Communists controlling Shimla are all from elite schools


The takeover of the country’s oldest Municipality in Shimla by young members of the CPM as Mayor and Deputy Mayor is a piece of history I witnessed by the sheer accident of being present in the celebrated Hill Station.

Most North Indian hill stations – Shimla, Naini Tal, Ranikhet, Mussoorie – have fallen from grace because of burgeoning populations.

Therefore, our expectations were low when we accepted friends’ invitation to escape the torrid heat of the plains to take refuge in their 100 year old cottage-bungalow, not far from the Shimla Railway station, itself one of the world’s wonders.

It was a surprisingly pleasant experience for several reasons. First, the road to Shimla is a six lane highway, like the New Jersey Turnpike, with clever deviations which by pass Kalka. A drive to no other hill station could be more convenient.

Contrary to the impression I had, the Mall is free of cars, except for the absolutely essential ones. It is the cleanest space for pedestrians. Apparently there is a fine of Rs.500 for spitting and sterner punishment for carrying or scattering polythene bags.

The restored Gaiety theatre resembles the finest of theatres in London’s West End, something the National School of Drama should take an interest in.

It is quite creditable that local Communists do not claim Shimla’s many improvements as their achievement. They give the credit where it is due – primarily with the administration of Yashwant Singh Parmar from 1963 to 1977 and Virbhadra Singh through four stints as Chief Minister intermittently from 1983 to 2004.

Indeed, it is the enlightened social base left behind by the earlier leadership that has created a secular platform on which the Left offers itself as an alternative to the quarrelsome Congress and the BJP.

It might please the Malabar Hill – Maharani Bagh bourgeoisie that the seven member state committee of the CPM are all public school alumni. The Secretary of the party, Rakesh Singha, passed out from one of the country’s oldest Public Schools, Lawrence School, Sanawar, founded in 1847. In other words it preceded Shimla’s elevation as the summer capital of the viceroys from 1864.

Mayor Sanjay Chauhan studied in St. Edwards and Bishop Cotton School. Deputy Mayor Tikender Singh Panwar is not only from Bishop Cotton School but also of Princely stock, against whom communists of earlier generations waged extended “class wars”.

These communists have not sprouted overnight. The solitary University in Shimla and six other colleges in the city have been in the grip of Students Federation of India (SFI) for decades.

A simple reason for the Congress defeat recently is the division in the Congress at New Delhi. Virbhadra Singh, four times Chief Minister, is not comfortable with Vidya Stokes, Kaul Singh and Anand Sharma who derive their power from Sonia Gandhi. If Virbhadra Singh finds himself ignored by the Congress High Command, he may break away and join hands with the Left and dissident elements in the BJP. This trio may well win the coming state elections in October.

In many ways, Himachal Pradesh resembles Kerala in its socio-economic structure. The enlightened Princely rulers of Travancore and Cochin, left behind an efficient administrative infrastructure.

Communism and the Christian missionary school system laid the foundation of a joint, formal as well as political education. Complete literacy in Kerala is matched by universal literacy in Himachal Pradesh. Like Kerala’s Rajas, Himachal Pradesh had 30 small “rajwaras” or principalities with as many State People’s movements, primarily anti feudal, but, with Congress support, anti colonialist too.

Here was an irony. While State Peoples Conference had an anti-colonial edge, it also sought facilities, the British had begun to provide in Shimla. This explains the countless Public Schools (in the British framework public school was a term for expensive private schools) which has begun to churn out the current crop of communists.

“What is helping the CPM are the application of neo-liberal reforms on civic bodies”, says Singha. For instance, the Irrigation Department provides 3.7 crore litres of water for distribution in water starved Shimla of which 60% is lost in leakages. The CPM has launched a mass mobilization drive to conserve water and it is working. Outsourcing of water will cost Rs.40.00 per thousand litres as against Rs.8.00 today. Outsourcing brings in the exploitative contractor. In a secular framework, the public organizations then begin to talk to the Left. So, if you wish to arrest CPM’s growth, sow seeds of communalism!

