Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lokpal mess: Trinamool puts Govt. on tenterhooks, favours autonomy for states

Didi is again out with her tantrics putting the government on tenterhooks.
A day after leaving the Congress-led UPA alliance high and dry by opposing the revised Lokpal Bill on the floor of Lok Sabha, Ms Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress today made it clear that the party will never compromise on the autonomy of the states in setting up state-level ombudsman but asserted that it will not vote against the government.
“There is no question of voting against the UPA government, it’s our government,” a senior party leader said clarifying on the party’s strategy to be adopted during the crucial debate and voting on the revised Lokpal Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Decembe 29, 2011.
Trinamool Congress’s last minute opposing the bill in the Lok Sabha yesterday had caused severe embarrassment to the government especially to the crisis management team headed by Mr Pranab Mukherjee.
Trinamool has six members in Rajya Sabha and have decided to move two amendments. The party member Mr Sukhendu Sekhar Roy is set to move the amendments seeking to “overhauling and deletion” of Part-3 of the Bill with summary deletion of clauses from 63 to 97 in the Part 3 on Lokayuktas. .
“We also want renaming of the Bill. It should be simply Lokpal Bill. States should be at liberty to frame their own anti-corruption law. The word ‘Lokayuktas’ should be dropped from the original name of the draft bill,” one party MP said. The Trinamul floor leaders in Mr Sudip Bandyopadhyaya, Mr Mukul Roy and Mr Derek O Brien also met the Finance Minister Mr Mukerjee in response to the ‘invitation’ from him to end the deadlock.
The Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mr Pawan Kumar Bansal and MoS Personnel Mr V Narayanasamy were also present.
“We will not create problem for the government. That’s not our intention,” one senior Trinamul leader said after the meeting indicating that further consultations would be held both within the party and also with the government to end the deadlock.

Amid the party's clear stand that it will not allow any tampering with the federal structure as enshrined in the basic structure of the constitution, six Rajya Sabha members met at the residence of Mr Mukul Roy while the party supremo Ms Mamata Banerjee too was consulted more than once during the day.

“The provisions in Part 3 are objectionable and should be modified,” Mr Roy said earlier during the day adding the party has taken exception to the ‘mandatory clause’ as the bill was being brought under Article 253 which would leave the states with no choice but to set up the Lokayuktas toeing the central line.
Trinamul sources defending the party’s Lok Sabha MP Mr Kalyan Banerjee’s criticism of the bill in Lok Sabha asserted “it was not a belated decision”.
“Our party nominee in the standing committee Sukhendu Sekhar Roy has sounded on these lines in the Standing Committee deliberations. We did not give any dissent note, that does not mean our views should be ignored. We are all for federal structure of the constitution,” a key party leader said.
On December 27 in the Lok Sabha, the 19-member strong UPA constituent Trinamool sprang a major surprise during the historic debate in
the Lok Sabha on the Lokpal Bill when it pooh-poohed the government’s
claim of a strong draft legislation and went on to oppose the bill on
the ground that it was ‘encroaching’ on the federal structure of the
constitution.
Maintaining that the Bill would at best only create a 'super
investigating agency' in the form of Lokpal, party's chief whip in Lok
Sabha, Mr Kalyan Banerjee said, the proposed Lokpal would (have to) submit
"merely an investigation report" before a court of law, which will not
be accepted "unless it is proved before the court itself".
He said an investigating agency report has to be given to the Special
Court, and the Special Court will decide the matter in accordance
with the procedures of the Code of Criminal Procedure and "nothing
more than that".

Sharing concerns expressed by BJP leader Ms Sushma Swaraj and several
opposition members that the bill would attack
the rights of the states, he said, "If the bill is adopted then I
think it encroaches upon the federal structure of constitution”.

Contesting the HRD Minister Mr Kapil Sibal’s contentions, he argued
that Section 81(7)(b) of the Bill directly encroaches upon the “domain
of the state legislative assembly”.
Seeking the attention of the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who was
present in the House, he said there should not be any misconception
that just because Lokpal Bill has not come for decades “it means that all
the previous Prime Ministers or the Ministers were in favour of
corruption.”
“If this type of Bill has not still come in the states, then this does
not mean that the state Legislatures or the State Chief Ministers are
in favour of corruption,”
Mr Banerjee said rather eloquently.
He said, the government should not “undermine the State Legislatures
nor undermine the Ministers of the States” and stay away from entering
into the arena of the states and added that such a move would be “a
dangerous proposition.”
Also sounding much critical the manner the government had tried to
bring in the legislation under pressure from
Anna Hazare’s anti-graft agitation, the Trinamul member said,
everybody is against corruption.
"It is not that only one person is fighting against corruption," he
said adding, it is not that the persons who are holding demonstrations
and dharnas are the only persons who are fighting against corruption.
"We have also been elected by people because people know that we are
honest".
Mr Banerjee also opposed the provisions under which the Speaker of the
Lok Sabha would be required to
report to the proposed Lokpal on actions taken by the Speaker on any
chargesheet filed against elected member of the House.
Moreover, he was also critical of the selection panel as proposed by
the government saying, "Lokpal will be selected by the Prime Minister,
and the Leader of Opposition. Both of them are under the Lokpal.
Therefore, both of them will decide who would be the Judge who might
be required to look into the matter in case they commit any fault in
future".

Ends

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lok Sabha makes history: Lokpal Bill introduced

The Lok Sabha had a date with history today, December 22 of circa 2011 as it took up in greater details the matters concerning much talked about
anti-corruption Lokpal Bill, which was introduced in lower house
of parliament amid strong protests by a sizeable section
of members.

Te National Food Security Bill, which seeks to give legal right on cheaper foodgrains to 63.5 per cent of the country's population.

However, the proceedings were marred by repeated bedlam and
adjournment first till 2 pm and later for about one-and-half hour
again till 3.30 pm.

The first round of chaos was sparked off by the RJD floor leader and
party chief Lalu Prasad, who supported strongly by Samajwadi Party
members created ruckus over alleged motivated strategy to keep
minorities and weaker sections out of the proposed Lokpal Bill.
He claimed that the government has ensured that the proposed Lokpal
Bill draft does not reach all members.
Angry exchange of words and uproar led to noisy scenes and chaos for
nearly ten to 15 minutes.
Even as the Speaker Meira Kumar had allowed discussion on the
Constitution Amendment Bill on bringing transparency in Cooperative
societies, a din was raised by the RJD leader while he sought
permission to speak.
BJP member Arjun Meghawal was disrupted more than
once while participating in the constitution amendment bill
as the RJD leader was seen from moving members to members including
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and CPI-M floor leader Basudeb Acharia.
The Speaker Meira Kumar tried to bring order in the house and appealed
to the members to restrain from creating commotion. But the agitating
members had rushed to the well of the House and standing close to the
Speaker's chair and raised slogans protesting the alleged
non-inclusion of minorities from the Lokpal Bill.

Lalu Prasad said the 'removal' of Muslims, Scheduled Castes and
Scheduled Tribes was done by the Government at the behest of the RSS
and the BJP which he claimed were 'anti-minorities'.

Lalu Prasad said the issue was a serious issue and the House needed to
be made aware of this 'dangerous thing' as a contrary decision was
taken in the all-party meeting.

The Speaker made repeated attempts to pacify the RJD leader and others
saying she would give time to them during Zero Hour, but there was no
respite.

Raising slogans of "Musalmano ko kyon hatay, jawab do", the RJD leader
rushed to the well of the House, with Samajwadi Party members tailing
him leading to noisy scenes.

In the midst of din only, various papers and reports were laid by
members and the ministers.

Later, the BSP members led by Dara Singh Chauhan were also seen
supporting the move.

Amidst all this commotion, Minister for State for Food and Consumer
Affairs K V Thomas introduced the National Food Security Bill 2011.

The proposed legislation that would provide 7 kg of rice, wheat and
coarse grains per person per month to priority households at Rs 3, Rs
2 and Rs 1 per kg,
respectively, is being seen as the second flagship scheme of the UPA
government after Mahatma Gandhi-NREGA that was introduced during
UPA-1.

Amid the chaos, the Speaker adjourned the House till 2 pm.

There was no respite even when the House re-assembled after 2 pm.

Several members were again on their feet trying to raise the issue of
Lokpal Bill and how the minorities and other weaker sections have been
ignored.
Among others, Sharad Yadav (JD-U) floor leader also supported the
contentions of the agitating members that minorities were ignored in
setting up of the Lokpal. Among others, Dara Singh Chauhan (BSP) and
Basudeb Acharia (CPI-M) also spoke on the issue.
The BSP leader said the government has ensured that the proposed
Lokpal Bill draft reach only select few members. The government is
trying to mislead people especially the minorities, he alleged.

Senior CPI-M member Acharia also maintained that at the all-party
meeting inclusion of minorities and the weaker sections in the Lokpal
were suggested; but the government has simply ignored them.
The re-worked draft of the Lokpal Bill was cleared by the Union
Cabinet on Tuesday, December 20.
The proposed legislation is in public debate for last 8 months after
anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare took up the agitation demanding
it on behalf of the civil society.

The morning session today was also marked by much confusion over
voting in electronic system.
There has to be repeated voting after confusion when the House put the
Constitutional Amendment Bill on Cooperative societies to vote.
However, in quick damage control, the government made 'quick changes' in the bill and added provisions for reservation.
The opposition members led by Sushma Swaraj said the Bill is "patently
un-constitutional" as there is a proposal for reservation for religious minorities and taking the cap over 50 per cent.
This can be be struck down by the Supreme Court the moment it is
challenged because the constitution does not allow any religious-based
reservation and also have any 50 per cent quota.
Mr Pranab Mukherjee, however, said the house had the "legislative competent" power to introduce the Bill.

