious beliefs into the affairs of a secular state. Unless contested, this will set a dangerous precedence. What if India faces external aggression and the President were to refuse to authorise the declaration of war, which he or she must by virtue of being the Supreme Commander, because of his or her religious beliefs? Or, if a President, guided by his or her religious beliefs, were to place faith above nation? Or, for that matter, refuse to sign an Act of Parliament into law because it contradicts the religious injunctions to which a President may subscribe?

Since doubts have been raised, the President must disclose the reasons behind her decision to commute the death sentences. If she doesn’t, the Government must make them public and tell the people whether it endorses them; if it doesn’t, then the files should be returned to Rashtrapati Bhavan immediately. Meanwhile, the pending mercy petitions should remain untouched.

What do you think? Register your opinion on this issue by participating in the blog poll in the left column.

[This is an expanded version of the editorial comment I wrote for The Pioneer. My stuff published in The Pioneer can be read here.]

When Indira was India...

... and India was Indira!

Recalling Mrs Gandhi's Emergency, 1975-77

It would be an exaggeration to suggest, as was done by a critic of the Emergency late Thursday night, that “... Hitler was Indira and Indira was Hitler, actually!” That comment came after he had drawn some telling comparisons between the Emergency regime of Adolf Hitler and that of Mrs Indira Gandhi. Hitler had imposed Emergency under a constitutional provision, so had Mrs Gandhi. Hitler had killed freedom of speech with censorship, so had Mrs Gandhi. Hitler had a 25-point programme, so did Mrs Gandhi (well, she had a 20-point programme; her younger son, Sanjay, had a five-point programme). A sycophant in Hitler’s camp is believed to have said, “Hitler is Germany and Germany is Hitler”; Dev Kant Baruah, who was president of the Congress during the Emergency, affirmed his loyalty by declaring, “Indira is India and India is Indira!” There would be other comparisons, too. For instance, Hitler had his Nazi goons, Mrs Gandhi had her Youth Congress thugs. In Hitler’s Germany trains are believed to have run on time, so also in Indira’s India, lending credence to the Government’s claim that “The nation is on the move.”
[The Judgement that Shook Indira Gandhi!]

Yet, despite the stunning similarities that marked free India’s loss of liberty during those joyless 21 months of the Emergency that was clamped on an unsuspecting nation 35 years ago on the night of June 25, it would be unfair to describe Mrs Gandhi as Herr Hitler. After all, while the Emergency may have witnessed several outrages, including the incarceration of virtually the entire political opposition, the hounding of those who dared raise their voice against the Government, among them a handful of journalists, and the subversion of the Constitution of India to place Mrs Gandhi above the party and the Congress above the nation, but we were spared the sight of men, women and children being marched to concentration camps, adorned with signboards proclaiming ‘Work Liberates’, and their eventual death in gas chambers. The closest we came to this was a silly slogan, “Talk less, work more.” There were two other equally silly slogans that were ubiquitous. “Emergency: An era of discipline,” which was attributed to Gandhian Bhoodan leader Acharya Vinoba Bhave and prominently stamped on postcards and inland letter forms. The other was, “The leader is right, the future is bright.”

Having said that, it is not as if people were not bothered about the Emergency regime and life went on as usual in the country’s cities, towns and villages. With fundamental rights suspended, the judiciary packed with ‘committed’ judges and no jholawallahs around to light candles for people who mysteriously disappeared after the proverbial midnight knock on their doors or file PILs demanding they be located and produced in court (even if they had done so their petitions would have been dumped into the nearest dustbin), a strange sense of fear gripped everybody. Some activists did try the habeas corpus route but it was ruled against by the Supreme Court. Four senior judges upheld the Government’s view that along with fundamental rights, even the right to life stood abrogated. The only judge who spoke for freedom was Justice HR Khanna: He gave a dissenting opinion, asserting that the right to life and liberty enshrined in the Constitution was inviolable and not subject to executive decree. Not that it helped.

Parents worried themselves sick if their children were not home by sunset. Wives panicked if their husbands were late in returning from work. Friends stopped trusting friends; relatives were cautious in what they told each other; Government employees avoided sharing chai and gossip with colleagues; nobody spoke to strangers. You never knew who had been co-opted by the Emergency mukhabaraat. In coffee houses, popular among college and university students those days — the brew was cheap and cigarettes were shared — the staff discouraged overcrowding at tables. Schools had to seek prior approval for elocution contests and essay competitions. I recall an incensed Fr Powell cancelling the annual elocution contest at our school after a paan-chewing babu refused to clear the perennial favourite, Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” and accused him of “polluting young minds”. Not one to give up without a fight, later that year Fr Powell went back to the babu for approval to stage the annual play. What’s the play? The Caine Mutiny, Fr Powell replied. This time it was the babu’s turn to be apoplectic with rage. Needless to add, there was no annual play.

But these are frivolous details that do not quite capture the enormity of the crime that was committed in the name of ‘saving’ the nation from the Opposition led by Jayaprakash Narayan. Mrs Gandhi should have resigned after the Allahabad High Court held her guilty of corrupt practices during the 1971 Lok Sabha poll, declared her election from Rae Bareli null and void, and barred her from contesting elections for six years. Instead, Mrs Gandhi imposed Emergency, had the judgement set aside by the Supreme Court, packed off her critics to jails, extended the life of Parliament and subverted the Constitution.

