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अवैध मुस्लिम बांग्लादेशी घुसपैठियों से भारत की आंतरिक सुरक्षा को खतरा

(The article “अवैध मुस्लिम बांग्लादेशी घुसपैठियों से भारत की आंतरिक सुरक्षा को खतरा” published in UP Dainik Bhaskar, June 28, 2020)

Illegal Muslim Immigrants from Bangladesh Pose a Serious Threat to India’s Internal Security

Illegal Immigrantion is a ticking time bomb of serious demographic changes and communal clashes in India, as proved by the recent anti-CAA protests across the country. Massive illegal immigration of Muslims from Bangladesh is a precursor to the strident demand for a separate Muslim State.

Independent India has seldom seen such tough situations as it is currently experiencing. While being engaged in an all-out war against the Covid-19 pandemic and an economic downturn, our nation also faces a threat on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China over Ladakh. Meanwhile, Nepal’s recent aggressive posturing over its borders with India has only added cause for concern. Furthermore, Pakistan continues to be as irksome and annoying a neighbour as it has always been. 

As such, India is required to mobilise all its resources to emerge victorious on all these fronts. This is indeed an unenviable situation for a nation, aspiring to emerge as a key player in the fast-evolving new global order. Aside from the challenges enumerated above, what ails India the most? It is the ticking time bomb of serious demographic changes and communal clashes, precursors to a strident demand for a separate Muslim State likely given the massive illegal immigration of Muslims from Bangladesh. 

Threat to Internal Stability 

The illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh infiltrate into India either to create trouble for our country or for employment opportunities. In either case, they are not welcome and are subject to apprehension and deportation. This is provided for in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was legislated by the Indian Parliament soon after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A and before the outbreak of Covid-19. Frustrated Opposition parties like the Congress Party, Indian Union Muslims League (IUML), Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) ganged up to scuttle the legislation which had already successfully cruised the legislative process in the Parliament. 

For the sake of their political survival by appeasing the Muslims community, the Opposition parties tried to settle scores with the BJP, on the road after failing in the Parliament. Their nefarious mission was readily supported by anti-national elements like the jihadis and die-hard clergy as well as Urban Naxals, Break-India gangs, unprincipled Bollywood celebrities, and other enemies of democracy of all hues and shades. Muslim women, young students and children were misfed wrong information and brainwashed into believing that they would be deported from India on some technical grounds or some other reason such as non-availability of a citizenship document or their inability to supply information about their parentage, etc. 

They were provoked into becoming foot-soldiers of a movement of street protests and vociferous rallies, drawn out on narrow communal lines. Such misguided people were even paid a daily allowance to make their time spent in raising slogans and giving vent to emotional outpourings and vituperative attacks against the government, the BJP and the RSS, worth the while. Soundbites of women expressing grief and agony over the perceived injustice brought upon them by the CAA were telecast and given wide publicity to enlist wider public support at home and sympathy abroad.

Counter Measures  

To counter the canards spread and the false propaganda orchestrated, the Modi-led NDA government repeatedly asserted its position that not a single bonafide Indian citizen would come to grief because of CAA or any earlier legislation or the ones to be enacted in the future. At the same time, the Union government has been unequivocal about segregating the chaff from the grain. The illegal immigrants unlawfully staying in India will be apprehended and deported as per the law of the land. 

Despite the huge uproar at various flashpoints in different parts of our country, including the national capital that had the dubious privilege of witnessing communal clashes which claimed quite a few lives, including those of some security officials, and damage to public and private property, the government has not relented in implementing the CAA. This kind of political unrest, instigated and orchestrated by the anti-national elements is an unfortunate reminder of the humongous human tragedy of unmatched proportions, which had marked the partition of the country in 1947. 

It is also a sad forewarning to possible recurrences of such tragedies if the demands of the protestors, nay their paymasters, were not met. It is noteworthy that the slogans raised in the anti-CAA protests included a demand for a separate Muslim country on the lines of Pakistan. It is redundant to state that a large number of Muslims in India is peace-loving and is inimical to damaging either the harmonious social fabric or territorial integrity of the nation.

Nevertheless, the fact that the recent incidents pointed towards a growing number of anti-nationals rallying around enemies of democracy to cause irreparable damage to the nation cannot be ruled out. From where did the anti-nationals spring? India has always had its fair share of hardcore Communists and Urban Naxals that propagate in favour of a people’s revolt against the establishment in the name of class struggle. Additionally, we have been witnessing the emergence of die-hard jihadi elements that are active in recruiting new entrants to the cause of Ghazwa-e-Hind, the ultimate Islamic conquest of India. 

In States like Kerala, ruled by the Communist-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, with a strong Islamic movement enjoying the state patronage, and the nearby States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, a section of the youth is successfully brainwashed and turned into becoming the foot soldiers of the Pan-Islamic movement. In the rest of the country too, die-hard clergy take over the propagation of the dubious cause among the Muslims who live in self-imposed isolation. 

Add to the above, the thousands of illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, that are happy to join the nefarious cadre, for a pittance and assured-stay in India. The resultant rag-tag grouping of anti-nationals is a highly explosive cocktail, waiting for a signal from their paymasters to foment communal trouble, capable of breaking the nation. In some Indian states, especially in the northeast, illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh add up to such a disproportionately large number that the locals feel overwhelmed by these outsiders. 

According to a written reply by Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State (MoS) for Home Affairs tabled in Rajya Sabha in 2016, around 20 million illegal immigrants from Bangladesh are staying in India. They are spread practically all over India, like Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Delhi, Maharashtra, Telengana, etc, working as cheap labour in factories and other commercial establishments and as household servants. It is not possible to have their precise State-wide distribution, as per the MoS. 

Go Back They Must 

Given their appearance, they easily merge with the local populace. In the absence of authentic travel documents like Passport, and other bonafide documents like Aadhar Card, Driving Licence, PAN Card, Ration Card or Voter’s Identity Card, it is practically impossible to pin them down to their nationality. But a large number of them manage, as has been noted, to obtain fake documents for a price from corrupt officials in non-BJP-ruled States. However, the Central government is determined to weed them out by implementing the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across all the Indian states. 

Although it is a long haul, the BJP is committed to identifying the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and deporting them, no matter how arduous the exercise. Although there is stiff resistance to this move by some Opposition parties like the Congress, the CPI(M) and the TMC, the NDA government is bent upon seeing the exercise through as it is a must for the very survival of our country. There can be no compromise when it comes to fighting an existential crisis.

(The article “Illegal Muslim Immigrants from Bangladesh Pose a Serious Threat to India’s Internal Security” published in ‘Organiser’)

Will Covid-19 Global Tragedy Spell the Death of Communism?

China’s unbridled hegemonistic ambition has led to its landing in the doghouse in the new world order. As the epicentre of one of the greatest threats to humanity, Communism is likely to fall apart under its own weight.

Communism is on borrowed time. Its epitaph has long been ready. It is already discredited throughout the world. History has witnessed its ignominious downfall in several countries where its writ once ran large with impunity. Bastion after bastion of Communism crumbled and crashed into the oblivion of history and the statues of its high priests were unceremoniously pulled down the pedestal much to the delight of the cheering crowds of onlookers. Not because it failed to deliver but because it miserably failed even to take off.

All these happened within less than a century of its appearance on the political horizon as a bright star of hope. Communism has been well and truly exposed for what it always stood for – an antiquated political system wherein one human is as good as another, both mere humanoid in the scheme of things of the system. There is no room for human sentiments, religion, spirituality, love for land, or attachment to a value system in preference to the party ideology. Communism is a vast wintry wilderness where no life form of political or humanitarian aspiration can grow.

Bare-Face of Communism

The ugly, soft underbelly of Communism reveals that it is enforceable only by brute power, with no people’s will or popular support required to prop it up. No opposition from any external political forces or dissent from within is brooked. Power springs from the barrel of the gun. Human lives are an expendable commodity – nothing more, nothing less. However, the eternal truth is that power can never be exercised for long over freethinking people by external forces.

A long-oppressed people in the erstwhile Russian empire ruled by the Czars by divine right or the Serbs of its East European hinterland could, no doubt, be easily won over by the charm and appeal of a refreshingly new theory that advocated an egalitarian society. There was, however, no way people could be kept under the jackboot of Communism for long, simply by being fed anti-Capitalist propaganda. The human spirit yearns for freedom and liberty, and it aspires for expression of free will even during the harshest of times.

It was exactly this indomitable spirit of humankind which had led to its experimentation with Communism as a political tool to explore the possible conversion of its aspirations into tangible results in the first place. Later, people were dismayed to discover that they had burnt their fingers with experimentation that proved too expensive and foolish. Besides, there was no way a man can be expected to give up on the cherished values and sentiments that had been held dear by humanity for so long for a few empty promises and hollow words of political sagacity by the powers that be.

The individual was neither a party to the dispensation of power, nor had he any say in the running of the state. A mere cog in the wheel in the state machinery, he was replaceable, with nary a shred of feeling or appreciation. The much-dreaded midnight knock at the door was a constant irritant in his mind. Life in a far-away concentration camp where he was forced to toil till his last breath was factored in his psyche, with no room for mercy or clemency. It was like a system where all were for the state and the state for none. You worshipped a false god that promised you no boon nor granted you a favour.

If you developed bourgeoisie virtues like love for the land, family or sentiments like individual freedom, liberty, nationalism or patriotism, then you did so at your own peril. According to Communist leaders, the Capitalist society was to be abhorred, and its symbols shunned. Their fake propaganda tried to emphasize that democracy was poppycock, not worth the paper it was written on.

The Evil Soviet Empire

In the erstwhile USSR, which was the pioneer of Communism and the front runner state and flag bearer of the state of the peasant and the proletariat, chewing gum and jeans had not even been heard of by the apparatchik. Those were only for the privileged offspring of the First Secretaries of the party. All one was expected to do was to work for the state just to get his share of stale bread and cabbage soup and go to bed on an empty stomach.

Then wake up next day and join long lines of hopeful, nay, wishful customers outside the state-run supply stores only to be greeted by rows after rows of empty shelves. Sliced bread? Sliced cheese? What was that? Crib and be reported upon. There was no room for privacy. Nor was there any scope for ventilating one’s grievances. Big Brother was watching. Such was the life of a comrade citizen in the premier Communist state.

Finally, the inherent flaws of the system started showing signs of cracking up from within. No amount of bids to wallpaper over the cracks could help the exposure of the bankruptcy of the state to sustain its security forces or the all-powerful intelligence outfit any longer. There was no question of locking the stables after the horse had bolted. Then dawned Glasnost and Perestroika! Finally, the curtains fell over the sprawling evil Soviet empire!

Whipping a Dead Horse to Life

Now, how do you re-enact elsewhere the sordid drama that had failed in Europe and Asia? It is well nigh impossible in this age and times of information revolution to try to fit people into the straightjacket of Communism. China and North Korea are the last outposts of a dreaded political system of a bygone era. China, which has thus far sustained itself on the sheer strength of brute power unleashed on its own people, is evidently a bogus Communist state. In reality, it is a Capitalist state that operates under the camouflage of Communism. It is building up its forex reserves at a furious pace and keeps accumulating assets throughout the world.

Covid-19 Will Emasculate China

So, now the question is how China will fare in the post-Covid-19 world? The global tragedy unleashed by the Coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore the flaws in the Chinese system and the great dissent growing within the party and disaffection for Xi Ping, who is known for nurturing an unbridled ambition to continue in power beyond 2023. Western intelligence reports reveal that a revolt by at least three factions is brewing within the party and there is an imminent possibility of the disintegration of the country into seven independent states. With the development and production of the right vaccine, Covid-19 will hopefully become a thing of the past. But the question is, how will that impact Communist China’s future?

Will Beijing’s apparent success in tackling the Covid-19 virus enable China to gain global pre-eminence? Most definitely not because world’s big powers, led by the US, have already started making concerted efforts towards holding China responsible for the outbreak of the global pandemic and the consequential economic ruination of many a country. Furthermore, China hardly has a friendly country either in its neighbourhood or elsewhere on the globe. Its unbridled hegemonistic ambition has led to its landing in the doghouse in the emerging new world order, and it is now seen as the epicentre of one of the greatest threats to humanity. The tragic Covid-19 pandemic will have to go and, with it, Communism is likely to fall apart under its own weight, sooner than later.

(The article “Will Covid-19 Global Tragedy Spell the Death of Communism?”  published in ‘Organiser’)

Woman’s Empowerment And Women Protesting On The Streets

Education, awareness and the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) are some of the key factors which can constitute the basis of the program necessary to bring about women’s upliftment and empowerment across the country.

Indian women have traditionally enjoyed tremendous respect and recognition in the society. Vedas and Puranas contain several verses and accounts that give us an insight into how women in ancient India were accorded the highest respect and dignity. Ramayana and Mahabharata have women of outstanding qualities and traits as principal characters. In fact, these epics are about the downfall of mighty kings who paid with their lives for committing the audacity of dishonouring women of exemplary character. Sita, Kunti, Draupadi and Savitri were some of the eminent women who led illustrious lives as empowered women in the days of yore.

There were women rishis who were held in high esteem. There are certain rituals in Sanatana Dharma, which cannot be performed by men without their wife by their side. Honouring of women of sterling character and outstanding qualities gradually triggered the practice of worshipping of women deities. The exalted status of women continued down the line in history. In royal households, there were talented women of extraordinary intelligence known for taking important decisions. Even in humble households, women were free to voice their opinions, which were factored into while making important decisions that had far-reaching implications.