Members target Pretender of a Gandhi:

In the high drama that preceded the introduction of supposed historical Lokpal Bill in Lok Sabha today, the chief campaigner of the proposed Ombudsman to fight corruption menace, Anna Hazare, was subjected to severe crictism even as visibly agitated members warned the government against
giving in to his demands.
The master orator Mr Lalu Prasad said the Bill was like a "hanging
rope" for the political class.
The most emphatic observation against Anna Hazare came from veteran
parliamenterian and CPI leader Mr Gurudas Dasgupta.
The government need not be afraid of "somebody – who pretends to be
another Father of the Nation," he said without naming anyone.
"There is only one Father of the nation," Mr Dasguta waxed eloquently
Even Sonia Gandhi was seen thumping desks on his remarks.

(ends)


Nirendra Dev
Spl. Representative
The Statesman
New Delhi

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The US withdrawal from Iraq: End of an era

The United States of America is seemingly a panorama of paradoxes today. On domestic front, it is hit with a recession and diplomatically it has entered into a lasting war of wits with his longtime protégé Pakistan and last week Americans pulled down their flag and announced leaving Iraq.
Iraq is better known today as a war-ravaged country.
The end of the nearly nine-year war finally marked the departure of the US leaving just a couple of hundred soldiers at an embassy in Baghdad. Compare this with the scene when a time when there were nearly 1,70,000 troops on over 500 US bases across the country.
This is a significant development in the Arab world. Just as the US soldiers rolled out of bases jubilant and hugging each other, the country remains shattered. Importantly a question that’s looking for answer is whether Iraq would continue to remain a steadfast US ally. This is largely because, most common Iraqis blame the American military commanders and even common soldiers for everything bad that has happened since the invasion in 2003.

It’s altogether a different story that the US administration never conceded it to be an ‘invasion’.
On the contrary, the US establishment has reasons to claim that they turned Iraq into a democracy. Huge money has been invested as American army engineers worked overtime with generosity to provide clean water and a proper sewage system in many places.
The mission has cost the US nearly 4,500 American soldiers as well as more than 1 lakh Iraqi lives and 800 billion US dollars billion from the U.S. Treasury. However, at the end of all these nine years, international watchers still ask whether it was worth it all.
The Iraqis on their part acknowledge the contribution of Americans in changing the history of their country – for good or for bad.
They know pretty well it was the Americans who made it possible for the Shia majority to take over political power from the Sunni minority.

But the arbitrary and alleged autocratic style of US soldiers with the common citizens during their occupation leave permanent scar mark on people’s mind. Even harmless Iraqis driving too close to an American vehicle by accident was liable to be shot.
The democracy, as the term is understood, never came to their rescue. Therefore, it is not without good reason that Iraqis generally blame that out of a staggeringly high one lakh deaths, the vast majority were civilians.

The U.S. plans to keep a robust diplomatic presence in Iraq with an assured and lasting relationship with that country. But all that does not seem to be coming so easily.
A common refrain among several Iraqis as reported in the international media is that for the first time in many years; Iraqis are feeling a little gleam of optimism.

But suave diplomats that the Americans are, the US establishment knows it pretty. The US president Barack Obama in an interview has stopped short of calling the U.S. effort in Iraq a victory.
“I would describe our troops as having succeeded in the mission of giving to the Iraqis their country in a way that gives them a chance for a successful future,” quote unquote Obama merely said. In fact, he could hardly speak more eloquently for a decision taken by the erstwhile Goerge Bush regime to send troops to Iraq ostensibly to oust a nuclear-powered Saddam Hussein. Worst, the Saddam regime was never found with nuclear weapons and the decision has fetched much criticism at home too.
In fact, there are many factors those are weighing in Obama’s mind today. Obama met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently as the two leaders tried to define the new relationship between the two countries.
The US officials are unhappy and modestly tensed as so far they have not been able to reach an agreement with the Iraqis on legal issues and troop immunity.
Finally, the world cannot ignore the fact that Obama was in tiring hurry to announce withdrawal of the forces from Iraq. The 2012 presidential race will obviously discuss and debate the US policy in Iraq.
But the internal tension in Iraq is far from over. There’s already a latent war among Shia and Sunni leaders. The Prime Minister has started making noise against a Sunni leader and the deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak. The Sunni leader’s political bloc has announced boycotting parliament. This could be just the beginning of a new chapter.

(ends)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Heart of India – Delhi: 100 Years of Glorious History

Nirendra Dev

Delhi completed 100 years of designating itself as the capital city of India on December 12, 2011. It was on December 12, 1911 that Delhi was proclaimed as the new capital of the country.
The city has emerged as one of the megapolis with the second largest population in the country. It has a long history including a history as the capital of several ancient empires. According to historians, the earliest architectural relics date back to the Maurya Period in 300 BC.
In felicitating the citizens on the occasion of 101st (one hundred and first) birthday of Delhi, the Speaker of Indian Parliament’s lower house, Meira Kumar rightly said that the city today boasts of world class infrastructures and many heritage buildings.
Delhi's high population growth rate, coupled with high economic growth rate has resulted in an ever increasing demand for housing and transport creating excessive pressure on the city's existent infrastructure. The number of vehicles in the metropolitan region, was estimated as above 11.5 millions. In 2008, there were 85 cars in Delhi for every 1,000 of its residents.

Like all modern dwelling places, Delhi city too has its problems. But the government is sensitive to the issues. It is rightly in the spirit of this realization that the lower house of parliament on December 12, 2011 passed a Bill to streamline all development related activities in the city and adjoining areas.
The government also promised to put in place a "visionary" plan keeping in mind the requirements of next 25 years.
The Urban Development Minister Mr Kamal Nath informed members that the
second phase of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission
(JNURM) was also under preparation and it would take into
consideration the "shortcomings" encountered in phase one.
Replying to a debate on the bill during which members cutting across
party lines
had several complaints on lack of adequate attention being given to
Delhi, Mr Nath admitted that coordination among multiple civic
agencies like DDA, MCD and the Delhi government was still lacking.
He announced that DDA has been directed to solely concentrate on
making dwelling places for economically weaker sections and that about
a lakh such houses will be soon set up. He also said that attention
should be given to the demand for granting full statehood to Delhi and
the members' views on the subject
would be forwarded to the union Home Ministry.
He, however, said the proposal of constructing one lakh housing units
for Economically Weaker Sections would not be enough and these needed
to be doubled.
He said the Master Plan 2021, which is under preparation, will have
the "vision" for 25 years.
Members from various parties including from RJD (Lalu Prasad), BSP
(Vijay Bahadur Singh), Congress (Sandeep Dikshit), BJP (Shahnawaz
Hussain) and BJD (B Mahtab) voiced concerns over deteriorating civic
amenities and shortcomings in the functioning of agencies like
Municipal Corporation of Delhi and Delhi Development Authority.
Opposition members also called for full statehood for Delhi. Shahnawaz
Hussain (BJP), who initiated the discussion, said the Master Plan had
“grave errors” and alleged that Delhi authorities had acquired land at
throwaway prices from farmers and sold it at exorbitant rates to
builders and the rich. He said for the common man, housing has already
gone “out of reach” in the city.
"In its 54 years of existence, DDA has built only about 11 lakh
dwelling units. Is there pressure from private builders," the BJP
member asked.
Shailendra Kumar (Samajwadi) and A. Sampath (CPI-M) also supported the
demand for full statehood to Delhi.
The East Delhi Congress MP, Mr Sandeep Dikshit wanted to know whether
the Centre would convene a meeting to accord full statehood to Delhi,
saying neither Congress nor BJP has tried to address the issue during
the last decade.
BSP's Vijay Bahadur Singh, wondered why there was a “permanent cold
war” between the MCD and DDA. SP leader Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav
suggested for introducing a proper sewage treatment system.
Members also expressed anguish on what they alleged eviction of the
poor and slum dwellers during the Commonwealth Games.

ends

Monday, November 28, 2011

Exploiting the web: Narendra Modi

- Nirendra Dev

One would fail in the duty if a vital facet of Narendra Modi’s personal story is not highlighted. It is his love for the razor-sharp new technology, the Information Technologies. Years back when Modi was first sworn in as the Gujarat chief minister on October 11, 2011 replacing an embattled party old-war horse Keshubhai Patel, there was a small piece of story ran by PTI wire service. It spoke about Modi’s swearing in being live covered by his personal website. The IT knowledge of Indians was not yet to the mark as it is now. I was temporarily stationed at PTI’s Chandigarh office for a short while. In fact, the moment the news story about website reached our desk at Chandigarh there was a modest debate on the merits of such a news report. Little wonder, Modi had kept himself low-profile but his incisive knowledge and more importantly the use of IT revolution was perhaps second to none. In later years too, this interest only sustained. It would not be out of place to mention that the ‘computer-mediated communication’ or the internet has a profound impact on his life and career and he too has tried to make use of it --- both as a tool to promote one’s personal image and also as a key system for governance.
I often tell friends that had not the train inferno taken place, the little known township of Godhra had the potential of making news in IT revolution, a point I had highlighted rather eloquently in my first book, ‘Godhra – A Journey to Mayhem’.

