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Tripura CM Biplab Deb skirts a foot-in-the-mouth moment and tells Sonia Sarkar what he is doing to undo all that the Left did

Picture Credit: Suman Choudhury

As I step into Tripura chief minister (CM) Biplab Kumar Deb’s office, I expect to witness a few foot-in-the-mouth moments. I am at the Secretariat in Agartala. Deb, however, disappoints me. He is extraordinarily reticent. His eyes look tired, sleep-deprived. Indeed, there is lot of work ahead for Deb, who has just completed six months in office.

The biggest challenge of all is to “fix” everything that he claims the CPI(M) has destroyed. Deb tells me: “When I say everything, it means everything – economy, agriculture, employment, education and corruption.”

It’s a brand new Tripura Deb wants to build. And, he claims, small changes are already visible. “Earlier, when I’d meet people, they were mostly poker-faced. Now, when I go around, I see only happy faces,” he says with pride.

I get a different picture though during my conversations with various sections of society – drivers, rickshaw-pullers, artistes, government officials, teachers – as I traipse around Agartala. People have already started questioning Deb’s governance. There are murmurs of discontent. Some of the things one gets to hear often are – “We didn’t expect this”, “BJP has changed Tripura in no time, and all for worse” and “It was a mistake to have elected the BJP”.

Breaking the 25-year reign of CPI(M) in March this year, BJP won 35 seats; its partner, the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura, which has a substantial base among the tribals, won eight. Their combined strength is 43 in the 60-seat Assembly. Upon winning the Assam Assembly elections in 2016, Tripura was BJP’s next target in the Northeast. A band of 52 Union ministers was sent to campaign to overthrow the Left. Big BJP men made big promises.

The party promised to change people’s fortunes by giving free education to the girl child right up to graduation, pay parity for 2.15 lakh state government officials courtesy the Seventh Pay Commission, one job for every family, free smartphones for the youth, housing for all, regularisation of services of contractual government employees, doubling of farmers’ incomes in the next five years, enhanced minimum wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), enhancement of social security pension to Rs 2,000, a whole range of things.

The daily wagers under MGNREGA allege that they barely got 10 days of work in the past five months and the wages haven’t gone up either. No new jobs have been created, but there has been another promise to “streamline the recruitment process” for unemployed youth. Those joining government service in Tripura on or after July 1 this year have been told that they will not be entitled to the general provident fund. The Seventh Pay Commission is yet to be implemented, though Deb says, “The P.P. Verma Committee is looking into it.”

Deb also shares his grand plans to promote Tripura. He will be setting up a rubber industry – the annual rubber production in the state is 50,000-plus tonnes; Tripura tea will be branded and sold outside the state; bamboo and green pineapple, the indigenous produce of the state, will get a fresh market impetus.

All of six feet and three inches – at some point he had wanted to join the police force – Deb sits straight in his chair, unperturbed by the list of complaints. I ask him about the three people who were lynched to death in July over a rumour about “child-lifting” and allegations about his education minister Ratan Lal Nath instigating the masses. He replies, “The Communists have coined the word, mob lynching. The biggest insurgency in Tripura was in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s when the Communists were in power.”

That’s Deb’s way of convincing me that Tripura was more violent during the Left rule. Deb, like Mamata Banerjee, tends to blame the Left for everything. When I ask him what the logic is behind blaming the Left always, his answer is prompt and vague: “Manik Sarkar (his predecessor) encouraged people to grow marijuana. We have arrested over 200 people dealing with marijuana, most of them turned out to be CPI(M) men.”

The week before, Tripura police claimed they had seized over 2,100 kilos of marijuana worth Rs 1.5 crore from an oil tanker at Dharamnagar in the northern parts. Over the past six months, the police have seized over 20,000 kilograms of marijuana. Most of these seizures have taken place from the Sepahijala district, the constituency of the former CM. But these arrests over drugs are mostly political, Left leaders allege. The CPI(M) also alleges that government officials have been bulldozing their office-buildings on the outskirts of Agartala. The government, however, maintains that these offices were built on government-owned land and must be taken over.

Deb’s other attack on the Left is through textbooks. Despite having a literacy rate of 94.65 per cent, the quality of education in the state has been poor, he claims. So he doesn’t want children in Tripura to study the Russian revolution, Lenin and Karl Marx anymore. He wants NCERT textbooks to reach state-run schools from next year. “The Communists have highlighted only people they hail as heroes, what about our heroes – Ashoka, Syama Prasad Mookherjee, Mahatma Gandhi. Are they not great enough?” he asks.

We are a good way into the interview, and he is keen to talk some more. The conversation that started in Hindi has long moved to Bengali. But there hasn’t been any foot-in-the-mouth moment as yet. Nothing in the league of what he said about Internet existing during the times of the Mahabharata or that Civil Engineering students should opt for the Civil Services.

I ask him why he courts controversy so often and he shows me his “cultural” and “intellectual” side by invoking Tagore. He says, “When you and I look at dew drops, we would just find them mundane and ordinary, but when Tagore looked at them, he was moved to compose poems. What people make out of what I say is up to them.”

But Deb has tripped on his general knowledge about Tagore in the past. Earlier this year, he spoke about how Tagore rejected the Nobel Prize in protest against the British government and got the Biswasrestho or the world’s best award for Gitanjali. Tagore had renounced his knighthood and got the Nobel Prize for Gitanjali. The CM’s words interrupt my flashback. He is saying, “Every other community knows, Bengalis dimaag ka khata hai. Amader kachhe achhe… Bengalis have great intellect. We Bengalis have it.”

Deb is dressed in a white kurta and pyjama with a red-and-white Manipuri risa or scarf. He tells me he has a huge collection of risas representing the various tribes of the state. “My concern for tribals is not mere posturing, I take everyone along. This is an inclusive government,” he says.

During election rallies, he spoke in Kokborok, the state’s second official language. But after he assumed power he proposed to ban its use on all news channels and introduce Hindi instead. As in most BJP-ruled states, Hindi supremacy continues here too. At the time of this interview, Tripura University, a central varsity, is observing the Hindi Fortnight.

Deb is an obedient foot soldier of the BJP. But his views on implementation of National Register of Citizens (NRC) is different from his party’s. He says, “There isn’t any need for NRC here, we don’t have the problem of infiltration.”