There were horror stories of young men, some in their teens, being picked up and ‘sterilised’ by zealous district officials eager to meet targets set for them. Overnight all goons and thugs became active members of the Youth Congress and took to wearing white kurtas with Chinese collars in deference to their leader, Sanjay Gandhi, whose meteoric rise to power by virtue of being Mrs Gandhi’s son was described by Russi Karanjia as “history’s own answer to our prayers”. The venerable Khushwant Singh, who was then editor of The Illustrated Weekly, was an unabashed supporter of Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, and found nothing wrong with their deeds.

Newspaper editors had to send galley proofs to censors who would laboriously read through the text, cross out portions they thought were not in conformity with official policy or had a whiff of criticism or simply because they couldn’t understand and and hence were deemed not fit to be published. A copy of next morning’s paper had to be hand-delivered to the censors to prove that the might of their blue pencil had not been defied. Not that too many editors were eager to fall foul of the Emergency regime or create problems for the owners of the papers they edited. In fact, a group of editors marched to Mrs Gandhi’s residence and presented her with a petition pointing out that the censorship laws were not strict enough and needed to be made harsher. As Mr LK Advani was to later famously comment, “Asked to bend, many chose to crawl.”

Mrs Gandhi was not exaggerating when, amazed by the ease with which she had been able to strip the people of their liberty, she told a confidant, “Not a dog barked!”

* * *

LK Advani has written extensively on the Emergency on his blog. Here's a revealing extract:

"In 1977, as Information and Broadcasting Minister in Morarji Desai’s Government I appointed a special committee, headed by a former Secretary in my ministry, to prepare a White Paper on the excesses committed on the media under cover of press censorship. The committee completed its job in record time and I was able to table a White Paper in Parliament in August 1977. The facts and figures that it revealed were shocking.
As many as 253 journalists were arrested during the Emergency. Of these, 110 were arrested under MISA, 110 under DIR and thirty-three under other laws. Entry into India was banned for twenty-nine foreign journalists, which included Mark Tully, the highly popular BBC correspondent. The Government disaccredited fifty-one foreign journalists and expelled seven of them.

Number of Arrests and Detentions in Various States/ UTs during Emergency:
State/ UT Detention under MISA/DISIR
Andhra Pradesh 1135 451
Assam 533 2388
Bihar 2360 7747
Gujarat 1762 2643
Haryana 200 1079
HP 34 654
Jammu & Kashmir 466 311
Karnataka 487 4015
Kerala 790 7134
Madhya Pradesh 5620 2521
Maharashtra 5473 9799
Manipur 231 228
Meghalaya 39 20
Nagaland 95 4
Orissa 408 762
Punjab 440 2463
Rajasthan 542 1352
Sikkim 4 -
Tamilnadu 1027 1644
Tripura 77 99
Uttar Pradesh 6956 24781
West Bengal 4992 2547
Andman & Nicobar Islands 41 88
Arunachal Pradesh - 1
Chandigarh 27 74
Dadra & Nagar Haveli - 3
Delhi 1012 2851
Goa, Daman & Diu 113 -
Lakshdweep Islands - -
Mizoram 70 136
Pondicherry 54 63
Total 34988 [MISA Detentions] 75818 [DISIR Arrests]
[Source : Shah Commission's Report on Emergency]

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rip Van Winkles wake up to Bhopal

Everybody was sleeping for 26 years!

It’s extremely unflattering for media, especially the so-called national television news channels, that after a fortnight of sustained hyper-coverage of events related to the 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal and outpouring of anger over nobody being punished for the horrific death of 15,342 people, there appears to have been little, if any, impact on the masses that populate this country. Just because the politically correct in media have suddenly woken up to a gruesome mass murder that occurred 26 years ago and decided to make common cause with perpetually aggrieved jholawallahs — it has helped fill column space and air time during Delhi’s silly season — does not mean everybody else is equally energised.

The popular Gujarati newspaper Sandesh had an interesting story about aspiring journalists who appeared for this year’s entrance test for the media course offered by Saurashtra University. I have no idea about the quality of the course, but it would be safe to presume that those who applied for admission are from average middle-class families, representatives of what political parties, particularly the Congress, refer to as aam admi — the common man, average Indian, or whatever term you may want to use for the masses. The answer scripts have revealed that among the applicants are those who believe Warren Anderson is a Hollywood superstar and (though not connected with the Bhopal tragedy) Teesta Setalvad is a Bollywood actress.

Cruel and uncaring as it may sound, the fact is that most people do not really care about whether Warren Anderson, who was chairman of Union Carbide Corp, the US-based parent company of Union Carbide India Ltd when lethal gas leaked from the company’s ill-maintained pesticides factory with virtually no plant safety system in place on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984, was allowed safe passage by the then Congress Government at the Centre headed by Rajiv Gandhi under American pressure or for reasons that, if stated in print, could invite charges of libel and defamation. It’s not only cynicism that prevents a mass upsurge bordering on rebellion against a ‘system’ that allows criminals to walk free but also certain unsavoury facts that cannot be wished away.

