FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHT TO DISSENT: Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan and other lawyers outside the Supreme Court. Prashant Bhushan is counsel for Romila Thapar and the other petitioners who have challenged the recent arrests of five human rights activists under UAPA
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
And a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the BJP-ruled state of Maharashtra started complementing the silencing of dissent by cracking down on Dalits and liberal activists. For a Saturday following the week when as we predicted Manohar Parrikar has been flown back to the United States for treatment. For a Saturday following the week when the cover up on the formalin fish issue was exposed by my old newspaper Herald. For a Saturday following the week when Sudin Dhavalikar admitted that the galvanised drinking water pipelines were in bad shape and would have to be replaced to ensure that they did not keep bursting. For a Saturday following the week when the chairman of the Higher Secondary Board claimed that Goan students lack the power to think and analyse.
And a few stray thoughts on the BJP-controlled Maharashtra government choking dissent by arresting Dalits and liberal activists. This seems to be retaliation by the RSS which is very unhappy with the Karnataka government and the CBI in Maharashtra for indicting the Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti in the murders of rationalists. The RSS is particularly furious over the CBI in Maharashtra resurrecting the proven fact of Hindutuva terror which it had attempted to bury.
It is even alleged that the anti-terrorism specialist and chief of the ATF Hemant Karkare, who first exposed the concept of Hindutva terror, was allegedly killed by RSS agents. It may be recalled that the Bhiwandi and the Samjhota express bomb blasts which was attributed to Muslim militants was subsequently proved to be work of Hindutva terrorists like ‘Sadhvi’ Pragya Ram and Lt Col Purohit, who were acquitted when Modi came to power.
There is no contradiction between the CBI insistence that the Sanatan was allegedly the mastermind behind the killings of the rationalist and the terror plot and the Pune police going on a rampage against Dalits and left activists.
While the CBI is a Central organisation which has taken over the multistate terror activities of the ultra-right, the Maharashtra police is directly controlled by the BJP government which probably takes its orders from the RSS. It is perhaps not a coincidence the BJP Maharashtra chief minister is from Nagpur, the headquarters of the RSS.
In day long raids starting early Tuesday morning, the Pune police conducted raids in seven cities and arrested five activists. The excuse was that these activists belong to the banned Communist party of India or were associated with the Dalit radicals which had made inflammatory speeches before the violence at Bhima-Koregon.
Dalits have historically celebrated their January 1, 1818, victory over a British regiment much to the objections of the dominant Maratha group in Maharashtra. This year marked the 200th anniversary and was marred with violence at Bhima-Koregaon.
The Pune police have also made the outrageous claim that those arrested were plotting the assassination of Narendra Modi. What makes the arrest of the five activists very ominous is that it seems to be a systematic attempt by the BJP to crack down on all its critics and silence dissent in the run up to Parliamentary polls.
Those arrested are highly respected social workers fighting for Dalits and other under privileged sections of society. They include P Varavara Rao, poet and fierce critic of Hindutva from Hyderabad; Sudha Bharadwaj, lawyer and civil rights activist from Faridabad; Gautam Navlakha journalist and human rights activist from Delhi; and two lawyer activists of Goan origin — Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira.
Besides the arrest of these five activists, offices and residences of several Dalit and Left activists were raided all over the country including Goa. In Goa the target was a highly respected Dalit scholar, Dr Anand Teltumbde, who is an assistant professor at the prestigious Goa Institute of Management (GIM). Dr Teltumbde, before joining GIM, was the managing director of a leading petroleum company, Petronet India Ltd, and has a very distinguished academic background.
Also raided was Fr Stan Swamy from Ranchi, who has been working for tribal rights for over three decades. Prominent civil society activists and academics have condemned the terror campaign of the BJP which seems to run parallel with the reported Sanatan campaign to get rid of rationalists.
Rahul Gandhi has rightly pointed out that the only NGO that will be allowed to function in the country is the RSS.