Could it be that being from Bangladesh himself, Deb has a soft corner for the people of opar Bangla or the other side? His defences are up almost immediately. “But I was born here. Yes, my father came from Chandpur in Chittagong in 1967 and my mother in 1971.”

His detractors, however, are not having any of this. They have already labelled him a Bangladeshi for not implementing the NRC in the state. After the interview, his aide, a former journalist, calls me to say, “Mother wala point thoda downplay kijiyega…” A day before the interview, the same man tells me over phone, “Positive likhiyega.” Clearly, there is worry within the BJP camp that the Bangladeshi tag should not stick or the outsider label for that matter. Deb spent over a decade in Delhi after finishing his graduation from Udaipur College in Tripura; returned only in 2015.

By way of changing perceptions, Deb has now gone and done the ultimate. He has pulled his children out from their Delhi schools and has had them join schools in Agartala. He can’t emphasise this enough: “If the children of the CM don’t study in the state, why would anyone want their children to study here?”

Point. Deb, it seems, wants to lead by example. But one must be careful before taking cue. Remember, he tends to put his foot in his mouth much too often.

This interview appeared in The Telegraph, September 16, 2018

https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/north-east/there-is-no-need-for-nrc-in-our-state-no-infiltration-problem-here-259544

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She who once represented the hope of democracy now speaks the tongue of the military. The youth of Myanmar tell Sonia Sarkar how bitterly disappointed they are in Aung San Suu Kyi

Sonia Sarkar Sep 09, 2018 00:00 IST

: A protest against Aung San Suu Kyi during the Asean-Australia special summit earlier this year

Picture Credit: AFP

There is an animation clip on Aung San Suu Kyi’s verified Facebook page. Titled, “The Real Disaster in Burma is the government”, it is the first thing that catches one’s attention.

It shows a Burmese girl who survives, first the cyclone, and then the starvation and diseases that followed. But then follow visuals of heavy military boots closing in on the little girl. The male voice-over artiste says in clipped British accent – “In Burma, there are no fairy-tale endings, because the government and military dictatorship torture and kill people…” At the end of the clip, the same voice urges people to bring human rights and democracy to erstwhile Burma, now Myanmar. It urges, “Please use your freedom to gain theirs.”

The animation is 10 years old.

Ten years ago, Suu Kyi was still under house arrest. Since her return from the UK in 1988, she had been a vociferous critic of the military government. The 15-year house arrest, beginning in 1989, was a consequence.

Welcome to 2018. Suu Kyi looks just the same. Everything about her appears the same too, that attire, the rose in bun, the stoic Mona Lisa smile. And yet if she is unrecognisable, it is because of her hugely altered political stance. She speaks more in favour of the military now, less for the people. And, of course, she is Myanmar’s de facto leader.

The whole world is witness to this transformation. And now, the people of Myanmar who once vowed to turn a blind eye to all failures of their beloved “Amay Suu”, have begun raising a collective voice against her. Students, writers, artists, cartoonists and civil rights activists have started to revolt. Their complaint: she has done nothing to stop the army’s violence against Rohingyas in Rakhine state on the western coast of the country.

Rohingyas have been subjected to state violence for years in Rakhine. They have fled to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, from time to time, for survival. But in August last year, over seven lakh Rohingyas were forced to leave their homes as the country’s armed forces allegedly burnt their villages, raped women and even implanted landmines to kill them. Suu Kyi was steadfast in her refusal to recognise this persecution. She has even denied that Rohingyas are indigenous people of Myanmar.

Eaint Thiri Thu, an MA student at the United States University of Minnesota, keeps a close eye on developments in her country. She says, “Aung San Suu Kyi is accountable for denying crimes against humanity and for covering up the extra-judicial abuses of the military. She is also accountable for providing wrong information to the public about the Rohingya crisis.”

Thiri Thu is away from her country but now, even those in Myanmar are saying enough is enough. An open letter issued some months ago by a Yangon-based civil rights forum called Saddha: Buddhists For Peace, reads, “We kept faith in the National League for Democracy and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership, hoping that she could finally bring Burma out of military rule. Now, by their wilful inaction, she and the NLD have become complicit in this violence against Rohingya civilians carried out by Myanmar security forces, which the United Nations has called ‘textbook ethnic cleansing’ and ‘acts of genocide’.”

Yangon-based Thinzar Shunlei Yi, former president of Yangon Youth Network and advisor at Burma’s National Youth Congress, says Suu Kyi is now acting as a shield for the military. “But we, the people of this country, are taking note of it,” adds Shunlei Yi, who is one of the 77 signatories to the open letter.

Suu Kyi’s sympathisers argue that the army still controls law enforcement, local administration and embattled frontier areas. They point out that she doesn’t have any real power. But Thiri Thu retorts, “She should have separated herself from the military. She should have tried to receive the right information.”

Chu May Paing, a student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, says, “We had high hopes from her but the longstanding ethnic conflicts and the Rohingya issue frustrated us. Either as a ‘state counsellor’ or as ‘puppet’ in the hands of the Myanmar army, she cannot escape her responsibilities on the issue.”

Suu Kyi is a state counsellor. She can’t be President as no one with dual-citizen relations (including parents or children) can be president as per the Constitution of the country.

A satirical website, Burma Tha Din Network, had put up a post about how the Suu Kyi holding office currently is actually a clone created by Russian geneticists. The real Suu Kyi, according to it, is in captivity and wondering – how the hell can people believe I’d do that?

Cartoonists who once took jibes at the military junta are now taking potshots at Suu Kyi and her authoritarian ways. In one of his cartoons, Maung Maung Fountain shows two boys wearing the traditional gaung baung worn by men on formal occasions and at parliamentary sittings, complaining to their bossy older sister – “You told us what you want, but when we said what we wanted you got angry.”

Suu Kyi has failed on other fronts too. The worsening civil war in Shan and northern Kachin and the flailing economy. Says social scientist Htuu Lou Rae, “Plus, foreign investment and tourism are reeling from the crisis in northern Rakhine.” The world is not oblivious to these things. In a paper titled “Interpreting Communal Violence in Myanmar”, Australian author Nick Cheesman writes, “…the new government has, like its predecessor, been criticised for inaction, anti-Muslim prejudice and restricting journalists’ access to affected areas.”

