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The Bugbear of a United Opposition

In stark contrast to the BJP’s balance of fortunes, the Opposition parties are yet to see eye to eye with each other, sink their differences and come together to put up a united front

Of late, it has been noticed that when polls are around the corner in our country, and the anxiety bug bites the contestants, the resultant scenario provides a conducive environment to the Opposition parties to nurture an occasional delusion of unity. It happens because the need for unification dawns on all those who oppose the ruling party. Moreover, the outline of the proposed alliance, no matter how blurry, seen through the haze of uncertainty of politicking, infuses them with false hope and confidence. After all, isn’t politics an art of making the impossible possible?

Why a United Front?

Having already tasted blood in the Bihar and Karnataka polls by forming unscrupulous alliances, Opposition parties are baying for more. As the Lok Sabha elections are much more bitterly fought than the Assembly polls, as well as on a much larger canvas, the rival parties are keen to join forces and present a united opposition to challenge the BJP-led NDA, instead of each one fighting on its own. This is happening despite the temptation of the alluring prospects of hogging the glory all on their own if they fight and win the elections on their own strength.

Talks for Coalition

With the 2019 general elections not being far away, the Opposition parties have started sounding cocky rather than forlorn, which is the real state of mind they are currently in. They are convinced more than the ruling party that the next round of parliamentary polls poses an existential threat for them. Hence, they know that they must unite or perish. Unity is not to be mistaken for a merger of parties on ideological lines, sinking the current differences. That seldom happens in India where parties, with the rare exception of a few ideological ones, are run like the fiefdom of strong power-thirsty patriarchs around whom self-serving minions rally to make the parties numerically strong.

The unity that is being talked about is but the piecing together of a ragtag coalition, to collectively take potshots from a common platform at the ruling party. To this end, there have been rounds and rounds of talks between regional satraps and national non-entities about a Grand Coalition (GC). The Indian National Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Trinamool Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Telugu Desam Party, Janata Dal (Secular), Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Loktantrik Janata Dal, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Communist Party of India are some of the leading parties, which have pitched in at the talks. Each of these parties and the other potential allies have floated their own balloon of unity, not unlike a vain peacock showing off its colourful feathers on hearing the first strains of a thunder yonder.

Stuck to Drawing Board

The prospective partners of the proposed grand coalition (GC) or Mahagathbandhan claim they are endowed with a gifted leader of their own, capable of leading not only the mega-alliance but the nation too as the Prime Minister. Every single one of them is convinced that its own PM candidate is the chosen one endowed with sterling leadership qualities. Leading the pack are Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee, with Tejasvi Yadav, Chandrababu Naidu, Deve Gowda and at least half a dozen others bringing up the rear. The ultimate objective of the GC is to remove Narendra Modi, whom they have declared the number one enemy, from the Prime Minister’s post at any cost.

The strategy is simple and straight: accuse Narendra Modi of corruption, being anti-poor and anti-Dalit, favouring ‘corporate cronies’ and siding with the saffron outfits to the detriment of secularism and vilify his image. Tactics include provoking Modi and his party into making false moves and fall into the trap. The escape route too has been well thought out. In case, the strategy backfires, then blame it on the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and the ‘undeclared emergency’ prevailing in the country.

With the game plan and roadmap firmly in place and several leaders keen and ready to become the chosen one to lead the nation, the constituents think that the yet-to-take-shape GC is poised to take the country by storm and capture the reins of power. All it has to do is to sweep the polls and oust the enemy. However, here we need to remember that the current milieu is too vacuous for its very formation. In short, talk of unity and victory continues to remain confined, or should we say stuck, to the drawing board!

Great Fallout

Following the repeated assertion of Rahul Gandhi that he is ready to be the next PM, Mayawati has rebuffed the Congress offer of a lesser number of seats than her party’s due share at the forthcoming Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh. She has voiced her party’s determination to fight the elections in MP and Rajasthan on its own rather than compromise on her self-respect. She has already entered into a coalition with Ajit Jogi’s party for the Assembly polls in Chattisgarh.

She has further announced that she is the best Prime Ministerial candidate of them all, and is loved by the people; and that BSP would have no truck with Congress in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. With the ebullient BSP opting out, the GC has already suffered a serious setback even before its formation. Now it remains to be seen if the Congress Party will go out of the way to placate Mayawati and play second fiddle to BSP.

If Mayawati has renounced outright the terms of Congress for an electoral tie-up in two states on the pretext of her party not being prepared to compromise its self-respect (read not wanting to give up its supremacy in the proposed GC), Akhilesh Yadav has his own plans too. Having already had a bitter experience of aligning with a Congress of waning fortunes in the UP Assembly polls in 2017, he doesn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about another electoral alignment with that party.

Akhilesh has passed the onus of hammering out the GC to the Congress Party. He interceded the quibbling for seats between the Congress and the BSP by asking the former to show, as the principal partner, its magnanimity and accommodate the latter’s demand for more seats. He has further stated that the delay on the part of the Congress in finalising the seat apportionment would lead to like-minded parties individually deciding their own separate plans. In short, SP may most probably go the BSP way.

Looming Bugbear

Although the Telugu Desam Party and the Jammu & Kashmir People’s Democratic Party, which were BJP’s NDA allies in the 2014 elections and for some years thereafter, have quit the coalition and another ally Shiv Sena is showing restiveness, the BJP has done a commendable job of keeping the rest of its brood together. Furthermore, the Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK and TRS do not seem to be averse to doing business with the NDA. In stark contrast to the BJP’s balance of fortunes, the Opposition parties are yet to see eye to eye with each other, sink their differences and come together to put up a united front. Whether a grand coalition could trounce the BJP and its allies in the polls or not is a bridge that needs to be crossed only when the Opposition succeeds in breathing life into the comatic Mahagathbandhan. Till then, the talk of a united opposition is nothing more than a bugbear aimed to unnerve the ruling party.

(The article The Bugbear of a United Opposition is published in ‘Organiser’ )

Interrogating the viability of Secularism in the Nation-building Exercise

Instead of allowing the continued use of Secularism as a convenient carpet to brush the reprehensible minority-appeasement policy of the corrupt politicians under, how the principle should be trimmed and tweaked to make it a viable input in nation-building is the question that currently begs an answer

A nation is always in the making, and nation-building is a continuous process. For a constant and massive exercise such as nation-building to be a success, stability at home and safe external borders constitute a sine qua non. A country’s territorial integrity could not be more in danger than when its defence preparedness loses out in priority to out-of-sync foreign policy, attuned to an archaic dogma such as non-alignment, which is no more viable than deadbeat concepts such as imperialism, colonialism or apartheid, in the changing world order.

Likewise, in a vibrant democracy such as Bharat, surrounded by hostile neighbours and unstable partners in development, the importance of a fine-tuned domestic policy of religious and spiritual matters can never be exaggerated. That is because such a system keeps the diverse bodies of religions, faiths and cults counterbalanced and thereby ensures the prevalence of harmony and goodwill among the people.

Why Secularism?

A significant fallout of a thousand-year occupation of our country by Muslim invaders and European colonial powers was the conversion of substantial numbers of its original inhabitants to religions that had their origins outside Bharat. Aside from the beliefs introduced by the invading forces, Bharat has a large body of indigenous religions that have managed to survive the onslaught of foreign invasions. It is essential that notwithstanding their place of origin and manner of introduction, all these religions be accorded their due place in the society and all Indians be allowed to choose the religion of their choice and live in peace without fear of persecution.

At the same time, it is equally vital for the State not to favour or be biased against any religion in the course of providing excellent and clean governance. Besides, adoption of a non-meddlesome policy in the religious matters would instil confidence in the citizens of our country concerning the free and fair dealings of the government in an atmosphere devoid of fear or favour, which is the very basis of inclusive growth and development. Hence, Secularism is accepted as a cardinal principle of the Indian Constitution. When rightly applied and practised, Secularism should do the nation proud.

However, till recently, the ground realities reflected by the social indicators in matters such as religious harmony, economic and social development without animosity and hatred between the people of different communities presented a different picture altogether. The social fabric, which had been left in tatters by the partition, still needs much mending. The communal harmony that happily exists among the people of different communities exhibits signs of an occasional glitch or provocation, instigated by the enemies of the nation from both within and without. Nationalism is the most effective bulwark against communal discord and needs to be vigorously promoted.

Pseudo-Secularism

Secularism is the fig leaf, which the quintessential Indian politician proudly wears and flaunts, in a fly-in-the-face fashion, pushing the nation’s integrity and the upliftment of the less fortunate of his countrymen to the backburner. The motivating factor behind the projection of Secularism as a critical policy is to brandish one’s political correctness, especially on the hearing of the bugle for a forthcoming election. To the corrupt politician, nationalism, nation-building, patriotism, and inclusive growth and progress are passe.

During the 60-year reign of the Indian National Congress and its allies at the Centre, Secularism was recast by the powers that be to suit their narrow ends. Good governance, progress and development figured nowhere in their agenda. The more natural way out was to divide the people along communal lines, as the British had done during their rule, to create vote banks and cobble up the isolated communities in the name of Secularism.

In the absence of a genuine policy of non-discrimination between the religions, independent Bharat witnessed uncertain periods of time, marked by communal tension and riots. There was an obvious slant on the part of the government of the day

Minority appeasement became the order of the day, reducing the State policy of Secularism to pseudo-Secularism. The irony of the disturbing development was that those who practised minority-appeasement for the sake of votes and abandoned Secularism in favour of pseudo-Secularism branded BJP, which had sought to set right the imbalance between the minority and majority communities, a communal party, with the aim of turning the minority communities against it.

Although this ploy benefitted the Congress and its allies in the short term, it started working against them in the long run when both the minority and majority communities realised that neither of them was the beneficiary of economic progress or social development during the Congress reign despite the tall promises made on the eve of polls. On the contrary, the minority communities in the BJP-ruled states discovered that communal tension and riots had become a thing of the past, they enjoyed the patronage of the ruling party in return for their political support and became beneficiaries of the inclusive development of the State.

All they had to do for the sake of communal harmony, economic progress and social development, was to swear by nationalism and become equal partners in the task of nation-building, the same as was expected from the majority community. Realisation also dawned on them that a rule by strong State and Central governments by a party of principles and ideology was far more beneficial and conducive to their security than control by corrupt men, marked by empty promises, scams and scandals.

The Fallout

When minority appeasement was the order of the day, and pseudo-secularism ruled the roost, the stability of our nation continually came under severe attacks, with the enemies of the nation succeeding in causing a dent here and a jolt there across the country. Such occurrences weakened the security apparatus, demoralised the people, thwarted democracy and helped the external enemies from across the border to deal blows to the territorial integrity of our country. When our defence personnel fought overt and covert wars across the border and in the troubled border States, intelligence agencies and paramilitary troops had a tough time, carrying out sporadic campaigns against terrorists, Naxals and jihadi outfits, and monitoring the activities of separatists operating in the ruse of political and social activists.

A major casualty of these interesting developments was Secularism, which had run out of steam and was replaced by pseudo-Secularism. This development went unnoticed by a large section of the unwary public.

The recent political events and happenings in our country like the court rulings in matters such as access by all parts of people to the Shani Shingnapur and Sabarimala temples, bans and restrictions on the celebration of Hindu festivals, and construction of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya impinged the Hindu religious sentiments. These decisions have had a salutary effect on the majority community in their outlook and attitude towards the so-called Secularism.

Instead of allowing the continued use of Secularism as a convenient carpet to brush the reprehensible minority-appeasement policy of the corrupt politicians under, how the principle should be trimmed and tweaked to make it a viable input in nation-building is the question that currently begs an answer. As such, all future elections will be fought, with this question featuring predominantly in the minds of the discerning voters.

(The article Interrogating the viability of Secularism in the Nation-building Exercise is published in ‘Organiser’ )

How to make farming an attractive career proposition for the Indian youth?

More and more youth could be motivated to become successful farming entrepreneurs and adopt a cluster of farms and run them for the farm owners through farm workers on the lines of a corporate enterprise

Indian economy has been in a great shape. It has indeed come of age on the strength of a phenomenal growth story during the last four years. The World Bank has hailed India as the fastest growing nation among the world’s major emerging economies, and lauded its economy as robust and resilient, with a potential to deliver sustained growth. Such splendid success would not have been possible but for an astounding performance by the industrial sector.

New horizons of development came into focus when our country set a record last year by launching a hundred satellites simultaneously into space. India is poised to become only the fourth country in the world to send a manned-spacecraft by 2022. Under the global brand of ‘Make in India’, the country is becoming a global hub, especially in the electronics and automobile manufacturing segments, as stated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his recent visit to Japan. It is rapidly moving towards becoming the premier mobile phones manufacturing country.

Crowning Glory

Indian culture, with its various facets such as Indic studies, Sanskrit, philosophy, yoga, performing arts, comparative theological study, etc, is becoming increasingly popular all over the world. As such, it is making inroads into the thought and political processes the world over, especially in the Western hemisphere. Since a long time, our country has been biding its time to take its place among the comity of nations as Vishwa Guru. The prospects of India’s tryst with the crowning glory in a fast-changing world order seem brighter at this point in time than at any time in the past.

In such a promising developmental scenario, a significant chunk of credit for the stupendous success of the economy goes to the farming sector, the importance of which could be hardly exaggerated. Although it accounts for only 18 per cent of our country’s GDP, the farming sector, being the mainstay of the economy, provides employment to over 50 per cent of the workforce. What is more, there is a tremendous scope for further enhancement of the development indices of the sector. The scope, however, needs to be tapped and exploited by undertaking urgent measures to ensure maximum benefit. To this end, it is imperative to target the youth segment of the workforce, looking for cushy jobs in urban areas.

Enrolment of youth in the farming sector is very important as they are today’s roots and tomorrow’s trunk and branches of the magnificent Kalpataru of Indian economy. This is, however, easier said than done in the unenviable conditions currently prevalent in the farming sector. 

The lure of a comparatively easygoing lifestyle in the urban areas, which flows out of salaried employment in the government and private sectors, is too hard to resist for most of the youth. Therefore, unless a fundamental change is brought about in their mindset and attitude, farming as an option will continue to remain a poor cousin to employment prospects in the urban areas.

Perceptions

In India, the very mention of farming conjures up in the mind of an uninformed person, an image of tilling and toiling in the sun and rain, let alone droughts and famine, using traditional equipment and manual methods, with no certainty of a steady income even at the best of times. Another popular perception about farming is that people from the upper strata of the society don’t take to agriculture as a vocation. Owning vast stretches of land is fine and indicative of one’s wealth and status but to be called a farmer is tantamount to being branded as a handler of a menial job, no matter how much the income.

The opinions mentioned above not only have a solid base but also tend to influence the ground realities. The appeal of the farming sector that rides on the shoulders of the perceptions would undergo a vast transformation only when there is a substantive change in the ground realities. Unless and until there is a significant shift in the attitudes, it would be unrealistic to expect the youth to accept farming in their career options. The need of the hour is, therefore, a paradigm shift in perceptions.

Laundry List

There is a laundry list of irritants, minor and major, which currently ails the farming sector. Modernisation of the farming methods and equipment is the primary change that needs to be ushered in. Similarly, in place of crops traditionally cultivated year after year since time immemorial, there has to be a judicious mix of traditional crops and cash crops to make farming a sustainable source of livelihood. Furthermore, to improve and augment food production, the factors to reckon with are drip irrigation, usage of modern agricultural implements and equipment, counselling by experts in areas ranging from ploughing to sowing, cultivation, harvesting, marketing, etc.

To make life more agreeable for a farmer, an assured income at a reasonable investment in a government scheme, a viable insurance scheme to offset the loss and damage to the crops owing to droughts and famine, soft farm loans, water and electricity at subsidised rates, minimum assured prices for the crops, etc are the areas to be addressed. Where there is no law or scheme governing these matters, necessary legislation process should be initiated immediately and appropriate laws passed. The existing regulations governing these matters need to be periodically revisited and reviewed by the government. In short, the peasant should never be left high and dry. Moreover, he should never feel defenceless and vulnerable, placed as he is between the vagaries of weather on the one hand and the maze of government agencies, loan sharks, etc, on the other.

Role of Universities

Universities owe a lot to making farming an attractive and lucrative career proposition for the youth. This starts with motivating the students and appraising them of the career prospects that await the successful completion of a course in agricultural studies, and assured career progression in services such as research and application of findings in farming, counselling of farmers, and careers in centres of procurement and marketing of crops, food processing, exporting of farm produce, production and marketing of modern agricultural implements and equipment, raising of cattle and other farm animals, water management, etc.

More and more students could be motivated to become successful farming entrepreneurs and adopt a cluster of farms and run them for the farm owners through farm workers on the lines of a corporate enterprise. The resulting enhancement in the production of crops and an increase in revenues would bring in significant profits and success for the farmers while also ensuring that the farm workers are paid getting paid good salaries and allowances, without having to fear risks and perils associated with farming and other agricultural activities.

Indian Agriculture Service

Every course in academics has to be, by and large, career-oriented and so should be farming. Furthermore, let us have an exclusive Indian Agriculture Service on the lines of the Civil Service to make the marriage between academics and employment in the farming sector viable and attractive. There are countries where compulsory military training is the norm. Let India set a new norm by making farming a mandatory part of academics. Also, let us catch them young by associating school students with farming. The rest will be history, with a promising farming sector of tremendous appeal and lucrative career options.

(The writer is a well-known economist and top banker)

(The article How to make farming an attractive career proposition for the Indian youth? is published in ‘Organiser’ )

A Bishop’s Bloomer or a Harrowing Tale of Silent Sufferers

The Roman Catholic Church in Kerala, which was already mired in a slew of charges of rape and sexual abuse involving its priests, received a further jolt a few months back when a nun fired a fresh salvo of yet another rape charge against a senior clergyman. The nun went public with the startling accusation that she had been repeatedly raped on several occasions over a period of two years by Franco Mulakkal, who is the Bishop of Jalandhar Diocese, during the latter’s visits to a convent in Kerala. At first, she wrote to the Vatican and sought the bishop’s removal from the post. As no proper response was forthcoming, she filed a complaint with the police.

Meanwhile, the Church instituted an internal probe into the nun’s complaint and issued a clean chit in favour of the bishop. Although the police, on their part, registered a case, the preliminary probe against the accused dragged on for nearly three months, which led to the pulling up of the State and the police by the Kerala High Court. It became particularly awkward for the police when the nun further accused that the bishop used his authority and clout to defame her and tried to buy off her silence with a bribe of Rs 5 crore.

Bishop’s Arrest

The police stepped in and called the accused bishop for interrogation but not before a group of nuns and a motley collection of women group activists, artists, writers and celebrities took to the streets in a protest march, and the State erupted into a hysterical demand for justice for the aggrieved woman. Meanwhile, the bishop refuted the charge outright, calling it baseless and concocted. Franco Mulakkal alleged that the nun filed the case against him as a vendetta because he had ordered an internal probe against her after a woman complained that the nun was having an affair with her husband.

However, the bishop could not sustain his allegation against the nun, and his fake claim of a vendetta got exposed owing to contradictions in his own statements, which he had made during three days of interrogation, coupled with digital and circumstantial evidence, as well as statements of witnesses. This led to his arrest and finally on September 21, the High Court sent him to judicial custody.

Allegations and Counter-Allegations

The vociferous support received by the nun from a section of the society was sought to be rebuffed with counter-allegations against the woman in distress by a group of political supporters of the accused who did not flinch from indulging in character assassination. Poonjar MLA, PC George even went to the extent of calling the nun a prostitute.  Without a shred of evidence to back their theory, the supporters of the bishop blamed anti-Christian forces for plotting to bring disrepute to the Church by making the bishop a fall guy. Meanwhile, three more nuns joined the tirade against the bishop, accusing him of sexual misconduct towards them. However, the Church stuck to its stand that the bishop was innocent.

Following a report that the nuns supporting the rape-survivor were planning a second phase of agitation, a Kerala-based independent body that goes by the name of the Catholic Federation of India, consisting of followers of the Catholic Church, condemned the move by the nuns, calling them a cat’s paw in the hands of those individuals who are against the Church, anti-social elements and some terrorist groups. Claiming that the nuns were illegally occupying a convent, the federation demanded their ouster and announced its decision to launch an agitation to press its demand.

Face Saver

The troubled waters became even murkier when the Vatican recently came out in the open with the revelation of a humongous conspiracy by Satan to undermine the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis has spoken about the devil being alive and working overtime to sow scandals and division in the Church. Although he made the statement in the global context and his message made no specific reference to the scandals in India, especially the rape charge made by the nun in Kerala, it could not have come at a more appropriate time for the accused bishop and his supporters who were badly in need of a face saver.

Meanwhile, the Kerala High Court granted bail to the bishop on October 15, and he was released the next day from a sub-jail near Kottayam. A large number of supporters, including independent MLA PC George, greeted him as he came out of the sub-jail at Pala. The clergyman first went to his residence in Thrissur and later left for Punjab. When he reached Jalandhar on October 18, Franco received a hero’s welcome from his supporters, nuns and the current administrative bishop. They showered rose petals on him and welcomed him with a huge garland.

