Saturday, November 11, 2017

Kerala: Solar Scam Reveals Decadent Polity And Society

Saritha’s life illustrates the perils to which a woman is exposed in Kerala's public space.

Kerala: Solar Scam Reveals Decadent Polity And Society
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan appears to be on a record-setting spree. Last Thursday he got the State Assembly to hold the shortest session in its history, lasting barely 40 minutes. It was called so he could place before the house the report of the Justice G. Sivarajan Commission which went into the solar scam that had rocked the previous United Democratic Front government. He placed the report before the house in a record six weeks’ time although the law allows full six months to do so.
Accepting the Commission’s recommendations, his government referred to the Vigilance and Police departments allegations of corruption and sexual exploitation against former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, three members of his Cabinet, two former Union Ministers of State, one MP, two MLAs and two IPS officers, which, too, is a record.
The solar scandal broke in 2013 when a young woman, Saritha S. Nair, director of a company called Team Solar Renewal Energy Solutions Private Limited, was arrested on a charge of cheating several persons by promising to make them business partners or install solar plants in their premises. Her husband and the company’s managing director, Biju Radhakrishnan, was also arrested. He is now serving a jail term on a charge of murdering his first wife to marry Saritha. 
The scandal assumed a political dimension when three members of Oommen Chandy’s personal staff were arrested for aiding Saritha and Biju in their activities. The Chief Minister himself came under a cloud as he shared the mobile phones on which they and Saritha had stayed in touch. This led to demands that he should resign, assuming moral responsibility for the conduct of his personal staff. But he disowned them and denied he knew Saritha.
As evidence of the association of Oommen Chandy and other Congress leaders with Team Solar surfaced the Left Democratic Front organized a massive rally to demand the Chief Minister’s resignation. Pinarayi Vijayan, who was then Secretary of the State CPI(M), summoned 100,000 party workers to the capital to surround and paralyze the Secretariat. “Not a fly will enter the Secretariat,” LDF Convener Vaikom Viswam declared.
The police ensured that one road was open for Ministers and officials to reach the Secretariat. However, aware of the risk involved in letting a large crowd remain in the streets indefinitely, Oommen Chandy offered a judicial inquiry into the scam and Pinarayi Vijayan called back the protesters.  
Thus was the Sivarajan Commission appointed on October 29, 2013. It was asked to report within six months but sought and obtained several extensions and finally submitted a four volume report, running into about 1,000 pages, last September more than a year after the LDF came to power.
In the first volume, the Commission gave its finding on the first of six items of the terms of reference in these words: “The Chief Minister, his office, his personal assistants, his personal security officer, close party workers and his aide at Delhi are all partisans to the solar scam deals of the prime accused Saritha S. Nair and Biju Radhakrishnan in one way or the other.”
In the second and third volumes, it gave its findings on the other terms of reference. In the final volume, going out of the terms of reference, it dealt with the affairs of the Kerala Police Association, whose Secretary’s name had come up in the scam.
For long, media interest on the scam was focussed on a letter Saritha wrote while in police custody giving an account of how politicians and police officials sexually exploited her. She had passed it on to an aide of K.B.Ganesh Kumar, a former Minister belonging to the Kerala Congress (B), which had some issues with the Congress in the UDF. Justice Sivarajan included a version of the letter which was produced before him in the report as an Appendix and recommended that the allegations in it be investigated.
Pinarayi Vijayan placed the report before the Cabinet which decided to refer the corruption charges to the Vigilance department and the sexual exploitation charges to the Police. Overlooking his own earlier decision not to brief the media after Cabinet meetings, he called media persons and announced the Cabinet decisions immediately. However, he refused to release the report, saying it had to be placed before the Assembly and the government had six months to do so.
Oommen Chandy wrote to the government for a copy of the Commission report on the basis of which action was being taken against him and his colleagues. He also filed an application under the Right to Information Act. The possibility of his getting a favourable order from the Information Commission or the courts prompted the government to call a special session of the Assembly to make the report public.
Soon doubts arose about the propriety of investigating sexual exploitation charges without a complaint from the victim. The problem was solved when Saritha came forward with written complaints. However, on legal advice, the government asked the police to register cases against the leaders only after investigations as the accused might raise pleas of mutual consent.
While placing the Commission’s report before the Assembly, Pinarayi Vijayan, with good sense, avoided naming the persons mentioned in Saritha’s letter  and the nature of the alleged sexual offences. Most newspapers, too, showed restraint. However, the entire report was on some websites, including that of the CPI(M) daily, Deshabhimani. 
Saritha’s letter, in broken language, begins in the first person: “Me, Saritha S. Nair. Today arrested on ground of solar scam.” Then there is an abrupt switch to the third person: “Now she hears some problems and allegations. Reports came in news papers. She does not see news papers. But from the talk of the persons with her, attempts are being made to make her alone scapegoat. She understands. Really, who are guilty? She alone? Those who have done wrong can escape? She alone will suffer at last she believes. Really when the wrong-doers are living happily, false stories about her alone out. Who remembers that she has also mother, children and grandma. Instead of killing her inch by inch why not she be killed at a stretch.”
The letter closes with the names of 17 persons and lists separately her complaints against each of them. All except a few are accused of some form of sexual exploitation.
The letter seethes with the fury of a woman scorned. Oommen Chandy’s statement that he did not know Saritha appears to have incensed her. If the account is truthful, it follows that she bribed several leaders in cash and in kind.
Saritha has made so many contradictory statements before television cameras in the last four years that the extent of truth in them remains a matter of speculation. She once claimed the CPI(M) had offered her Rs 10 crore for spilling the beans on the Congress leaders.
At one stage Saritha’s name figured in more than 40 cheating cases and the total amount involved was said to be more than Rs 6 crore. After coming out of prison she bought peace for herself by settling several cases fully or partly in circumstances that are shrouded in mystery.
When a Malayalam channel reported last year that Saritha’s letter mentions sexual exploitation by Oommen Chandy, writing in Outlook, Shajaham Madampat said, “In this writer’s opinion, this is an implausible charge....Oommen Chandy is surrounded by scores of men all the time, even in the privacy of his bedroom!” Disbelief was expressed also by N.S. Madhavan, a former IAS officer and noted Malayalam writer, this week in a tweet: “Corruption, possibly, yes. But sexual misconduct?” He described the retired judge’s tabulation of oral and phone sex in the inquiry report as a voyeuristic pursuit.
The reactions of Madampat and Madhavan show that Oommen Chandy commands greater credibility than Saritha. Her bold declamations have earned her many admirers, male and female, but she remains an enigmatic figure. Is she an ambitious woman who came to grief as she attempted to bed-hop to success? Or is she a hapless victim of predatory male chauvinism? Whatever the answer to these questions, Saritha’s life illustrates the perils to which a woman is exposed in Kerala's public space.   
The solar scam has briefly illuminated Kerala's expanding sphere of political corruption and social decay. While there is evidence of wrongdoing, given the ways of our justice system, the chances of successful prosecution of those named in Saritha's letter appear to be slim. Nevertheless the Commission’s report and the LDF government’s action on it may serve an immediate political purpose. It will keep UDF leaders tied down in legal battles and ease the pressure on the LDF which is coping with allegations of illegalities committed by Thomas Chandy, Minister belonging to the Nationalist Congress Party and owner of a lakeside resort, and P V Anvar, an LDF-Ind MLA and promoter of a water theme park.  (outlookindia

