#India-Will you really get cheaper medicines?

RAJ PRADHAN | 23/11/2012 06:26 PM |   Moneylife.com

The government’s decision for simple average of market-based pricing for 348 drugs is simply a whitewash, according to many activists who were hoping for cost-based pricing. There may be marginal reduction in some medicine prices, but it legitimises overpricing of life saving drugs
After a delay of seven long years to decide on a comprehensive drug pricing policy, the Group of Ministers (GoM) has decided in favour of simple average Market Based Pricing (MBP) policy for price fixation of 348 essential drugs ostensibly to reduce drug prices. While drug companies may declare that it will impact their profit margins for some drugs, they must have sighed a relief that cost-based model is scrapped. MBP will legitimise overpricing of life-saving drugs.
At present, the government through the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) controls prices of 74 bulk drugs and their formulations through cost-based pricing. What happens to it? Dr Chandra M Gulhati, editor, Monthly Index of Medical Specialities (MIMS) says, “74 drugs under cost-based DPCO (Drug Price Control Order) will shift to the new policy (MBP) with substantial increase in prices.”
This new formula will fix the ceiling prices of medicines by calculating simple average of prices of brands of medicine having more than 1% share. This is a clear ploy to minimize the reduction in drug prices, to allow pharmaceutical companies to continue to charge inordinately high prices for their products. The complete divergence between the manufacturing costs of medicines and their present market prices (in case of those not presently under price control) has been widely documented.
The table below also shows that using simple average instead of weighted average (which was proposed) is hardly beneficial to patient.

Drug    Disease Market Based Pricing   (Weighted Average) Market Based Pricing  (Simple Average) Cost Based  Pricing
Metformin Diabetes Rs33 Rs35 Rs14
Atorvastatin High blood cholesterol Rs142 Rs127 Rs17
Atenolol High Blood pressure Rs51 Rs38.5 Rs8

Source: Jan Swasthya Abhiyan
The new policy allows a leeway for 10% p.a. increase in the prices of 348 drugs. According to Dr Gulhati, “There are about 900 total medicines. The price regulation will cover 348 drugs. There will be lots of opportunity to shift from regulated to unregulated drugs. 10% increase annual increase can mean adding Rs630 crore every year to total sales.”
According to S Srinivasan, managing trustee, LOCOST (Low Cost Standard Therapeutics), “The new drug policy is simplistic, still legitimates overpricing and full of loopholes.”
It may be recalled that responding to a petition by the All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), the Supreme Court in 2003, had directed the government to devise a policy which would ensure that essential medicines are available at costs that ordinary people can afford. Further, the Supreme Court—while hearing arguments on this writ petition—had recently opined that the government should continue to use the cost-based formula for price fixation of 348 essential drugs.
JSA (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan—Peoples Health Movement—India) contends that though policymaking is the prerogative of the executive, the Supreme Court has acted well within its constitutional mandate in directing the government to take a policy which would stop the denial of the human rights of millions of Indian people. According to JSA, “As reported in the press, the Additional Solicitor General has reportedly advised the government that it need not follow the Supreme Court’s   suggestion to follow cost-based pricing under the pretext that policy making is the executive’s prerogative.”
JSA contends that Supreme Court’s suggestion is to protect human rights of citizens and ignoring it shows the disrespect for the Supreme Court’s attempt to protect right to life enshrined in the constitution; it’s tantamount to contempt of the SC.
According to Dr Anant Phadke of JSA, “We are hoping that at the next SC hearing on 27 Nov 2012, there may be something positive that will force the Government to rethink.”
The Jan Swasthya Abhiyan demands that

1)  The government should heed the Supreme Court’s opinion and impose price control on all 348 essential drugs and their derivatives, using the existing cost-based formula for price fixation.
2)  All escape routes used to wriggle out of the price regulation must be plugged. Thus all dosage forms of all 348 essential medicines and all fixed dose combinations of these medicines must be brought under price-control; (all irrational fixed dose combinations should be banned.) Otherwise in practice, the price regulation would be largely nullified.
3)  The government should immediately set up a committee of experts to list crucial medicines that—a) have been left out of the current list of essential medicines and   b) have been included in the essential drug lists of states but which are not currently included in the NLEM (National List of Essential Medicines).


Conversation flows, ideas don’t

T. M. KRISHNA, The Hindu

  • FORGETTABLE QUOTES: Economics finally decides even the basic format of discourse. Such events are thus no different from anything else that we consume.
    PTIFORGETTABLE QUOTES: Economics finally decides even the basic format of discourse. Such events are thus no different from anything else that we consume.
  • FORGETTABLE QUOTES: Economics finally decides even the basic format of discourse. Such events are thus no different from anything else that we consume. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt
    FORGETTABLE QUOTES: Economics finally decides even the basic format of discourse. Such events are thus no different from anything else that we consume. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Conclaves, all the fashion now, are no brainstorming sessions as they consciously exclude the very people they discuss — the aam aadmi

Almost every leading newspaper and magazine in India these days seems to think it is necessary to organise an “intellectual” event. They call these events summits, conclaves or conferences. The organisers project these events so as to appear on the side of “thought” or “ideas,” as if seeking credibility and justification for their existence. But these gatherings are nowhere close to the brainstorming sessions they are cracked up to be. Basically, they are huge “talking” extravaganzas in which every participant is a performer before an audience, and like any other performer, craves its approval. To hand it to them, the performances are quite extraordinary, and those who anchor them are equally skilled in the art.

Speakers are drawn from politics, cricket, Bollywood and a variety of other arenas, not to forget the smattering of international personalities, without which no conclave is considered worth its salt. Of course the activist who is the flavour of the season has to be included and given a prime spot, so that the social-political-cultural spectrum is covered. We also need to bring in the gossip and romance, which is provided by at least one well-known Bollywood star. If his or her film is being released at the same time, it is only a coincidence. The audience consists of the usual suspects from politics, bureaucracy and media, with some socialites in tow; among them will be those who can ask intelligent questions, playing to the script, to bring out the best performance from the lead characters. Everyone looks serious. The clothes are appropriate. Nobody is overdressed such that the event is misconstrued as a social gathering. But everyone is still distinctive enough to be noticed. So what we have is a well-scripted film with abundant funding, which also exudes a sense of social responsibility.

Why are such events needed? This basic question must be answered to assess their efficacy. Presumably, the concept is to provide a platform where thoughts are expressed, initiated, exchanged and discussed, leading to some kind of ideation. If so, such events must leave us with perspectives that are incisive and important.

Question of integrity

But what are the speakers saying? Nothing new, nothing thought-provoking, nothing that changes your life, or even makes you think about life. It’s nothing. It’s just talk — yes, loaded with wit, drama, controversy and intrigue, but beyond that, nothing. Content, if it is present, is often lost; if there is one speaker who brings out an important issue and deals with it seriously, it is but an accident.

Let’s not forget that a lot of money is involved in these events. Why should we care so long as it is private money? But we should, as these are the same institutions that question the way public money is being spent. When such questions are being raised, every citizen has a right to question private practice too. Huge corporate houses back many such events and some speakers are chosen due to the financial support available for them, bringing into question even the basic integrity of such events. Are thoughts being manipulated? Are speakers succumbing to corporate pressure? These are serious ethical issues that need to be addressed.