False Belief

Here it needs to be emphasized that when the rape is committed by someone very well known to the victim in whom the latter had reposed faith and trust, the crime of rape assumes more sinister dimensions. In this specific instance, the survivor was allegedly let down and attacked on several occasions by Franco Mulakkal, whom she had known well and closely. Besides, the perpetrator was apparently nursing the false belief that his target, being much lower than him in the hierarchy of the establishment, was in no position to raise her voice against him. This is nothing but betrayal of faith and misuse of power!

The Fallout

When the targeted person fails to receive justice from the establishment, it erodes her faith in the institution, no matter how lofty or August. Perceived delays on the part of the investigating agencies lead to lack of confidence in the system. When hounded by the mainstream media and lobbies that indulge in name calling, the woman in distress may become more depressed for having become the centre of unwanted attention and a soft target for unscrupulous sources of scurrilous writing. Implicit and explicit threats, hurled at her in the course of defending the accused, are capable of causing psychological injuries that leave behind emotional scars.

Justice for Restoration of Faith

In view of the above, the strong likelihood of the fallout of the sordid crime polarizing the society on communal or religious lines should be resolutely resisted by all the right thinking men, irrespective of their religious or political moorings and divisions. Men and women should rally around the just cause of ensuring justice for the aggrieved. The wheels of justice must be seen to grind, with the interests of the individuals involved in the case and the cause of the issue at hand, namely, freedom for the vulnerable links in the hierarchy of institutions from the fear of oppression and persecution, being the only considerations. A rape is a rape, no matter who perpetrates it on whom and there is no condoning of the perpetrator of the crime.

This message should be sent across the society to instil the fear of the law among the potential criminals as well as to safeguard the hope for justice among the weak and the vulnerable. Above all, the sanctity of a place of worship and trust and faith in those who serve God and humanity must be restored. In future, the Church’s cooperation with the investigating agencies and the Court in seeing the case through will be immensely helpful for shoring up the goodwill of the devout churchgoers and the others alike as well as to ensure fair play for the victims and the aggrieved.

Is Imran Khan a Ray of Hope or a Pakistan Army Pawn?

As soon as Imran Khan was sworn-in as the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan on August 18, people in the Indian subcontinent started pondering over the following questions. Will the new government under Khan be able to improve the economic and social conditions of Pakistanis? Will he be able to convert a highly corrupt nation on the verge of becoming an altogether failed state, into a flourishing and thriving democracy, expunged of corruption and terrorism? Will his government’s foreign policies succeed in improving the Islamic Republic’s diplomatic relations and trade ties with India? Or will the cricketer-turned-politician prove to be a damp squib and disappoint his supporters?

Although the odds are heavily laid out against him, the never-say-die neo-convert and latest entrant to Pakistan’s charmed circle of celebrity political leaders, exudes confidence and seems poised to inject a breath of fresh air in the dynastic civilian politics, allowed to briefly glow like a flickering flame, during brief interregnums of military rule in which the country has been perennially engulfed ever since its inception.

Pushing for Peace

Whatever degree of success Imran Khan manages to accomplish in cleansing the Augean stables of corruption, how far he is able to push the envelope in his pursuit of peace with India is a matter of great interest in the regional as well as international politics. This is especially so in view of his country’s heavy dependence on China, bordering on total subjugation, for its economic and military survival and the latter’s blow hot and cold relations with India owing to the availability of a massive scope of trade relations notwithstanding the festering border disputes.

India has made its intentions clear that a dialogue with Pakistan is not possible unless the latter improves its record on harboring non-state actors. The snub by India in September by calling off meeting of two countries’ foreign ministers must have made the new Pakistan PM realise that shrewd foreign policy won’t work with Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India. This is why he recently pinned hope on resuming ties with India after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Adding to Imran Khan’s embarrassment was an acceptance by a veteran of his cricket fraternity, Shahid Afridi, who confessed that Pakistan doesn’t merit Kashmir as the Islamic country has demonstrated incompetency in managing its existing provinces.

Customary Rigmarole

In his very first address to the nation as the newly elected Prime Minister, Khan made haste to extend a hand of friendship and invoked India’s cooperation. He spoke about the need to settle all the disputes between the two countries through dialogue. His if-they-take-one-step-we-shall-take-two speech went well with both the Pakistani and international audiences. The speech was, however, received in India with a mix of customary cynicism and caution as the new Prime Minister had qualified his call for the resolution of all disputes by referring to the “core issue of Kashmir,” a hackneyed cliché used by all the Pakistani rulers and establishments, past and present.

As if his lacklustre offer of friendship and peace was already not a blatant rehash of rhetoric resorted to by his predecessors, he was far too economical with crucial issues such as cross-border terrorism, proxy war and ceasefire violations across the LOC to make a mark for himself. In short, his speech was nothing more than a cautious attempt to send a right signal for peace across the border, stopping short of displeasing his own country’s military-intelligence nexus, which has had a stranglehold over the foreign policy and security issues.

Devoid of a genuine and bona fide longing for peace, which only a truly democratic leader with a vision, and the unstinting support of his people, like Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Narendra Modi, is capable of articulating with conviction, Imran Khan’s speech was merely a customary rigmarole that every newly-elected Pakistani Prime Minister embarks on. After all, he is anything but a product of circumstances that his country has produced in a toxic political atmosphere of corruption, nepotism, religious fundamentalism, brute military might and unapologetic terrorism supported by the state to establish and perpetuate a religious ideology with its origin in the Gulf, truncated democratic system, totalitarianism, intolerance towards minorities, survival on foreign economic and military aid, unvarnished hatred for India, etc.

On Army’s Tight Leash

Imran Khan is the latest of the civilian rulers that the Army has chosen to foist on the people of Pakistan to divert their attention from the economic and political ills of the country, by means of a carefully orchestrated electoral process to perpetuate its hold on the Islamic nation. He has been allowed by the military establishment to talk of a corruption-free economy and austerity measures such as the scaling down of the Prime Ministerial bungalow, reduction of menial staff, auctioning off a fleet of luxury cars in the PM’s establishment, etc. Unfortunately, these are all cosmetic gestures designed to appeal to the layman who has been badly shaken out of his stupor of complacency by the staggering volumes of debts that his country reels under and the alarming speed at which it is sliding down the hill before being declared a basket case or a banana republic.

To add some verve to the speech, throw in a talk of peace with neighbours. However, leave the initiative to India, which has time and again declared that its position on the bilateral relations is clear: Kashmir is an integral part of India and its territorial integrity is not a matter for discussion with Pakistan or any other country. Unless Pakistan disowns its policy of proxy war and reins in the terrorists who infiltrate into India, there could no discussions or talks. Pakistan is flummoxed by India’s repeated assertion of its stance and has been trying in vain to find a chink in its armour. Imran Khan’s olive branch is the latest in that country’s series of overtures to make itself look like a peace-loving victim at the mercy of an aggressive neighbour.

Pragmatism

Hemmed in by the Army of his country and the all-weather benefactor China, how free is Imran Khan to pursue his avowed aim of forging friendly and peaceful relations with India? With the Army breathing down his neck, does he have time on his side? In any case, how serious is he about the resolution of disputes through talks? What was stopping him from even talking about staying off the beaten track of bleeding India, let alone calling halt to the operations of the Army and the non-state actors engaged in shoot and scoot manoeuvres with the Indian security personnel?

If consistency is the hallmark of mediocrity, Imran Khan walks away with the credit of being singularly consistent in refraining from putting his money where the mouth is. All he had to offer India at present was the sweet talk of peace that he has done with customary élan. India has sensed the predicament that Khan finds himself in, having been catapulted by the Army to the dizzy heights of power, which is conspicuous by its absence when it comes to delivering on the promises.

As the military in Pakistan has a history of interfering in political affairs, majority of the political analysts remain sceptical about Imran Khan being able to function independently without appeasing their agenda. Hence, it may be ominously bad news for India as prime ministers in Pakistan have always been puppets of the military of that country, and Imran Khan is no different. He too has the backing of the Pakistan military. In fact, it is probably the reason that his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), won the recent elections in the first place.

So, as far as India is concerned the status quo shall prevail. Only, they will have to deal with a different political leader, and probably a diverse but insignificant set of personal predilections of a new cricketer-turned-prime minister, who is just another puppet of the Pakistan military that will continue its proxy rule of the country.

Has the RBI failed in Lining-up the Banking Reforms? A few questions for the Central Bank from a top banker

RBI failed in doing this by giving a body blow to commercial banks and instructing them to identify bad loans with immediate effect and not in a phased manner

Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) top brass comprises of persons with the outstanding calibre, and they should know even more than ordinary citizens that their public statements can make or break the economy of the country. Still, we are not to forget that reasonable dissent must be allowed to uphold the integrity of our institutions. In this light, hereunder are some questions that seek answers from RBI.

First, let’s talk about non-performing assets (NPAs) and the 2016 initiative of the central bank mandating strict provisions for stressed assets. NPAs are a common phenomenon in any economy since not all borrowers can service loans in a time-bound manner owing to many reasons which can be within (bad management decisions or embezzlement of borrowed funds) or beyond their control (unfavourable market conditions or sudden change in government policies). Prudently tackling with NPAs involves identifying stressed assets in such a manner that they do not adversely affect future lending operations of banks.

What about RBI’s deliveries in its present functions? Now that everyone is discussing and finding faults in the IL&FS episode, barely is anyone trying to reach to the bottom of the issue. Credit rating agencies (CRAs) of India had until recently shied away from flagging IL&FS and downgrading it despite the financial mess that was growing within due to asset-liability mismatch

RBI failed in doing this by giving a body blow to commercial banks and instructing them to identify bad loans with immediate effect and not in a phased manner. Imagine, the dust that was being continually brushed under the carpet was taken out all of a sudden and banks were ruthlessly asked to clear the mess immediately.

Making of the Crisis

What happened was almost all public sector banks posting unprecedented losses and a double whammy of lost confidence in banking institutions (that otherwise would have made dividend payments to support GoI’s expenditures) and curb in lending activities. The government had to step in and earmark budgetary resources (which otherwise would have been used to fund infrastructure growth, thereby creating jobs) to recapitalise banks. The question is why RBI recklessly pursued bad asset recognition exercise rather than undertaking it in a time-bound manner?

Second, let’s talk about regulation of RBI over banking institutions. RBI seeks greater autonomy in this respect but is the current framework so bad? RBI conducts Annual Financial Inspection (AFI) of commercial banks where the central bank assesses many aspects including loan books and financial health of banks. In the year 2016, RBI took a sudden, rather knee-jerking decision, of increasing the sample size that it analyses and unearthed many skeletons in loan books that had hitherto remained hidden. Loans that were extended without proper due diligence and were on the cusp of turning bad should have been noticed by RBI prior to 2016 during its AFI exercise.

However, this never happened. Moreover, while the central bank enjoys vast powers concerning private banks- where it can remove CMDs, call a meeting of Board, appoint observers and remove managerial brass- it failed to rein them in, and it was only after the Asset Quality Review exercise that lenders such as ICICI Bank abruptly recognised stressed assets. The question is why RBI did not tough act before 2016, and properly conduct AFI?

Third, RBI has openly voiced its concern over establishing a separate regulator for payments as suggested by the government. RBI’s rationale is that since all digital payments have an underlying bank account and banks are regulated by it; there exists no need for a separate regulator as it would result in overlapping jurisdiction and synergy would be compromised. Although the data isn’t available on how many digital transactions fail on a daily basis, for example when a person uses the UPI interface to transfer money from one bank account to another, one can easily guess that the number is substantial. RBI, the institution that oversees functioning of banks, has a mandate to keep inflationary forces under control and undertake various measures like open market operations (OMO) to infuse/ curb liquidity and sell/ purchase dollars to manage rupee exchange rate, cannot be expected to handle payment ecosystem, thereby justifying the need for a separate regulator. The question is why the central bank wants to hold on to power?

Fourth, what about RBI’s deliveries in its present functions? Now that everyone is discussing and finding faults in the IL&FS episode, barely is anyone trying to reach to the bottom of the issue. Credit rating agencies (CRAs) of India had until recently shied away from flagging IL&FS and downgrading it despite the financial mess that was growing within due to asset-liability mismatch. Although CRAs are regulated by Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), they are also accredited by RBI to undertake rating exercises for large loans, commercial papers and Letter of Credit. It was only in July this year that RBI contemplated undertaking a joint audit of CRAs along with SEBI. The damage, however, was already done. IL&FS, which enjoyed debt rating of highest standards, defaulted on its obligations and the ripple effect was felt across the sector. In a flash, almost every NBFC stock headed south owing to liquidity crunch in the sector. The question is why RBI did not rein in CRAs proactively?

It is easy to criticize the ruling Government than to admit own blunders. And RBI chose the former to take the spotlight away from its own failures as listed above. Indeed, the central bank deserves its share of autonomy to maintain the health of India’s banking sector and undertake timely remedial actions in cases of divergence. However, the wise men of RBI cannot stand vindicated when they openly blame the government of the day without any rationales whatsoever. Foreign investors are already pulling money out of emerging economies due to rising interest rates in the United States; hence a public rift between the government and country’s central bank will only further erode confidence. At a time when the country desperately needs investment for infrastructure growth and to create jobs, the RBI’s dissent is an unjustifiable endeavor. Setting own house in order ought to be the priority of RBI.

(The writer is an ex-Director of PNB & Dena Bank)

(The article Has the RBI failed in Lining-up the Banking Reforms? A few questions for the Central Bank from a top banker is published in ‘Organiser’ )

A Case for CAATSA Waiver

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The balance of power is in a vague state today. The bipolar world with two competing forces, one United States and the other USSR, isn’t as prominent a theme in the 21st century as it was during the long period following the end of 2nd world war till the 1990s. Debates and articles in leading publications now focus more on the US-China clash and its geopolitical and economic fallouts than on the previously preferred topic concerning the US-USSR rivalry. China is increasingly making inroads in every possible part of the world through its ambitious Silk Road project, corporate investments and mining ventures, and that the Chinese debt is crippling countries from Sri Lanka to Pakistan, Maldives to Montenegro, is a widely acknowledged fact.

In this scenario, India has signed a multi-billion dollar defence deal that involves purchase of S-400 missile defence system from its long-standing ally, Russia. India’s outlay on defence equipment is justifiable given the potent threats from two of its neighbors- China and Pakistan. India has fought multiple wars with Pakistan, the country that housed Bin Laden and also trains militants on its soil to upset India’s national security calculus. With China, India has fought a war and skirmishes on Indo-Chinese border have made many headlines in the recent past. All the three Asian countries hold nuclear weapons and it is in the best interest of all, even for those located beyond the continent, that the deterrence model (by way of procuring more sophisticated arms to match and surpass opponent’s arsenal symmetrically or asymmetrically) keeps them from any sort of misadventures and engaging in a full-blown war.

Prominent national security experts have exposed the fanciful notion that Indian armed forces are fully equipped to sustain and retaliate strongly in an event of war. In this light, and after China having already purchased the S-400 system from Russia, it appears rational that India had to take a concrete step to upgrade its defence capabilities. The partnership between the two countries is mutually rewarding since Russia has traditionally provided India with defence equipment and the multiple-sanction that hit Russian economy has found a regular revenue stream. Both are sovereign countries and the partnership between them must be viewed with the lens of any country’s right to protect its borders and protect its economy.

As per various reports in the media, the India-Russia deal has not gone well with the United States and can result in sanctions backed by the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Soon after the deal was concluded during the Modi-Putin Summit held in New Delhi, it is rumoured that crucial Trump-administration officials were hopeful that the President would use his executive powers under the Act to provide for a waiver from sanctions to India. But in a late turnaround, the President is quoted as saying ‘India will find out’. Although this does not necessarily mean that the US is preparing for a punitive measure against India, but given the straight-talking attitude of President Trump, denial of sanctions to India cannot be wholly ruled out. But will these sanctions be a wise policy action?

First, India, for long, has opted to remain out of the bipolar balance of power struggles by not exclusively aligning with any of the powers. India is the only Asian nation that could one day, potentially, stand upto the might of China, which poses threat to the world at large by illicitly claiming the South China Sea and building military bases in as far as Africa. Under the astute leadership of President Trump, the United States has itself emphasised ‘Indo-Pacific’ strategy as a substitute to Asia-Pacific. Joint military exercises by India and US and recent agreements on sharing of intelligence and use of ports have further strengthened the bilateral relationship.

Second, the economy of the United States has repeatedly set records under Trump with such economic indicators as employment generation impressing even his staunch critics. Parallelly, President Trump has waged a trade war against China by imposing unprecedented tariffs on imported goods. The US has also abandoned the Iran nuclear deal; however, other signatories to the pact are trying to save the deal as much as they can in their capacities, though their commitment to Iran is suspect, starting with France. The US sanctions on Iran that will kick in from November 4 this year will see crude importers finding it tough and expensive to keep up with the oil needs of their respective economies.

Given of such a state, one could argue that President Trump would welcome allies that can both check the rising Chinese aspirations as well as continue to back the US on global and multilateral platforms, it will be a prudent decision by Trump to allow India a temporary waiver from CAATSA. The leader – who knows precisely when to arm-twist and when to use soft power (North Korea, a rogue nation, has finally agreed to open its nuclear sites to scrutiny and gradually give up nuclear weapons) – is expected to think rationally and let the Indo-US relationship thrive. Enabling India to fortify its defence capabilities is indeed in the best interests of the US, and the icing on the cake is that India isn’t eating up any US resources (like the NATO members) in its pursuit.

(The article “A Case for CAATSA Waiver” is published on page no. 46 & 47 in ‘Organiser’ dated 28th October 2018)

Mob Lynchings: Individual Preferences and Community Sentiments

1_Mob LynchingWhat is the evilest of all the acts that man is capable of conceiving and executing? Undoubtedly it is murder. “Murder most foul,” says William Shakespeare in Hamlet. He goes on to elaborate that the “most foul act” becomes further “strange and unnatural” when the killing is by a man of his own brother.

Society and Individual

A society takes shape when a group of people come together on fraternal terms and agree to lead a disciplined and peaceful life as demanded by the law of the land. All of a sudden, an unruly group of members from within the society collects to kill an individual member over a perceived issue of serious transgression or violation of the society’s code of behavioural norms. Lynchings by mobs are not unique to any particular society or country. It has been a worldwide phenomenon, both unpredictable and often occurring on the spur of the moment.

Mob Lynchings

What provokes a mob to commit the “most foul” act of murder that is “strange and unnatural”? Apparently, the mob collects and lynches the victim under the conviction that the latter is a hazard to the orderly functioning of the society and is therefore expendable. The victim commits an ‘unpardonable’ act that causes the mob to see red whereupon its members assume a sense of self-righteousness and arrogate to themselves the task or responsibility of cleansing the society by setting things right as per their perception and conviction.

“One man’s food is another man’s poison,” goes an age-old saying which is not, arguably, any more relevant in any other part of the world than in India. Nothing seems to have created so much bad blood or consternation between the major communities in India as their culinary preferences and taboos. Every community has its own sentiments, which do not brook certain practices or the other, including food habits. Such practices are shunned as taboos and are strictly forbidden, breaches entailing heavy penalties and sometimes harsh punishments, not tenable under the law of the land.

When the community sentiments run quite deep and are as old as the living memory, if not longer, the community seems to become sort of impervious to the law of the land. In the case of two different communities, which are governed by their own acceptable sets of norms that are prickly and irreconcilable in relation to each other, alarm bells start ringing and things start going wrong.

Individual Preferences

Notwithstanding their community affiliations, individuals have their own preferences in matters that have a direct bearing on their personal or private life, such as their choice of food, drinking habits, selection of life partner, etc. When the individuals are ready and willing to make compromises in their personal preferences in order to align with the sentiments of the community amid which they live, a cordial atmosphere of mutual understanding and peace prevails. It is only when an individual puts his foot down and insists on having his own way, in the exercise of his right to his personal preferences that things tend to get out of control, resulting in ugly precipitous action. Likewise, when neither of the two communities with conflicting beliefs or sentiments is prepared to compromise, ugly showdowns are precipitated.

Community Sentiments

The Hindus consider beef eating one of the darkest sins that a man could possibly commit. They believe that the cow is a sacred animal and her body is the dwelling place of all the deities that they worship. They consider the cow as an alter ego of one’s mother. They worship the cow and believe that protecting her is a sacred duty mandated by their religion. Slaughter of a cow is, therefore, an unthinkable act for a Hindu. It is not only cows but cattle, as a group of animals, which enjoy the traditional status of endeared and respectable living beings in Hinduism. This sentiment is also shared by Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism. Cattle slaughter has been frowned upon and shunned for reasons ranging from cows being considered a species protected by Lord Krishna, to cattle being valued as an integral part of the rural household and unity of life, an economic necessity and as an important principle of non-violence and peace.

Law on Cattle Slaughter

Much thought had been given to the protection of cattle before and after Independence for the purpose of enacting suitable legislation. While Article 48 of the Constitution explicitly mandates the states to prohibit the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle, the Directive Principles under the said Article exhort the states to legislate on the prohibition of cattle slaughter. The issue has generated a lot of arguments for and against the prohibition of cattle slaughter. Since Islam and Christianity consider cattle as an admissible source of meat for consumption, and sections of the Hindu community have accepted beef eating due to the influence of the Western culture or dilution of their own religious sentiments, there is a sizable population of the votaries of consumption of beef. As a result, enactment of legislation has not been without major roadblocks or hiccups. Consequently, there is a lack of uniformity among state laws governing cattle slaughter.