In a country with appalling poverty levels — we are yet to figure out how many millions of families live below the poverty line — there is little or no appreciation of the value of human life. Those of us who are beneficiaries of an unregulated market economy allow ourselves to be persuaded by glib talk of India as an emerging global power and are impressed by GDP figures that by no means reflect gross domestic well-being. For us, India is shining. Those who struggle to make ends meet, and they do not necessarily belong to the underclasses, know claims of prosperity are bunkum. For them, life is a drudge, an unexciting passage of days, weeks, months and years in the hope that things will improve, which, of course, won’t happen in their lifetime. Incremental betterment, when it happens, is wiped out by inflation which the Prime Minister wants the people to grin and bear, as if it’s their bounden duty to silently suffer his indifference and incompetence.

The political resolution adopted at the BJP’s National Executive last weekend had a revealing paragraph which should provide the thinking classes with some food for thought: According to the Planning Commission, 27.3 per cent of rural households are below the poverty line. The NC Saxena Experts Group, basing its estimates on calory intake, says 50 per cent of rural households are below the poverty line. The Arjun Sengupta Commission has found that 77 per cent of the population lives on less than Rs 20 a day and said this should be the basis for determining poverty levels. The Suresh Tendulkar Committee, on the other hand, has concluded that 37.2 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.

So, nobody really knows either the extent of poverty in India or the number of people who are barely able to keep body and soul together. Just as nobody really knows how many people actually died and were injured in the Bhopal disaster even 26 years after the ghastly incident. Nor do the authorities have any comprehensive statistics on compensation paid to victims over the years and their rehabilitation.

I had asked our bureau chief in Bhopal to access relevant details from the officials handling relief and rehabilitation. And here is what he could ferret out. More than 11,000 people affected by the disaster are still waiting for the compensation awarded to them simply because there’s no way of contacting them, or so we are told. This despite the elaborate bureaucratic machinery that was set up to deal with compensation claims. Mr Bharat Bhushan Shrivastava, one of the officials involved with disbursing compensation, told this newspaper that he and his colleagues are still waiting for 11,735 people who have been awarded compensation in different categories to turn up and collect their money. “We have sent several notices to them at their addresses, provided lists of such claimants to voluntary organisations and widely circulated their names, but to no avail.”

Who are these claimants? Are they real people without real addresses as most poor people in this country are? Were they migrant workers who lived in the shanties that were allowed to proliferate in the vicinity of the hazardous factory? Did they move to industrial slums with open drains carrying toxic wastes in other cities after the disaster? Or are they ghost claimants whose names were submitted by racketeers who are now unable to produce people whose identities match those recorded on paper? Or is this part of the elaborate charade mounted by jholawallahs, ironically funded by foreign donors, who have made Bhopal’s tragedy into a prosperous enterprise? Why is it that media has never bothered to seek answers to these questions over the past 26 years? Why has no RTI been filed as yet?

It’s easy to wax eloquent on the plight of Union Carbide’s victims and berate America. But shouldn’t we also look within? Do we really care for the poor for whom we now feign treacly concern? Do we really want them to rise above poverty levels through higher wages? What would that do to profit margins, India as a favoured destination for investors looking for cheap labour, and stock prices? Or is the outrage we read about in newspapers and hear on television just so much poppycock and no more? A reality game show by another name? Little wonder that in Saurashtra youngsters believe Warren Anderson is a Hollywood superstar and Congress spokesman Manish Tewari condescendingly declares that anybody pointing a finger at Rajiv Gandhi is being “unpatriotic”. We do live in a wondrous land.

[This appeared as my Sunday column, Coffee Break, in The Pioneer on June 20, 2010.]

Friday, June 18, 2010

It's unpatriotic to say Rajiv knew of collusion!

Congress spins web of deceit, manufactures a dozen lies!