For Godhra and its Panchmahal district, the irony was more. On February 27, 2002 when unscrupulous elements set fire on Sabarmati Express, they not only precipitated an unprecedented communal carnage in Gujarat, but the mayhem also derailed Panchmahal district from its track of long journey for IT revolution. “For Godhra and Panchmahal district; there was certainly a set back due to the violence, subsequent tension and days of curfew. On December 31, 2001, Panchmahal district and its headquarter Godhra clicked into a web history in western India when citizens in the district were given the opportunity to simply walk into a nearest STD and cyber kiosk and obtain ration cards or file pension claims.
The entire credit for IT revolution could not be obviously given to Modi because the process for the same had begun long back. With traders’ friendly atmosphere and pragmatic business acumen of locals, Gujarat had attained e-governance network spread over to the taluka level --- as against even “CEO” N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Andhra Pradesh having up to district level only. Gujarat attained largest number of Internet Service Providers (30) and also emerged as a hub of four gateways and nearly 65,000 internet subscribers.
This is one part of the story of IT in Gujarat. The other part belongs to Modi. The Gujarat watchers know it pretty well that no other chief minister has able to make use of IT and importantly to his advantage.
Today, more than one news letter are web posted to millions of IT users a across the globe daily and I would have no hesitation that the perceptible change in people’s perception about him and especially his developmental activities reach internet users – his friends and foes alike.

As I interacted over the matter with Gujarat government officials over the months, many endorsed my views rather strongly that Modi understands it pretty well that internet mediated communications/newsletters/ video footage can have transformative impact on people’s mind as more and more people are slowly getting affected by this technology. Modi is among the first group of Indian politicians making use of the technology and even social networking sites like twitter.
Importantly, he keeps himself updated and would not miss opportunities to pass on his comments and catchy oneliners on news and events promptly.

The Gujarat watchers say he has also benefited by the IT and these social networking sites and news letters. “One likes it or not, the internet has dramatically influenced his friends and foes alike. To those who view things with jaundiced eyes of a Hindu chauvinism, his twitter messages etc tell them how Hindus have been endangered. Yet again, for others, these make significant differences in changing their opinion about Modi,” said a minority community public sector employee posted in Ahmedabad.

Not entirely to my surprise, he further told me that as elsewhere jihadi networks or closer home. how Anna Hazare’s crusade, have used internet as logistical and publicity tool; Modi one of the rare Indian politicians who has been using this too. Adept application of the net especially in terms of making use of the free web space have gone to his advantage to manipulate public opinion and as well as the press agendas. Modi has understood it pretty well that a website’s greatest contribution is to remove the prospect of compartmentalizing an event, any propaganda or a theory. It is this so called worldview – actually rightly influenced by his propaganda – that has fetched him dividends in terms of investors making a beeline for his state.
It is a known fact, both old and new, and even corporate sector endorses that effective publicity does help bring in new players. Therefore, it is not quite surprising that when Maruti Suzuki had to shift its unit from strike-torn Haryana, the choice was Gujarat. When Ratan Tata was shoed away from Bengal, he also called up Modi and when Delhi Metro compartment maker Canadian firm, Bombardier has to look for a place in India, the natural choice was Modi’s Gujarat.

In other words, Modi’s image is being rechristened or reshaped by the internet as the web technology is definitely having an increasing impact on his voters in Gujarat, Indian citizens in general and rest of the world in varied and diverse contemporary contexts.

ends

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Did Mamata get a snub in Delhi? PM declined meeting?

Was it a snub? Has Didi’s Delhi visit turned ‘damp squib’?
An angry Trinamul supremo set to step up attack on Congress by opposing FDI in retail and opening of aviation sector, had to swallow her bitter pill.
"Going to plead for Bengal," Ms Banerjee had replied cryptically before leaving for the airport in Kolkata on Tuesday, Nov 22. However, most of the time during her two days stay in the capital, she confined herself to meet the party leaders and union ministers from her party only. Initially, there was no confimation from either side whether the chief minister, who has been demanding special financial assistance for her cash-starved state, would meet the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during her stay in the capital.
The party also mid-way decided to oppose FDI in retail and aviation sectors and attack government on the price rise.
“We have been asked by the leadership to oppose proposed 51 per cent FDI in retail and also 26 per cent FDI in the avaition sector. On the price rise front, we are to criticise the government,” a senior party leader said.
The union cabinet cleared the 51 per cent FDI in politically hyper-sensitive multi-brand retail on Nov 24 wherein her nominee Dinesh Trivedi reportedly registered the party's protest on the same. However, the Commerce minister Anand Sharma pooh poohed Trivedi's mild protest saying he has already discussed the matter with Ms Banerjee, who on her part hours before the cabinet meet chose to speak ambiguosly.
Fielding questions from reporters, the Trinamul chief said opening multi-brand retail to foreign investment may require further discussion adding the government needs to protect farmers' interest.
"We are always pro-farmers. We can keep the country smile only because of farmers and industry. Let industry smile, let agriculture also smile,” she said.


The West Bengal chief minister had arrived in the capital to press the Centre for financial assistance to her cash-strapped government as well as urge the Congress leadership to discipline a section of Bengal leaders including the likes of Congress MP Ms Deepa Dasmunshi for their repeated vitriolic outbursts against the Trinamul-led government in the state.
“My understanding is that the vocal West Bengal Congress leaders have also toned down …. At least there is no fresh ourburts from Ms Dasmunshi,” said another party leader trying to underline that all seems well between the allies.

(ends)

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Short Story : The Pawns

By : Nirendra Dev

The Operation ‘Freedom from Terror’ seems to have taken a decisive turn. The US-led coalition forces are set for victory following the fall of Taliban. Half-a-dozen daily newspapers lay tossed aside. It appeared a lazy morning --- the time piece moved at a lingering pace. The war has meant different things to different people.
“We were opposed to American unilateralism. The US hegemony is now knocking at our doors,” screamed a communist leader in New Delhi’s famous Ajoy Bhavan even as his fellow comrades appeared reconciled to the ensuing electoral debacle in hitherto red-bastion, the state of West Bengal.

Vidyasagar was preparing to go for a walk along the beach at Mumbai’s famous Chowpaaty. Unknowingly the riot of sights and smell left him aghast momentarily. Yet, he thought that was the place he could go around. Chowpaaty in Mumbai, one-time ‘Bambai’, is the best place for a loner to feel that he is not alone!

The rise and fall of sea-waves, the mingling crowds, the resourcefulness of a faceless Mumbaikar all combine together to make a rainbow coalition. Vidyasagar was unsure, as he reflected walking towards the water, dirty water, on why he was recalled from Kabul. He had thought of a little longer innings at Afghan capital particularly after the successful battle.

The US-led forces were rejoicing the moment. The Taliban has been crushed! This was unthinkable. “But we did,” said the NATO force commander.

New Delhi had played a crucial role in the decade long struggle, especially at the fag end, the decisive period of any war. The political leadership wore a ‘smug grin’, as newspapers reported and the government of the day could show a thumb to its detractors.

“The Indian government, after years of playing the Muslim appeasement card, took a decision and stuck to help the US-led forces fight terrorism. It has been crushed,” said the Prime Minister in his national televised message. For long, his government was at the receiving end of a smear campaign for being corrupt and Hindu fundamentalist; now all seemed to have silenced.
Politics always enchanted Vidyasagar.

He was in Kabul and few sensitive Afghanistan pockets like Kandahar as part of a cover up operation for the intelligence agencies. It was a tough assignment.

The Chowpaaty resembled a sprawling fun-fair; except, as he knew, that it is on 365 days a year. Nothing seemed to have changed at Chowpaaty.

The dirty stinking water seemed too familiar. “We know each other too well,” the waves seemed telling him.

He used to come to this place about five years back; when as part of another cover up operation he was deputed to work as a freelance journalist in Mumbai.


Even as he was lost in the thought of the past, the constantly shifting crowd were unmindful of his presence. The crowd here does not allow anyone to settle down. Vidyasagar thinks of making way back to his apartment. He finds a place to sit on the sand for a while --- as the chai-wala and other hawkers pass by. He does not intend to pick up anything. Chowpaaty snacks, as he recalled, were big hit once. They still might be.

Rosalin Upke used to be his permanent companion to these places. But today, he was not sure of her whereabouts. As she gone back to Konkan belt, her native place; or still around in the city?

The loneliness of the fading afternoon cast a gloomy mood over him. On a similar afternoon, a few years back, Rosalin had suggested Vidyasagar, “I wonder why you are not proposing me for the marriage”.

“Even without that, you are more with me,” he had replied – probably concealing from her that his job while allowed him to befriend a daughter of a senior civil servant, but there was a ‘ban’ for marital relationship.

“You cultivate sources ….. not relatives,” one of his bosses used to say.

Vidyasagar’s reply did not amuse Rosalin. She knew the guy is avoiding the main issue.


But it was getting late! “Doctor has already given the date ….. I cannot hide all these any longer,” she meekly told him.

A stunned silence filled the atmosphere as they were at a loss – unable to measure for the first time what lay ahead.

A number of permutations and combinations went whirling through his mind. Right from his first meeting with Rosalin, Vidyasagar knew, he was drawn to her. She too liked him. But then, why the hesitation?

Thinking about the past is no panacea to all problems. “Please have something sir,” a teenaged or even less by one year or so hawker insisted.

Vidyasagar was somewhat annoyed. Rosalin had vanished from his thought and the dirty sea water again threw in fowl smell. Just then his mobile rang!

He had to attend to the caller. The young hawker boy just could not fit in his thoughts!


‘THE COMPULSION TO BE RIGHT IS THE ENEMY OF CREATIVITY’, he saw a best seller book on sales. The title attracted him. Who bothers about the author and the content, he thought for a while and picked up the book.

My life has been a tale of lost opportunities, he again told himself walking back to his apartment.

In the night, he went out for dinner; Mumbai ishtyle!

He ordered for ‘pao bhaaji’, something he relished always. Only the Mumbaikar knows the virtues of pao-bhaaji. As he licked his fingers – he thought this was his private space in the midst of thousands of others - moving around in the city of ‘functioning anarchy’.

He walked back to his room. It seemed cooler. That’s again the strangeness of Mumbai; the evenings get cooler and often pleasant.



