Murderous Violence has an Eerie Pattern

I agree with SitaramYechury that “such murderous violence has an eerie pattern”. Mr Yechury was talking about the killings of Gauri Lankesh, Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi.

I see a similar pattern in the killings of Parag Kumar Das, Dharanidhar Das, Rupjyoti Das and Dimbeswar Konwar. The point to be noted here is  that during the time of the killings the left was an ally of the ruling AGP and at the centre NDA was in power.

As I read about Gauri Lankesh, I see that she had strong anti establishment views and vehemently opposed rightist ideas. She had links with Maoists. Factional fight among Maoists is being considered as a reason for her death.

Parag Kumar Das, an alumnus of St Stephen’s, Delhi and Delhi School of Economics started supporting Assam insurgent outfits in later part of his life as a journalist. The irony is that Parag Kumar Das aspired to be a civil servant, made it to the interview stage of civil services examination but could not impress the interview board. He authored books such as “Swadhin Asomor Arthaniti” (can be translated as The Economy of Independent Assam) and “Sanglot Fenla” ( a novel  which romanticizes armed struggle against the state). He was killed in broad day light. The government charged some surrendered militants. But none could be convicted in a court of law due to lack of evidence.

Dimbeswar Das, Rupjyoti Das , Dimbeswar Konwar and many others were ordinary citizens like  us. But unfortunately they were family members of insurgent leaders. They were killed by armed and masked assailants and the government is clueless about the killers till date.

No doubt there exists a pattern.

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Justice for Rohingyas, Chakmas and Hajongs

It is inappropriate to put the three groups of people together as given in the subject line. The only common aspect Rohingyas, Chakmas and Hajongs share is that they all hail from present day Bangladesh or pre independence Bengal province.

Rohingya /Myanmar Conflict  and Assam Immigration Problem

The term Rohingya is not accepted by Myanmar government. The government  call them “Muslims of Rakhine state” who had come from Bangladesh/Bengal. The citizenship act  1982 of Myanmar denies citizenship to Muslims of Rakhine state as they are termed as illegal immigrants and that they are not a “national race”.

There are Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists immigrants from Bangladesh in Assam and in other parts of India. Numerically Muslim and Hindu immigrants pose a serious political threat to the indigenous population of the state of Assam, which is acknowledged by the government of India.

But the policy of  the government of India on immigration from Bangladesh has always been inconsistent. By way of Assam Accord the Government of India legalized all immigration into the state of Assam up to 24th March 1971. The cutoff date and the year is not valid in rest of India in my understanding. On the other hand the Myanmar government set a similar cut off year as 1823!!

Though government of India is bound to detect and deport immigrants entering  into Assam from Bangladesh after 24th March 1971, no tangible  action is seen on ground. Rather there were laws enacted to make detection and deportation an impossibility (please refer to IMDT act).

The present ruling party in India committed in its pre poll promise to grant citizenship to Hindu and Buddhists immigrants irrespective of their date of entry making the Assam immigration problem much more complicated.

The not less than 10 million strong immigrants from Bangladesh in Assam enjoy all rights as citizens and they are a formidable political force, excluding an insignificant 3 lac or so “D” (doubtful) voters.

Despite alleged “human rights violations”, “genocides”  and  “ethnic cleansing”  by Myanmar government against Rohingyas, it is not fully isolated in the global space. Even India, which is supposed to be a progressive, democratic and liberal country has sided with Myanmar government on the Rohingya issue.

 

Stateless Chakmas

Rohingyas are also described as “stateless” people. Two smaller ethnic groups –Chakmas and Hajongs are also referred to as “stateless” people by a section of the media.

Chakmas, who are Buddhists, originally come from Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. Many of them had to leave CHT either due to religious persecution  or due to a hydro power dam. They were subsequently sheltered in Arunachal Pradesh by government of India.  Today they constitute 6 percent of the population of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Due to strong opposition from the indigenous people of Arunachal Pradesh, Chakmas are denied citizenship till date .But there has been no organized violence against Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh  so far. Given  the insignificant population of Chakmas , the political class is not much worried about the community.

