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India needs some critical reforms

After Independence, the Indian economy never had it as good as at present. Coming close on the heels of a 10-year hiatus of policy paralysis, the change of guard at Delhi in 2014 heralded an era of revamping and reorientation of a stolid economy. Notwithstanding the shedding by the nation of its obsession with the disastrous Nehruvian economy and ushering in of the opening up and globalisationinthe1990s, not much headway was made for want of clean governance and reforms. The old political dispensation was way too reluctant to loosen its grip on the regime of controls and the levers of power.

The National Democratic Alliance government’s ingenious initiatives have invigorated and enabled the poor to assert themselves as equal partners and stakeholders in the country’s economic progress. Its bold financial reforms and schemes to unearth black money came as a shot in the arm and broke the backbone of the parallel economy that was the lifeline of terrorists and anti-national elements. These measures, coupled with political stability, ushered the economy on to the centre stage and made its surge unstoppable. For India to achieve its true potential, it is imperative that its economy gets rejuvenation alongside reforms.

Being the most dominant sector of the Indian economy that accounts for employing about 50 per cent of the country’s workforce, the farming and agriculture sector is fraught with uncertainty even at the best of times. Insufficient rainfall, a decline in food- grain production, unforeseen natural calamities such as drought, flood, famine, hurricanes, etc are but a few such hazards. Over the last few years, the Union government has taken several initiatives and follow-up actions to support the farmer when nature and related conditions let him down. A lot more needs to be done to provide relief and assistance to the farmers, especially for those who do subsistence farming.

To address the plight of this category of agriculturists, the government has announced in the latest Union Budget cash assistance of Rs 6,000 per annum to farmers who have up to two hectares of land. This kind of support, as well as loan waivers granted by several state governments, will undoubtedly provide major relief to the farmers in dire straits. However, a realistically long-lasting solution to the various issues that beset the agriculture sector calls for ingenuity and modernisation. The scope for resolving the ills of the agriculture sector by seeking redressal from the industrial segment, without reducing such an interface to a mere transaction of cash transfers needs urgent consideration. In short, the manufacturing of goods and commodities should not be the only goal or responsibility for our industries.

The industrial sector should pragmatically complement agriculture and farming to make the latter viable and sustainable, with the former becoming none the worse after taking such an initiative. Agricultural practices need to be continuously monitored for upgradation. To this end, the engines of our research institutions should work full steam towards a second green revolution. Better ways of storage of crops should be designed and made available. Setting up a National Agriculture Commission to study the weak areas of agriculture in a bid to come up with practical solutions would be a good beginning. Thus, agriculture and farming should be given priority status, and all the redressal measures should be implemented in a time-bound manner.

Besides farmers, other segments of people suffer at the time of inadequate rainfall and water shortage. Due to lack of vision, planning or sheer apathy, quite a few states tend to put the issue of water management on the back-burner year after year, thereby augmenting their dependence on the neighbouring states that are water- rich. Such an indifferent or casual approach to an issue of paramount imortance should not be allowed to persist as it gives cause to inter-state feuds. Unfortunately, long-standing disputes and friction in good neighbourly relations between states tend to hamper the smooth functioning of the federal structure.

Hence, water resources should be declared national assets, to be equitably shared by all the states (with the exception of more substantial claims on justifiable grounds). Every state should be made responsible for the conservation of water through preservation and desilting of water bodies, harvesting of rainwater, exercising of strict controls on sand mining, etc. Failures or lapses on the part of a state should be made a ground for curtailment of that state’s demand for river waters from a neighbouring state. The Centre should monitor the conservation of water by states so as to fore- stall hardships to the people on account of culpability of a state government.

Surrounded by seas on three sides and with its vast land borders, India’s requirement of a substantial upgrading of its Defence budget can hardly be overemphasised. This is especially so as our country is flanked by two nations with nuclear capability and they have a track record of waging major wars on India and capturing our territory. Ever since Independence, the situation along the borders has been so bad that at every given point of time, India has been either in a state of war or in a warlike situation. India has had more than its fair share of terrorist attacks both from within and across the border.

Furthermore, there has seldom been a let-up in the number of illegal immigrants pouring through the porous borders. While India’s defence forces need to be strengthened manifold, its defence industry is yet to make its presence felt. India is hardly in a position to go on defraying its scarce resources on defence imports indefinitely. The nation’s indigenous defence industry needs large-scale revamping and upgradation of its capability. This is of paramount importance and urgency.

Setting up of industries as well as infrastructure development often involve the acquisition of agricultural or residential land. This exercise is seldom without the flipside of an out- burst of human emotions like bitterness, anger and uproar by protestors. Projects get embroiled in litigation or protracted negotiations between the stakeholders. Consequently, projects get delayed and are often given up. Such conflicting situations often create bad blood between the State and the Centre and thereby weaken the federal structure. Such conditions should, therefore, be entirely avoided or forestalled.

While most people are by and large peaceful and law-abiding, it is some fringe political organisations and social outfits (read anti-national elements such as Left-Wing extremists) funded by anti-Indian forces that provoke the public into holding violent protests. Such elements should be prevented from polluting the peaceful atmosphere on the pretext of exercising the freedom of expression. The people would only be happy to get rid of these elements before rather than after they engineer violent protests. After agencies of the Centre and the State clear an industrial project or a project of infrastructure development, anti-social elements should be pre- vented from hijacking the project. This would be conducive to a vibrant economy and reflective of the people’s will.