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala

Until I saw Letters to Namdeo Dhasal, poems by Chandramohan S, recently I did not know we had amidst us in Kerala a Dalit poet writing in English. 

There are several novelists of Kerala origin, all of them living outside the state, who have made a mark as writers in English. There are also a few poets writing in English, like Jeet Thayyil and C.P. Surendran, who too live outside the state. 

Chandramohan, who appears to be a worthy successor to Kamala Das, the first Keralite to win recognition as a poet in English, lives in Thruvananthapuram.

Letters to Namdeo Dhasal is Chandramohan’s second book of poems. The first, Warscape Verses, was published in 2014.

Chandramohan’s world view is breath-taking. Shambuka, Nangeli, Marie Magdalena, Jim Crow, Dow Jones and Fredreich Engels are all in it.

Keki N. Daruwala, the renowned poet, writes in The Hindu:

Dalit poetry, based on 2,000 years of experiencing atrocities from caste Hindus, needs to be handled respectfully. Letters to Namdeo Dhasal by Chandramohan S. has just landed on my table.
An easy way out with critiquing Dalit poetry is to say it is political, quote some lines, and pass on. There is more to Chandramohan. For a Dalit poet to write in English is itself a political act. But he keeps referring to ‘vernacular rivers’. He is fighting (and deriding) caste and elitism at the same time. Not only that, he stands up for the immigrant and the third world. At our malls, ‘A green eyed petrodollar/ Engulfs the third world like a tsunami.’