The absence of a nationwide blanket ban on cattle slaughter, the prevalence of a plethora of laws enacted by different states, some states taking a stand that is at odds with the Constitutional provision, and the prevalence of disaffection among followers of Islam and Christianity over the issue have transformed India into a simmering cauldron of conflicting stands, sentiments and practices. This has given cause to exporters and transporters of cattle within the country operating either in genuine ignorance of the legal position or trying to take advantage of lack of clarity of law for the purpose of making a kill (pun intended).

Gau Rakshaks and Lynchings

The Gau Rakshaks or self-appointed protectors of cows in states have had confrontations in the past with illegal transporters of cattle. There has been one ugly showdown too many, resulting in preventable loss of precious lives. This unfortunate happening tends to occur every now and then in some state or the other. One sad aspect of the exercise undertaken by the Gau Rakshaks is that it is aimed at the transporters and, therefore, does not always succeed in discouraging the real forces behind the operation of illegal trafficking of cattle. The possibility of mischief makers infiltrating the ranks of Gau Rakshaks to bring the latter a bad name cannot be ruled out either. For instance, two years back, Pawan Pandit, Chairman of Bhartiya Gau Raksha Dal (BGRD) had said that some criminals just claim to be Gau Rakshaks to take revenge over issues that have nothing to do with cow protection.

What makes the killings or lynchings particularly unfortunate is that the perpetrators and victims belong to different communities, which adds a communal colour to the incidents. Notwithstanding their intention to protect the cattle, the Gau Rakshaks draw flak from the mainstream media(MSM), which is heavily prejudiced in favour of the victims, and play up the incidents. The Government of India has taken a strong and unwavering stand in the matter. It has stoutly denounced the lynchings by mobs as inexcusable and directed the states to strictly enforce the law. While the strict enforcement of laws will bring the frequency and number of lynchings down, the ugly phenomenon will die out only when the nation hammers out a uniform policy and enacts uniform legislation enforceable throughout the nation.

Church and Crimes Against Women and Children

2_Church and Crimes Against WomenLately, our country has been all agog about an alarming spurt in the crimes against women and children, with the involvement of the Church authorities, leading to much distress and consternation. The crimes range from cheating and criminal intimidation to betrayal of faith and confidence, blackmail, rape and trafficking in body organs and sale of infants. The incidents have given way to much soul searching and introspection and rethink among the women’s groups and authorities alike. Meanwhile, well-meaning people, cutting across the religious barrier, have started analyzing the circumstances and situations leading to the crimes and exploring possible ways and means of preventing their recurrence.

Spate of Rapes by Clergy

Following an egregious spate of rapes by priests across the country and more particularly in Kerala, the Supreme Court took cognizance of the matter and wondered as to what was happening in that state as priests were becoming accused in rape cases. This question was posed by the apex court following the arrest of four clergymen in Kerala on charges of raping a married woman. Apart from married women, young girls and even nuns have fallen prey to the carnal desires of amoral clergymen.

What stood out as a common factor in practically all cases of rape reported against the priests was the betrayal of faith reposed in the men by women who were in distress and worried about having sinned in the past and the exploitation of their helplessness by the very same men who had promised to deliver them absolution.

A woman who goes to a Church for making a confession is a potential target for the unprincipled and unscrupulous men among the clergy, looking for easy prey to satiate their animalistic instincts. Blackmailing her into submission, the human predator on the prowl exploits the weakness of the prey to his advantage, not infrequently multiple times, with equal participation by his associates from the clergy.

Reasons for Spurt in Rapes

One possible reason for the recent explosion in the number of rape cases could be the coming forward by more and more victims in the open with accusations against priests unlike in earlier times. Another reason could be the role played by the social media, which has been acting as a bellwether whistleblower of crimes in contrast to the mainstream media agencies that are often found in shackles of allegiance or loyalty to powerful individuals or social lobbies. How easy is it for a mainstream newspaper or television channel to report the case of rape of a woman who is a non-entity for all practical purposes, by Clergymen with powerful reach of contacts at the level of the spiritual stratosphere?

For every case of rape registered with the police, how many incidents of rape go unreported in the country even today for fear of stigma, bad publicity, vengeance, etc is anybody’s guess. But for the yeoman service rendered by social organizations concerned with the welfare of women and the social media, life would pass on for most of us as yet another parody on a lazy summer afternoon without an exposure to the ugly underbelly of the society.

Fallout of Rape by Clergy

What makes the case of a rape by a priest unique is that the victim is from the same religion as the perpetrator, and well-known to the attacker. The familiarity of the priest leaves a chink in the armour of the woman who goes to the Church in the first place to make a confession, and leaves her vulnerable to blackmail by the same priest who threatens to disclose her confession to her family members if she does not cooperate and grant him sexual favours. That the clergyman is violating the norms of behaviour stipulated by the Church regarding confessions, meant for the ears of no other human being, is beside the point. Likewise, what action is taken against him by the Church for his bargaining for sexual favours in return for absolution is yet another matter.

When the blackmail and the rape by a priest are reported by the woman to the higher authorities in the Church, they are often reluctant to initiate action against the accused and seldom pass it on to the police. The woman may be reluctant to go directly to the police as bypassing the Church might make her fall foul with the powerful Church. What if she were to be penalized and ostracized by the Church? But for the timely counselling by the right agencies, she would likely end up a tortured soul. She would quite likely wallow in self-pity and blame herself for bringing about the calamitous situation and its fallout.

There have been numerous cases of women being cheated, betrayed, and physically abused, often multiple times by more than one person in the habiliment of the Clergy. The knowledge that the perpetrator of the crime often gets away with it all, with a mere rap on the knuckles at the end of internal enquiries and proceedings, if at all conducted, by the Church, makes the position of such women all the more pathetic and gruesome.

Baby-Selling & Child Trafficking

Missionaries of Charity (MOC), an organization founded by late Mother Theresa, was recently found involved in trafficking of infants when one of its nuns, working in a shelter home in Ranchi, was caught red-handed along with another employee, selling an infant of an unwed mother staying at the Home. She confessed to selling three more children from the Home on earlier occasions for monetary benefits. The sale of children could not be dismissed as sporadic incidents by an errant functionary. The Home was responsible for the wellbeing and the accounting of the children. Furthermore, there is a big question mark over the young destitute girls that are pregnant and staying at the Home. Whether these girls were victims of an organized racket of prostitution is now a matter for investigation.

Bones & Organ Trade Racket

Shocking incidents of beating up of old inmates, including women, and harvesting of bones of dead inmates and trafficking in human organs were reported early this year at an NGO named St Joseph’s Hospice in Tamil Nadu, which offers shelter to old destitute people. The inmates were denied a decent funeral upon their death. Thousands of bodies have been reportedly buried in concrete vaults. The police are investigating into the appalling conditions in the Hospice and the allegations against it.

Church & Police Investigations

The Church and several organizations affiliated to it and run by pastors are now in the eye of one scandal too many. Several police investigations and court cases are underway. Against this backdrop, the full cooperation of the Church in police investigations has not been forthcoming. There was even a case of a bishop in Kerala claiming some time ago that he was answerable only to the Vatican and to no authority in India. In the case of investigations into the activities of the MOC, Mamata Banerjee lost no time in accusing the BJP-led Narendra Modi government of trying to use the case as a tool to besmirch the image of MOC. Such are the odds against which the police have to work to complete their investigations.

A 2nd TERM FOR MODI AMIDST FALLING RUPEE AND RISING OIL

2nd term

Noted economist, Arvind Panagariya, has lately in his article in Foreign Policy magazine argued in favour of depreciating Indian currency. In a laudable attempt, he has cited India’s trade imbalance and argued that a weaker rupee will in fact help cut deficit since imported goods and services are bound to become costlier, upon which Indians would shift to domestically produced items. Such arguments may sound positive in an ideal world. In the real world, however, a weakening currency raises many eyebrows, including of foreign investors and rating agencies, and on its face is an indicator that not everything in the economy is sorted.

Even those who are not seasoned economists or politicians can tell why the rupee is falling against US dollar. Outflow of investments from Indian markets, rising interest rate in the US, India’s widening trade deficit on account of rising crude prices in international market are some key reasons behind rupee’s depreciation. And honestly, no one would want a freely falling rupee, not even exporters who gain from it since their goods and services become more competitive in international trade. That the RBI intervenes by way of selling dollars to stem any sharp fall in Indian currency is in itself a manifestation of anxiety and subsequent corrective actions undertaken.

Reality is indeed strikingly in contrast to rhetoric. India has a rising middle class that is buying imported goods- from mobile phones to luxury cars- like never before. Electronics are now at the second place on our imports table only after crude oil. Crude is traded in dollar and there lies no justifiable argument that can establish that a falling rupee is a good phenomenon. Arvind Panagariya’s appreciation of a falling rupee and its positive impact on India’s trade with foreign economies thus sounds unconvincing. And for the ruling dispensation that is on the defensive mode on demonetization ever since the RBI report saying almost all scrapped notes are back into the system is out, finding pluses in a falling rupee can be suicidal.

As if the rupee tumble wasn’t enough in the final months of the BJP-led government, rising oil prices are setting the tone for next general elections. For most Indians, if the price of petrol and diesel has touched historical highs, it is the fault of the government they voted in. A common voter has nothing to do with US sanctions on Iran or supply cuts by OPEC or falling inventories of US shale. But yes, the new voter equipped with a smartphone does know that central and state taxes on petroleum almost double their price in retail market. They also feel the pinch when on account of high transportation costs the prices of vegetables and other essential commodities shoot up.

International economists have repeatedly stressed on the need of a second term for the Modi-led government so that India can realise its true potential and the dream of inclusive development can come true. But for the electorate, any government that cannot rein in petroleum prices and stem currency’s fall isn’t an efficient one. The backward classes are already feeling disenchanted with the government over issues ranging from cow slaughter to reservation, and if the burgeoning middle class also distances itself from PM Modi over rising costs of petrol and other imported goods, the BJP may taste a shock similar to NDA defeat in 2004.

Although the government and party officials are aware of the double-whammy of rising oil prices and falling rupee, the Modi-led cabinet isn’t finding enough elbow room to maneuver and produce desired outcomes. The truth is traditional measures won’t bring about the change needed; it is time to take the unconventional route. It is time that the Indian government makes it clear to the United States that their unilaterally placed sanctions on Iran are damaging to India’s interests; hence we would not abide by them. We import more than 80 percent of crude we need, hence not working actively on such alternates as lithium ion batteries that power vehicles is a policy failure. China is the world leader in lithium batteries and it is high time we take a cue from them.

As far as the falling rupee is concerned we may not be in a position to reverse the trend in the short-run. But since we know it is the declining demand of Indian currency vis-à-vis other currencies that results in its touching new lows with every passing day, we are to work aggressively on Make in India. Even if we leave out crude from our import basket, other items including consumer goods and machinery parts, which can be replaced with domestically produced goods, crave for policymakers attention. And for making Make in India a success, India first needs to shake up its bureaucracy that is riddled with inaction, inefficiency and vested interests.

The nation needs a second phase of reforms and decisive policy actions, thus a second term for BJP remains an indispensable element. But the BJP cannot overlook the fact that since they won a landslide victory in 2014 on the back of tall promises, voters may get disillusioned even on mediocre deliveries; the electorate in fact was looking forward to miracles from the Modi-led cabinet and a non-delivery on this part can be damaging for the party. Criticism of the government on rising price of petroleum products and depreciating Indian rupee can spell anything but a boost for Prime Minister Modi.

No economist can predict where rupee and crude are heading in the near future. If forecasts are anything to go by, crude will inflict more pain on importing countries, and a robust US economy will not allow Asian currencies to rebound. Should the existing conditions continue for 3 months more, the rupee breaching the 80-mark against US dollar and petrol prices touching new records of Rs. 90/ litre cannot be completely ruled out. Slowly but steadily, an anti-Modi wave is picking up, and convincing the electorate that the government has no control over rising petrol prices is becoming even more difficult. Squarely blaming external factors cannot be a defense for long.

It is in the best interest of the BJP to dissolve the Lok Sabha before this wave becomes too prominent and formidable. With Amit Shah as the chief strategist, we can hope that the BJP may consider going for early general elections to not allow opposition build on the momentum. But even this looks doubtful in the wake of legislative assembly elections in the states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, MP, Telangana (assembly dissolved by TRS) and Mizoram later in 2018. The way around is to dissolve, without any further delay, assemblies of first three aforementioned states where BJP is in power, and persuade the election commission to conduct state assemblies and Lok Sabha polls simultaneously.

Reining in petrol price rise and rupee fall isn’t an easy task given the macroeconomic factors involved; betting on early polls can be a game changer.

Prime Minister Modi’s Assertion that Industrialists Are Vital for Nation-Building Sends the Right Message

4_Image for PM Modi Assertion Sends Right MessageThe anti-BJP Opposition parties in India would have you believe that a liberal dose of sops, subsidies and waivers of loans to the farmers is what keeps the soul of the economic policy of a government in an egalitarian society ticking. What is more, keep the industrialists on the tenterhooks, wondering about the government’s next move regarding its investment policies and procedures. The more unpredictable its moves in respect of the industrialists, the more people-friendly the government is perceived to be; and appearances are all that counts in the electorate’s estimation.

The Socialists and Communists further believe that populism is what keeps the people happy and perception is what keeps the government stable; and together, a complacent people and a government that keeps the economy in a people-versus-corporates mode make the nation appear truly egalitarian. As such, though Socialism as a political formula is dead and buried all over the world, it is still thriving and flourishing in India, and several political parties still swear by Socialism.

Charges Galore

For the Indian Opposition parties, the above has been the basic lesson in a nutshell for the success of a popular democracy. Any departure from this well-worn-out course of governance makes a government susceptible to the charges of practising “crony capitalism” and following anti-people policies. Thus, this has become the much familiar ideological strand of the political Opposition. The latter does not miss any opportunity to run down the incumbent government, which it believes has veered off the popular course of governance in favour of the corporate sector.

Pitting himself at one end of the spectrum of perception and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the other end, Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi, sports a crumpled kurta, with a torn pocket that he runs his hand through to demonstrate to the onlookers what a quintessential down-at-heel man of the general public he is. He then points out to how immaculately Mr Modi is dressed and then he alleges that the Modi-led NDA government is a veritable “suit-boot ka sarkar”.

Who finances the expensive wardrobe of Narendra Modi, he wonders and surmises that it must be the corporates. Never mind the fact that the so-called “expensive clothes” of Modi are gifted by well-meaning followers of his and the clothes are subsequently auctioned and the proceeds of the auctions donated to charities. How can a man that has risen to the coveted position of the Prime Minister from humble origins, distance himself from the populace by looking so very well groomed? Though you may think that this is a churlish way of making a political statement, Rahul Gandhi does not think so. In fact, it has long become fashionable in the political circles to accuse Prime Minister Modi of being the beneficiary of “packaging” by the corporates.

What is more, the Congress Party president also keeps alleging that the Central Government’s flagship financial blitzkrieg of Demonetization was only launched to help big tycoons and industrial giants to launder their black money, what with their having been clandestinely let in on the announcement of the reform measure well in advance. As such, the black money catcher was working all the time in cahoots with the money bags of the corporate sector, Rahul emphasizes. Similar is the case with GST that is aimed at helping the bigwigs in the industrial circles at the cost of the medium and small scale entrepreneurs and traders! So goes on Rahul Gandhi’s litany of charges against the Prime Minister, who is in no small hurry to introduce a slew of measures to help the industrialists, much to Rahul Gandhi’s mortification!

During the Opposition’s recent unsuccessful bid to overthrow the Modi government by a No Confidence Motion in the Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi reiterated his oft-repeated accusation that the government has been favouring a few select industrialists. He squarely blamed the Prime Minister of giving the offset (export obligation) contract in the Rafale jet deal with France to “one of his corporate friends” at the expense of the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. Rahul’s shrill and strident speech made no secret of the contempt in which he kept the corporates and their alleged overtures to the Prime Minister. The awarding of a defence contract to a private sector player in preference to a public sector undertaking was termed a blatant exercise inimical to the national interest.

Prime Minister’s Counter

In a pointed reference to this charge and the other related accusations made by Rahul Gandhi and his associates from time to time, Narendra Modi decried their attempt to label the industrialists as thieves and unscrupulous grabbers of the nation’s resources. The entire exercise of tarnishing the image of the industrialists as a class of unprincipled and unethical people is unfair and unjust. It is especially so when the same Opposition leaders who have turned, when out of power, voluble critics of the corporates, had been unabashed recipients of the same industrialists’ largesse in no small measure albeit in an oblique manner, while in power.

Speaking at Lucknow at a ground-breaking ceremony to launch industrial projects worth Rs 60,000 crores in July this year, Narendra Modi had a word of appreciation for the industrialists, which warmed their cockles in no small measure. After all, it is not every now and then that a political leader of stature goes on record to praise them! The Prime Minister lauded the role of the industrialists in the task of nation-building alongside the farmers, labourers, bankers and so many other sections of the society. The PM thus made it very clear that it was grossly unfair and unjustifiable to project businessmen and industrialists as being morally deficient.

Mr Modi took the battle to the Congress Party by slamming it for its consistent and baseless attacks against his government alleging that the latter was unduly favouring the industrialists. The PM claimed he was not ashamed to be seen or photographed in the company of industrialists as his intentions were entirely honourable. There was nothing to hide or feel shameful about. Going ballistic against the earlier governments, Modi lambasted its members who are now in the ranks of the Opposition. Modi revealed that these Opposition party leaders are now striving to hide the closeness they had to the industrialists when they were in power because they did not want the people to become privy to all the undue favours they had received from the very same persons whom they were criticizing now.

To make his point abundantly clear, Modi asked whether Mahatma Gandhi felt shameful about his repeated meetings with industrialists Ghanshyam Das Birla and Lala Shri Ram or did he ever have anything to hide about those meetings. The Opposition’s accusations and charges against the industrialists were hollow and baseless and part of an orchestrated campaign against the government in general, and the PM in particular. Unfortunately for the Opposition, their accusations and charges backfired, in the absence of any convincing evidence to prove any kind of misdeed. Furthermore, the NDA government hasn’t enacted any law that goes out of the way to be industrialist-friendly or anti-people.

Appreciation an Incentive

Here, it needs to be emphasized that the political Opposition’s concerted attempts to demonize the industrialists would only succeed in rendering the corporate sector stigmatized and demoralized. This, in turn, would hamper its functioning to the optimum level and choke the pace of India’s economic growth. On the contrary, the Prime Minister’s message in appreciation of the industrialists boosts their morale as it conveys a spirit of grateful acknowledgement for their role in nation-building and catapulting India to the position of the fourth fastest growing global economy.

Why Are Opposition Parties Projecting the Rafale Deal as the New Bofors?

