10 MAR 2016
Evasive politics on Muzaffarnagar
Those who don’t learn from history may be fated to repeat it, but what about those who don’t get their history down in the first place? India’s record in officially taking stock of communal riots has been especially poor in recent decades, and the report of the Justice Vishnu Sahai commission inquiring into the 2013 Muzaffarnagar violence plays to form. The report, tabled in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly this month, zeroes in on the “negligence” of the local administration, the “failure” of the intelligence agencies and exaggeration on social and print media for the violence that coursed through many districts of U.P., leaving more than 60 dead and 60,000 homeless, an overwhelming number of them Muslims. Commissions of inquiry are often guided, by framing the terms of reference in a particular way, to conclusions that are politically manageable for governments. Whether by omission or by the terms set for it, the Sahai commission appears to have exonerated the entire political class. It has also stopped short of extending the line of responsibility for local administrative failures to the Secretariat in Lucknow. Certainly, responsibility must be fixed on the intelligence and administrative machinery for failing to pick up and act upon signs of trouble leading up to a combustive mahapanchayat of September 7, 2013. But once the mahapanchayat gave a rousing war cry, as violence was visited upon unsuspecting rural dwellings in Muzaffarnagar and neighbouring districts, and as the survivors fled in search of safety, the Akhilesh Yadav government distinguished itself by responding exceedingly slowly, a lack of haste that was widely seen to be deliberate.
While giving a clean chit to Mr. Yadav’s Samajwadi Party government, the Sahai report mostly glosses over the role of the Sangh Parivar in the violence. There appears to be an effort on the part of the SP to deny the Bharatiya Janata Party any opportunity to bring Muzaffarnagar back into the political discourse — indeed, to deny the BJP a chance to sharpen communal politics. Just recently, the BJP’s candidate won a by-election in Muzaffarnagar after a polarising campaign. If this is an indication that the SP is regretting its obvious strategy in 2013 to play along with the BJP’s divisive politics in the hope that it would consolidate the anti-BJP votes to its advantage, the party would have to do much more to come clean. The fissures that started showing in September 2013 have grown with time. These have to be addressed administratively, by providing compensation to the victims and bringing the guilty to book. But they cannot be fixed if the politics itself remains evasive, with the BJP using its Hindutva strategy to consolidate its vote and its opponents side-stepping the issue for fear of giving Hindutva more oxygen. The Narendra Modi government made a statement about where it stands by making one of the accused, Sanjeev Balyan, a Union Minister. That the Samajwadi Party government and the Opposition parties refuse to engagingly contest the anodyne conclusions of the Sahai report is a depressing indication that, for now, the political healing touch needed to rectify the wrongs of 2013 is absent.
Maria Sharapova and a poser for sport
Two months after the tennis world was rocked by match-fixing allegations, Maria Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion and the highest-paid female athlete, dropped a bombshell when she admitted to testing positive for the recently prohibited drug meldonium at the Australian Open. She has been provisionally suspended from March 12. The drug was added to the Prohibited List of 2016 on January 1 after being on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) monitoring list in 2015. The Agency banned the substance because of “evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance”. According to WADA, a substance is placed in the prohibited list if it enhances performance, poses a threat to health, or violates the spirit of sport. In this case, by aiding the circulation of oxygen through increased blood flow, the medication (primarily meant to treat serious heart problems) enhances performance, thus violating the spirit of sport. The effect of the drug is similar to other banned substances — autogenous and allogeneic blood transfusion for extra doses of red cells and the erythropoietin hormone to produce more red blood cells to increase oxygen supply to muscles, thereby enhancing endurance. Since the drug was banned on January 1, 2016, the titles Sharapova won during her career will not be taken back. Nonetheless, by netting one of the biggest stars, the tennis anti-doping programme has at once brought to an end the debate on whether it has been soft on tennis players; two other tennis players were caught as recently as in 2013.
While some may be inclined to consider Sharapova’s an “honest mistake”, as she “did not know” that the mildronate medication that she had been taking for the last 10 years is also known as meldonium, it raises a few questions. Sharapova has been residing in Florida since 1994, and it is unclear how she gained access to the drug, as it is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. She is still to adequately explain the medical requirements that necessitated its consumption for a decade, as according to the company that manufactures the drug, the treatment course may “vary from four to six weeks” and it can be “repeated twice or thrice a year”. But she can seek a retroactive therapeutic use exemption by proving the merit of her case. Whether or not she enjoyed the performance-enhancing benefits of the drug during the last decade, it once again underlines the fact that scientific evidence-gathering and testing methods are slow to catch up with the increased use of performance-enhancing substances. This case should serve as a reminder for India too to clean up its act. While India may not be producing many world-class athletes and sportspersons, it ranks very high in terms of the number of cheats. According to a 2013 WADA report, with 91 dope offenders, India is ranked third, behind Russia and Turkey. Russia had 212 persons testing positive for prohibited substances, while Turkey had 155.