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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 40, September 21, 2013

Silver Lining

Sunday 22 September 2013, by SC


Last Friday, that is, on September 13, all the four accused—who were found guilty of a criminal conspiracy to gang-rape, murder and commit unnatural sex on the 23-year-old physiotherapy student, subsequently described by the media as ‘Nirbhaya’ or ‘Damini’, in New Delhi on December 16, 2012—were sentenced to death by a fast-track court in the Capital. The court asserted that since the “gravity of the incident depicts the hair-raising beastly and unparalleled behaviour” it (the court) “cannot turn a blind eye to sending a strong message to the perpetrators of such crimes”.

As was to be expected, the verdict was greeted with full-throated approval by the public at large, especially those who had assembled outside the court to hear the judgement. Family members of the victim also endorsed it wholeheartedly, saying justice had been finally meted out. However, there were other voices too. Amnesty International India opposed the death sentence on the ground that instead of death penalty far-reaching procedural and institutional reform is what is needed to tackle the endemic problem of violence against women.

And in a forthright editorial The Hindu noted that while justice had been done with even the juvenile offender found guilty, the death sentence marks a “step back” since “it will have the effect of substituting the need for greater social, legal and even political efforts to tackle the epidemic of crimes against women with the false comfort of retribution” and “death to sexual offenders is not the answer”.

The controversy on this score cannot end soon.

Meanwhile on that very day (September 13), the BJP Parliamentary Board decided, at the RSS’ behest, to formally announced Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. And this happened without party patriarch L.K. Advani’s consent since the latter skipped the meeting. This created the impression of dissension in the party over the choice of Modi for the office of the PM but this was shortlived—for all his reservations, Advani publicly backed the nomination of Modi for the post even though he equated the achievements of the CMs of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh with those of Modi in Gujarat.

But this step by the BJP leadership, though widely expected for long, is likely to polarise the polity as has been apprehended by close observers and Modi himself, in his first public speech in Haryana after his annointment, did practically nothing to dispel those fears. Rather he strengthened them. However, what needs to be underlined is that the communalisation of the atmosphere, as seen in the incidents of Muzaffarnagar, is evident also from the way in which the RSS has begun to flex its political muscle by openly directing the BJP to carry out its orders (something not visible in public in 1979 when the ‘dual membership’ issue first cropped up to eventually split the ruling Janata Party). This too is a cause for alarm.

Meanwhile the international situation has eased somewhat at least for the present and the prospect of imminent US-France military asaault on Syria has relegated into the background. As was noted even by a strategic expert closely aligned to the West,

In Putin’s trifecta, Obama could claim success in forcing chemical disarmament on Damascus. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad could breathe easy by trading chemical weapons for regime survival. And Putin would put Russia back at the heart of Middle Eastern geopolitics, reclaiming its role as a global power. The deal is yet to be consummated, but Putin had reasons to celebrate with a cheeky op-ed in the New York Times.

This is a welcome sign and the following article presents a clear idea of what really happened and how even though it was written before the US Senate took the decision not to permit bombing of Syria for now. One only hopes the step taken by Putin would be consolidated shortly.

Amidst all the complexities in the national and international scenario it is the Russian initiative to prevent military strikes on Syria that indeed offers a siliver lining at this point in time.

September 19 S.C.

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