Political match-fixing in God’s own country?

The Chief Minister of Kerala, Oomen Chandy is embroiled in what has come to be known as a “Solar scam.” Unlike national level scams that hog the media limelight, this scam and its aftermath is largely restricted to Kerala. Congress sympathizers claim that the CM had nothing to do with it and that it was a case of his immediate staff indulging in fraud and misuse of power while enjoying the proximity to the CM. The opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF), meanwhile, grabbed this opportunity and insisted on an open ended dharna in front of the secretariat until the CM resigned. The LDF troops were marshaled and transported from across the state for the grand event. As you can well imagine, parts of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala’s capital city, were brought to a complete standstill. But the CM would not budge on the first day of the dharna. On the second day, the CM agreed to a judicial enquiry. The LDF, to the surprise of all and sundry and to the utter chagrin of its rank and file, who had been prepared for the long haul, grabbed the opportunity and mysteriously called off the strike! What started as a macho show of strength ended with a whimper.

What happened behind the scenes is unknown and open to speculation. But here are some well-known facts. Pinarai Vijayan, the CPI(M) leader has a CBI enquiry against him for what is well known as the Lavelin case. This has been in progress for several years. Next, a handful of CPI(M) “foot soldiers” are in jail for the brutal murder of TP Chandrasekharan, leader of the Revolutionary Marxist Party. It is possible and widely believed that some of the top leadership of the CPI(M) might be implicated in this case.

With the UPA in power at the center and the CBI under its control, the Congress party can do unto Vijayan as it does unto Mulayam from time to time. Every time Mulayam raises his anti-Congress rhetoric, the CBI is let lose on him and then he submits to whims and fancies of the UPA. His recent U-turn on the Food Security bill being a perfect example. As for the Chandrasekharan murder case, given the state of our justice system, it can easily be stalled for a few decades until public memory fades.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

Santosh Koli: A promising life cut short

Santosh Koli, an RTI activist turned Aam Aadmi party candidate from Seemapuri in Delhi, breathed her last yesterday. She died after battling injury wounds when a car ran into her while on a motorbike. A typical “hit and run” case where the attackers conveniently managed to escape. It’s widely believed that this was a deliberate attack on her. In fact, this was not new to her. She had been attacked several times in the past. Once the attackers even slit her throat, but she survived and continued her battle as a committed RTI activist.

I had the pleasure of first meeting Santosh several years back when I visited the Parivartan office started by Arvind Kejriwal, national convenor of the Aam Aadmi party. It was a small office in a basement where several people, especially the poor, came in to seek the help of the organization in order to file RTI applications. A diminutive young woman, Santosh was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm. Always bearing a smile, she portrayed an optimism that belied the visible hopelessness that was palpable in the area. She was clearly the go-to-person for the uneducated poor in the area. Through her RTI filings, she helped so many that she was soon well-known in the community. As expected, she had also earned several detractors.

I remember visiting a nearby slum and a government school with her. She also showed me a defunct fountain that was supposedly constructed by the government for several lakhs of rupees. She lamented the fact that the government went ahead with the plan to construct it, even though the people in the area hardly cared about a fountain. Her simplistic, yet sensible view was that the government should at least consult the people before going ahead with such an expense. The concept of empowering people to have a say in decisions that affect their lives (Kejriwal’s concept of Swaraj) seemed to be engrained in her mental make-up.

The nearby government school that she took me to was quite an eye-opener. The kids were doing whatever they pleased. Some classrooms had no teachers. In one classroom, a teacher was busy attending to her makeup while the kids ran around. There were papers and other garbage strewn around the classrooms and the corridors. The building was poorly maintained. We went to the headmaster’s office. He was an elderly gentleman who was sitting at a desk with one of his feet on the chair, trying to fix his own watch. He looked up at us, and quietly returned to fixing his watch. We later engaged him in a conversation thanks to prodding from Santosh. As we left the school, she expressed her deep disappointment about the state of our government schools. Despite her young age by the experiences gained through her work at Parivartan, she seemed to have a deep understanding of the challenges facing the people of the area and a genuine desire to serve. Not surprisingly, she was selected to represent the Aam Aadmi party from the area. As she gained visibility, her detractors perhaps grew more nervous. They decided it was time to attack her all over again.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times