Loss of Sheen
Unfortunately, the glory of the Indian woman lost its sheen over a period of time. The invasion of Bharatvarsha by alien marauders and European colonialists had a terribly adverse impact on the position of women in our society. Women, who were till then in the forefront of practically every walk of life, had to be kept under the wrap in their own interest. They had to remain anonymous to safeguard their own honour and that of their family. When the life and reputation of the people were at stake, women who constituted the driving force of successful family life and were the custodians of the culture of the land had to be protected from the enemies.

The continued practice of restricting the scope of a woman’s freedom to the sanctity of home for indefinite periods of time resulted in the permeation and crystallization of corrupt practices in Indian society. Women were heard and not seen in the public domain. They did not, however, hesitate to rise to the occasion when circumstances demanded their active role. Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi and Rani Chennamma of Kittur were classic examples of such exceptions to the rule of women keeping a low profile. Even in such a constricted atmosphere, the Indian mother vindicated her mettle by contributing to the grooming and the raising of brave men like Chhatrapati Shivaji.

During the Mughal rule and the British colonial era, the phenomenal Gurukul system of Bharat withered, which marked the extinction of our ancient formal education system. It was the women at home who took charge of the task of educating their wards from the treasure trove of religious and cultural information and knowledge. Love for the land, devotion to Dharma and service to humanity were instilled in the minds of the young men who would grow up to become brave warriors and strive to liberate their land from the clutches of the occupying forces. History is replete with instances of unsung and faceless women being the sources of inspiration for successful men.

Women Surge Ahead
The advent of Independence heralded the dawn of a new era. Women who had participated in the freedom movement were moulded in the image of the Bharatiya N?ri known for her penchant for age-old traditions and conventions, and a low profile. The post-Independence women were quick to emerge from the shadows of those of the past. The opening up of new vistas in both academic and career opportunities whetted women’s appetite for parity with men in all walks of life. Women started breaking one glass ceiling after another with a regularity and rapidity unimaginable in their mother’s time.

Emboldened by the Constitution, which not only guarantees parity between genders but even encourages positive discrimination by the State in favour of the fair sex, more and more women started making a mark for themselves in practically every public domain. Free India has had a woman Prime Minister and several women holding high offices of cabinet ministers, Chief Ministers, Governors and any number of legislators. The Narendra Modi government has displayed an avid interest and strength of conviction in implementing schemes and programs for women’s welfare such as ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ and ‘Ujjawala’.

The landmark abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A effectively brought the discrimination of the Muslim women in J&K to an end. The abolition of the reprehensible practice of Triple Talaq also brought cheer in the life of Muslim women nationwide, who had all along been subjected to discrimination in the matter of marriage and divorce. These two legislative measures were no less than a surgical strike against a historical imbalance and an injustice to women on the pretext of an unjustifiable religious practice dating back to medieval ages. Consequently, a section of Indian women who had thus far remained voiceless in free India has been empowered and set on the course of further development along with the other women of our country.

Brainwashed and Misled
A lot more good work still needs to be carried out by the BJP and the Central government for the upliftment of women who are caught in the cobwebs of ignorance and gender imbalance. Such women are not familiar with the scope, application and importance of the ambitious legislative measures already undertaken by the BJP-led NDA government or that are in the pipeline. The CAA, NPR and NRC are cases in point. The nation has been a witness to some ignorant women with a ghetto mindset being misguided and instigated to turn against the government and the State by communal elements and anti-national forces having a divisive agenda.

These women are brainwashed to believe that their religion is in danger at the hands of the Modi government, and they would be evicted from India on the basis of their religious identity. We have witnessed sit-in protests on the streets of Delhi by such groups of women since mid-December last year, which they eventually called off a few weeks back. Those protests sparked still more protests that degenerated into communal strife, claimed scores of lives and damaged public properties during acts of killings, arson and loot. A spectacle as far removed from the strides in the nation’s progress and self-development made by the truly empowered women, as it could get.

Awareness and Empowerment
Evidently, the protesting women were used as a front by the anti-India forces for creating a rift between the majority and the minority communities. The mobs, which rule the streets during communal clashes and their instigators, should not be spared. They should be dealt with as enemies of the State. The women, who play into their hands, should be debriefed by the authorities with an awareness program. This is by no means an easy task. Education, awareness and the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) are some of the key factors which can constitute the basis of the program necessary to bring about women’s upliftment and empowerment across the country.

(The article “Woman’s Empowerment And Women Protesting On The Streets” published in “Business World”)

India-Iran Bilateral Relations At Crossroads

India and Iran could move on with a bit more of understanding of each other’s domestic and global political compulsions and the need to work together.

Iran has lately been hit by a double whammy of a monumental health crisis and an unsavoury turn of events in its bilateral relations with India. What makes the situation particularly awkward for Iran is its utter helplessness in tackling the crisis without help from India, which it had subjected to harsh criticism barely a month ago.

Iran Sounds the Alarm
Reeling under a severe attack by the deadly Novel Coronavirus, Iran is under lockdown. The country has reported a loss of upwards of 2,234 lives as on March 26. The figure keeps mounting, with thousands of infected people not getting medical assistance and care. Its casualty figure is the fourth highest in the world after China, Italy and Spain. A number of its senior politicians, including its First Vice President, and officials are among those infected.

With sweeping sanctions imposed by the US against the nation over its suspected nuclear program in place, the Iranian government has reported how its efforts to fight the health crisis have been severely impacted. President Hassan Ruhani has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi a letter of appeal seeking India’s help in his country’s hour of distress.

India to the Fore
There is nothing surprising about the appeal. India has vindicated its acumen in the medical and scientific domains while addressing the virus problem. It has taken a swathe of proactive measures to tackle the virus outbreak in the country. Besides, it has already demonstrated its readiness to play its global leadership role by setting up a ten million dollar Emergency Fund for use by SAARC countries and a rapid response team of doctors and specialists to fight the virus in the region.

Immediately after the breaking out of the virus in Wuhan, India rushed 15 tonnes of medical supplies to China. In the case of Iran, it is noteworthy that its appeal for help comes closely on the heel of that country’s shocking criticism of India made only days earlier over the violent incidents that had rocked Delhi.

Critics in a Bind 
It was a matter of cold comfort for India that no Arab state had criticised India over the Delhi incidents, CAA or Kashmir. As such, criticism from Iran, which was a leading supplier of oil to India till sanctions were imposed, was like a bolt from the blue. Referring to the violence in Delhi, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei tweeted, “The hearts of Muslims all over the world were grieving over the massacre of Muslims in India”. Khamenei also advised India to “confront extremist Hindus and their parties and stop the massacre of Muslims to prevent India’s isolation from the  world of Islam”.

India responded in kind with a terse statement urging its critics not to make irresponsible comments and not be influenced by a selective and unsubstantiated narrative in the matter. Earlier, India had summoned the Iranian envoy in Delhi to lodge a strong protest over comments made by Foreign Minister Zarif. Ironically, the Ayatollah had stated in his letter to Prime Minister Modi that the Coronavirus “knows no boundary and claims victims without political, religious, ethnic, and racial considerations”!

A blatantly anomalous situation caused by Iran’s unsolicited advice on what was purely a matter of India’s domestic concern on the one hand and that country’s fervent appeal to India for urgent help to tackle the crisis on the other! The unintended upshot of the anomaly was Iran’s tacit acknowledgement of India’s capability in the medical and scientific domains and its humanitarian approach to the other countries in distress. Thereby, Iran clearly ended up in a bind.

Why the Criticism?
What had caused the unfortunate reaction of Iran to a matter that was purely a domestic affair of India? What were its ramifications? The Ayatollah had referred, in his tweet, to a world of Islam. Evidently, it was a takeoff on Iran’s presumptuous conviction that it was the supreme leader of the global Muslim community. In reality, however, the community spread all over the globe is riddled with schism and polarisation. Iran’s self-importance of looking upon itself as the forerunner of the Islamic countries in a world of realpolitik was further borne out by the talk of “India’s isolation from the world of Islam”. In any case, the purported massacre of Muslims was a totally baseless and misleading hype in a scenario where the victims were not from any particular community or religion.

As Home Minister Amit Shah pointed out in the Parliament, those who were killed in the disturbances were all Indians, and there was no question of segregating them into religious categories. The loss was that of the Indian nation and not of any particular faith. The composite religious culture of our country was the real victim.

To refer to the incidents as an attack on a specific community was a reprehensible attempt to belittle the timeless socio-religious ethos of India. Iran’s move aimed at asserting its self-importance as a global leader, albeit of a particular community, lacked credibility and boomeranged when India squarely dismissed the criticism.

The irony of the situation, followed by the subsequent health crisis in Iran, which caused that country’s reaching out to India for help, is borne out by the implicit acceptance of India’s global leadership by Iran, though the latter was keen to get that status for itself on fallacious grounds. On its part, India demonstrated its political commitment to the welfare of its people living not only on its own soil but also in, among other countries, Iran by repatriating the stranded Indians. Besides, it is working on the Iranian request for assistance to contain the virus outbreak.

Irritants 
The bilateral relations of no two countries could be without irritants and grey areas of uncertainty. India-Iran relations are no exception. Iran has always been known for its tough-as-nails decisions in matters affecting international affairs on the basis of its religious orientation. It has been critical of India’s Kashmir policy, which suits Pakistan. Stoppage of Iranian oil imports by India as a sequel to the US sanctions has not gone down well with Iran.

There was an attack in 2012 on an Israeli diplomat in India by what seemed were Iranian elements with ties to the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Following the assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani of Iran in Baghdad, anti-US protests, by the Iran-influenced local Shia community, broke out in Kargil and to some extent in Delhi. This shows that the Iranian influence on the Shia community in India is increasing and could become a full-blown irritant, if unchecked.

Scope for Improvement
There is, however, a silver lining to the cloud. The two sides agreed, during External Affairs Minister Jaishankar’s visit to Tehran in December last year, to accelerate work on the strategic Chabahar project. The project is considered a gateway to golden opportunities for trade with the Central Asian nations by India, Iran and Afghanistan. Surely, India and Iran could move on with a bit more of understanding of each other’s domestic and global political compulsions and the need to work together.

(The article “India-Iran Bilateral Relations At Crossroads” published in “Business World”)

Should Active Politics Be Banned In Academia?

The modern Indian universities may be characterised as the training fields of those scholars whose ambition for the future lies in a career in politics rather than in spheres related to academics.

Universities are no new phenomenon in post-Independence India. Throughout its chequered history, India had been known for its seats of higher learning such as Nalanda and Takshashila, where a wide spectrum of subjects, ranging from Buddhism to Vedas, Philosophy, Grammar, Logic, Metaphysics, Medicine and Astronomy, was taught. There was a truly secular spirit of imparting and imbibing of knowledge. These universities offered plenty of scope for an exchange of thoughts and ideas between the teachers and the students, and also had fora for debates and discussions on religious and secular subjects. The students had different religious and cultural backgrounds, and they hailed from several countries.

They had access to an ample sphere of knowledge and vast field of reference – classrooms, well-stocked libraries and a broad spectrum of cultural ambassadors who constituted the scholars. The resultant milieu was an impressive juxtaposition of a rainbow of ideas that contributed to a unique cultural mosaic. And yet, these institutions remained just educational, absolutely free from all kinds of socio-political irritants that was capable of marring the academic environment. In today’s context, it would be very pertinent to state about these universities that they truly practised social distancing from contentious political activism.

Decline of Glory

These centres of academic excellence started declining in quality and importance when their premises were torched and scholars attacked by alien invaders. There was a disquieting interregnum of void in the continuance of institutions that imparted higher learning and Indian studies under the country’s occupation by Islamic rulers and European colonisers. In the changing environment, the society was torn asunder by a conflict between the aggressive and proselytising alien religions on the one hand and the Indian culture that had flourished under the benevolent and secular Sanatana Dharma on the other. It was an uneven fight, heavily loaded against the latter. The frenetic bid by the educational institutions to stay truthful to the secular Indian ethos and culture was a lost cause.

Impact of Alien Rule

After India obtained Independence, unfortunately for its people, the powers that be at the Centre commissioned a set of historians known for their proclivity to the Mughal and British rulers, to write the history books taught in schools and colleges. These historians made fleeting references, at best, to the brave Indian kings who had fearlessly fought the invading armies. This was a despicable act of treachery not only against the brave Indian men and women who had courageously fought to defend their motherland but also against Indian nationalism, which was sought to be obliterated by the alien invaders.

Misgovernance and Corruption

Additionally, bad foreign policy decisions and failure on the defence front led to multiple wars with neighbouring countries in which our government ceded swathes of territories to the enemy. After 60 plus years of freedom, the nation’s economy was far from satisfactory. Scams and scandals at high places rocked the nation. All this resulted in a loss of face for the nationalists who were hoping during the freedom struggle that Independence and self-rule would usher in prosperous times ahead for the nation. Much to their dismay, the minority religious groups were pampered with special concessions and privileges at the cost of Hindus, who are the original inhabitants of this nation.

Vote bank politics became the norm of the day and the chosen plank of electoral politics in the hands of unprincipled political parties. One of the primary concessions granted by the self-serving politicians to the minority religious groups was the right to run their own schools in which the respective religion of the groups was taught, and Hinduism spiked in the process. Hinduism was hampered and disabled from being taught in schools in the name of Secularism. This led to a situation that was in sharp contrast with the happy state of affairs which prevailed in the ancient Indian universities.

Training Fields of Marginal Scholars

The modern Indian universities may be characterised as the training fields of those scholars whose ambition for the future lies in a career in politics rather than in spheres related to academics. Such scholars and like-minded members of the faculty join forces with political parties fully involved in electoral politics. These elements seldom talk of a proactive role for themselves in nation-building. Instead, they come to the fore whenever some acts or events of perceived injustice incite them. Then they resort to agitations against the establishment.