(The article  India needs some critical reforms is published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 13th February 2019)

It’s time to defuse the population time bomb

Sitting on a population time bomb is bad enough for any country. To ignore it or pretend that the issue does not exist would be like pulling the wool over one’s own eyes. A teeming population bursting at the seams requires no bigger a boost than total apathy on the part of the government to make it a dire issue. In a country like India, where the government is expected to take the initiative in crucial matters of public interest, the onus of keeping the population within the manageable parameters of governance for achieving the optimum level of economic and social development of the nation rests with the government.

A nation of 1.25 billion population, over 50% of which is below 25 years of age and over 65% below 35 years, India could rightfully lay claim to the title of a young nation although it has hosted one of the most ancient civilizations in the world. Modern India owes much of its accomplishments to its young segment of the population, which has taken over from its peers the onerous task of leading the nation to its rightful position of Vishwa Guru. Charged with enthusiasm, all that the young, buoyant population needs is the cutting edge to make it the deliverer.

An unchecked population explosion is a drain on the nation’s resources, which are bound to become more and more scarce thanks to the growing gluttony of the teeming population, compounded by the demands of an export-oriented economy. A constant check on the population growth is imperative for meeting the economy’s growing need of fuel for its twin-turbo engines of exports and domestic consumption.

It would be pertinent to recall the case of the doctrine of Lebensraum, which drove Adolf Hitler to invade neighbouring territories in the beginning and later on distant lands to serve as the hinterland of Germany, his greed for land leading to a world war of cataclysmic proportions. Being a proponent of world peace, India is known for having never nurtured territorial ambitions. It has, in fact, been a victim of far too many invasions by foreign powers, with the trajectory of its economy and spiritual development subjected to far too severe a stress and strain for it to easily overcome. Nor is it ever likely to militate against its own ethos of the world being a global family and become a warmongering nation like Hitler’s Germany.

As such, the options before it for carrying its economy to stratospheric heights of success in a competitive global scenario of hegemonistic ambitions harboured by the superpowers and regional players bristling with one-upmanship, are too few in number. It is high time the nation stopped cruising along on the support of its traditional and conventional strengths and pursued an aggressive agenda of progress and development.

Human resource should not be allowed to slide from its premier position as an effective tool for progress to be termed as the Achilles heel of the body politic. To this end, it is essential on the part of the government to adopt a realistic policy on population. A lot has already been done in the past to generate awareness among the people about the perils of an uncontrolled population, such as dwindling employment opportunities and meagre resources for the government’s welfare measures, education, health, infrastructural projects, the strengthening and modernisation of the armed forces and procurement of weapons and equipment and so on.

This is all on account of the strain on the nation’s revenue caused by a population far too big in size for a controlled expenditure. Nonetheless, much more needs to be done to promote the small family norm by engaging the people. The awareness drive about fertility and conception has to be started at an early stage of development of a man and woman. However, a mindless drive initiated by overzealous officials participating in the move is capable of subverting the aim of the drive by making the targeted people hostile. Hence, adroit handling of the issue with the involvement of people with the right motivation and psychological briefing is essential.

Families practising the small family norm should be rewarded with incentives such as cash prizes, priority in government employment, tax reliefs, etc. Some drastic measures may also have to be implemented to complement the encourage-and-reward program. Politicians who represent the people should set an example by adopting the small family norm. Those who have an oversized family should be rendered ineligible to contest polls for public offices. An indigenous scheme to draw out and enlist viable incentives and rewards to motivate people should also be introduced.

The need to have a manageable population is not for a vibrant or surging economy alone. There is an essential aspect of demographics too. India is home to a wide-ranging spectrum of people subscribing to a vast number of religions, faiths and cults, some of which have overlapping areas of belief, some others mutually exclusive, and some aggressive about spreading their influence. India, as a secular country, has a unique problem of having to address the belief system and its nuances, in respect of every unit of the spectrum, irrespective of its strength.

People who practise some of these belief systems tend to live in clusters where they demand inflexible uniformity, if not regimentation, in all walks of life, much to the consternation of those bodies of faith who disagree. People of the aggressive religions, who do not agree on the small family norm from their faith point of view, are vociferous about their opposition to the government’s initiatives and measures to control the population. This leads to heart burning and apprehension among those who practise the small family norm.

The fear of the majority community losing out to the minority community, in the long run, is not unfounded or baseless. Hence, the fear of being outnumbered has to be addressed by the government in all seriousness and appropriate measures adopted as early as possible. The government’s principled stand on the issue of Triple Talaq and the baby steps taken on the need of a Uniform Civil Code are strong indicators of its resolute ideology, which is a pre-requisite for the implementation of drastic measures to control the growth of population, cutting across communal lines.

If we remain reluctant to fight the problem of unchecked population growth, then in the course of time it can have adverse repercussions on the future of India’s economy as our country would practically be painting itself to a corner of stagnation. Furthermore, the surging population will severely strain India’s resources, which in turn will lead to food and water scarcity, lack of sanitation, increase in malnourishment, rising illiteracy, swelling unemployment and abject poverty levels as well as high maternal and infant mortality rates. Such a scenario will transform our country into a museum of global problems. To avert such a pathetic situation, we must earnestly implement concrete measures to control population growth and pass the Population Control Bill as early as possible.

(The article It’s time to defuse the population time bomb published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 24, January 2019 )

Should India Switchover From Parliamentary System to Presidential Form of Governance?

The current political system in India is a hand-me-down bequeathed by the outgoing British masters at the time of independence. Although it was not the only choice available to the Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution, we had consciously chosen the Westminster form of parliamentary system just as we had accepted the British legacy of Railways, Post and Telegraphs, and the English language.

Notwithstanding the drastic and fundamental changes ushered in since independence in a broad spectrum of areas ranging from education and social development to science and technology in a bid to adapt to the changing needs of the nation, the political system has remained unchanged and is the last bastion to survive the changing times.