Suu Kyi didn’t allow Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar, to visit the Rakhine state last year. The media is barred from using the word “Rohingyas”. And the government recently published the book, Myanmar Politics and the Tatmadaw: Part I, whose thrust is: there are no Rohingyas in Myanmar. They are the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. There have also been fake news doing the rounds about how Rohingyas are Islamist militants and mosques in Yangon are stockpiling weapons in an attempt to blow up various Buddhist pagodas. In 2016, when a Rohingya woman provided detailed allegations about her gang rape, the State Counsellor Office Information Committee posted a banner on its Facebook page that read “Fake Rape”.

Even her own party members are disappointed. Maung Sangkha, a youth leader of NLD, who joined the party in 2012, says, “She should have admitted there is a problem… She should have gone and checked the situation in the areas where violence took place.” Sangha, who is also the executive director of Myanmar-based ATHAN, a freedom of expression activist organisation, fears he will be fired soon for openly criticising Suu Kyi.

Young people like Sangkha were a big votebank for NLD in 2015. That year, voters between 20 and 39 years exceeded 50 per cent of the total registered voters. Says young Shunlei Yi, “And now it feels like we have lost a political leader we looked up to. There is a vacuum.”

(This story appeared in The Telegraph, September 9, 2018 —

https://www.telegraphindia.com/world/the-rose-that-revealed-her-thorns-257867 )

The queen has arrived on the sets. She is fixing her golden hairband, the tiara, the waistband and running her painted nails on a piece of paper. She murmurs a few lines as she walks towards the floor. The lights focus on her, the camera starts to roll and she takes you into a fantasy world.

Later, once she is done with her day’s work in a Bengali mega-serial, the actor tells The Telegraph, “Don’t believe what you see here, our world outside the sets is very different and…”, she pauses and then adds, “dark”.

Last month, the seamy side of Calcutta’s studio para, or Tollygunge area, where most mega serials are shot, its innards as it were, came spilling out for all to see. Agitated actors demanded delayed payments, producers refused to give in, and all shooting came to a halt. And that’s the way it remained for six whole days, allegations flying, acrimony swirling, dissension upon dissension, a temporary death of entertainment and in its place, an ugly reality show.

On screen, the actors apologised for this unwanted first such disruption in Bengali television industry. Off-screen, though, they hailed their protest as “revolutionary”.  Alleges an actor, who played a king in a period drama, “The producers think they are emperors and we are their slaves. They think, they are doing us a favour by giving us roles.”

The list of complaints is long — irregular pay, long working hours, no overtime, no defined breaks and poor working conditions.

The television industry in Bengal is a most viable one with an annual turnover of over Rs 800 crore. “The regional market has seen phenomenal growth.  In fact, some of our serials are dubbed and remade in other languages. In fact, some of our serials are dubbed and remade in other languages for prime time viewing. All this doesn’t happen without blood and sweat of people involved in it,” says Mahendra Soni, co-founder of SVF Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. Mega grossers such as Jai Kali Kalkattawali and Gopal Bhar on Star Jalsha are from the SVF stable.

Bengali television has come a long way since the 80s and early 90s when serials such as Tero Parbon, Uranchandi,  Shei Somoy and  Bibaha Abhijan engaged audiences deeply. In the mid 90s, and early 2000, melodrama crept in with daily soaps such as Janani,  Ek Akasher Niche, Sonar Harin and Ei Ghar Ei Sansar.  Now, it is a mix of both melodrama and mediocrity. Some of the popular daily soaps are Krishna Koli, Rani Rasmoni, Jai Baba Loknath, Bakul Katha and Phagun Bou.

The lead actors of these serials enjoy huge stardom but they live a life full of uncertainties, as it turns out.

Let’s begin with the pay issue. Mostly, stars, lead actors and senior actors, sign contracts with channels or individual producers for anything between Rs 1.5 lakh and 8 lakh. A contract is usually for the life of the show and the monthly payment follows a 23-day schedule.

Producers invest Rs 2 -3 crore for the first 60 episodes and the channels pay them after they submit the CDs of the 19-minute episodes shot over 60 days, backed with requisite bills. When the producers start delivering the episodes, the channels release the money on the 7th and 22nd of every month. Actors, however, allege that producers — generally those in the middle and lower brackets — hold back the money. Payments are delayed, sometimes by months. “Producers already enjoy a leeway of 15 days. They are allowed to pay us the last month’s remuneration on the 15th of the new month. Why do they then delay further,” asks an actor.

Technicians for their part complain about poor pay. There is no overtime for senior technicians. Junior colleagues get the same sum of money for putting half the number of hours during overtime but they receive a meagre sum of Rs 500-1000 for 10 hours. In fact, they went on protest in July, refused to work beyond 14 hours a day including four hours of overtime and raised the demand for a 30 per cent pay hike, which was eventually met.

The other big issue, interminable work hours.

When a serial takes off, it takes three to four days to can one episode. But once it picks up, one and a half-episode is shot within a day or 10-14 hours. There are allegations that producers tend to stretch the available resources. One actor says, “A 19-minute episode is shot in 10-12 hours but often producers shoot for 18-20 hours for a final product of 40 minutes.” He adds, “These extra 21 minutes are done using the same pool of resources and is the profit.”

Veteran actor Sabitri Chatterjee, who currently plays the outspoken Sabu in Star Jalsha’s Kusum Dola, says:  “After long hours of shoot, art and creativity get compromised.” At 81, Chatterjee who was among the leading ladies of the Bengali film industry in the 1960s and an actress par excellence, now shoots 10 hours a day for TV serials.

In their defence, producers say the work gets stretched to 14 to 16 hours in a mythological serial, where make-up is time consuming. Delay also happens because they need approval from the channels for literally everything, from promos to sets, from dialogues to hair-styling, and that too on a daily basis.

When one has to deliver at a stretch for seven days on a day to day basis, there will be problems, says Soni.

Other actors allege that production units inform them about the next day’s call time — scheduled appearance — not before 1.30 am and even then it doesn’t mean the shoot will start on time. Says a senior actor, “My call time could be 12 noon but I may be called on the floor only at 8:30 pm. There have been times when I waited for hours only to learn that I don’t have a single scene to enact that day.”

The working conditions also come up time and again. Studio floors turned air-conditioned five years ago, but a common complaint is the poor condition of the restrooms. Junior artistes suffer the most. During outdoor shoots, they are the last to be served food, there aren’t seating arrangements for them and they get the worst possible accommodation during an overnight outdoor stay. Likewise for junior technicians.