Lucrative Political Career

Two such instances were over the execution of Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon, both of whom were proven terrorists convicted by the Supreme Court. Protests broke out in Jawaharlal Nehru University and Hyderabad University over their hanging. Apparently, the protesting groups thought they knew better than the apex court of our country! In the JNU protests over the hanging of Afzal Guru, a students group tried to carry out a protest march despite the cancellation of permission granted earlier by the university authorities. They were opposed by another students group which attempted to thwart the rally. Ugly scenes ensued. Outsiders who were neither students nor had anything to do with the varsity were spotted at the march.

Furthermore, inflammatory speeches were made, break-India slogans, as well as statements praising the terrorists, were raised and Pakistani flags waved. Protesting student leaders were arrested by the Police and cases invoking sedition laws filed. Such student leaders were and continue to be given undue prominence and publicity by the meddlesome media. All the unwarranted attention and media glare make these student leaders readily abandon their academic career in a bid to carve out a lucrative career in politics with the blessings of a bunch of political parties known for their suspicious bonafides in the context of national integrity and clean politics. On the occasion of every national and state election, such student leaders are seen campaigning against the ruling party.

When protests broke out recently against the legislation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), both JNU and AMU became hotbeds of trouble into which dissenting students and faculty members threw themselves headlong with gusto. There were unsavoury scenes created by protestors who resorted to violence both within and outside the varsity premises, thereby necessitating police action against them. The protesting students knowingly or unknowingly became a party to a larger design by some failed and disgruntled political parties in the Opposition, which want to disrupt orderly public life and hurt national interests. The student leaders allowed themselves to play into the hands of these political parties which function as handmaids of the nation’s enemy countries and jihadi elements.

Ban Imperative

Inflammatory speeches, anti-national slogans and insults heaped on the symbols of our country’s honour and integrity such as the national flag and national anthem on the varsity premises are highly despicable. The sanctity of the universities should not be allowed to be sullied or degraded for any reason whatsoever. Universities should not be permitted to become hotbeds of anti-national activities. Furthermore, as political activities vitiate the atmosphere of learning by serious-minded scholars, active politics on the university premises must be summarily banned. Only such strict measures will help reclaim their sanctity as centres of higher education and academic excellence.

(The article “Should Active Politics Be Banned In Academia?” published in “Business World”)

Degeneration Of Indian Democracy Into Anarchy

Democracy will not be allowed to degenerate into anarchy by the determined people and the Government of India. 

In a cruel twist of history, Indian Independence did not bring in its wake freedom from a prolonged sense of slavery and subjugation. What resulted at the end of a century-old back-to-back rule by bloodthirsty warlords from the Arabian and Central Asian wastelands void of culture, and European colonial rulers with a loot-and-exploit agenda was a badly-battered social and cultural fabric that cried for urgent tending. In reality, what awaited the nation was supreme indifference on the part of a smug political dispensation to the need for rejuvenation of the collective psyche of the society that had plummeted to the bottom of the pit of despondency.

People had lost their temples in the thousands as well as unquantifiable cultural treasure during alien invasions and were languishing in a mood of spiritual despair. Instead of being administered a soothing balm of solace and succour, they were told by their new masters that the factories and dams that were being built in modern India were their new houses of worship. This was, in essence, a signal from the powers that be that it was futile for the people to wistfully look back in time and hanker after their rich spiritual and cultural past.

They should, instead, brace for a sterile future marked by a materialistic and corporeal climate of development. Furthermore, the curious case of the Westminster style parliamentary democracy wedded to the Soviet-style Socialism was sold to the people as a sure-fire formula of success needed by our nascent Republic. The subsequent fiasco of Socialism vis-a-vis realpolitik in a world of geopolitical tectonic shifts proved that the political successors of the bygone colonial masters had grievously erred in the task of rebuilding the nation.

State Fails People
What had evidently been overlooked was the historical truth that the princely states and territories of the pre-Independence India had remained united by a common chord of religion and culture even before they were strung together to form the modern Indian nation. It was this unique factor which had been the underpinning of the credo of unity in diversity that was gloated over by practically every Indian politician worth his salt. What was the contribution of the State to sustain the common factor of religion and culture? Zilch.

People from all over modern Indian state and beyond in the landmasses that had earlier formed part of Akhand Bharat of the past had been getting together and congregating from time to time in the name of the unifying force of the timeless Dharma symbolised by the temples. This was equally true for the ones that were destroyed by the alien invaders as well as the others that survived the onslaught.

The modern Indian state did not, however, deem it fit to take pro-active steps to strengthen this unifying force of our divergent society. Nor did it facilitate the task of the resurrection of the destroyed temples by the Hindu community on its own without the state’s participation or intervention, by mobilising its own resources. On the other hand, the State only impeded the majority Hindu community’s claim of its due space in the social and cultural domain aimed at reclaiming its past glory.

Pandering to the Minority
Successive governments pandered to the minority communities and turned their back on the majority Hindus. All this happened in the name of Secularism, which was added to the Constitution as an afterthought in the 1970s by the then Congress government under Indira Gandhi. The Hindu community’s inability to resist the machinations of the unprincipled and power-hungry political parties that camouflaged themselves under Secularism caused it a loss of more and more political ground and clout. This development gave way to more and more assertion and dominance by the minority communities both at the macro and micro level politics of the country.
They enjoyed privileges and benefits in the form of subsidies, personal law, right to run educational institutions, etc. Another factor that tilted the balance in favour of the minority communities was the freedom of propagation of  religion which has often ended up being misused for the conversion of people to the minority communities by dubious means. Since Hinduism hardly affords any scope for conversion to its fold, the freedom to propagate religion is a redundant and meaningless exercise for the Hindus.

Pseudo-Secularism
In such a heavily overloaded political atmosphere, pseudo-Secularism practised by successive pro-minority governments that had preceded the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, ruled the roost. The hardcore elements of the minority communities with a hidden political agenda just got more and more emboldened to the point of dictating terms to political parties and through them the government of the day.

With the ascension of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre, these elements started feeling threatened. The political and social reform measures ushered in by the BJP, such as the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution, abolition of the abominable medieval practice of Triple Talaq, introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), etc and the active role of the government in ending the Ramjanmabhoomi legal dispute, dealt a series of blows to the misplaced sense of superiority assumed by the hawkish minority elements.

Unholy Alliance
Besides losing much of their political power and clout, for the first time, the clergy and other hardcore minority religious elements faced the prospects of losing their hold over their flock. Furthermore, it was becoming more and more difficult for them to incite and radicalise their naive and gullible followers in the face of the government’s awareness campaign. In their tirade against a progressive government, they found allies in the jihadi elements infiltrating into the country from across the border, urban Naxals and other break-India forces.

We Shall Overcome  

The recent anti-CAA protests launched by the minority communities with the abetment of the disgruntled Opposition parties are a glaring example of an ongoing bid to subvert the political system by anti-national elements. These protests were orchestrated to undermine the upbeat mood of the nation and thwart the resurgence of nationalism. Religion was pitted against inclusive growth and development, which is the hallmark of the current political ideology that has triumphantly come to the fore in the nation’s struggle against pseudo-Secular and divisive forces.

Women and children were introduced as frontline soldiers in the protests that degenerated into flashpoints of communal riots. When humanity is struggling hard to come to grips with an existential crisis following the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, communal groups with a medieval mindset are engrossed in desperate attempts to derail our Union government’s valiant bid to defuse the crisis. There is an attempt by the unholy alliance of anti-India forces to aggravate the crisis and turn it into an opportunity to strike at the territorial integrity of our nation by dividing the people on communal lines.

Nothing could be more reprehensible and alarming. Our nation is currently fighting the double whammy of the Covid-19 outbreak as well as the enemies of the State. However, we have every reason to be optimistic as India has the capability, resources and the political will to overcome the challenge and emerge stronger. Democracy will not be allowed to degenerate into anarchy by the determined people and the Government of India.

(The article “Degeneration Of Indian Democracy Into Anarchy” published in “Business World”

China’s Culpability Is Real, It’s Not China’s Criticism

Politics involves criticism, sometimes justified and sometimes unfounded. Rationality, on the other hand, involves fixing accountability. The adverse impact of COVID-19, the infectious disease that originated in the Wuhan city of China, is out in the open. Recalling a time when the world halted as it is currently is not easy. Passenger airplanes are grounded in most of the parts of the world, cities are under lockdown and the engines of economic growth- people- are confined to their homes. These are, as they are calling it in most of the debates on coronavirus, unprecedented times. The global political leadership has found a consensus on helping each other at this time of need. Indeed, this is a welcome step. But should it end here? Most importantly, should a country or agency, directly responsible for such vast spread of COVID-19 owing to its intention or negligence, escape retribution?

The world is an open society today. Borders have diminished, thanks to the globalization wave. We in India have at least one product in every household that comes from Chinese factories. The US and Europe is dependent on pharma goods shipped from India. In such a scenario, where every country is profiting from export of goods and services, any lapses on the part of any constituent of this global supply chain must be brought to book. Data suggest China is the top supplier to India, US, European nations and many other regions. The king of global supply chain is in fact the one that disturbed the flow. And the disruption has been such that the global economy is staring at a recession that is set to upset lives of people across the world.

Is China’s culpability a mere conspiracy theory?

One can easily disregard China’s guilt in fueling the spread of coronavirus as a figment of imagination of overenthusiastic conspiracy theorists. This, however, will not serve any purpose. Consider this. Hundred Chinese scholars have written an open letter decrying ‘politicization’ of coronavirus pandemic. They have stated that China, like other countries, is a ‘victim’ of virus and countries must cooperate than point finger on someone. China’s crackdown on activists and human rights lawyers is in the news and we shall discuss this later in this article. The need for these hundred scholars to persuade the international media, political leadership and civil society to change course arose as things are becoming increasing upsetting for China.

Taiwan, the island state over which the People’s Republic of China (PRC) or China claims sovereignty, had in as early as December 2019 warned the World Health Organisation (WHO) about the ‘suspected human-to-human virus transmission’ having originated in China. Of course, China was quick to deplore this revelation, however, Taiwan countered by bringing in the public the document that it shared with WHO. This single piece of evidence can be enough to bring China as a party in the International Court and begin a comprehensive and unprejudiced trial over the blameworthiness of the communist nation. President Donald Trump has unequivocally stressed upon the need of investigating both China and WHO for their role in coronavirus becoming a global crisis from being a local outbreak.

In this light, we have to understand that China’s culpability is to be determined with respect to whether the country could have acted in the desired manner so as to save the global society and economy from such widespread disorder. Nobody here is suggesting that the coronavirus pandemic finds its origin in release of a biological weapon gas that was being readied in any Chinese laboratory. What is rather being suggested is that the global community has to act responsibly to fix accountability and reach to the bottom of the allegations that are coming from reliable sources.

What are these voices?

That China has been under one-party rule since decades is a subject that has drawn praise and criticism from various quarters. The phenomenal economic growth of the country under communist rule has been attributed to centralized control of country’s affairs. As a rule, the common man steers clear of having any opinion on the standards of governance, let alone any condemnation of Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of Communist Party of China. But all this could not silence voices of a long list of critics who have advocated for greater transparency in China’s political affairs. Let’s know how these voices have laid bare the guilt of China in plunging the international community into darkness. Li Zehua is one name in this list.

A former employee of the Chinese state-owned broadcaster CCTV, Li, began reporting facts about the Chinese politics in 2018 through his channel, Disobedience TV. A proponent of free speech, Li, has suddenly disappeared from the scene, thanks to his demand for an investigation into the coronavirus crisis. Li went to Wuhan and was regularly urging the youth to stand up to the might of the CPC before he discovered that ‘two large guys’ were at his door. Since then he is missing.

The most prominent name in the list is that of Li Wenliang, a doctor who was one of the first responders to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan and then turned into a whistleblower to let the world at large know how China inflicted all the pain by downplaying the emergency. Wenliang was employed with the Wuhan Central Hospital and understood in the very beginning that the infection wasn’t any regular flu but was pretty similar to SARS. It was on December 30, 2019 that Li had shared his concerns over various forums regarding likely resurgence of SARS. Had his warning been heeded at the higher levels, the pandemic would have been nipped in the bud. But Chinese authorities acted in their usual manner and charged the young doctor with ‘making false comments’. The charges are akin to inciting the public and the police arrived at his door to warn him. Li eventually lost his life only a month after this. He is said to have contracted the disease while working in the hospital.

Another university student, Zhang Wenbin, who was highly critical of the communist party, has also gone missing. In his video, Zhang demanded that Xi Jinping must resign from his office. He cited many of the CPC failures in governance and talked at length about his gradual disenchantment with the party owing to how the government was silencing democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan. There is a growing chorus of voices that have demanded his release as he is believed to be in detention.

The UN and China

The United Nations had a big and definitive role to play in the current state of affairs. WHO, a specialized agency of UN, is also under scanner for its siding with the Chinese authorities instead of responding to the outbreak of a deadly disease in an unbiased manner. The agency, which was expected to be proactive in its role as a first responder to such calamities, was barely active before January 24, 2020 when it duly acknowledged human-to-human transmission of COVID-19. Countries including India had spurred into action much before March 11 when WHO recognized the disease as a pandemic. The guiding force that was being looked upto by various countries, both developed and developing, was literally siding away with China in delaying a targeted, wide-ranging action plan to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Consider this now. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who has remained outspoken on how minorities’ interests are being sidelined in many parts of the world, has not voiced his opinion on the treatment of Uighur Muslim population of China. There have been many ground reports from reliable news outlets on how this section of population is being confined to camps and their human rights being violated by the Chinese administration and ground level authorities. In the wake of what has happened and citing WHO’s failure in its response to COVID-19 pandemic, US President Trump has announced that his country’s financial contribution to this agency has been halted.