I wonder why there cannot be a televised conclave with the same aam aadmi that the politicians, bureaucrats and media houses love to talk about. Perhaps they are not intelligent enough to add to or receive the wisdom that is being purveyed at these events. The aam aadmi seems to have only two roles: to make a noise about the issues that hurt him most and provide a foundation for a discourse at a summit by the chosen people; and, to cast a vote that gives the same people an opportunity to continue to be a part of the discourse.

This way we can conveniently forget the person on whom most of these discourses are based. But if anyone needs to speak and talk about real issues, it is this aam aadmi. I haven’t seen a single event — excluding award ceremonies or political events — organised by the power houses where the speakers as well as the audience consist of this section of society. Such a summit would not sell. Economics finally decides even the basic format of discourse. We need television to partner such events, but it won’t unless we have the same people who say the same things in the same way, and we consume exactly as we have, always.

Such events are thus no different from anything else that we consume. Those who expect something different from such platforms are bound to be disappointed. We need serious dialogue with serious people who will change the way we think. Conclaves must trigger change but that will not happen unless the intentions change. This will in turn influence the curation and quality of the engaged audience. At the same time we need to provide the farmer, carpenter, household help, clerk, craftsman — and everyone else we refer to as the aam aadmi — a national platform to speak. They should be speaking not just to the politician, bureaucrat and media but also to people like themselves, other aam aadmi. Only this can integrate society in the search for answers to our problems.

(T.M. Krishna is a Carnatic vocalist.)


Gujarat- Grim Reality

TOI 24NOV2012

Vibrant document admits chronic single-digit growth

Kit Includes Huge Photos Of Modi

Rajiv Shah | TNN

Gandhinagar: Another top Gujarat government document, forming part of the kit prepared for distribution ahead of the 6th Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit, to be held at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar on January 11-13, 2013, has admitted that the state’s annual rate of growth over the last six years was in single digits.
Against the backdrop of huge claims of the Modi government, including in some Vibrant documents, that the annualized rate of growth is “more than 10 per cent”, the document, ‘Doing Business in Gujarat’, specifically says, “Gujarat has a compounded annual growth rate of 8.5% over the last six years;” and in just one year, 2009-10, the growth rate was 10.23%.
The document, meant to showcase Gujarat, further says that the per capita Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) has grown at a compounded “annual rate of 7.4% over the last 6 years”, though in one year 2009-10, it says, the per capita GSDP went up by 9.38%.
The kit, in which the document finds place, carries brochures, presentations and other downloadable material to attract investment, with huge photographs of chief minister Narendra Modi “welcoming” the invitees to “vibrant Gujarat global business hub.” Ready for distribution ahead of the elections to the Gujarat state assembly, the kit on Friday found its place in different government departments in hundreds.
The brochure announces that Japan and Canada will be partner countries at the summit, while partner organizations are Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) as national partner, Pricewaterhouse Coopers as knowledge partner, K and D Communication as exhibition partner, APCO Worldwide as relationship partner, and Jet Airways and Emirates as airline partners. The kit’s documents showcase rapid urbanization as the reason for fostering consumer base. It says, Gujarat’s contribution to India’s GDP is 7.5%; Gujarat’s contribution to Indian industrialization is 17%, Gujarat’s share in India’s market capitalization is 30%, and Gujarat’s share in India’s workforce is 9.5%.
Giving profiles of 10 different sectors, where investment is to be attracted, the document, interestingly, carries a big world map suggesting Gujarat has a “strategic location” and is “well-connected to the major cities of the world both by air and sea routes”.
Calling Gujarat as the “growth engine of India”, the documents particularly seek to sell the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), especially Dholera special investment region (SIR), suggesting how it will have the first privately-run industrial mega park, and an international airport in the neighbourhood that will be linked with a metro train from Ahmedabad. It offers a 500 million litres per day (MLD) of desalination plant to take care of the SIR’s water needs; an international convention centre; a public transport system through light rail traffic (LTR); and a solar park in the coastal regulatory zone (CRZ). At the same time, it offers the timescale of other SIRs coming up at a dozen other places.

A 26/11 victim who refuses to celebrate Kasab’s execution

NOVEMBER 22, 2012
by , Kafila

While the media has reported most families of those who died in 26/11 as hailing the execution of Ajmal Kasab, Bollywood actor Ashish Chowdhry refuses to be one of them. His sister Monica and her husband were amongst those who were killed at the Oberoi trident hotel. Given below are screenshots of Chowdhary’s tweets. Read from the last tweet upwards.


Govt not to oppose bail for top Maoist leader


Nov 23rd,2012
Subject: DNA – Govt not to oppose bail for top Maoist leader


In a bid to encourage surrender by Maoist leaders and cadres, the Centre, in consultation with the Jharkhand government, has decided not to oppose the bail plea of former CPI (Maoist) politburo member Sushil Roy on humanitarian grounds.

Terminal ill Roy is suffering from cancer and is currently going through treatment at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi.

The home ministry sources said the decision of not opposing Roy’s bail was taken after some civil rights activists met Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde a week ago and asked for Roy’s release on humanitarian grounds.

Roy, popular as comrade Som, is one of the senior most Maoist leaders and has to his credit overseeing the merger of PWG, Party Unity and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) into CPI (Maoist) in September 2004. Roy was arrested by West Bengal police on 22 May 2005 and was charged with 11 cases relating to sedition, extortion and waging war against state by West Bengal and Jharkhand governments.

By not opposing Roy bail plea, sources said, the government wants to send a positive signal to all the hardened Maoist leaders and cadres that the government will have a soft approach if they chose to surrender.

Of late, septuagenarian Roy has also advocated ceasefire between government and CPI (Maoist) to pave the way for peace talks.

The government believes that Roy’s case could prove to be a test case and ease out the way for those who now believe that they cannot humble the state through violence and killings but are unable to come out and surrender because of sheer fear.



“I Was Made A Scapegoat Because Of My Background “Syed Kazmi

Outlook Magazine | Dec 03, 2012


Sanjay Rawat
‘I Was Made A Scapegoat Because Of My Background’
The journalist accused of being part of an Iranian plot to attack Israeli diplomats in India speaks up

The arrest of 
Syed Mohammed Ahmad Kazmi on March 6 this year had left many stunned. A well-established journalist, accredited with the government’s Press Information Bureau (PIB), and someone who regularly interacted with top politicians, he suddenly came to be described as a player in an Iranian plot to attack Israeli diplomats in India. Convinced he was being framed because of his harsh and vocal views on American and Israeli policy, many had rallied around Kazmi to campaign for his release. He was finally granted bail by the Supreme Court on October 19 and stepped out of Tihar after spending seven months in jail. His first interview since his release, questions related directly to the case were answered by his lawyer (see accompanying story), but Kazmi himself told Debarshi Dasgupta that he was threatened in order to make him confess. He also spoke of his social isolation since his release and claims he was targeted for his critical views on India’s foreign policy. Excerpts:

How were you treated in jail?

Torture is not just physical. For me, it was more mental trauma, almost unbearable levels. There was always the uncertainty every morning of when I would be freed, if at all. I used to see the government’s version and could not believe it was actually me they were discussing. There were threats—from top officers—of having my children kidnapped, of having explosives recovered from my home or car. They told me I’d languish in jail if I didn’t tell them all, that my beard would grow so long in custody that even my children would not recognise me. On the whole, I have lost the social status that I once enjoyed. I was made a scapegoat just for my professional background.