In all this chaos, aesthetics and creativity take a beating. This time producers point channelwards. If a channel has purchased the copyright of one or more songs, it would want producers to incorporate them, even if it means tweaking the storyline. Then again, if a channel wants weddings and festivals to be incorporated, one has to comply.

“At the last moment, if there is a call for change of storyline or character, we have to do it. Certainly, what you see on the screen is a product of hard labour of so many people behind the scenes. We  make numerous creative calls as the channel wants it from us,” Soni adds.

Director and actor Chandan Sen says, “Scriptwriters write the episodes for at least four serials, all on the floor, perhaps, 30 minutes before the shoot. When I used to direct ‘Ek Akasher Niche’ [in the early 2000s] we used to have the script for at least 50 episodes ready in advance.”

Producers have their own list of counter cribs. They allege that stars never arrive at call time, take multiple assignments, and quit serials midway. There is no point in suing as litigation takes years, says one exasperated producer. They also complain about the high-handedness of technicians. Some say this has to do with political backing.

The Federation of Cine Technicians & Workers of Eastern India, the umbrella body of technicians headed by Trinamool leader Swarup Biswashas been flexing its muscles much too often, claim producers. Says one such person who has close links with chief minister Mamata Banerjee, “The Federation decides how many technicians are to be hired.  If we offer Rs 1.5 lakh per month to an experienced cameraperson, it forces us to offer the same to an inept technician. Some technicians are Trinamool workers who just sit around and smoke on the sets but you cannot say anything.”

Technicians and actors allege that producers run ‘syndicates’ with the backing of political leaders. Indranil Sen, minister of state for information and cultural affairs, denies any such support.

“There is no extra support given to producers by the government,” he says.

Actor Chandan Sen says he doesn’t know about syndicates but he narrates how he came to be out of work for two years. He seems to think that it had to do with him being forthright about his political views.  He says, “While I was shooting for Ishti Kutum near Bantala, on the outskirts of Calcutta, some men came over and asked me to quit the serial. I didn’t, but soon after, the production unit stopped informing me about the ‘call time’. I realized I had been dropped. In Bengal, you will not be allowed to work if you don’t make your contribution to the political party. That’s how the system works here.”

Who knows it better than Minister Sen? He tells The Telegraph, “It is Bengal, Madam, nothing and nobody is apolitical. Everybody is political, politically conscious.”

The six-day strike was resolved on August 23 when the CM intervened. She formed a joint conciliation committee with members from the industry and ordered actors to resume shooting. The West Bengal Motion Picture Artists’ Forum has stated that no actor will work beyond 10 hours and they have to be paid for every extra hour on a pro-rata basis.

But the CM’s interference has irked many. As one producer puts it, “The real problem is the CM’s excessive interest in this industry.” He pointed out how the industry is forced to shut shop every July 21, when actors have to mark their presence with Banerjee on the occasion of Shahid Diwas.

Indranil Sen denies that there is any such diktat. He says, “The government gets involved [in industry matters] only when there is a requirement to streamline things.”

But this act of streamlining is impacting art adversely. “When art and culture is politicised, they will get compromised,” says a producer, known to be Banerjee’s close aide.

In the meantime, on the floor, the queen has transformed into a demoness. Says the actor playing the role, “Eitai or ashol roop… That is her real image.”

BOX

Box: Telly Tales

Annual turnover — Rs 800 crore

Cost of shooting a

Period-drama — Rs 2.5 lakh per episode

Family drama — Rs 2.4 lakh per episode

Mythology — Rs 3.4 lakh per episode

Pay packages for

Lead actors — Rs 1.5 lakh to 8 lakh a month

Other actors — Rs 70,000 to 5 lakh a month

Senior technicians – Rs 80,000- 1.5 lakh

Junior technicians — Rs 500 to 1000 per day (10 hours)

(From industry sources)

ENDs

(A shorter version of the story has appeared in The Telegraph, September 2, 2018. Link –https://www.telegraphindia.com/entertainment/the-drama-your-telly-will-not-screen-256215?ref=entertainment-new-stry)

Kashmir’s nomadic Bakarwals are looking beyond their traditional wandering lives, reports Sonia Sarkar

UNEVEN GROUND: Bakarwals leave for higher altitudes with the onset of summer  

As a child Shahnawaz Chaudhary had no money to buy notebooks. He memorised lessons by writing them down on rocks with pebbles for chalk. In fact, when he got the news that he had passed his Class X examinations, he was busy grazing sheep in Mandhar of Poonch district in the Pir Panjal range, a good six-hour drive from Srinagar.

“It was the turning point of my life. I realised that even we can have a better life,” says Chaudhary, who is now editor-cum-culture officer at the government of Jammu and Kashmir’s Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.

Chaudhary is one of those rare Bakarwals who dared to dream.

 

The term ” bakarwal” is a derivative of the word “bakri” or ” bakar” meaning goat or sheep. Bakarwals are nomadic Muslim tribes. In the summers, the Bakarwals travel from Jammu to Kashmir and sometimes all the way up to Ladakh. In October, they give a slip to the impending harsh winter and return to the plains of Jammu in search of green meadows and favourable climate for their livestock.

The eight-year-old girl who was raped and murdered earlier this year, in the state’s Kathua district also belonged to this community. According to activist Talib Hussain, who belongs to the community and has been fighting for justice for the girl, Bakarwals are now looking for a life beyond shuttling between the hills and the plains. Hussain [he has since been accused of rape and arrested] says, “Living the life of nomads should not remain a compulsion for us. We should be able to look for opportunities to study and be successful professionally.”

In 1991, Bakarwals were recognised as Scheduled Tribes by the state. But, as Hussain points out, they have never enjoyed the benefits or concessions in education or jobs that ought to have come with this. But now, the young of the community are increasingly deciding to take charge of their own destiny.

Hussain has been walking barefoot for over seven months as part of his campaign for implementation of the 2006 Forest Rights Act in Jammu and neighbouring areas to ensure that his own community has a better life.

He says, “Since the Act is not implemented in Jammu, we have no dwelling rights on forest lands which have been our traditional habitat for generations. What’s more, we are barely left with any forest land to travel through; we are facing eviction.”