 

Hajongs from Hajo

Sometimes I see  Chakmas and Hajongs are put together and referred to as “stateless people”. This is because Hajongs living in Arunachal Pradesh are denied citizenship just like Chakmas.

Hajongs are followers of Hindu religion and there are sizeable number of Hajongs in Assam and Meghalaya and  they enjoy all rights as Indian citizens.

Hajongs speak a dialect which resembles dialects spoken in western Assam districts. Many Hajongs believe that they are originally from Hajo (near Guwahati).

Numerically their numbers are also insignificant. If  we put together  Hajongs living  in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Bangladesh (appx 50K), the total headcount will be less than 2 lac.

I have a suggestion.  Places around Hajo have substantial number of Bangladesh origin people. Can’t we have some exchange program with Bangladesh government through which immigrants can go back to their place of origin and Hajongs can come back to Hajo?

Demonetization Match Fixing

After rigorous counting for 8 months, the RBI has finally released data on the amount of demonetized currency back in banking system. The figures are on expected lines and the government despite its changed narrative regarding a less cash economy is finding it difficult to defend the demonetization decision.

The RBI states that 16000 crores did not come back. As per economists this is the amount by which the RBI gained. If P Chidambaram’s statement is correct then 21000 crores was spent in printing new currencies. So in simple arithmetic the loss due to demonetization was at least 5000 crores.

The government has not admitted the failure of the demonetization exercise. At least it can say that its assessment of the amount of black money in system was wrong. But black money back in banks does not make it white. Then why is the government not talking at all about black money?

But there are people who are benefitted by demonetization.

There are bankers and middlemen who bailed out the rich and made good money.  Then there are chartered accountants who continue to enjoy benefits of demonetization by offering consultancy services to the cash rich. Let’s recollect the rock star like felicitation to the Prime Minister in the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India convention in New Delhi recently.

What I learn is that those who deposited big amounts in their accounts are now visiting Income Tax departments. They have assistance from chartered accountants/lawyers and perhaps some “negotiation” is in progress. It is not difficult to understand who is actually taking part in the negotiation.

So at the end of the day is there any doubt that demonetization was a fixed match?

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh & Ganganagar Connection

While studying in a college in North India I realized how strong, violent and polarizing caste feelings can be. A minor brawl could result in a full scale caste war within the college premises.

In a college election the leader from the most organized (in terms of “dadagiri”) caste lost by the narrowest of margin (of just vote).In a couple of month the winning candidate and his followers were bashed up in a planned manner, situation deteriorated to such an extent that security personnel had to be deployed in college campus for some days.

In the last few days followers of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh are on rampage. They can’t accept the fact that their spiritual leader is convicted of rape.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh heads Dera Sacha Sauda which is “a social welfare & spiritual organization that preaches and practices humanitarianism and selfless services to others”.

I googled to find the following details about Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh—spiritual leader, social worker, actor, director, singer and political influencer. I feel that all these traits just don’t add up.

History tells that religious sentiments can turn highly destructive, perhaps it can be more destructive than casteist emotion. But one common thing I found about Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and the caste based student leaders of our college is that they are all from Ganganagar district of Rajasthan.

The aftermath of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh conviction is large scale riots, deaths, curfews, burning of public properties etc etc. Not sure if this can be attributed to what Karl Marx had said “religion is the opium of masses” or it is just a Ganganagar syndrome.

PS : I have not been to Ganganagar, Rajasthan. I have written based on what I saw, read and heard. Also due apologies to my dear friend Mr. Chaudhury from Ganganagar.

Vishal Sikka’s Resignation

A learned individual has remarked that the Vishal Sikka story is like an Indian arranged marriage ending in divorce. Having read the resignation letter as available online I too felt it like a divorce notice in which the wife puts the blame on the mother in law.

Jokes apart, corporate governance must be a serious issue and I feel that the Indian corporate sector has not matured enough over time. The Cyrus Mistry episode was a clear case of power struggle and we know by now who calls the shots in the Tata Group. Given the shareholding pattern in Infosys I find the picture a bit hazy. If promoters (Narayana Murthy and others) hold less than 13% of shares, how can they force the Managing Director’s exit  that too when he enjoys the confidence of the board.