A Case for China’s culpability

Unambiguously, there is a strong case against China. And this cannot be marginalized as any ‘conspiracy theory’. The supplier of a variety of goods to all other countries, whose factories have now shifted to mass producing face masks and sanitisers, cannot and should not be spared of a legitimate enquiry. Where are the activists and rights lawyers who have gone missing in China after having questioned the government’s role? Was the WHO, advertently or inadvertently, siding with China’s stance on the spread of coronavirus beyond the borders of the communist nation? Should disruption in global supply chain not be attributed to China’s inaction during the early phase of outbreak? Who shall be held accountable for a looming danger of many countries plunging back into poverty and losing any socio-economic gains made in past decades?

The US, European countries and other players including India, Japan and South Korea have much to deliberate. At this present time, all countries are battling the spread of the deadly virus and are left with little room to initiate any comprehensive inquiry into the role of China in making a local outbreak a global pandemic. Once the dust settles, they have to forge an alliance and hold the culprit accountable for its misdeeds. Rationality so demands.

PS: There is little data to this day about any link between the outbreak of n-coronavirus in Wuhan and the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) that is in close proximity to the seafood market of the city. It is for this reason why it will be premature and superficial to discuss this. Yet, President Trump has been talking much about this lately and an interesting development is The Washington Post’s revelations based on info acquired from diplomatic cables. It says that diplomats had warned the US about safety concerns at WIV. That the lab was undertaking research on bats and it could likely result into a SARS-like pandemic was also indicated by these officials. More comprehensive information on this is awaited, and hence this can be debated at length later.

(The article “China’s Culpability Is Real, It’s Not China’s Criticism” published in “Business World”)

Governance and Innovations amidst Crises

Old order changes yielding place to new. Transition periods of the old order to a new one form the cradle of crises. It is during a crisis that one feels the need to innovate and reinvent himself. A chrysalis does not remain within the cocoon for long but undergoes a metamorphosis during the course of its short life before turning into a butterfly. Just as necessity is the mother of invention, crises throw up motivating circumstances that produce the essential drivers to innovate. A crisis brings value addition to life by shoring up a critical mass of transformation from a state of complacency.

Modi government has been battling coronavirus with proactive steps since January

Governance and Innovations

With the ouster of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the induction of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, our country entered a critical phase of political scenario that experienced a complete change inside-out. The new government had two priority issues clamouring for immediate attention – terrorism and black money. The only alternative available to the government was to willingly become a victim of policy paralysis like the previous government; this would entail allowing its tenure to run its course without the issues being addressed.

True to the axiom that when the going gets tough, the tough gets going, the Modi government got cracking on the threat of terrorism and the scourge of black money to get them out of the way. Several Indians and institutions like Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have had to their credit innovations in the past. However, no single individual or agency has managed to innovate for the betterment of the society or progress of the nation more than the current government.

Demonetisation – Disruptive Policy Innovation

Former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor D Subbarao had very aptly termed the BJP-led NDA government’s decision to demonetise high-value currency notes from the economy as the “most disruptive policy innovation since 1991 economic reforms”. By introducing the very bold innovative idea of Demonetisation, Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination currency notes that amounted to nearly 87% of the total banknotes in circulation were made invalid. Smuggling of counterfeit currencies from across the border abruptly ceased. The government turned off the taps of terror-financing made through hawala transactions.

This struck at the very roots of terror operations, stone-pelting and protest rallies orchestrated in the Kashmir valley with an alarming frequency for years on end, bringing them to a complete halt. The move also dealt a body blow to subversive operations by the Naxals and Maoists in other parts of our country sitting on piles of stolen and extortion money. Furthermore, Demonitisation brought to a virtual halt the reprehensible role of black money in elections. It also inflicted a major blow on some of the political parties and the dubious forces behind them which were sitting on heaps of unaccounted money. This, in turn, brought about transparency in politics and marked the beginning of an end to the flagrant use of money power that was the mainstay of corruption in public life.

Other Innovative Policies

The Central government had several more innovative ideas that were translated into people-friendly schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Swach Bharat Abhiyan, the building of adequate numbers of public toilets and toilets for girl students in schools, Namami Gange project, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, etc. These were not schemes on the lines of a host of welfare schemes that the previous non-BJP governments had been launching from time to time that either remained on the blueprint or ended up as corruption-breeding scams or scandals.

Instead, these were schemes based on issues which had never been addressed in the past and hence were termed as innovative. The implementation of these schemes and other government projects is strictly followed, and the progress monitored at both micro and macro levels by the Prime Minister himself through periodical video conferencing with both the political leadership and official representatives at the State level. A hands-on Prime Minister at the top of the schemes and policies, with innovation as the USP!

At the socio-political level, the government has enacted, to its credit, innovative laws. Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution were abrogated, and the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir converted into two Union Territories. This changed the power play in the nation’s Kashmir policy not only internally but also concerning the nation’s relations with Pakistan. A dire warning had already been issued to that country by means of a bold surgical strike.

India implements the strictest lockdown in combatting Coronavirus, scores 100 in a Stringency Index by University of Oxford

On the conclusion of the Ram Janmabhoomi court case, the Union government moved in quickly to initiate the construction process of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. Abolition of the odious practise of Triple Talaq was enacted into law. The Citizenship Amendment Act was also swiftly passed. In all these matters, the government painstakingly stayed the course of legislation and legality without succumbing to the temptation of short-circuiting the due processes. How all these actions and measures qualify to be termed innovations in the face of crises could be understood by an appreciation of the grim situation faced by the BJP before the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Necessity is the Mother of Innovation

Although the court had acquitted Narendra Modi in the case against him over the Gujarat riots of 2002, his rivals had mounted a vilification campaign against him and questioned his moral authority to be in power. Likewise, even though the allegations against him and his government over the Rafael procurement deal had been summarily dismissed by the court, his tormentors won’t stop slinging mud at him. The character assassination of Modi had reached such a crescendo that but for his track record as a performer first at the State level and then at the national level, the layman would have swallowed the baseless propaganda hook, line and sinker notwithstanding the verdict of the court.

In that eventuality, the BJP would have missed an excellent opportunity to form the government at the Centre. It was a life-or-death situation for Narendra Modi, the politician. There could hardly have been a more significant crisis in one’s personal or public life. In such a do-or-die case, he had to deliver. And deliver he did, and that too stupendously well. The ‘jugad’ politics of appeasement that had been the hallmark of the non-BJP regimes of the past was replaced by clean governance, transparency and accountability. This was made possible by the government’s innovative policies which were consistent with the ruling party’s action plan and in consonance with the people’s welfare and national interests.

For instance, a word of praise for India’s pioneering role in implementing changes which leapfrog women’s empowerment and equality for generations ahead has come from the United Nations itself. Ms Anita Bhatia, Deputy Executive Director of UN Entity for Empowerment of Women, has referred to India as a crucible of new and innovative ideas and approaches, which could be shared with other developing nations for the enhancement of economic opportunities for women. While doing so, she highlighted the implementation by India of several effective measures and policies towards ensuring women’s economic empowerment such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 and the Maternity Amendment Bill 2017.

Yet Another Crisis Begging Innovation

Lately, as part of its fight against COVID-19, the government has been urging scientists, medical fraternity and the public to come up with innovations that could provide the answer to the most significant challenge faced by humankind. India will undoubtedly rise to the occasion as it has always done in the past in crises.

(The article ‘Governance and Innovations amidst Crises‘ is published in ‘Organiser’)

Fighting An Invisible Enemy Called Covid-19

Doctors recommend hand hygiene by washing hands often with soap or hand sanitizer and social distancing.

Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) is the most recent addition to a long list of death traps that humankind has stumbled onto in the course of its short sojourn on earth. Intriguingly, it is a problem of man’s own making for which a solution is yet to be found. Some of the best human brains in the medical and scientific domains are busy applying themselves to the task of inventing a cure. There is no dearth of conspiracy theories being floated in the social and the not-very-social media by busybodies to whet the appetite of an idle mind’s curiosity.

While one such theory claims Coronavirus was the result of a botched-up attempt by China to devise a biological weapon gone horribly wrong, another talks about global powers trying the virus out as a deadly means in the US-China trade war. There are also claims that pharma companies are out to make a kill with new patented drugs in the embryonic stage of invention. In the meanwhile, bulls and bears have been running amuck in the stock markets across the globe, causing the rise and fall of financial empires because of which the world economy is faltering and floundering about. Meanwhile, the overall political and financial climate is one of confusion and consternation.

International Reaction

Almost all the nations are trying their best to grapple with the problem. Countries like Italy and Spain, just to name but two, are having nationwide lockdowns. Tourist places have been cleared. The US has declared a national emergency. France has ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses, including restaurants, shopping complexes, cinemas and clubs. Countries like Italy and Iran have appealed for international help. Borders are closed notwithstanding the fact that viruses do not respect boundaries. On the downside of the issue, the pandemic has caused the murky side of human nature to come to the fore. Hand sanitizers and toilet paper rolls are fast disappearing from the store shelves. Apparently, there is a hoarding of the essential as well as the non-essential supplies of daily life going on.

India’s Response

India has taken proactive steps and has also set up a graded response mechanism. It has suspended most visas for a month. Non-essential travel is being discouraged. Educational institutions, malls, cinemas and swimming pools are closed. Even places of worship are either completely locked down or have scaled down their services to a thinning turnout of the devout. Trains and buses are regularly disinfected. The government is imposing restrictions on social gatherings in public places. India government’s political commitments to tackle the disease as well as its containment strategy have won international acclaim. It has already taken several initiatives such as screening the passengers at airports, seaports and border check-posts.

Strengthening of surveillance, setting up of isolation wards and quarantine facilities are on. A network of more than hundred nationwide laboratories and sample collection centres has been put in place. A buffer stock of personal protective equipment and the N95 masks for use by health workers is at hand. Awareness campaigns are being organised by the central government with the involvement of the state governments and community engagement. Health workers are trained with the support of WHO to upgrade their preparedness to tackle the pandemic.

The government on 22nd March has also allowed NABL-accredited laboratories in the country to test n-coronavirus samples. In view of the gravity of the crisis, it has been recommended that the upper ceiling for testing of samples be maintained as Rs. 4,500, which shall have a Rs. 1,500 component as screening for suspect cases and Rs. 3,000 as confirmation test charges. The government has also instructed these private labs to adhere to biosafety precautions and prefer home collection of samples. Any lab violating the guidelines will face legal action. Random sample testing has also been resorted to in order to look beyond those who have a travel history and their close contacts. This step is sure to have a far-reaching impact in the fight to contain the spread of COVID-19.

India has also been very quick to dispatch special flights to repatriate hundreds of its countrymen stranded in countries like China, Iran and Italy. The repatriated persons have been quarantined and made to undergo medical checkups. Prompt and timely actions initiated by the Indian government and the quality of the medical services provided across the country have been widely acclaimed. The latest instances of repatriation reiterate the government’s commitment to the safety and welfare of its nationals in whichever part of the globe they live in.

Global Leadership

India reasserted its global leadership when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced early this month the nation’s willingness to share its expertise and protocols developed to contain and fight Covid-19 with the member-countries of SAARC. India will set up an Emergency Fund with an initial corpus of US$10 million that can be used by all members of SAARC. It will also put its rapid response team of doctors and specialists on standby to be deployed across the region. India is also working on requests from Iran and Italy for help in containing the virus outbreak. It has already sent a consignment of medical equipment and supplies to China.

Indian Economy

On the economic front, the nation has both losses and gains to count. Apart from the exodus of foreign capital from the stock market, the losses are in the hospitality, entertainment, tourism, transport and service sectors. Meanwhile, the Indian economy is likely to benefit immensely from the windfall savings resulting from the global oil price war and the crash in crude prices. India also has tremendous scope to capitalize and gain if it designs an effective strategy to attract the many foreign firms which are currently fleeing China.

People’s Reaction

At the individual level, nobody is taking chances, although most of the people grudge the governmental restrictions on normal life. Some groups of people are reported to have tried in vain to resist subjecting themselves to mandatory medical checkups and quarantine on the excuse that their religious belief does not allow it. Some people who have been protesting for some time now on the streets against the recent amendment to the citizenship law are still carrying on with their protest dramas. However, it is only a question of time before the fear of the pandemic catches up, and they wind up the protests.

Despite the advice of the medical fraternity that it is not necessary for those who are not affected by the virus to wear the surgical mask, you can see every other person in public places sporting one. Hardcore meat eaters are becoming vegans or vegetarians. Authorities have warned stern action against greedy traders and businessmen who are creating an artificial scarcity of the essential medical supplies or jacking up their prices. Yoga is recommended to boost one’s resistance and immunity to the evil virus. Astrologers are coming up with predictions on when the nightmare will end. Spiritual gurus are suggesting hymns and spells, talisman and lucky charms to ward off the evil.

Doctors recommend hand hygiene by washing hands often with soap or hand sanitizer and social distancing. There are others who exhort people to participate in Gomutra (cow urine) parties, drink hot water, gargle with warm water, stay away from ice-cream and cold food to ward off the virus. Some even recommend exposure to Sun, without a scientific or medical basis to support their claim. India is believed to be passing through a stage where people testing positive have contracted it from someone affected by the virus and having a travel history. According to experts, the situation can be controlled locally.

India Fights

The layman, on his part, has taken the Prime Minister’s advice to prepare and not panic, as the credo for the occasion and is focusing on the latest health issue with single-minded devotion, having put the other bothersome mundane matters of concern on the back burner. Although the full scale of the threat by the virus is still not known, efforts are afoot globally to come up with a cure anytime soon. In the meantime, India fights with grit and determination to overcome the enemy. For instance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fervent appeal for a 14-hour ‘Janta Curfew’ on March 22, urging Indians to stay indoors, received a commendable response from across the country. This self-imposed curfew broke the chain of Coronavirus infection, which in turn is expected to reduce new infections and also prevent further spread of Covid-19 in India.