He should not be alone tonight, Vidyasagar thought; after all Mumbai allows all that liberty. Long back, he knew that things can be arranged at half-an-hour notice.

“Well, I will try this out,” he told himself.

Vidyasagar was in a specific lane – being directed by a pimp. “Saheb, don’t forget my cut?”, the fellow said virtually dancing on his toes directing Vidyasagar to a particular floor.

When was the last time, he tried something like this? Well, a few months back in Kabul. The young Afghani damsel was pretty, modest and energetic.

“In Mumbai, girls can also sing,” the pimp chuckled yet again. Vidyasagar knew all that.

But the sudden downpour almost spoiled his night. The girl he was going to meet, had already left her flat ‘on hire’. “Don’t worry sahib, I can take you to a better stuff,” the pimp literally prayed.

Vidyasagar was annoyed. Somewhat superstitious. It’s a jinxed night. He thought of coming back to his room.

But he allowed the physical interest to prevail over the dictates of his mind. He agreed to the pimp’s suggestion and walked towards another by-lane.
There are certain times in life when every place gets surrounded by a radiance of romance, he thought.

"Hope I am not making a mistake …,” surprisingly an empty feeling inside the stomach made Vidyasagar feel slightly ill he crawled upstairs.

At last he walked in a cabin and was ready for the awkward meeting.

What arrested Vidyasagar’s attention was the bunch of fresh smelling red roses arranged carefully in a cheap vase. The Mumbai’s famous Gajra – of white jasmine lay around virtually inviting the desired lover in him.

Vidyasagar stared at the girl, gave a good glance and appreciated her figure. He has done these exercises many times in life.


Life seemed to have taken an u-turn and he found himself facing some moments that were gone. Rosalin Upke used to greet him with such red roses in her rented apartment. Rosalin, he always thought was his first love.

But he had ditched her due to the call of the duty. Since then he has spent many nights with one-night stranger-friend --- more of a temporary bed partner.

He had turned more stone-hearted! Literally. At least this was the phrase she used for him in her last letter.

But slowly all his thoughts seemed getting lost in a harsh environment. The ambience in the small room charged up his blood and body as he felt attracted towards his gorgeous hostess. The chiffon saree was beautifully placed over her body but betraying her deep naval even as long slender arms and neck were all bare – inviting him.

The night passed on pleasantly. Just then there was a buzz in his mobile. He jumped up from the bed. It was still a misty morning 4.45 by his watch. The girl had also woken up and taking a puff at the cigarette.
“You are a gentleman,” she remarked giving him a character certificate.
“But not everyone thinks like you….,” he said.
“Why Saheb, your wife does not like you. Or she cannot satisfy you,” the damsel quizzed.
“What you have to do with all that?” he shot back.

She remained silence as if she wanted to protest for his remarks in his silence. Vidyasagar dressed up and made a call to his caller. There were few important instructions from his superiors.

Slowly the morning was dawning over Mumbai. He got ready to move out before it’s too late. Normally, he avoids making his habits of these night stays a public knowledge. His job required him to be more careful.


“You are hurrying up for your office sahib? You know, my sister Rosalin was betrayed by a gentleman like you. She thought he would marry her. But he fled, said his des-seva job and bosses would not allow him to marry?”

The remarks left Vidyasagar stunned.
He wanted to ask some questions but his voice had gone into silence.

Vidyasagar knew he was getting nervous just as those suspects arrested and put into questioning before intelligence sleuths. Still he braved through his momentary hesitation and asked her, “where is your sister now?”

“She is rotting, what else,” Vidyasagar’s one-night hostess remarked.

That put Vidyasagar into a more dilemma.
The thought of Rosalin Upke almost veiled his eyes with tears. He never imagined that one day he would be put into such a quandary.

He again asked, “rotting …. Where?”.
The lady did not reply. Vidyasagar was getting shattered more. Why is she not speaking up and telling Vidyasagar that her sister Rosalin is not Rosalin Upke he knew.

He glanced at the red roses on the table. They seemed to have lost the fragrance as well as the romantic aura of last night. Where is Rosalin Upke, he wondered yet again.

The time passed by and Vidyasagar thought it was high time for him to move out of this place.

Suddenly there was some spring in his feet and he walked away trying not to look back; not even to take a glance at his last night partner’s face. Was he scared?
What if she resembled Rosalin Upke?
So he has slept with both the sisters? Is it being decent?

Only a few hours back, the girl in the special cabin gave him a sort of character certificate – gentleman!
Do gentlemen behave like this?


In the night, he recalled his physical desire was so dominant that he properly did not care even to take a closer look at his partner’s face.
Her physique arrested his attention so much that he got lost in that, penetrating himself to the most.
The smell of her sweat threw away an aroma of unknown happiness.
He had massaged her body and stimulated erogenous zones and she kissed him, allowing him to penetrate he had growled in pleasure.

Just then there was a call from his superior; ordering him to try to zero in a young damsel who could be utilized for a large operation in Thane district, in the outskirts of Mumbai. “Well, I could have one soon sir…..,” he replied remembering his meeting with the previous night’s companion.
Life must go on; he thought and more so for pawns and even a patriot! like him!!
In the game of chess, he knew, once the game is over, the pawns and the queen go into the same box.

(ends)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

'Arms of Comfort' : A short story

The short story, 'Arms of Comfort' was also ran in Washington Bangla Radio website


“The north east of India should no longer be a playground for Indian army and the self-styled freedom fighters or whatever name they are known today,” chuckled Capt. Devkant Basu as he hung up the telephone.
The land-line telephone calls have minimized to rarity these days so much that the receiver carried some dust on it. Dusting off the black telephone set and the table, he thought it was over 20 years now since he had left Nagaland. “Jantrikata amader grash korchche (The machines and the machine age are eating up all our time),” he remembered his father often saying in chaste Bangla as he was reflecting upon the use of mobile handsets during last 10 years in his life. The land-line phone is hardly in use these days.

Captain Dev, as he was known during regiment days had served with The Hill Rifles, the famous anti-insurgency crack force --- also known as the friend of the hill people. He had given up the military boots after a combing operation around Akuluto region – an insurgents infected pocket in rural Nagaland. The excess committed by his jawans with the latent support of superiors in the force had left him disturbed. He knew, he could not continue in the same force yet again.

Despite being the protectors and friends of the frontiers for over 100 years, he was aghast when his unit had to carry out a series of indiscriminate raids, torturing and intimidating innocent tribals – including embarrassing women and children. His immediate superiors supervising the operation and the government both in the state and in Delhi had given message trying to reinforce that they wanted to allow Akuluto to bleed to teach the supporters of militancy a lesson!

Capt. Dev had since his voluntary retirement taken up several movements for the welfare of the forces personnel and the civilians in states like Manipur, Nagaland and Jammu and Kashmir. But his social work is actually easier said than done.

These days, at least Capt. Dev knew, it has become fashionable to speak about human rights and demand revocation of controversial legislations like the Armed Forces Special Power Act.
Under AFPSA, many think, states like Nagaland and Manipur, reflect a violent society and the armed forces only cannibalizing their role.
There are hundreds of human right activists and as many NGOs these days who make a living by attacking the armed forces and the so called draconian laws that give them unbridled power.

Capt. Dev had always tried to be reasonable while taking up issues and always focused on both sides. Consequently, he is thus disliked by both the camps often -- activists as well as the armed forces. However, he always thought a microscopic section would admire his sincerity and objectivity.

He was getting ready for a visit to Nagaland and neighbouring Manipur in the far off northeast India. The mission will be to enlist on the spot reports so that the civil society leaders in Delhi can argue and take up well the demand for revocation of the Armed Forces Special Power Act. A noted Gandhian from Maharashtra has already announced a front in the national capital in support of the demand. By August 15, the Gandhian has also threatened to sit in a week-long dharna, the sit-in-protest.

The flight was via a brief stopover in Kolkata. As the small Indian Airlines aircraft was about to land in Dimapur airstrip, in close proximity to the Hill Rifles Training Centre complex; his memories flashed about olden days.
He recalled some anecdotes – some friends – some good and a few not so good ones.

One thing he did not like those days was the double standard of the local police. Many a times; Hill Rifles jawans of the intelligence unit would gather volumes of information after working long hours through days, questioning 100 old local suspects and accomplices in and around villages but police would hardly reciprocate on those by arresting members of the banned insurgent group.

The flight to Dimapur was occasionally bumpy due to inclement weather. The sari-clad visibly aging airhostess served him some snacks and coffee.

Suddenly he remembered about his friend Ramola Christine, a police officer with a difference. Unlike many in her department, Christine was sincere and objective. Despite being a local tribal, she did not mix her professional duty with her being a Naga. So was Capt. Dev, a thorough professional.

This mental wavelength had brought them together. They often worked jointly on a few missions and produced successful results.

They also exchanged books along with notes about movement about some top underground leaders.

Within days of their acquaintance, Capt. Dev knew that Christine had a good network of local informers and that often proved vitally helpful for Capt Dev and his unit.

But he has not heard from her for ages. For first few years, since he quit Nagaland and the force, they spoke over phone, exchanged Christmas cards and even once in a blue moon dropped letters. But slowly all faded.

The Naga insurgency and the missions for military men like Capt Dev to crack the spinal cord of militancy, the local population’s support, was like a fertile land --- unexplored in more ways than one!
It was also a murky pond where everyone tried to be fishermen – fishing out of the troubled waters, as the time-tested saying goes.

Besides being a sincere and also a hard worker who could give up weekend breaks for “good assignments”, Christine was also a stubborn sort of lady.

Stubbornness ran deep in her vein, Capt. Dev had told her many times as Christine would often report to him about fights with her bosses – men bosses – in a typical patriarchal society of the Nagas.
But Christine was much of an independent mindset who refused to be slapped into obeisance just because her bosses or the political masters of the day desired so.