Do you think you were picked up for your harsh political views on India’s close links with US/Israel and their role in global affairs?

You can judge it yourself from my television appearances. In this changing scenario, people do not like the truth. Probably, this was one of the reasons….

“There were threats—from top officers—of having my children kidnapped, of having explosives recovered from my home or car.”

Would you still argue that India needs to correct its present course of foreign policy?We need to have a foreign policy based on national interests, and not for short-term interests but long-term ones. A gas pipeline from Iran, Pakistan to India is not feasible but a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan to India is feasible. Does it make sense?

What would your comments be on the current crisis in West Asia and India’s role in the region?

The MEA issued a balanced statement on the ongoing crisis between Israel and Palestine but we need to make tactical diplomatic moves, independent of western perceptions and objectives, if we have to emerge as an effective force in the region. We should, for instance, take into confidence the elected government of Hamas in Gaza and have diplomatic contacts with them and not just the Al Fatah faction. Powers on the ground need to be engaged more. For instance, Hezbollah, described as a terrorist entity by westerners, is a crucial player in Lebanon. You cannot form a government there without their support. We made mistakes in Iraq too. Post-Saddam, we could have furthered our business interests more had we nurtured close contacts with the guiding leaders in Najaf. And in Egypt, with the Muslim Brotherhood in power, the Americans and Israelis have done much more than India to establish close links with the new government. We are left behind since we are overcautious. I would argue we are an emerged power in this region, not an emerging one. America, on the other hand, is a weakening force in this region and we must further our independent role.

“We need to make tactical diplomatic moves, free of western perceptions and objectives, if we’re to be effective in West Asia.”

You are viewed as a very harsh critic of Israel…What do you mean by a critic? If you read just 60 years of Israel’s history, you’ll become a harsh critic of the country…just read it and analyse it. People do not want to question the way the state of Israel was created and ignore the way it’s being expanded illegally into Palestine every day. How much time do you need to undserstand the history and geography?

Has it been difficult to voice political opinions that match yours?

Prominent journalists who worked earlier for several years are off the screen for many years now for this reason. You name important journalists who worked around a decade earlier and are alive. All of them are sitting in their apartments when they should be editors. A prominent journalist who used to author leads for India Today is now leading a small-time Urdu paper. This is the changing situation of this country. This is part of a conspiracy.

Will you go back to doing what you did before your arrest?

I will resume writing my weekly column in Urdu on international affairs soon. My readers probably are waiting for my experiences in jail too. Besides, there is already the offer to go back to working for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting’s Tehran Radio, to which I was contributing political reports every day for its Hindi service. I would also appear frequently on their Urdu channel, Seher TV.

“Just read 60 years of Israeli history and you’ll turn a harsh critic. People don’t want to question how the Israeli state was created.”

Do you feel socially isolated post-bail?While in jail, I wondered if people would come to see me or suspect me after my release. I decided not to initiate any meetings or make phone calls once out. Let me see who contacts me, I decided. This is still the position. A huge number of people came to receive me at Tihar Jail but there is one set who feel meeting me is something wrong. As far as my professional career is concerned, I do not know if I can go back to work with Doordarshan, maybe when I’m discharged.

Have you lost your PIB accreditation?

I just checked the website yesterday. It says my card is not ready. I had the card last year. This year’s was delayed for procedural reasons. Perhaps it was ready when I was arrested, maybe I could not collect it. But yesterday when I checked, it said the request is still under process. I feel they have suspended it and held it for the next season.

You got a lot of support from the public because you are a journalist. But there are many others behind bars, waiting for a free and fair trial. Are you going to undertake any work to help them?

I have full sympathy with those who are innocent and behind bars. I plan to work with anyone who fights for them in whatever way. I will work for justice.


Bal Thackeray– A Politics of Violence

Vol – XLVII No. 47-48, December 01, 2012 | Jyoti Punwani: EPW

Bal Thackeray, the son of an anti-caste reformist, came from a background rich in learning and culture. Yet, he chose to use his learning and wit to destroy rather than create. Under his direction, the Sena resorted to intimidation and terror, first against south Indians, then communists and Muslims.

Jyoti Punwani (jyoti.punwani@gmail.com) is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist and human rights activist.

It was an ordinary Saturday afternoon on a sleepy road with people, desultorily going about their routine. Suddenly, the scene changed. Women pleaded with vegetable vendors who were hurriedly shutting shop; people ran after buses, autorickshaws fled. It reminded you of scenes shown in Hitler movies, of Jews out on a peaceful street when they suddenly hear the sound of a Nazi patrol approaching. It was as if a malevolent spirit had descended like an ominous cloud.

Bal Thackeray’s death had just been reported in his city.

Thackeray would have been proud that in death, as in life, he generated fear among ordinary citizens going about their normal lives. He would have praised his “boys” for vandalising a hospital because the owner’s niece commented on Facebook that the city need not have shut down for his funeral. As the girl in question realised, there was nothing anyone could do when faced with the wrath of a Shiv Sainik mob. For the leader of the Shiv Sena was also the “Saheb” of those paid to protect you from Sena bullies. So it was but natural for the police to haul her to the police station. The Mumbai police’s advice to citizens not to step out on the day of Thackeray’s funeral was not surprising. It was not their job to ensure that the city went about its work as normal. It was their job to facilitate the Sena supremo’s grand funeral.

This advice from the Mumbai police was in line with the advice some of them gave to Muslims during the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots of December 1992 – January 1993. “We made sure they left the area safely”, many of them proudly told the B N Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry into the riots. They did not think it their duty to protect Muslims from Shiv Sainiks. They just wanted them out of harm’s way so that they could sit back as Sainiks looted and burnt the Muslims’ homes at will. That was a deed to be proud of, indeed, considering the number of policemen found by the Commission to have actively encouraged the Shiv Sainiks to riot, or to have looked the other way as they killed defenceless Muslims.

1984 Riots Pave the Way

Early on, in 1984, just before Mumbai saw its first major post-Independence Hindu-Muslim riot, Bal Thackeray had told the city’s police force to take a leaf out of their Punjab counterparts. The latter, he had said in a speech at Chowpatty that acted as the trigger for the riots, supported “anti-national Khalistanis”. He went on to say, “Here you should at least not arrest your own people when they are fighting traitors”. In the fortnight of violence that engulfed the city and its outskirts soon after the speech, the police followed his advice. 1984 was when Mumbai’s Muslims, appealing to the police for help from Shiv Sainiks, heard for the first time, the phrase that would define the police’s relationship with Bal Thackeray: “We are Shiv Sainiks under our uniforms.” Official confirmation of this relationship came in the form of a circular issued by the city’s tough police commissioner, Julio Rebeiro, wherein he asked: “I want to know who is ruling this city – the administration or the Shiv Sena? When orders were given clearly to use force and beat the Shiv Sainiks who are going around ordering shops to close, the local police failed to do so’’ (Indian Express, 30 June 1984).

The 1984 riots were not one-sided. Apart from two Urdu newspapers which inflamed passions by deliberately mis­reporting Thackeray’s speech, there was the Congress-I Muslim MLA who garlanded Thackeray’s bust with slippers in Parbhani. On the ground too, Muslims in Bhiwandi and Govandi, to name just two areas, were the aggressors, and in areas such as Nagpada and Dongri, they did retaliate.

