People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIV

No. 30

July 25, 2010

 

The Political Scene in Maharashtra

 

Ashok Dhawale

 

THE recent period in Maharashtra has been marked by four major political developments:

 

        The unprecedented success of the nationwide hartal against the UPA regime, responsible for the massive price hikes (reported in these columns earlier).

        The shocking decision of the Nagpur bench of the Mumbai High Court to commute the death sentences on six of the accused in the Khairlanji massacre, to life imprisonment.

        The fall-out of the Supreme Court upholding the Mumbai High Court's decision to lift the ban imposed by the state government on the book on Shivaji by James Laine.

        The revoking of the suspension of four MLAs of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) at the initiative of the Congress-NCP regime as part of a cynical package.

                                                                                                                                                  

DEATH SENTENCES COMMUTED

IN KHAIRLANJI MASSACRE CASE

 

On July 14, 2010, the Nagpur bench of the Mumbai High Court commuted the death sentences on six of those convicted in the horrific Khairlanji massacre to life imprisonment of 25 years and confirmed the life imprisonment sentences on the other two. On September 15, 2008, the Bhandara sessions court had held eight of the 11 accused guilty of murder, handed down death sentences to six, life imprisonment to two and acquitted the remaining three. Initially, there were a total of 38 accused, but due to shoddy police investigation in which doctors were managed and the police bribed, 27 were let off earlier by the CBI. Needless to say, there was political pressure as well and there are reports that local leaders of the Congress, NCP and BJP were involved in protecting the culprits of Khairlanji.

 

The salient features of the Khairlanji massacre in the Bhandara district of eastern Vidarbha are well known. On September 29, 2006, four members of a dalit family - Surekha Bhotmange (40), her daughter Priyanka (18), sons Sudhir (21) and Roshan (20) - were accosted by caste Hindu villagers, most of whom were OBCs. They were paraded naked in the village, both the women were gang-raped and brutally assaulted, the men were mutilated and then all four were hacked to death by the mob. Their bodies were thrown into a nearby canal. The real  reason for this inhuman carnage was a land dispute. The only survivor was the father Bhaiyalal Bhotmange, who actually witnessed the massacre and who would also have met the same fate had he been found by the mob.

 

The most serious aspect of the case was that neither the Sessions Court nor the High Court thought it fit to apply the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act in spite of overwhelming evidence and they chose to treat the case as just an ordinary case of murder. Had it been applied, many of the accused who were let off scotfree in this case earlier would also have been in the dock today. This was also a result of the manner in which the investigations were conducted and the case presented. Similarly, laws dealing with atrocities on women and criminal conspiracy were also not applied.

 

After a conspiracy of silence for over a month after the massacre, sections of the media began a slander campaign against the victims of the massacre, which continues even today. See this report in the Hindustan Times on July 17 after the High Court judgement:

 

"The group reportedly killed the Bhotmanges on the suspicion that Surekha was involved in an illicit relationship. Some members of the group clashed with Siddharth Gajbhiye, the man with whom Surekha was reportedly having an affair."

 

Echoing this charge, the same report then quoted the High Court ruling commuting the death sentences and justifying the non-application of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act as follows: "The incident had not occurred due to caste hatred but the incident occurred since the accused felt that they were falsely implicated in the crime of beating Siddharth Gajbhiye by Surekha and Priyanka. Moreover, there is no evidence brought on record that the accused have a criminal record."

 

The CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee is of the clear view that the  judgement of the Nagpur Bench of the Mumbai High Court, converting the death sentence on six of the accused in the heinous Khairlanji massacre to life imprisonment, is extremely unfortunate. To award any other punishment to them except the death sentence amounts to a travesty and miscarriage of justice. The state committee demands that the state government must immediately appeal to the Supreme Court against the judgement of the Nagpur Bench of the Mumbai High Court. It also calls upon all sections of the people of Maharashtra who care for social justice to bring mass pressure to bear upon the state government so that this appeal is immediately filed. 

 

CONTROVERSY OVER

JAMES LAINE'S BOOK

ON SHIVAJI

 

In June 2003, the Oxford University Press (OUP) published a book by an American academic James Laine which was titled Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India. The title itself is mischievous and harks back to the so-called British historians in the colonial era who arbitrarily divided the history of India into sections like the Hindu period, the Mughal period and the British period with the intention to deepen communal discord.

