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The people who died today taught us a very important lesson that its not only our job to remind our elected officials of their responsibilities but also see to it that, they actually do the work.

Name changes v.s. Foot Over Bridge construction

Unknowingly, Sachin Tendulkar, asked the most important question in Rajya Sabha under the circumstances - He raised a question in 2016 about the status of Foot Over Bridge (FoB) at the  Elphinstone railway station.

In response, the ministry stated that the work was sanctioned in 2016 and unfortunately, as we now know, nothing much happened. This is despite the umpteen number of tweets, letters and other forms of communication (pictures and tweets in the blog) , where the commuters had raised serious concerns about the imminent dangers.

On the other hand, the Maharashtra state assembly passed a resolution to change Elphinstone station to Prabhadevi in Dec 2016, which was approved by the center in April 2017. According to the news sources, the name change was to take effect in Sep 2017.

While the ministry was quick to announce the compensation for the kith and kin of the deceased and those seriously injured, it was anything but quick to begin the sanctioned work.

Below is a list of tweets sent to the authorites forewarning the imminent threat to their lives

This article about the Maratha Kranti Morcha  was published in 2016. It remains as valid today, as Maratha Morcha Mumbai shows power on the streets.

The gigantic Maratha rallies in Maharashtra have flummoxed everyone. Neither the politicians nor the media know what to make of them.

Unprecedented crowds thronged the Pune Maratha Kranti Morcha on 25th September 2016. Even if the claims of 25 lacs are exaggerated, it is undoubtedly the largest gathering Pune has seen. In each city the Maratha Kranti Morcha is breaking records with their numbers. But that’s not the only thing unique about the Maratha Morcha.

The most amazing thing is that it is a silent, peaceful protest, no speeches, no slogans. No wait, the most amazing thing is that it is led by 5 unknown girls who present the charter of demands at the end. In a country that believes one always needs a popular face to ensure success in any field – politics, or andolans, or Bollywood, or sports, the most amazing thing really is that no one knows who the leaders are.

Another really amazing aspect is that any political leader or public figure who tries to hijack the Morcha is respectfully shown the figurative door. Basically it is a movement that on every count has left the people amazed.

Marathas are approximately 35% of the state population and are considered to be the ruling class. Almost every state assembly has had 60% to 70% dominance of Marathas since decades. They are also the land owning class. The Marathas dominate the state’s economy as they control the cooperative sector which runs everything from banks, to credit societies, to agriculture markets, to cotton and sugar mills. This power is concentrated in the hands of the few – some even claim that all cooperatives in the state are owned by less than 200 Maratha families.

Shrewd Maratha Congressmen of yore replaced the old zamindaari system with a modern one – the Maratha strongman in every area joined politics and became an Aamdaar (MLA) or Khaasdaar  (MP). They used every trick in the book, nay, they wrote the book, on how to scam and acquire control of government and public lands.

These guys also became contractors, directly or through family members, and they won all government contracts making truckloads of money through corrupt practices. These same politicos floated and controlled cooperatives in every possible area that touched the lives of people – banks, mills, markets. They entered every business that people depend upon – education to transport to power generation. Today these few political families have a stranglehold on the state, and most of them are Marathas. So why then the protest? Because this power class has no connect with the Maratha masses.

The majority of the 35% of Marathas are tillers of small parcels of lands, they are the poor of Maharashtra whose livelihood is held to ransom by everything – from the weather to the rich ruling class. The Maratha Kranti Morchas are not just demanding reservations – they are demanding the right to survive.

Farmer Issues

Most of the Marathas are ordinary farmers. They are disconnected from the ruling class who has scammed every single resource of the state. Almost all farmer suicides were Marathas. Most farmers in the state had joined the Shetkari Sanghatana as there was a palpable need for organized protest. With the decline of the Shetkari Sanghatana’s various factions, these farmers who were left without any direction have now come together under the Maratha banner, and their issues remain agrarian. The BJP government has failed to make a single constructive step against the anti-farmer policies of the former UPA government – no security of MSP, crop insurance is a farce, and there is no move towards implementing Swaminathan Commission recommendations. Essentially the Maratha protest is a farmer’s protest since their needs have been neglected by every single political party in the State today.