The central government is also working dedicatedly with state governments and local authorities to ensure that any further lockdown in the wake of this healthcare crisis has a limited disruptive impact on the lives of all. It has been ensured that grocery stores, milk shops, medicine outlets and other services delivering essential goods and services remain accessible at all possible times. Lastly, the onus is also on the citizens of this country to turn government measures into a sure success by abiding by the instructions issued by authorities and not overlooking the basics- keeping personal hygiene and maintaining social distance.

PS: It is best to keep fake news regarding the n-coronavirus at bay. People using WhatsApp can now chat with official WHO account at +41 22 501 7615 to know what experts have to say about COVID-19. This facility in the form of ChatBot is available for all Indian-based users.

(The article “Fighting An Invisible Enemy Called Covid-19” published in “Business World”)

The Legislative Route To Social Reforms

Issues of societal importance are discussed, debated and thrashed out in the Parliament by the people’s representatives and in the public fora and the media by the people themselves.

The appeal of the axiom “All is fair in love and war”, is unassailable and its reach universal. Love and war are all about honour, pride, liberty, freedom and the indomitable human spirit, cherished all across the globe – values that enjoin victory at any cost, without prejudice to ethics and morality in life.

Peacetime is, however, a different proposition  altogether when civility is the behavioural norm and enlisting any and every means, including the dubious or questionable ones, to secure the ends is simply not admissible. In a mature democracy like ours, there is no room for pitched battles and street fights. Issues of societal importance are discussed, debated and thrashed out in the Parliament by the people’s representatives and in the public fora and the media by the people themselves.

Social Media

The role of Social Media in the resolution of issues that agitate the minds of the multitudes of faceless members of the society is immeasurable. This is especially so when the glorious days of  the Mainstream Media (MSM) have long been over; rot has set in, turning much of the MSM  into mere propaganda machines at the hands of powerful global pressure groups.

The local press barons and the media moguls succumb to the overtures of the unscrupulous international pressure groups, and they are sold out to promote fake ideological, theocratic and anti-national influences and causes. Resultantly, MSM has lost its credibility and the claim to be the mouthpiece of the masses that form the fulcrum of the society.

This has led to the emergence of Social Media as the unrivalled platform of public opinion that connects the system and the society. With the winnability of the Social Media over MSM in its claim to represent the voice of the people firmly established, Social Media is the last bastion of the right-thinking and nation-loving intelligentsia and the common man alike. It is not, however, free from squabbles and fracas, which have become commonplace occurrences of late in the exercise of venting one’s views and angst.

Mudslinging and character assassination are resorted to by anti-social and uncouth elements with the aim of intimidating the vast majority of the bonafide users of Social Media. With the easy reach and connect that the last man down the line enjoys with the top brass of the system and the senior leadership of the country, it is only a question of time before street-corner political meetings, and public demonstrations and protest marches become things of the past.

As of now, however, the ground reality is very different. The political Opposition to the Modi-led NDA government, which has been embarking on the legislation process of implementation of its electoral promises in keeping with BJP’s policies and programs, has bared its claws post the CAA-legislation. By instigating the break-India forces and flagrantly supporting them to hold protest meetings, demonstrations and marches, the Opposition has demonstrated yet again its nefarious designs and pseudo-secular approach to vote bank politics.

Inflammatory speeches provoking communal strife and exhorting anti-national elements and the gullible public to thwart the rule of law were made, heightening tension and fear among the uninformed and ill-informed members of the public. The ploys of the mercenary elements financed and supported by the spent political forces with active abetment by anti-India forces from across the border culminated in communal clashes in the capital.

Pre-planned and meticulously choreographed attacks on the unwary public and the police with stone pelting, petrol bombs and shooting with firearms were carried out. The clashes claimed scores of precious lives, including that of a policeman and an intelligence officer, burning down of houses, shops and private vehicles, and dislocation of orderly life. Surviving family members of those who were killed, those who were hurt and injured and the onlookers were traumatised.

At least four cold-blooded murders have been recorded by the police. Elsewhere in the national capital, dharnas in protest to the enactment of CAA and the proposed NPR as well as the NRC, which is still in the embryonic stage, have been held, partially paralyzing public life and the smooth flow of traffic. The restrained behaviour of the police, especially during the visit of the US President, was grossly mistaken either as a lack of principled stand on the part of the government or a purported breakdown of the law enforcement machinery.

Sinister Designs and Ploys

To attribute evil motives to the intentions and actions of a duly-elected government is to cast aspersions on its integrity. To do so is to violate the democratic spirit of governance. The success of democracy presupposes the triumph of the people’s will in all situations and circumstances. When an issue is raised in the temple of democracy, namely the Parliament, and discussed and debated by the people’s representatives from the treasury benches and the opposition ranks, it is indicative of the due process being diligently practised.

A bill duly passed by the Parliament becomes a law with the consent of the President and enjoys the distinction of marking the triumph of the people’s will. To trash a law or to rip it into pieces on the roads by a bunch of unsatisfied people spells trouble for the system. This is inadmissible, to say the least. Prior to the polls, all political parties bring out election manifestos with much fanfare.

It is these manifestos, prepared on the basis of the policies and principles of the parties, which give the voters an insight into the course of action on which the parties are expected to embark, if elected to power. In a meaningful democracy, the electorate is expected to make themselves familiar with the bonafides of the candidates contesting polls and their party’s election manifesto and judiciously exercise their franchise. Voting a party to power and expecting it not to toe its own promised course of action is both unethical and undemocratic.


Bold Initiatives

The NDA government’s bold initiatives to usher in social reforms, especially in issues affecting hapless sections of the Islamic community, have been falsely attributed to malafide intentions and an imaginary Islamophobia on the part of the government. So is the case with measures already taken and are proposed to be taken to accord refuge and nationality to the religiously-persecuted members of the minority communities in the neighbouring Islamic countries and check illegal immigration into the country.

The proposed introduction of the Uniform Civil Code will be a watershed in the Union government’s attempts to redress the grievances of the Hindu community and bring parity and justice among all religious communities. This is the kind of stuff that the nightmares of jihadists and other anti-Hindu communal elements, pseudo-secular and break-India forces are made.

Legislative Route

The Central government cannot stop short of pursuing its social reform measures through the only option available to it, namely the legislative route, in the face of opposition from the anti-national elements. Service to the nation and its citizens demands an undeterred pursuit of its goals by the ruling party and its government.

(The article The Legislative Route To Social Reforms” published in “Business World”)

Women’s Safety and Public Ire

Hardly passes a day when you sit down with a hot cup of coffee in hand in the morning to read the newspaper and don’t find the headlines screaming at you about the horrid rape of a woman. A detailed account of the gory details of the sordid act is given to make your stomach churn in revulsion. The extent to which some guys could go to violate a woman’s body in every which imaginable way and, more often than not, leave her dead body behind like a heap of rubbish shocks you and makes you tremble with rage.

You then move on to catch up with the rest of the news, much of which turns out to be practically a repeat account of the same, page after page. If you don’t read the newspaper, you still get to hear about the ghastly incidents either on the TV on return home or on your car radio while on the way to work. This experience, revisited day after day, leaves you numb with a sick feeling of morbidity and helplessness. What do you do? Leave the question of women’s safety at the doorstep of the already-overworked-authorities hamstrung by scarce resources to handle the situation, like an abandoned baby?

Woman’s Place in Society

No man is an island except metaphorically. He shares precious space, time and resources with woman on equal footing. His empathy for woman flows from the special space she occupies in his life. A world without woman is neither feasible nor thinkable. Woman’s safety is, therefore, a subject close to everyone’s heart. This is more so with the government in a civilised country like India that lays premium on woman’s safety, which is an inextricable part of human rights. What the government does for the general welfare of the woman and all its attempts to empower her doesn’t seem to add up to much when it comes to safeguarding her from the clutches of the evil forces amidst us.

Every right-thinking woman considers herself equal to man in the use of cerebral power that fuels the use of her faculties for the betterment of her own self and the society. All she expects in return is recognition of her capability and ability as an equal stakeholder, along with man, in the making of the world a better place to live in. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that no discrimination against women is factored in by the Constitution of any modern government in today’s world. Nevertheless, the basic question of ensuring her safety poses to the government too big a task fraught with prickly issues of human behaviour.

Practically every young lady, who has equipped herself with a decent education and a talent or two and the skills necessary to support herself and her family, finds herself in a quandary. She finds the need to safeguard herself against the potential rapist lurking around the corner too intimidating a burden on her gender. Is rape a cross which a woman should be prepared to carry throughout her life? This is a question that weighs heavy on the mind of every woman. Being stalked, harassed, raped or murdered is a spectre that haunts her at every stage of life.

Agitated Public

All this leads to the silent rage and frustration about the limitations of the system, which in turn has the potential to snowball and explode at some point of time into vociferous public outrage. This inevitable phenomenon is highlighted by candlelight marches and protest demonstrations in city after city aimed at the growing incidents of violence against woman. That the statistics of crimes against women in several other countries in the Western hemisphere far surpass the happenings in India doesn’t mitigate the public fury. The need of the hour is for all stakeholders to realise that the prevailing situation should not be allowed to deteriorate any further.

Furthermore, everything must be done by the State and the citizens to arrest the trend and reverse it. No price is indeed too high to achieve this end goal. Having said it, we must not fail to realise that there is only so much that a government can do to protect a woman. Currently, the onus of being prepared for the worst and taking precautions to prevent it from happening rests singularly and absurdly with the woman. It is downright unfair to expect a woman to face the situation all on her own without the support of the menfolk. It is the joint responsibility of man and woman to act against the injustice being perpetrated against either of them.

In the context of women’s safety, men need to walk the extra mile and be much more chivalrous and gallant than otherwise. A lot of self-introspection needs to be attempted by man to identify the sources of the evil of assault on a woman’s body, honour and life. A man should follow the self-introspection exercise with a cleansing operation to rid himself, and thereby the society, of the toxins of male chauvinism, contempt for women, objectifying of woman and, above all, complacency, hopelessness and resignation to the prevailing situation.

Media’s Role

The mainstream media (MSM) has a significant role to play in the upliftment of the image of women in the eyes of men. Vulgarity, obscenity and portrayal of woman as an object of sexual gratification should be abhorred. In addition to the governmental measures to censor the objectionable material from infiltrating into the output of a responsible mass media, there should be self-auditing by the media itself. Provocative content and cheap titillation should find no place in what the public get to watch.

The government, on its part, should seriously explore the possibility of tightening the restrictions on pornography, which breaches all norms of decency and decorum. This is undoubtedly easier said than done, but the exercise needs to be undertaken to protect the honour of women. Indian culture is prone to a broadside by anti-national forces if the plight of our women (and children) is left to the tender mercies of the elements that promote decadence and degradation at the altar of commercialism in the name of freedom of expression.

Judiciary’s Role

Indian judiciary has to operate in tandem with the process of lawmaking. While doing so, it should not overlook the sentiments of an irate public which gets exercised over cruelty or indignity heaped on women. Should the criminal elements, including the juveniles among them whose involvement in heinous crimes against women, such as rape and murder, has been conclusively proved be allowed legal protection under human rights in the same measure as in the case of the convicts of petty offences? How swiftly can their trial and conviction be finalised and punishment meted out?

Furthermore, how far can a counsel be allowed to prolong a case on flimsy legal points and thereby delay and subvert the judicial system in the name of individual liberty or human rights? These are some questions begging for urgent replies in the quest of justice for woman. This is especially true since a Delhi court has been postponing the execution of four convicts in the 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case on one pretext or the other even though the trial was conducted on a ‘fast track’ basis.

(The article Women’s Safety and Public Ire published in “Business World”)

Is Patriotism on the Wane?

Love reigns supreme in every sphere of personal and social activity. Although love means a lot, nay everything, to a lover, it is one’s love for one’s own country that is considered supreme, without prejudice to the purity or bonafides of any other kind. This is precisely why politicians with a blemishless personal life and an impeccable track record of service to the nation, though few and far between, are looked up to by a grateful populace as the nation’s saviours.

Love Supreme

The spirit of patriotism is best captured in the following immortal lines of Sir Walter Scott.

“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,

Who never to himself hath said,

This is my own, my native land!”

In practical terms, patriotism translates into unquestioning loyalty, respect and selfless service to the country. It also calls for the upholding of the highest standards of ideals and vision on the part of the founding fathers of the nation. Frequent and uncalled for disruptions of the functioning of a government, duly elected by the people in polls held in a free and fair manner, are not a mere aberration. Such despicable incidents are the handiwork of anti-national forces masquerading in the garb of political parties, mass media and academia, out to destroy the basic tenets of democracy.

Freedom of expression or political activity degenerating into subversive activities like rallies by unruly mobs that cause loss of lives and wanton destruction of public property are a clear case of the derailing of patriotism. So is the case when the sacred symbols of the nation, namely the national flag, the national anthem, the Constitution, and the high institutions of democracy, namely the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, which are held sacrosanct and supreme, are willfully dishonoured.

Scourge of Terrorism

India is currently in an unenviable position of having two downright hostile neighbours, both of which have territorial disputes with us. We have had major wars, conflicts, conflagrations, border disputes with Pakistan and China. To make matters worse, soon after its birth, a young and nascent Indian Democratic Republic became a favourite target of terrorists from across the border. Pakistan degraded itself by becoming the biggest terror exporting country and has been threatening to make India bleed by a thousand cuts.