The Congress is at sea while responding to why Warren Anderson was given safe passage and allowed to flee India instead of being incarcerated and prosecuted for the horrendous crime committed by Union Carbide in Bhopal.
Congress leader and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee: “There was deterioration of law and order situation in Bhopal and to avert that he had sent Anderson out of Bhopal.”Reports in Indian and foreign newspapers of that time (the week spanning December 3 to 10) do not mention any “deterioration of law and order”.
Then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Arjun Singh on video standing just outside the Union Carbide plant: “There was no intention to prosecute anyone or try to, sort of, harass anyone. Therefore, he (Anderson) was granted bail and he agreed to be present in court when the charges are made.”
Anderson on video (December 7, 1984): “House arrest or no arrest and bail, no bail, I am free to go home... There is a law of the United States... India, bye, bye!”
Congress spokesman Manish Tewari: “At the end of it, there was a systemic failure and there is a need to address it... If we go into the game of finger-pointing, there can be no end.”
According to Manish Tewari, anybody pointing a finger at Rajiv Gandhi, who was then Prime Minister, for having agreed to give Anderson safe passage under American pressure is “unpatriotic”!
On whether the Rajiv Gandhi Government was aware of safe passage being promised to Anderson, Tewari said: “I reject the conclusions with the contempt they deserve. There was never ever any intention of the Central Government to allow any culprit to go scot-free.”
Really, Mr Tewari?
Gordon Streeb, who was Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy when the Union Carbide disaster happened and was filling in for the Ambassador, has told India’s premier news agency IANS that “safe passage” for Anderson and immunity from legal action during his visit to India were part of the assurances given to him by the Ministry of External Affairs before the UC chairman arrived.
Excerpts from the IANS exclusive:
Streeb recalled that Union Carbide contacted the American Embassy indicating that its chairman, Anderson, wanted to fly to India to see for himself what had happened and to show "concern for the victims" at the "highest level of the company".
"The issue was whether he would be guaranteed access to the site and eventual safe return to the US," Streeb told IANS, adding: "This was a reasonable precaution since legal systems differ so widely around the world."
With the Ambassador, Harry G. Barnes, out of India, Streeb was liaising with the Ministry of External Affairs on the sensitive issue.
The Ministry "advised that it would be a very welcome gesture if Anderson could come to India and that the Government of India could assure him that no steps would be taken against him during his visit".
Anderson came to India and reached Bhopal with the plan to meet with then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh. Instead, he was arrested on December 7 by the State police.
"I immediately contacted the foreign ministry and was assured the (that) government of India would honour its commitment to provide Anderson safe passage in and out of India," said Streeb in his communication to IANS.
Based on the Indian Government's assurance, Anderson was brought to New Delhi and "departed on the next commercial flight back to the United States".
Streeb said that then foreign secretary, M.K. Rasgotra, had been his chief interlocutor during this period. "I am in no position to comment on the decision making process within the government of India, i.e., who made the decisions referred to above and how Anderson's release was arranged," said Streeb, who is also member of the India China America Institute's advisory board.

M K Rasgotra told Karan Thapar in an exclusive interview aired by CNN-IBN that Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson was given safe passage after a decision taken by PV Narasimha Rao, the then Home Minister, and to which Rajiv Gandhi had no objections.
Ragotra said: “He (Gordon Streeb) said Anderson wanted to come here. There was a tragic situation and he wanted to see things himself, wanted to offer his condolences but he would come only if granted safe passage.”
The former diplomat added, “I said, I cannot assure of safe passage. I would have to consult concerned authorities and I will get back to you.... I got in touch with the Home Ministry and I got in touch with the Cabinet Secretary. I told them what Streeb had asked for and I waited for the instructions.” He admitted to have got the instructions the “same day”.
Terming the request for safe passage by Anderson as “understandable”, Rasgotra also described his arrest as wrong. “It was quite understandable request. This man wanted to come, express his condolences and sorrow. I thought it was quite understandable and if he wanted to come, we should let him come.... He was given safe passage and the arrest was wrong. And the authorities, I think, realised that was a bad thing to do and they released him,” he said, adding, “Matters were left with Narasimha Rao, may have asked the home ministry to release Anderson as it was a wrong thing to arrest Anderson. Releasing Anderson was in India's interest.” Rasgotra emphasised that Rajiv Gandhi was informed later and he concurred with the decision.
Ragotra also hinted that former US President Ronald Reagan could have called Rajiv Gandhi.

The Pittsburgh Press carried a statement issued by Union Carbide’s headquarters in the US, saying that the arrest (of Anderson) had violated an Indian Government promise to provide him with safe passage. “Warren Anderson went to India fully expecting to be of assistance and was provided with safe passage assurances from the Indian Government,” the company was quoted as saying by The Pittsburgh Press.
After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Toxic Arjun helped Anderson flee India

Congress owes an explanation!
Warren Anderson, the then chairman of Union Carbide Corp, arrived in Bhopal via Mumbai on December 7, 1984, four days after the catastrophe caused by lethal methyl isocyanate which had ‘leaked’ from the company’s pesticides plant in Bhopal. He was arrested and charged with culpable homicide.

Instead of being taken to the jail, he was escorted to Union Carbide’s so-called R&D centre on Shyamla Hills. Moti Singh, the then Collector of Bhopal, recalls how he was summoned by Brahma Swaroop, who was then Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh, and told to arrange for Anderson’s bail and take him to the airport and put him on the State Government’s plane.

According to Moti Singh, "At around 2 pm, the Chief Secretary called the police chief and me and told us to release Anderson and send him to Delhi by plane. Accordingly we went to that place, did the formalities, and he was released on bail and sent to Delhi by plane."

Anderson was granted bail on personal surety of Rs 25,000. He was escorted by senior officials to Bhopal airport where the State Government plane was waiting for him. He was flown to Delhi from where he took a flight to America, never to return to India again to face trial for mass murder by another name.

A former Madhya Pradesh aviation official now says he received a call from the then Chief Minister Arjun Singh's office to arrange for Anderson’s departure. The identity of Anderson was “kept a secret and not revealed” to the pilots of the State Government plane who flew him out of Bhopal on December 7, 1984.

"I got a call from the CM's office that we have to arrange for an aircraft for Delhi flight... Accordingly we arranged the aircraft belonging to the Government of Madhya Pradesh," Captain R S Sodhi, who was the Director of Aviation in 1984, told TV channels on Thursday. According to Sodhi, Bhopal’s Superintendent of Police and Collector Moti Singh “waved to Anderson as he boarded the plane”.