Bakarwals are often clubbed with Gujjars, another nomadic tribe. Together, the two constitute around 11.9 per cent of Jammu and Kashmir’s population, according to the 2011 census.

The Bakarwals, however, feel that this clubbing together has been detrimental to their case. Says Chaudhary, “A sizeable number of Bakarwals is still landless and without proper shelter. They have no idea of what is happening in the larger world. On the contrary, most Gujjars are studying in schools and also have a secure livelihood.”

Talib Hussain was desperate to study but had little opportunity in his home state. He fled to Delhi, worked at a property dealer’s office and joined a government school. But he had to go back, as he couldn’t sustain himself for long. Later, he got into a state-run hostel for Bakarwals and Gujjars. “But very few Bakarwal students succeed in getting into these,” he claims.

Humera Chowdhary, a 26-year-old dentist, shares her experience. She says, “As children, some of us have had to live away from our parents for the sake of getting an education. Our parents travelled for six months. I could see my parents because they survived the harsh weather conditions and the dangerous hilly terrain, but there were many who didn’t see their parents the next season as they failed to make it. Had there been functional mobile schools in every district, Bakarwal children could at least be with their parents.”

Humera and others who have had enjoyed better fortune are now thinking in terms of payback. Rafaqat Hussain Khatana is studying to be a doctor at Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences. He says, “I would like to run mobile clinics for Bakarwals. They sleep and eat wherever they get space, it is important to see how to make them more aware of hygiene and sanitation. Plus, providing them mobile medical facilities would improve the quality of life.”

No one wants to sacrifice one good thing for another, but sometimes to have both is difficult, if not near impossible. Chaudhary tells us he misses his old wanderer’s life. Occasionally he even takes off from work to spend some days roaming the Pir Panjal range with the people of his kafila.

He says in hushed tones, “I miss the charm of the old life.”

Lights in each Indian household? Really? Sonia Sarkar finds out why, despite the Narendra Modi government’s loud claims, that remains a far cry

Jul 29, 2018 00:00 IST

Picture Credit: AFP

When Shivankit Mishra, an electrical engineer from Mahagama in Jharkhand’s Godda district, listens to radio jingles praising the Prime Minister’s initiative to electrify all households by 2019, he has mixed feelings. At one level he is happy, his house is already electrified. But if you ask him if it has meant an end to days spent in darkness, he says, “We get electricity for barely four hours a day. During the monsoons, it becomes worse; there are power cuts for weeks and months.”

Thousands of miles away in Gurugram in the National Capital Region, this June, residents of a posh high-rise took angrily to the streets against Dakshin Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam, the state distribution company or discom. Their complaint – incessant and prolonged power cuts.

This is a question worth asking, especially when amplified claims are being made about every Indian village having been electrified. The Modi government boasts about India being a “power surplus” country and has promised to electrify every household in the country by December 2018. But how many households do get power and for how many hours on average?

Reality check

In 2017, the Centre launched the Saubhagya scheme. Its target was to provide free electricity connections to households in rural areas and also to the urban poor by the end of 2018. It also promised to distribute LED lamps to newly electrified households. And this when people are still having to buy kerosene lamps or diesel generators because there is no regular power supply in their electrified homes. Those who have got solar photovoltaic-based standalone systems under the scheme are better off – there is no need for maintenance of meters, overhead and underground wires, and transformers.

The Saubhagya site has figures to show what percentage of every state has been electrified to date. States such as Gujarat, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh are 100 per cent electrified, it claims. Goa, Puducherry and Andhra are also part of the list.

A recently retired power ministry official, however, laughs at these figures. “Statistics of households covered are routinely juggled by state governments. There is no organised system of collecting data. They don’t reflect the reality,” he says.

The Telegraph attempted a reality check. Villagers from randomly selected states tell us their experience of living in a “power surplus” country. Punjab is 100 per cent electrified but rural areas don’t have a 24×7 power supply. In Jajja village of Hoshiarpur, villagers suffer power cuts two to four hours every day. A technical fault takes at least a day or two to be fixed. In Bengal, a state with 98.61 per cent electrification, parts of tribal villages on the Indo-Bangla border – south Jamalpur, Naogaon, Akhirapara – remain un-electrified. At Binshira village in Hili block of South Dinajpur, the frequency of loadshedding has gone down but whenever there is a power cut, the state electricity board takes days to address the problem. In Godda district of the BJP-ruled Jharkhand, more than 80 per cent villages are electrified but they don’t get more than four hours of power supply daily. In Nawagarh village, 30 kilometres from the industrial town of Dhanbad, power is available for not more than 14 hours a day. Every summer and every monsoon, gusty winds snap wires or topple transformers leading to outages for weeks, sometimes months. In Semari Dumari village in Bettiah district of Bihar, power supply is impeded at the slightest hint of storm or rain. “Plus, the voltage during the evenings is very low. It is very difficult for children to study in such conditions,” says Tanju Devi, a village social worker. At Hatmulla village of Kupwara in Kashmir, residents get electricity for five hours by day and four hours during evening. Things get worse during the harsh winters.

Rural electrification

This has been an ongoing process for many years. It got a boost in 2005, when the Congress-led UPA government launched the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana. But there were inordinate delays, cost overruns, frequent burnouts due to installation of transformers without adequate capacity and lack of effective monitoring at all levels. In 2015, the scheme was subsumed by the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana.

Over 300 grameen vidyut abhiyantas or GVAs, most of them electrical engineers, have been appointed by the Union power ministry in rural districts of various states to assist state distribution utilities in the electrification of villages. The Telegraph called over 37 telephone numbers of GVAs displayed on the Grameen Vidyutikaran website. About 10-11 went unanswered. Of the 25 people who answered the calls, 10 said they were not associated with the project anymore or have been transferred to another state. Some said, yes, every village in their district was getting electrified, and a handful admitted on conditions of anonymity that electrified villages in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh do not have regular power supply.

Discoms

Questions have been raised about the government’s promise to light up every household by December 2018 even if it “electrifies” them on paper. According to the former power secretary, Anil Razdan, it is not realistic a target. “Power has always been a political subject in our country because it is the state government that decides where to supply and how much,” says Rakesh Nath, former chairman of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA). The CEA advises the government on policy matters and formulates plans for the development of electricity systems.

Barring cities such as Calcutta, Mumbai, Delhi, Agra, Surat and Ahmedabad, where power distribution is privatised, it is the state discoms that buy power through long-term power purchase agreements with central and state-owned generating stations, private generators and the Power Exchange India Limited.

