On the BJP’s attempts to curry favour in Mizoram…

Last month, for the first time, the Bharatiya Janata Party won an election in Mizoram. The party contested 201 seats in 37 village councils in the autonomous tribal area for Chakmas, a Buddhist community that is an ethnic minority in the predominantly Christian state. It won 42 seats and a majority in seven councils.

“We are Buddhists, not Christians, and so they [the Mizos] want to keep us backward,” said Deepak Larma, a resident of Borapansuri, which lies along the Bangladesh border, as he explained the appeal of the BJP. “The way things are, we will not advance in Mizoram, and so we are thinking of partnering with Modiji. We have voted for the Congress and the MNF [Mizo National Front] and they did nothing. Can Modiji do something for us?”

But it’s not just the Chakmas who are turning to the BJP. Leaders of the Lais and the Maras – two minority tribes that follow Christianity and have with their own autonomous councils in south Mizoram – are also making overtures to the party.

and so starts a dangerous game.

How the congress subverted its biggest rural development programme in Mizoram

Until last fortnight, most nights in Mizoram were lit up by the red glow of forest fires. Long thin lines of flame, rising and falling along the contours of the hills, ate their way up through the forest. It was jhum time in the state, when farmers who practice the traditional practice of slash-and-burn cultivation torch large sections of jungle so that they can begin planting next season’s crops.

In Mizoram, as in other parts of the North East, the forests are owned by the local community. There is little individually-owned farmland. Each year, villages burn a part of their community forest to clear land for farming. The next year, they move to a new tract, leaving the previous one fallow for the soil to recover, returning to it after some years.

This year, the administration set March 15 as the deadline for burning forests. And so, in the evenings, even in the state’s capital of Aizawl, one could see thick tendrils of smoke rising from its surrounding hills. In the mornings, one woke up to see wisps of soot and burnt leaves on the ground and in the air.

in 2011, the congress government in mizoram launched NLUP — new land use policy. ostensibly to get farmers out of jhum cultivation. in this story, i take stock of how the programme is working. and find that it has been subverted by the state government into nothing a tool for gathering voters by doling out patronage.

Mizoram governor’s sacking is BJP’s latest misstep in a state it is trying to woo

When Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah makes his planned visit to Mizoram this month, officials of his organisation’s state unit have arranged for him to meet with church elders and receive a memorandum from them. Their note will remind the BJP that “India is a secular state, that the people of Mizoram are against the beef ban, and that we protest the anti-conversion bill”, said a senior official in the party’s Aizawl office.

The memo, which challenges some of the Sangh Parivar’s most prized axioms, is the brainchild of the party’s own state unit. A senior party leader contacted church elders and asked them to prepare it. Mizoram, which is 85% Christian has long been wary of the BJP’s Hindutva preoccupations. Party leaders were hoping that the Modi effect will neutralise some of that suspicion. However, recent steps by the BJP have made matters worse.

The latest source of anger for the state’s people is the sacking of Mizoram governor Aziz Qureshi on Saturday. He is the sixth governor to leave the state since the Modi government took charge in May. He was the second governor to be sacked – after Kamla Beniwal.

Announcing “Ear To The Ground”

How is India doing?
It’s hard to say. While some of the major changes underway in the country are extremely visible, others, less dramatic or occurring away from the media’s usual hunting grounds, are more difficult to detect. Between them, we have an incomplete understanding of India as it is today.
The fallout is predictable. We live in a balkanised democracy whose people are poorly aware about the lives of their fellow citizens. The country keeps throwing up surprises ‒ the recent lynching in Dimapur, unexpected election outcomes as in Delhi, a strident new religiosity. It’s getting more difficult to comprehend where we are headed…

i am uploading this post late. my first story for scroll’s field reporting series, called “ear to the ground”, appeared on the 19th. that day, i was in central mizoram — in its lunglei district with dim connectivity. the next day, i travelled further south for another 7 hours and ended up in saiha, one of the three autonomous district councils in mizoram. this evening, as i type this post out belatedly, i am in lawngtlai.

these are all parts of the country i have never seen before. and so many of the issues i am encountering are ones i have never written on earlier. like this first story on dampa.

The park is overrun by assorted gunmen, from local hunters to armed insurgents. A senior forest official in Mizoram’s forest department estimates that, given Dampa’s location, abutting Mizoram’s border with Bangladesh and Tripura, the reserve is used by as many as 12 separatist groups variously to enter or leave India.Key among them are splinter groups of the Shanti Bahini, which is fighting for Chakma autonomy in Bangladesh, and the National Liberation Front of Tripura, which wants to establish the state as an independent Christian nation.
In recent years, the NLFT has carried out a set of kidnappings in and around Dampa. The most recent took place in February, when NLFT insurgents, working with the Bru Democratic Front of Mizoram, kidnapped 22 workers of the Border Roads Organisation near Dampa. While the Mizos were released the same day, two non-Mizos were taken hostage. Unconfirmed reports suggest they were eventually allowed to go, but only after ransom payments were made.
Armed insurgents, however, aren’t the only threat to the park. Dampa exemplifies the complexities of wildlife conservation in the North East, a region where not just animals, even people are caught in the throes of upheaval.

ps: have spent close to a month in mizoram. one month more to go. it is a daunting thought. time goes by so quickly. and there is so much yet to understand.

And then, the NDA decided to allot coalblocks to state PSUs for commercial coal mining…

out today, this quick and dirty story about the issues that need to be considered before allotting coal blocks to state companies for commercial mining. the last time this was tried, things were a complete snafu. see these two stories — one, and two.

A new threat for Delhi’s air quality monitoring systems

On Tuesday, the Indian government announced a big change in how the people of Delhi get their air quality data.

So far, the three agencies monitoring air quality in the city – the Central Pollution Control Board, the Indian Meteorological Department and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee – collect and disseminate their numbers separately. The Indian Meteorological Department  has digital displays across the city. The Central Pollution Control Board and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee put their numbers online.

But in the new system, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee and the Indian Meteorological Department  will stop making their numbers public. Instead, their data will be sent to the Central Pollution Control Board for analysis. “Authenticated air quality information will be communicated to Delhi Pollution Control Committee on daily basis for further dissemination to the public at large,” the government statement said.

Coming at the end of a year where Delhi came to be known as one of the most polluted cities in the world, the announcement has been greeted with suspicion. 

And with this, drumroll, I open my account at Scroll.in. ;-)

Why AIIMS Is In Trouble

This, and an accompanying story published in today’s ET, argue that this response is half-baked. And that, instead of making populist promises, India’s egregious leadership would be well-advised to start by reviving the main AIIMS. The hospital is meeting the same fate as most public sector enterprises — it is being subverted for private gain by a plethora of people.
This, I should also add, is my last story for ET. I left the paper in mid-February with a lot of affection and gratitude towards it, the bosses I worked under, and the colleagues I worked with. ET gave me my first break — to report on rural India and environment. Then, it followed up by giving me extraordinary freedom and support. It was a place where I grew as a reporter. And where I forged a set of friendships that will last a long time. For all that, much gratitude.

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