Even years after he left Nagaland, Capt Dev knew Ramola Christine was not married. She had written her about adopting a small boy, Dadiram, a Nepali lad – whom she had first hired as a helping hand for her domestic chores.



The thought about Dadiram made Capt Dev slightly optimistic. At least he can help him know more about Christine. But he also did not know much about Dadiram other than his first name and that he was serving as a police informer. Long years after his secondary-level Class X11 – education, Dadiram had employed himself as a police informer, Christine had written to him long back.

Thus, immediately after landing at Dimapur, as he was joined by a former police officer, Limatoshi – the first thing Capt Dev wanted to know was about Dadiram. Some how he thought, to hit upon any discussion all of a sudden about a local woman would not go too well.

Limatoshi was the local representative of Capt Dev’s NGO in Nagaland. He had planned for a week-long tour of interiors of Nagaland where in army operations had been carried out recently even as there have been fierce armed group clashes.

But the talk about Dadiram had left Limatoshi surprised. Personally, he did not know much about Capt Dev. They had interacted twice during seminars and conferences in Delhi. Limatoshi had offered to carry the NGO’s flag in Nagaland and was easily accommodated as regional coordinator.

Limatoshi had heard about Dadiram as a police informer but did not have any information off hand. He requested Capt Dev for sometime and promised to get back to the hotel room with some information by evening.

In his hotel room, Capt Dev dragged out his survey papers from the suitcase, gave them a quick glance and ran through the list of questionnaire quickly.
He also glanced through local news papers and did some stray surfing over his laptop on the internet.

By evening Limatoshi came along into his room with a lanky young man.

He is Dadiram, you were looking for, said Limatoshi thinking he has able to please Capt Dev.

The young man was still giving a curious look at Capt Dev. “I am just an informer Sir …… I don’t know these guys much,” he seemed to cry fearing the stranger but a well-built officer like man could be an intelligence sleuth and could apprehend him.

“Calm down” – ordered Capt Dev and then he turned towards Limatoshi and thanked him profusely for doing a quick job.

To his utter surprise, Capt Dev glanced towards Dadiram yet again and strangely felt the spark of connections with Christine. Nothing is permanent except transition, he read somewhere and that’s the life. Minutes before he was sad, clueless on how to find his lost friend Christine, but the sight of Dadiram gave him hopes.

He was unmindful and even clueless to an extent about what was going on in the minds of Dadiram and even Limatoshi.


To squeeze out some moments of privacy with Dadiram, Capt Dev than handed over his survey related papers to Limatoshi and also a dairy. “Please study these papers carefully; we have to start some interviews by tomorrow morning itself. I want you to be well versed with our project,” he told Limatoshi.

Within minutes, Capt Dev was alone in the room with Dadiram even as the latter was extremely baffled and looked clueless.

Capt Dev looked healthier and obviously better-fed and more happy than Dadiram though the Captain knew he had nothing much to cheer about in personal life. Dadiram was apparently in one of his best outfits – a neatly ironed pair of jeans and a brown open-necked shirt. But his shoes were dusty and the material a bad substitute for leather. Informers, as everywhere, must not be paid well, Capt Dev thought for a while.
From his vast experience, he knew that life for most police and military informers was often dreadful and how they still discharged their duties and generally remained law abiding.


“So Dadiram….,” Capt Dev threw up his right hand to shake hands with him.

“Yes sir,” he said rather sheepishly shaking the hands with the shy of a timid man still not sure of himself.

“Kab sey yeh kar rahe ho (Since when you are providing information to police)? asked Capt Dev.

“Quite a few years now sir,” he chuckled.

“What about Ramola Christine? Where’s she?” the question came a shocker for Dadiram. He was virtually sweating, more in surprise than fear – thought Capt Dev.

He repeated the question again.
The reply had left Capt Dev shell-shocked.

It is for last 6 years, Christine is in jail convicted of indiscipline while in uniform and also a co-accused in murder of two senior police officers.

“How could she do it ….,” he screamed.

“You are right sir…. She has been framed,” asserted Dadiram, a more confident man now as if for long he has been wanting for someone who too would believe that Ramola Christine was innocent and say it openly.

Dadiram then said he could arrange a meeting for Capt Dev with Christine. She would like it; he said adding that Christine has not met many friends for long.
“I have heard a lot about you from her,” Dadiram said before leaving the room and promising to arrange the meeting at the earliest.

The next morning Capt Dev woke up to rural fresh air, cocks crowing and birds chirping. He loved the birds in these hills. These flying creatures elucidate life’s desire for freedom – eternal freedom.
Suddenly the thought about last night’s meeting with Dadiram made him happy. He remembered the reason of the meeting and felt the excitement about his possible meeting with Christine.
Guided by Dadiram, Capt Dev walked towards the designated place in the prison where he could meet Christine.
It was a small room with few wooden benches and roughly maintained tables. A tiny counter was cut out signifying that it was probably a canteen for the lower ranking prison staff. The green paint on the walls was peeling.




Christine was sitting in one corner with a naked bulb in the cob web hanging overhead. The atmosphere was dark, enough to give a vibration of depression.

“Do you recognize me?” Capt Dev asked modestly.

Christine gave a vague smile, trying to brave through the circumstances she was today.
The contrast was palpable. Capt Dev pictured the past days - her powerful breasts above a firm abdomen. All that beauty is lost somewhere. But she still drew Capt Dev’s attention, he presumed.

“I did not know all these …. Not that I could have helped much. But may be I could have tried,” he said trying to give her a few words of assurance that all is still not lost.

Christine gave a blank look and slowly extended her hand towards Capt Dev’s right palm resting casually on the table. She wanted to say something but a pal of gloom had already descended in the room. Her eyes were doing all the talking but the lips were shut and dried. No tears rolled by and rather Capt Dev for a while thought his own eyes were more moist than her.

But then without his knowing, Capt Dev pulled back his hand. The gesture did not miss Christine’s eyes. She knew her friend was hesitant to even touch her. After all, she is a prisoner behind the bars.

The thick air seemed to have blown over.

A lot has changed everywhere. Human life is run more by practical considerations than the emotions. Emotions are only lived momentarily. A few years means a lot of time space. Each year – 365 days and a few 366.

“You must go back to Delhi…,” she said. “You are also grown old and have a responsible life”.
Capt Dev wanted to say something. Christine waved her shivering hand preventing him from doing so. “I always longed for some arms of comfort Captain but you do not live by wishes alone”.

Her natural aggression and stubbornness, something Capt Dev knew well, surged and she set focused on her goal to go back to her cell. She gazed out towards the prison main gate as if she was directing the Captain to conduct a ‘quick march’ outside the prison walls.

(ends)

Monday, October 17, 2011

'Patrons of A Letter Box' : English Short Story

(The story was run by Washinton Bangla Radio website Magazine also)

The struggle of memory against forgetting is one of the foremost of struggles. History holds the monopoly of the business of keeping memories alive. Standing in this landscape – isolated – I often picture my memories like a shattered mirror. Pieces all over. But the tales of two of my patrons would always be fresh in my memories.

It is difficult to appreciate the life of a ‘Letter Box’ in the landscape of a tiny Jotsoma village in Naga hills unless one has experienced. It was equally unique for human beings. There are certain places surrounded by a halo of excitement, if not romance. Jotsoma was one such place. In late eighties it was a small hamlet with the diversity from other Naga villages with a spacious campus housing state’s only Science College. The unseen wave of modernity was rubbing shoulders with Naga tradition. The institution was notoriously famous for churning out dozens of doctors and engineers every year. The ratio of successful doctors and engineers was quite higher than the pace they could find jobs or alternate source of employment.

A dense thicket of trees in the north marked the beginning as well as the end of the village in the south. In fact, trees were all around; even the college for would be medicos and technocrats looked nestled amid the towering pine and other jungle trees.

The empty dwellings, the tinned ceiling and bamboo walled houses and the noisy chicken pens were other attractions. The streams of fresh water attracted young boys and girls to bath while the thick marshy tract of mangroves added the aura of romanticism.

I was tucked away some 20 yards from the village post office and thus often stood neglected. As a result many a times, letters dropped in my belly remained with me for weeks and sometimes months – dieing and rotting their natural deaths within me. In other words, the letters posted never reached their destinations. And in the age of mobile-less and email-less era, none knew. For long this fact remained masked even from me, may be.

Thus many hostellers would draw near me and wonder with their melancholy eyes – why there is no reply to their letters to their girl friends. A look of hurt innocence would loom large.

I kept this fact within myself. My silence was combination of voluntary decision and also a kind of repression. Often like men in agony, I thought, silence is golden. But my silence also sought to make a statement. The folly lay with the erring post man and his other colleagues in the post office as none bothered to attend to the letters dropped with me.

Friendship used to be a vital element of social life in Nagaland among Nagas themselves and also between Nagas and non-Nagas.

Loyalty to friendship – if they had committed – has been always a great Naga virtue. Unlike most communities, Nagas have a very sense of gratitude for friendship. In many places I am told of life-long friends turning against them overnight evidently in self-protection and pursuing their self-seeking goals. But Nagas would not; just as they would not forgive any act of betrayal – even wrongfully perceived ones. In such an era stood starkly different, the friendship between Joydeep Chakravarty and Khrito Angami, my two patrons.

They were bosom friends and would share everything – their food, drinks, agonies and of course happiness. For long this used to be the talking subject in the college canteen. None suspected a gay-friendship between the two; yet the manner in which they stuck to each other easily raised eyebrows as well as attracted huge appreciation. They ought to have liked each other from the first meeting, if not the first sight. Both shared a remarkably similar sense of humour. Studying Science in the mad-race to score marks was being idiots – was one common refrain between the two.