Gordian Knot

Seventy years of existence as a sovereign democratic republic hitched to the parliamentary system has seen India through difficult times, marked by multiple wars, terrorist attacks as well as political disturbances and economic challenges in the region. This speaks volumes of the built-in strength of the country’s parliamentary form of governance as well as the people’s faith in the system, and their fortitude and resilience vis-a-vis the systemic jolts and inadequacies.

The degree of success of the Indian system is borne out by its sharp contrast with the dismal depths to which democracy in neighbouring Pakistan that was granted independence at the same point of time as India has plummeted multiple times, following several military coups. The brief spell of internal emergency notwithstanding, the Indian nation has made steady progress and development.

All the same, certain constraints and systemic shortcomings seem to have resulted in the nation’s political course hitting a plateau, and a consequent slowing down of the pace of progress. Despite a massive economic growth and social progress, made possible by the nation’s political stability, India’s success story is marred by pockets of economic stagnation and social backwardness – a veritable Gordian knot, the untangling of which is a daunting task staring the nation in the face.

Melodrama and Unruly Behaviour

Indian Parliament has witnessed on many an occasion ugly scenes of disruption of the proceedings, and a total washout of sessions on account of a mulish stand taken by the opposition ranks vis-a-vis the buoyant treasury benches. The platform provided by the parliament for its members to discuss matters of national interest and people’s welfare, is more often than not misused by the honourable members for holding slanging matches and tarnishing the reputation of their adversaries with baseless charges.

As the unruly behaviour of the members on the floor of the legislature is beyond the purview of criticism outside the House, the mainstream media, which tends to wax eloquent over speculations and inconsequential issues, remains mute to the incidents of wasteful expenditure of the legislature’s time, and irrational behaviour by capricious members.

Coliseum of Gladiators

Many a time the enactment of laws by legislation is severely hampered by the unacceptable behaviour of the people’s representatives who take the system for a ride. In such situations, the other branches of the system, namely the Executive and the Judiciary, tend to feel shorn of their pride and glory and go off at a tangent of their mandate, away from total attunement to the law or the spirit of the Constitution.

The above scenario may delay resolution of important issues such as the Sabarimala imbroglio, Ram Temple controversy, Triple Talaq squabble, etc, not to talk of the equally important, if not more serious and fundamental, issues like Genuine Secularism, Meaningful Reservations, Uniform Civil Code, etc. When the legislature, meant to be an amphitheatre of verbal jousting between people’s representatives with conflicting ideas, is reduced to a Coliseum of gladiators who fight to kill, issues that concern the people and the State become the casualties.

Disappointment and Discontent

Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, who stoutly resisted India’s call for independence, reportedly uttered the following words of infamy: “Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles.” This did not, however, deter the people of India from fighting for freedom.

Likewise, election after election over the years, the people have not lost heart despite the failure of the system to serve them optimally. On the contrary, every round of elections bears testimony to greater participation in the exercise by the electorate than in the previous one. Let us, however, not be misled into believing that everything is hunky-dory between the people and the system. There are already signs of disappointment and discontent. All it takes is for a discerning eye to observe keenly.

No Rocking of Boat

The presidential form of governance is far from perfect. It has, at the helm of affairs, a President vested with sweeping powers to appoint and dismiss ministers and key officials, command armed forces, wage or end wars, sign or veto legislation, convene or adjourn the legislature, grant pardons or reprieve and so on and so forth. A wrong person who lands at the top slot would have all the temptations and opportunities to turn into a dictator. However, it is far from feasible.

The parties which field their candidate for the Presidential elections would take great care to select the best candidate that would not only go overboard but is capable of weathering the storm. Moreover, there is the system of impeachment of the President, which serves as more than a wet towel to douse the cocky spirit of an errant President. As such, the Presidential system has its own checks and balances to ensure that there is no rocking of the boat.

Wonder Tool

The most heartening and redeeming feature of the Presidential form of governance is that the President is not tied to the apron strings of the legislature and not bogged down by the pressure of excessive demands from legislators of his own party or the Opposition. He is directly elected by the people of the country, and it is to them alone that he is answerable. In the hands of any conscientious, right thinking and hard working President, the Presidential form of governance is nothing short of the most effective tool for serving the nation, crafted by political wizards and experts.

It is precisely this kind of a wonder tool that is the need of the hour for the current charismatic Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. That is because he is struggling hard to keep the welfare of the people and interests of our nation in alignment and harmony in the face of a stiff Opposition by a grand unholy alliance of failed dynasties gasping for political power. Yet a switchover from one form of governance to a more suitable one, especially after a seventy-year make do with the former, does call for a nationwide debate and a consensus on the part of all the stakeholders to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Dichotomy in Indian Politics: NDA for Service and UPA for Self-Service

The NDA stands for clean governance and inclusive development as well as for the service of the nation in absolute contrast to the UPA government known for the dynastic rule, policy paralysis and scarcely anything beyond self-service

It may sound politically incorrect to state that two political stalwarts of that time were instrumental for breaking up a united India into two when it was poised to become a free country in 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru and M A Jinnah brought about the partition because of their unbridled prime ministerial ambitions. As both of them started vying with each other for the privilege of ruling the nation in the offing, partition of India became inevitable. M K Gandhi, who had spearheaded the freedom movement and gained the colossal stature of Mahatma, was averse to the idea of partition.

However, he was arm-twisted and emotionally blackmailed by Nehru into agreeing to the dismemberment of a bleeding India. Gandhi had even favoured placating Jinnah with the Premiership for the sake of keeping the country united. However, Nehru was insistent on having his own way just as Jinnah succeeded in extracting his pound of flesh. In the process of selection of the first Prime Minister of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was given short shrift although he was the preferred choice of the Congress party.