Razdan points out that distribution companies are already grappling with huge aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses – the measure of overall efficiency of the distribution business. It seems large transmission and distribution losses, corruption and subsidies rolled out by state governments to influence the “vote bank” lead to such huge losses in the first place.

For obvious political reasons, state discoms supply electricity at tariffs that are way below the cost of purchase. Plus, losses are incurred due to power theft and defaul- ting consumers.

One of the reasons the rural poor are hesitant to pay is that they often see discrepancies in their bills. “Sometimes, villagers are falsely charged Rs 100 for a month – it is a huge amount for them,” says women’s activist Renuka Ikka. She is referring to residents of Rampur Puthamura village in Nagri block of Chhattisgarh’s Dhamtari district. Tanju Devi adds, “Our village was electrified in 2016 but people are getting bills for 2014.”

Supplying power to rural households is a loss-making proposition for discoms. Pramod Deo, former chairman of the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), says, “The distribution companies buy only as much electricity with which they can meet 80 per cent of the total demand.” The CERC is a key regulator of the power sector.

Solutions

“Discoms should be financially supported to provide supply. This will be needed till there are sufficient paying consumers in rural areas,” says Sreekumar N. of Prayas, a Pune-based non-profit advocacy group which focuses on energy, health and education.

For distributing power to all by 2019, discoms need to bear the expenses for infrastructure – build substations, instal feeders, transformers and meters. But the investment cost has to be recovered through consumer tariffs over the next five years. If a state buys power at Rs 5 per unit, the operation and maintenance of present and additional infrastructure along with repayment of capital expenditure could raise the cost to Rs 9.15 per unit. Keeping the accumulated losses in mind, the cost of supply can go up to Rs 10.65, which is unaffordable for consumers. Besides, it will be politically counterproductive, especially with the elections approaching.

Nath adds, “Discoms prefer to sell the surplus power to the central power exchange instead and that too for at least Rs 6-8 per unit more than the stipulated rate, especially during elections.”

In 2015, the central government launched the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojna (UDAY) scheme to help the loss-making discoms. The losses in some states increased instead as compared to 2016-17. “Things will go worse next year as bijli remains a popular sop of political parties in election year. No one is bothered much about revenue collection,” Deo warns.

According to UDAY, some states have recovered big-time in a span of six months. The AT&C losses in Punjab was 32.63 per cent as on December 2017, but currently, it is at 18.21. Similarly, Jharkhand was at a loss of 39.27 per cent in December 2017, but this has now come down to 31.78 per cent. “As I said, figures are often forged,” reiterates the former power ministry official.

But keeping all the power politics aside, if the government is genuinely keen to light up every household, experts say, it must focus on promoting efficiency, optimum utilisation of generation and transmission capacity, shifting of overhead lines underground – because they are vulnerable to lightning strikes and storms – improvement of storage capacity of substations, laying of new feeders and setting-up of new distribution transformers. It must also monitor the functioning of transformers and generating stations.

“We have been able to meet Delhi’s peak power demand, which touched 6,934 MW on June 8, by taking some of these measures,” says a senior official of BSES, the Reliance-owned discom that supplies power to over 4 million Delhi residents.

Back in Mahagama, Mishra waits for a day when he can actually use the lights and fan at home.

Writer and scholar Purushottam Agrawal talks to Sonia Sarkar about his newest book, Padmavat, and the man behind the original

Some months ago, I was privy to a conversation between an eight-year-old and her mother at a dinner table. They were in awe of the Sanjay Leela Bhansali extravaganza, Padmaavat. What particularly struck me was the little girl’s description of the former ruler of the Delhi Sultanate and the central character of the film, Alauddin Khilji. She said: “Since (Alauddin) Khilji was a Muslim, he was very dirty. He didn’t shower for days.”

I hadn’t seen the film then, but I voiced my objection to this interpretation. I got wondering what horrifying shape such nascent prejudices would assume in the years to come.

Today, sitting across Hindi scholar Purushottam Agrawal at his Delhi home, I repeat this episode. After a patient hearing, the 62-year-old academic and writer says, “Unfortunately, this film contributed to promoting such a feeling.” He is referring to the fetishisation of Islam and the increasing Muslim hatred in a Hindu Right-wing ruled New India.

It is a sultry afternoon. As we discuss politics, history and literature, one of the many kittens gambolling in the room snuggles between my feet. Agrawal and his poet wife, Suman Keshari, are cat lovers. The pets – Badka (he is no more), Brownie, Sotli and Chhutku even find mention in the Author’s Note to Agrawal’s new book, Padmavat: an Epic Love Story.

Once we get past the feline distraction, we are back on topic. Agrawal is telling me about the clichés about Muslims – invaders, devils, power-hungry, treacherous, and as the child said it, unclean – that are propagated in daily life. Knowingly or unknowingly, such clichés were reflected in Bhansali’s commercial flick.

Popular art, these days, Agrawal says, is pandering to existing sentiments. “But art, whether film or poetry or novel, is expected to clear misconceptions or at least problematise the given perceptions.”

That’s exactly what his new book attempts to do. It retells Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic poem, the same that was composed in 1540. “Jayasi’s Alauddin Khalji [Khilji] is not a monster,” writes Agrawal. “His obsession with Padmavati coupled with his intoxication of power leads him to act in an immoral way in this particular context… he is not only a competent ruler but also a king who gives alms to the needy without bothering about their religious identity… Khalji, like any other character in the epic, is a product of his times. He is destined to play a ‘negative role’ in this particular saga but Jayasi is careful not to allow this negativity to overshadow his overall personality.”

Jayasi’s Padmavat, Agrawal says, is a living part of our cultural legacy. The characters are not conceived based on religious backgrounds or ethnic identities. He says, “This is specifically a post-modern problem, you reduce human beings into a certain identity, good or bad. That’s where this understanding is coming from, that Khilji was cruel or violent because he was a Muslim.”

Agrawal is currently a visiting professor at New Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Sciences. His long CV, viewable on his site, establishes his abiding research interests in Bhakti poetry, Kabir, vernacular modernity. His list of publications runs long. His Twitter profile reads – writer, academic and political commentator.

Distorting literary work for political or commercial gains on religious lines is suicidal, the literary critic warns. He continues, “Indian diversity is not just confined to religion; there is diversity in language, eating habits, culture.”