Both liked as well as disliked the same kind of people – starting from college mates to the teachers. The physics teacher in particular – Dr Kamleshwar Prasad – and his insistence to force students to buy his “notebook” – ‘Phyisics – Made Easy’ - they both found downright irritable.

The friendship continued for long.

But mid-way in their academic career, Joydeep Chakravarty had to move out to Shillong as his family also moved out with the transferable job.

The nomadic kind of life style is not quite surprising in this part of India as many office goers here have transferable jobs.

Just when the Joydeep’s father transfer order came and Chakravartys were all decided to move out to idyllic hill station in the region – Shillong, Joydeep almost had confessed to his friend. “This transfer to you could be a major event; that your buddy is moving out to a new place. Well, for us this has been going on for three generations. My grand father had migrated first with his family from Sylhet, now in Bangladesh,” Joydeep had said.

The words weighed much surprising to Khrito than they were meant for.

Joydeep continued, “we have since stayed in Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Mumbai and even Delhi….. We are not settled yet. At least my parents are not”.

Khrito could, however, sympathise with the disturbance in his friend’s mind. But there was nothing much he could do except to pledge him his friendship --- lifelong like a “true Naga”, as he put it.

The Angamis are valiant Naga tribe with many stories of their friendship. The culture, I presume, often has very little to do about a community’s history. Otherwise, what’s the rationale behind a violent history of the Nagas? Their warm heartedness is often lost in the din the long-drawn political conflict with the mainland India; and the violence of hatred --- often romanticized as insurgency and even guerilla warfare.

* * *

Things often progress faster then they are expected. They also progress in different direction. The trickster called ‘future’ is often wrapped in clueless masks. Some events are some steps ahead of the protagonists. My patrons were no exception.

The fear of the future has often made me melancholy - staring towards the misty sky over Jotsoma village.

The Shillong, once prided being the education hub of the northeast, suddenly was faced with gory politics of ethnic tension. In that eventful year, the violence reached its peak. The academic year for thousands of students almost stood threatened.

Predictably Joydeep and his parents were worried. They wanted to explore the possibility of appearing the crucial university examination from Kohima.

“Thank my stars, at least both the places have the same university,” wrote Joydeep to Khrito.

He also wanted to know if he could come to Khrito’s home and appear the exam. It was the most expected kind of missive from a friend in need to a true friend; who would swear by its lofty ideals any day, anytime.

Khrito did not take a second to decide. He simply told his mother that Joydeep would come to their place and appear the final examination.

Khrito’s mom too was excited. She had developed a special liking for the Bengali boy; who would jokingly call her ‘Mashi Ma’ – mother’s sister. Khrito’s mother was a woman of few words, but she liked to host Joydeep.

“My sister died many years back, when I was hardly 6,” Khrito’s mother once told Joydeep. “You have given me my sister back,” she had said as moist gathered around her two emerald green eyes.

Khrito got into the business of writing the letter to Joydeep, telling him not to delay but decide quickly about filling up of the forms and other formalities as required by the university regulations.

“Friendship is not a myth. It cannot survive with ifs and buts, particularly the friendship we shared for so long. There should not be any hesitation – whatsoever in your mind. If we cannot bank on each other during these difficult times, when else we could. You are most welcome to come and stay with us. My mom’s only condition is that when we both are together, we should avoid gossiping during study time and over drinking the Naga Madhu ( the country liquor).

Do not delay further. Yours truly -- Khrito”

But at the end of the day; the irony about future is no one can see into it.

I also cannot say how things would have turned for Khrito and Joydeep if both had acted in different manner than what they did.

The truth is therefore stranger than fiction. The fiction should make sense, the reality does not do that always. Another annoyance of life is that it often does not give a complete story, the way someone would love to have it.

Days passed. Joydeep neither came, nor responded to Khriti’s message. Ultimately, came the day of submitting forms for the university examination, Khrito was a bit worried. Why is Joydeep not coming, he wondered.

The bitter truth was that the letter never reached Joydeep. It could not. Because it still lay in my belly. Joydeep took his friend Khrito’s ‘silence’ to the heart. Joydeep was shocked but thought may be that’s the way life should be.

Out of sight – out of mind. So Khrito has nearly forgotten him and was hesitant to welcome him to his house for a few days stay. Meanwhile, the linguistic ethnic tension in Shillong was deteriorating. Joydeep feared the poison of tribal-non tribal divide has landed into Nagaland also. Khrito Angami and his family could not be seen accommodating one Joydeep Chakravarty in their house.

Obviously, he felt let down. Joydeep’s eyes were veiled with tears when he tried to reflect on this sense.

Equally on the other side, Khrito’s eyes would look moist. The scheduled date of submitting forms went by. So Joydeep would miss a year, he drew the conclusion.

On the other hand, Shillong was burning. The day Joydeep moved out towards the college to submit his form, violence erupted in the streets of Shillong, once hailed as the Scotland of East.

A tiny petrol bomb sailed across, hit the car setting the vehicle on fire. Joydeep fell victim.

The news of Joydeep’s death made headlines – the next day as immediately after that day’s assault, the state chief minister had to resign paving the way for President’s Rule from New Delhi.

Khrito did not know; how to react. His mother wept for hours but he did not.

The next day, in pensive mood he walked towards me. He was blaming himself for Joydeep’s death and also partly cursing me. - You damn letter box, why you failed to deliver the letter to Joydeep?

I was able to understand the demure pathos Khrito took in his heart and mind. A sense of guilt. A sense of hatred towards man’s vanity about linguistic creed. A sense of hatred towards the ‘Letter Box’ and the un-oiled and unaccountable postal system.

Years have passed by. Khrito still comes to see me. A cursory look at Khrito’s face mirrors my agony. I feel ashamed; lowering my gaze for the folly of my masters – the unaccountable postal system.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Short story: Anniversary Night

http://www.washingtonbanglaradio.com/content/103449611-anniversary-night-nirendra-dev-english-short-story-wbri-online-magazine

this short story also appeared in the website of washington bangla radio
- link is given above

Anniversary Night

The entire township seemed to have been lulled to sleep. It was around mid-night. Nothing much seemed to have changed in this tiny town. Nights are most often calm and apparently also peaceful. Two of us walked among the paddy field beside the thin river that has only become thinner over the years. The water flow has minimized and that way it offers a totally different picture unlike what it used to be during my childhood.
The mystique of timelessness has not touched it. The riverine too has grown old like me.

Two of us – me and my husband – were walking back to our house after attending the dinner party at my sister’s place. Circa 2043, May 12. Time has just flown.
It’s my marriage anniversary, fortieth one. Our son is away in Brazil pursuing his career.
That Latin American country is today one of the strongest economic power – materializing the dream the founders of the international forum BRICS saw decades back.
Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are today far better than the hitherto leaders from the west. The US is still to overcome the jolt it received in 2011 debt crisis.

As two of us are passing through lonely life – away from our only son - my sister thought of hosting a dinner.

She is so happy and always looks contended. Life has been all that fun for her; unlike mine.

My sister could marry the man of her choice, where as, I was somehow compelled as my father had given his word. We are not from Raghukul, but the idealism of Rama’s dynasty had cost me dearly…. Raghukul riti sada chalie ayei, pran jae par bachan na jae.

In Raghukul, Lord Rama’s dynasty, people sacrificed their lives but would not allow compromising or going back on one’s words. The legends and history mostly leave only bad affects on people, I always thought.


Now, we have grown old; but the gulf of difference, as they say, between me and my husband has not narrowed down. Our relationship is so much in contrast to the river below. Our differences have remained where they were unlike the river, which has thinned.

Old age perhaps does strange things to people.
It is highly intoxicating for some, like my sister and her dutiful husband. I always envied my sister.
They seemed to have discovered teenagers in them; looking for fun most of the time. Jumping into the cool swimming pool; sitting on the banks of fish pond to catch a few Rui and Katla fishes.

My talkative husband has instead turned introvert. I have stopped writing. Writers do retire….. yes, specially if they are like me.

People also turn mercurial and unpredictable. My husband, nevertheless was always unpredictable.

The cold strange wind was hardly provoking him. The romance between us was lost many years back.
Now he even avoided my gaze and mostly looked the other way whilst we talk.

I stared at him. The moonlight falling on his aging face and the bald head could not conceal from me - his stammering lips.

“Are you thinking something? It’s 40 long years,” I said.

He stared up towards the empty sky as if his sight was trying to embrace the entire universe. He passed a long breath upwards – the smoke rose above his head.

He must be polluting the already polluted township, my native place. Just then the cement factory wall clock started ringing 12. My mind was trying to make sense of what my husband was thinking.
“These days, you really speak less,” I muttered again.

He was still walking speechless. There are many things that separate or create complexities in a couples’ life – infidelity, money, diseases. I was trying to figure what was that in our case.

One is certainly his arrogance, especially during early years. The other one, I thought was his harsh remark about my family, my sister and my parents.

In the past, he even had mouthful for our tiny small township.

The snobbish words from him about the lives in Mumbai or national capital Delhi as compared to this town would only made me angry.

My husband was marching down the street, his wide shoulders swinging even as the belly was bulging a few inches ahead rhythmically.

But it is I who felt the pain of shouldering the weight of the burden of this marriage. May be because of this, our son has chosen to stay away miles away.

Our son used to be creative and supportive to the family; committed to us and others. But as he started growing up, he understood that things were not so easy between his parents. So slowly, he made himself isolated and got lost in professionalism. He chats on mail or even phones, but the warmth is missing. Actually, he never liked two of us fighting!
However, thanks to the technological inventions of the Americans.
After telephone, the IT revolution is undoubtedly the most valuable offerings for mankind.

I can make out these better than his father. Mothers have a few inherent talents and so also the problems, I presume.