But the case of Thane during the 1984 riots was revealing of the way the Shiv Sena operates when it is in control. A local Bharatiya Janata Party leader told this reporter after the riots that of the 57 persons killed in Thane, 55 had been Muslims, and two others had been killed for sheltering Muslims. There was no retaliation by Muslims in Thane. As the former Sena mayor and later Member of Parliament put it: Thokaichey hotey, thokle (we decided to hammer them and we did). Even Muslim Shiv Sainiks, as well as those old-timers who were so integrated with their Marathi-speaking neighbours that you could not tell them apart, were not spared.

Thane had been the Sena’s early triumph – it emerged as the single largest party in the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) in 1967 itself, a year after the party was launched, and controlled the TMC from 1974 to 1981. The 1984 riots paved the way for the Sena’s triumphant entry into Mumbai’s Municipal Corporation the next year. In this it was helped generously by the then Congress chief minister (CM) Vasantdada Patil’s mischievous announcement that the centre (ruled by his own party) was planning to separate Mumbai from Maharashtra, a possibility he knew did not exist. After the 1984 riots that claimed 258 lives, Patil refused to prosecute Thackeray for his Chowpatty speech, saying that Thackeray had denied making any derogatory remarks against prophet Mohammed. He also rejected the demand for a judicial inquiry into the riots. He did, however, arrest shakha pramukh Madhukar Sarpotdar under the National Security Act, as well as underworld leaders Haji Mastan and Karim Lala. All three were freed after the Sena helped the Congress elect its nominee as the speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Council a few days after the riots.

Blatant Abuse of Muslims

The 1984 riots displayed all the characteristics that came to be associated with Bal Thackeray and his party – Muslim baiting, violence against Muslims, the Mumbai police’s Sena bias, and the Congress-Sena nexus. All this was seen on a much larger scale in the 1992-93 riots, for the January phase of which the Justice B N Srikrishna Commission indicted Thackeray with the words, “like a veteran general, (he) commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims”. These attacks were not just the conventional looting and burning of property or stabbing to death. In January 1993, Shiv Sainiks were charged with stripping, burning and mutilating Muslim women, stoning unarmed Muslim men to death, and then burning their bodies to chants of “Jai Sri Ram”. Eyewitnesses told the Srikrishna Commission that they did not spare even handicapped boys. After all this, they got the best Sena lawyers to defend them.

There was one more difference between 1984 and 1992 – Thackeray’s abuse against Muslims no longer needed confirmation or denial by him. It was all there in his newspaper Saamna, which he had launched in 1989. Editorial after editorial in Saamna castigated Muslims as fanatic traitors, residing in “mohallas in which flowed streams of treason and poison”. The community constituted one of Pakistan’s “seven atom bombs placed in Hindustan”. One editorial asked the corpses of Hindus to come alive to “tell us, from which mosque was a bomb thrown at you? Which fanatic traitor aimed his stengun at you?” The news pages of Saamna celebrated the burning of mosques by “patriotic youth in this dharmyuddh, mosques which have become store houses of unauthorised arms”. Saamna, Thackeray said later, provided the “spark that lit the fire of patriotism which kept the country, god and religion alive”.

Yet, the Congress government took no action except to send the editorials to the Press Council, a toothless body! On a petition filed by two citizens, two judges of the Bombay High Court ruled these editorials to be unobjectionable, since they criticised only anti-national Muslims, not the entire community. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal against this judgment without going into its merits.

To be fair, the judiciary was not always kind to Bal Thackeray. In 1997, he, then the remote control of the Sena-BJP ruling alliance in Maharashtra, was forced to appear in person before a magistrate and apply for bail as prime accused for instigating Shiv Sainiks to attack reporters in 1991. In 1999, he was barred from voting or standing for election by the Supreme Court, which upheld a Bombay High Court order finding him guilty of having canvassed for his candidate on the basis of religion in the 1987 assembly elections. It made little difference to him – he had never wanted to stand for election anyway, preferring to be the “remote control” of the party rather than be accountable by holding a public office.

Contempt for the Law

Thackeray’s attitude towards the judiciary was consistent with his attitude towards the law, democracy, and the Constitution – an attitude of open contempt. It is hardly surprising that most of his corporators and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) had criminal cases registered against them, involving charges not just of rioting and assaulting public servants, but also of extortion, kidnapping, and murder. A tape recording of the 1988 Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) mayor, Diwakar Raote, had him expressing displeasure at the meagre amount of Rs 5,000 each offered to him by Gujarati traders, and boasting that to save their lives, “I have slaughtered Muslims taking the sword in my hand… In one riot, we have slaughtered 300-350 Muslims”. No action was taken against Raote by the then CM Sharad Pawar, and Raote is now a Sena Member of the Legislative Council (MLC). The man he appointed as CM, Narayan Rane, according to police claims, started off life as a part of the “Narya-Varya’’ gang in Chembur, and had a murder case against him when he became CM. Rane is now the Congress’ industries minister in Maharashtra.

Thackeray’s contempt for the law and democracy has not arisen from any long and bitter fight through constitutional means against an unjust system. He had no patience with legal means from the word go. That was the reason for his instant popularity with the Marathi-speaking restless youth who found themselves on the sidelines of the wealth that was being generated in Mumbai in the 1960s. The new capital of the new state of Maharashtra was then the most industrialised city in India, attracting the most investment from around the country. But those who controlled it were mostly non-Marathi-speaking people, belonging to communities that had always been a part of the city. Thackeray directed the aspirations of Marathi-speaking youth against these other communities. He became their godfather, in every sense of the term. His fiery speeches and writings in his weekly Marmik drew them like a magnet to his ideology: hatred against others who have deprived you of what is yours, and snatching it from them by any means. At the same time as they put this into practice, the Shiv Sainiks through their shakhas across the city also solved problems such as water supply, and raided shops of hoarders when prices of foodgrains skyrocketed.

Terror Tactics

The Sena’s first rally was in 1966 in Shivaji Park. On their way out, the rallyists attacked an Udipi restaurant, marking the start of the Sena’s terror tactics. In 1967, alongside south Indians, communists became a target. Shiv Sainiks attacked the Communist Party of India’s (CPI) office in the working class area of Parel, and violently engineered splits in CPI unions. In 1970, they killed the CPI’s sitting MLA from Parel, Krishna Desai.

For Thackeray, leftists were anti-national. Four months later, backed by the Jan Sangh, the Swatantra Party, the Congress (O) and the Hindu Mahasabha, the Sena’s Wamanrao Mahadik won the by-election to become the party’s first MLA. Addressing the party’s victory rally, Thackeray said: “This is our dharmyudh. It is the Shiv Sena’s aim to destroy all those who are not loyal to the nation…Our victory is the victory of Hindutva’’ (Vaibhav Purandare, The Sena Story, Mumbai, 1999). Twenty-two years later, Thackeray exhorted Saamna readers with the same phrases during the Ayodhya campaign and the riots that followed the Babri Masjid demolition. This time, the dharmyudh was against a different set of anti-nationals.