Highly respected political scholar Suhas Palshikar, who is based in Pune, has commented that it was “a political crackdown against all strong intellectual opposition. Those who question the government have been warned. It is more sinister than finishing one movement. It is (a move) to finish independent voices, like the Emergency. And it is a test for the middle class and the last opportunity for BJP’s funders to decide what kind of government they want.”
Arundhati Roy has called the arrest a dangerous sign of a government that fears it is going to lose the next Lok Sabha election and got into panic. She said, “That lawyers, poets, writers, dalit rights activists and intellectuals are being arrested on ludicrous charges while those who make up lynch mobs and threaten and murder people in broad daylight roam free, tells us very clearly where India is headed.” Roy has even called it a coup against the Constitution.
The government of course is defiantly insisting that it was fighting divisive elements and those who were trying to create enmity between different castes and classes.
The Supreme Court, hearing a public interest litigation moved by eminent personalities including Romilla Thapar, Devki Jain, Prabhat Pattnaik and Satish Despande, has warned the Central and Maharashtra government against muzzling dissent.
Commenting during the hearing of the petition the Supreme Court stressed that ‘if dissent is not allowed then the pressure cooker will burst’.
PARRIKAR BACK IN NY
And a few stray thoughts on Manohar Parrikar being forced to return to Sloan Kettering in New York.
The writing was on the wall ever since Parrikar returned from New York reportedly against medical advice. Parrikar was supposed to immerse the ashes of the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Instead Parrikar had to be rushed back to the Lilavati Hospital because he suffered from indigestion and apparently started vomiting.
After a week at the Lilavati hospital it was decided that he had to go back to Sloan Kettering in New York to join Francis Dsouza who is already there.
It is clear that irrespective of what the BJP leadership may claim, Parrikar is still very ill and is not fit to continue as chief minister particularly because he a workaholic and believes in working 18 to 20 hours per day. It is clear that he has not fully recovered from his pancreatic cancer and that the exertion has caused him a relapse of some kind.
I had made a comment on Facebook which I would like to repeat in print. ‘Whatever may be the ideological differences between us, one has to admire Parrikar’s fighting spirit.’ In my post I had added that Parrikar had shown fighting spirit to save Goa. I should have added that he was trying to save Goa from his own perspective.
Unfortunately it has to be admitted that he has consistently succumbed to the blackmail of his alliance partners. He has allowed himself to be bullied by his former Union Cabinet colleague Nitin Gadkari, who was promoting the interests of the Adanis and Jindals. His greatest betrayal was in the formalin fish case where under pressure from Vijay Sardesai, he failed to take action against Ibrahim Shaikh, president of the Fish Importers Association, despite proof and apparently an admission by him that he has used formalin to preserve fish he imported from other states during the Goa fishing ban.
But this is not new and it may be recalled that in 2000, when he first became the chief minister, he handed over the TCP portfolio to Babush Monserrate, who came up with the diabolical RP 2011 which sold Goa to builders from all over the country.
Fortunately, the subsequent Digambar Kamat government scrapped the RP 2011, but in turn has been accused of bending the new RP 2021 to suit vested interests. I express admiration for the fighting spirit of Parrikar because it is not easy to continue to work with full enthusiasm when you have serious medical problems.
I know because I myself manage to function at least intellectually despite serious medical problems. I have acute acid reflux which means that the very strong gastric acids defy gravity and rise up to my throat affecting my vocal chords. My waste management system has virtually collapsed because of the weakening of the muscles due to prolong used of steroids, which are again part of the legacy of the savage beating up I got in 1989 allegedly by hired goons of the then speaker Dayanand Narvekar, who was charged with molesting an 18-year-old employee.
Just two years ago due to drug toxicity, I had a cardiac episode during which my heartbeat stopped twice and I had to be given about 20 to 30 shocks to be revived. My spine still hurts and my skin and bones are very fragile.
Despite my physical problems I continue to fight for the rights of Goans. I refuse to bend, let alone crawl, like other journalists, so I know how difficult it is to fight for what you believe when your body does not cooperate. I was saluting the fighting spirit of Parrikar the man and not Parrikar the BJP leader, or Parrikar the chief minister.