To this end, it has been training, equipping and financing terrorists on its soil for a long time now. Resultantly, it became necessary for the new-born Indian nation to hit the ground running and firing on all the cylinders. It soon became evident that the external threat was not without the tacit support of several frustrated and disgruntled elements, which had permeated the Indian society. Apart from the Naxals and other cobbled up groupings, armed and financed by the nation’s enemies, there are Urban Naxals, Tukde Tukde gangs, Award Wapsi gangs and other subterfuge pressure points to deal with.

No realm of social activity was spared infiltration by the anti-national forces. The art and literary sphere, the pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-secular segments and the student community were among the prominent areas of infiltration. Soon after Narendra Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister in May 2014, the frustrated and disgruntled elements started ganging up against the Central government and, through it, against the nation.

Anti-National Forces

Meanwhile, some film stars of a minority community started making discordant noises about how the Indian society had allegedly become more and more intolerant and how the secular ethos of the country had purportedly become watered down with the change in government. They blamed certain stringent measures introduced by Modi 1.0 government to regulate trading in cattle as the provocation for stray cases of killings of members of the minority community. They also insinuated that the majority community had become emboldened by the government’s measures to perpetrate hate crimes against the minorities.

They voiced, much to the amusement of the public, including their own fans, anxiety about their fear for the safety of their family and openly talked about a possible migration to safe quarters outside India. It became obvious that Bollywood, believed to be operating on the strength of slush funding, was synchronising its act to the diktat of the enemies of the nation who were the principal stakeholders in the industry. In an industry where huge amounts of money were at stake, and larger-than-life images and reputations were liable to be dashed to the ground overnight, it was no more a secret as to where one’s loyalty lay.

Furthermore, with the Demonetisation scheme that was unveiled in November 2016, the Union government cut at the very roots of black money, much to the chagrin of the enemies of a stable and prosperous India. Be that as it may, even as the gathering momentum of the discordant voices over the allegations of “intolerance” and “threat to secularism” started building up to a crescendo, the tactful handling of the matter by the NDA government saved the situation.

And then, there were award-winning artists, authors, intelligentsia et al who took to protesting against the government by unceremoniously returning the awards they had earlier been bestowed. Mercenary elements, owing loyalty to the enemies of the nation, fouled up the atmosphere at some universities by holding unruly rallies, waving Pakistani flags, mouthing break-India slogans and blatantly praising terrorists already punished by the apex court on proven charges of  launching attacks on innocent people and the Parliament.

The Indian national flag and the national anthem were denigrated. Patriotic slogans such as ‘Jai Hind’, ‘Vande Mataram’, and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ were ridiculed. A virulent anti-national campaign, with the involvement of naive and gullible students, was orchestrated with flagrant support from across the border. The object of the campaign was twofold: (1) Topple Modi 1.0 government (2) Demoralise the people and precipitate Balkanisation of India.

Counter-Measures

Sensing the danger, the Union government swung into action by undertaking damage control exercises and confidence-building measures to boost the people’s morale. This they achieved by means of providing clean and good governance, introducing bold economic initiatives, adopting pragmatic foreign and defence policies, sanitizing the country of the scourge of terrorism, not rushing the Hindutva agenda, reaching out to the minority communities, and breaking the nexus between the corrupt political parties and anti-national forces.

Patriotism to the Fore

Meanwhile, intending to smear the NDA government before the upcoming state elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, 49 pseudo-intellectuals recently wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging that incidents of mob lynching are increasing in the country. In response to this, a lawyer in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar, who got annoyed with this canard to defame the Central government, filed a petition alleging that these so-called writers and artists had tarnished the image of India. Based on this petition, a local court in Bihar passed an order directing the filing of a sedition case against this Tukde-Tukde gang.

Though the Bihar Police on October 9 ordered the closure of the said sedition case against the 49 celebrities, this development shows that the common people have lately decided never to buckle under the pressure of the break-India gangs. Convinced that the nation is in safe hands, the civil society is now standing by and supporting the Narendra Modi-led government and thereby displaying patriotism of the highest order. Furthermore, the fact that the BJP-led NDA returned to power with a significantly improved vote share and more seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections is yet another proof that patriotism is thriving and flourishing in a resurgent India.

What slowed down India’s economy and how is the government trying to revive it?

It would be overstating the obvious to say that the Indian economy has of late been passing through a particularly bad patch. What needs to be done to hitch it up has been engaging the attention of the experts and the government alike. The disturbing development of the slowdown has been depicted as a meltdown of the economy by uncharitable critics and frustrated adversaries of the Narendra Modi government. 

Vengeful political parties on the brink of extinction and the sold-out sections of the mainstream media (MSM) have been particularly baying for blood. All this has understandably caused bewilderment and consternation among the people at large, who are, by and large, either ill-informed or misinformed about the issue. This is but natural considering the fact that comprehension of the nuances of the economy of a complex nation like India is not everyman’s cup of tea nor do any two experts seem to think alike.

Primary Causes

What ails our economy? It is neither a single factor nor a unique virus that has bedevilled it in the first place. The global economic climate in general and the impact of the US-China trade war had their share in the fouling up of our nation’s economic climate. Furthermore, the difficult ground conditions that afflict the agriculture sector, the initial systemic recoiling of the financial and tax reforms carried out by an ambitious government also had a bearing on the slowdown.

Farming Woes

Even during the best of times, failure of monsoon, natural disasters like drought, famine, floods or cyclone lead to demands from farmers for farm loan waivers year after year. Visionless state governments ruled by opportunistic political alliances which are clueless about the ethics of statecraft make reckless pre-poll promises to farmers about farm loan waivers and sops like free electricity, water, etc. 

This makes it difficult for principled political parties, in the absence of a level-playing ground, to take hard political decisions. Consequently, promises are made all around to alleviate the woes of the farming sector, with nary a clue or concern about the feasibility of redeeming the promises. As a consequence of the recklessness of the parties for which politics is just another source of making money and grabbing power, the government exchequer takes a beating.

Banking Blues

The banking sector is among the foremost to bear the burden of redressal of the farming sector. It is further roiled by Non- Performing Assets (NPA), a legacy of the previous governments characterised alternatively by bad economic policies and sheer policy paralysis. Consider this. As per a reply given in April 2018 by the Minister of State for Finance in the Rajya Sabha, bad loans worth Rs 2.41 lakh crore were written off by public sector banks in just three years between April 2014 and September 2017.

As of 31st December, 2017, 21 public sector banks had stressed loans worth Rs 8.26 lakh crore. Private sector banks and foreign banks operating in India were not free from bad loans either. During the financial year 2017-18, ten state governments announced farm loan waivers worth Rs 184,800 crore. Meanwhile, the total debt of India’s top 10 corporate borrowers was reported to be nearly four times the farm loan waivers, at Rs 731,000 crore as on 31st March 2015; and of the 12 top NPAs was almost twice, at Rs 345,000 crore. 

According to RBI data, total gross NPAs were Rs 8 lakh crore in March 2017 and Rs 10.3 lakh crore as of March 2018. The Union government is trying to clear the Aegean stables of the banking sector by resolving bad loans through the bankruptcy court process. In the meantime, the combined effect of the NPAs and non-judicious farm loan waivers on the course of the economy is a stark liability that stares the nation in the face. 

Employment Levels and Consumer Demand

Consequent upon the complex issue of mounting bank loans that eventually turn into bad ones and the drying up of domestic investments, the production levels of the export-oriented segments of the economy as well as the manufacturing and construction sectors, slow down. This results in the laying off of some of the workforces, albeit for limited periods of time. This is played up by irresponsible reporting. 

Misleading reports in the Media about the new tax structures and financial reforms like demonetisation make the common man wary of the situation. The consumer becomes needlessly overcautious about various essential and non-essential purchases resulting in sluggish consumer demand. The snowballing effect of all these factors then contributes to the creation of the bogey of a crisis.

Government steps in

Even as the alarm bells started ringing on the outbreak of an economic slowdown, the Union government, to its credit, lost no time in addressing the issue in all seriousness. The Finance Minister had meetings with sectoral representatives and experts to get an inkling about their understanding of the situation. A slew of damage control measures, including financial bailout, was announced to tide over the situation and turn the economy around. 

To this end, the RBI transferred Rs 1.76 lakh crore surplus reserve to the Government of India. Structural reforms in the banking sector were introduced, which saw a reduction in the number of public sector banks from 27 to 12. Besides ensuring that this measure did not result in a loss of jobs, the Union government announced upfront an equity infusion of Rs 700,000 crore to the banking sector to boost lending.

Boosting of Exports

It is important that the current flaccid pace of exports rebound and the growth rate be sustained. This is feasible only with a rejuvenation of the manufacturing and construction sectors. A steady inflow of investments is vital for the much-needed fillip. The government has already pumped in substantial financial assistance to bolster these sectors.

According to an RBI statistical report, India’s foreign exchange reserves stand at around US$453 billion, the highest ever, as on 6th December 2019. This bit of information brings glad tidings in a not-very-bright-economic scenario. Against this cheerful backdrop, the country’s exports and imports clocked at US$ 26.0 billion and US$ 38.1 billion respectively, with a trade deficit of US$12.1 billion. With these parameters, the emerging picture is far from a distressing scenario and definitely not an indicator of an economic ‘crisis’ as the prophets of doom would have you believe.

Infrastructure Development

The government is committed to a Rs 100-lakh crore investment for the development of modern infrastructure. This is in keeping with the announcement made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech last year. The investment would help in the realisation of the government’s target of a US$5-trillion economy in 5-years’ time. A taskforce has already been set up to identify infra projects for making the investment which, in turn, would open up increased employment opportunities.

Union Budget 2020

Meanwhile, the upcoming Union Budget 2020 is expected to unveil concrete and substantial measures on various fronts aimed at addressing the GDP slowdown and reviving India’s economic growth by driving up investment spending and consumption. For instance, to put more money in the hands of middle and lower-middle classes, the Finance Minister may announce significant income-tax relief and introduction of new slabs during her Budget Speech on 1st February. 

The basic exemption limit may be raised from the existing Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh and 5% tax slab may apply to individuals having annual income between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 7 lakh. Similarly, those in the income bracket of Rs 7 lakh to Rs 10 lakh may be taxed at the rate of 10%. Finance Minister may also consider reducing the slab rate to 20% for those in the income bracket of Rs 10 lakh to Rs 20 lakh. The government may even abolish long-term capital gains (LTCG) tax to boost investor sentiment and improve flows into the capital markets. 

To compensate for the loss in tax revenues resulting from the above provisions, the Budget may consider large-scale disinvestments of public sector units (PSUs). To boost credit growth, the Budget is likely to have measures for shoring up capital adequacy of the nationalised banks, which will allow them to lend freely. To turn around the economy, apart from the economic measures, the Modi government seems determined to address all the other structural problems in the corporate, agricultural and social sectors with a sense of urgency.

Many Aspirations and Budget 2020

Union Budget alone cannot shape which way the economy steers. There’s a lot more to this. For example, when the parliament enacted the bankruptcy law, The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016, it was a sure boost for both ailing banks that were demanding an uncomplicated and fast way to recover dues and corporates that are struggling due to a variety of reasons, including sectoral slowdown. In this regard, one must also note the enactment of law that frees up Jammu and Kashmir from the shackles of opportunistic politics and policy paralysis. With clampdown on terror activities and prospects for companies to start new ventures in the newest Union Territory, economic activity is set to see an upward movement, thereby delivering on expectations ranging from employment for local youth to expansion in factory output. In this light, the Union Budget that is set to be presented in less than a month by the Finance Minister shall be seen as a key event, if not a landmark one.

Expectations are huge and why not? Discussions on the upcoming budget have already become prime time news and economic experts have proposed innumerous measures. The talk of the town is a reduction in personal tax rates, higher spending by the government on education and other social sectors and abidance of fiscal prudency, a highlight of the BJP-government budget for long. That corporate tax rates have already been cut through an executive order is taking the discussion away from what corporates need from the budget of 2020. The government is set to consider a plethora of wide-ranging concerns, including a below-expectation collection of GST and inflationary forces, which have lately seen an upward trend owing to rise in food prices. With the government duly acknowledging a slowdown in economic activity in the country, one can expect that the key concerns won’t be brushed under the carpet.

What then will be the announcement? What will distinguish the upcoming budget from government’s previous endeavours and will the new one infuse positivity in the market? Although no one can precisely tell what is going through the mind of policymakers, let us find out what the expectations are and how the government can deliver on them.

Cut in personal income tax

One thing is sure, that the opposition and even the worst of the critics of the government will think twice before criticizing the finance minister for reducing personal tax rates or tweaking slabs for the benefit of taxpayers. That only a small fraction of the population pays this tax is a key point to be considered. At the same time, tax revenue from personal income tax was just shy of INR 5 lakh crore in the last fiscal year and this highlights the significance of this revenue source. In the last budget, the government went for a higher levy on super-rich and surcharge was hiked for individuals pocketing more than INR 2 crore in a year.

Now given the reduction in effective corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25.17 percent announced in September last year, the government seems to have little elbow room for cutting personal tax rates. Since direct tax has a share of around 55 percent in total tax revenue of the government of India, and the other half made up by indirect tax is already subdued, the government cannot afford to lose revenue from personal tax. However, the government has shown figures that tell compliance has improved manifold in the recent past for personal tax and this advance in compliance can become a basis for some relaxation to taxpayers. The economy has slowed down and the GDP growth rate has come down to below-5 percent. Economists agree that the problem is not from the supply side but the demand side, which has remained weak for quite a long time. A dip in sale of passenger vehicles, along with many other events, tells that people are left with less money to spend.