Captain SH Ali, who piloted the plane, said the identity of his passenger was kept a secret and not revealed to him. Ali said Anderson was looking tired and upset. "We got flight information from director R S Sodhi for a flight from Bhopal to Delhi. I was told to keep aircraft ready. I planned it one hour before-hand. We waited for Mr Anderson," Ali recalled. Ali said Anderson came with the Superintendent of Police and Collector of Bhopal.

"It was a one-hour-35-minute flight. We landed in Delhi. An Ambassador car picked him up from next to the plane. I left him with the airport manager," he said. Asked who gave the orders to him to fly out Anderson, Ali told NDTV, "This came from our captain, RS Sodhi. He was our Director -- he gets the information from the Chief Minister (CM) or CM's staff or Secretary to the CM. They pass the order to the Director and the Director passes them to the pilots... Or he himself flies."

What all this adds up to is:

• The Congress Government in Madhya Pradesh, headed by Arjun Singh, colluded with Union Carbide to protect the guilty officials of the company.

• The Congress Government at the Centre, headed by Rajiv Gandhi, could not but have known about Arjun Singh’s extraordinary effort to facilitate Warren Anderson’s flight to safety and beyond the pale of Indian law.

• The Madhya Pradesh Government must file criminal charges against Arjun Singh, have him arrested and made to face trial for colluding with the guilty men of Union Carbide. Does the BJP have the gumption to bring a toxic politician, accused of virtually every possible crime, including corruption, to justice?

What do you think? Register your opinion by posting your response or voting in the poll (see sidebar).

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

India's shame!

26 years after leak at Union Carbide plant in Bhopal killed 15,000 people, the guilty sleep in peace.

On the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984, deadly methyl isocyanate gas ‘leaked’ from a storage tank at the pesticides factory of Union Carbide India Ltd in Bhopal. Men, women and children sleeping in nearby slums and colonies died gasping for breath.

I was a sub-editor on the news desk of The Telegraph and have vivid memories of the tragic story unfolding through the day and late into the night of December 3. Those days there was no Internet and reports came via agency tickers. The enormity of the disaster emerged as PTI and UNI kept on updating the death toll. It was my third exposure to mass murder – the Nellie massacre was first; the anti-Sikh pogrom after Mrs Indira Gandhi’s assassination was second.

The official death toll of what came to be known as ‘Bhopal Gas Disaster’ – how cleverly Union Carbide’s name was erased from the event! -- was “around 4,000”, which was a gross under-estimation; thousands more died over the next few days, taking the toll to at least 15,000 dead. Many more thousands were afflicted with blindness, respiratory problems and other illnesses. Unborn babies died in the wombs of their mothers; children were born with deformities; life became a living hell for many. (See the legacy of Union Carbide's crime.)

Arjun Singh was Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh those days, heading a Congress Government. Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister, defending the butchery that had followed Mrs Indira Gandhi’s assassination and couldn’t care a toss about what turned out to be the world’s worst industrial disaster.

Warren Anderson, chairman of the US-based Union Carbide Corporation, parent company of Union Carbide India Ltd, flew to see for himself the devastation wrought by the American multinational firm. Probably he wanted to verify whether media stories were true or exaggerated. He did not show either remorse or sorrow but was high on bluster.

The police arrested Anderson; he was escorted to Union Carbide’s plush guest house where he relaxed while Arjun Singh arranged for his bail which was ‘granted’ within six hours. That evening a Government plane was placed at Anderson’s disposal: He flew out of Bhopal to Mumbai from where he boarded a flight to America. That was the last occasion he came anywhere near India.

The CBI was given the task of investigating the disaster. And it was instructed by the Congress Government at the Centre not to seek Anderson’s extradition.

Trial in the case against those accused of culpability (eight senior executives of Union Carbide India Ltd, including its chairman Keshub Mahindra) began 23 years ago in a Bhopal court. The accused were charged by the CBI under Section 304(II) of the Indian Penal Code which provides for a maximum of 10-year imprisonment.

The accused petitioned the Supreme Court. Interestingly, a bench headed by Justice A H Ahmadi, who later went on to become the Chief Justice of India, in 1996 converted the CBI charge under Section 304(II) of the IPC to Section 304A with a maximum of two years’ imprisonment.

Ahmadi now defends that decision by insisting that “There is no concept of vicarious liability. If my driver is driving and meets with a fatal accident, I don't become liable to be prosecuted under Section 304(II).” In other words, for Ahmadi the death of 15,000 people is no different from his driver hitting another car or a pedestrian.

On Monday, June 7, the Bhopal District Court gave its verdict: Two years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for each of the accused and a fine of Rs 5 lakh for Union Carbide. Bail was granted to those held guilty.

This was no travesty of justice, it was perversion of justice.