But Muslims had always been anathema for Thackeray. As far back as 1970, the Sena was indicted by the Justice D P Madon Commission of Inquiry for its role in the Bhiwandi riots. It is just that unlike south Indians, Muslims remained his target till the very end. In 1972, Thackeray set up his Sthaniya Lok AdhikaSamitis (local people’s rights committees) in banks and government offices, and began ensuring jobs for Marathi-speaking youth. His formidable clout forced the Congress government to issue a directive to all employers in 1973 that 60% of managerial jobs and 90% of other lower category jobs in Mumbai be given to those domiciled in Maharashtra for 15 years. There was no need after that to target the yundugundus, as he described south Indians.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric – he called Muslims landyas and “green serpents” – and violence were intrinsic to the growth of the Sena. If the 1984 riots helped Thackeray capture the BMC, similar riots helped the party capture parts of Maharashtra through the latter half of the 1980s. Vaibhav Purandare’s The Sena Story details how every new city that was captured saw riots taking place: Nashik, Amravati, Nanded, Aurangabad (renamed Sambhaji Nagar when the Sena came to power in 1995). Finally, the 1992-93 riots helped the Sena capture the state in 1995.

But Thackeray’s hatred for Muslims as pro-Pakistani traitors did not come in the way of him embracing the party that still retained the name Muslim League. After the Bhiwandi riots in 1970, the Sena negotiated the presidentship of the Bhiwandi municipality with the township’s Muslim League. Both Sudhir Joshi and Manohar Joshi became mayors in the BMC with Muslim League help, the first immediately after Sena-League riots had claimed five lives in 1973. Sudhir Joshi’s victory procession was led by Thackeray and League president G M Banatwala. After the Sena took over the BMC in 1985, the Muslim League came to the Sena’s rescue whenever voting on crucial issues took place, in return for posts in important committees.

Thakri Bhasha

Alongside Muslims, Ambedkarite dalits, who rejected Hinduism and were only too conscious of their rights, made Thackeray see red. When the Dalit Panthers were formed in 1972, their first clashes were with Shiv Sainiks in Worli’s BDD chawls. In 1987, the Sena campaigned against the inclusion of the chapter “Riddles in Hinduism” in the state government’s compilation of Ambedkar’s writings and speeches. Sena leader Chhagan Bhujbal even bathed the Flora Fountain monument with gangajal after a huge dalit rally was held there on the issue.

Thackeray was the only one to openly oppose the renaming of Marathwada University as Ambedkar University, and throughout the long namantar agitation, Shiv Sainiks attacked dalits in Marath­wada, burning their homes, desecrating Buddhist temples and Ambedkar statues. Many of the “minor” cases registered against them under the Prevention of Atrocities Act were withdrawn by Sharad Pawar after the university was renamed in January 1994. The next year, when the Sena came to power, CM Manohar Joshi withdrew more such cases.

It is this licence given by successive governments in Maharashtra that encouraged the “Tiger” to roar and maul as he pleased. In 1988, he called a press conference at which Sikh leaders of Mumbai were summoned and threatened with an economic boycott if they did not get their religious leaders in Punjab to issue a directive against Khalistanis. His “roars” have been delivered in what his admirers describe as Thakri bhasha. The most creative use of this bhasha has been against women. Veteran socialist Mrinal Gore, who refused to enter into an alliance with him till the bitter end of her political career was described as “Goregaon’s buffalo”, and Janata Dal president V P Singh’s paayachidasi (meaning slave/mistress). Professor Pushpa Bhave was called a “stale nankathai” and referred to as bhavini (devdasi or prostitute) when she exhorted the terrified residents of Vasai to stand up to the “two faces of fascism – (Bhai) Thakur [a well-known don] and Thackeray”. Writing about CPI(Marxist) leader Ahilya Rangnekar and trade unionist Pushpa Mehta, Thackeray wondered how they were so active despite their “menstrual rags having long dried up”. Feminist writer Vidya Bal was described as the “hijra” of the women’s liberation movement.

Such was the man now being described as having ruled over the hearts of three generations of Shiv Sainiks for 46 years. That is untrue. Like any party, the Shiv Sena had its highs and lows. After a spectacular start in 1966, with the city burning for four days after he was arrested in 1969 (over the border row with Karnataka), the decade 1974-84 saw a low, as Thackeray disillusioned his followers by supporting Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. His workers supported Datta Samant despite their supremo’s opposition to the textile strike led by Samant. The 1984 riots helped him bounce back, but he lost control over the BMC in 1992, only to return with the 1992-93 riots.

The next stage of disillusionment came ironically, when he was in charge of the state. When the BJP-Sena wrested power from Sharad Pawar’s Congress in early 1995, the reaction among most Marathi-speaking people, cutting across classes and castes, was “our people are in power now”. By the end of their rule in 1999, voters had realised that Shiv Shahi was no different from Congress rule. Since then, the Sena has been kept out, thanks to his nephew Raj Thackeray forming his own party.

Five-Year Rule

However, his five-year rule deserves attention. Coming as it did two years after the 1992-93 riots where he played a leading role, the Sena-BJP rule started off as hell for Muslims. His government scrapped the state minorities’ commission and the Urdu academy. After Saamna received a call threatening to kill Thackeray from someone claiming to be a Bangladeshi, the Sena chief threatened that the entire Muslim community would be wiped out. The Sena-BJP government passed an anti-bigamy bill and also a bill prohibiting the slaughter of cow progeny.

But Thackeray’s government also fulfilled many long-standing demands of Muslims which the Congress had never cared to, including increasing the floor space index (FSI) for mosques. The community found Sena MLAs, even those who had been in the forefront of the riots, more approachable than Congress MLAs had ever been. Also, the five-year reign of the Sena-BJP saw just one minor riot which was controlled within 48 hours. Today, a similar situation exists as did in 1995. Muslims are fed up with the Congress, especially because of the continuous targeting of its youth on terror charges. A section of them want to teach the Congress a lesson and give the Sena another chance.

However, the Sena-BJP regime established Thackeray as the ultimate censor. Even after he lost power, nervous directors would show him their films if they felt anything in their content could annoy him. Only those with a hotline to the centre could dare to have their films run despite his disapproval, as Shah Rukh Khan did with his My Name Is Khan in 2010.

Ugly and Impoverished

Bal Thackeray, like many other Marathi-speaking politicians, came from a background rich in learning and culture. In addition to being exposed to literature, music and drama, he had the advantage of being the son of an anti-caste reformist. Yet, he chose to use his learning and wit to destroy rather than create. He debased the Marathi language when he could have enriched it. As a sophisticated Marathi-speaking orator, he could have used his power over his followers to turn Mumbai, already a flourishing cosmopolitan city, into one of the world’s great metropolises. He chose to render it ugly and impoverished.

Abolition of Death Penalty – A Time for National Reflection: PUCL

November 23, 2012

This release was put out yesterday by the PEOPLE’S UNION FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES

The secretive and stealthy hanging of Ajmal Kasab in Pune’s Yerwada Prison yesterday, 21st November, 2012, brings to an end the legal process involved in trying Kasab for the brutal assault by trained terrorists from across the border on Mumbai, the commercial capital of India which left 166 persons dead.