According to Agrawal, Padmavat, composed in the styles of masnawi (Persian tradition), dastan (Persian style of storytelling) and in the metres of doha and choupai – all rhythmic expressions of speech in Indian literature – is considered the peak of vernacular, mostly Awadhi, tradition of prem-aakhayans or love narratives, coming down to Jayasi’s times from the preceding two centuries.

Originally written in Persian script, Jayasi’s Padmavat, a 700-stanza poem, is a love story. Agrawal writes about Jayasi’s work: “Padmavat is a work of creative, imaginative literature woven around an episode in history… Jayasi’s genius has turned the legend of Padmini into real history; in fact, she has become more than real.”

Unfortunately, instead of appreciating the literary genius of the real Padmavat, people paid more attention to Bhansali’s opulent extravaganza either by liking it or opposing it. But the fact is, there is no historical evidence of the existence of Padmini. Before Padmavat, a literary romance called Chhitai Charit had references to Padmini of Chittor. Agrawal says, “Some people believe there was someone called Padmini, some say, no, she was only a poetic creation. We really don’t know. But the point is, one must admire Jayasi’s Padmavat for the beauty of the literary creation and not focus on the violence.

He underlines that when a people try to prove desperately the historicity of a cultural memory, it reflects insecurity. “In your cultural memory, not everything is history,” he stresses. “In this obsession to historicise everything, the sense of history is bound to turn into nonsense of history.”

He talks about what he calls the “pastness of the past”, which, he cautions, one should never forget. The conversation turns to the BJP government’s efforts to erase the Mughals – Babar, Akbar, Aurangzeb, because they were “invaders”. He says, “You cannot go on revenging the excesses of the past. Remember what Gandhi said – ‘an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind’.”

Agrawal’s own book is dedicated to the future – his children, Ritambhara and Ritwik, and their generation. He refers to them as “graduates of the WhatsApp university”. He says, “I wrote this thin book in a conversational style so they can grab a copy and read it.”

Fixing his rectangular glasses firmly on his nose, the clean-shaven writer says, “You know… before the advent of this era of neo-illiteracy, which started 15 years ago with the advent of television channels and social media, people knew about the basics of Padmavat and the greatness of Jayasi.”

But how did Agrawal come to write this book? It happened soon after the controversy over Bhansali’s film – the Karni Sena, a caste group in Rajasthan, ransacked cinema halls for screening the trailer, which they alleged, showed the 13th century Rajput queen, Padmini, in poor light and disrespected Rajput pride. Around this time, his friend and author, Devdutt Patnaik, talked him into writing Padmavat. Patnaik has done the illustrations for the book.

Padmavat has been Agrawal’s favourite text since his postgraduate days at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He writes, “I have been in love with Padmavat, composed by a poetic genius who had no sight in one eye and was hard of hearing in one ear; who was acutely conscious of his ‘ugly appearance’ and… ‘confident of his poetic talent’.”

Agrawal has vividly described Jayasi and his work in his book. He thought it was important to tell the audience about the poet so they had a fair idea of the creative force behind Padmavat. Jayasi’s work was apparently influenced by Ram Katha, Mahabharata, Puranas and also the Nathpanthi tradition and Islamic theology. Nathpanthis are ascetics dedicated to holistic yoga sadhna. Agrawal says, “His hero, Ratnasen, goes to Simhal island in the guise of a Nathpanthi yogi, not as a Sufi fakir. His acquaintance with Hindu traditions and his roots in the everyday life of Awadh determined the choice of his idioms, metaphors and allusions. His knowledge is so deep and rich that it can intimidate many self-appointed guardians of Hinduism.”

The first scholarly edition of Padmavat, he tells us, was by Ramchandra Shukla in 1924, post the Khilafat movement – a campaign led by Indian Muslims against the British to restore the Ottoman Caliphate in Turkey and widely supported by Hindus, too.

“To Shukla, Padmavat was a luminous signpost in the shared search for a pathway to God, where Muslims were willing to listen to the story of Ram and Hindus were ready to hear the dastan of Hamza,” he says.

He holds forth on how Jayasi’s imagination has not been understood by the “modern day” audience. Bhansali’s film also misinterpreted it, he rues. For example, the filmmaker glorified jauhar in his movie.

Agrawal says it would have been foolish on Jayasi’s part not to describe a custom – good or bad – at the appropriate moment. “But it is infinitely more stupid on our part to go back to the mindset of Jayasi’s time and glorify jauhar and sati now.”

But regression defines these times. I point out that the BJP leader from Haryana, Suraj Pal Amu, offered a reward of $1.5million for the beheading of Deepika Padukone, who played Padmavati in Bhansali’s film. “This hatred against women is a psychological and sociological problem,” says Agrawal.

He will delve deeper into “misogyny” in his upcoming book. It will have a chapter on Kabir’s misogynistic writings. Says the writer and Kabir scholar, “I do not follow anyone blindly, not even Kabir.”

A clarification: July 8, 2018.

Jayasi’s Padmavat was written in the Persian script, not Persian (as mentioned in an earlier version of this report).

It is supposed to dispense justice to our aggrieved jawans, serving or retried. Now in the ninth year of its operations, the Armed Forces Tribunal has never quite become what it set out to be. Sonia Sarkar reports

Picture Credit:  Suman Chowdhury

Navy officer P.K. Banerjee joined service in 1984. He was in command of the latest ship of the force, INS Tabar – the first Indian Navy ship deployed for counter piracy patrols off Somalia. His seniors, the initiating officer who was also the fleet commander and the rear admiral, gave him a glowing report. Recommended him for a second sea command, something usually reserved for the best commanding officers. And then, the reviewing officer went ahead and inserted adverse remarks about him in the report, alleges Banerjee. This was 2009. The reviewing officer did not back his comments with evidence. He did not inform Banerjee either. Both things were against Navy protocol. The incident came in the way of his promotion to the rank of rear admiral in May 2012.

Two years later, after his complaints were rejected, first by the chief of naval staff and then by the ministry of defence, he approached the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) in Delhi. In 2015, the bench concluded the arguments and reserved the order. Despite the wait, no judgment was delivered as the judicial member of the AFT retired in 2016. The case was referred to two benches but the matter was not concluded. A third bench heard it only once. A fourth bench took it up afresh in March 2017 and the judgment was finally delivered six months later. It was already three years since Banerjee had first appealed.