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Four years on and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has been sailing smooth, with nary a scam or a scandal, much to the chagrin of the Opposition parties that are in various stages of disarray consequent upon the poll debacles they suffered in state after state since 2014. Nor is there possibility of any dark cloud of corruption charges gathering against the government in the distant horizon. With barely a year left for the general elections to the Parliament, and the government surging ahead in popularity with the implementation of a slew of developmental projects aimed at the strengthening of the economy and the unearthing of black money, the Opposition parties have been growing more and more frustrated over the lack of opportunities to besmirch the image of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its NDA allies.
Congress, the principal Opposition party, is particularly smarting over the Bofors scam, dating back to the Rajiv Gandhi regime, which had, along with several other scams and scandals that reared their ugly heads during the UPA regime, clipped it’s wings. Desperate to pin the Narendra Modi government on the mat, it had to make do with the available resources for raising a ruckus about a scam. The Rafale deal is one of the straws that the Opposition parties have been clutching to keep afloat in the fast changing political scenario that is threatening to render them irrelevant post 2019 polls.
UPA’s Misadventure with Rafale
Earlier, the UPA government had decided to buy 18 Rafale fighter jets from France in a “fly-away condition” at a price yet to be decided; and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was to manufacture 108 jets with supply of technology by Dassault. The proposal was, however, scuppered by the NDA government when it assumed power in 2014 in favour of a new deal.
New Lease to Rafale
During his visit to France in April 2015, Prime Minister Modi announced that India would buy 36 Rafale fighter jets on a government-to-government deal. The details of the purchase like the price were to be negotiated by the two governments. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the purchase was signed between the two countries in January 2016 during the visit of the French President François Hollande to India.
Picking Holes
The Opposition parties found in the Rafale deal an excellent opportunity to run down the NDA government albeit on spiteful grounds. The deal was, they alleged, against the Defence Procurement Procedure, since the two governments had arrived at the inter-governmental agreement in the Defence Minister’s absence. It was further alleged that the price of the 36 fighter aircrafts was finalised by the Modi government at a much higher rate than the cost of the 126 jets earlier negotiated by the UPA government. The Opposition parties also attributed the dropping of HAL in favour of Reliance Defence Ltd to the government’s purported support to crony capitalism. Here Congress and its allies were on the home ground on a familiar pitch, what with their constant refrain of charging the Modi government of favouring their “corporate cronies” at the cost of the nation’s interests.
Rahul’s Rant about Rafale
It was, therefore, no wonder that Congress President Rahul Gandhi made the accusation about the Rafale deal the key point of his address in the Parliament in July this year when his party supported a no-confidence motion moved by the Telugu Desam Party against the Modi government. In a high octane speech, marked by dramatics, Rahul squarely accused the Prime Minister of favouring his “corporate friends” who allegedly sponsored the PM’s “packaging and marketing”. The dropping of HAL out of the deal was, according to him, done with the ulterior motive of accommodating a private sector company.
Rahul Gandhi also accused Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of lying to the nation under pressure from the Prime Minister. He alleged that she had earlier told the House that she would be disclosing the unit cost of the fighter aircraft but by reneging on her word she did not keep her promise. Sitharaman claimed that the two contracting nations were bound to keep details of the contract, like the unit cost, out of the public domain, in keeping with an agreement on secrecy between the two nations. This was, according to the Congress President, an untruth. He went to the extent of claiming that the French President himself had told him that there was no agreement of secrecy between the two nations which prevented the disclosure of the price of the aircraft. He charged the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister of not disclosing the details of the deal with mala fide intentions.
Rahul Rebuffed
Much to the discomfiture of the Congress party and its President, the French government hastily issued a statement of rebuttal to Rahul Gandhi’s claim. As the details of the Rafale deal were of interest to competing companies in both the nations, the two sides were bound to keep the details away from the public domain. It said that a 2008 security agreement legally bound both India and France to “protect the classified information provided by the partner”. A breach of the agreement could impact security and operational capabilities of the defence equipment of the two nations. To sum it up, the French government termed the deal “very sensitive” and all the details could not, therefore, be disclosed. This caught Rahul Gandhi in a bind. However, he pushed the envelope further by brazenly claiming that he stood by his charge; he further claimed that Manmohan Singh and Anand Sharma were present during his meeting with the French President.
What do you do when you are caught in the act of making an audacious claim that not only cannot be substantiated but is also proved baseless and hollow? Become more audacious, what else? That is exactly what Rahul Gandhi did, trying to put both the Indian and French governments in the dock. His charge of the Indian government spiking the aircraft’s price did not wash and was exposed for being part of a fake and malicious propaganda against the NDA government.
National Interests
The Defence Ministry, on its part, had stated earlier that disclosing the details of the Rafale deal might compromise India’s national security. Furthermore, giving an item-wise cost and other information would reveal details about weapons systems and jet customisation. The government’s stand in the matter was therefore clear and final.
Opposition’s Malice
Notwithstanding the Defence Ministry’s clarification and the French Government’s confirmation, the Opposition’s dogged persistence on seeking the disclosure of the details of the deal is apparently a ploy to pressurise the government into making a faux pas. Even as the need for transparency is a very desirable requirement in the defence procurement deals in the interests of elimination of the scope for corruption and favouritism, security considerations and national interests have to be given overriding importance. Besides, abiding by Inter-Governmental Agreements like the one of 2008 is crucial for maintaining the Union government’s integrity by upholding its international commitments.
Bofors Backfires
The Congress Party, at the vanguard of the Opposition’s charge against the Modi-government, is pinning its hopes on drawing maximum mileage on the eve of the 2019 polls out of the Rafale deal based on the points of public perception regarding the alleged spiking of the prices and “corporate cronyism”. Even as it has not been able to grapple the BJP in a vice-like grip in the absence of incontrovertible proof or evidence, the political Opposition seems to have grabbed yet another opportunity to shoot itself in its foot, this time with the Bofors gun, no less! No sooner had it termed the Rafale deal as Narendra Modi’s Bofors, the Congress Party recalled that all these years it had maintained that Bofors was no scam. Hence, it was pointless to equate Rafale with Bofors! Bite your tongue as hard as you might, the Bofors gun has already backfired!
(The article Why Are Opposition Parties Projecting the Rafale Deal as the New Bofors?  is published in ‘Organiser’ )

Why NRC is Necessary to curb Illegal Migrants

statesman_11.08.18Preparation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, the final draft of which was released on 30 July 2018, was not a suo motu exercise undertaken by the Government of India. Its origins date back to 1951 when it was first prepared following the demand of most of the political organisations in the state. It has since been updated at the insistence of the Supreme Court. There have been state-wide agitations too by bonafide citizens against loss of jobs and demographic changes caused by illegal immigration.

The Assam Accord signed in 1985 by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the organisations that had been demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants, helped further strengthen its contextual relevance. The document, therefore, has a valid political background even as the need for the resolution of the issue of illegal immigration, which has snowballed over the years, has been increasingly felt by bonafide citizens of the state.

Illegal immigration is not merely a state’s problem but a serious issue for the entire nation. It is a specter that has been haunting us ever since we got Independence. India’s porous borders with Bangladesh have made it possible for migrants from that country to infiltrate bordering states like West Bengal and Assam.

Indian states that share international borders with Bangladesh are seriously hamstrung in pushing the infiltrators back owing to the hostile ground conditions, what with India being the fifth longest land-border-sharing country (4,096 kms) in the world. Security agencies face operational problems in enforcing zero infiltration at the best of times due to the harsh border terrain. An estimated 20 million illegal immigrants from Bangladesh are believed to be living in India although the actual figure could be much higher. In addition, about 300,000 people are infiltrating into the country every year. India has thus become a safe haven for illegal immigrants continually pouring in from Bangladesh.

The infiltrators find neither religion nor culture nor language a problem in the India owing to the commonalities they share with the people of these states. They manage to get fake or even bonafide documents like Aadhaar, PAN and Voters Card in support of their claim for citizenship for a price, by producing fake supporting documents, courtesy corrupt officials, fake operators or obliging state governments that see in them a vote bank. Once they get a toehold in India and arm themselves with identification documents, they fan out not only to Assam but practically all over India where they are hired by unscrupulous employers as cheap labour without verification of their citizenship status and antecedents.

The presence of illegal immigrants vitiates the job market as well as the law and order situation. It also causes a drain on the state’s resources and leads to bitterness and unrest among local people. Unethical state governments pander to the infiltrators and help them settle down and receive state support, much to the displeasure of the bonafide citizens who end up losing out on jobs, land, welfare schemes, etc. This leads to the electoral results in these states not reflecting the true will of bonafide citizens.

What is more, the infiltration results in demographic changes with far-reaching consequences – religious, social and political. It is but natural that local community which adopts small family norms in self-interest as well as for the promotion of the nation’s developmental agenda, feel sore when they find in their midst illegal immigrants, with practically no self-restraint on this account, hogging full benefits of welfare measures and other forms of social support extended by the state, resulting in redundant and wasteful expenditure.

This state of affairs is far from conducive to the social harmony and could have disastrous consequences on the territorial integrity of the country if allowed unchecked. Furthermore, the possibility of this segment of the population becoming a breeding ground for terrorists and anti-nationals cannot be ruled out.

The final draft of the NRC does not include names of 40,07,077 people. This has sent ripples among the Assamese population who have, however, maintained peace and tranquility following assurances from the government that there is no need to panic; there will be no punitive action against those who are left out and the status quo will be maintained on their status and rights, till finalization of the NRC due on 31 December 2018. As regards their voting rights, the Election Commission is to take a call.

The Opposition political parties have, however, predictably reacted with harsh criticism and condemnation. While Congress President Rahul Gandhi has called the NRC exercise tardy and called for an all-party meet, Mamata Banerjee of TMC has lambasted the exercise and its end product as divisive in nature, aimed at turning Bengalis and Biharis out of Assam. She has slammed the Modi government for resorting to “vote bank and divide-and-rule policy” and has offered shelter in her state to people who are left out. She even tried unsuccessfully to send a delegation of legislators and party men to Assam. Worried about the possibility of a similar exercise in her state post-2019 polls, she is even reported to have warned of a civil war as a possible consequence.

Despite the Opposition’s fears, it is noteworthy that all communities living in Assam had overwhelmingly cooperated with the authorities in the process of updating of the NRC. This was hardly surprising since the demand for the process had emanated from the people themselves. For the same reason, full cooperation from the people may be expected during the run-up to the finalization of the document and subsequent to its publication. Besides, there is no alternative to the NRC for the documentation of the population. In any case, both the central and the state government have already allayed the apprehensions of those left out with the assurance that they have recourse to appeal.

Opposition parties have criticized the NRC of being violative of human rights and democratic rights of the affected people. As the mandate of the exercise was very precise, namely, identification of the people without valid documents, and the exercise was in accordance with the demand of the people, and carried out under the supervision of the Supreme Court, for the Opposition to argue now that NRC has deprived those who failed to make the cut of their human and democratic rights is nothing but the political equivalent of asking for an omelette without breaking an egg.

In any case, the peace-loving people of Assam would rather like a final resolution on the issue of illegal immigration without any further delay than be mute witnesses to a game of political football over a non-issue. What is more, the people of the North Eastern states of Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh have joined the bandwagon and demanded NRC in their states too to check the vexatious problem of illegal immigration.

(The article Why NRC is Necessary to curb Illegal Migrants published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 11th August 2018)

Why BJP Is Best Placed To Govern Karnataka

karnataka picNot everything in the Congress-JD(S) coalition government in Karnataka is as good as its creators had anticipated. The only positive is that the unlikeliest union still holds majority but its fragility is only swelling with every passing day. From presentation of full budget by the new CM HD Kumaraswamy (which wasdisputed by former CM Siddaramaiah since he had presented the state budget in February this year) to leaked videos purportedly showing Siddaramaiah declaring that the alliance government will last only till 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the signs are anything but optimistic.

These facts aside, let’s consider an important question first, and this calls the attentionof all the MLAs, no matter which party they come from, elected by the people of Karnataka as their representatives to take key socio-economic decisions on their behalf. Who deserves a governor’s call to form a government when the electorate has given a fractured mandate?

This one problem has gripped the nation, more so, when in many recent state elections no single political party could win a clear majority of seats. Yet, there can be multiple best answers – the party that couldwin the largest number of seats, or a coalition of parties that can collectively come up with the magical figure, are options that can be availed by the governor.

What is governance and why at all do we need a government? People cannot manage a territory on their own; hence they elect their representatives who can focus solely on collective development and take key decisions. These representatives elect their leader as chief minister, a scheme that is enshrined in the Indian Constitution. We all know what qualities a leader should possess, and on the top is the quality to manage the team and get work done.

‘Getting work done’ is not an artless job. At the centre, years of inefficiency and policy paralysis came to a halt once a leader who is both respected and feared won a clear mandate in the general elections of 2014. What has since followed is good governance, quick decision making and accountability of ministers and other party leaders towards the high command.

Sadly, the same isn’t the scene in the state of Karnataka where the recently held state assembly polls saw political parties falling short of requisite number of seats- the BJP was called by the governor in the wake of it being the single largest party, the Supreme Court ordered a floor test within a couple of days of government formation, Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) sequestered their newly elected legislators, the BJP government had to ultimately resign and the Congress-JD(S) combine came to power.

No, this is not unethical on its face. For want of stability and to prevent any unwanted repetition of conducting polls, coalition governments must be welcomed.

But a glance at the Congress-JD(S) coalition government in Karnataka is enough to tell what is wrong. The government is being led by JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy, a serious defect considering that the JD(S) managed to win a meagre 38 seats out of 224. BJP with 104 seats fell short of majority figure of 113 by 9 seats, while the Congress was a distant second with 78 seats. Who then do you think has the mandate to rule the state?

Ethically, the state deserved the man whose projection as the chief ministerial candidate won the leading number of seats for his party. The MLAs of Karnataka, as people’s representatives, must have endorsed this fact.

The reverse, however, happened and is the bitter reality of today. The strong leadership element of governance is thereby compromised. On numerous occasions, the new chief minister could be seen travelling to New Delhi to discuss key issues with the Congress President Rahul Gandhi. The outcome is that the people’s representatives in the state have been sidelined and strategic supervisory and managerial tasks have been outsourced to New Delhi.

This outsourcing of decision-making to New Delhi by the Karnataka government is nothing but a clear subversion of the constitution.

Now let us talk about another crucial element of governance- stability. We are aware of the discontent that is only growing in the Congress and JD(S) lawmakers and the cadre of both political parties. Distribution of portfolios in the new government was a bone of contention and it was only after Rahul Gandhi reluctantly sacrificed the Finance Ministry in favor of alliance partner JD(S) that a common ground could be found.

Discontent is the enemy of stability.

The Congress-JD(S) government has come up with a unique idea of coordination and monitoring committee with Siddaramaiah (who quit JDS to join rival Congress in 2006) as its head. What can one expect out of this committee that will meet once every month to ensure smooth functioning of the Kumaraswamy-led government? One man challenged the other for the topmost constitutional office in the state and now they both are being expected to work alongside one another- a rare possibility.

Another odd element is that the Congress (the senior partner in alliance but you may call it the junior partner owing to its leader serving as deputy to JDS leader) has grabbed more ministries than JD(S). In no time will the ministers with different ideologies and contradictory poll promises find themselves trapped and suffocated in the alliance.

There exists no doubt that the present government is a ‘compromise formula’ devised by the alliance partners to keep BJP out of power. Even a senior Congress leader has publically cited this as the only reason for alliance.What about good governance? Sorry, it has taken a backseat, at least for now.

In the interest of the people of Karnataka, who overwhelmingly voted for the BJP, the Congress-JD(S) coalition must instantly be replaced by a BJP-led government. And it is not the governor or the court that must lead this change; it should rather come from the legislators of both Congress and JD(S) who could not vote in accordance to their conscience in the trust vote. Theymust,for the sake of the people they represent, either resign from their seats or form a formidable separate group to let progress prevail in the state.

Governance demands strong leadership and coming together of like-minded people.The BJP, without any doubt whatsoever, is best placed to govern Karnataka with zero compromises on the well-being and prosperity of the people. MLAs of Congress and JD(S) have to lead this change; you owe your offices to voters, they deserve good governance and stability in return.

A Year Under GST- Rhetoric vs. Reality

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Policy decisions can be of two kinds- the first are those that take some time before they could deliver financial benefits, for example development of highways and ports, while the others fetch returns almost immediately, for example linking Aadhaar with MGNREGS and central scholarships to curb leakages. Goods and Services tax (GST) also falls in the second category.The new tax regime that subsumes most of state taxes and central levies can certainly be termed as the most defining reform initiated by the BJP-led government.

It’s been almost a year that the indirect tax reform changed the way our businesses and consumers interact with each other, and the time is ripe to conclude whether the celebrations are all hype and rhetoric or GST truly delivered on its promise.

Every market analyst would talk about certain positive aspects of GST, such as simplification of hitherto complex indirect tax structure, removal of cascading, uniformity through similar rates across all states, rationalization of levies on goods and services and ease of filing returns under a single user-interface. But these macro benefits aren’t enough to understand GST in its entirety; for the same one would need to notice signs at the micro level.

Accept it, India is a country where acute income disparity still prevails and lifting millions out of poverty is a work-in-progress.

Therefore, no policy decision that fails to live up to the dreams of those at the bottom of the pyramid is a laudable decision. What about GST? ‘One nation, one tax’ rhetoric aside, the new tax system has played a key role in formalizing the Indian economy, a precursor to equitable distribution of national income. The predecessor to GST in terms of policy action was demonetisation and the dual strike on the hitherto opaque economy has paved the way for transparency and compliance.

Have you ever wondered what makes urban cities more developed than rural parts? It’s the way people are integrated with the formal economy in urban parts, with enterprises adhering to laws related to minimum wages, working hours, contribution to social security schemes and retrenchment of employees, which leads to an atmosphere of heightened social and financial well-being. GST has delivered enormously on this aspect.

Let’s look at the numbers. Amidst the opposition cry of a jobless growth, the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) numbers depict a contrasting picture. The body has reported that 41 lakh jobs were created in the formal sector during September 2017 to April 2018.

This can be construed as many employers going for formalization of their workforce by subscribing to social security schemes as well as many small enterprises opting to formalize their operations in the wake of the compulsion that their customers in the supply chain will prefer to do business with only those who pay their due share of GST so that credit for input taxes is claimed.Government’s decision to subsidise firms’ outlays on contribution to social security schemes for employees also played a supplementary role.

With a true and fair picture of value addition (sum on which GST is levied) and expenditure on wages and salaries comes overall transparency in the system, which leads to reduced tax evasion (both indirect and direct) and an overall addition to state resources that is used not only to build new schools, hospitals, roads and bridges but also to recapitalise ailing public sector banks.

Another area where GST scored a winner is uplifting the sentiments of businesses and investors by infusing predictability.

As per the Deloitte India’s survey of chief financial officers, more than three-fourth of responding executives are said to hold the belief that ‘GST has had a positive impact’. It also says that 57 percent of respondents look forward to ‘taking greater risks’, a move that can eventually lead to double digit GDP growth rate. New roles within existing enterprises are already being created for new skill sets ranging from online filing of GST returns to working on e-way bills.

Without a doubt, the new tax regime did come with its set of initial glitches and regularalterations leading to an atmosphere of anxiety. But what else did the detractors expect- a single-stroke implementation of a reform that has fundamentally changed the way businesses interact within the economy? Critics are to remember that the western world’s Brexit couldn’t be executed in a day or a month.

Many areas demand improvements. From time-bound refund of input tax so as to ease the pain of exporters to further simplifying GST returns and assuring an unfailing IT infrastructure for GST network, government seems committed to addressing concerns, besides further rationalizing tax rates on various goods and services.

Critics must further note that tax compliance under GST is steadily rising indicating that the new regime is settling in much faster than anticipated. More businesses filed summary sales return in May 2018 as compared to the preceding month and the gross revenue collection in May was higher than the monthly average of GST collection in FY2017.

As far as bringing petroleum products under GST is concerned, we are to understand that this is related more to centre-state political equation than to economic sense. States levy ad-valorem tax on petrol and diesel and this levy contributes substantially to state governments’ resources. Hence,neither would states be willing to accept reducing tax to the highest GST rate of 28 percent nor creatingyet-another GST slab seemsa wise idea.

In a recent development, the GST Council is said to be prepared to bring aviation turbine fuel (ATF) and natural gas under GST. If done, this can pave the way to ultimately bring even petrol and diesel under the new tax regime, provided that states astutely look for other sources to generate funds for their budgets. The best alternative is to contain their respective deficit to GSDP ratios by limiting expenditures such as loan waivers.

After one year of GST, what needs to be celebrated is the way it incentivizes enterprises to move towards formal sector. With more and more small and medium enterprises entering the formal economy and companies registering their employees with social security schemes and abiding by minimum wages and retrenchment rules, the wide gap in income distribution will slowly but certainly fade away, giving rise to a new inclusive India.

Did ‘Quantico’ Become A Vehicle For Anti-Hindu Propaganda?

article quanticoHow does the world see India? Indeed, they see it through various platforms, including the media. Our ambassadors abroad – some appointed by the government as diplomats, while others not formally appointed but owing to their exceptional talent they become the face of the Republic of India – represent the country and its inhabitants. Now it is upon these people to present their homeland in good light, so that not only our cultural diversity is cherished overseas but also the investors looking forward to parking their money in foreign assets view India as a politically and economically stable country.

One of India’s leading actresses has been representing us in the US for quite some time through her active participation in the Hollywood film industry. I would refrain from taking any names but yes, as the former President of India recently noted in a gathering organized by the so-called right-wing group, the RSS, that freedom of expression and criticism only opens avenues for improvement, I shall enquire into the probable possibilities of how this actress’s recently aired television show undermined the interests of us all.

Barely reported by the Indian media, which as we all know is inclined toward the Left, this incident involves an episode of the drama series Quantico where a man was apprehended by the actress (as a part of the FBI team), ahead of executing a terror attack in NYC, by way of recognizing a Rudraksha in his neck as a probable symbol of right-wing terrorism. The man mentioned was shown as bidding to thwart a peace dialogue and deceitfully implicate Pakistan.

The liberal front may find nothing wrong or disreputable in such depiction of a Hindu man. Art, they say is a free space and unless it has the autonomy to show anything and everything, by way of even distorting historical and cultural facts, it rarely can achieve its goal. Is it so?

Critics all across the modern world, founded on the soft power of America’s burger and denim jeans, decry prejudice when women are depicted as weak and dependent on males in movies and TV shows, when transgender community is depicted as nothing more than sexual perverts and Muslims are depicted as the single-largest community responsible for worldwide terror. It is to be accepted, however, that most of these portrayals take some hint from real-life incidents, but yes exaggerating the behaviors in a way to sensationalize and evoke sympathy, laughter or condemnation has crossed all legitimate boundaries.

The concept of right-wing terrorism is an idea invented by the same liberal media. The white supremacy groups of America are said to have employed unfair means to hold on to power in the West. In India, the concept involves accusing Hindu religious figures and their groups of using violent and forbidden means to silence religious minority communities based in the country.

Indeed, a few arrests have been made that involve Hindu religious figures as suspects in cases of terrorism.