The cited reasons for the resignation are “false, baseless, malicious and increasingly personal attacks”. But the question is by whom. The letter does not name anybody but it is too obvious.

The unfortunate part is everybody accepts that “performance” is a subjective issue. Infosys founders and board members are all eminent persons of extra ordinary caliber but they are unable to converge at a point which defines good performance.

Bitter corporate exits highlight vague subjectivity where the more powerful is the winner and things like performance and corporate governance take a backseat.

Narayana Murthy symbolizes dreams and achievements of Indian middle class. We can only hope that as the events unfold in Infosys in next few days his image remains undented.

Two Hundred Years Ago

The year 1817 was a crucial year in Assam history. In that year Burmese troops entered Assam for the first time. Burmese invasion was the beginning of the end for the Ahom kingdom which ruled Assam for nearly six hundred years.

Despite facing setbacks in America the British founded a strong base in most of part of the Indian sub continent by 1817 and the might of British East India Company was almost unchallenged in this part of the world.

The modern democratic United States of America was already founded based on a written constitution. James Monroe, one of the founding fathers of the United States became president of the country in the year 1817. A part of his tenure as president is recalled as an “era of good feelings” in the U.S.

Let’s look back to Assam in the year 1817. The Assam king Chandrakanta Singha was 18 years old and mostly spent his time playing with friends in the royal palace at Jorhat, the capital of Assam then. The de facto ruler was Purnananda Burhagohain, the experienced prime minister. Purnananda Burhagohain was an able administrator and he was able to suppress internal rebellions with his standing army. The standing army was trained and armed by the British East India Company.

The extent of internal conflict during Purnananda Burhagohain’s tenure was astonishingly high. Apart from various Moamoriya factions, there were troubles created by the Dundiya revolt, incursions by Khamtis, Morans, Singphous and Kacharis. The reasons for the revolts are not well documented, but in all likelihood the leadership failed to inspire a large section of the population.

Though Purnananda Burhgohain succeeded in defeating anti royal elements, he lacked a pragmatic approach of statecraft. There was no new approach of reconciliation and reaching out to dissenting voices.

So when the Burmese troops entered Assam, they did not face resistance from a united Assam and it was a virtual walkover for them.

Bangladeshi Influx in Assam and the Surgeon from Bangladesh

A pamphlet is pasted on the wall of a grocery shop in an interior village in Barpeta district, Assam. In one corner of the pamphlet there is a photograph of a young man having Islamic style beard and cap.

The pamphlet is written in Assamese mixed with Arabic words. My translation of the pamphlet in English would be something like this:

“Dear/Respected all….. I “so &so” ,  a surgeon (some word in Arabic which in my understanding of the content of the pamphlet is surgeon) from Bangladesh and I am an expert in carrying out circumcision in true Islamic style. All devout Muslims having male children may contact me at………”

The interior village I am referring to is a village inhabited by people of Bangladesh origin. I do not know whether these villagers reached Assam before or after 24 th March 1971, the cutoff date of entry into Assam as per the Assam Accord. I can only hope that the “surgeon” is in Assam with a valid visa, at a time when the governments at the centre and state are strictly against Muslim influx from Bangladesh.

Though I was a minor, the volatility and emotion linked to Assam Agitation (1979-1985) is still fresh in my mind. In next thirty years we have only felt betrayal. Forget deportation, even detection of foreign nationals based on existing laws and documentation proves to be an almost impossible task.

The history of movement of people from areas of present day Bangladesh to Assam is not less than hundred years old. It is alleged that in the beginning local people supported   such influx. Well known Assamese intellectual  Gunabhiram Baruah reportedly supported immigration in 1885-86 ( one hundred thirty two years ago). Sir Syed Muhammad Saadulla, an indigenous Muslim was the premier of British Assam between 1937 and 1946 on three occasions. Though Sir Sadullah was reportedly an able administrator, an eloquent speaker, moderate and liberal in his approach but supported Jinnah’s two nation theory and wanted Assam’s inclusion in Pakistan. He reportedly encouraged immigration for development of “low lying areas of Brahmaputra Valley”. It is believed that even a great leader like Jawaharlal Nehru supported immigration “from the point of view developing Assam and making it a wealthier province”.