The outrage following the verdict is justified, but nothing more by way of ‘punishment’ was expected. We should ask ourselves some searching questions:

. Union Carbide’s culpability apart, isn’t our Government, our system, to blame too?
. How is it that slums were allowed to proliferate in the immediate neighbourhood of a toxic industrial plant?
. Why were regular inspections not carried out at the plant? Who were the babus certifying the plant’s safety standards?
. Why did the State Government fail to even do a proper tally of the number of people killed? Why were numbers fixed to minimise casualties?
. How come we still do not have a law to deal with industrial disasters 26 years after the world’s worst industrial disaster occurred in our country?
. And, shouldn't we as a nation be ashamed, shouldn't we the people of India hang our heads in shame that our criminal justice system is so decrepit and callous that it took 23 years to deliver a bogus judgement in a case involving mass murder by another name?

Congress Government
2-3 December 1984
Poisonous gas leaks from Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal at night, killing ‘around 4,000 people’ within days and thousands more since then.
4 December 1984
Police file a case against UCIL and arrest nine.
Chairman and CEO of US-based Union Carbide Corp (UCC) Warren Anderson is released on bail and leaves India
6 December 1984
Case is transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)
February 1985
India files a $3.3 billion claim against UCC in a US court
US district court transfers all litigation to India
1 December 1987
CBI files chargesheet against Anderson, UCIL chairman Keshub Mahindra and seven others. Charges include culpable homicide
February 1989
UCC agrees to pay $470 million as compensation in an out-of-court deal with Indian government
Only a part of the compensation is disbursed among victims. Anderson is declared a fugitive after igonring court summons.
UCC sells stake in UCIL to McLeod Russell (India) Ltd. of Kolkata
13 September 1996
Supreme Court reduces the charge to death by negligence
NDA Government
UCC announces merger plans with US firm Dow Chemicals
UCC declines responsibility for UCIL’s liabilities in India
Court maintains charge of culpable homicide against Anderson and demands his extradition. UK newspaper reports he is in New York, after US authorities say they can’t locate him
India sends formal request for Anderson’s extradition
March 2004
India issues ’No Objection’ certificate to allow Dow Chemicals to clean the soil and ground water at the tragedy site
UPA Government
June 2004
US rejects India’s request for Anderson’s extradition
July 2004
Supreme Court orders the government to disburse the rest of the compensation
25 October 2004
Protest against the government’s failure to pay the compensation
26 October 2004
Supreme court sets 15 November as deadline for payment of compensation. Authorities begin disbursal
22 July 2009
Bhopal court issues new arrest warrant against Anderson. His trial is separated from others
7 June 2010
Local court declares all the eight accused guilty. Sentences them to 2 years in jail; imposes a piddly fine.
They are freed on bail.

On Israel, India plays Boy Scout

India has violated Sri Lanka's sovereignty to 'help' Tamils!
India has blockaded Nepal to 'teach Kathmandu a lesson'!
India votes with OIC countries; OIC countries votes against India!

It was the summer of 1987 and passions were running high in Tamil Nadu over the Sri Lankan Government’s decision to impose a blockade on Jaffna peninsula, which was the stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Colombo believed that it could force a breach between the Tamils of Jaffna and the LTTE by using coercive, non-military measures like an economic blockade: Starving masses would any day settle for food over homeland.

It didn’t quite work that way. The LTTE was in those days a fearsome fighting force and the civilian patrons of the Tigers were sufficiently impressed by V Prabhakaran’s machismo to begin believing in the balderdash about how Tamils constitute a separate nation and should not hesitate to pay any price for a Tamil Eelam. The LTTE demanded that the people of Jaffna should simply grin and bear the hunger and hardship caused by the blockade; the masses had no option but to concur.

Soon, the Tamils in India were seething with anger, as were their leaders with both AIADMK and DMK trying to outdo each other in ‘standing by’ their brethren in Jaffna. They demanded immediate intervention by India to ‘liberate’ Jaffna from the ‘clutches’ of Colombo. Rajiv Gandhi, who was then Prime Minister, was not particularly bothered about the deprivations forced on Jaffna’s Tamils by the blockade, but he was in a rage: How could Colombo thumb its nose at New Delhi in so blatant a manner in the middle of peace negotiations?

It was not possible to send an Indian armada across the Palk Strait, but Rajiv Gandhi did what he (or his advisers) thought was the next best thing: Indian planes were despatched to drop food packets over Jaffna. Six AN-32 aircraft made repeated sorties from Chennai to Jaffna, dropped food packets, and returned to base. Ostensibly, New Delhi was determined to showcase its human face in the neighbourhood. Of course, it’s another story that the same Rajiv Gandhi had ordered a virtual economic blockade of Nepal by closing all except one border crossing with Nepal to force Kathmandu to fall in line with New Delhi.

On spotting the AN-32 over Jaffna, it was Colombo’s turn to feel outraged: Its airspace had been violated with impunity by India. Nor were the Tamils of Jaffna pleased. This was no aid but mere scoring of political points. The subsequent India-Sri Lanka Accord and the disastrous Indian peace-keeping expedition are now footnotes of history.

