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1st October 2012



The Emperors’ New Clothes: Calling democracy’s bluff

October 2012




Photo Courtesy : Reuters


ven as victims of the recent clashes between the Bodo tribes and Muslim settlers in Assam languish in sordid conditions in various relief camps, parts of Assam are witnessing what can be called a second innings in the Assam agitation against ‘illegal immigrants from Bangladesh’. Assam Jatiyabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) and the All Assam Students Union (AASU) have launched a massive drive demanding immediate expulsion of illegal immigrants and a quick update of the National Register of Citizens. Xenophobia runs deep in Assam and the state lies polarised along communal lines. While the BJP alleged that illegal immigration from Bangladesh was responsible for ethnic and communal discord and asked the government to seal its border with the neighbouring country, an unknown group also launched an economic blockade against the so-called immigrants from Bangladesh. Posters have been put up in parts of the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) by unknown groups saying: “Do not buy anything from Bangladeshis. Do not engage Bangladeshis in any kind of work or else it will lead (to) fine up to Rs 10,000/.” But the moot question here is how can one identify a Bangladeshi


• October 2012

and whether such economic sanctions will yield any outcome. In the aftermath of the violence, there have been many developments including Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the victims in relief camps as well as the arrest of Bodoland Peoples’ Front (BPF) MLA Pradeep Brahma, for his alleged involvement in the recent violence in Assam and the eventual bail being granted to him by the Gauhati high court. In fact, a report by the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) warned that there is a possibility that Muslims in the Bodo districts of Assam will turn “militant,” influenced by jihadi outfits from across India, unless their security is ensured by the State government. The report was prepared after it visited the conflict-torn districts in the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) and Dhubri district in Assam. Confirming allegations of ‘ethnic cleansing’ by the Bodos, the NCM report warned Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi: “Bodos need to be told firmly that they cannot under any circumstances engineer a mass exodus of the non-Bodos and



DRA VAhaseen ki


How can prince Gandhi enjoy all the newsprint? Sayan Bhattacharya tries to make some room for Robert Vadra’s appetite.



Raw materials: Scenes from the Satyajit Ray classic Shatranj Ke Khilari (based on the Premchand text), Rapunzel’s never ending hair-like facebook status updates, sundry newspaper reports- from disparaging to the glowing, the ongoing track of a popular daily soap and a six pack. End product: Something like an Arcelor-Mittal Orbit. Depending on your sense of aesthetics, you decide whether it’s a grotesque and vulgar abomination or the paragon of motion and dynamism! I “‘Impossible’ is not a word in my dictionary, well I should have checked before buying it then!!:p” Holy matrimony with the First Daughter in 1997. The faux jewellery and handicrafts exporter was set for the big league. Partnership with India’s largest realty firm, DLF Ltd., acquisition of large acres of land in Haryana and Rajasthan, stake in a hotel in Delhi… yes, Robert Vadra had arrived. Just look at the growth arc and you know that the trying-hard-to-befunny-and-cool status update on facebook is not just another status after all. The man has lived up to his words, weight by weight, inch by inch. Yet, the Economic Times and Sunday Guardians of the world keep insinuating Gandhi connections, keep lumping the protein bar hogging, weight pumping dynamic businessman to 2G, 3G, CWG and what not… So what does one do? Simply, say, “Well, time will tell” and then switch off, but not before sharing your favourite song with your facebook friends: Selena Gomez’s “I Love you like a love song”. “And I keep hitting repeatOctober 2012


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The multi-crore coalgate scam has rocked the entire monsoon session of Parliament. Amid many other scams, how does it stand apart? A report by Paranjoy Guhathakurta.


or some, coal means diamonds and gold. For others, the coal signifies bread. They go underground not to take out coal but to sustain their life. They put their lives at risk. They are ready to face death at any moment. But they don’t earn much. The bulk of the profits generated by mining coal is appropriated by the mafia. This is the main reason for poverty here.” This was a perceptive statement made by Amit Raja, a talented journalist who has authored a book titled Aag mein Jharia ( Jharia on Fire). I met him five years ago when I was working on a documentary film series entitled Hot As Hell: A Profile of Dhanbad which sought to highlight how underground fires – literally and metaphorically – have been raging for a century in and around the township of Jharia in the district of Dhanbad (often described as “India’s coal capital”) in Jharkhand. Tens of thousands of residents of Jharia are living on top of a veritable inferno. There are powerful mafia organisations that rule over this region and exploit the underprivileged – by mining illegally, supervising organised pilferage, running