This makes a perfect case for a reduction in personal tax rates. The government has already made income upto INR 5 lakh tax-free. This time, the government can cut a few percentage points from tax rates levied on income above INR 5 lakh. This relaxation can be extended to all income groups, including the super-rich who pay as high as 43 percent tax on earnings above INR 5 crore. People left with more money in their hand are likely to spend more and hence, the demand side will see a boost. This is simple economics. But the picture becomes complex when one looks at the latest inflation numbers that reflect a 7.35 percent growth in inflation in December 2019. This is no mean figure. In fact, the prices of vegetables have risen sharply and this can further dent the aspiration of the middle class to have any relaxation in tax rates.

Still, the government can rely on a better harvest of food products in the upcoming season and place its bet on lowering rates for boosting demand in the consumer products category and other important factory products. That car and two-wheeler manufacturers and their retailers are cutting jobs has highlighted the stress in the job sector. A boost in demand of these products is the only savior, which can come by giving more spending power in the hands of the middle-class populace.

Divestment

Cutting government stake in public sector companies has been one area where the performance of Modi-led government has been sub-par. The one-time crown of India’s aviation sector, Air India, has been up for sale but no buyer seems to take interest, given the burden it brings that far outweighs benefits arising out of Air India’s assets. In the last year’s budget, the divestment target was around INR 1 lakh crore and with only two and a half months to go, the government is likely to miss it by a generous margin. While the cabinet committee on economic affairs gave clearance for stake sale in Bharat Petroleum (BPCL), Container Corporation (Concor) and other PSUs late last year, the realization will not likely happen in the fiscal year ending 2020. Given that the Modi-government exceeded expectations for strategic divestment in previous fiscal years, the present shortfall, coming amidst mounting pressures on the revenue side of the budget, will only exacerbate the problems.

Now that the government is ready to sell stake in above-mentioned undertakings, which may materialize in the current or next fiscal year, the target for FY2021 needs to be more ambitious than ever. And there are a variety of reasons for the same. While one argument in favour of divestment is that the government should have a lesser role in the functioning of companies, the other and in fact a more substantial one is that PSUs have been lagging behind their private sector peers on multiple counts. There is a strong case of having less PSUs and privatising many of them. The uptick in production of Balco and Hindustan Zinc only when they went into private hands can be a compelling reason why Budget 2020 can aspire to generate more revenue from stake-sale activities.

When one makes a quick comparison between public and private players in the same field, the case for PSU stake-sale becomes even stronger. JSW Steel Ltd had a four-fold jump in its output in the last decade when SAIL could only manage 7 percent growth in production. In the crude oil sector, Cairn India has been way ahead of its public sector rival ONGC; in mining, NMDC stands nowhere when compared with Vedanta’s mining arm. Coal India has been performing below-par and this has led to increase in import of coal, something that has hurt India’s trade account.

Budget 2020 can address multiple concerns with a single stroke. By setting the bar high for divestment in the next fiscal, the government can not only have a sure source of revenue to make up for the shortfall due to cut in corporate tax, the efficiency that will come by way of privatisation will see better management of these firms, and better placed companies will generate more job opportunities besides raising demand for credit to undertake expansionary activities.

Fiscal Prudence- Now or suspended

Reining in fiscal deficit is a good thing. One cannot spend more than what is earned. But this simple lesson of finance cannot hold much value when the economy of a country like India is facing downward pressures. And this is what made the British economist, John Keynes, special. Keynesian economics tells us why governments should spend more at a time when recessionary pressures have gripped the economy. Yes, India isn’t facing recession in technical terms, subdued factory output and below-expectation GDP growth can severally hurt India’s socio-economic fabric. As a developing nation, India still has a sizeable population below the poverty line. Lifting millions out of poverty has long been the electoral call of all political parties but is it possible to do so without loosening the purse strings?

India has treaded a safe and desirous path under the Modi government and has made fiscal prudence the guiding policy when it comes to preparing the union budget. But at the same time, one must note that the economy, local and global, wasn’t facing tough time as it is now. GST collections have yet to mature and since companies are holding back on private investment, thereby not allowing expected increase in direct tax collection, fiscal prudence may seem to make sense. However, it was the Keynesian model suggesting higher government spending that helped the US and European countries leave behind the economic crisis of late 2000s. Restricting government spending can have its share of drawbacks and in a country where infrastructure spending hasn’t matched the needs to this day, fiscal deficit can be a savior than a demon.

From steel industry to unemployed youth, increased government spending can lead to cheers on multiple counts. Infrastructure spending on roads and highways and ports and healthcare can fairly compensate for dull private investment. Banks are already under pressure due to non-performing assets (although credit growth has seen a spike in recent past and NPAs have gone down) and fresh lending for corporates isn’t coming in the desired quantum. Earmarking more funds for infrastructure development, even when it means pressure on fiscal deficit count, can be the most defining aspect of Budget 2020.

The economy hasn’t benefited much from the fiscal discipline resorted to by the Modi-government due to multiple reasons. Trade war between US and China has hurt India’s export sector and slowing economies across the world, from China to Germany, have meant less demand for India’s output. And unless this shrinking demand is reversed, a boost in the economy cannot be expected. Infrastructure sector of India has great appetite for investment and with government spending more money, a spike in jobs and eventual surge in public spending can be expected. The right step is to sideline the fiscal prudence thing for at least 2 to 3 fiscal years and embark on a journey of higher spending.

Special incentives to new technologies

Special Economic Zones (SEZs) were created in India to boost exports and minimize the redtape. They delivered well and states with the maximum number of SEZs – Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Maharashtra – are enjoying the financial benefits that came along. The union budget for FY2021 cannot overlook the fact that India needs to establish newer industries in order for the economic activity to see revival. Present technologies have reached their maturity and the revenues from these activities have stabilized.

Now’s the need to allow private investment in new-age tech, for example, artificial technology and non-fossil fuel driven vehicles. What was done with SEZ by allowing them duty-free imports and 100 percent tax exemption for a number of years is to be repeated with new industries that are established in areas that are set to see substantial demand in coming years. Take for example the electric vehicle industry. China is leading the way from manufacturing of lithium cells and batteries to exploration of rare earth metals. It is for a reason that China can stare the United States in the eye, without blinking. They are advancing fast on new-age tech and at the same time India has become importer of many of these coveted technologies. It wasn’t until ISRO developed the lithium-ion cell technology a few years ago that we could even make a cell powering an electric vehicle, and even today, the technology has yet to be adopted by the industry.

Union Budget 2020 can be the enabler for new-age industries. Special incentives to companies engaged in these technologies can be allowed and labour laws and other impediments can be eased. A further cut in corporate tax rate for these companies or even levying a zero-rate tax for initial 3 to 4 years can be done through Budget 2020.Indeed, this can have a toll on the revenues of the government but for companies in their infancy, these are much-needed support systems that will allow them to tap credit and generate jobs.

Budget 2020, as mentioned earlier, will be one policy action among many others that are taken throughout the year to cheer up economic activity in the country. As expected, various sectors have their own set of demands. For example, the gems and jewellery industry is looking forward to reduction in import duty on gold and realtors are eying an amendment in Section 43CA of the IT Act (penalty for lowering prices). In the banking sector, recapitalisation of public sector banks will be expected and how the finance ministry deals with the problems of the NBFC sector will be noted.

To summarize, it won’t be bad for the government to shun fiscal prudency for some time given the need to revive economic growth through infrastructure development. Personal income tax rates can be lowered marginally in order to allow the middle class to spend more, thereby addressing the demand weakness in the Indian economy. Divestment needs to be rethought as a way to generate revenue and simultaneously bring efficiency in PSUs and tax holidays must be a part of Budget 2020 for enterprises in new-age tech.

(The article “Many Aspirations and Budget 2020” published in magazine Uday India in January 18, 2020 English edition)

The Aftermath of CAA

The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which metamorphosed into the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), was a watershed in independent India’s legislative history. It also had a cascading effect on political discourse and social harmony in the country. Apart from becoming a momentous piece of legislation, the CAA set off a national dialogue involving the elite and the common man alike. Unfortunately, it also triggered off violent protests against the Act. While the legislative procedure went through rather smoothly, the resulting protests revealed the dark underbelly of our society.

Strident Opposition 

The frustrated conglomeration of anti-BJP political parties, which had miserably failed to stop the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) juggernaut in the Parliamentary elections of 2019 seized the opportunity to turn the smooth legislation into a contentious issue. It fomented trouble by depicting the Act, which had the territorial integrity and the people’s unity at its core, as a deliberate attempt by the BJP-led federal government to sabotage the secular ethos of the nation and polarise the people on communal lines. Pseudo intellectuals, disgruntled artistes, paid segments of MSM, popularly dubbed as Presstitutes, and the religious bigots quickly came to the fore.

They merrily got onto the bandwagon of the frustrated Opposition parties and started making misleading pronouncements, inflammatory speeches and fiery statements with the aim of projecting the CAA as a purported act of targeting a minority community. The proverbial Pied Piper of Hamelin succeeded in hoodwinking the gullible and the naive into following him in catching the non-existent rat of a threat to Secularism. The  common man got caught in a tizzy and started mouthing inane words of saving the people from getting polarised by the very government which had meant to segregate the grain from the chaff.

Some ignorant and misguided youths were verily baffled by the irrelevant and irrational arguments propagated against the Act and got shanghaied into believing that he was part of a movement purportedly launched to preserve the unity between the majority community and the perceived endangered minority community. In the insidious process, the intruders from across the border including the Rohingya Muslims and non-refugee infiltrators from Bangladesh, trouble-makers and anti-nationals who had illegally sneaked into the country for  destroying a united India, were projected as bosom friends.

Unholy Alliance against Govt

Resultantly, there ensued a war of words for and against the Act in the social and mainstream media (MSM). The trigger-happy sections of the student community stepped out of the university campuses, which caused the spilling of trouble onto the road. The tukde tukde gangs and urban Naxals were among the forefront, using the unwary students as a human shield against the Police. Trains and other properties of Indian Railways were gutted and railway lines damaged in some States. Buses, auto-rickshaws and other forms of public properties were also damaged and vandalised. Rallies of slogan-shouting protestors, having no knowledge of the provisions of the CAA, started sprouting, much to the annoyance and discomfort of the commuters.

Police and other law enforcing agencies stepped in and initiated action against the rioters and other anti-nationals. The student community, human rights activists and political instigators who had all jumped into the fray to cause trouble and disturb the peace and quiet were among the first to cry foul at the police action. They not only distanced themselves from their moral and legal responsibilities but also began endangering the lives of the participants in the protest marches as well as the law enforcing personnel. They decried the perceived intolerance, injustice and ‘murder of democracy’.

The very same people, who had earlier exercised their democratic right to elect the lawmakers that passed the Bill in the temple of democracy after going through the due process, got deeply divided into two categories: those who respected the law and supported CAA; and those who saw communal ghosts where there was none and cried blue murder. Needless to say, there were many fence-sitters who needed not much persuasion to take sides. The inglorious upshot of the entire exercise of the protest marches and the accompanying violence was that not many participants in the exercise were conversant with the provisions of the new law or what it intended to accomplish.

Flawed Argument

The sporadic incidents of protests held across India over the CAA were based on the flawed argument that it intrinsically endangered the nation’s basic tenet of Secularism. The Central government was aghast at the loss of human lives on both sides of the law and wanton destruction of public property running into several crores. It was appalling to see that despite ignorance about the Act among the marching and stone-pelting protestors, they levelled baseless allegations against the Union government.

The government asserted time and again that the aim of the Act was only to give Indian citizenship to refugees of the minority religious groups in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and not to deport anybody from India; and that bonafide citizens need not fear deportation regardless of the community to which they belonged. However, the organisers of the protest marches had their own axe to grind. They rubbished all genuine claims of the Central government in support of the Act.

Pakistan’s Mischief

The unscrupulous organisers of the protest marches were further emboldened by the overtures received from across the border. Pakistan, which is ever ready to malign India’s image in the international fora, gleefully orchestrated a vilification campaign against India. It accused India of isolating Indian Muslims with the idea of stripping their lawful nationality and deporting them. Nevertheless, it could not cause even a scratch in the refurbished image of India, a successful accomplishment of the Narendra Modi government’s foreign policy. Yet another claim of Pakistan of being a staunch supporter and custodian of the interests of the Indian Muslim community fell flat in the eyes of the international community.

Government’s Resolve

Within the country, the shriller the discordant voices of dissent became, the clearer and more obvious it became to the discerning public and the sane political observers that there was no going back on the issue. Both the Union government, as well as the BJP, have categorically stated that they are determined to go ahead and see the enforcement of the Act  to its logical conclusion. They have repeated time and again that the CAA was a long-pending national priority and had nothing to do with the National Citizenship Register (NCR).

As of now, the NCR is an issue only concerning the State of Assam, and that too at the directive of the Supreme Court. Likewise, the National Population Register (NPR) had no bearing on the NCR or the CAA. There is, therefore, no point in arriving at false conjectures by interlinking the CAA, NPR and NCR. The government and the BJP have repeatedly been assuring the Muslim community that there was absolutely no threat to it. All said and done, nothing more is to be read on the issue than the fact that CAA is a clear manifestation of the NDA government’s resolve to fulfil its electoral promises.

Is Hinduism Losing Ground at Home?

Hindus do not look for safety in numbers. Nor do they live in clusters. They draw strength and sustenance from the reassuring words contained in many ancient Hindu texts that Dharma which they uphold would come to their rescue in times of need. It is this unshakeable belief that enables them to live in peace and total safety even in the far-flung areas of the world where they migrate to and find themselves to be very few in number. However, in their own native land, they find themselves victims of a queasy feeling of disquietude with regard to their religion vis-a-vis anti-Hindu forces.

Much as they are confident about the everlasting nature of Sanatana Dharma, the ancient name by which their religion is known, they have to come to terms with today’s life in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society. An eternal code of faith and conduct for all the people of all the time, Sanatana Dharma, which is arguably the oldest living religion in the world, is inherently too strong for any challenge or threat. How could a body of faith which is believed to be older than the beginning of time itself, as the latter is known and understood, be ever brought to an end by anybody? However, how realistic is their outlook of Sarvadharma Samabhavana in today’s world of realpolitik?

