Uglier than usual
Communal violence fuelled by filthy politics is no stranger to western UP. Yet that does not suffice for the recent flare-up and continuing tensions to be deemed routine ~ pushed to the back-burner once the blood-letting ceases, and with that the opportunity for garnering political mileage diminishes. This time around the worst viciousness has been manifest in rural areas, hitherto largely spared the insanity that grips urban communities when the religious divide is exacerbated. The enormity of the task to maintain law-and-order across the rural swathe is not difficult to imagine, as indeed would be the consequences for failure to nab trouble makers: even worse would be implications of that cancer taking root in the countryside. The state administration has a mammoth effort ahead of it. Sadly that administration inspires little confidence in its capacity to deal with such situations, and the inexperienced chief minister has failed to maintain even normal law and order. Charges of ‘goonda-raj’ when the Samajwadi Party rules Lucknow were vindicated even before Muzaffarnagar blew up. It is true that conditions were not salubrious during other regimes but the hopes kindled by “fresh” Akhilesh Yadav have been severely dashed. That his mentor and father had to step in confirms the uneasy apprehensions. The short point is that indifference to less-tricky situations has drastic consequences when the heat gets turned up.
Who turned up that heat will be hotly debated. Certainly the manner in which the BJP allowed Narendra Modi to kick-off his campaign from UP is ominous, and the revival of the Ram Mandir, and allied Hindutva issues, cannot be discounted. All the more reason then for the administration to have been on high alert: and for whatever it is worth North Block had also cautioned against the potential for trouble as elections approach. Yet the eagerness with which the BSP and Ajit Singh&’s motley crowd have jumped into the fray suggests the politics is not one-sided. Interestingly the Congress’ heir-apparent opted for silence, like the man ever-willing to hand over the reins to him: even though UP is said to be Rahul&’s home turf. True that New Delhi has offered to make more central forces available, and the Prime Minister did speak to the younger Yadav, but it was a case of too little too late. The sad reality is that all the major political players in UP have cakes to bake on the fires of communal flare-ups. And so the focus must return to the administration ~ police and civil. The collapse of the “steel frame” is nowhere more evident than in UP. Mercifully thus far the Provincial Armed Constabulary has not been slammed as it had been during previous violence ~ remember Malliana? Still, the image of an ill-administered state has just been magnified.

Press under stress
It is sad to read the report of Manipur newspaper editors selling their own newspapers. Blame it in on eccentricities of a fringe militant group on whose diktat the All Manipur Newspaper Sales and Distributor Association has stopped lifting papers. It all started after a rebel outfit issued a press release and wanted it published, but when the All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union found its contents harmful to the interests of the public, it refused to oblige. This is not the first time we have seen the constraints under which the print media has to function in the state. In 2006, a militant group, with multiple factions, intimidated the media to publish only its handout ~ on its “raising day celebrations” and ignored earlier by the press ~ and that too without making any changes. To ensure this, it invited six editors to a “press conference”, forcibly confined them to a room for the night and allowed them to go home only next morning, after being satisfied that all their papers had published the handout as instructed. Not only militants, even the state government has tried to gag the press. In the 1990s the W Nipamacha government had the temerity to issue dos and dont&’s for the press. The present Ibobi government even invoked the archaic Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911 in four valley districts, following which an editor was arrested. In September 2009 the administration tried to intimidate the press. According to the AMWJU, about 300-placard carrying demonstrators from the chief minister&’s constituency defied a prohibited area – they were said to have been escorted by police personnel— stormed into three newspaper offices and allegedly threatened their staff for publishing “wrong” information. The Ibobi government&’s guardians of the law, the elite police commandos, have not even spared media persons. There is no clue yet on why they shot dead a young trainee sub-editor of a local publication in 2009 while returning home after work. The most glaring case was the arrest in December 2010 of Ahongsangbam Mobi, editor of a vernacular daily and also vice-president and spokesperson of the AMWJU on charges of being an activist of a militant organisation.The newspapers in Imphal suspended publication in protest for some days.
In Manipur so far four journalists have been shot dead. And newspaper houses continue to receive gifts of bombs and bullets. Press in Arunachal Pradesh is also under target. In July last year an associate editor of a Itanagar-based newspaper was shot at, severely wounding her. In Assam so far since 1987 as many as 20 media persons have lost their lives. Strangely, in both states, culprits continue to roam free. So much for freedom of the press without fear and the pen being mightier than a sword.