M K Gandhi cast his veto in favour of Nehru, little realising the shape of things about to unfold in the aftermath of the latter’s time in office. In brief, Nehru was catapulted to the coveted post of leading the nation by an act of personal choice by the Mahatma. This has cost the country four generations of dynastic rule by the Nehru-Gandhi family, with a foreign national thrown in. From the House of Windsor to the Nehru-Gandhi family, it was a classic case of a straight leap for India from the frying pan into the fire.

Legitimacy

What is particularly distressing is the fact that the family, which claimed to have made some sacrifices during the freedom struggle, chose to reward itself with the legitimacy of the right to rule through elections when opposition parties still had teething troubles in the political arena. Once in power, this family spread its roots and branches and established its stronghold on crucial departments of governance. This, in turn, authorised it to elicit sensitive information or infuse false information to exploit the situation, whenever required. Such manipulative operations enabled this family to stay afloat in the political currents and subvert the bonafide activities of governments other than its own.

Power at Any Cost

In 1975, when the Allahabad High Court declared the election of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to the Parliament null and void on charges of misuse of the official machinery and the Supreme Court upheld the High Court verdict, rather than stepping down PM Gandhi chose to hang on to power. When her party introduced certain Constitutional amendments that were struck down by the Supreme Court, she tried to control the judiciary by promoting judges favourably disposed towards the government in supersession of senior judges. The bureaucracy and the judiciary were exhorted by her dispensation to become committed to the government’s ‘ideology’ under the threat of being penalised. Moreover, she declared a state of Internal Emergency, curtailing democratic rights of the people for 11 months. The Emergency constituted a dark chapter in Indian democracy and demonstrated the dynasty’s determination to hang on to power and perpetuate its rule, at any cost.

Finger in the Honey Pot

The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty always had a finger in the honey pot of public money and missed no occasion or opportunity to spirit away from the public exchequer. Furthermore, it solicited and accepted kickbacks and commissions from weapons procurement deals, global tenders for natural resources, government projects, subsidies and funds allocated for welfare schemes, and practically any program or project where there was a significant turnover of public money. The banking sector was a chosen segment for their systematic plunder and financial misdeeds. There was a humongous volume of non-performing assets (NPAs), with neither a serious investigation in the matter ordered nor any of the defaulters or their accomplices held responsible or apprehended.

Pliant bigwigs of financial and related institutions were rewarded for their cooperation and services rendered to the government (read ruling party) in line with their policy of self-service. There was hardly any legal action against a minister, ruling party politician or erring official, industrialist or businessmen defaulting on bank loans, which ever resulted in a conviction. During the UPA regime, the requirements of the armed forces were totally ignored. Neither any weapons or equipment were indigenously manufactured nor any program of modernisation instituted. Any and every weapon or equipment had to be imported, through a maze of a corrupt system, with middlemen, who are forbidden, popping in and out all the time.

Charges of embezzlement of huge sums of government funds, kickbacks, commissions, illegal transfer of funds to mysterious overseas bank accounts and involvement of cronies and members of the political family dynasty made headlines in the mainstream media on a regular basis, with the sudden or mysterious disappearance of the trail of investigations, if any. To be sure, the leading family dynasty had become so hugely bloated with numerous charges of corruption and misdeeds that no one could ignore or overlook it any longer. Practically, every member of the said family was involved in some financial transgression or the other. The political family, at the helm of the UPA government, had undeniably become one of the most corrupt dynasties ever.

Governance versus Rule

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government made it abundantly clear at the outset that it believed in clean governance and inclusive development. Schemes such as Demonetization, GST, initiatives to unearth black money at home and to bring back black money stashed abroad, efforts to reverse NPAs and convict the defaulters, constituted a shot in the arm for a jaded economy. Schemes such as the Swachh Bharat, cleansing and rejuvenation of Ganga, etc, restored in a demoralised nation its lost self-esteem and pride. The poor people benefited from various schemes for health and insurance coverage, bank accounts, self-employment, Beti Bachao Beti Padao scheme, access to electricity, water, cooking gas, etc.

Initiatives to strengthen and modernise the armed forces, keeping strict control on the terrorists and other troublemakers in J&K and keeping the enemy forces from across the border at bay, the successful surgical strike carried out in the enemy territory, etc, have rejuvenated the sagging morale of our defence forces. There is a long list of people-oriented schemes and infrastructure projects to connect villages, towns and cities by a network of roads, bridges and railways of international standards.

Furthermore, a successful foreign policy is a significant feather on NDA’s cap. To top it all is the crowning glory of no corruption charges on any minister or the government, notwithstanding the loose talk on Rafale, shot down by the apex court; and not to forget, the terrorism-free day-to-day life that people have been leading since 2014. Honestly, the NDA stands for clean governance and inclusive development as well as for the service of the nation in absolute contrast to the UPA government known for the dynastic rule, policy paralysis and scarcely anything beyond self-service!

(The article Dichotomy in Indian Politics: NDA for Service and UPA for Self-Service published in ‘Organiser’ )

Stranglehold of Obscurantism and Regression on Muslim Society

Some people keep lamenting that as a community the Indian Muslims have not yet taken the centre-stage in national politics. This is not because of any evil design or malaise on the part of an external factor! Although there is no stopping the members of the community from asserting themselves as rightful stakeholders in the overall development of the nation and proud partners in its inclusive growth, it is ironical that they are not, by and large, taking the plunge in their individual capacity in mainstream political exercise.

No doubt, there are exceptions, with a sprinkling of stalwarts from this religion dotting the political landscape, not as defenders of the community’s interests but as champions of inclusive growth of the nation. Barring such exceptions that are far and few between, the Muslim community as a whole seems contented to remain on the periphery of India’s national politics.