• October 2012

extortion rackets and bagging lucrative contracts. At least one former mafia don of the area Suraj Deo Singh (who was a member of the legislative assembly of the undivided state of Bihar) was known to be rather close to former Prime Minister of India Chandra Shekhar. In 2007, one could scarcely have predicted that corruption relating to allotment of coal blocks would rock the government the way it has in recent weeks. Coalgate has nothing to do with your teeth, sensitive or otherwise. It has everything to do with a black mineral without which India would not have been able to generate nearly twothirds of the electricity it consumes. Despite the advances the country has made in producing power from water, wind, sunlight or nuclear fission, India will remain heavily dependent on coal-based thermal electricity to meets its energy requirements for at least the coming two decades; possibly longer. Without coal, we would also have had no steel and no cement. There have been innumerable scandals associated with coal mining over the years. But why has this one blown up in the face of the government? The answer is simple. As Jharkhand


Mukti Morcha leader and former Union Coal Minister Shibu Soren moved in and out of jail and unsuccessfully aspired for the job of the Chief Minister of Jharkhand in Ranchi, administrative charge over the Union Ministry of Coal automatically devolved on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The story begins here. Dr Singh was personally in favour of public auctioning of captive coal blocks and stated as such within a few months of his becoming Prime Minister in May 2004. Although the rules of the game had been changed much earlier, to be precise, in 1993, during the P.V. Narasimha Rao government, and private players were allowed to enter a domain that had been dominated by the public sector Coal India Limited for two decades since the early-1970s, the allocation of captive coal blocks had not become a major scandal. The point to note is that despite the wishes of the Prime Minister, coal blocks for the captive use for the production of power, steel and cement were allocated by a screening committee in an opaque and arbitrary manner instead of being auctioned in a transparent manner. The scandal hit the headlines after a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India was tabled in Parliament on 27 August. The Congress sought to divert attention by pointing out that auctions of coal blocks had been opposed by Bharatiya Janata Party governments in Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, the Biju Janata Dal government in Orissa and the Left Front government in West Bengal. Though coal is a central subject, the representatives of states wanted to have a say in the allocation of coal blocks ostensibly to ensure that the promoters of companies which got rights to mine coal also set up projects in the state where coal blocks were located and not in other states. What is significant is that there was considerable dilly-dallying in instituting a system of public auctioning of coal blocks by the government itself when the Coal Ministry was controlled by two former Congress Ministers of State for Coal, Dasari Narayana Rao and Santosh Bagrodia, even as the Prime Minister remained a silent spectator. An effective regulatory authority was deliberately not put in place. Promoters of

companies, many of whom were not even eligible to obtain mining rights in the first place, squatted on coal blocks in anticipation of windfall profits as coal prices rose, and also by selling their equity stakes to other companies at huge premiums. When one looks at the list of persons linked to the scandal, it becomes crystal clear that this is crony capitalism at its worst. Such persons include important Congress MPs and MLAs (such as Nagpur MP Vijay Darda, his brother, Maharashtra Education Minister Rajendra Darda, Congress MP Naveen Jindal and his brother-in-law) and individuals close to at least four present and former Union Ministers belonging to the UPA. They include Subodh Kant Sahay, Minister for Food Processing, Sri Prakash Jaiswal, Minister of State for Coal and his predecessor Santosh Bagrodia, besides S. Jagathrakshakan of the DMK, who is Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting. For the Congress, it is some consolation that a BJP MP Ajay Sancheti, who is close to party boss Nitin Gadkari, has also been linked to the scandal. Coalgate traverses a predictable path. Natural resources that belong to the people of the country have been sold for a song. When Finance Minister P. Chidambaram suggested there was no loss to the exchequer, since coal lying under Mother Earth was yet to be extracted, he was at best uttering a half-truth. As custodian of resources that are supposed to be owned by the country’s citizens, the government had given up its mining rights in favour of private firms (including some that only had expertise in manufacturing gutka and compact discs). What is worse is that although this coal has been virtually gifted to these companies, ordinary citizens did not gain from a lowering of electricity, steel or cement prices. It was in every respect a lose-lose situation for all but a privileged few, for whom the objectives of government policy were deliberately inverted and subverted. Anurag Kashyap’s film Gangs Of Wasseypur may be a gratuitous celluloid offering of violence and abuse in the towns of Dhanbad. But the story of Coalgate is far more gory than any fictionalized account can ever hope to be.