As Assam Accord failed to deliver results , there is another serious issue overlooked in the accord deserving attention  is the higher population growth rate of the immigrant community. Statistics indicate that even in recent years the population growth rate of Muslims continues to be high in Assam and I find it difficult to attribute to influx alone.  Since Assam Agitation days,the  government has at least acknowledged the seriousness of the problem and there are attempts to seal Indo-Bangla borders in Assam ( which is still incomplete for reasons not clear to us). Let’s us also remember that since signing of the Assam Accord, Assam agitation leaders ruled Assam for ten years. Also there was a period of NDA rule led by the BJP which is strongly against Muslim immigration from Bangladesh. If even after that the influx continues, I don’t know who is to be blamed.

Now let’s have a relook at the possible reasons why the mass migration happened from the places of today’s Bangladesh. There used to be abundance of cultivable land in Brahmaputra valley in Assam. Perhaps the basic idea was more jute cultivation because Jute Industry was flourshing  at some point in time.

But in today’s perspective, land in Brahmaputra Valley is under constant threat of flood and erosion. Industrially Assam is a backward state and even agriculturally the state is not self sufficient. Per capita income of the state is far below national average. And the jute industry is in decline all over India.

 

There are many who are fighting for the cause of Bangladesh origin Muslim immigrants. I think they should also consider the following points seriously.

This community of Bangladesh origin Muslim immigrants in Assam lives in sub human conditions, specially those who are in river islands or in riverine places. They struggle for their existence under constant threat of flood and erosion.  So is it not necessary to relocate them to safer locations (while doing so let’s remember that population density of Assam is higher than developing states such as Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra)?

Due to disproportionate increase in family sizes the community remains impoverished despite their hard working nature. Anybody thinking for welfare of the community must also think about modernizing the community by dragging them out of age old backward mindset and superstitions. Controlling population growth must be on top of the agenda for progress of the community.

Another point– many in the pro Bangladesh origin immigrant camp get hurt when we say that the economic condition of Bangladesh leads to influx into Assam. Their point is Bangladesh’s economic growth rate is higher than India. If that is the case then they should take the initiative for a reverse migration which will lead to better life of the community.

Flash Flood in Guwahati & Solution

Noted academician and scientist Dr. Amarjyoti Chaudhury wrote an Assamese novel “Gosor Nisina Sakokhan”. The title of the novel is inspired by Khasi folktale “ Jingkieng Ksiar”. According to the Khasi  legend there used to be a ladder connecting the earth and the heaven and men on earth could move up the ladder and reach heaven. Till such time human race remained righteous the ladder existed.

Dr. Chaudhury is of the view that the ladder symbolizes a tree and folktale is about ecology and about a just society’s commitment to the environment.

The novel “Gosor Nisina Sakokhan” talks about how Guwahati  a hub of natural beauty with its green hills, rivulets and water bodies is changed into a city of congested roads, damaged ecosystems and most importantly the old  rivers getting blocked or carrying the city sewage. The central character of the novel Stuti is an idealist lady but her bureaucrat husband is convicted on charges of granting illegal permission to contractors violating environmental norms.

In reality I am not aware if there are laws to safeguard the ecological balance of Guwahati city.

For at least three decades the city has witnessed flash floods. The intensity of floods has started taking human lives now.

Like elsewhere in the state preparedness to face the challenge seems to be inadequate in Guwahati too. The problem is probably not due to lack of ideas, technology or money. I was going through a scholarly article on tackling the flash flood problem in Guwahati.  I would like to reproduce some words, phrases and institutions that appeared in the article:

Watershed Management

Building Bye Laws

Maps by Assam Remote Sensing Application Centre

Creation of Silt Traps

Sedimentation Control Standard

Hydro Seeding

Dry Seeding

Chemical Soil Stabilization

Vegetative Buffer Strip

Rainwater Harvesting

Master Drainage Plan

City Master Plan

Storm Water Study

Guwahati Smart City Development Agency Ltd

Restoration of Beels

Riverfront Rejuvenation

Hill Rejuvenation

Centralized Command and Control Structure

 

It appears that there are serious thoughts about the issue but not much is done on ground. Can we hope that such ideas and action plans will be implemented soon and in 2018 monsoon Guwahati will not face the flash flood havoc?