The current dispensation of India is also facing the wrath of free press for allegedly turning a blind eye to instances of violence against religious minorities by fringe elements from far-right Hindu wing. While the country desperately needs radical reforms in politics and economy to lift millions out of poverty and distress, a parallel narrative of intolerance is being publicized with such vigour that reforms ranging from free LPG connections to loans without collaterals to depressed classes are being dwarfed by allegations of Hindu-centric governance. The national identity scheme, Aadhaar, which aims at curbing leakages in subsidies, is being illicitly projected as a tool for discrimination by the state.

There is also news of some revered figures from the Christianity faith warning to the members of their community of an attempt by the present government to undermine the Indian Constitution and damage the secular fabric of the country. For the minority communities, the videos showing the Prime Minister pausing for the Muslim evening prayer, Azaan, during his public speeches as a show of respect to religious diversity of India make a good watch.

And then this episode of a crime drama that counts among its lead actors a well-known actress from India. The timing suggests of nothing more than propaganda in place to depict the Hindu community as a flag bearer of intolerance toward other faiths.

History provides enough evidences of the US using Pakistan as a way to weaken India’s sphere of influence in Asia. The third largest economy of Asia, India, is a nuclear power and the engine of growth for much of Asia and the world owing to the burgeoning middle class and its demand for goods and services. From providing arms to Pakistan to compelling India to adopt a soft stance on terrorism incubation centres in Pakistan, first the US and now China has attempted to undermine India’s interests.

US, however, has learned from its past mistakes and the coining of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ is a clear evidence of America’s acceptance of the rising power of India. India is now a strategic defence partner of the US and our admission into the coveted nuclear groups is backed by much of the West. Yes, Pakistan’s all-weather friend, China, may have made endeavours such as the Belt and Road Initiative to bully India, not much success from these projects is expected.

But why at all are we discussing geopolitics here? Because movies and TV shows possess the power to alter how people view their surroundings. The TV show, whose majority of audience is in the US, only promotes the unfounded theory of the so-called right-wing terrorism, eventually depicting India in bad light. In fact, it doesn’t draw inspiration from any real incident but the writers may have contemplated the use of Hindu terror as a way to sensationalize the project, which is witnessing steady decrease in TRP.

And this all occurred in the presence of an Indian actress who in the episode foiled the terror bid. As a responsible representative of the Indian people, she had a good chance to stop the producers and other parties involved from cunningly using right-wing terror theory as a way to garner interest of viewers. Indeed, the plot was nothing more than a figment of imagination, but yes it had the capacity to seriously harm the interests of all Indians.

Now that the episode has already aired, at least an apology from the actress is awaited. ABC Studios and executive producers of Quantico have already tendered an apology to Indian fans; it is now on the Indian actress to do her part.

(The article is featured in ‘Organiser’ )

Did ‘Quantico’ Become A Vehicle For Anti-Hindu Propaganda?

The Case for Privatising PSBs?

Privatising PSBNot every bank employee is into policy decisions, only General Managers, senior managers and members of the Board. Majority of the staff does routine job like taking deposits, dealing with queries on savings and doing other paperwork. Compare it with the staff at McDonald’s, the largest fast food chain. The staff there as well does a routine job. But compare salaries.

You may consider this as an apple to orange comparison, so for an apple to apple comparison, take an average finance professional in any private sector enterprise. She makes balance sheets, prepares ledgers and does other works pertaining to finance like keeping records of inward and outward remittances. As per industry standards, this employee cannot earn more than INR 25-30 thousand per month. But in PSBs, take SBI or PNB, probationary officers draw salaries to the tune of INR 40-50 thousand a month.

RBI data shows that the wage bill of SBI is 12.7 percent of its income, for other PSBs it is 10.7 percent, however, in case of privately-held banks it is only 8.7 percent.

Banks were nationalized in 1969 for the sole purpose that they serve as bankers to poor Indians and not just to corporates and rich and middle class. Priority sector lending and giving access to banking services to all Indians was the target of nationalisation. Today, the objective is more than achieved. Small Finance Banks and Payment Banks have been given licenses by RBI and they are carving their own niche.

Moreover, project finance, especially in case of infrastructure projects where the gestation period is high, is done mainly by PSBs. But when these projects are stalled due to factors beyond the control of PSBs, their books take a hit.By privatising PSBs, we can make them autonomous in deciding whether to finance big ticket projects or focus on retail lending. Decisions by officials will then be based on financial returns from investments so made, wise decision makers will be incentivised and imprudent ones penalised.

SBI has recently said that it will focus on retail lending to make its books healthier. But can it do so in such an open and competitive market? NBFCs, for past some years, have targeted retail financing and they have taken over virtually the most market. Bajaj Finance allows people to avail quick finance on consumer durables through a mobile application; Tata Finance has been financing car loans. Where do you think is the space for SBI and others to go for retail lending?

Yes they can, but only when they come up with innovative products like Bajaj Finance and it is not possible unless PSBs are privatised and there is provision of incentives for decision makers.

Composition of board committees of PSBs has of late been so altered that now the government nominated director (who usually is an official from Ministry of Finance) is not part of board’s Management Committee, which oversees credit lending functions of bank. Also, till a few years back, the director on the board from The Chartered Accountant category served as chairperson of the Audit Committee of Board. But now the scheme has been so amended that the executive director serves as its chairperson. Both these alterations have deteriorated the functioning of committees with powers given in hands of those who lack expertise in lending.

The power to appoint statutory auditors for auditing of public sector banks is now being exercised by the banks’ managements themselves, a move that has discouraged true and fair audit and has terminated the independence of auditors. Furthermore, nominations filed by Chartered Accountants in elections under shareholder category are, in most cases, straightaway rejected by the election committees of PSBs on instructions from the Ministry of Finance; although these professionals can bring much-needed financial wisdom to the board.

How do you privatise?

This is the most critical part. Do you want foreign institutional investors to buy governmentstake? Or do you want Bank of China or HSBC(UK) or JP Morgan (USA) or Mitsubishi Group (Japan) to take over government’s stake in PSBs? No, this should not happen, at least for the time being.

Because if this happens, the government will face stiff opposition from trade unions and even a one-day strike can cost hundreds or thousands of crores of rupees to the market. Moreover, since PSBs staff is in the habit of working as a government employee, they will not be able to adjust in an environment akin to private sector where punctuality and productivity are the keys to success.

What can be done is to form a government trust, one for each PSB for instance one trust for SBI, called the SBI Investment Trust. Place all government shareholding in SBI in this trust. The trust will have no linkwith any minister or bureaucrat and will be managed by trustees who shall be experts from the fields of finance and banking, such as former CEOs of top banks, from India or abroad, economists and others like members of NITI Aayog, even FICCI and CII.

Which bank to privatize first?

I would say SBI. Yes, to have an impact go for one that is the biggest. I would even criticise SBI merger with its associates last year. What purpose did it serve other than placing SBI in the list of top 50 banks globally by assets? SBI’s branch network is strong, they have maximum exposure to credit and it is the banker to much of India. Go for SBI through the trust model.

The main reasons for privatizing PSBs are:

Governance – Governance in PSBs is broken to the core. From the one at the top to one at the bottom, all staffers go to work just for salaries and not to create or innovate. Governance is so weak that even a branch manager has no supervisory control over his subordinates. I would say there are many frauds that go unreported or underreported; only the massive ones come out in the public domain.

Professionalism –If not financially corrupt, almost every PSB branch is ethically corrupt. No one addresses a customer saying ‘Sir, how can I help you?’ Rather, staffers have the tendency to scold visiting customers and have an inherent intention not to do work. True, there are exceptions to this behavior, but the system is deeply damaged.

Profitability – Profitable, healthier banks are in everyone’s interest – public, government, corporates and even bank employees. With PSBs having such high reported non-performing assets (the hidden ones are still hidden) and other hindrances like high operating costs due to higher wages, you cannot expect profitability from them.

Some key points must be considered

1. In the third quarter of FY 2018, Yes Bank (privately owned) reported a 22 percent increase in its net profit; Kotak Mahindra Bank’s (also privately owned) profit stood at Rs.1053 crore. But the state-owned SBI posted a loss of Rs. 2416 crore for the same period owing to provisions for bad loans.

2. RBI data confirms that while return on equity (ROE) in case of privately-held banks was just under 12 percent, for SBI it was in negative terrain (-0.7 percent) and for other state-owned banks it stood at -2.8 percent in FY 2017.

3. As many as 16 PSBs did not pay dividend in FY 2015-16, which led to a 67 percent fall in the revenues of government of India. Six state-owned banks that did pay dividend paid the same at lower rates compared to past years.

4. Rs.1.45 lakh crore has been earmarked for recapitalisation of public sector banksfor current and next financial year; more than Rs. 1 lakh crore was given to PSBs by the government between 2010-11and 2016-17.

5. PSBs account for more than 70 percent of banking business in the country andin terms of NPAs, they accounted for more than80 percentof total bad assets in FY 2016-17.

Privatisation of PSBs can be the most complex task, especially when the present Modi-led government’s stance appears tilted toward nationalism, of which one can say nationalisation and public sector is a crucial part. Also, trade unions can pose their own set of problems. The trust model as described above thus can be the feasible mid-way.

(The article published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 25th February 2018)

The Case for Privatising PSBs?

Who is To Blame For PNB Fraud?

PNB Fraud picThe blame game is on and various parties are trying hard to indict each other for the INR 11000 crore fraud. If there is something totally nonsensical in the aftermath of the unearthing of the scam, it is blaming either of the two major political parties, BJP and Congress for what has happened. While the BJP says that irregularities started when INC was in power, INC says Modi-led government deliberately allowed the main accused to flee the country.

I ask, was the nation’s second largest bank run by Congress party members from 2011 till 2014, or was it run by bank’s own management? On the same lines, even if the main accused was present in Davos during Mr. Modi’s recent visit, was the PM not accompanied by other businessmen? After all he was there for World Economic Forum plenary session and the presence of representatives of largebusiness houses (main accused’s diamond business is the largest jewelry brand to have emerged out of Asia in past decade) was indispensable?

Now, it is high time that we look at the financial fraud without any reference or linkage to political landscape of the country. Indian banking space, especially public sector banks, is in the midst of an existential crises and if no corrective actions are taken on an urgent basis, this crucial pillar is set to emerge as the biggest financial and economic burden – and it is a now or never situation for those who formulate policy at the highest levels. Swift policy action, not politicisation, is the way out.

Let me also first bring to everyone’s notice that RBI in its many directives to Scheduled Commercial Banks has warned them on ‘Precautions to be taken in case of Letter of Credit (LC)’ where it has said that even discounting banks must take due precautions. A fragment of RBI’s directive,dated July 1, 2015,is reproduced here.

2.7 Precautions to be taken in the case of Letter of Credit

2.7.1 Banks should not extend any non-fund based facilities or additional/ad-hoc credit facilities to parties who are not their regular constituents, nor should they discount bills drawn under LCs, or otherwise, for beneficiaries who are not their regular clients. In the case of LCs for import of goods, banks should be very vigilant while making payment to the overseas suppliers on the basis of shipping documents. They should exercise precaution and care in comparing the clients. The payments should be released to the foreign parties only after ensuing that the documents are strictly in conformity with the terms of the LCs. There have been many irregularities in the conduct of LC business, such as the LC transactions not being recorded in the books of the branch by officials issuing them, the amount of LCs being much in excess of the powers vested in the officials, fraudulent issue of LCs involving a conspiracy/collusion between the beneficiary and the constituent. In such cases, the banks should take action against the concerned officials as well as the constituent on whose behalf the LCs were opened and the beneficiary of LCs, if a criminal conspiracy is involved.

Did any bank read this directive, let alone implement it in letter and spirit?

PNB, in its letter to peers that has warned them of the fraudulent modus operandi of the accused officials and companies, has clearly stated how transactions through SWIFT, the international payment system, bypassed CBS of the bank and thus allowed the scam to run for years without being detected.

Now that everyone knows that without the connivance of bank’s officials, the incident would not have happened, we need to introspect. Letter of Undertakings were issued illegally and this word ‘illegally’ indicates a lot. First, this had been happening for at least past 6-7 years or even beyond. Should those participating in bank’s internal audit, statutory audit, concurrent audit and RBI’s audit during all these years not be investigated? Even if they weren’t complicit, they failed in their respective jobs.

Second, if the so-called SWIFT system is so opaque, why was this not checked and corrected, the Board should have been made aware of this vulnerability. The staffer in-charge of the SWIFT system must have reported to higher management the risks posed by it. There exists a special risk management team with a designated head and it was the duty of this team to check if there was any such loophole that could cost the bank a third of its market value from a single branch.

The most crucial point, however, is that not only PNB, but almost every PSB is riddled with lack of sense of duty in the staffers. I would say the problem with public sector banks is that they are ‘public sector banks’.

Events like SBI posting its first ever quarterly loss in 17 years and the central bank reprimanding banks to give clear picture of their books will only see an upward trend in coming days. When did you last see the stocks of PSBs gaining? It was when the government announced a INR 2.11 lakh crore recapitalisation package in the month of October 2017 to help stimulate credit growth; thus it was no operational feat on the part of banks, it was the exercise to save them from being totally crippled with respect to extending loans that lifted confidence of investors in their stocks.

Is there any long-term solution?

When divestment is talked, we only recognize sick companies as eligible for this exercise. But if any prudent corrective measure has to be taken when it comes to PSBs, it is considering divesting government stake in PSBs and pushing them toward good corporate governance. Yes, neither any political party nor a few officials at the PNB Mumbai branch are responsible for the sick banking sector of India; it is the lack of good governance that is squarely blame.

Moreover, what purpose is this stake in PSBs serving? PSBs rarely pay dividends to government; on the contrary they seek recapitalisation that comes out of budgetary resources, an area where government is already struggling with missing the fiscal consolidation target. I would only blame lack of or even absence of good governance in PSBs for all the negative news emerging out of banking space.

And here is thefeasible solution. If government thinks divesting stake in PSBs is too bold a step, form a government trust free from interference of bureaucrats and ministers. Just like Tata Trusts. This may need a few tweaks in some laws since trusts are now not allowed to hold equity. Divest shareholding in PSBs and place it in this trust with members who must be experts and must come from private sector. Let bankers handle the banking business, and handle it in accordance with globally accepted norms for good governance.

Give a mandate to this trust to initiate much needed reforms in governance in PSBs. Bad loans, frauds, scams running into billions of dollars are all products of bad governance and flouting of even basic governance norms by banks staffers at all levels. Bring governance, only then you can expect banking sector to come out of this seemingly near-irreparable mess. Else, wait and watch the downfall.

(The article published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 18th February 2018)

Who is To Blame For PNB Fraud?

Budget 2018 – Realistic And Balanced

Union Budget 2018-19While presenting his last full budget ahead of the general elections due next year, the Finance Minister would certainly have thought over whether to appease the mass or global credit agencies and investors that have bet big on the reformist stance of the present administration. It appears he has preferred a balanced approach, more importantly a realistic one, which we can term as implementable as well as aligned with the aspirations of Indian economy as a whole.

In the very beginning let us also admit that union budget, presented every year by the Finance Minister in the Parliament, is not the only driving force or a manifestation of how the economy and its various sectors will perform in the short-term. Budget statements, allocations and targets are mostly ‘estimates’ and they are subsequently ‘revised’, similar to how the Finance Minister this year revised the fiscal deficit target from previously stated 3.2 percent to 3.5 percent of the GDP for FY 2017-18.

Hence, any statement on how the future will unfold cannot completely rely on the speech of the Finance Minister; yet it can be indicative and the same is being attempted in this article.

The reason why we have termed the Budget 2018 as balanced is because the Finance Minister has yet again reiterated the government’s commitment to fiscal prudence by setting an ambitious target of containing fiscal deficit to 3.3 percent of the GDP for the FY 2018-19. The question is will he be able to achieve this, more in light of reduced government revenues on account of introduction of new indirect taxation regime, GST, which we cannot expect to achieve optimum goalsin the short run.

Another reason why the budget is being looked upon as balanced is the Finance Minister did not try much to appease the substantial voter base comprising of middle class section by tweaking the income tax exemption rates for individual taxpayers.

Although this is only anassumption, but we do believe that any other government presenting its last full budget prior to general elections would have surely tried to increase the exemption limit for taxpayers in expectations of a favorable stance from this section of voters. In contrast to this, the Budget 2018 has come up with a rationalized approach where the FM admitted that salaried taxpayers are burdened more as compared to non-salaried counterparts owing to the transparency of tax incidence in case of salaried taxpayers; hence standard deduction of upto INR 40,000 has been wisely allowed that should benefit as many as 2.5 crore taxpayers.

There may be voices raised against less than expected increase in budget allocation for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes; while for SCs the allocation to schemes directed at their welfare has been increased marginally from last year to INR 56,000 crore, for STs the same is INR 39,000 crore. Let’s find out if this is actually less.

A former Indian Prime Minister openly admitted that only a small percentage of money allocated for the vulnerable classes reach the intended beneficiary owing to extensive corruption and lack of transparency. Imagine then that out of the entire money allocated to the vulnerable classes, how much is actually spent on their progress at the ground level. This brings up another argument of increasing transparency.

The Finance Minister has emphasized on the digitization of more than 1 lakh gram panchayats in his speech and has committed allocation for expanding this programme. Direct Benefit Transfer has already saved thousands of crores of government’s money hence the part of revenues spent by the government on digital infrastructure development would more than make up for the less than expected increase in allocation to SCs and STs.

Not to miss is the budget declaration of setting up of Eklavaya Vidyalas in areas where scheduled tribes account for more than 50 percent of the population. In his speech, the FM indicated that the focus in these educational institutions will be on tribal art as well as on skills training.

Now let’s dwell on the most impactful announcement made. Up until now, the poor were covered for upto INR 30,000 under the National Health Insurance Scheme. In an unprecedented move, the government has increased this cover to a whopping INR 5 lakh for every poor household, a commitment that will touch and better the lives of more than 50 crore Indians. And at the same time, this never appears unrealistic. In various studies, the negative impact of lack of access to healthcare on the overall economic growth has been well established.

While the overall allocation for health and education has not increased sharply, the impact of announcements such as establishment of 24 new government medical colleges and hospitals with a view that every state should have at least 1 government medical college, allocation of INR 600 crore to Tuberculosis-affected individuals for fulfilment of their nutritional needs, INR 1,200 crore for health and wellness centers across the country, absorption of 1,000 B.Tech pass outs from premier institutions as PM Research Fellows and the admission by the FM that ‘quality of education in India is a cause of concern’ will be substantial.

The analysis of the results of Gujarat state polls shows how the rural parts of the state drifted away from the ruling BJP. This can be the reason why the Finance Minister in his budget speech spoke about reforms in farm sector prior to any othersector of economy.

But ahead of counting the announcements made in favour of the farming community, let us not miss that in his speech the FM expressly counted farmers as vulnerable, he could be heard saying – “farmers, poor and other vulnerable sections” –and this in itself is an indicative of sufferings of our farming community. If at all there is anything that can be termed unrealistic, over-ambitious, it is the declaration of doubling the farmer income by 2022. This can be observed in the backdrop of the economic survey that indicated the negative impact of climate change on agriculture.

Still, the FM had a lot in his kitty for farmers. The most laudable of these measures was the allocation of INR 2,000 crore for development of local agro market so that farmers can sell their produce directly to consumers and bulk purchasers without having to rely on APMCs or even the lately implemented eNAM.

Similar to how cluster based approach aidedthe manufacturing sector, the FM has stressed upon sameapproach for the farming sector. Clusters will be developed based on which area specializes in which kind of produce. As far as allocations are concerned, INR 1,400 crore is allocated to the crucial food processing sector (2 times the allocation last year), INR 1,290 crore to the bamboo sector and another INR 10,000 crore for fisheries and animal husbandry sector combined. The key announcement was the government’s commitment to provide at least 150 percent return on cost of production to farmers by adjusting the minimum support prices (MSP) accordingly.

The Finance Minister did not miss to talk about the air pollution that gripped the national capital and judiciously committed to provide subsidiary to states of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi for the procurement of machinery to deal with stubble burning – a laudable initiative.

Policy initiatives of the present government that have been well received by the general populace saw special stress on widening their fold. For example, the much appreciated Ujjawala Scheme under which free LPG connections are being given to poor households has been expanded so as to cover 3 crore more households. 2 crore more toilets are to be built under the Swachh Bharat Mission and the target for lending under the MUDRA scheme is INR 3 lakh crore for FY 2018-19.

To bridge the gap between formal and informal sector job creation, the FM has announced that the government will contribute 12 percent of wages for employee provident fund for all sectors for next 3 years. This initiative would encourage more employment creation in the formal sector where employees enjoykey social security welfares. The textile sector, animportant employment intensive sector has been allocated INR 7,148 crore.

In his speech, the Finance Minister acknowledgedcontraction in sources that generate revenue for the government. Hence, special mention of an alternate source of revenue, disinvestment in public sector undertakings was indispensable. The FM has said the government would raise INR 80,000 crore in the FY 18-19 from strategic disinvestments.

Also reiterating his commitment to lowering the corporate tax rate from 30 percent to 25 percent, the Finance Minister has now extended the benefit of reduced 25 percent tax rate to companies with turnover upto 250 crore(erstwhile 50 crore). The single move is set to benefit almost 99 percent of companies that are under the tax net. On account of the same, the government is set to lose revenue of approximately INR 7000 crore in 2018-19.