Education

Today farming is not a viable career – its only 11% of the GDP even though 60% of the population works on it. Hence the farmers want alternate careers for their children but the stumbling block here is education. In a bid to promote privatized education for its cronies, Maharashtra politicians have completely neglected public education. The Marathas feel in the race for seats in the few government institutions they are at the losing end due to reservation – and hence the demand for reservation. The solution to this issue is not just reservation – it is vast investment in education infrastructure and making education accessible to the last man. However, the BJP government, just like its predecessor the UPA, does not have education on its agenda – from ‘anganwaadis’ to Universities there is unprecedented corruptionand there is not even an attempt being made to enhance the number of schools and colleges.

Law & Order

There is a breakdown of law and order in the state today and Kopardi is a flashpoint. I visited the victim’s family immediately after the incident and met the villagers. Both Maratha and Dalit members agreed that culprits should be dealt with severely and swiftly and no one felt that caste had any role to play in this most heinous crime witnessed in Maharashtra in recent times. What this incident really showed was the total absence of fear of law in Maharashtra today – the police is viewed as incompetent and corrupt and the government is seen as being unconcerned with justice. Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, commonly known as the Atrocity Act is indeed being misused to frame people – but so are a number of other acts. The misuse of a law does not reflect on the validity of the law, it reflects on the Government that is closing its eyes to the misuse.

Just a few weeks back a journalist in Osmanabad was falsely framed under the atrocity act and despite appeals to the Chief Minister who looks at the Home portfolio, there was no response. If the Home Department fails to act against the corruption or inefficiency or excesses of the police, we have to admit law and order in the state has collapsed. There are almost weekly acts of serious atrocities against Dalits in Maharashtra, and there is a need to protect them so there is no question of doing away with this act. What needs to be addressed is vacuum in the Home Department where the common man cannot appeal against the false and fabricated cases or the wrongdoings and failures of the State Police.

So the Maratha Kranti Morcha, in my view is amazing because it is a fight for survival in a failed state that has ignored the farmers, the students and the victims of growing crimes. There is a dis-enchantment with all political parties today – the incompetent Congress has been replaced by the incompetent BJP and corrupt NCP has been replaced by the corrupt ShivSena and the rest of the traditional parties like RPI and MNS are merely small time opportunists. Since the Maratha Morcha has steered clear of all political parties and focused on issue based demands it has received this unprecedented support.

At the end of the day however, in this deeply caste based society it is a Maratha protest and it is knocking on the doors of Devendra Fadanvis,  a Brahmin Chief Minister in a state whose politics have been  dominated by Marathas, Dhangars, Malis and Vanjaras.

 

This post was originally published here.

3

I think Sachin Tendulkar's Bharat Ratna is a milestone in Indian history. A time when the Indian government has finally stopped its politics of denial and stood up for what it stands for. It is a feeling of great relief, verging on euphoria. A clear statement that the government respects most those who fleece the country and ignore its laws. This is a beginning, in spite of the national shame. A beginning of being truthful, if not acting in the best interest of the country.

This post is not about Sachin Tendulkar, the cricketer. It is about the Sachin Tendulkar who casually took the country for granted. Over and over. It was probably his only real qualification for Rajya Sabha.

A serial tax evader, Sachin Tendulkar got the Bharat Ratna this year.
A serial tax evader, Sachin Tendulkar got the Bharat Ratna this year.

The Bharat Ratna is a farce. A farce perpetuated at the cost of the dignity of this country. A clear statement that Sachin Tendulkar may deliberately evade custom duty on a gift Ferrari that he later sells for profit. Sachin Tendulkar may register his car in Navi Mumbai where he doesn't live to save the higher tax of Mumbai - a measly 4.5 lakh more on a BMW M5 mega luxury car. Sachin Tendulkar may disown that profession he is getting the Bharat Ratna for, by calling the endorsements because of it "acting" to avoid paying taxes. And Sachin Tendulkar will get the highest honor in the country for becoming famous for a career that paid him well, and rewarded him aplenty in any case.

This has to be worth some mega recognition in a country where the finance minister expresses regret in a budget speech that the country has only 42,800 people with taable income more than a crore. Bharat Ratna for sure. Never mind the cricket, it should be for creative accounting.

Sachin Tendulkar may casually see himself over legal procedures like obtaining an occupation certificate for your home before doing a puja in it and prevent queries under the RTI about it. Or inaugurate an elite Mumbai Cricket Association club named after him, built on leased land beyond permissible limits, ignoring plea after plea by activists to refuse, because it was built on land that should have been a playground for local children. Or perhaps local kids need a bar, restaurant and card rooms? At least the lack of occupation certificate was consistent. Probably embarrassing to look like he had to wait for it like common people.