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Did RTI applications’ heat cause blaze in Maha Mantralaya?


While Mantralaya’s documents were going up in smoke on Thursday, many of us RTI activists have suffered a direct hit. We have lost hope of getting the documents we need to unearth scams, as Mantralaya departments will now routinely deny us saying that the files were burnt, or are in disarray and hence unavailable under RTI.

So, did someone want to burn specific documents in Chief Minister’s office and Chief Secretary’s office, and accidentally set on fire some electric wires that carried the blaze uncontrollably throughout Mantralaya? Or was the original fire intended to destroy key papers in Urban Development Department (UDD) about scams even more damaging than Adarsh? The air is thick with conspiracy theories.

Strange Coincidence

Three days ago, RTI activist Sulaiman Bhimani filed five wide-ranging RTI applications to unearth cozy dealings between five state government offices that operate together like five fingers of a hand, namely (1) Chief Minister’s Office (2) Chief Secretary’s office (3) General Administration Department i.e. GAD (4) Governor’s secretariat and (5) State Information Commission. MMRDA is the conspicuous sixth finger, by the way. These RTI applications have a sweeping scope, as they requested RTI inspection of an unusually wide range of files for the period 1 Jan 2005 till date, to enable us (i.e. Bhimani, GR Vora, Anil Galgali and myself) to demand copies of virtually any document relating to the tenures of the present holders of these offices, as well as their predecessors. We requested dates in the next two weeks for these inspections. (Click here to view these five RTI applications)

And now, all of us know that Chief Minister’s Office and Chief Secretary’s Office will say: “The fire ate our homework”. Even Governor’s office and GAD may use this excuse, saying that their files had been called to CMO and Chief Secretary’s office. They will continue to use this excuse for months, if not years!

PS: On a less cynical note, I would like to add here that we sincerely feel sad for all the people who were caught in the blaze – whether government employees or visitors who are routinely let in after 2 pm. In fact, we feel sorry for our beloved state, which has suffered a severe setback. It may be many years before administration and government business become normal again. All of us citizens should participate in efforts to restore normalcy.

(Krishnaraj Rao is an RTI activist. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap)

Western journos in Syria and Indians in Maoists country


Last month, a conversation with journalists in London, centered on Marie Colvin, the war correspondent, with a Moshe Dayan eye patch, working for the Sunday Times, London, who was killed in Baba Amro, Homs, in Syria. The paper she worked for is owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Does she qualify to be described a hero?

Ironically, just when hundreds of Colvin’s friends, relatives and colleagues were paying tributes to her at the Church of St. Martin-in-the Field on Trafalgar Square, another employee of Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks along with her husband and colleagues was being charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice. Brooks, ofcourse, is much higher in the Murdoch hierarchy being the former Chief Executive of the News International.

When Colvin was being remembered in London, nearer home, in New Delhi, the Managing Editor of Tehelka magazine, Shoma Chaudhury, was writing an anxious editorial column about two of her journalists battling for life because of the disease they contracted while trying to demystify the forbidding forest area called Abujmarh, natural refuge for rebellious Adivasis and their Maoists supporters where a conflict between the Adivasis-Maoists duet mining interests and the security forces, makes the region worthy of journalistic enquiry.

This is what Tusha Mittal, 27, and Tarun Sehrawat, 22, set out to unearth, armed with their notebooks, pens and cameras and equipped with bottles of water and biscuits.

The conditions in which people live in the area is a startling story we must wait for. There is fear that we may not get the stories because the two, having spent days and nights in the world’s most inhospitable conditions and having drunk water from streams where buffaloes bathe, have contracted the strain of Malaria which can be fatal.

Let us now compare the two expeditions – Marie Colvin’s and Tusha and Sehrawat’s.

Colvin was in the sovereign territory of Syria, without having a Syrian visa. She was part of the free-for-all, a sort of melee in which foreigners with Arabic speaking “fixers” are being smuggled into Syria. Would Arab journalists have been justified in entering Ulster with IRA support when it was illegal to use Gerry Adams’ voice on BBC?