As we were strolling down back to our house, I presume both of us were unable to appreciate each other’s grief.
When it was the last time I had been here walking together with my husband past mid-night?

A lot can change in just a few years. In our case, nothing has changed, except perhaps my husband has given up the audacity to pick up quarrels over small things. As he turned introvert, his willingness to quarrel with me also diminished. I still do not know, whether all these augur good or bad?


$

Next morning, I get up and get started by the morning dose of newspapers. A couple of them including in Bangla lying tossed aside.
I pick up the local English daily. Even my native town now has an English daily paper – something unthinkable even a few decades back.

I try to search for my favourite columnist’s snap and the piece. Long back column journalism got replaced by blog journalism --- but what’s important is all these have survived the test of time.
The best of columns still forms a special bond with the readers as they used to decades back. The newspaper columnists, like fiction writers, really need seductive skills and they have retained the same.

My husband does not read newspapers. He hardly read even during young days.

But he keeps a scrap book jotting down something. But I have never had the interest to peep inside those pages.
My feminine self-hurt sentiments or chauvinism of a writer does not allow me doing that. But I do wonder, what are the things he is keeping note?

He never kept such notes when doing that would have been perhaps more useful.

My favourite columnist also appears boring. All I got is the routine phrases and the routine templates.
The Indian foreign policy is yet again stuck with the traditional syndrome – displease none or appease all. In the process, during the crucial voting on Libya at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on ‘use of force’ against war-torn Libya, India abstained.

These have been having about a century now.

In the bed room, my husband plays his favourite love song: Some say Love …. by Bette Midler.
The Mashima, we have employed for doing the laundry and cooking has come. She asks me about my choice of menu. I am at a loss. I scream for my husband by his name.

“But he says, he won’t eat anything,” said Mashima (aunt).

This angers me obviously. As if he is ignoring me and talking to the maid.

I again scream his name. He walks in slowly but looks unmoved by my anger. I hate his approach. I hate this man.
He just waits for Mashima to disappear inside towards kitchen and then whispers: “our son got married in Pretoria, they are coming next week”.

“When did he tell you?” I scream.

“Last night”

“But, why the hell you did not tell me then?” I quiz him hard.

“It was our anniversary night” – is his cryptic reply.

Oh boy, I think; this man has weird ideas.
The son’s marriage always is a big event in a woman’s life. But the destiny has again deceived me. My dreams easily turn into some shadows and like my husband, I tend to believe – silence is bliss.


(ends)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

India-China Trade Talks: Fast Track towards Greater Milestones

The respective national interests always determine the foreign and trade relations between two countries. Moreover, in today’s world it is the economy that is often the crucial driver in ensuring smooth and cordial bilateral relations often leaving the otherwise differences into the backburner.
The recent India-China trade talks in Beijing, therefore, must be seen in that perspective.
At the talks between Indian side led Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Chinese side led by Chairman, National Development and Reform Commission, Zhang Ping both the countries have agreed to enhance co-operation in infrastructure development, particularly in the railway sector on the basis of mutual complementarities and benefit. The two sides also agreed to strengthen communication on macro-economic policies, share development experiences and enhance coordination in addressing the common economic challenges.

The two sides also agreed to strengthen cooperation on energy efficiency
and conservation as well as on environmental protection with an eye to promote sustainable development.

The strategic economic dialogue is the brainchild of the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, and is largely seen as aimed towards addressing the basic issue that the India-China trade deficit over the last couple of years has grown bigger.

Obviously, this does not augur well for the emerging economies.
On the other hand, there is no denying both the countries are key members of emerging international bloc BRICS and as such have important role to play jointly as emerging economies in the region.

The trade deficit has already reached 14 billion US dollars this year, where as India's trade with China is expected to touch 70 billion US dollar this year.
The two sides now hope to scale up the trade ties to 100 billion US dollars by 2015, with Indian side especially looking for greater cooperation in IT, pharmaceuticals and engineering products.

There is gradual appreciation to these vital facts even among the Chinese leadership. The Chinese delegation leader Zhang was therefore right in his diagnosis that both India and China are faced with identical problems in pursuing developmental activities.
"Closer cooperation will not only benefit our two countries but also
help boost the confidence of developing countries as a whole,” quote unquote, he said.
This spirit was unequivocally appreciated by Indian delegation leader Montek Singh Ahluwalia and hence the maiden strategic economic dialogue has rightly sought to deepen bilateral investments, further open up markets and share developmental experiences.

Taking these initiatives further, yet another key development is the setting up of an India-China CEO Forum to enhance economic engagement and to make corporate sectors party to this cooperation.

True, over the past decades both the countries have got embroiled into skirmishes and diplomatic differences; but now both the sides are sincere about what they say, “enhance pragmatic cooperation” in economic sectors.
The economic policy makers on both sides agree that both the countries have their own limitations in handling the respective domestic macro-economic situations and therefore there ought to be the mid and long-term economic and social development plans.
This can be achieved only by mutual cooperation between two emerging economies.
In the recent times, both China and India have come together even in dealing with major global issues like climate change. Both have also tried to give a tremendous momentum to the BRICS conglomeration.

India on its part has been pursuing to build up a relationship of "cooperative partnership" with China.
It’s true, the history of 60 years relations between the two countries cannot be simply put on the backburner. But it goes without saying that at least on economic and trade front, both tend to benefit immensely by mutual cooperation.
For reasons best known to diplomatic historians, strategically both the countries have not been natural allies. But on the economic front they probably owe to each other and more importantly to their respective interests to cooperate. This ‘pragmatic’ roadmap would definitely put both the countries on a fast-track towards the higher plane of achievements.

(ends)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Price Rise – Saga of a Daunting Experience

The price rise across the board has hit the common man hard.

These are the watershed times in Indian socio-economic life as in food production the country at one hand is recording bumper harvest hoping to touch 4.4 per cent agricultural growth, on the other hand the increase in prices across the board are leaving the common man in tears.
Just when the government seemed to have heaved a sigh of relief after battling the Anna Hazare-led corruption crusade, the fuel price hike with the fear of leaving cascading impact has hit the UPA government hard.

The growing unpopularity of the Congress-led dispensation in the centre is near complete with the unprecedented increase in prices of essential commodities – affecting all sectors.

Predictably, the government stands vulnerable to severe criticism for alleged mishandling of the fuel price issue and also the food stocks and prices of other essential commodities.
Price-rise on all fronts has crippled the life of middle class. In fact, before they could stomach the hike in petrol price, there is already hike in home loan EMI and the Railway Ministry is talking about train fare hike. (See accompanying box – ‘Eclipse of a Family Life’)

The cry of the middleclass is not without good reason. Food inflation has ruled high for much of 2011, averaging 10.26 per cent in January-August.
The inflation has touched 13-month high by mid September and even for those who believe in higher GDP calculations, there is something to worry about as whilst between January-December 2010 period, growth was around 16.5 per cent, in the last eight months of 2011, it has failed to breach 15 per cent.

On 15 September, state-owned oil companies raised petrol prices by Rs 3.14 per litre. The government has sought to shift the responsibility to the oil companies. Subsequently, the official reaction from the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has been that “inflation is a reality of our time” and quickly the Reserve Bank of India raised key interest rates by 25 basis points, the 12th time since March 2010.
These have come on the backdrop that only four months back, there was diesel price hike and according to estimates since 2004, when economist Dr Manmohan Singh was anointed as the Prime Minister, the prices of petrol products has gone up 40 times.
Former Finance Minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha says faulty government policies have helped the profiteers, hoarders and the corrupt to “loot” the common man of an additional Rs 6 lakh crore in the past three years. “We totally reject the theory that growth is required at any cost. Is the growth aimed to dispossess the poor?” he asks.
Food Prices:
The entire irony of the situations could be well understood as with hardly the heat and dust on fuel price hike settled, yet another government measure announced on 20 September could leave an adverse impact on the prices of onion.
However, the government was apparently pushed to a corner after it faced strong protests from onion growers – apparently also egged by the Maharashtra politicians.
The government decided to lift the ban on onion exports with the pledge to review the same every fortnight. The government had imposed a ban on onion exports on 9 September to check its spiraling prices which touched Rs 25 a kg in retail in the national capital.
Analysts agree that in recent months vegetable prices have shot up nearly 22-25 per cent – even at wholesale level and as a result their impact to the housewife gets magnified in inefficient distribution system where the same material passes through a whole range of intermediaries even as the authorities apparently prefer to look the other side.

The union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has time and again resorted to the hunting game – looking for scapegoats to blame on spiraling prices. His excuses have been: global factors, increase in purchasing capacity of the village population and that the “high minimum support price to farmers”.
“The market is yet to reconcile to higher MSP for growers,” he reportedly told the Prime Minister in a meeting on price rise.
But the rhetoric do not help the aam admi, the ruling combine’s supposed core constituency. The government inaction is only pinching the middle class and more especially the poor along the base of the economic pyramid hard.
Take few examples. Rice that is the basic diet of the Indians sells about 3-4 per cent higher, wheat at 6 per cent higher compared to same time last year. Dal prices too hover around high range though it has come down a bit gracefully after having touched the sky with most pulses selling between Rs. 80 and Rs. 100 a kilo last year.
Similarly, prices of sugar, atta, milk and other items have also increased.

The price of milk has seen quantum leap from 2008 from average Rs 22 a litre to Rs 30 to Rs 35 forcing some consumers to admit openly that as a consequence they have shifted to “prefer black tea”.
In many households, such changes and sacrifices have become the order of the day.
In some cities, figures from the ministry of consumer affairs say, the milk price has even gone up to Rs 38.

In many middleclass houses, confectionaries and biscuits have vanished from the kitchen shelves and people have given up buying magazines and buying gifts and sweet for children and friends during festivals.