A prudent decision can be said to have been taken with respect to tax on long term capital gains on securities that until now was nil. From now on, any long term capital gain in excess of INR 1 lakh in a single year will attract a 10 percent tax. This as well as the declaration to increase the education cess by 1 percentage point can be seen as measures of the government to make for the revenue foregone by providing rebates in corporate tax rate and to senior citizens (interest upto INR 50,000 on deposit in banks and post offices is now exempt from tax).

The above mentioned declarations are some of the key highlights of the Budget 2018. But what about the unspoken aspects, let’s then read between the lines.

Although the budget does seem to be realistic and balanced, there are a few points where the Finance Minister owes justification. How will the government defend breaching the target for fiscal deficit for current financial year? Not only could this impact India’s sovereign rating, combined with tax on long term capital gains, this could discourage foreign investors from the Indian market.

Also, the FM has proudly declared a departure from the embedded policy of decreasing custom duties in a liberalized and globalized Indian economy. But isn’t the decision to increase custom duty on certain goods adivergencefrom PM Modi’s criticism of protectionism by major world economies in his World Economic Forum speech?

Strategic disinvestment was a focus in the budget but will the government wait until the public sector undertaking turns sick, just as in the case of Air India, the national carrier, before thinking of selling its stake, or will the bureaucracy now be proactive enough to even contemplate selling government’s stake in presently profit-making enterprises, for instance oil companies.

As we mentioned in the beginning, the budget document or speech can never solely shape how the future will unfold. All rests on whether or not the allocations reach the intended beneficiaries and how the government keeps its promise of fiscal prudence.

PS: The government has now expressly stated its intent to adopt the blockchain technology; and at the same time has also clearly stated that cryptocurrencies are not legal tender.

(The article originally published on “www.udayindia.in” on 1st February 2018)

Budget 2018 – Realistic and Balanced

The High-Stake Gujarat Elections

Image 2At a time when Bitcoin has captured the wider imagination in the international scene, India’s most talked-about affair is the impeding Gujarat state polls. Indeed, Gujarat is India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, a region where the BJP has been in power since time immemorial (voters of contemporary India tend to pick the defeated party of former polls to rule; howeverwhen BJP first outshined Congress in 8th legislative assembly polls in 1990 by winning almost double the seats won by the latter, it only tightened its grip over the state’s political scene in all future elections; the first BJP CM was sworn in in 1995).

Even if there were some other topics in news apart from Gujarat polls – slowing GDP growth rate, impact of GST and demonetisation on commerce and the war of words between BJP and Congress leadership or even the leaked tape of leader of Patidar agitation – they will all, in some manner,shape the outcomes ofGujarat’s 14th assembly elections.

Gujarat is being termed as the ‘litmus test’ for the BJP. It can be felt that the media is overly obsessed with Indian electoral scene and most other problems have taken a backseat. When the BJP lost to Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi state polls, analysts said it indicated an end of the much talked about Modi-wave. In Bihar elections the BJP tasted defeat at the hands of RJD-JDU led front.

And then were the polls in Uttar Pradesh and other crucial states where BJP Chief Ministers formed the state governments with unprecedented backing from the electorate. From north-east India to right in the south (where the BJP played a key role in Tamil Nadu political crisis after the death of CM Jayalalithaa) to eastern parts (where JDU is back in the NDA fold), the BJP hasbeen outperforming its rivals. We can thus say that winning/ losing a state legislative poll is no deciding factor on the national leadership since state elections are fought more in the light of local issues and leaders than on national-level policy actions like introduction of new indirect tax regime (GST) or demonetisation or even India’s sovereign rating upgrade.

But even then one cannot utterly reject that Gujarat polls are much more than other state polls and there exist a few rationales to back this point. One, PM Modi rose to fame in national politics owing to his visible and effective delivery and good governance when he served the state as its CM for 4 uninterrupted terms. ‘Gujarat Model’ was the most convincing electoral issue put forward by the BJP when the party chose Narendra Modi as its candidate for Prime Minister over others including the one-time party favorite Lal Krishna Advani.

It is then not wrong to conclude that if there were no ‘Gujarat governance miracles’ there wouldn’t be a so-called ‘tea-vendor’ as India’s PM.

Two, Gujarat is one of the most prosperous and business-friendly states. Multinationals wrestle with one another to get a place to set up a factory in this western state of India, the GDP growth rate and other economic and social indicators are also among the best. But what do these mean in state elections?The key poll issue of the opposition in upcoming polls is the alleged hindrance to economic growth and commercial well-being of Gujarat and its business fraternity due to the combined effect of demonetisation and GST. Rahul Gandhi termed GST the ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ and has time and again reiterated that demonetisation was nothing but an exercise to help the corrupt convert their black money into white.

Although the opposition has fallen short of providing the electorate any reliable data to back its theory of the combined ill-effects of demonetisation and GST, it cannot be overlooked that businesses in Gujarat had to suffer a short-term dent on their profitability due to cash crunch and the arduous new tax regime where confusion prevailed over enthusiasm.

Modi regime that has lately seen many triumphs – the rating upgrade by international credit rating agency, Moody’s; a belated uptick in GDP growth rate after quarters of dip;election of Indian judge in the International Court of Justice that saw British judge lose in diplomatically sensitive battle;America calling upon India, Japan and Australia to push the ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’ –is thus wary of losing the critical Gujarat battle. PM Modi has been fiercely campaigning in the state and other prominent faces like Yogi Adityanath have been imported to not leave any stone unturned.

Even the arch-rival Congress has noted the significance of Gujarat polls.

Rahul Gandhi not only addressed public gatherings with his barbs and sarcastic take on BJP’s policy actions, he also visited temples with a view to not allowing the BJP win on the issue of minority appeasement by almost all non-BJP led governments. He seems to have taken a leaf out of UP polls book where the seemingly-formidable regional parties, Akhilesh-led SP and Mayawati-led BSP, were left biting the dust owing to their long neglect of majority Hindus and politics based on polarization and caste and religion mathematics.

But what does the electorate, the ultimate decider, think? Yes, even the analysts and critics who dislike Modi have boiled down to the fact that India does not have a politician who can challenge Modi’s clout, at least for the time being (a survey by Pew Research validates this). So does it mean that Gujarat voters will not think twice prior to picking a BJP candidate on the polling day? No.

As we duly discussed in the beginning, state elections are more of a locally-focusedcombat, although national level policy actions and political happenings will remain in the backdrop. Voters very well know certain facts – PM Modi cannot be CM Modi again, the post-Modi governance model of Gujarat doesn’t have anything extraordinary to boast of, successors of Modi couldn’t achieve the same cultstatus, and a change in government may mean renewed focus on issues facing the local populace and which may have been ignoreddue to the uninterrupted winning-streak of the BJP.

Anti-incumbency isn’t just a word in the discipline of political science, it can trigger a chain of events that can ultimately lead to change of office. For BJP, Gujarat isn’t a win-lose game alone, this ‘karma-bhoomi’ of PM Modi can signal setbackeven in a scenario wherethe BJP wins majority but the number of seats or voting share of the partysees a sizable decline.

Should there be laws to prevent people or media from taking potshots at the Army?

Image 4For any nation to thrive and prosper, it has to have a profound sense of nationalism and intense patriotism, supported by a formidable military. To be able to provide a conducive environment for the sprouting of such worthy sentiments, India has to cultivate and nurture strong patriotic fervour among its population. And that, in turn, has to be aided and abetted by the government and its leadership.

A sense of pride and esteem in the military muscle of the country is an integral part towards fostering a national self-worth. Simultaneously, the military personnel should be made to feel that they are important. For that, they have to be treated with respect, courtesy, love, and esteem by the civilians. All these are imperative to make the forces effective.

Our Army is Fighting a Selfless War

Unfortunately, in India, it has become fashionable for certain sections of the population to take potshots at our national institutions like the Army. They keep criticising the armed forces for their strategies aimed at containing the spiralling internal troubles or for combating the cruelty of the professional stone-throwers or for gunning down armed terrorists in some parts of the country as part of their duty.

In fact, the Indian Army needs to be treated with admiration because they fight at some of the toughest theatres of war while living in exceptionally harsh and treacherous climatic conditions and near extremely hostile borders anywhere in the world.

We also need to revere our Army because they are fighting a selfless war. For the sake of our country, they have to forego many simple comforts of life that many of us take for granted. Currently, India has the third largest Army in the world, and its men have acquitted themselves admirably well over the years.

Despite rendering such honourable service to the nation, some sections of the people and media tend to cast aspersions on the service personnel. It is not at all cool to malign our own forces. Now, here the question is should there be a law to prevent people from taking potshots at the Army?

Should be Commended for Unsung Struggles

The answer should be an emphatic YES even though it might sound like an infringement on the fundamental right to freedom of speech. Imagine this: on any given holiday, many of us wake up late, and lazily sip hot coffee, sitting comfortably in our lounge chair. Or, we watch from our balcony the world go by and probably later in the afternoon we go for a film and eat out.

On the other hand, many of our Army personnel may be biding their time in some dugout in the middle of nowhere. All around, there is white snow, as deep as their knee. The temperature ranges from a minus 10 degrees Celsius to bone-numbing minus 50 degrees. The glare from the snow is blinding. If they step out, a barrage of enemy bullets could pound them to pieces. And their ration is running out, and they never know when they might get their supplies.

This is a routine scenario for our soldiers, and they go through such ordeals on a daily basis for our sake. As such should we not be grateful to them for their sacrifices? It is common sense that there is nothing like absolute freedom. Any right to freedom comes with a set of responsibilities. A person’s right to “free movement” does not entitle him or her to walk over the head of another person.

Here, we should remember that if the civilians level accusations of improper action against our men in uniform, however absurd those charges might sound, the service rules do not permit them to refute the allegations or explain the situation to defend their actions.

Anti-India Tirade is Full-time Profession

The civilians who shout from the rooftops about alleged human right abuses have no clue as to under what conditions our Army personnel operate. It is all very easy to give long lectures from the safety of a comfortable chair in your living room or give sermons from the comfort of a TV studio. But it is an entirely different matter to actually face hostile missiles and projectiles from an unruly, aggressive mob.

What these critics conveniently forget is that they can sleep peacefully in their homes at night because of the agonies suffered by our Armymen. Some of our civilians, who profess to be the keepers of human rights, left-liberal intellectuals or whatever, have taken up anti-India tirade as a profession. They seem to think that it is trendy to criticise every government establishment. They believe it is okay to spit and run, and to hell with ethics and morality.

How moral is it to level unfounded and baseless accusations at the Army sitting comfortably in an insulated place knowing fully well that they cannot defend themselves? Maybe, that is how these “chatterati” thrive! Anyone with a modicum of common sense can understand that our soldiers, who keep a constant vigil 24X7X365 at the borders, deserve our utmost respect.

Those at the border posts and hostile territories stay away from their families, family events and festivals to make sure that the rest of us within the country celebrate our special days with our loved ones, without sparing a single thought to the skirmishes along the border.

Soldiers Face a War Every Day

If you look at it, our soldiers pay a huge price for keeping us safe and for ensuring our peaceful existence. They enjoy no holidays, no weekends and no bonuses. They don’t see their children grow up nor do they know how they have fared in the academic exams. These Armymen spend their youth at the altar of the nation’s safety.

What do they get back for their sacrifices? Abuses, insults, brickbats, and infamy! And for what? Just for discharging their honourable duty? For taking action against stone throwers, who, by the way, are driven not by any ideology but by their greed for money and money alone!

Is it fair? No, not at all. This is more so because they are given no options. They cannot choose whether to stay at a border post or to come back or to give up. Like Field Marshal, Sam Manekshaw had once told them that they are required to fight, and they should fight to win. “There is no roof for the losers. If you lose, don’t come back. You will have disgraced the country, and the country won’t accept you,” he had then emphasized.

The soldiers fight not to protect their family or their property. They face bullets for the sake of us – the civilians, including those who sit at the TV studios with their big mouths, bigger ignorance, and gigantic egos. In fact, the soldiers cherish peace more than anyone else. As the celebrated and much decorated American Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur tells us, “The soldier, above all others, prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

Soldiers face a war every day in order to hold the peace. It is a tough job. In insurgent areas, there is only one law: kill or get killed. In a way, unrest within the country is harder to deal with than border skirmishes. On the border, the enemy is in uniform. Between two professional soldiers, there is no quarter asked or given.

But, domestically, the enemy is faceless and nameless. He does not wear a uniform that would distinguish him as a friend or enemy. When stones and grenades come flying, when bombs go off anywhere anytime, soldiers do need to initiate counteraction. Because they also have a right to protect themselves. In the process, some collateral damage is but inevitable.

Laws Needed to Ensure Army is Respected

Our Army and other branches of the military are national symbols, and represent the best of all our government institutions. It’s our country’s pride. It’s like our national flag. There is a protocol on how the nation’s flag should be treated. A similar protocol on dealing with the military is the need of the hour.

We need such a regulation because many of us tend to misuse or abuse our liberties. Many of us, particularly the youngsters, don’t respect authority and resort to vandalizing public property at the slightest provocation.

When our flag or national institutions are allowed to be trampled upon, the future generations will stop appreciating us as a nation. We will then become weak as a country. Even before we realise it, India may get disintegrated. No doubt, any such development will be grabbed with glee by our enemies, internally and externally.

Hundreds of thousands of men and women of integrity have given their sweat and blood and laid down their lives to make us what we are today. We cannot squander it away in the name of liberty for the sake of some misguided, anti-national elements or ill-informed politicians. Ignorant and fading politicians and out-of-work journalists take potshots at our national institutions like the Army to stay relevant and to remain in the public eye. Such things should not be allowed to happen if we want India to remain strong and united.

Any such possibility, even if remote, must be nipped in the bud. If left unchecked it could assume dangerous proportions. Containing it then could have serious consequences. The nation may have to pay a big price for it by then.

Given that India’s neighbours include a restless and unstable Pakistan on the west and an assertive and aggressive China on the north, India’s defences should remain battle-ready at all times. We need a motivated and robust Army to safeguard our freedom. We cannot let some pseudo-liberals and ignorant politicians to mar the high reputation of our Army and affect their morale.

So, if we need new regulations to prevent mischief-mongers from taking potshots at our national and patriotic institutions, so be it. Any curb on our freedom of speech is a small price to pay for keeping our defence forces highly motivated and battle-ready.

Is Unfettered Freedom of Expression an Alternative to Patriotism?

Image 1 15 novUnfettered freedom is a myth. It is an illusion created by vested interests for their own selfish gains. It cannot sustain, as unregulated freedom is a recipe for total disaster. Those who demand it are either totally ignorant or have hidden motives. There is no absolute freedom of expression anywhere in the world. Even animals do follow unwritten rules in the jungles, which govern their code of conduct.

Freedom of expression is one of the crucial elements of democracy and civil liberties. In India, we have reached this enviable position after lots of struggles, conflicts, trials, and tribulations. So, naturally, we value our freedom of expression and democracy very much. We cannot afford to lose it in the hands of a few miscreants who misguide a small section of the population to tarnish the image of the country.

It is a fact that freedom and democracy must be safeguarded at any cost. The public knows that nothing comes for free. If we value our independence, and if we want to sustain it, then surely there is a price to pay. So, if some necessary code of conduct has to be introduced, we the public are sensible enough to understand that it is for the good of the country and to keep our freedom intact. They will be happy to pay that small price to protect the big prize, which is democratic freedom.

Expression of Patriotism

Patriotism has a vital role in democracy and nation-building. Any love, including the love for one’s mother, has to be demonstrated adequately. Otherwise, it will not reap the desired results. Parents have to convince their children that they are precious and loved. Lovers have to mutually tell how much they value each other’s companionship and proximity. The degrees could vary, but it is necessary to display your emotions for proper nourishment and growth. Similarly, if you love your country, you need to express it openly. Else, those sentiments wither away gradually, leading to the disintegration of the nation.

If citizens receive the protection of the state, and if they value the security that comes with the idea of a strong and powerful nation, then they are duty-bound to reciprocate. They need to exhibit their patriotism and salute the concept of nationhood in order to make it stronger. Those who are patriotic will never ask for any unfettered freedom of expression.

Patriotism versus Nationalism

When we talk about patriotism, it is imperative to understand that there is a difference between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is the love of a country and solidarity with fellow nationals. But nationalism assumes a more rigid stance. It is uncritical and blind acceptance of state and political authorities, and rejection of dissent and all forms of criticisms.

There is a school of thought that patriotism can exist without nationalism. For instance, a patriot does not think twice about showing his respect towards the country’s flag, national anthem and other national symbols like our armed forces. But a nationalist will seek to go further and will insist that no one should criticize anything that comes from the authorities.

Dissent in Democracy

Sensible criticism is necessary for a healthy democracy to survive and disagreement is an essential element of democracy. Currently, there are certain segments of the society which seem to think that countering anything and everything that comes from the government is a necessary requisite to establish their own credentials. They do not care about the subject matter. What matters to them is who said it. If the comment happens to come from the BJP, they will like to oppose it irrespective of whether it is valid or not. That attitude seems to be their notion of freedom.

The current generation has the liberty to do anything, say anything, go anywhere, to be with anyone. The problem is that when one has all the freedoms, one does not know what to choose. And their right to choose does not give them any satisfaction. They take it for granted, and they need more to find fulfillment. In their quest to be different and relevant, they seek to enter uncharted territories. For them, compliance is uncool, and dissent is the fashion. Inadequate intelligence and lack of wisdom prevent them from finding sensible areas of activities, and they turn to easy targets to get noticed.

To feel important, they choose names such as “liberals,” “intelligentsia” or “leftists.” As they cannot think of any real issues, and out of the craving for public attention, they pick up some silly cause. They decry our age-old practices like pujas at temples. They pour out venom on our Gods. They attack our national symbols like the flag and disrespect our national anthem. Such misguided people support the freedom of murderers, terrorists, and separatists. They seek the breakup of India and ignore the agony and misery of the victims of extremism and separatism.

Limits to Freedom

Freedom without bounds could lead to anarchy. Article 19 (1) of the Indian Constitution provides citizens with the right to free movement anywhere in the country. But no sensible person will argue that they can drive anywhere and stop anywhere. Just imagine what could happen if, in the name of freedom of movement, all motorists decide to drive in whatever direction they choose and park their vehicles wherever they want especially in the middle of the road.  It will be total chaos. There will be anarchy, violence and finally an absolute standstill. There will be a complete breakdown of law and order, and people will get killed.

Hence, our freedom is subject to certain restrictions to ensure that our “rights” do not lead to “denial of rights” to some others. Statesmen have always argued that the State can impose “reasonable restrictions” on the freedom of movement “in the interest of the general public”. Freedom of speech also comes in the same domain and need certain restrictive clauses. Right to free speech does not give a person the power to hurt someone else’s sentiments. Fundamental rights do not mean the right to disrespect or insult everything, including the national flag or the national anthem.

The so-called leftists use their freedom to hurt the sentiments of the majority community, by cooking and distributing beef. However, they ensure that the beef is slaughtered the “halal” way to make sure that they do not lose the support of certain minorities. These protagonists of total freedom are very selective in exercising their “freedom.” Will they dare to slaughter a pig and distribute its meat in Muslim majority areas of Old Delhi or Hyderabad? The examples of ‘discriminative freedom practices’ by our “left liberals” are too many to be listed here.

Too much Freedom

Freedom and democracy need certain prerequisites to be successful. Too much freedom too early can be catastrophic. There are many examples in the world, mainly in Africa, to show that. Closer home, Pakistan is one such example. It got freedom, but its people were not ready for that or didn’t deserve that kind of freedom. So, within no time the power was appropriated by the armed forces. In subsequent years, the baton was switched between the military and the civilians frequently. India has so far managed to stay away from instability or autocracy except for a brief period of emergency by Indira Gandhi during 1975-77, spanning 21 months.

We know that opportunities and obligations are two sides of the same coin. Plainly stated, people can and should have only as much personal freedom as they are willing to take responsibility for. One should exercise one’s liberties only to the extent that they do not hinder someone else’s sentiments or freedom. Just like we manage and safeguard our house and properties, we can, and we should be able to handle our mind and tongue to make sure that they cause no harm to others. Whenever that doesn’t happen, the state and the law of the land will have to step in. The law is forced to intervene only when individuals are unmindful of hurting others, and they tend to misuse their freedom through words or deeds.

In such cases, it is evident that an attempt to control or regulate something is not equivalent to curbing personal freedom. For instance, current Vice President of India and the then Union Minister, Venkaiah Naidu, said in March this year that the government cannot accept chants like “Bastar mange aazadi” or “Kashmir mange aazadi”. He was referring to sloganeering in certain educational institutions including the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Ramjas College in Delhi. He implied that it is the responsibility of the state to see that unlimited freedom doesn’t lead the nation to anarchy.