Charge of Apostasy

It is evident that such a delusion is on account of the obscurantism and regressive practices professed and imposed on their flock by the clerics by threatening punitive measures of utmost severity. The fear of a charge of apostasy leads to the total acceptance of the cleric’s interpretation of the religious text and the rigorous implementation of his diktat, resulting in the precipitating of a downright unhealthy practice – vote bank politics, which renders the community susceptible to bad blood and acrimony vis-a-vis other communities.

In a secular society such as ours, which has not been spared of charges of a slant, any community marked by its orientation and political alignment on religious lines, is bound to find itself in an unenviable position. That is because such a community will have to spend much of its time in burnishing its ideology and principles in the fire of integrity and sincerity while striving to establish its non-partisan credentials time and again much to its own discomfiture, and scepticism of the others. A community which is unwilling to clearly demarcate its political ideology and principles from the religion of its calling is bound to view politics and statecraft through the prism of religion.

Such a tendency distorts the real picture in a secular setup and alienates the community practising it from the people of other religions. It is all the more so in the case of India, which had been under the subjugation of Islamic rule for over 700 years during which the majority community suffered no end of religious persecution. To make matters more ominous and alarming for the majority community, independence from the colonial rule came with a very heavy price of a partition of the land and the people of a united India.

The traumatic experience of partition, followed by numerous wars and skirmishes with two of its neighbours that snatched swathes of land, and the demand for a separate Kashmir from some hostile elements hell-bent on wrecking the territorial integrity of the nation by resorting to violent means and with the active participation of an enemy country, have left the majority community in a tizzy. Such a tense atmosphere continually prevailing along the Indian borders and in the bordering states and the subsequent political travails have left the majority community much too wary of its own precarious position vis-a-vis communal politics.

Population Growth and Conversion 

The Indian government is all for keeping the nation’s human resource potential in check so as not to over-exceed the optimal level for ensuring sustained economic growth. Unlike the Hindus, Muslims do not practise small family norms due to religious considerations. With Islam believing in conversion, and in the absence of a law prohibiting conversion, the rapid increase in the numerical strength of the Muslim community necessarily means attrition in the population of the Hindu community in the form of conversions.

Resultantly, the Muslim population has been on a steady increase, a reason for heart burning for the Hindus, which views the shrinking margin of difference in the numerical strength of the followers of the two religions, with askance. Unchecked growth in the Muslim population, with nary a thought to the health of the nation’s economy or its dwindling resources, and the community’s conversion practices that eat into the numerical strength of the Hindus constitute the single largest retrograde practice adopted by the community inimical to an egalitarian society.

Education and a Narrow Vista

A quintessential Muslim child has the commencement of its academic career in a madrasa, the focus of which is on basic religious education, with its moorings based in a different place and a different time of a bygone era, not attuned to today’s fast-changing world. Having been brought up in a religious greenhouse within a controlled atmosphere, the child has no or minimal exposure to the scientific temper or the technological advancement that the changing times have ushered in.

The child’s mindset stays firmly implanted on the bedrock of a religion that brooks no changes or challenges from any quarters. Later on, it has to be torn asunder at some stage of the child’s metamorphosis into a fine specimen of a global citizen to become receptive to the process of evolution. Not a very convenient arrangement indeed! Here, it is worth recalling the observation made by eminent Indian-origin scientist Archana Sharma when she said, “It is mediocrity and not lack of resources and talent that is stopping India.” Archana is a senior scientist at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), Geneva, Switzerland, and in 2012 she was very actively involved in the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Archana made this observation during her recent visit to India in the context of the dismal state of the Indian institutes for higher studies when it comes to providing quality education and research resources. Although the visiting academic made the observation with the entire Indian polity in mind, it makes one wonder what an Olympian leap it must call for of a child who is a product of a madrasa to become a successful alumnus of a distinguished institute of higher studies and research resources. If the quality of education imparted in a typical Indian school could be termed “mediocre”, what could be said about a madrasa and the kind of education that it offers, beside a moribund worldview?

Women’s Predicament

Furthermore, reams can be written about the constricted lifestyle of a woman of the Muslim community vis-a-vis the increasing clamour for women’s liberation and their emancipation. A married woman’s travails, such as annulment of the marriage, polygamy, and property and inheritance rights, are some of the issues that keep the woman of this community in a bind, with no relief in sight, pending a total revamp of the religious laws governing the issues. As such, a common civil code is the need of the hour.

Stymied Progress

“One for all, and all for one” should be the motto for the enhancement of the quality of an individual’s life as well as the collective progress of the state. How can the congenial climate for the achievement of the individual’s betterment and the state’s good be ensured when a section of the society chooses to remain fixated on the distant past? An outdated system of education and indoctrination that discourages people from being heuristic for their own advancement eventually ends up giving cause to their becoming Luddites and a drain on the nation’s progress.

Communist model of governance won’t succeed in 21st century India

No matter how many times and for how long you flog it, and how big a crowd gathers to watch the spectacle and bet on its revival, a dead horse remains dead. Its carcass won’t spring back to life and become a racehorse, let alone win a trophy. All it is capable of doing is to attract a swarm of flies and maggots that spread deadly diseases. In the circumstances, the only sensible thing to do is for the rider to give the dead animal a decent burial. Furthermore, there is a popular quote credited to multiple sources, which says: “Politicians are like diapers. They should be changed often, and for the same reason.”