The Mumbai carnage of November 2008, more popularly abbreviated to a single term `26/11,’ constitutes one of the most heinous and deliberate attempts in recent years to cause mass mayhem and terror in India. Kasab was the only member of the terrorist team sent from Pakistan apprehended alive; he was caught on film diabolically using his modern automatic weapon in a cold blooded fashion, killing numerous people. The hanging, and the trial and legal proceedings which preceded it,  admittedly  complied with existing laws which permit death penalty, and cannot be faulted as such.  While it may be argued, as many do  that the hanging will help in an `emotional closure’ to the families of victims of 26/11, there are others who point out that other key issues still remain to be addressed.  Families of victims in specific, as also other concerned citizens, have pointed out that Kasab was only a foot soldier and not the mastermind, who still remain at large.

We cannot also lose sight of the fact the  reality that the backdrop of the 26/11 incidents is also the festering and unresolved internal conflict inside Kashmir, which provides an easy emotive tool for demagogues to indoctrinate and turn youth to become cold blooded `jihadi’ killers. To them, the execution will not be a deterrence.

The extensive legal process  ending with the hanging of Kasab is pointed out as a triumph of the of `rule of law process’ in India. In the same breath this is also contrasted to the lack of such situation in neighbouring Pakistan.  This discourse is however very worrisome; it borders on `triumphalism’ on the one hand, and on the other, it amounts to an attempt to `avenge’ or seek `vengeance’, and `eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’ mentality, which worldview has been rejected as dangerous amongst a majority of 110 countries worldwide which have prohibited death penalty in their countries.

Such triumphalist discourse is also worrying for it hides behind emotive terminology very harsh truths of failure and miscarriage of justice in other incidents of mass killings that have occurred in India. The `cry for justice’ still remains a silent pouring of helpless anger in the hearts and souls of thousands of families of victims  in incidents like planned and cold blooded slaughter of over 3000 Sikhs during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the massacre of hundreds of Muslims in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992-93 (which ironically occurred in Mumbai also), the 2002 post-Godhra anti-Muslim carnage in Gujarat which saw over 2,000 Muslims killed and thousands more rendered homeless and more recently in Kokrajhar in Assam. A stark reality is the cynical manipulation and subversion of police investigation by ruling political parties and the executive  to help masterminds and perpetrators escape the clutches of the law.

In the surcharged emotional atmosphere in the wake of Kasab’s hanging,  even raising questions about the usefulness of hanging Kasab is considered to be `traitorous’, unpatriotic and anti-national.  We in the PUCL nevertheless feel that this is a moment in our nation’s history when we need to pause and ponder, and reflect on the values that we, as a nation, should uphold, particularly relating to crime and punishment, justice and equity. We need to be conscious of the fact that a nation consumed by outrage and filled with a sense of retribution easily confuses “punishment and revenge, justice and vendetta”. We, as a nation, need to begin a dispassionate public debate on the death penalty without judgmental, indignant, righteous or moralist overtones.

PUCL has always taken a principled stand against the death sentence as being anti-thetical to the land of ahimsa and non-violence, as constituting an arbitrary, capricious and unreliable punishment and that at the end of the day, the type of sentence that will be awarded depends very much on many factors, apart from the case itself. PUCL and Amnesty International have published a major  study of the entire body of judgments of the Supreme Court of India on death penalty between 1950-2008 which unambiguously shows that there is so much arbitrariness in the application of `rarest of rare’ doctrine in death penalty cases that in the ultimate analysis, death sentence constitutes a `lethal lottery’.

It may not be out of context to highlight that just two days before Kasab was hanged, on 19th November, 2012, the Supreme Court of India pointed out to the fact that in practice, the application of `rarest of rare cases’ doctrine to award death penalty was seriously arbitrary warranting a rethink of the death penalty in India.

It is also well recognised now that there can never ever be a guarantee against legal mistakes and improper application of legal principles while awarding death sentences. Very importantly, the Supreme Court of India in the case of `Santosh Kr. Bariar v. State of Maharashtra’, (2009) has explicitly stated that 6 previous judgments of the Supreme Court between 1996 to 2009 in which death sentences were confirmed on 13 people, were found to be `per incuriam’ meaning thereby, were rendered in ignorance of law. The Supreme court held that the reasoning for confirming death sentences in theses cases conflicted with the 5 judge constitutional bench decision in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980), which upheld the constitutionality of the death sentence in India and laid down the guidelines to be followed before awarding death sentence by any court in India.

It should be pointed out that of the 13 convicts awarded death sentence based on this per incuriam reasoning, 2 persons, Ravji @ Ramchandra was hanged on 4.5.1996 and Surja Ram in 5.4.1997. The fate of the others is pending decision on their mercy petitions. In the meantime a group of 7 – 8 former High Court judges have written to the President of India pointing out to the legal infirmity in the award of death sentences to these convicts and seeking rectification of judicial mistake by commuting their death sentences to life imprisonment. A very troubling question remains: how do we render justice to men who were hanged based on a wrong application of the law?

It is for such reasons, amongst others, that PUCL has long argued that it is extremely unsafe and uncivilised to retain death penalty in our statutes.

It will be useful to refer to the stand on death penalty taken by 3 of India’s foremost leaders of the independence struggle.


Mahatma Gandhi said,


“I do regard death sentence as contrary to ahimsa. Only he takes it who gives it. All punishment is repugnant to ahimsa. Under a State governed according to the principles of ahimsa, therefore, a murderer would be sent to a penitentiary and there be given a chance of reforming himself. All crime is a form of disease and should be treated as such”.


Speaking before the Constituent Assembly of India on 3rd June, 1949, the architect of India’s constitution, Dr. Ambedkar, pointed out,


“… I would much rather support the abolition of death sentence itself. That I think is the proper course to follow, so that it will end this controversy. After all this country by and large believes in the principles of non-violence, It has been its ancient tradition, and although people may not be following in actual practice, they certainly adhere to the principle of non-violence as a moral mandate which they ought to observe as dar as they possibly can and I think that having regard to this fact, the proper thing for this county to do is to abolish the death sentence altogether”.


Jayaprakash Narayan wrote more poignantly that,


“To my mind, it is ultimately a question for the respect for life and human approach to those who commit grievous hurt to others. Death sentence is no remedy for such crimes. A more humane and constructive remedy is to remove the culprit concerned from the normal milieu and treat him as a mental case … They may be kept in prison houses till they die a natural death. This may cast a heavier economic burden on society than hanging. But I have no doubt that a humane treatment even of a murderer will enhance man’s dignity and make society more humane”. (emphasis ours).


PUCL calls upon all Indians to use the present situation as a moment of national reflection, a period of serious dialogue and discussion on the values and ethics which we as a nation of Buddha and Ashoka, who epitomised humane governance, dharma and ahimsa, should accept and follow. The best tribute we can pay to the 166 persons who lost their lives due to the 26/11 Mumbai carnage is to rebuild the nation in a way that equity and justice, dharma and ahimsa prevails; in which there is no soil for discrimination and prejudice, and in which all Indians irrespective of caste, community, creed, gender or any other diversity, can live peacefully and with dignity.


We firmly believe that mercy and compassion are key values of a humane society, which are also recognised in the Indian Constitution. We also hold that abolishing death penalty is not a sign of weakness. Rather it is a stand which arises from a sense of moral authority. It is when law in tempered with mercy that true justice is done. Bereft of mercy our society would be impoverished and inhuman; mercy is quintessentially a human quality, not found elsewhere in the natural world. Excluding a fellow human being from the entitlement to mercy will make our society more blood thirsty, unforgiving and violent. We owe a duty to leave a better and less vengeful world for our children by curbing our instinct for retribution. That way we become a more humane and compassionate society. Recalling Rabindranath Tagore’s vision in the `Gitanjali’, let us re-make India into a `haven of peace’ in which future generations of Indians will rejoice and flourish.