The Libyan war was fought with the help of a managed media. The idea was to turn the Syrian tide by cunning use of communications, flashing images of the conflict provided by rebel groups without any authentication. For enhanced credibility, accompanying commentary generally admitted the amateur origins of the footage. Scandal of Houla massacres is yet to be revealed. In true style of Jehad, throats of Alawi children were slit with swords. Why would the Alawi army not use guns? And, footage from Iraq in 2003 is foisted on unsuspecting viewers as Assad’s brutality in May, 2012! Really, if Goebbels had access to modern communication tricks, Hitler may have one.

Had Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, along with his Intelligence colleagues who know Syria in great detail from Soviet days, not visited Damascus in February and furnished President Assad with details of the build-up of foreign assets, Baba Amro would have remained a safe haven, tunnels to Lebanon et al.

The crux of the matter is this: the Colvins of this world are part of the western war effort. Only non western, non Arab journalists, who are not in the conflict from any side, can be objective.

On the eve of Operation Desert Storm, when I decided to stay in Baghdad, the correspondent of London’s Daily Telegraph received word from his editor that he would not like “our man to be behind the enemy lines”. For me, there was no enemy line.

This brought home to me my naiveté. I was nursing notions of objectivity about a conflict in which my western colleagues already had an “enemy” in sharp focus. Unfortunately countries like ours, generally content with being passive recipients of Western media, do not realize that it is the west which always ends up choosing the enemy (or friend) for us. We are the perpetual Sancho Panza to Don Quixote!

Colvin’s death is a tragedy, ofcourse, resulting from an audacious high wire act. But there is a touch of journalistic heroism in the effort of Tusha and Sehrawat, Shoma Chaudhury has written about.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Why no action yet against BEML CMD in Tatra scam?

Shri A K Anthony
The Defence Minister of India
Raksha Bhavan
New Delhi

Sub: Action against Mr VRS Natarajan, CMD, BEML for threatening to sue the ex-Army Chief for defamation.

Dear Shri Anthony,

The nation was witness to the strange spectacle of the CMD of BEML holding a press conference to announce that he was issuing a defamation notice to ex-Chief of Army, General VK Singh, who had retired a day before.

When he was asked as to whether he had taken permission from the Ministry he said that he did not need to do so.

Kindly let the nation know that as an appointee of the government does he have the authority to issue notice of defamation to the ex-Chief of the Army, which also happens to be its largest customer, without the permission of the Ministry. It appeared that Mr Natarajan was acting on behalf of Mr Ravi Rishi, and as a middleman to a middleman, having a personal stake in the profits made in the selling of Tatra trucks.

If it is so then the nation will rightly conclude that BEML has become the personal fiefdom of Mr Natarajan and the government is powerless to reign him in for fear of the names he will reveal.

If it is not so then please confirm to the nation that you or your Ministry gave him permission to sue the ex-Chief for defamation and announce it to the media through a press conference.

In that case, it will confirm to the nation that you have stopped supporting the honest and started supporting the corrupt. And that the last known honest politicians of the country too has his limitations.

More important, was it not your Ministry which sanctions the purchase of trucks from BEML that stopped the orders to BEML? There were a number of complaints on the Tatra trucks much prior to the matter being brought to your specific notice by General VK Singh. The fact that no action was taken by the Ministry earlier had surprised many, leading to unnecessary speculation about the ultimate beneficiary of the tainted deal.

Is it not true that it was the Ministry that stopped the orders to BEML on grounds of corruption through overpricing and low quality?

Is it not true that Tatra Sipox has no factory, is a middleman which does not even register the turnover of the trucks in its books of accounts in London?

Is it not true that though the payments are made through bank documents by BEML to Tatra Sipox, the same is not received in its books? Where does it disappear?

Is it not true that BEML under Natarajan grossly abused its status as a PSU and its monopoly on orders from the government and became an agent for middlemen like Rishi?

Will the Ministry made public the price at which the trucks were being purchased and the quality of the trucks as assessed by the Army?