Promotions in the navy are based on relative merit and are decided by numerical gradings in the annual confidential report. Says Banerjee, “The tribunal expunged those adverse remarks but avoided expunging the corresponding downgrading of numerical gradings done by the reviewing officer, senior reviewing officer and also by the then chief of naval staff.”

Banerjee’s ordeal is not an isolated one. Lawyers of the defence forces, who routinely take up such cases, talk about the AFT’s by now characteristic apathy towards the grievances of the servicemen.

The AFT has been operational since 2009. It was established with the express purpose of delivering speedy and less expensive justice to defence services personnel across the army, navy and air force. Even former servicemen can appeal before it.

“If a civilian loses a case in a tribunal, he or she has the option to file a case in the high court and then appeal in the Supreme Court. When a soldier loses a case at the AFT, he can only appeal in the Supreme Court,” says Ajit Kakkar, a military advocate and retired wing commander. He adds, “Many jawans hail from remote areas. Coming to Delhi and filing a case in the Supreme Court is not even feasible for them because of time and money constraints.”

But even if those – geography and finances – were to be surmounted, our soldiers, going by the narratives gathered by The Telegraph, find it near impossible to pull along the steep and uncertain trek to AFT justice.

The AFT comes under the defence ministry. The ministry controls its funding, infrastructure and appointments. Currently, the AFT has seven operational benches. There are 12 vacant benches. Some are operational with one judicial or administrative member juggling. The number of pending cases as on June 27, 2018, was 11,000. “We are still managing,” says an AFT member on condition of anonymity.

Each bench should have one administrative member and one judicial member. It has been alleged that the defence ministry has not been proactive enough in making these appointments.

“Appointments approved by the selection committee in April 2017 for judicial members were notified by the ministry only in February,” says advocate Rajiv Manglik, who fights cases for defence personnel. The Telegraph tried to get in touch with the ministry of defence to understand the reason for the delay, but all emails went unanswered.

Major General Satbir Singh, the same who led the ex-servicemen’s campaign for one-rank-one-pension, also known as Orop, shares his diagnosis: “Getting justice from a body that runs under the defence ministry looks impossible.” He recommends that for it to function efficiently, the AFT should come under the law ministry. He says, “If it is kept under the defence ministry, no orders will be implemented because the ministry will never bow before servicemen.”

Air Commodore K.K. Budhwar was awarded the Vir Chakra and the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal for distinguished service in the Indo-Pak War of 1971. He was entitled to land or a cash award in lieu of the allotted land.

The decorations might come from the government of India, but the land or cash settlement is the responsibility of the domicile state of the awardee.

The Himachal Pradesh government refused to honour the award terms on the ground that at the time Budhwar was granted it, he was not a bona fide resident of the state. The Delhi government also withheld any award citing the domicile of the petitioner at the time of joining the Indian Air Force.

The 85-year-old Budhwar approached the AFT in 2015. The tribunal issued a notice to the defence secretary to resolve the issue. That same year, the Delhi government was asked to grant the cash award. In October 2017, the AFT directed the respondents (the Delhi government and the ministry of defence) to calculate the interest on the promised sum – Rs 25,000 – at the rate of 9 per cent per annum beginning 1972 to the date of actual payment. The settlement was to be made within three months.

According to Kakkar, who is the military counsel of Budhwar, the money is yet to be paid. He says, “We have filed an execution at the AFT asking why its last order was not executed. He is 85 now, stays at an old-age home. He had fought the war for the nation. Now he has to fight for his rights. If he dies without getting his due, he will not forgive this nation and its leaders.”

What happened with Budhwar is rather common, it seems. The AFT decrees, but the ministry of defence or the headquarters of navy or air force or army hedge.

For example, this January, the AFT asked the ministry of defence to correct anomalies in the retirement age of colonels and bring them on a par with similar ranks in the air force and navy. But the central government rejected it in May.

In 2016, the AFT granted non-functional upgrade (NFU) to all armed forces officers along the lines of the Sixth Pay Commission. NFU had been implemented in 2008. The idea was to ensure IAS officers and other Group A officers were guaranteed the same pay scale as the highest promoted officer of their batch even if they were not promoted. Earlier, the armed forces were not included in it.

But the next year, the Centre moved the Supreme Court saying the armed forces are not categorised as Group A services, to which NFU is applicable.

“When we urged the Supreme Court for an early hearing of the case, the bench observed that we must go to the AFT for the remedy. The AFT, on the other hand, said it cannot do anything because the matter is in the Supreme Court. This clearly shows the apathy of the tribunal towards servicemen,” says advocate Manglik, who is fighting this case, on behalf of Colonel Mukul Dev.

The AFT continues to shrug off its responsibilities saying it doesn’t have the powers to prosecute anyone for criminal contempt. This basically means no action can be taken against the ministry or any of the service headquarters.

In 2012, the Armed Forces Tribunal (Amendment) Bill was introduced to grant the AFT the authority to exercise powers of civil contempt, which basically meant it could now hold the ministry of defence and the armed forces headquarters accountable for not implementing its orders. But that bill was never passed.

In 2010, however, the Kerala High Court observed, “It is the duty of the AFT to execute its orders by initiating coercive proceedings and the petitioner has the freedom to file a contempt application before the AFT.”

The Telegraph repeatedly tried to get in touch with the AFT, sending it a detailed questionnaire basis these allegations. It has been more than 14 weeks since then, we are yet to receive a reply.

The AFT is a toothless tiger,” remarks P.K. Banerjee. “In my case, it played to the requirements of the Naval headquarters; it simply overlooked the gross illegalities,” he alleges in no uncertain terms.

And to think Prime Minister Narendra Modi never tires of invoking the jawan at the drop of a hat. Tired of standing in ATM queues? Think of the jawans who stand vigil at the borders. Kicking up a fuss over students’ rights? Think of the jawans. Diwali celebrations? At the border, with the jawans.

Rajiv Manglik, who has been fighting many cases for defence petitioners at the AFT, says, “Remember, posturing is for the votebank. Even a shopkeeper would keep the best things on display. And defence personnel are treated as display items. In reality, the Centre treats jawans as bonded labourers and there is no tool of strike for these soldiers.”

(https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/armed-forcestribulations-241397)

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