The large scale pessimism is endorsed by business chamber ASSOCHAM, which says, “Year on year in 2008-09 food articles rose by 10.85 per cent and in 2009-10 it was 17.4 per cent”.
Worse, retailers say, in some quarters the rise in prices of essential commodities has been week by week.

Even in many other areas, the common people are feeling the pinch. According to homemakers, even the prices of baby food and chosen health drinks have risen 2-3 times.

In Delhi, the common man’s agony continues in the form of higher prices for DTC city bus travel as well as whopping 20 per cent hike in electricity charges.

Diagnosis and Excuses:

The higher prices can not be swept under the table especially for food and other consumable items. There are several reasons.
Even globally, the spiraling food prices are being driven by financial players taking over commodities markets. Unlike the past, a report from World Development Movement, claims financial speculators now account for more than 60 per cent of some agricultural futures and options markets, compared to just 12 per cent 15 years ago.
"Financial speculators have flooded food commodity markets, creating sudden price spikes. For people in developing countries, price rises are disastrous," says the report's author, Murray Worthy. Even in India, parliamentary committees and several political parties have from time to time spoken against forward trading though a section of economists have always opposed the theory.
There are other factors too as echoed by Sharad Pawar that in recent years there has been significant inflow of government (read easy) money into rural India through the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA, the UPA’s populist scheme.
A report, from Kotak Institutional Equities points out that the income in rural India has risen by 138 per cent over the five-year period ending 2009.
“The first thing Indians do with higher income is to switch to better and increased food intake and also confectionary items like chips and biscuits. Moreover, India has a lot of vegetarians which means only increased consumption of pulses, vegetables and milk,” says an Ahmedabad-based commodity watcher.
He also says things can only get worse once the government comes out with yet another vote-catcher scheme, the so called Food Security Bill. The proposed act is expected to ensure subsidized grains to 90 per cent of the rural and 50 per cent of the urban population. The government would then confront a startling problem on the food subsidy bill.

ends

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Will Railways go the Air India way?

The populist measures of netas like Mr Lalu Prasad
and his illustrious successor Ms Mamata Banerjee for refusing to
increase railway fares for last 8 years have contributed immensely to
the financial woes of the Railways. After the parliamentary
consultative committee and railwaymen’s federation, the finance
ministry has reportedly now directed the Railways to reconcile to
augmentation of resources by increasing fares.
“There is apprehension that sustained financial crisis in railways
owing to huge subsidies doled out to passengers could lead to bigger
crisis. We can be the next Air India,” said a senior official
referring to the national carrier crisis wherein even salaries of the
employees were affected.
It is this precarious situation which made All India Railwaymen
Federation general secretary Mr Shiva Gopal Mishra recently write to
the new railway minister Mr Dinesh Trivedi, “to increase passenger
fare or ask the government of India to at least compensate the amount
the Indian Railways spends on passenger subsidy”.
“….non-rationalizing of fare will be quite unfair with the Indian
Railways,” Mr Mishra’s missive said.

Even last year a whopping amount of Rs 20,000 has been drained out on
the subsidy for passengers and is only likely to increase this year.
The rail fares were increased marginally by the then minister Mr
Nitish Kumar in 2002 and under Mr Lalu Parasad during UPA-I, the
populism only led to slashing down of fares at least thrice.
In 2002-03, during Vajpayee era, fares were last hiked minimum for
second-class mail and express trains went up from Rs 15 to Rs 16.
Not to forget, Mr Lalu Prasad’s petline used to be that there’s no
need for fare hike as railways were making profit --- which ultimately
has been proved only as “jugglery’ of figures by none other than the
CAG and also Ms Mamata Banerjee.
Slamming Lalu’s alleged jugglery of figures, the CAG lamented that the
balance sheet prepared by railways “had not followed the generally
accepted principles” of commercial accounting in presenting fixed
assets, investments, and contingent liabilities.
“…. the revenue for the year (Lalu’s stint) remained overstated and
current liabilities stand understated," the CAG had said.

However, under Ms Banerjee, who was always obsessed about Bengal
polls, also refused to take a more practical step and never gave a nod
for raising the fares – at times even against the wishes of the Prime
Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and the Finance Minister Mr Pranab
Mukherjee.
Even her Man Friday, Mr Dinesh Trivedi, the present imcumbent,
initially remained non committal for increasing fares.
Even on July 14, 2011 at his first media conference after taking over
the railway ministry, Mr Trivedi virtually had ruled out fare hike
saying, “increasing fare in the name of augmenting resources is the
easiest option” and cited rather other options.
However, the railway board is now reportedly pushing for mid-term
passengers fare hike by about 8 per cent to tide oer the crisis.
The All India Railwaymen Federation, to start with, has mooted the
proposal to link the fare hike to fuel process suggesting that
“reduction in fuel prices” could lead to reduction in fuel surcharge
for passengers also.

(The piece was used in The Statesman)
(ends)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Land Bill is a "political response", says 'political animal' Jairam

He is better known as a pro-active minister, who reportedly tried to defy even the Prime Minister.
But when it comes to the new Land Bill, Jairam Ramesh in his avataar as the Rural Development minister makes it crystal clear that the bill has a specific political purpose.
Ending weeks of suspence, the Land Acquisition,
Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 was introduced in the Lok
Sabha today seeking to replace a century old law even as within hours of its introduction, the Rural Development Minister Mr Jairam Ramesh called
it a "political response to a political problem".
With the introduction of the Bill, the Congress-led UPA government
under constant attack for neglecting its 'aam admi' political
constituency over price rise and corruption issues inched closer to replacing a the land acquisition law of 1894 by a new one that would hopefully placate the Congress party's rural vote base.
Stating that the "entire credit' for bringing about the draft
legislation in record time of 55 days after threadbare consultations
should go to Mr Rahul Gandhi, Mr Ramesh said, "I am a political animal ...... and the new bill is a political response and solution to a political problem".
"I am not living in a fool's paradise and divorced from reality," he
told a press conference in reply to a question emphasising on the
specific political purpose of the bill
vis-a-vis Congress general secretary Mr Rahul Gandhi's stated agenda
eyeing the next year's assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Mr Ramesh had come to the Rural Development ministry from erstwhile position of MoS Independent charge for Environment reportedly at the instance of Rahul Gandhi, because the Gandhi scion was not satisfied with
Ramesh's predecessor, Vilasrao Deshmukh, an old-hat in Marathi brand of politics in his own right.
However, asked on how much does he think the Bill would help Congress
to storm back to power in the country's most populous state, Ramesh
merely said, "....it all depends on Congress party in UP, I mean right
from the pradesh Congress level to the district unit level".
He said Rahul Gandhi stood by the ministry all along for a
comprehensive bill and gave his invaluable inputs in various aspects
including ensuirng
the protection of the inherent rights of the tribals.
"It was Mr Gandhi who insisted to protect the interest of those whose
livelihood would be affected by the land acquisition as much as he
gave the guiding principle to ensure that the Bill has retrospective effect," Mr Ramesh said.
The minister said suggestions from various political parties including
Trinamul chief Ms Mamata Banerjee was enlisted for creating a
provision
for Land Bank for the states and from Agriculture Minister Mr Sharad
Pawar for creating "equivalent agriculturable land out of wastelands
whenever multi crop irrigated land
is acquired".
He denied that there was any "heated debate" in the cabinet on 5
September on the Bill especially by three former Maharashtra chief
ministers
Mr Pawar, Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh and Mr Sushil Shinde.
"There was broad agreement on the bill and even today while I
introduced it in Lok Sabha; leaders from various political leaders
told me they welcome
its introduction though they may have certain differences". .
Mr Ramesh explained that the Bill has been criticised essentially from
two points. "One by the likes of Medha Patkar who say we have not gone
enough,
and the other who say it is against economic development and industrialisation".
But the government has only tried to strike a right balance, he said
adding this point was underlined by none other than the Prime Minister
Dr Manmohan Singh and
the Finance Minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee. He clarified that the
compensation as proposed at 4 times the market price for rural areas
as against the 6 times
proposed by Sonia Gandhi-led NAC was also "only to strike the balance".
"This is not one-sided draft. It's pro-land owner, pro-livelihood
dependents and pro-ecoonomic development," he said.
The minister explained that the Bill does not put any ban on the
'private purchase' of the land but there is a rider that for any such
purchase for landscape of over 100
acres in rural areas and 50 acres in urban areas, the rehabilitation
and resettlement package as enshrined in the new bill will be binding.
He also explained that as the land acquisition is on concurrent list
and the 'land' being a state subject, the states will be at liberty to
make their own
land acquisition law. "This is the minimum rehabilitation and
resettlement package, any state can give an higher compensation, there
is no upper limit bar," he said.
The Bill will go to the standing committee on rural development headed
by BJP member Ms Sumitra Mahajan, he said and is expected to passed in
December during the winter
session of parliament.
The compulsory land acquisition for the public pupose has assumed a
contentious spectre as the country is eyeying higher scale of
industrialization where in the land-owners and those dependent for
livelihood felt ignored in the entire neo-development paradigm.
The legislation, spearheaded by ruling Congress chief Ms Sonia Gandhi
and her son Rahul, is seen as crucial for the Congress chances of
repeating a Nandigram like political volte face in UP.
The new legislation is being awaited eagerly even by the industries
and real estate players as several land acquisition across the country
for mega projects is marred in disputes
amid fear of the courts stripping the industries of their holdings.
To a question, the minister said, the Bill if becomes a new law will
be applicable to Bhatta Parasul acquisition in UP also as the award
for compensation is not yet notified there.
Mr Ramesh also listed out as many as 18 differences between the
existing Land Acquisition policy of the BSP-led UP government and the
new central bill.

(ends)