And a few stray thoughts on the cover up in the fish formalin case.
The Herald, based on replies received under the right to information, has confirmed that in the first report submitted by the FDA chemist Pundalik Gawde, it is revealed that fish samples randomly taken from all the 17 vehicles belonging to Ibrahim Sheikh, bringing fish from other states, tested positive for formalin.
The Herald has claimed that when the Schiff’s reagent test was conducted on the samples, the strip turned from dark pink to purple which is a positive reaction for formalin. The Herald also claims that Ibrahim Shaikh had admitted to having used formalin to preserve the fish.
According to the RTI reply the samples taken from each truck, including prawn, verli, pedvi, pomfret, mackerels and tisrio, all tested positive. Ibrahim reportedly blamed the positive result for formalin on the salt in the fish. According to the original spot report there is no doubt that there was formalin in the fish.
Subsequently, under pressure from Health Minister Vishwajit Rane, who is in charge of FDA, it was claimed that the tests did not show any formalin. Rane contradicted himself by insisting formalin was inherent in fish which was promptly denied by experts in the field including the US FDA which insisted that formalin in food causes cancer. In another major lapse according to the Herald, the laboratory report done subsequently did not mention the results of the test done on the ice in the trucks.
Goans are still scared of eating fish exported from other states. They limit themselves to eating fresh fish from Goan waters. Fortunately for Vijai Sardesai, who has been protecting Ibrahim Shaikh, the fishing ban period was followed by Shravan, during which most Hindus avoid non veg food. The so-called kits supplied by a Bombay agency which were supposed to be freely available in pharmacies for citizens to test the fish they were eating, are not to be seen.
Doubts are also being expressed about the effectiveness of these kits. Unless there is a judicial enquiry the truth will never come out. Perhaps Manohar Parrikar before he was taken ill was planning action against Ibrahim. Which may be why Vijai Sardesai has suddenly started claiming that the absence of the chief minister has affected the quality of governance.
And a few stray thoughts on a week when Sudin Dhavalikar admitted that the galvanised water pipes which bring drinking water to all of us are in very bad shape and tend to burst repeatedly. Over the last 10 days itself, pipes have burst at half a dozen places, disrupting water supply to Panjim town and various parts of Goa.
Dhavalikar was speaking at the inauguration of a new water treatment plant. This would be commendable except that the replacement of the galvanised pipes by ductile pipes will involve a huge amount of money which will give Dhavalikar and others yet another opportunity to make money. The water supply interruptions are also because of erratic power supply at the pumping station at Opa. Whenever there is a power breakdown there is backward pressure which causes weak pipes to burst.
Far from the Parrikar promise of providing water for 24 hours a day we are lucky if we get water for two hours a day. It is the case of water everywhere but not a drop to drink. It is pouring heavily outside but unfortunately we cannot use it to drink or cook. May be we should follow the practice in Diu, also a former small Portuguese colony in Gujarat, where every house has a large storage tank to collect rain water for use in subsequent months.
GOAN GRADUATES FAIL
And a last stray thought on the claim of the chairman of the higher secondary board that Goan graduates do not have the ability to think and analyse.
In their college and higher secondary exams the emphasis is on essay-type questions, which does not require application of mind, but only memorising notes and textbooks. This is why for those aspiring to get into the IITs or the Central quota in medicine, special classes are a must. Mustifund for instance has a special class for extra bright students in collaboration with Venkatesh Prabhudesai of Aryan classes to train them. Similarly, Dhempes has pursued tie-ups with other academic organisations.
Maybe Goa should be converted into another Kota in Rajasthan which has more than a thousand institutes offering training to answer competitive exams.
But the admission of the Higher Secondary Board chief also raises question about the standard of teaching. I wonder if the professors who teach B Com can themselves answer multiple choice question. Maybe all the commerce teachers in Goa and the existing account officers in the Department of Accounts should be asked to take the same exam to see how many of them are able to pass!