Dead Horse and Dirty Diapers

When the aforementioned quote and the case of the dead horse are juxtaposed, the picture that leaps to one’s mind in today’s context is the moribund political system of Communism. Dead, buried and forgotten practically almost all over the world, the doctrine is still being flogged in some parts of India where onlookers are eying the spectacle with idle curiosity. Meanwhile, flies and maggots are collecting in droves.

Alien Concept

Communism is touted as a one-size-fits-all political theory that, in reality, fits or suits none and has been trashed to the dustbins of history in so many countries across the world. Marxism is an afterthought or a later day version of Communism that has itself become a throwback on the times. Born in the early 20th century in a strife-torn Europe, Communism was transmogrified to the testing ground of Russia, which buried monarchy and lapped up the revolutionary ideology.

Truncated Ideology on Last Legs

In India, Communism had its golden triangle in Tripura, West Bengal and Kerala, where democratically-elected governments had their heydays for long. Whereas the Eastern and North Eastern citadels have since collapsed one after the other owing to people’s disenchantment, surprisingly the people of Kerala are still serenading the chimera with the passion of a besotted lover.

However, lately, there are tell-tale signs of despondency already overtaking the people of India’s southernmost state too. As such, the Keralites cannot remain oblivious to the writing on the wall any longer. The artful deceit of the wallpapering of the cracks in the system or the whitewashing of their own excesses, by the champions of the truncated ideology, is fast tiring the people out.

Forgotten Class War

Communism has collapsed in all its strongholds in the world like a house of cards not because of an onslaught by its arch enemy, Capitalism, but due to an implosion from within, caused by the cross-currents of inherent contradictions and irreconcilable anomalies. The concept of a class war, which is an intrinsic part of the Marxist theory proved to be a non-starter and a ludicrous idea. The appearance of the Great Indian Middle Class (GIMC) and the aspiration and the ample scope and feasibility of the proletariat to join the swelling ranks of the GIMC have sounded the death knell of the much-touted Class War between the oppressors and the oppressed. This is something the Communist Manifesto had miserably failed to foresee.

Advent of Democracy

Furthermore, the world never witnessed the much-prophesied phenomenon of an oppressive Capitalist society breathing heavily down the neck of the peasants and the proletariat. At its best, Communism became instrumental for the rise of the trade union movement which, when allowed to run its course unregulated, became a major irritant in the harmonious management-labour chain of production. The workers indoctrinated (read brainwashed) by the peddlers of Communism discovered to their wonderment that a peaceful working relationship with the management greatly benefited both the parties.

On the other hand, when the workers and the trade unions got to enjoy the many benefits accruing from uninterrupted production, optimal profits, assured steady jobs and graded salary structures, the very idea of a confrontationist approach by the proletariat to the employers dissipated in favour of a balanced employer-worker relationship. This was also facilitated by the enactment of laws to ensure job security, better working conditions and incentives for the workers as well as increased production levels and higher profit margins for the employers, by people-friendly governments whose distinguishing feature was the democracy.

Farmers to the Fore

The peasants became owners of their land and masters of their fruits of labour. In a country like India, agriculture is a highly risk-prone vocation, with uncertainties plaguing areas such as water management, famine and drought conditions, cyclones, floods, etc. However, over the years, the State has made the situation more and more bearable for the farmers, with the enactment of farmer-friendly legislation and introduction of welfare measures – the creation of a separate government department under a senior officer to help improve the welfare of the farmers.

This objective was achieved through increased net incomes from the farms with a reduction in the cost of cultivation by depending on various measures such as balanced use of fertilisers, organic farming, expansion of cultivation with assured irrigation, etc. Simultaneously, the government also ensured other facilities such as soft loans for the farmers, waivers of agriculture loans, higher procurement prices and crop insurance, to name a few. With the government functioning as a bulwark between the farmer and his travails, exploitation of farmers by loan sharks or greedy merchants has now become a thing of the past.

Winds of Change

Meanwhile, the end of the 20th century witnessed the petering out of imperialism and its total extinction and the simultaneous emergence of nationalism, which is anathema to Communism. Democracy became the accepted norm of governance throughout the world. No authoritarian government could slam the door shut on democracy. Even Communist regimes, therefore, started calling themselves democratic socialist republics although they were anything but democratic!

Meanwhile, as more and more people living in Communist countries came to know of the merits and advantages of the democratic form of governance, they started craving for political democracy and economic liberty. This change in the mindset of the people succeeded in cleansing up the cobwebs created by the theories of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin and led to the collapse of Communist regimes in the USSR, East Germany, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Congo, Albania, Angola, Afghanistan and other countries. By the end of the 20th century, most of these countries transitioned to parliamentary or presidential democracy.

Indian Scenario

Out of the three Indian states where Communists managed to come to power, Tripura and West Bengal have fallen out of their grip during the last few years. As on today, Kerala remains the last bastion of Communism in India. If the protests launched recently by the Ayyappa devotees, against the Sabarimala imbroglio created by the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government is any indication, then here too the Communists will soon start fighting hard for their very survival. Moreover, as more and more Keralites realise that Communism is a failed political ideology that has devastated the economies of more than 25 nations because of which it is quickly disappearing from the world, the demise of Communism in Kerala is inevitable.

 

Need to Nip Cloak-and-Dagger Activities in the Bud

Whether it is a bullet on the chest or a dagger in the back, the result is the same – death. However, a bullet on the chest is proudly accepted by a soldier on the battlefront as a badge of honour, whereas a dagger in the back comes with a stigma of betrayal and treachery albeit on the part of the assailant. A true hero dreads neither the bullet nor the dagger as both entail the supreme sacrifice on his part that brings him the ultimate glory. Nevertheless, the known enemy on the battlefront is considered a far superior adversary than the devious snake in the grass on the home ground.