The highest honor of the country conferred on someone who repeatedly violated it for grandeur or profit. And this is after decades of completely legal opportunity to amass money, honor and mega lucrative advertizing contracts by playing in India's name. Some days it seems there is no end to the humiliation this Bharat mata must endure at the hand of her rogue children.

Sachin Tendulkar is perhaps representative of the ordinary entitled elite who see having plenty as the reason to feel entitled to even more. The rogue children are those who add insult to injury by conferring the nation's highest honor with such little regard for the nation's honor.

2

Dear Arvind,

I have been following the IAC movement and then AAP with much interest and I think you have something important going on.

I have promised to speak in support of AAP till the Delhi Elections to help counter the nonsense being unfairly thrown at you by the BJP and Congress, and it has been a fascinating experience thus far.

Wanted to share my concern about efforts to derail the impact of your campaign and I think that Anna Hazare is best left in AAP's past.

I understand you respect him a lot and I do too, for his strengths, which do not include politics, strategy or accounts. I believe that Anna will become as big a distraction as you let him become and it adds nothing of value to the people whose votes you want to influence with the elections looming. Delhi has moved on from Anna and even when they were paying attention to him, he never was a problem they faced that they needed solved.

There have been questions about IAC funds, which you have answered. Raising them repeatedly does nothing to add value. People who genuinely want to know can google. Or perhaps you can add a button to the AAP website saying "If you're here to find out what happened to IAC funds, click here", and they can go to a page with a text statement and a video of you answering (for those who can't read). To spend your election campaign time on something that keeps coming up without registering previous answers is time taken away from raising issues that will influence your election outcomes.

The questions will keep coming from all directions. Staying on track will only be your headache.

[Tweet "Move forward with purpose, not defensive reactions."]

This is how the JanLokpal andolan was derailed. One minute all was going well, the next minute you guys were giving interviews and opinions on anything anyone asked. I even remember seeing Anna on a children's talent show where little girls danced in skimpy clothes under his approving eye. The intensity of the movement died. Just like that.

You can't afford to get derailed right now. You've made promises that you must keep, you've raised funds you must show results for.

I would suggest that you keep your personal relationship with Anna personal. If he writes you a letter, no reason why you can't write back to him instead of carving time out of your TV presence on subjects like inflation, electricity costs, corruption, water and so on.

[Tweet "If Anna writes you a letter, no reason why you can't write back to him instead of replying on TV"]

BJP/Congress will make a ruckus if you don't answer, your followers say. Well, BJP can write you a letter and get a reply too, or use their air time to ask you questions officially instead of baiting people into baiting you.

The questions have not changed, nor have your answers, so people can just go and look at previous answers instead of wasting campaign time on repetition.

Frankly, BJP (read) and Congress(read)  opening their mouth about your funds is only going to result in support for you, so I have no idea why you should even avoid it.

If you have offered to send IAC funds to Anna and he has refused it, he should be asked to take a concrete stand soon, failing which you do something specific with it - final, or it just remains a PR bomb kept hanging on your head deliberately.

Updated: Another thing Anna has to understand that accountability cannot be one way. If his supporters are throwing ink on you, he has no business asking polite replies from you. If that person is not his supporter, Anna should disown him publicly and let the man's identity remain what he claims himself. A BJP supporter. I fail to see why you must not ask for some responsible behavior in turn and let him be known for his stand - whatever it is.

I know you are a good strategist. I'm a good people watcher who spots patterns, and I see these things that may not be visible from up close. This is a contribution for you to use or leave as you find useful in your leadership of the party.

Sincerely,

Vidyut

6

Bal Thackeray died yesterday, and all hell broke loose among the polarized opinions. Some respected him for what he did. Others saw him as a fascist. There was very little overlap if any. In my eyes, mass leaders like Balasaheb Thackeray cannot be viewed in isolation from the masses. While it is undeniable that the Shiv Sena held and continues to hold the city hostage with brute force, while it cannot be denied that there have been hideous attacks on outsiders and Muslims, the question really becomes one of trying to understand what is really happening here.

When a politician can use a regional identity and build such formidable politics around it that almost no public figure is seen criticizing him in death, the matter isn't one of political disagreement, but a question of what drives a sizable part of the population to ideologies that the rest see as unacceptable. If the country is to be whole, there has to be an attempt to include interests of all.