Years later, Pakistan decided to repeat that act of Indian belligerence, albeit with a twist. It encouraged various Government-sponsored pro-azadi organisations based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to organise a long march to Srinagar. The idea was to create a spectacle of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children rushing through the Line of Control, leaving Indian security forces nonplussed: They couldn’t possibly shoot at civilians in such large numbers. Mediapersons from around the world gathered for the event as PV Narasimha Rao went into a tizzy, desperately trying to ward off a showdown. In the end, Mr Nawaz Sharif panicked (some say after a harsh telephone call from the White House prompted by Rao pleading with the Americans) and the Pakistani Rangers didn’t allow the ‘freedom marchers’ to proceed beyond Muzaffarabad.

The point is that India is the last country which should feel compelled to criticise Israel’s use of force to prevent the so-called ‘Freedom Flotilla’ led by a Turkish ship from breaching the naval blockade of Gaza. Having violated a similar blockade in another country and paid a terrible price for that folly, and also having enforced a pernicious blockade on Nepal which caused enormous and lasting damage to bilateral relations, and, last but not least, having scurried to the Americans for their help to stall a ‘Freedom March’ from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to Srinagar, it ill behoves us to issue a denunciatory statement even before the full facts of what happened on the sea off the coast of Gaza were known. Had those who drafted the statement admonishing India bothered to watch the videotapes of the Israeli raid on the flotilla, they would have desisted from formally issuing it.

[Text of statement on 'incident involving boats carrying supplies for Gaza' issued by Ministry of External Affairs on May 31, 2010:

India deplores the tragic loss of life and the reports of killings and injuries to people on the boats carrying supplies for Gaza. There can be no justification for such indiscriminate use of force, which we condemn. We extend our sympathies to the families of the dead and wounded. It is our firm conviction that lasting peace and security in the region can be achieved only through peaceful dialogue and not through use of force.
New Delhi.]

It is amazing that we have not yet learned a lesson from voting blindly with the block of Organisation of Islamic Conference countries at all international and multilateral fora every time they have chosen to denounce Israel. This has not fetched India any benefits, diplomatic or otherwise. Nor has it stopped the OIC from adopting anti-India resolutions and repudiating India’s sovereign right over Jammu & Kashmir.

We can vote against Iran at the IAEA to please America (it would have been an entirely defensible and justifiable decision had New Delhi voted against Tehran on its own and not at Washington’s behest) but we can’t refuse to vote against Israel bearing in mind our national interest? Must we forget that Israel came to India’s help at a moment of national crisis when we urgently needed battlefield hardware during the Kargil incursion by Pakistani soldiers? More importantly, must we remain captive to vacuous political posturing of the past when it was fashionable to align with the Arabs against the Jewish state?

By rushing into criticising Israel, we may think we have scored brownie points with Turkey, which has recalled its Ambassador to Tel Aviv and threatened to snap six decades of diplomatic relations, but such expectations are entirely misplaced. The Islamist AKP regime in Ankara has made it abundantly clear that its sympathies lie with Islamabad and not New Delhi on a host of issues, especially the future role of Pakistan and India in Afghanistan; that it will facilitate Tehran’s bomb-in-the-basement programme through subterfuge and sleight of hand and, that it sees itself as the new centre of Islamic politics and Islamist revanchism.

If anything, India looks as silly as Nicaragua and South Africa — the first is trying to rediscover Left radicalism in a world that cruelly mocks at the Left; the second is blessed with a succession of Muslim Deputy Foreign Ministers who abuse Israel to satiate their lust for anti-Semitism. As if that were not enough, we have been bracketed with China which amazingly lectured Israel on the need to be mindful about safeguarding human rights. We could, of course, compare our hypocrisy with that of Britain which earlier this year expelled an Israeli diplomat over the targeted killing of a Hamas terrorist in Dubai. Few know that sanctimonious Britain provides caring shelter to Islamists wanted for horrible crimes around the world.

[This appeared as my weekly column Coffee Break in The Pioneer on June 6, 2010.]

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Israel takes on bogus crusade

What's Turkey's Islamist AKP regime playing at?

It is laughable to hear the Prime Minister of Turkey describe Monday’s raid by Israeli commandoes on the so-called ‘Freedom Flotilla’ in which nine ‘peace activists’ -- eight Turks and an American of Turkish origin -- were killed as a “bloody massacre”. If the death of eight Turks who set upon the Israeli commandoes with knives and clubs, and shot at them after seizing their pistols, is a “bloody massacre”, then the chilling atrocities committed on Armenians by Turks surely amount to the genocide which they are described as but persistently denied by Turkey.

Let us not forget that the Armenian Genocide witnessed little girls being snatched from their mothers’ arms, dragged to the streets, raped and left to bleed to death; that young and old, men and women, were despatched to horrific deaths; that Armenian property was looted and what could not be stolen was set on fire; and, that tens of thousands were disinherited of their nationality and forced to seek shelter in alien lands. And all this happened without Turkish authorities lifting so much as a finger in admonishment.
Neither should we forget that till date Turkey has not owned up to that crime against its own people and against humanity, nor has it allowed others to recognise the massacre and worse for what it was. So much so, US President Barack Hussein Obama, who has sought a full report on the raid on the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “ASAP”, chose not to use the word ‘genocide’ in his message on the 95th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide after promising to do so, presumably because he was mindful of Turkish sentiments.