Indian Railways: Achievements & Initiatives

I was flattered to receive an email from Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu. But the euphoria ended when I learnt that it is a bulk mail sent to all registered email ids with IRCTC. But I must say that Indian Railways have offered something tangible in the three years of NDA government.

The latest milestones are the new train connecting Guwahati and Indore,  and a solar powered train from Delhi to Farukh Nagar in Haryana.

The government must be credited for improving train services in the north bank of Brahmaputra in Assam.

As a regular traveler I felt some experiences are worth sharing. The railway minister writes

            “Highest ever 2855 kms of new lines, gauge conversion and doubling commissioned

             &

            Mission Raftar to enhance both average and highest speed of trains

Now a journey to Naharlagun  from Guwahati  is enjoyable. The train is mostly on time. This is because the north bank train line is yet to face any major traffic congestion. Though there are more trains between Guwahati and Bongaigaon  the time factor continues to be uncertain and it will continue to be so till double tracking of railway line is completed. But has the double tracking work started ?

The introduction of Shatabdi  Express  between Guwahati and Dibrugarh/Naharlagun  is another good move.  But this Shatabdi takes over nine hours to cover four hundred  fifty kilometers while NJP-Kolkata Shatabdi express  takes one hour less to cover  a distance of  five hundred fifty kilometers.

The Jan Shatabdi express continues to be as important as it was for travelling between Guwahati/Dimapur  and Jorhat. Fifteen years ago the passenger occupancy in the train was limited. But in recent times the train resembles a passenger express halfway through the journey.  There are more trains now but still not enough to meet growing passenger movement.

Though the Railway Minister has taken up the challenge of bringing all North East State capitals in the railway map by 2020, but I am ready to give him more time. I will be happier to experience reliability and quality services in trains connecting Guwahati and Silchar.

A major challenge is maintaining cleanliness of stations and coaches considering the gigantic population and improper habits of people. But again cleanliness is now a national agenda. While boarding a train I tried to figure out if there is a change as compared to the years gone by. I was about to draw a positive conclusion but suddenly an exuberant rat appeared from under the seats and then disappeared.

I felt that indeed it’s a long way to go.

Good & Simple Tax

Here is an excerpt from an article on VAT ,  published twelve years ago- “Value Added Tax—one of the most radical reforms to be proposed for the Indian economy, could finally become a reality after four years of political and economic debate.

Yet, the biggest hurdle before the government is not making India ‘a common market’ through a uniform sales tax structure, but removing a complicated tax structure that also allowed for fraudulent practices”

But how did said tax reform VAT implemented with effect from 1st April 2005 affected us? Now after twelve years while rolling out  GST, are we not saying the same things again?

VAT could not wipe out fraudulent practices or more specifically tax evasion by traders.

Even the surgical strike on corruption “demonetization” was successfully outsmarted by the trading class.

When we say GST will lead to simplicity and one nation one tax, do we tell the truth?  GST has its components like CGST, IGST, UTGST and IGST. The rates will vary from 5% to 28% and again there are exempted goods and services and the list is still not exhaustive.

Also there can be provision of cess over the peak 28% on “luxury and sin” goods.

Identifiable loopholes are the threshold limits on exemption and the intelligent ones perhaps already worked out their accounting statements.

The input tax credit part does not seem to be so simple with the invoice matching condition.

Also I have a doubt regarding the PM’s comment “ long wait by vehicles at toll plazas will end”. If  the plaza collected Octroi then it is yes. But “toll” is not a tax but a fee and I think it can’t be subsumed in GST. The “long wait” can be avoided if the vehicle is RFID affixed and the gate is technically enabled but that’s a different story.

If Einstein found it difficult to understand Income Tax, perhaps he would not have found Indian GST any simpler.