Bal Thackeray and his divisive politics can be dismissed as beneath our attention. However, isn't this a story that keeps repeating countrywide in various ways across the political spectrum? We see the high success of religious identity politics with parties like the MIM. We see far more xenophobic politics in the name of region among the Kashmiris or Bodos. We see the narrative of the rights of the local people echoed in political orientations as far left as the Maoists.

We could choose to fixate on the unacceptability of a person and refuse legitimacy to views of a significant part of the population, or we could choose to see what it means to India as a whole if such divisive politics consistently finds popular support.

A common factor I find is disenfranchisement. It is less about the desire for superiority and more about the desire for identity to be respected. When we speak of the Marathi Manoos rallying behind Shiv Sena, we could dismiss them as Facists. All of them. And accept that a significant part of the country has interests in bringing fascists to power. Then we fight a perpetual ideological war. Or we could choose to see what the hurt is and see if there are ways it can be fixed to avoid driving people to violent ideologies. This is not about adopting divisive politics, but in identifying the problems being addressed by it to see if more functional solutions that don't divide people are possible that satisfy the needs perceived by the people, or remove the needs in other ways.

A common factor in all these narratives seems to be a state that will not listen leading to people who think they need to take matters in their own hands if their interests are to survive. These are invariably people without a mainstream voice. What is the Kashmiri who keeps saying that India is trying to colonize Kashmir really saying? What is happening to his identity? What does it mean when a Bodo comes to the point of massacring outsiders (Muslims this time)? What does it mean that thousands of people stand accused of sedition for daring to refuse a nuclear plant? What does it mean when a Marathi Manoos speaks of Balasaheb Thackeray saving the "Marathi Asmita" in a time when Marathis were ridiculed as "ghatis"?

The rest are just the frills. It matters little if Balasaheb Thackeray saved the Sikhs or Kashmiri Pandits. Those are being presented as evidence of his being "good", but what really got people rallying behind him? They felt that their identity was being bolstered by powerful stands he made. Today, the Marathi manoos often lives in an overwhelming perception of his culture and identity being marginalized. Particularly those who don't have access to this "modern" India being built around them. Whether factually correct or not, it is experientially true. A person who grew up in the shadow of middle class parents working hard and buying their own home cannot dream of doing the same. This is inflation, but a new class of rich people makes it seem like odds are stacked against him (which they are too). Massive growth in media and muli national industries have resulted in a new class of affluent people who idolize influences that increasingly exclude Maharashtrian ones. It isn't only about missing influences but about them being inferior.

Marathi accents in Hindi or English are perceived as less refined. Marathi heroes are possible only if sanitized to a generic north Indian image. In the city with the most national media being made, the "average" person portrayed is never Marathi unless it is made in the Marathi language. A job as a peon too needs fluency in Hindi and/or English. It is not just a matter of jobs, but one of identity being perceived as declared inferior to that of "outsiders"

We  can debate the "good man, bad man" thing till the end of time, but the bottom line is that the Marathi person sees much needed enforcing of respect for the identity of "real inhabitants" in symbolic things like Marathi signboards or insistence on Marathi films being played in theaters. And it isn't perfect, but it feels good. It feels like their existence is valued. As a Sena supporter said recently on the hype about the Biharis "Here Gujjus are owning Mumbai, driving up prices till Marathis are selling and moving to cheaper places, and we are objecting to people doing labor that helps the city run?" The point is that the Marathi Manoos isn't fooled by the xenophobia. They aren't fooled by the selective standards. But they want whatever affirmation of their identity possible.

The question really becomes one of why this kind of disenfranchisement happens. Why do things reach such a point where a template of "Indian" takes over unique identities and compounds it by calling a generic rootlessness the ideal? Why does this ideal deny any special bonds between people and their homeland? What is achieved by denying these fundamental identities? Why is the "greater good" at the cost of those being harmed by it? Who do we cater to, by upholding the rights of those with resources to pick the best opportunities everywhere to do it regardless of cost to local sentiments?

For that matter, in a country perpetually outraging over sentiments, how is it that the violated sentiments of tribals, Kashmiris, Bodos, Marathis, Kudankulam locals, and such people invaded by the larger good don't find validation? A little contemplation shows that it boils down to power - muscle or money. Have money, reach opportunity. Have muscle, influence opinion. Have money, take over the economic capital of the country.

In my view, the real thought on Balasaheb Thackeray's death does not need to be if he was right or wrong, but what is it that he provided that the supposed rule of law and democracy deprived his supporters of. What is it that we as a country are ignoring? Why are we not able to listen to people?