Here, it needs to be reiterated that every freedom carries with it a corresponding responsibility and can never be distanced from liabilities. Regulations, including guidelines on how to salute our country’s flag and respect our national symbols, are necessary to ensure that we continue to enjoy the freedom we currently take for granted. Undoubtedly, freedom is a fundamental right to have, and must be safeguarded. Yet, some curbs can be put in practice when it is a choice between individual freedom and the wellbeing of the nation. Unfettered freedom of expression is not an alternative to patriotism. We need to control the former to sustain the latter.

What L K Advani Means To Indian Polity

L K Advani_1What’s good for one group can be bad for another; this is how we can summarize politics in one sentence. The lately held Catalan Independence Referendum or the Brexit event or how we remember the 100 years of Bolshevik Revolution of Russia or the 160 years of undivided India’s first uprising against the colonial rule havesomething in common – people on both sides have their own set of arguments in favour of a particular setup; those who voted out of the EU in the Brexit poll considered their view as the rightful one, so were the supporters of Lenin in the Russian revolution against the Tsarist autocracy in 1917.

We remember the actions of politicians and political groups based on our own understanding and liking. One who has thrived under China’s one-party communist setup will hail the Communist Party of China while the detractors (proponents of democracy) wouldn’t. Same is the case with Indian political landscape where a good leader for someone is an autocrat, a dictator, a tyrant for the other. Rarely do we discuss the impact one has had on the country’s politics based on rationales and with a non-partisan view.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of today is a powerful entity. The leaders of this party are serving as Prime Minister, Chief Ministers and in other crucial roles all across the country. The Congress has now been termed as ‘the grand old party’, which in the eyes of many political thinkers needs a thorough reformation to stay relevant. But was this the story a few decades back? Have we forgotten how Jan Sangh was only an alliance partner in the Janata Party government that dethroned the then dominant Indian National Congress in 1977, and that it wasn’t until the late 90s that the rechristened Jan Sangh as BJP could give India stable government?

Neither wasthen a wave like it is today for a single face, nor were there such high anti-incumbency sentiments. These are all the combined effects of the penetration of news and social media in the lives of the common people of today. How could then BJP emerge as the sole reliable opposition group to the Congress monopoly on the national level?

It is a well-documented fact that with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as president, whose approach to religion is regarded as ‘moderate’, BJP couldn’t gain the support it needed to challenge the clout of Congress and other regional parties. Had it not been the smart political campaign led by L K Advani in the 1980s, the BJP even today couldnot have emerged assuch a formidable political force. Many analysts and historians may have categorized hismethod as hardline Hindutva and undermined the contributions of Mr. Advani, but to him that piece of land in Ayodhya belonged to the Hindu God and asserting this in a peaceful manner through his Rathyatras was no unlawful act.

Here is the rationale the pseudo-seculars may need. The Uttar Pradesh government failed to add the iconic Taj Mahal to its tourism book for 2017 and the uproar that followed generated headlines. Would you then classify these faultfinders as hardline Islamists?The teachings of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) may have shaped his views on faith, but linking this association with what many term as ‘hardline Hindutva’ is deplorable, something that isn’t backed by rationales but by a veiled attempt to portray any non-Congress entity as an enemy of India’s secular and tolerant fabric.

Even the defeat of the BJP in 2009 cannot be directly attributed to its then Prime Ministerial candidate. The organization wasn’t as strong as it is today and the widespread denunciation of Congress and other regional parties that exists today wasn’t of same weight at that time. The media wanted sensational stories ahead of the 2014 general elections; hence the rise of Narendra Modi was termed as forced sidelining of Mr. Advani. Any political party needs to win the votes at the end of the day and if that had to come with a face that could connect well with the youth and discontented voters, the choice of Modi in 2014 was justifiable.

As he turns 90, L K Advani needs more of appreciation than sensationalism of what he could not achieve. As a matter of fact, occupying the office of Prime Minister of India isn’t as big an achievement as is establishing a political party against seemingly unassailable behemoth of those times, the Congress. It is an acceptable fact that had BJP chosen him to serve as the 14th President of the Republic of India, it would have been a much appreciated act. Sadly, the prevailing circumstances could not allow the same; however, confining L K Advani’s stature to only these offices would be similar to asserting that the World War II and not Gandhiji’s prolonged struggle brought India independence from British rule.

As a non-partisan countryman, it is time to accept what Mr. Advani, a true statesman, gave to the Indian polity – a party that stands taller than any other today, a party that is redefining good governance and could rid us from dynasty politics. It’s time we collectively hail him.

What about Good Governance in MSMEs

image1The role and contributions of micro, small and medium enterprises in the Indian economy can never be played down.The supply chain in the production of any commodity is incomplete without these entities and so is the task of job creation where MSMEs deliver more than the much-appreciated stock exchange-listed corporate houses. Every discussion, however, about MSMEs is centered ontheir vulnerability to factors like credit unavailability and threats emerging out of cheap imports. Indeed, these Indian gems crave for a revamp but the idea of finding solutions from outside can be both misplaced as well as deteriorating.

So is there a ray of hope from within? Rather than finding means to handhold these entities by way of establishing frameworks like Priority Sector Lending (PSL) or special sops, how about refashioning them as flagbearers of corporate governance and making themas strong from within that lending institutions look upon them as fair contenders for credit?

Corporate governance is a set of regulations that are intended to inject transparency and value creation in the functioning of a body corporate. From setting up of committees of the Board to having compulsory independent directors, these standards tend to make businesses more accountable toward stakeholders. An audit of financial statements by independent agency, a meeting of independent directors without inclusion of executive director and strict provisions to be followed with respect to meetings of the Board or appointment and remuneration of managerial staff are all elements that lend a sense of credibility to the entity.

The scene, however, excludes MSMEs from adhering to these guidelines, which are not any sort of penalty but apparatus for good governance that ultimately makes the company more resilient to shocks and failures, and this is where we need to concentrate while debating the future of our small scale businesses.

image2Here we list some corporate governance standards and the gains that can easily be earned by encouraging our MSMEs to adopt these in their functioning.

1. A well-defined business

Small businesses often succumb to the challenge posed by better placed entities that have an unambiguous constitution which they follow to avoid anomalies. Documents such as Articles of Association and Memorandum of Association did not come up from nowhere; there was a specific intent behind introducing them- infusingclarity and vision. From KRAs of senior management to the framework for functioning of the Board, well-defined set of rules act as agents of growth.

Small businesses quite often fail to explain their operations and ultimate vision to probable financial backers and this turns out to be a reason for their failure ingarnering interest of creditors. Detailed Project Reports make it to meeting rooms of financing agencies and vague applications are elbowed out. AoAs and MoAs can be the first step forward for small entities.

2. Transparency in operations

Non-executive directors on the Boards of listed companies serve the purpose of bringing accountability to the decision making process. Any individual can be tempted to divert funds of business for own use, which we generally call ‘siphoning off’ and this eventually leads to a financially sick enterprise. Small businesses are riddled with opaque financial accountability, a factor that does not allow the entity to grow. The need here is to have a clearstructure for financial reporting, besides audit of financial statements by an independent agency.

On the face of it, this may appear somewhat unmanageable for small businesses. The answer however has its unique set of advantages. The government is reeling under the pressure to create jobs, so how about skilling fresh graduates on auditing financial documents?

3. Remunerative job positions

Quite well-known is the prevalence of underpayments in unorganized sector. Businesses look for human resource that is least expensive with a view to cut expense. Statutory deductions and benefits – provident fund, bonus and gratuity – remain almost unheard of in small scale organizations. Same is the case with appraisal and incentives for good performers.

While clever thinking may suggest minimum expense on wages, rationalthinking reflects the drawbacks of such policies. Anuncommitted worker hired to just perform his duty with no encouragement for incentives creates anentity which is sooner or later struck out by better performing organizations which regard human resource management as a key function.

4. Risk management

Large companies have fair chances to sustain risk posed either by changes in demand forces or technological advancements since they deploy a specialized team in the job of risk mitigation. Risk management does not mean that a certain event which will affect the normal functioning of organization be averted, it means factoring in every such event in the planning process so as to allow the happeninginflict minimum possible damage.

MSMEs face a tough situation when market forces like cheap Chinese imports or disruptions in the supply chain due to events like implementation of new tax regime, GST, upset usual operations. In this globalized world where capital, goods and humans are moving freely from one country to the other, small businesses cannot manage to steer clear of hostile conditions unless risk management is made the part and parcel of overall planning and decision-making process.

5. Value Creation

The stakeholders in any business want value addition. Shareholders, creditors, suppliers and workers, all want an upsurge in their respective stake holdings. The Board must not only devote labors to the planning process but shall also meet at regular intervals to assess that the business is on the track that leads to value addition. In order to achieve this, skilling and re-skilling of all functionaries, from the worker operating the machine to mid-level manager to the member of the Board, is a pre-requisite.

Small businesses operate with short-term goals of making money solely for promoters. This aspect is to be replaced with long-term sustainability and financial viability of the enterprise. Value creation and enhancement add perpetuity to the business, without whichthe chances of survival in this throat-cut competition are nil. Companies of today have definite ‘Vision’ and ‘Mission’ as part of their incorporation documents, MSMEs need a similar approach.

Conclusion

MSMEs on their own cannot be expected by the government or regulatory agency to work on this ambitious model. Corporate governance is a demanding exercise whichneeds a cautious implementation; else the outcomes can be even more damaging. An advisory agency can be set up with former independent directors as consultantsfor productive adoption of good governance norms by MSMEs. What is sure is emergence of small businesses as a capable class of enterprises, able to withstand odds like low-priced imports and disruptions like GST and demonetisation.

UN Must Declare Pakistan a Terror-Sponsoring Nation

Image 2It is common knowledge that Pakistan practises terrorism as a state policy. It foments violence and nurtures extremists to carry out its illegal activities against its neighbours and others. It’s a playground for extremist elements and exports fully trained terrorists to wreak havoc across the world.

It is not an accusation levelled only by its neighbours Afghanistan and India. Western nations, including Britain and the United States, too have spoken about the rogue state’s involvement in promoting extremist activities not only in neighbouring Kashmir, Afghanistan, India, and Bangladesh but also within its own territory of Baluchistan.

For instance, very recently a top American lawmaker said on the floor of the US House of Representatives that the Trump administration should designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism. Emphasizing that there is a laundry list of evidence of Pakistan’s support for terrorist groups, Congressman Ted Poe from Texas said in June this year that America should cut off military aid and stop giving this rogue Islamic nation any money and remove Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally to the US.

Furthermore, the Western media has often said that Pakistan’s tribal area, bordering Afghanistan, which is largely inaccessible to the outside world, has been a “haven for terrorists”. The Saban Center for Middle East Policy, in its analysis in 2008, had revealed that Pakistan is one of the most active sponsors of terrorist groups across the globe.

Though many countries are aware that Pakistan is a sponsor of Islamic terrorism and have been repeatedly aiding and abetting extremist groups, they have not taken the crucial step of declaring it as a terror-sponsoring nation purely due to diplomatic exigencies. For instance, though Pakistan-based Al-Qaeda blew up the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001, the US has refrained from declaring Pakistan as a terrorist state because it wants to use the territory of Pakistan to fight against the many extremist groups, which are holed up in that country.

Furthermore, the US has so far believed that it can more effectively deter Pakistan from aiding and abetting terrorists by offering some kind of financial support. Nevertheless, the audacious and incredible attack on the iconic twin towers was a wake-up call for the US. It pitted the “world’s most powerful country” against the reality of a fanatical Islamist entity, Al-Qaeda, which pledged to destroy everything that the West stood for – its institutions, its culture and its civilisation.

The threat was crystal clear to the US from an Al-Qaeda manifesto titled, ‘Why We Fight America’. Vowing to continue the fight against “the infidels”, the document described the 9/11 tragedy as “something natural, an expected event for a country that uses terror, arrogant policy, and suppression against the nations and the peoples…. America is the head of heresy in our modern world, and it leads an infidel democratic regime that is based on separation of religion and state and on ruling the people by laws that contradict the way of Allah…. [Therefore], we have the right to kill 4 million Americans – 2 million of them children – and to exile twice as many and wound and cripple hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, it is our right to fight them with chemical and biological weapons.”

The chilling declaration was too alarming and too close to home for the US to ignore. To fight the Al-Qaeda and similar organisations like the Taliban, the US put together like-minded countries in a coalition. As a frontline country, Pakistan’s active support was crucial in fighting those dreaded terrorists, who were based on the badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Taliban, raised and nurtured by Pakistan ostensibly to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan since 1979, was already a strong force to be reckoned with. It is another matter that the US had covertly supported the Taliban, the so-called freedom-fighters in Afghanistan.

The 9/11 attacks changed America’s world view. The US could no longer ignore the threat from terrorist groups such as the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. For lending its key support to the US, Pakistan slyly extracted its price. Besides pumping in millions of the badly needed dollars, the US had to rope in Pakistan as an ally of the US in its “war on terror”.

However, the above developments did not alter the ground realities. Pakistan started a dangerous double game. On the one hand, it pretended to be aiding the US war on terror, while on the other it stoked extremism within the country. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid and author Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow for Defence and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, have accused Pakistan’s spy network, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of helping the Taliban and rebels in Kashmir.

Author Gordon Thomas has written that even while aiding the US in capturing Al Qaeda members, Pakistan “still sponsored terrorist groups in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, funding, training and arming them in their war of attrition against India.” Similarly, Journalist Stephen Schwartz has highlighted in his published articles that several criminal and terrorist groups are “backed by senior officers in the Pakistani army, the country’s ISI intelligence establishment and other armed bodies of the state”.

According to Carpenter, the Taliban could not have come to power in Afghanistan without receiving direct support from the government in Islamabad. Pakistani authorities had not only helped fund the militia, but they had also equipped it with military hardware in the mid-1990s. In those days, the Taliban was just one out of the many competing factions involved in Afghanistan’s civil war.

Pakistan does not limit its sponsored terrorism to Afghanistan alone. It has actively supported, politically, financially and with arms, terror outfits in Kashmir calling the turmoil in the northernmost Indian state a “struggle for independence”. As funds from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries poured in, a number of extremist madrassas mushroomed in various parts of Pakistan, including the occupied Kashmir. They brainwash young Muslims to fight against India, the West and anything that does not conform to their narrow religious doctrines. Many training camps that impart training in guerrilla warfare, usage of arms and making of bombs operate freely on Pakistani soil. These camps enjoy the active connivance of such state agencies as the Pakistani Army and the ISI.

Pointing out that Pakistan is probably today’s most active sponsor of terrorism, Daniel Byman, who has authored many books on terrorism, wrote in The Australian newspaper that after the terror massacres in Mumbai, Pakistan can be rated as the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism, much ahead of Iran, though it has never been listed by the US State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, had conceded that Pakistan had trained militants on its soil. He defended it by saying that the intention was to force India into negotiations with Pakistan to determine Kashmir’s future. He also admitted that the ISI promoted the Taliban after 2001 to counter Hamid Karzai’s popularly elected government in Afghanistan, which Pakistan felt was dominated by non-Pashtuns. The fact that Karzai maintained good relations with Delhi did not help the matters either.

Maintaining hostility with India is probably Pakistan’s raison d’etre to survive. The country was born out of its hatred and resentment against India. By retaining the same animosity, the leadership could easily hoodwink its gullible population and divert their attention from the widespread poverty and backwardness of the country.

With this intention, the country has staged frequent terrorist attacks in India. It has been proved time and again that Islamabad was behind the several terrorist attacks over the years. They included the attacks and explosions in Kashmir as well as the Pathankot and Uri attacks on army camps last year, the Indian Parliament assault in 2001, the devastating series of train blasts in Mumbai in July 2006, the Varanasi bombings in the same year, the Hyderabad explosions, and the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. In fact, the instances of Pakistani-inspired and sponsored attacks on India are too many to mention.

From intercepted communication, the US too has found out that ISI-trained Mujahideen and Taliban are behind several explosions in Afghanistan. These terror bodies perceive as their enemies many countries including India, Russia, China, Israel, the US, Britain and other members of NATO. Satellite imagery available with the FBI bears ample proof of the existence of several terror camps in Pakistan.

There are supposed to be more than 30 terrorist outfits in Pakistan solely intended to cause chaos outside the country. They include the al-Qaeda affiliate Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA), also known as Harkat-ul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Al Badr, Jamait-ul-Mujahideen (JuM), Lashkar-e-Jabbar (LeJ), Muttahida Jehad Council (MJC), Tehrik-ul-Mujahideen, Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Army, Al Jehad, Jammu and Kashmir Students Liberation Front, Tehrik-e-Jehad-e-Islami, Tehrik-e-Jehad and Islami Inquilabi Mahaz, just to name a few.

Several detainees at the Guantanamo Bay facility have admitted to their US interrogators that the ISI had aided and guided them in organizing terror attacks in Indian Kashmir. The US has ample evidence to prove that ISI chief, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew well about Osama Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Meanwhile, author and activist Pervez Hoodhboy has revealed that Bin Laden was the ‘Golden Goose’ that the Pak army had kept under its watch. However, to its chagrin, the Goose was stolen from under its nose. Until then, the plan was to trade in the Goose at the appropriate time for the right price, which could have been in the form of dollars or as political concessions.

The world now understands Pakistan’s double game. In September 2016, Ted Poe, Chairman of the US House Subcommittee on Terrorism, along with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher from California, had introduced a bill in the House of Representatives, which called for declaring Pakistan, a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

In July 2010, then British Prime Minister David Cameron had also accused the Pakistani government of sponsoring terrorism: “We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world.”

Western intelligence services had also pointed out that the Indian embassy bombing in Kabul in 2008 was sponsored by the ISI and carried out by Jalaluddin Haqqani, founder of the insurgent group Haqqani network, which was then fighting the Afghan government. Meanwhile, Pakistani High Commission officials in Dhaka were said to have funded the terrorist activities of the banned organization called Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

That Pakistan is a failed state which is engaged in promoting terrorism is clear to people across the world. Nearly 700,000 people signed a White House petition in October 2016 seeking to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism. “We the people ask the administration to declare Pakistan, State Sponsor of Terrorism,” said the petition, believed to be the most popular White House petition so far.

Furthermore, on October 4, 2017, a top US General charged Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, of having connections with terrorist groups and running its own foreign policy. While responding to Senator Joe Donnelly’s question, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, told the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee that it is clear to him that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups and runs its own foreign policy.

Thus, the Americans are convinced, and the international society is certain about Pakistan’s complicity in fostering extremists and wreaking havoc everywhere. Now the crucial question is: When will the United Nations wake up to this dangerous reality and declare Pakistan a terrorism-sponsoring nation?  The sooner it is done, the better it is for the entire world.

Should Media be Made Accountable to Safeguard National Interests?

Image 1Naxals and Maoists are but “Gandhians with guns” (apostles of peace with a gun!). So says writer and columnist Arundhati Roy, who further claims that the Indian state has ever since Independence been fighting native minority groups of people in different parts of the country, who have been trying to assert their own “independence”. If these statements and claims sound outrageous, how about the proclamation by a reigning Chief Minister from a public platform that he is an anarchist? Downright unbelievable! And yet true! Never mind if this man (aka Arvind Kejriwal) who startled the nation with such cheap gimmickry in a bid to show off his supposedly out-of-the-box thinking and non-conventional methodology, was democratically elected by the people of his state for serving them and not for spreading deleterious views.

Vituperative Outpourings

Not to forget the Azadi brigade, a bunch of young people, apparently with misplaced political ambitions and the support of some frustrated and failed Opposition parties, foaming and frothing at the mouth from the portals of prestigious academic institutions, about their right to ‘Azadi’. These rabid youngsters proudly support the stone-pelters in Kashmir and also a hardcore terrorist who was handed out the death sentence by the highest court of the land for trying to subvert the system and launching armed attacks on its democratic institutions.

Their insidious speeches in support of the banned militant outfits and mercenaries of India’s enemy countries are diligently reported verbatim, and their scurrilous writings are readily published by the mainstream media. The MSM also goes gaga over the purported emergence of youth power demanding its own space in national debates over any and every issue that captures their imagination, with no red lines whatsoever! No issue is too sacrosanct nor any institution too big for their attacks!

Complicity of the Press

None of such vituperative outpourings is possible or sustainable without the tacit support of sections of the MSM, which attributes the diatribes to a citizen’s fundamental right to freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution of our country, the very concept of which is in peril, thanks to such reprehensible acts!

Allegations against Army

Nor is the Army spared venomous attacks by its detractors. A student leader who shot to dizzying heights of infamy overnight on account of his ‘Azadi’ diatribe, thanks to the wide media coverage he received, went on record to state that members of the Armed Forces who are deified by the Society are but school dropouts. According to him, the latter have joined the uniformed services merely for the sake of a salary and are, therefore, no real heroes. Recently, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Kerala unit secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan made outrageous allegations and accused the Indian Armed forces of kidnapping and raping women. Despite the Indian Army conducting many successful operations within our country, the media, NGOs, human rights groups and some politicians have often accused the Army personnel of violation of human rights or excessive and disproportionate use of force. It must be extremely frustrating indeed for the Army to operate in trying circumstances under the public glare and scrutiny by the MSM, which lacks the professional acumen or field experience to assess the judiciousness of the tactics or force used by the Army.