Prof. Prabhakar Sinha, National President, PUCL
Dr. V. Suresh, National General Secretary (Elect), PUCL



Where does India stand in an Impunity index?

Woefully low. Ten deaths since 2010, 24 attacks and ten threats in 2012 alone!We need to step up campaigns to end impunity and ensure media freedom, says GEETA SESHU. Pix: Chaitali Santra, hoot.org
Posted/Updated Friday, Nov 23 13:44:30, 2012

On the International Day to End Impunity, observed on November 23 to mark the Ampatuan massacre in which 32 journalists died in the Philippines in 2009, let’s take a look at how India fares in the impunity index.

Ten deaths since 2010; 24 attacks and ten threats in 2012 alone. That’s what we have from the Free Speech Tracker.(Click here for complete list).

According to a host of journalists’ organisations, India’s ranking on impunity and on freedom of expression is pathetic. The Committee to Protect Journalists has put India amongst the 12 nations worldwide who have five or more cases of impunity – where journalists deaths have not been either investigated or resulted in any convictions; Reporters without Borders (RSF) ranks India as 131 out of 179; Freedom House says that India is ‘partly free’ in internet freedom and of course Google’s Transparency report, released recently, provides damaging evidence that India is second only to the USA for seeking the take down of content.

The international Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) has launched a stirringcampaign against impunity to mark the Ampatuan massacre. (The Amputan massacre marks the killing of 58 persons, including 32 journalists and media workers, on Nov 23, 2009. The journalists were covering the elections in the Philippines and the controversy over the filing of the candidacy of the then vice mayor (now governor) of Maguindanao, EsmaelMangudadatu. The others who died in the massacre include lawyers and election campaigners).

Closer home, in South Asia, Pakistan still ranks as the deadliest place for journalists. According to a report prepared by the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN),the murder of SaleemShehzad in May 2011 marked the lowest point in its impunity index. In Sri Lanka, journalists have been forced into exile while others were either murdered, notably Sunday Leader editor LasanthaWickrematunge, or disappeared, like cartoonist PrageethEknaligoda. In Bangladesh, journalist couple SagarSarowar and MeherunRuni were murdered in February 2012 while in Nepal, the impunity that cloaks the deaths of journalist has resulted in a climate of self-censorship.

The Free Speech Hub of the Hoot, which has been tracking freedom of expression since 2010, has the most chilling statistics: Ten journalists have lost their lives since 2010. Here’s our list:

Hemchandra Pandey(July 2010)

Bimala Prasad Talukdar(September 2010)

Sushil Pathak(December 2010)

Umesh Rajput (January 2011)

J Dey(June 2011)

Ramesh Singhla(October 2011)

Chandrika Rai(February 2012)

Rajesh Mishra (March 2012)

Raihan Nayum (Septemer 2012)

Chaitali Santra (September 2012)

Mr Bal Thackeray, The Capitalists And The Working Poor

By Vidyadhar Date

23 November,2012

Mr Bal Thackeray was essentially a man the capitalists liked and they were very comfortable with him. That is why he was always boosted by much of the media as a larger than life figure and after his death there is more gushing praise of the man.

`The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with the bones,’ said Mark Antony in his famous funeral speech in Shakespeare’s play Julius Ceasar. Mr Thackeray has no such problems and this is not to suggest that he did evil. In his case there is no shortage of people going out of the way to write in support of him. Mr Thackeray’s father Prabodhankar Thackeray was an avid Shakespeare fan, he spent so much from his scarce resources on books that this alarmed his mother and he devoted a lot of time researching in libraries. Mr Thackeray was so unlike his father in many many ways. Prabodhankar was a rationalist, activist, supporter of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Ambedkar and social reformer Jotirao Phule, he wrote several books. But how many remember him today ? Mr Bal Thackeray had little use for serious books.

Liberals have often criticized Mr Thackeray for his communalism, hate speech and chauvinism and rightly too. But during his time and after there is little recognition of the fact that he was very friendly with capitalists. The system everywhere has always needed an army of people to deal with others, especially dissenters. The Shiv Sena was seen as a solid ally.

There is justifiable and widespread anger over the arrest of two girls for their post on Facebook in the wake of Mr Thackeray’s death. But then killing someone with whom one does not agree is far more heinous. That is exactly what the Shiv Sena did and that is how it launched its foray into politics.The politics of terrorism of the Shiv Sena began in 1970 with the stabbing to death of Mr Krishna Desai, the Communist MLA, in 1970. That was the defining act of the Shiv Sena. It showed where it stood. It was a measured and well thought out attack on the Left movement which was fairly strong then. The murder aroused few protests from outside the Communist fold then .Even today few remember it today though it should serve as a warning for all times to come. Many of the political analysts writing on the Shiv Sena have often beaten about the bush, showered praises on Mr Thackeray for his ready wit and friendliness with them but most have overlooked the class affiliation of the Sena.

When it comes to confronting the fascists and hoodlums and the wealthy and imperialists, there is noticeable timidity and inactivity on the part of intellectuals. The German activist clergy man Martin Niemoller warned against this inactivity when drawing attention to the Nazi threat in Germany through his famous lines which state that if you do not act when others are attacked, there will be no one to protect you if you are attacked. . There is conspicuous omission in the gushing obituaries of Mr Thackeray of the Shiv Sena’s role in attacking the working people’s movements . As a young journalist then I still remember veteran Bhalchandra Marathe of Free Press Journal recalling what one of the assassins of Krishna Desai talked about. He said he thrust the knife and then turned the handle because that is what really ruptures the inner parts of the body. A murder most foul. If Mr Thackeray deserves a memorial, Mr Krishna Desai deserves it even more.

Mr Thackeray’s role also has to be seen in the context of the way the cities are being reshaped the world over to serve the interests of the rich and to exclude the poor. David Harvey, one of the most eminent thinkers of urban life , economics and politics , is our best guide to understand the issues. He asserts that the ordinary people should get a right to the city, access its services, shape its development. . It should be seen as a fundamental right.In a recent book Rebel Cities he shows how cities can be a harbinger of protest and change as in the case of the Occupy Movement in the U.S.

Unfortunately, Mr Thackeray intervened little on behalf of the poor though the poor Marathi Manoos was his main plank. Talk was seldom matched in practice when it came to the crux. But then how does one explain the phenomenal response to the funeral procession ? This question is aptly asked on Facebook by Mr John Game, a Britisher , who has done field work in Mumbai . A staunch leftist himself, he says we should realize that the Shiv Sena also did some service to citizens.

( As for the huge turn out at the funeral, let us remember that only some eleven people attended the funeral of Marx. ) True, Mr Thackeray took up the cause of ordinary people, channelized people’s frustration and economic hardships but he did it in a very negative way, reinforcing prejudices and encouraging violence, threats. Often, the poor were the victims, as in the case of those who were seen as outsiders. The rich had little to fear from him. It is opportunistic to criticize Mr Thackeray from a narrow perspective and not take cognizance of a system that is built on exploitation and then creates organizations that can divert the attention of the people from real issues.