Prudence brooks no slackness and demands that one be on the lookout for the shocks of treachery and betrayal that spring from the unlikeliest of places in the hotbeds of power, namely legislature, judiciary and bureaucracy. As eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, the defenders of the nation’s interests have to be alert all the time and watch out for the enemies amongst the peace-loving citizens and diligently cull them out.

Cloak-and-Dagger Operations 

With the identification of the enemies of the State who masquerade as peace-loving citizens, half the battle against the internal threat to the nation may be considered as already won. There are agents on the payrolls of the enemy state who try to infiltrate sensitive areas or the restricted places and secret government departments including defence installations with a view to stealing privileged information and smuggling it out of the country to their paymasters. Such agents and operatives work mostly for money and a cushy lifestyle or out of misplaced loyalty to an odious religion or a twisted political ideology.

So long as there are men and women among us who fall easy prey to the lure of greed, avarice, lasciviousness, and susceptibility to quirky religious dogmas and ideological boobytraps, there would be no dearth of potential agents and operatives to snoop on and operate against one’s own state. There is, however, a proverbial silver lining to the mushrooming dark clouds of this category of the enemy operatives. With some effort, they could very often be inveigled to turn the table on their paymasters and function as double agents – a liability turned asset. Such is the frailty of the priorities of these greedy and fickle-minded men!

Daunting Combine

What is more daunting is the defanging of the other category of the enemies of the nation who are two-fold. One is those in powerful positions in politics, judiciary or bureaucracy. They are the ones who make their two-bits worth of subversion of the system in cahoots with their cohorts and subalterns in the making, interpretation and implementation of laws that are not people-friendly. The other stream of anti-national forces under this category is from a seemingly innocuous section of the society – students, intelligentsia, and liberal-minded, leftist leaning artists, writers and the like who may be loosely termed as urban Naxals.

Much of their activities during normal times is confined to justifying the actions of Naxalites and separatists and pleading the cause of the terrorists that have taken refuge in Pakistan that has come to be known as the Ivy League of international terrorism. During times of a crisis or war, this group is capable of inflicting inestimable damage to the nation. The group draws sustenance from the moribund ideology of Communism, which is extinct practically all over the world but is still cocking a snook at our political system, with its own pocket of influence located in India.

There is a sinister mob of frustrated elements from seats of higher learning that openly support the cause of terrorists and other anti-national elements who are on trial or are already convicted by the court. They make inflammatory speeches about the breaking of the nation and try to create a rift within the student community and the teaching faculty. They have the open support of quite a few political parties in holding demonstrations and conducting campaigns in favour of jihadi elements.

Lowering of Standards

Self-serving politicians, the hallmark of whose reign of power is nepotism and unquantifiable corruption, are hardly capable of shedding their megalomania even when they are out of power. The corruption that they wallow in knows no legal, moral or ethical barriers. A corrupt politician and his band of apparatchiks are always keen on besmirching the image of their political adversary and go on heaping charges of corruption on the latter even if he is a man of unassailable character and unimpeachable integrity.

How such politicians harangue their rivals for alleged or imagined crimes of corruption or favouritism without a shred of evidence to support their litany of charges speaks volumes of the scant respect they have for the law and the public. Irresponsible statements, false claims and unending diatribe against honourable men, without being able to substantiate their stand, keep them in the limelight, thanks to some sections with vested interests in the mainstream media. It shows that unscrupulous politicians can stoop to any level to garner votes and win elections!

Anti-State Stance

Several NGOs have proved time and again that they are capable of wreaking havoc in the national life by propping up anti-national activists as well as campaigners of dubious credentials. The raison d’être of these organisations and activists is stalling the developmental projects undertaken by the government agencies by resorting to protest marches and rallies, with the funding they get from some foreign countries. They also cause a rift between communities by resorting to religious conversions in exchange for material gains.

Opaque System

Not infrequently, irreparable damage is caused to the sentiments and morale of the public by the state machinery through a mindless application of a disproportionate amount of power while trying to tackle a public outcry against what is perceived as a lopsided court verdict. In one such recent instance, our judiciary was overzealous to the extent of stepping on the toes of the devotees of Sabarimala Temple, while issuing a historic judgment, albeit on a wrong premise, on a matter of faith that clearly fell out of their purview in the first instance. The Supreme Court verdict issued on September 28 this year has led to a series of mass protests by the believers and devotees and a heavy crackdown by the Kerala government and its Police force on the peaceful protestors.

The general perception about the Sabarimala verdict is that it was just a wanton display of power by the judiciary and the State as it violates the fundamental right to religion guaranteed to every citizen by our constitutional democracy. More such ugly showdowns in the future would certainly contribute to the further plummeting of the public morale and people’s belief in the judiciary, which would be in the interests of nobody other than the enemies of our nation.

Doughty Spirit

Here, it needs to be emphasised that the state or the judiciary should not unnecessarily intrude and apply rational yardsticks to judge the validity of religious practices, traditions or customs unless any such practice borders criminality. Mercifully, the people who sleep with the enemy for narrow personal gains constitute a minuscule minority of our country’s total population. Their wicked ways and evil deeds are successfully neutralised by the State machinery with the unstinting support of the law-abiding citizens whose doughty spirit, apart from a strong sense of nationalism, keep them going, undeterred by such ghastly incidents as the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack.

Canard, Lies and Calumny Seems to be the Congress Strategy to Win 2019 Lok Sabha Elections

Having been unable to absolve itself of innumerable charges of corruption, scams and scandals levelled against it during its ten-year reign, the Indian National Congress (INC), which was unceremoniously dumped by the electorate five years ago, is gasping for breath and hoping for a fresh lease of life. If the party succeeds in its devious plan, it will then resume its unfinished task of perpetuating the dynastic rule of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Meanwhile, every other consideration including national interest and welfare of the people will come a distant second in its scheme of things.