Therefore, we really need not be distracted by the official reaction of Turkey which, apart from indulging in fiery rhetoric denouncing Israel and allowing thousands of Islamists to march on the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, has recalled its Ambassador to Tel Aviv. This could be Turkey’s first step towards snapping diplomatic ties with Israel, a country with which it has had cordial relations for six decades. It is Turkey’s sovereign right to decide how it conducts its foreign policy, as much as it is Israel’s right to decide how it responds to what is clearly a blatant Turkish provocation inspired by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which is increasingly veering towards assertive Islamism for reasons which I shall dwell upon later. First, a brief account of what happened on Monday and who is responsible for what Turkey has so colourfully described as a “bloody massacre”.

The ‘Freedom Flotilla’, a convoy of six ships of varying sizes, led by the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, had set sail for the coast of Gaza, ostensibly carrying “urgently required relief material for impoverished Palestinians” living in the blockaded territory. The three-year-old blockade of Gaza Strip is being enforced by two countries, Israel and Egypt, for different though inter-linked reasons. Israel has imposed its blockade, including maritime blockade off the coast of Gaza, because it is currently in a “state of armed conflict” with the Hamas regime which has repeatedly attacked civilian targets in Israel with weapons that have been smuggled in via the sea route and through tunnels connecting the Palestinian territory with Sinai in Egypt. Gaza’s Rafah border crossing with Egypt has also been consistently misused by the Hamas militia for smuggling in arms, ammunition and explosive material. Egypt, which has a peace agreement with Israel and whose President Hosni Mubarak is not enamoured of either the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the progenitor of Hamas, or the Islamists who dream of Hamastan instead of Palestine, has not only closed the Rafah crossing but is also building a steel-and-concrete underground wall to prevent tunnels from being dug. The blockade of Gaza Strip, really, is in effect a joint Jewish-Arab enterprise. We could endlessly quibble over the details, but that would not change the reality on the ground.

The ‘Freedom Flotilla’ was ostensibly organised by the ‘Free Gaza Movement’, which claims the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza Strip are living in abject poverty on account of the blockade. Israel says food, medicines, fuel and all civilian goods are allowed to pass through the blockade and tales of suffering, impoverished Palestinians are either sheer propaganda meant to generate support for Hamas or exaggerated to paint Jews as the persecutors of helpless Arabs, put countries otherwise favourably disposed towards Israel on a guilt trip, and keep the mills of anti-Zionism grinding in Arabia and beyond. What is true is that Israel has prohibited the supply of material which can be used for building tunnels and fashioning improvised rockets that are regularly fired by the Hamas militia.

The tenuous ceasefire that followed ‘Operation Cast Lead’ has held, but there’s nothing permanent about it as Hamas considers it no more than a hudna, to be used for regrouping and rearming its forces before launching fresh attacks. Israeli authorities had repeatedly requested the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ organisers to hand over its ‘relief supplies’ for inspection before being despatched to Gaza Strip and not to attempt reaching the Gaza coast. The organisers refused to either allow an inspection of the cargo or to hand it over to the relevant Israeli authorities.

That’s understandable, because the purpose behind the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ was not to help the poor and the famished of Gaza Strip, but make a political statement that would find a resonance around the world, forcing Governments and people to lend their voice to a ‘moral crusade’ while ignoring Israel’s national security imperatives. The media chose to romanticise the ‘Freedom Flotilla’, sensing a soft story that would tug at the heartstrings of newspaper readers and television viewers, instead of raising relevant questions about the entire dubious exercise and exposing the real organiser of the flotilla, the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi, or IHH, an Islamic charity with a radical anti-Western orientation. There is sufficient documentation to prove that beyond its legitimate philanthropic activities, the IHH provides extensive support to radical Islamist organisations, including Hamas, and that in the past it has maintained contacts with and provided support to global jihad organisations.

Given these facts about those behind the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ and its dubious cargo of material to help Hamas build tunnels and produce improvised rockets, Israel was within its rights under international law to stop the ships in international waters as the purpose behind the ‘moral crusade’ was to undermine Israel’s sovereignty. Israel had two options: Either score cheap brownie points by retreating before bogus ‘moral crusaders’, or court equally bogus international opprobrium by protecting its national interest. It chose the latter, which, we in India with an effete Government must concede, requires a lot of gumption.

This brings us back to the enraged reaction of Turkey, more specifically of the AKP regime in Ankara, to Monday’s unfortunate incident provoked by the belligerence of the so-called peace activists, among them a crew of Al Jazeera and a Pakistani television anchor, on board the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara. A recent poll suggests a dramatic shift in Turkish public opinion with the Left-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, surging ahead of the Islamist AKP. The CHP is now seen to be commanding 33 per cent of the vote, compared to 31 per cent for the AKP. The Right-wing Turkish nationalist MHP stands third with 19 per cent of the vote. The next election is scheduled for 2011, but the AKP, according to reports, has been toying with the idea of calling an early poll rather than risk a worsening economic situation. In such a scenario, what better way for the AKP to shore up its electoral fortunes than by painting Jews as villains guilty of “bloody massacre” of Turks and by extension Muslims? Other Islamist regimes have played this game successfully, so why not the AKP regime?

[This appeared as the main Edit Page article in The Pioneer on June 2, 2010.]