ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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AMRI Inferno

LETTERS

Issn 0012-9976

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AMRI Inferno

I
refer to the article “Death by Smoke” (EPW, 14 January 2012) by Rajashri Dasgupta. In her brief account of the devastating fire accident which consumed the lives of 90 patients and two brave Malayali nurses, she had exposed the myth of the “affordable healthcare” system prevailing in Kolkata. Watching on the TV screen, the fire engulfing the entire building, I was reminded of the Hollywood film Towering Inferno. The fire was doused by bombing the large water tank on the roof of the multi- storied building. All the concerned government agencies – the department that approves the illegal building plans, the state medical and health department, the ill-equipped fire brigade and the Left Front government which introduced the ill-advised public-private partnership that benefits only the greedy – are collectively responsible for the virtual murder of 92 helpless persons. While several doctors and six directors of the AMRI hospital had been arrested, the bosses of these agencies, irrespective of their status, must be brought to justice.

Mamata Banerjee had justifiably set up a judicial commission and recognised the contributions of the slum dwellers in the rescue effort. But, an eyewitness, whose mother was a victim, told me that Mamata Banerjee’s presence near the narrow lane leading to the hospital created enormous problems for the fire fighters and rescuers, who had to struggle to reach the spot.

A K Dasgupta

Hyderabad

Democracy and Counterterrorism

P
eople’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) condemns the notification issued by the union home ministry on 5 February 2012 which appoints the director of the National Counterterrorism Centre (nctc) as the “designated authority” under Section 2(e) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (uapa) (1967). He thereby derives concurrent powers to “search and arrest”

march 3, 2012

under Section 43A of the UAPA. Para 3.1 of the NCTC notification also gives NCTC power to “control and coordinate” all so-called counterterrorism measures. NCTC was conceived by the union government as an agency which will perform functions relating to intelligence, investigation and operations. NCTC also enjoys overriding powers over state governments insofar as paras 3.5 and 5.1 of the notification require all authorities including functionaries of the state government, which includes the police department, to provide information, documents and reports to the NCTC. Since NCTC comes under the administrative control of the Intelligence Bureau, it means that the Intelligence Bureau through NCTC will now enjoy policing powers never envisaged for such an unaccountable and opaque agency.

The chief minister of Odisha was being parsimonious when he claimed that the notification on NCTC carries “draconian implications” because it subverts the federal principle as laid down by the Constitution. The fact of the matter is that the UAPA is a draconian law in itself. We would like to recall the fact that the amendments to UAPA, effected in December 2008 after the 26-29 November 2008 Mumbai attack, were tabled, debated and passed by the Lok Sabha in a single day on 11 December 2008. When the bill was tabled, 50 members of Lok Sabha were present, 90 when the prime minister spoke in its favour, plummeting to 60 at 3.30 pm and 47 at 6 pm. In other words, not one opposition party or MP spoke about the incongruity of such sweeping amendments, which were meant to empower the very same intelligence, operational and investigative agencies which had brazenly failed to contain, if not prevent, the Mumbai attack. The indulgence shown by Parliament to the very same agencies, which had performed so abominably then, paved the way for changes that are coming home to roost for the opposition parties.

PUDR considers the UAPA as an assault on fundamental freedoms because it seeks to criminalise dissent and ideological differences by proscribing organisations

vol xlviI no 9

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

LETTERS

according to the arbitrary whims of the authorities. Thus even legitimate expression of an association and its right to protest become criminal because the party or the group is banned. The definition of “terrorism” and the “unlawful” is so crafted as to criminalise those who critique the present status quo while it treats with kid gloves acts of mass murders carried out by the government forces and the right-wing Hindutva, thus reserving UAPA against everyone else. While the NCTC notification subverts the federal principle and encroaches into the states’ domain, the UAPA itself abridges freedom of expression, assembly and association which is the bedrock of democracy.

We, therefore, urge the political parties and the state governments opposing the notification to be mindful of the fact that the UAPA is in toto, and not just one or two provisions of the Act, inconsistent with the idea of democracy which the freedom movement had envisaged.