Are not government servants protected from being proceeded against legally for their bonafide action in the course of duty?

As far as the nation is concerned, the proof of corruption in the Tatra deal is the compelling visual of the Tatra truck having its steering on the left hand side.

It is requested in the interest of the nation that it be revealed as to whether Mr Natarajan has the backing of the Defence Minister in suing the ex-Army chief and if not what are the compelling circumstances that inspite of CBI raid he continues to be in office and the government is not even  able to send him on leave.

Silence in this case is not the answer as the conclusions drawn from the silence are ominous!

With warm regards

Yours sincerely

A K Agrawal

(Arun Agrawal is the author of the book Reliance: The Real Natwar. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)

Read More by Arun Agrawal on Tatra Scam:

The Kazmi story takes a turn


The strange case of Syed Ahmad Kazmi, Urdu journalist, Doordarshan newsreader, and correspondent in India for the Iranian News Agency may well take a favourable turn after critical remarks last week by the Sessions Judge Surendra Singh Rathee about the manner in which the case has been handled so far. The Judge’s reasoning resembles, almost to the last syllable, P Chidambaram’s arguments as a lawyer in a case in Chennai. Surely, the Union Home Minister will now stand by what he believed in as a lawyer.

Sessions Judge expressed surprise that the seven applications for extension of judicial custody were never shown to the accused.

In fact at one stage it was found that the application had either been removed from the lower Metropolitan Magistrate’s custody or never given to the court. Just when this travesty of justice was noticed, a court official materialized with the documents.

The Sessions Judge expressed bewilderment how judicial remand or custody had been extended on the basis of “illegible”, scribbled notes. The court order reads: “The police custody Remand of Syed Mohd. Ahmed Kazmi to the special cell on March 7, 2012 is hand written so poorly that it is almost totally illegible. Not only is the handwriting so poor but even the complete words have not been framed and the order has been over written over the printed text of the application. This practice, the Sessions Court says, “deserves to be deprecated”.

Justice Rathee’s lamentation continues: “Despite sustained efforts, it was not possible for this court to decipher and read the order.”

When Kazmi’s lawyers moved a bail application within a month of his being held, the police case was that one country (by implication Iran) had used the territory of India to commit an act of terrorism on another (Israel). It was realized that the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, under which the Special Cell had arrested Kazmi, would become inoperable once Nations and not individuals were involved.

An amendment was introduced. The earlier stand was described as a “typographical” error. The alteration in the stand was not communicated to the accused which, the Defence says is violative of natural justice. The Defence can also argue that the copies of remand application sought by Kazmi were lost and found so mysteriously that they can no longer be considered “sterilized” documents.

The journey of the “non sterilized” documents in a case so much in the public eye, is worthy of note.

When Kazmi’s defence sought all the police applications for extension of remand, the following order was handed to him the trial court said: “I am of the considered opinion that the said application and order cannot be supplied to the accused…….”

It was in response to this order that the accused turned up at the Sessions court in appeal. The Sessions judge maintained that “the reader of the court was not even aware of the exact whereabouts of these seven documents.”

“It is only after the court staff realized the seriousness of the situation, they seem to have conducted a sustained search and, after about two hours, the missing remand papers were produced before this court.”  The judge has pointed out the flaw because of which “the Revisionist who is in custody since March 6, 2012, was denied the Right to seek copies of those very applications and orders under which he is being kept in detention.”

The state cannot seek refuge behind UAPA, under which it does have extra powers, but none that violates his Rights under article 21 and other supporting articles.

“Non supplying of documents can lead to vitiating the detention itself.”

Members of Parliament who have taken upon themselves to keep the Prime Minister and Home Minister informed of the Kazmi case would find in Chidambaram a sympathetic legal mind.

In a case before the Madras High Court in the 90s, Chidambaram argued that “routine and mechanical” grant of remand to arrested persons was “repressive and oppressive”.

What view would he take of a case where remand papers disappear and, under pressure, reappear as if from a magician’s hat. He would rather have the arrested person freed than hold him in a procedurally flawed manner.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)