Tens of thousands of residents of Jharia are living on top of a veritable inferno. There are powerful mafia organisations that rule over this region and exploit the underprivileged – by mining illegally, supervising organised pilferage, running extortion rackets and bagging lucrative contracts. October 2012


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Illustration by Shuvam Dey Sarkar COVER STORY

The Emperors’ New Clothes: Calling democracy’s bluff


• October 2012

This issue has it’s own issues. Unpeeling that shame-faced king who isn’t aware that his clothes have gone missing. A search for those missing clothes -- smeared by dogmas, graveyards and impending disasters.


TALES FROM COLA LAND Democracy is a system of oppression run by popular consent; its enabler, the electoral politics, is a spectator sport; the select audience for the rituals is retained through appeals, and the voting is an exercise of Hobson’s Choice. With the American elections as the context, Saswat Pattanayak wonders about what choices do people actually have between two binaries. October 2012


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• October 2012


October 2012


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On a political note:

Amidst all the celebratory films, performances, plays marking Tagore’s 150th anniversary celebrations, Mallika Sarabhai brings an unorthodox portrait of Tagore in the play With Love, highlighting the bard’s relationship with Victoria Ocampo. In this interview, Sarabhai talks of her idea of Tagore, Modi’s Gujarat and where Anna Hazare failed. By Sayan Bhattacharya.


ou’ve packed in so much in With love... Tagore’s ideas on universality, caste system, education, his relationships. Each could merit separate performances. So take us through the process of creating this play?

Illustration by Sumit Das

For me the fascinating thing is always to break the boundaries. Tagore has always been several things to several people but never all of it. If you talk to musicians, they only talk of Rabindra Sangeet. I have never met a musician, who talks about how a painting was inspired by a particular tune. These are the cross connections that makes a creative person. For me also, what was interesting was the person. In India, we have this habit of white-washing our heroes. You mustn’t talk about their weaknesses. To me, these weaknesses are important. Because they have these weaknesses like all of us do and still they use them to create the wonders that they do, is interesting. I have always wondered, behind all of this, underneath all of this, who was he? And that’s what the search was. And the obvious search became through the women he loved. And then I discovered Ocampo. That was the most enduring of his loves. It lasted from the age of 63 till he died. So... 1923 till 1948. It was a very different kind of love. It was a very deep love but neither of them wanted to live together. Neither of them thought it was possible to live together. Neither of them wanted to get married. Yet it was a love that was so deep that it permeated and set a whole new range of creativity. He started painting then and in those last 20 years of his life, he created 2000 paintings. So what was it? What were the hidden things? Then I started reading him, I


• October 2012


‘Queering’ the queer

As a queer Tamil Sri Lankan-American artiste, D’Lo inhabits many worlds, many dichotomies… In India, to perform an autobiographical monologue for the New Park Festival curated by Prakriti Foundation, D’Lo spoke to Sayan Bhattacharya about paradoxes of life and art, gender politics, Hillary Clinton, even Gandhi and finally how is queer always the voice of dissent.


he way you discuss your parents, their coming to terms with your sexuality… what struck me is that these performances are basically culled from your personal experiences... So take us through that journey… When did you first realise that these experiences could be material for your performance art?

Well, I started off doing mostly larger political issues like the war in Sri Lanka, HIV, police brutality… anything that could align me with social justice and then in 2003, I created the story of Amma. I started using the spoken word to tell stories that were more personal. One of the pieces that marked this, came from my last year in college when I was dating this woman and we were very much in love. Her mother found out and put the whole Christian talk on me and forbid me from seeing her daughter. So I wrote a story about that and I realised through that sort of sharing, your personal would bring out the political in ways that are more tangible. Even when I wrote Amma (a piece where D’lo plays his mother), I thought it would be fun. What we don’t realize is that as political and social justice people, we work with a certain lens. But this piece is my immigrant mother’s

understanding of queerness through her understanding of whiteness. You know when she says there are no gays in Sri Lanka… Doing these monologues, I realised that I could do so much more in character based theatre and that’s when the personal, the political, my observations, my thoughts started filtering through these characters. So it’s been a journey from theatre to story telling to a stand-up comedic genre of story telling that is all about my life. The stories have touched so many people’s lives because they are completely personal. When you are playing Amma, she talks about her elder daughter’s death and here you are talking about a breakup with a lover. So there is a lot of tragedy hidden within the comic… I say that comedy is tragedy. So when you are performing, does it play up all that you left behind? No. I think that as an artist I have to be completely prepared before coming to the stage. I am not saying that you don’t get affected periodically by things that have happened but October 2012


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