 

Besides, in stark contrast to the communal interpretation of Shivaji that has been painted by the Shiv Sena and the RSS-BJP, the Left has always propagated on the basis of concrete historical and documentary evidence (including an exemplary letter written by Shivaji to Aurangzeb against the jiziya tax) that Shivaji was a symbol of secularism in that age. Many of Shivaji's closest confidantes and generals were Muslims. His respect for women and concern for the poor and downtrodden was legendary. The great social reformer Mahatma Jotirao Phule aptly described Shivaji as the king of the peasantry. That is the reason why, out of the hundreds of kings of that era, it is Shivaji alone who is revered by the people of Maharashtra even after three and a half centuries.   

 

The most objectionable part of the book is the insinuation that Shahaji, who Laine derides as an absentee father, was not Shivaji's biological father. He further writes that there are jokes that Shivaji's biological father was Dadoji Konddeo, a Brahmin who looked after Shahaji's estates in Pune. He thus casts aspersions on Shivaji's mother Jijabai's character. Such an obnoxious insinuation has never ever been made by any historian - Indian or foreign. What is even worse, the offending passage in the book is cavalierly passed off by Laine himself as gossip and innuendo, without an iota of evidence or documentary substantiation. It also serves to inflame caste tensions between Marathas and Brahmins. Laine's motives are thus very much open to suspicion.

 

It must be remembered that Shivaji, Jijabai, Phule, Savitribai and Ambedkar are among the historical icons of Maharashtra. While this does not mean that they cannot be subjected to constructive criticism, cheap and false insinuations such as the one made by Laine are bound to create an uproar. And that is exactly what happened.

 

Several serious historians and scholars in Maharashtra immediately wrote to the Oxford University Press, asking it to withdraw the book from circulation. There were angry demonstrations where copies of the book were set on fire. The OUP saw the writing on the wall and withdrew the book from the Indian market in November 2003.

 

After this the chauvinist forces took over. In his acknowledgments in the book, Laine had thanked some scholars at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune for their assistance. Some of these same scholars, after going through the book, were among those who had written to the OUP asking for withdrawal of the book. Even then, on December 22, 2003, Shiv Sena hoodlums blackened the face of one of them.

 

The nadir of chauvinism was reached on January 5, 2004, when over 150 hoodlums of a Maratha casteist organisation called the Sambhaji Brigade attacked the premises of the BORI and ransacked and destroyed unique and irreplaceable objects of historical and literary importance. This act of vandalism was roundly condemned by the CPI(M), other Left and secular parties and by large sections of the media. 72 of the hoodlums were arrested and police cases booked against them. Allied organisations of the Sambhaji Brigade include the Maratha Mahasangh, Maratha Seva Sangh, Chhaavaa and others. Some of their leaders are close to the NCP, Congress, Shiv Sena and BJP.

 

In view of this constant social disturbance, the Congress-NCP state government banned James Laine's book on January 14, 2004, citing sections 153 and 153A of the IPC. Some individuals went to the Mumbai High Court in appeal against the ban. The High Court lifted the ban in 2007. The state government went in appeal to the Supreme Court which upheld the decision of the High Court on July 9, 2010. This led to fresh disturbances.

 

The CPI(M) state committee which met for a day on July 11 discussed this issue. In its statement, it took the stand that the decision of the Supreme Court was unfortunate since such scurrilous and baseless insinuations against venerated historical figures in the name of freedom of expression was an invitation to social unrest. However, since the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of lifting the ban, there was no question of again demanding a ban. But it called upon the state government to file a defamation suit against James Laine for making such scurrilous and baseless insinuations.

 

SUSPENSION OF FOUR MNS MLAs

REVOKED BY INC-NCP REGIME

 

Last week, the Congress-NCP state government moved a resolution in the state assembly revoking the suspension of four MLAs of Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). The resolution was supported by the Congress, NCP and also by the BJP. The Shiv Sena remained neutral, but did not oppose it. So it was passed by a big majority.

 

These MLAs had been suspended in November 2009 due to the violence on the assembly floor that they indulged in on the very first day of the new state assembly session to prevent SP leader Abu Asim Azmi from taking his oath in Hindi, insisting that he take the oath in Marathi. But some other MLAs who earlier took the oath in English were not opposed by these MNS MLAs! The CPI(M), other Left and secular forces and large sections of the media denounced these violent and chauvinistic acts of the MNS.

 

The recent decision of the Congress-NCP regime to revoke the suspension of the MNS MLAs was part of a cynical package, whereby the remaining nine MLAs of the MNS voted for Congress and NCP candidates during the Legislative Council elections last month. All the Congress, NCP and BJP candidates won, and the only one to lose was one of the Shiv Sena candidates. There was massive horse trading in this election, with crores of rupees changing hands for the votes of some of the MLAs.

 

In consultation with the Polit Bureau, the CPI(M) state committee decided that its MLA Rajaram Ozare would abstain from voting, and he was the only MLA in the assembly to do so.