In a poem ‘Occupied Language’, after talking of abandoned adjectives and ‘vowels lynched and hung upside down’ (like tortured prisoners?) he talks of colonial symbols on a map and ‘refugees fleeing through edited check points/ to seek asylum in an alien tongue.’ The poem ends with the immigrant into the elite language (English, let’s face it) ‘abbreviating his surname’ and then ‘stripping bare the sterile meat of/ An evacuated language.’ I have chosen not to quote the more telling attacks on caste.

A poem on Murugan who hanged himself in Hyderabad (and how the BJP cried itself hoarse , saying he was not a Dalit) ends with the lines, ‘We become him/ Conform or perish.’ We get defiance: ‘This poem refuses to undergo painful procedures/ Like the long intrusive questionnaire … before it is granted a visa.’ (‘The Muse in the Market Place’.)

He will not be regimented by those who wear nationalism on their sleeves. He has a strong ‘Beef Poem’. In ‘Love in the Time of CCTV’, he says, ‘You are under surveillance when chalk scrapes/ On the blackboard,/ when you walk in straight lines, march in tune/ To the drumbeats of uniformed discipline/ While lip synching to the national anthem.’

I have been unable to mention some beautiful poems like ‘Portrait of the Woman as Young Woman’. Meena Kandasamy is mentioned in the Introduction. I, for one, have been following her prose and poetry closely with respect.

LETTERS TO NADEO DHASAL: Poems by Chandramohan S, Published by Desirepaths Publishers, 401 Shree Prutha Residency-2, Shubham Park, Gotri Road, Vadodra 390 021

Price Rs 150 US$6

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Cultural Feast at Kozhikode

                      With Anand, Zacharia and Sashi Kumar at a panel discussion

There was much more than book talk at the Kerala Literature Festival held at Kozhikode from February 2 to 5. It was a cultural feast. Its sweep was breathtaking.

From morning till late evening, all the four KLF venues on the beach were agog with activity. Three forums, named Ezhuthola (Scroll), Aksharam (Letter) and Thoolika (Pen), witnessed kaleidoscopic changes as one set of writers and activists stepped aside after discussing a subject for 90 minutes and another set stepped in to discuss another subject, possibly before another audience as there was constant shuffling of listeners. 

There were panel discussions, face-to-face encounters and intimate chats. 

Apart from the leading lights of Malayalam literature, new-generation writers who are currently making waves by exploring new areas employing new techniques also participated in the discussions.

KLF was not about Malayalam writing alone. The presence of Indian writers in English and writers in other Indian and European languages presented interested persons with a rare opportunity to acquaint themselves with literary developments elsewhere too.

One venue, named Vellithira (Silver Screen), was devoted exclusively to films. It witnessed continuous screening of films, long and short, curated by C. S. Venkiteshwaran. 

The rich fare included tribal dances and a shehnai recital by the legendary Ustad Bismillah Khan’s grandson, Nasir Abbas Khan.

KLF ventured beyond the worlds of literature, arts and culture and covered several issues of contemporary relevance such as Gender, Caste, Religion and Democracy.   

According to Ravi Deecee, Chief Facilitator of KLF and Secretary of the DC Kizhakemuri Foundation, organizers of KLF, more than 300 writers from India and abroad participated in the discussions on about 120 topics. He avers that wide participation by writers and diversity of topics of discussion make KLF India’s largest literary festival.

                            Bindu Amat in conversation with Norwegian writer Runo Isaksen

This year’s was KLF’s second edition. K. Satchidanandan, Director of KLF, said it was organized drawing inspiration from the success of KLF1 and learning lessons from its weaknesses.

No body in Kerala perhaps has better credentials than the DC establishment to organize an event of this magnitude. And no person perhaps has better credentials than Satchidanandan to head the effort. And certainly no place has better credentials than Kozhikode to host such an event.

The ultimate credit for the success of KLF belongs to the people of Kozhikode who made the festival their own. Its leading citizens were part of the organizing committee, and a large number of students volunteered their services to make it a grand success.

                                     A view of the audience at one of the four venues

Enthusiastic people moved from one venue to another to become part of the events that interested them most. There was so much on offer that I doubt if anyone went away without the feeling that they could not attend every event that interested them because of time constraints and overlap of events.

There are unmistakable signs of rot spreading in Kerala society. KLF will do well to explore the social scene more deeply in the coming editions.