Thursday, May 13, 2010


Hansan T K

The high flying industrialist and Congress M.P from Kurushektra supporting Khap Panchat was not surprising. For without the tacit support of mainstream political Parties and its leaders, the open activities of such bodies like Khap Panchayat, in effect, challenging the law of the land and our judicial system, could not sustain. In a country where social status and economic relations are still deep rooted in feudal values, caste plays an important role even in the political sphere.

Since most of these caste communities behave under a ‘herd psyche’, it becomes easy for their leaders to goad them en-masse to the political destinations they wish. Hence politicians vie to garner the support of the caste leaders. In a State like Haryana where ‘Jats’ constitute about 30% of the total population, their support become the main factor in deciding the fate of political parties in elections. INLD leader, Om Prakash Chautala plunging in to the situation declaring
support to the Khap panchayats proclaiming its legitimacy was an open act to consolidate and expand his base among the jat community. The prolonged silence of the incumbent Chief Minister and the inaction of the State machinery against the perpetrators of the barbaric acts of ‘honour killings’ should also to be viewed in this light. Naveen Jindal, well educated and exposed to modern civilizations and cultures may not be accepting the retrograde values the Khap Panchayat trying to uphold. But, since he is donning the role of a politician he might be compelled to take the present stand considering the ground realities in his constituency.

It is time the civil society and the democratic polity to take a serious note on the issues thrown open by the situation. How the over assertion of caste groups and caste and religion based politics dent the secular-democratic political fabric of the country. When talk about caste politics, we immediately are drawn to the post Mandal scenario when the lower castes and intermediary castes emerged as leading political forces in various States. Mayavati and Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP and Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar. However, if you just confine to the view that resurgence of hitherto subservient caste groups in the post Mandal period is the only reason for caste assertion; we would be overlooking the wider reality in the country. The rein of Indian politics, with few exceptions, has always been in the hands of the upper caste sections and the other caste groups basically were playing a subservient role. The emergence of political forces centred on casts, particularly lower castes helped boost their self respect and increase in self confidence. This has ensured their active participation in the democratic process and setting pace for a new social engineering. However lack of proper socio-economic perspective and without practicing inner democratic processes within the organization these organizations are becoming fiefdoms of its leadership and their families posing questions on its future relevance and importance.

All major political parties in the country including those who boost of their secular credentials conveniently use religions and castes for their electoral prospects. Candidates are chosen not on merit on the basis of their track record of social service or social commitment but on the basis of religious/caste credentials conforming to the dominant groups in the given constituency. Political leadership and their candidates are seen running after the religious and caste leaders praying for their blessings in order to ensure the votes of their followers. This unwarranted mixing of politics with religion and caste embolden the religious and caste leaders to extract benefits when those political parties come into power with their support. It also ensures that the feudalistic character of the society remain intact insulated from attempts of reform from within the community or from outside. The government machinery will ensure not to intervene even when it violates individual freedom enshrined in the constitution.

There are hundreds of casts and sub-casts within Hinduism and they all practice different caste and religious customs. However, each of such groups if allowed to run parallel judicial and governing systems according to their customs and choice, it would lead to chaos in the country. It is nobody’s problem if a member of the community abides by the rules set by the Khap panchayat in her/his marriage. But it definitely becomes a problem when two individuals decides to marry each other and being forcefully prevented or even get killed and their families ostracized in case they go ahead with their decision to marry. Here it is the duty of the government establishment to ensure the safety of the targeted people. However, the government fail to fulfill their constitutional obligations for the fear of risking the ire of such strong caste groups. And this politics of convenience is the major reason for most of the social evils still prevailing in the country. Political parties also have a responsibility to act as a reformist force to take the society forward. On the contrary in India it is the major political parties in fact helping the communities to remain enchained to the past, feudalistic retrograde values. Hence we still discuss the Khap panchat even in the age of 21st Century.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Who's World Class City

By the time the Common Wealth Games begins, Delhi would have a totally changed look. It would have further widened roads with beautifully designed tiled foot paths. There are new fly-overs under construction at various points to make the flow of traffic uninterrupted. New well laid out parks would add to the city's beauty. The metro rail net work will cover most part of the city including an express way corridor connecting Airport. The sleek low floor A/C and Non A/C buses would provide a new look to the road traffic. The makeover is aimed to make the city a world class one. Going by the preparations, it is sure, Delhi would soon become a world class city. Enormous amount of money has been pumped in by the government. Lion's part of the annual budget has been earmarked for the preparations of the games in Delhi. However, there are apprehensions who will inherit the world class city once the games are over. Who will be allowed to live in this world class city, rather, who can afford to live in Delhi?
Delhi is already the metropolitan city where cost of living is at the highest in the country. The escalating prices of essential commodities, especially of food items, made the life miserable even for the middle class sections. Though price hike is felt across the country, Delhiites suffer more than the people in any other state, as there is no proper mechanism evolved by the government to intervene in the market or to effectively check hoarding etc. For example, in Kerala, the southernmost State of India, Tur Dal was selling at Rs.35-00 while at the same period the price of the same product was between Rs.90-00 to Rs.100-00 in Delhi. Kerala is a food deficit State and totally depends on other States for its procurement of food commodities. The State Government could arrest the spiralling prices to certain extent by ensuring distribution of pulses and cereals through Public Distribution System. However, instead of taking steps to curb price hike, the Delhi government in its last Budget increased tax on almost everything. The VAT was increased from 12.5% to 20% that would further increase in the prices of all commodities in the city. Subsidy on the Gas cylinder was withdrawn and CNG was brought under VAT that was excluded previously. The ticket charges of DTC were increased by 50% and Delhi Metro too substantially increased their charges. The government justifies the additional levies on the requirement of funds towards infrastructure development for the forthcoming Common Wealth Games. A game at the expenses of the life of common people!
Now the government is talking about increasing the tariff of electricity keeping in abeyance the suggestion of the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission to slash the tariff in view of the surplus profit the private distribution companies made after the privatisation of power sector in the State. But the State Government stand is dubious, as it only helps the private profiteers. Any elected government's primordial duty is to protect the interest of the people who elected them to power. The chief Minister declared that the people of Delhi are rich enough to pay any increase in the power tariff. The message is clear, she dreams of a 'World Class City' inhabited by world class people, the wealthy who can afford its high living costs, cleansed off the poor.
The Chief Minister and former Mayor of Delhi made public their displeasure on the increasing number of migrants in the city that they rued for the worsening civic conditions. These political leaders forget that migration from the poor rural areas is a creation of themselves. A result of the uneven development pattern where some pockets are pampered while neglecting other areas. This has indeed created unrest among sections and vested interests try to ecploit the situation to their narrow political interests. Raj Thackray's MNS and Shiv Sena built their political fiefdom raising tirade against the migrants. If the target was the South Indians in the 60s, it is now the migrants from Bihar and UP in Mumbai. However, owing to political compulsions, Shiela Dixit or the National parties like Congress and BJP cannot take an open stand like the MNS or Shiv Sena. But there are more novel ideas to chase away the poor, particularly the migrant labourers.
Migrants are the worst affected by the high living costs as they are lowest paid and without a dwelling place of their own. The rents of the houses are also subjected to periodical upward hike. Going by the current rate of increase in the cost of living in Delhi, it would soon become impossible for large sections of poor people to sustain, forcing them to return to the places they came from. Thus the 'World Class City' may be cleansed of the poor, leaving it exclusively for the use of the moneyed 'World Class Citizens'.