For instance, recently a Major of the Indian Army ingeniously made use a troublemaker, who was instigating a big group of stone-pelters to burn down a polling booth in the Kashmir valley, as a human shield. He did it solely to protect the precious lives of several civilians and men on government duty without any harm coming to that rabble-rouser. Instead of praising the Major, the media criticised him harshly and dubbed him as a violator of human rights.

Isn’t it ridiculous to talk about protecting human rights of a scoundrel caught red-handed for instigating a big group of murderous fanatical elements out to attack civilians and men on government duty? While the whole nation feted Major Leetul Gogoi as a hero and the Chief of the Army Staff honoured him with an award, disgruntled elements have been striving to malign him and besmirch the reputation of the Army. Sections of the mainstream media are more than willing to provide a platform for the bleeding hearts to air their poisonous views. When will they stop saying and doing things just for the sake of boosting TRP ratings and circulation numbers, and that too at the cost of our nation’s interests and citizens’ well-being?

Sensationalism

The more vicious and audacious the attack on the nation’s territorial integrity and its sacrosanct symbols such as the national flag and national anthem and hallowed concepts of nationalism and patriotism, the more extensive is the MSM coverage and publicity! Yet another development of considerable intrigue is an Opposition leader’s recent meeting with some secessionist leaders in the troubled area of Kashmir that are under house arrest, over high tea. The meeting was held purportedly for discussing the road ahead in the matter of the resolution of the Kashmir imbroglio. The government has already declared that it would not talk to these secessionist leaders, but there is apparently no stopping maverick Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar from gallivanting in the treacherous waters of anti-national sentiments and separatist tendencies. The meeting, highly dubious in nature, was given the widest possible coverage by the MSM, and the participants were given undeserved publicity.

High Table for Anti-Socials

The long and short of the distressing sequence of events is that on the one hand errant individuals with ulterior motives and frustrated Opposition parties deliver anti-national and highly inflammatory speeches. They indulge in such highly reprehensible acts without any restraint because they do not otherwise see for themselves any future ahead. On the other hand, the mainstream media goes the whole hog to project them as little Davids trying to take on the mighty Goliath, the State.

Unfortunately, the dissenters are not alone in their target practice at the State symbols. There is no dearth of academics, artists and intelligentsia waiting to come out in the open not only to defend the dissenters who go over the bend but also in support of their hate speeches. The nationalist forces, which are aghast by the distressing situation and condemn it as anti-national, are dubbed regressive and anti-democratic! Thus, the anti-national elements are determined to twist the traditional interpretation of the concepts of nationalism and patriotism beyond recognition to suit their nefarious purposes. Evidently, this is a case of the devil quoting from the scriptures!

Flagrantly Irresponsible Behaviour

Last year, the mainstream television channel NDTV India managed to get away from being shut down for helping out the enemy country. Its anchors and reporters were charged with highly objectionable reportage that put our Armed Forces in a precarious situation that could have turned perilous, by giving away their whereabouts and the locations of their installations. The channel had also been found guilty of leaking out the details of the manoeuvres of the security agencies trying to thwart the Mumbai massacre of November 2008 carried out by Pakistani terrorists who had infiltrated into India, with its blow by blow account.

Barkha Dutt, one of the anchors associated with this channel, does not hide her sympathy for the terrorists in Kashmir and their paymasters across the border. After Jamaat-ud Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed effusively praised her last year, some people have even started suspecting that she has some kind of links with this Pakistani terrorist and Mumbai terror attack mastermind.

Now, the million-dollar question is: How far can the freedom of expression be stretched without harming or hurting our nation’s territorial integrity or wounding the national pride? Should the journalist’s licence to function in an atmosphere of fearlessness be allowed to entail the luxury of the mainstream media being accountable to no authority, while the same degree of freedom to function is denied to the Indian Army, which is trying hard to keep intact our nation’s territorial integrity? Granted that the pen is mightier than the sword, but non-accountability should not be used as a fig leaf to cover the honour of the MSM that is bent upon doing a full Monty!

Accountability

In short, the mainstream media should most definitely be made accountable for its unrestrained conduct and licentious behaviour in the interests of the nation and for keeping up the morale of its various agencies and organs that are often given a short shrift by the MSM. Else the intended purpose of the founding fathers of our nation in allowing the Media to function unhindered and unhampered by restrictions and curbs imposed by a totalitarian State would be lost. So would be the territorial integrity of the nation and its ability to curb the fissiparous tendencies let loose by anti-national forces through the tacit support of sections of the mainstream media, trying to cash in on their unbridled freedom of expression.

Working it Out

While it may help to carry out a comparative study of the freedom enjoyed by the MSM in other democratic countries, no useful purpose would be served by trying to ape the system of any country that provides its mainstream media blanket freedom. In this age and times of international terrorism and proxy war, a review of the situation concerning the Media is very much in the fitness of things. The government, both at the Centre and in the states, major political parties recognised by the Election Commission, the Press Council, representatives of different components of the Media, academics, intelligentsia, legal experts and all other stakeholders should be involved in the review exercise.

Without letting the exercise to be bogged down by the nitty gritty or time consuming and meandering procedures, a consensus should be allowed to evolve. The MSM should ideally come up with self imposed restrictions to complement the outcome of the review. Great care would be required to ensure that the spirit and purpose of the controls should not be lost in their details or non-viability. While aiming for a perfect regime of controls, we should be prepared to be contended with near perfection. The bottom line should, in any case, be that the Media is neither placed under the state control nor allowed to stray into the stratosphere of total non-accountability.

Is India any Closer to a Permanent Solution to the Kashmir Imbroglio?

2There is no simple answer to the above question about a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, which has been a festering wound on our nation since 1947. First of all, there are four major stakeholders in this issue. They are India, to which the beautiful Himalayan state legitimately belongs to, Pakistan which falsely stakes its claim to the province and forcefully occupies part of it, and Kashmiris – both residents and displaced. Over the past few decades, they have pushed themselves into various positions from where it is not easy to wriggle out.

Secondly, the problem has many layers to it. There is terrorism that is funded and fomented by Pakistan, counter-terrorism measures initiated by India, one-upmanship by political leaders and fringe groups within and outside the state, and scepticism about India’s intentions among some of the local residents. Furthermore, Pakistan, which, as a state policy, seeks to inflict a “thousand cuts to bleed India” into submission, has been fuelling civil unrest and terrorist activities in the state for several decades now. In fact, it started its nefarious anti-India games in Kashmir as soon as it gained independence.

Genesis of the Problem

Before discussing the possibility of a solution, it is necessary to revisit the genesis of the problem. We can probably blame the British for the bad handling of the Partition, but we are still left holding the baby. The dispute started as soon as the two countries – India and Pakistan – were born in 1947. Pakistan was formed as an Islamic state while India adopted “secularism” as its state policy. The more than 650 princely states had three options – to join either of the two countries or to stay independent.

The “freedom to choose by the princes” was largely in theory only. The agitated population of each province, already up in arms against Britain, tilted the decision to their chosen side. Kashmir, wedged between the two countries, had a Hindu ruler while the population was mostly Muslims. At that time Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of the state, decided to stay neutral, without joining either India or Pakistan.

It would have remained that way, and there would not have been any problem at all. But, Pakistan was not willing to accept that. It sent in Muslim tribesmen to conquer Kashmir. As they almost reached Srinagar, Hari Singh sought India’s military help to thwart Pakistani invasion. And then he fled Kashmir and signed the Instrument of Accession with Delhi, making Kashmir an integral part of India. Meanwhile, the Pakistani tribesmen had managed to occupy a quarter of Kashmir while the remaining three-fourths of the state remained under Indian control.

Ever since 1947, the two countries have been waging small or big wars over Kashmir. But the problem changed its dimension in 1989 when pro-Pakistan militants started the insurgency in the state. They unleashed a reign of terror and selectively massacred Hindu Pundits in the valley and forced them to flee to other parts of India.

LoC – the Volatile de-facto Border

The Line of Control (LoC), which was formed after the 1947 skirmishes, has become a de-facto border, but both the countries do not accept it openly for fear of public outrage. War cannot solve the problem as has been proved a few times in the past. Now, any full-scale conflict can potentially have untold consequences since both the countries are equipped with the nuclear arsenal. It can be mutually destructive.

However, neither of the countries is willing to give up their claim on the entire state. For both the nations, it has become a prestige issue. The leaders on both sides have brainwashed their citizens so much that it is almost impossible to move away from their stated rigid positions. Any leader, whether in India or Pakistan, agreeing to a settlement by making any concession to the other, will be committing a political hara-kiri.

For instance, in Pakistan, if the political leadership in Islamabad agrees to a settlement, its military establishment in Rawalpindi is sure to scuttle it. Also, the non-state players, clandestinely bankrolled by some West Asian countries, will not sit idle. We have seen ample examples of this Pakistani ineptitude many times in the past.

In 1999, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Lahore by bus, opening a regular bus service between Delhi and Lahore. Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif then signed the famous Lahore Declaration. Everyone felt things were looking up and there could be good neighbourly relations between the two squabbling countries.

However, all hopes of a peaceful border were dashed when so-called Mujahedeen guerrillas occupied the Kargil heights, an Indian territory in the Ladakh region. It was later established that the occupiers were not independent insurgents but regular Pakistani troops and paramilitary forces. The plot to occupy the strategic heights was hatched on the directives of Parvez Musharraf, who was then Chief of Army Staff in Pakistan. He later assumed power by deposing Nawaz Sharif through a military coup.

A bloody war ensued and, according to reports, more than 30,000 people, both soldiers and civilians, lost their lives. One major issue between the two countries is a mutual distrust. That’s why whenever India has extended an olive branch to Pakistan, its Army has responded with covert aggressions like the ones against the Indian Parliament in 2001, the Pathankot aggression in 2006, the Uri strikes and the most horrific 2008 Mumbai serial attacks.

Any rapprochement between the two countries is not easy given the extreme positions the two have taken. As the Brookings Institute quoted an Indian strategist as saying, “What standing does Pakistan have in this dispute? What is their legal standing? Pakistan is not a party to the dispute; let’s get our facts right, then we can discuss it!”

This was countered by a Pakistani foreign policy official, as quoted by Brookings. He had said, “My view is that if India continues on its present course, then consequences cannot be foreseen. I cannot say where boundaries will be drawn, but certainly, the present boundaries will be changed. India must be prepared to make a reasonable agreement; then the process of partition begun in 1947 will be completed.”

Despite the improbabilities, if a solution to the lingering Kashmir question is at all possible, this is the time for it. India is on a strong wicket right now. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi the country is making rapid strides. It’s growing strongly as an economic power. Internationally, its stature is at an all-time peak. Currently, India is considered the best destination for foreign direct investment (FDI). A permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council is just a matter of time.

With such growth, India will soon be prosperous. At the same time, Pakistan is on a downward spiral on all fronts. Consequentially, ordinary Pakistanis who see the widening differences in the living standards of the people of the two countries are bound to ask some tough questions to their leadership. Fed up with the economic backwardness and pariah status of their country, Pakistanis could revolt against their political and military establishments.

If that happens, it will obviously force the country’s leadership to reach a settlement with India on Kashmir so that they too can enjoy the spill-over fruits of India’s prosperity and development. Another development that could lead to a resolution of the border problem is the disintegration or balkanization of Pakistan, which cannot be ruled out because the Islamic country is now marred by some ongoing ethnic disharmony within itself.

As such, Baluchistan may go its separate way, with or without outside support. The Punjabis currently dominate the political establishment and the Army. They keep the union together. Once they realise that they are paying too high a price for keeping the country together, they might look for other options. The price they are paying for the sake of the country’s integrity includes the slow murder of the Punjabi language and Punjabi culture.

However, even an organic Balkanisation will be stoutly resisted not by Pakistanis but by an outsider: China. Currently, Beijing has a huge stake in Pakistan, including Baluchistan. A compliant Pakistan is integral to its hugely ambitious and highly strategic ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) project as it will give China free access to Gwadar, a warm water port on the Arabian Sea. Balkanisation of Pakistan could shatter Chinese designs and strategic plans vis-à-vis India and other countries. Considering its immense importance, China will do all it can to prevent its strongest ally from disintegrating.

Time Ripe to Seek Permanent Solution

It needs to be reiterated here that if a solution to Kashmir is possible at all, it is now. And the man who can find that solution is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The advantage with Modi is that he can sell almost any idea to the Indians. If India has to prosper rapidly, it cannot afford to have a troublesome neighbour. And our Prime Minister has the capacity and willingness to take strong decisions and implement them. If Pakistan too can have a similar leader who can carry its people along, a negotiated settlement is a definite possibility.

Furthermore, there is a growing disenchantment among the Kashmiri youth who are forced by the militants to be at the forefront of their agitation. They have started realising that their so-called leaders are using them for their personal gains. These youngsters have been putting their lives and future at stake in the name of “Azadi”. They get killed or are maimed, or the least, they spend terms in jails while the leaders live in the midst of luxury and their children are sent abroad for further studies to ensure for themselves a secure future.

Meanwhile, a major crackdown on terror funding in July 2017 conducted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has found that besides getting funds from Pakistan, leaders of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) also received funds from outfits in London and Dubai. Following this development, the NIA on July 24 arrested seven Kashmiri separatists from Srinagar and Delhi on charges of receiving funds from across the border to sponsor terror activities and stone attacks as well as to fuel unrest in Kashmir. The NIA has also prepared a dossier that establishes a direct link between Lashkar-e Taiba and Hurriyat leaders and has booked those arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy and waging war against India. One of the accused Altaf Ahmad Shah is the son-in-law of hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who has been supporting Jammu and Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, while another one named Shahid-ul-Islam is a close aide of Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Another accused, Ayaz Akbar Khandey, happens to be the spokesperson for the Geelani-led Tehreek-e-Hurriyat.

The Kashmiri youth have now begun to understand the fact that the self-proclaimed leaders or their families never lose anything. Be it Hurriyat, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen group or their variants; they are all the same. Lately, more and more Kashmiris have started to speak up against these insurgent groups. As we know, one reason for the failure of the Khalistani movement was the corruption and selfishness of its leaders. The police too had acted tough. In Kashmir too, there are indications that the movement is going the same way.

History has shown us that any intractable dispute can get solved with the passage of time. The Irish problem, the LTTE issue and even the Khalistani movement are some such instances. So, we have solid reasons to be hopeful that better sense will prevail and peace will return to what was once known as the ‘Paradise on Earth’. Now, the million dollar question is: How soon it can happen?

A blessing for Muslim women

A blessing for Muslim womenThe Supreme Court’s judgment on triple talaq or instant divorce will end the pain inflicted on many Indian women in the garb of faith.

The practice has been held unconstitutional by a majority vote of 3:2. The court also ruled that this is not an integral part of Islam. Fortunately, there were plenty of signals to indicate that a large cross-section of people across the country wanted this primitive and medieval practice to be quashed as early as possible.

The five-judge Constitution bench of the apex court, which delivered its historic verdict on triple talaq (talaq-e-bidat), polygamy and nikahhalala, was headed by Chief Justice of India Jagdish Singh Khehar. Justices Kurian Joseph, Rohinton Fali Nariman, Uday Umesh Lalit and S Abdul Nazeer made up the bench.

After hearing prolonged arguments, the bench had reserved its verdict on a clutch of petitions, including the one by Shayara Banu, who challenged the Muslim Personal Law and its retrograde practices.

The court had already indicated that the fundamental rights, as well as human rights of an individual, cannot be exploited in the name of religion or on the basis of gender. Last December, the Allahabad High Court had ruled that the right of Muslim women, or anyone for that matter, could not be infringed upon even if it is dictated by personal law.

Asserting that divorcing a woman by merely uttering the word talaq three times in quick succession is unconstitutional, the High Court observed that no Muslim husband should give divorce in a manner that would put a question mark on equal rights. The case in the Supreme Court and the arguments put forth increased awareness among Muslim women about their rights. These arguments also exposed the hollowness of the stand taken by the Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) that triple talaq was sanctioned by the Quran, the holy book of Muslims.

Most Muslim women had thus far kept quiet assuming it was a religious obligation, as prescribed in their holy book. But it can unequivocally be said that they must have breathed a sigh of relief with the practice having been held contrary to the Indian Constitution.

Over six days during the summer vacation, the Supreme Court heard arguments by several parties, which included the Centre, the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and various others. During the hearing, the bench asked “how can a sinful practice be said to be a matter of faith”? They also noted that the “system itself says it is horrendous and bad” and that other Islamic countries have abandoned the practice of triple talaq.

Asserting that if it is bad in theology, it cannot be accepted in law, the bench observed, “What is morally wrong cannot be legally right. What is not fully moral, cannot be legal.” Arguing that triple talaq cannot be integral to Islam, Shayara Banu’s advocate Amit Chadha said many schools of thought do not recognize the patriarchal practice of triple talaq in a male-dominated community.

It is an undesirable, bad, and sinful practice and violates constitutional guarantees of Muslim women, he added. According to senior lawyer Anand Grover, who was appearing for an organization opposing triple talaq, most Sunni Muslim women were not only against this practice, but the AIMPLB was not giving a correct perception to the Supreme Court.

Arguing for the All India Women Personal Law Board, Islamic scholar and lawyer Arif Mohammad Khan, who is also a former Union minister, strongly objected to the submissions of the AIMPLB. He said that Islam cannot have any room to dictate to any person and the Quran says that killing an innocent person was like killing the entire humanity.

Khan, who had resigned from the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet over differences in handling the Shah Bano case, further said that Shariat law had been distorted. Stating that Shariat is the holy Quran and not the opinion of clerics, he said since the Quran considers the importance of family, it prescribes four steps before pronouncement of divorce.

The bench after hearing the arguments said it would examine whether the practice of triple talaq is fundamental to Islam. It had also said it would not consider polygamy and ‘nikah halala’ for the time being but would take them up at a later stage.

The Supreme Court had taken suo moto cognizance of the question whether Muslim women faced gender discrimination in the matter of divorce or due to polygamy. The Centre had earlier said that triple talaq is neither integral to Islam nor a “majority versus minority” issue, but it is rather an “intra-community tussle” between Muslim men and deprived women.

“It is not only not an essential part of the Muslim religion,” lawyer Chadha said, “it is not a part of religion at all. On the contrary, it is deprecated by Islam”. He was responding to AIMPLB’s assertion that triple talaq, though sinful was a matter of faith for the Muslims.

The court had also taken note of repeated submissions by the AIMPLB and former Union Minister and senior lawyer Salman Khurshid, who was assisting it in his personal capacity, that triple talaq is not mentioned in the Quran and is “sinful”, “irregular”, “patriarchal”, “bad in theology” and “undesirable”. But he argued that court should not examine it. Citing the current scenario where Muslim women are protesting against instant triple talaq, Grover, who was appearing for Zakia Suman, cofounder of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, questioned the AIMPLB’s claim that they were discouraging the practice of triple talaq among Muslims. Grover also contested AIMPLB’s claim that its voice was representative of the Muslim community.

Pointing out that talaq-i-bidat is not an essential part of the Sunni Muslim faith, he emphasized that it had been changed in several Sunni-majority countries. It is apparent that even AIMPLB realizes that triple talaq cannot be continued as it is being practised today.

That is the reason why it told the court on the last day of arguments that it had decided to issue an advisory to qazis (Islamic judges) to give an option to all Muslim women to opt out of instant triple talaq before giving their consent for marriage.

The clerics’ body was well aware of the mass petition by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) demanding a ban on triple talaq. It was signed by more than 50,000 Muslim women and men. The petition also sought the National Commission for Women’s intervention to end this “un-Quranic practice”.

The Mahila Andolan collected signatures from across the country, including in such states as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, MP, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh. According to the Association, 92 per cent of Muslim women want an end to instant divorce.

The court was aware of the fact that Muslim women are subjected to unjust, unilateral divorces. Often, talaq is pronounced over the phone, through text messages, over social media or via email. In such circumstances, women have no recourse to justice. The divorced women have no legal rights, and the qazis always support the men. This formed the very basis of the landmark judgment. In September 2016, the clerics’ body argued that the provision of triple talaq actually protected women since it removed the need for husbands to kill their wives.

“If there develops serious discord between the couple, and the husband does not want to live with her, legal compulsions of time-consuming separation proceedings and expenses may dissuade him from taking the legal course. In such cases, he may resort to illegal, criminal ways of murdering or burning her alive,” it said in an affidavit. In Pakistan, for a man to obtain a divorce, he has to send a notice in writing to the chairman of the local council with a copy to his wife.

He has to wait for 90 days during which time an arbitration committee tries to bring about reconciliation between the parties. Turkey, another Muslim-majority country, abolished triple talaq in 1926.

The island country of Cyprus too followed suit. In Egypt too triple talaq is illegal. Since all this information is in the public domain, Muslim women in India are aware.

So they chose not to sit quietly and fought to free themselves from this oppressive and retrograde tradition which is being perpetrated by the Orthodox clergy.

The key takeaway of the judgment is that even the judges in a minority wanted the practice to be banned for six months till the government passes new legislation while keeping in mind the demands of all stakeholders.

The judgment also comes as a major win for the ruling BJP which stood firm in its stand to back Muslim women in a backdrop where many political parties chose not to publicly oppose this tyrannical practice inflicted in the garb of faith.

(The article published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 23rd August 2017)

A blessing for Muslim women