Paramjeet Singh, Preeti Chauhan

Secretaries, PUDR New Delhi

Will Mulayam Checkmate Congress?

T
he results of the general elections of 2009 are still fresh in the public mind. Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had established a new bond with Kalyan Singh, one of those responsible for the demolition of the Babri Masjid. This was political expediency all the way. What happened? Mulayam Singh Yadav was decimated to almost half of his tally and none of his Muslim candidates made it to Parliament. His own party general secretary and cofounder Mohammad Azam Khan was expelled from the SP. Who benefited? Obviously the Congress, the chief conspirator of the Babri Masjid dispute, from the midnight of 22-23 December 1949, when it facilitated the locking of Babri Masjid, to its unlocking on 1 February 1986 down to its demolition on 6 December 1992. Muslims, a formidable voting force in Uttar Pradesh (UP), gave a clear edge to Congress over the SP as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the most rabid anti-Muslim political party, had to be defeated. The lesson: Congress did not win; it was the SP that actually lost.

Who charted the doom of the SP? Mohammad Azam Khan, but there was yet another figure too, Amar Singh. His role in SP’s dismal performance just cannot be ignored. He had been made general secretary of the party. The way he touched the feet of Kalyan Singh before his joining SP is still etched in the public memory. The whole tenure of Mulayam Singh Yadav (2003-07) as chief minister of UP could not enthuse SP workers as Mulayam just sang the tunes of corporates. It was corporate raj.

Later on, Congress played well to the rules of handicapping the SP with “support-not-required” throughout the UPA-1 government’s tenure until the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) withdrew support and SP immediately supplanted it. The last six months of UPA-1 government witnessed India-Israel arms deals as there was no watchdog like the CPI(M) to pull any levers. UPA-1 thus survived its last six months on SP crutches. At Amar Singh’s insistence, Azam was ousted but none of the SP Muslim candidates could win a seat to Parliament in 2009. The estrangement continued until 30 September 2010 when a three-judge bench held that the site of the Babri Masjid “civilisationally” belonged to Hindus, and the possession of Muslims for more than four centuries was of no consequence and that twothirds of the site belonged to the Hindu side and the remaining to the Muslims. Mulayam Singh, on record, went on to say that Muslims felt cheated by the high court order. This stance brought Azam and Mulayam together again; Azam was re-inducted into the party after an ouster of 21 months, and together the duo is now garnering massive Muslim support in UP, much to the consternation of Congress.

Congress has gone full throttle to bludgeon all its resources into UP. Media coverage has been monopolised. The BJP is in total disarray. The Bahujan Samaj Party is nonchalant. The SP is riding high, hence, for the brahmin- oriented media, Congress is the best bet. It is now almost clear that the SP will be the leading party and may even get a clear majority, but if it fails in this respect, then what? Would Congress come forward with its support, particularly when the presidential election is on the anvil? Would Congress try and placate Mulayam Singh Yadav, but topple his government later on, so that UP may go for a simultaneous assembly and Parliament poll in 2014? Or would some other scenario unfold? What is for sure is that the Congress has already started to play the 2014 game by riding piggyback on backward caste politicians like Beni Prasad Verma (Kurmi) and Ajit Singh (Jat). Nevertheless, the fight for the Muslim vote would be the deciding factor in 2014 and Congress would just “up the ante” against Mulayam. How can Mulayam Singh Yadav then checkmate Congress? He does have a trump card. If he makes Mohammad Azam Khan the chief minister of UP, this would silence the tongue-wagging of Congress for a long time to come. Mulayam Singh Yadav could then, at least, sail well past 2014 as well as 2017.

Haider Abbas

Lucknow

EPW at New Delhi World Book Fair Economic and Political Weekly will be at the New Delhi World Book Fair, February 25, 2012 to March 4, 2012. Do visit us at Hall No. 8-9, Stall No. 51. We look forward to seeing you there.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
march 3, 2012 vol xlviI no 9

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