He was expected to halt the gentrification of Mumbai and the eviction of the poor through physical and financial coercion. He has been called a tiger, an emperor and king of Mumbai and what not. Why was the king then so powerless to help the poor ?

The brutal gentrification of Mumbai, the extinguishing of its character as a working class city took place in the prime of Mr Thackeray’s political career. The most blatant and glaring example of the Shiv Sena’s role is evident right there in front of Shiv Sena Bhavan in the heart of Dadar You just cannot miss it. A monstrous, high rise, glass box , environment-unfriendly structure is coming up there distorting the character of the relatively environment-friendly area. It was from this building under construction that hundreds of people hung out to watch the funeral procession as seen in media photographs.

The land belonged to the Kohinoor textile mill of the National Textile Corporation and anyone would expect a party speaking in the name of Marathi Manoos to demand that it be used as a space for public use in this city which desperately needs public spaces. Strangely, it was bought for hundreds of crores and the buyers were Mr Raj Thackeray and Mr Unmesh Joshi, son of former Shiv Sena chief minister Manohar Joshi. Both have close ties to real estate. Mr Thackery is said to have made a huge profit by selling his stake, as reported by Economic Times of 15 November, 2009.

The mill once belonged to Laxmanrao Apte, the father former Test cricketer Madhav Apte, very much a Marathi Manoos. The Aptes were so affluent they owned a big bungalow on Peddar Road now converted into a high rise Woodlands apartments.

Had the big plot of Kohinoor mill remained vacant, the government would not have had to hunt for space for the memorial to Mr Thackeray now being vociferously demanded by the Sena. But then it is so much easier to prey on public resources. So there is a demand that the memorial be constructed on Shivaji Park, one of the few big open spaces in the city. One can only hope that the memorial is environment friendly and not some hideous and gigantic structure of cement and concrete .

There is clearly a sense of lack of proportion in the building of monuments. I was in Nagpur last week where life was as usual on the day of the funeral and death. Thee was no bandh anywhere. On the outskirts of the city is a cultural centre Pasayadaan with an anachronistically large statue of saint Dnyaneshwar.

Mr Thackeray comprehensively reversed the long liberal tradition of Maharashtra (my article on this subject in the Times of India 4 July, 1995). Mahatma Gandhi’s guru was Gopal Krishna Gokhale and favourite disciple was Vionoba Bhave. Mr Thackeray bore the title of Senapati, a military general, and acted ruthlessly. So different from another Senapati in Maharashtra, Senapati Pandurang Mahadev Bapat, a highly respected Gandhian who took the path of peaceful struggle after studying in college in England and learning bomb making.

He led the world’s first anti-dam struggle in what is known as the Mulshi satyagraha against the take over of the land of poor peasants, Mavlas, whose hardy forefathers were the backbone of Shivaji’s guerilla army. The same situation as in Singur, the government forcibly taking over fertile land for the Tatas. This was in 1921. The pillage of the land of the poor is now revived. The land of the Mavlas is now being overrun, vandalized by the rich and being turned into fancy townships but the Shiv Sena has not uttered a word against this though it speaks all the time in the name of Shivaji because this is politically convenient and easy to exploit. And the Shiv Sena does nothing to stop the complete removal of working class history and heritage.

Much of the political analysis and academic work overlooks the cosy relationship between the Sena and capitalists. But here is a surprise and it comes from unexpected quarters. One can read between the lines in an article by Mr Rahul Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj group, and an articulate spokesman of corporate interests, on the front page eulogizing Mr Thackeray in Economic Times of November 19. Says Mr Bajaj `My late uncle Ramkrishna Bajaj was a good friend of Balasaheb. When Parliamentary elections were taking place both Balasaheb and my uncle were anti-Communist. Though the ideology of the Congress and Shiv Sena was not common, they maintained a good rapport.’ . It was a time when anti-Left organizations were floated in different parts of the country in the wake of the debacle of the Congress in the elections . The reversal of the Congress and the rise of the Left had alarmed capitalists. As for the role of the Americans, any sincere police officer or political observer of the time will throw light on it.

Many people are in awe of the power wielded by Mr Thackeray. I found that even the highly respected cartoonist R.K. Laxman, my senior colleague in the Times of India , had this feeling . Both began as political cartoonists in the Free Press Journal in the 1940s. See how far ahead Mr Thackeray has gone, and here I am, he said to me one day in a sad tone. This was one time I could not agree with Mr Laxman.

Now, there is some consolation that there is more public awareness about the attacks on the freedom of expression. There was little of this in the past. A glaring victim of prejudice was Prof Pandharinath Vishnu Ranade, a Marxist professor of history. He was also an art lover , a poet and the author of a book on the art of Ajanta..This was in 1974, the year of the terecentenary of Shivaji’s coronation of 1674. It was celebrated in Maharashtra with much fanfare. Prof Ranade offered a dissenting note in an article in the weekly Ranangan. He was quite respectful towards Shivaji and only argued that hero worshipping him was inconsistent with democratic principles given the nature of the feudal era in which Shivaji lived. This created a storm. Mr Ranade lost his job in Marathwada university and he was reinstated only after protests by some leading progressive historians in the Indian History Congress. One day he was surrounded by Shiv Sainiks and threatened on Dadar railway bridge when he was returning after delivering a lecture. When I intervened I was assaulted and my spectacles were broken. Instead of condemning the attack on the freedom of expression, Mahaashtra Times, the leading Marathi daily, editorially criticized Mr Ranade. That is the tragedy . The public perception of many people is entirely at odds with reality. I have met any number of `well educated people` who firmly believe that it was because of Mr Thackeray that Hindus were saved from the onslaught of Muslims in the riots in 1992-93 !

It is easy to dismiss the masses who supported Mr Thackeray as riff raff. I believe they did this in desperation because our system is basically so unjust and unfair. If `well educated` people are so drawn towards fascists, one cannot really blame the common folk for supporting them.

Look at a comment made by Harsh Goenka, industrialist and art collector to the Times of India after Mr Thackeray’s death. He called him a revolutionary. That is contrary to the very term. If anything, Mr Thackeray could be called a counter revolutionary.

As for Lata Mangeshkar’s fanatical support for him, the roots go back to her father, the reputed singer actor Master Dinanath who was an ardent admirer of the founding ideologue of Hindu nationalism V.D. Savarkar. Her brother Hridaynath, music director, has frequently glorified Savarkar during television programmes, often going out of the way to do so.

Among the responses from political parties, Ideologially the most forthright comment I noticed was from Dr Ashok Dhawale, general secretary of the Maharashtra CPM. He has analysed Mr Thackeray in class terms.

I have covered several of the political rallies addressed by Mr Thackeray when I worked for the Times of India. Many of these were really impressive and one must grant him his sense of humour. Sometimes, he was pleased with my coverage and I heard this from his wife’s brother who worked in the administrative section of the paper. But when it comes to analysis of the Shiv Sena, the perspective has to be objective.

The negatives in the Sena were also too strong. At one meeting in Khar in Mumbai during the time the Shiv Sena was in power in the state, Mr Thackeray used such obscene words that I won’t be able to use them even in private conversation. Sadly, he pushed the political debate to extremely low levels. The most chauvinistic leaders in other states did not use such language of terror and hate as the Sainiks did.

Mr Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the book Traffic in the era of climate change. Walking, cycling, public transport need priority.

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