A pale shadow of a victory wangled off in the polls for an odd State Assembly or two, thanks to its piggyback ride on the regional parties, has been sufficient enough to give it a much needed shot in the arm and a hope, however slender, for a spectacular comeback at the Centre. The oldest party in the country is now convinced that by playing second fiddle to the regional parties and pampering the massive ego of the local chieftains, it would be able to make a comeback with sufficient numbers in the Indian Parliament.

Elections and Ethics

It is a universally acknowledged credo that all is fair in love and war. However, while the foot soldiers carry out the orders of their commanding officers to a T and fight to kill, the latter are expected to put on their thinking cap and draw a humane strategy to win the war and yet keep the casualties and damage to the civilian property of the enemy nation to the bare minimum. A serious and wanton breach of ethics in a war gives cause to a court-martial or war trials.

The electoral process is no different from a war, the only difference being that ballots are cast in the former instead of bullets fired as in the latter. Ethics are, therefore, an integral part of elections, just like a war. Politicians who fight elections for their own political survival have a comparatively longer tether than the armed forces who accomplish the same task on a different level.

With the exception of some unprincipled and unscrupulous leaders and lumpen elements that are practically found in every political party, the principled leadership provided by leaders of impeccable stature and consummate calibre make a name for their party and enable it to stand out among the others. A selfless leader of a sterling character who has dedicated his life to the service of the nation and the betterment of its people stands tall – head and shoulders above the others.

Congress and Calumny

Narendra Modi is one such leader who holds the pride of place in his own party and is a cause for jealousy and chagrin in the Opposition parties. His meteoric rise to the pinnacle of political power and the aplomb with which he has vindicated his mettle to the wonderment of not only the people at home but also the international community, has made his detractors eat their heart out and become desperate for his ouster. How hopeless they feel about trouncing him in elections and how desperate they are to get him out of their way at any cost is best illustrated by a couple of instances. A senior Congress leader who is also a former Union Minister gave vent to his party’s exasperation when he pleaded, during a visit to Pakistan, for the help of Pakistan to ‘remove’ Modi from power, calling him the biggest hurdle to the restoration of normalcy between India and Pakistan.

That was indeed a calumny of the lowest order of insolence and hubris, and a shameless act of besmirching the image of one’s own Prime Minister while in an enemy nation. And yet, the desperado, Mani Shankar Aiyar, later on had the audacity to make an appalling and casteist comment against Narendra Modi by calling him a “neech aadmi”. Despite flagrantly resorting to this cheap gambit, Aiyar got away with a minor penalty of suspension from his party for a short period of nine months! The decision exposed not only the hypocrisy but also the double speak of the Congress Party.

More Lies

In yet another case of breach of ethics in politics, Congress President Rahul Gandhi endeared himself to the Pakistani politicians and their mainstream media by inventing an imaginative scam in the Rafale deal, and they went out of the way to extend their two cent worth of support to his claim to the Prime Minister’s post. Is the daft support from the meddlesome neighbour a futile attempt to prevail on a section of the Indian electorate or merely a case of venting spleen against Narendra Modi? Is it perhaps tantamount to the brewing up of a larger conspiracy between the Congress Party and the enemy nation, both of whom are licking their own wounds inflicted by a common enemy? How does Pakistan expect to be benefited by a change of guard in Delhi in favour of Rahul?

The potshots that Rahul has been taking at the Rafale deal seems to have warmed the cockles of the meddlesome neighbor and brought it closer to the pliable claimant for power because Pakistan believes the efforts of the Congress Party president will make the procurement of fighter aircrafts fall through the details because of which India would be unable to pursue an aggressive policy against Pakistan. However, the haphazardly-sewn fake case of corruption that has been made out against Narendra Modi being a web of lies fabricated to put the Prime Minister in a bind and bad light won’t be able to stand the scrutiny of law or reason. Meanwhile, every Indian should realise that the Rafale deal involves a secrecy clause with another sovereign nation, the breach of which is deleterious to our nation’s interest.

Canard and Shifting of Stands

Congress and its new-found allies have all along been harping on the paramountcy of Secularism and accusing the BJP of flouting it at the cost of the minority communities. Come election time, Rahul Gandhi changes his tune, identifies himself with the majority community and claims to be a janeu-dhari brahman, with nary a thought to what the other sections of the majority community think about his identification with the ‘cream’ of the social hierarchy, no less! Given his parentage, he is in no position to establish his claim (obviously an untruth) of community, let alone its denomination. After having spent much of his time in making cheeky comments and vile remarks about the temple-goers, the election time spurs him on to become one himself and go on a spree of visits to temples and perform pujas and yagyas.

A hollow claim to be a Hindu, a Brahman and a Shiv bhakt, notwithstanding his uncharitable stand against the majority community and the sops that his party-led governments have generously handed out to the minority communities in non-election times completes the package of a canard that Rahul Gandhi has designed for a strategy. Congress is, in reality, a crumbling citadel, in urgent need of a good leader with a vision. All that the party can, however, think of is to anoint the scion of its first family as the next Prime Minister, with the help of falsehood, much to the dismay of its own cadre.

Modern Day Don Quixote

Move over Miguel de Cervantes! Here comes our own Rahul Gandhi, the Indian version of Don Quixote, armed with the spear of falsehood, accompanied by his squire Sancho Panza aka Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance of anti-BJP parties), on his old horse called Congress Party. The Congress president is raring to go charging at the windmills of parliamentary elections and slay the demon of nationalism assiduously built by the BJP, which is currently identified with the charismatic mass leader Narendra Modi.

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