Alien Faiths

Islam and Christianity were inducted into Hindustan by exotic elements when the defences of India were at its nadir. Introduced either flagrantly at the point of the sword by invaders or surreptitiously by missionaries, both the Abrahamic religions went on to expand their presence by employing practically any and every conceivable means. This process has been a continuous and ongoing one, with no letup. Despite the obvious fact that the two religions vigorously practised proselytization, the Hindus never felt threatened about their own faith being overrun. However, their welcoming attitude has been abused and exploited by the aliens. Even before the realization that their religion faced the probability of being overrun, they had become mute witnesses to a flurry of events and developments that set the alarm bells ringing.

Invasions and Conversions

The Muslim invaders who conquered swathes of territories in Hindustan did not simply arrive to rule, live and let people live in peace. They looted temples, ransacked and razed them, mutilated the sculptures of deities and used the broken pieces of sculptures to lay beneath the steps of the mosques they built so as to enable the ‘faithful’ to desecrate the deities by stepping on their scattered remains on their way in and way out. They either massacred the Hindus who resisted or forcibly converted them to their religion. The Moghul rulers used their sword power to marry helpless Hindu princesses and stock their harems with abducted Hindu women, which enabled them to father Muslim progeny unabated.

Somnath Temple Ruins

Love Jihad

The medieval age practice of conquering and forcibly converting the losers to Islam gave way to deception, deceit, the allurement of money from the Gulf countries and the dark concept of Love Jihad in the post-Independence India. Love Jihad started gaining currency, with economically poor girls from vulnerable social background falling prey to the ensnarement tactics of Love Jihadis. Once they fell into the trap of marriage, they were brainwashed, converted to the Jihadi’s religion and left in the lurch to fend for themselves and their child born out of wedlock. Although the Hindu community has, of late, started taking such destitute women and menfolk cheated into conversion by deceit and allurement, back into their fold after a ‘Ghar Wapsi’ ritual, there are any number of victims who gave up the will to fight for their right to freedom of worship and suffer in silence. The Jihadi elements from across the border who infiltrate into India and their brainwashed Indian tutelage have the avowed goal of establishing Ghazwa-e-Hind, an Islamic India where no other religion is admissible.

Lately, because of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government in power and the latter tightening the screws on them, it is increasingly becoming difficult for them to penetrate the country, pump in money and weapons and hijack the misguided youth to their cause. However, yet they cannot be written off as a phenomenon of the past. They are not alone in their goal of breaking the nation. Communists, Naxals, Urban Naxals, frustrated and failed politicos, Tukde-Tukde gangs, Award wapsi gangs, misguided splinter groups of youth, pseudo-secular forces, self-proclaimed intellectuals from the fields of arts, literature, filmdom and the barons of the sold-out media, et al provide open or implicit support to the enemies of the nation. Unless the government breaks the nexus of these insidious elements by enforcing a firm anti-conversion law with teeth, the question mark on the nation’s territorial integrity and unity would only get bigger.

Evangelists on War Path

On a parallel track, conversion of India into a Christian nation is the sworn aim of the Christian evangelists who have access to unquantifiable amounts of funds and political clout from international agencies for their cause. They have their roadmap and game plan ready, with the number of churches to be established and people to be converted, all during a certain time frame, in their laundry list of the action plan. In a methodical businesslike way of carrying out mass conversions, tried and tested in the poor countries of Africa and Asia, they have been relentlessly pursuing the achievement of their goal at a furious pace.

The non-BJP governments of the past and the present in states like Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been either providing them oblique support in their nefarious activities or at least turning a blind eye to the goings on. Besides resorting to mass conversions, the evangelists have displayed a distinct lack of qualms or compunction about penetrating Hindu religious establishments and places of worship and turning them into improvised Christian establishments, where Hindu religious practices are altered, adapted and replaced by the Christian way of worship. It has been noticed that they are willing to go to any length and stoop to any depth to subvert Hinduism.

Last Hope

Currently, it is a downright despicable situation in which the Hindu community finds itself in, unable to defend itself from the pincer-like attack of Islamic and Christian fundamentalists. The NDA government at the Centre is the last hope for Hindus who do not want to become rootless Rohingiyas of tomorrow. The government has prudently, and with a degree of success, tried to wean the moderate and peace-loving sections of the minority communities from the fundamentalist elements among them. More importantly, it would do well to continue to keep the brood of the Hindu community safely under its wings. This is the Raj Dharma that it should follow to keep the nation’s territorial integrity and unity safe. Should the social fabric of the Hindu community be irreparably damaged on account of the government’s failure on this front, the community’s absolute decimation and a resultant fratricidal war between the two Abrahamic religions for hegemony could hardly be ruled out.

Will Delhi Become Victim of Freebie Culture Yet Again?

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had won the 2013 and 2015 Delhi Assembly elections on the plank of populist measures such as free water, electricity, WiFi, medical care, etc to people of the low-income group. This time around, it is offering these free essential services to people of not only the low-income group but also the middle and high-income income groups. In addition, the AAP is also offering absolutely free rides on city buses and metro for all women. What is more, all-paid pilgrimages have been added to the list of freebies! These populist measures were announced barely six months ahead of the elections due in February 2020. A clever ploy indeed to discourage people from holding the government responsible for its failures in its current tenure!

Vote Bank

The freebies are sops aimed at lulling the electorate into a false sense of euphoria and complacency and making them believe that they are all living happily under a people-friendly government. The measures are also intended to assuage the people’s feeling of resentment against the government. AAP’s strategy is to sweep the government’s failure connected with addressing the larger issues under the carpet of populist measures. By bringing more and more sections of the electorate under the net of freebies, the AAP is trying to create a larger vote bank that would be beholden to it. If this is not vote bank politics, then what is it?

Freebies and Corruption

The freebie culture is a direct offshoot of corruption in politics. It is a major fault line in our system of governance where corruption in public life has been rampant. The more the exposure to freebies, less likely would be the outrage of the people to corruption in high places. Parties give away sops to the people, albeit in the name of the government to wangle off a quid pro arrangement for them to queer the pitch. To call a spade a spade, politicians garner votes with freebies just as they would purchase votes with cash if only law would allow them. Suffice it to say irregular governmental practices breed political corruption.

People are intelligent enough to realise that nothing comes free, and the name freebies is a misnomer. India is not the kind of welfare state where any essential service or public utility is provided free by the government as an accepted norm. In Delhi, transport services are operated under a staggering shortfall of credit borne by the government. Power generation companies have to be paid not with promises of good governance but with money which is in short supply. This necessitates the government to seek loans from financial institutions which must be repaid with interest in good time. No government could pay back loans without generating enough revenue by increasing taxes. If it is not done by the present government, the future governments would have to bear the burden.

Beyond Comprehension

Besides, why offer free rides by public transport only for one section of the society, namely women? To make commuting free for students or the members of the economically vulnerable sections of the society could be termed a welfare measure and a just cause. However, to make it free for the entire spectrum of women, including those who can afford to pay for travel, is really difficult to comprehend. Why should the government bear the expenditure of a pilgrimage by individual members of the society is another area of bemusement.

Furthermore, diverting scarce revenues and resources from better and more important areas of public expenditure for narrow political gains is neither desirable nor justifiable. Infrastructure development, improving sanitary conditions, increasing health benefits, making Delhi a safer city for people of all walks of life and fighting environmental pollution  are some of the areas that cry for more financial outlays and concerted action from the government. These areas of development cannot be overlooked for building vote banks, especially not by a party which boasts that it would lift civic management of Delhi and make it comparable to that of London!

The system of democracy is founded on the bedrock of the cynical but pragmatic concept of it being the best, but not the perfect, of all the forms of governance available to humanity. It is widely believed that politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel. How else could one explain the rather all-time fashionable practice of the lambasting of politicians for dabbling in corrupt practices, albeit in the name of serving the nation? That in a democracy, people get the government they deserve, and they deserve what they get is a popular postulation to which people across the world subscribe irrespective of their nationality.

It is evident that it is the combined application of the politicians and the people that makes the political system either a success or a failure. It would, therefore, be flagrantly unfair to blame the politicians alone for the flaws and failures in the system. Why would people vote for a bunch of politicians in preference to another set of them unless they are convinced that it is for their own good? Nevertheless, when a voter is enamoured by the motto of a party to cleanse a system and then gets carried away by its promises to give him free electricity, water and WiFi if returned to power, what does the scenario reflect?

Enticing with Freebies 

The appearance of AAP on the political scene was avowedly inspired by the movement of Anna Hazare who had launched it in 2011 for the eradication of corruption from the public sphere of life and to bring transparency in governance. Elimination of corruption is indeed a laudable idea, and there could be no disputing the need for all democratic forces to join forces to achieve this goal. But the idea of enticing voters by promises of freebies does not correlate with a party’s lofty idea of eradication of corruption.

Even if one were to argue that the end justifies the means, the idea of using freebies as a launchpad to install a stable and clean government is so full of holes that the plan is simply not sustainable. There is no case for using up the taxpayer’s money for doling out sops which are non-productive in nature. The practice could prove infectious and lead to unhealthy competition among rival political parties that may end up trying to outwit each other in one-upmanship. Eventually, the vicious circle would likely end up as a millstone around the neck of the taxpayer.

Say No to Freebies

It is hardly realistic to expect the political parties to tire of the freebie culture and change their game plan. It is no different than expecting a leopard to change its spots. Even a party which takes pride in having a vision for Delhi has to play along the game of realpolitik. It is entirely in the realm of the people’s sagacity to see through the futility of the freebie culture and stake claim for the rightful glory of the national capital’s stature for Delhi.

(The article “Will Delhi Become Victim of Freebie Culture Yet Again?” published in magazine Uday India in January 04, 2020 English edition)

India and the RCEP

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement has proved to be a non-starter insofar as India is concerned. Our country is not per se against mutually beneficial economic cooperation pacts. However, it opted out of the RCEP as it found that there was a mismatch between its aspirations and the proposed preferential trade deal. Simply put, the deal was not in India’s national interests. At a time when the country was trying to come to grips with the economic slowdown, the RCEP had too little to offer to meet the former’s bottom-line requirements in some sectors of the economy. Moreover, there had been an intense protest from the farming, manufacturing and service sectors over the proposed agreement.

Furthermore, the Opposition parties that were already highly critical of the government’s handling of the economic slowdown were up in arms against the RCEP and further muddied the waters for a smooth cruising of the agreement. More than anything else, in the absence of a credible guarantee of reciprocity, fears were expressed about the strong possibility of the agreement opening the floodgates to Chinese commodities, which would swamp the Indian markets. India was not able to get enough advantage by way of service trade to compensate for the losses that it would have suffered in the commodities trade.

Thorny Issues

Expected to offer a modern, comprehensive, high quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership between the member-states of ASEAN and their FTA partners, the agreement did not fit the bill in India’s case. At the end of seven years of intense negotiations in which it firmly resisted liberalisation of trade in goods, accentuated by flaws in the safeguards, India decided not to join the agreement and pulled out of the negotiations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision at the RCEP summit held in early November this year in Bangkok. India made it clear that the negotiations did not reflect the RCEP guiding principles. There was no credible assurance for India on market access and non-tariff barriers. China currently imposes on India the largest number of non-tariff measures which include technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures.

India First

Even as the US had withdrawn from the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP11) negotiations in 2017, India’s withdrawal from RCEP evoked international concern and consternation among the emerging Asian economies. Observers had looked up to India and China as bulwarks capable of resisting elite economic powers like the US with isolationist tendencies. While China went ahead full steam with the RCEP negotiations, India’s muted response was one of disaffection and disenchantment. The observers of the global economy could not help noticing the absence of India in the scenario likely to emerge in Asia post the US withdrawal from TPP11. Just as the US action was based on President Trump’s credo of ‘US First’, the Indian move could be construed to be triggered by a perceived Modi policy of ‘India First’.

Japan to Follow

Japan, in particular, was far from happy with the Indian decision. It wants India on board to resist further inroads of China in the Asian economic scenario. Being a partner of India besides the US and Australia in the Quartet, the four-way security talks  aimed to rebuff Chinese hegemony and dominance in the region. It has dropped signals about not joining RCEP without India’s participation. In the absence of both India and Japan, RCEP would lose much steam and hold little appeal to the remaining 14 countries participating in the negotiations.

Japan has been trying in vain to persuade India to reconsider its decision. This issue is most likely to emerge in talks between the two sides during the forthcoming visit of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to India. However, given the fact that India has a US$104 billion trade deficit with countries participating in the negotiations including a US$54 billion trade deficit with China, it is extremely unlikely that India would rescind its decision, which would be inimical to its economy. 

How the Decision Helps

India’s decision would be beneficial to its farmers, dairy segment, small businesses, manufacturing sector, data security, pharmaceuticals and chemical industry. It would also be in the best interest of Modi government’s schemes like Make in India, Digital India, Skill India and other programs aimed at job creation.

What Needs to be Done

With the option of joining the RCEP still available, is India going to be content with  bilateral trade deals with key Asian countries? It seems to be the easy way out in terms of short and medium-term viability. In the long term, India could consider joining RCEP and take the lead from China to make a mark for itself just as it is doing in the strategic defence scenario. In the meanwhile, it should lose no time in introducing reforms and regulatory measures in agriculture, manufacturing, small scale and service industries, thereby accelerating the improvements in infrastructural facilities and building on trade and supply chain networks with major regional and global economies.

India should not lose focus of the factors that have led to its losing out on the current opportunity to join the RCEP – insufficient protection against import surges, inadequate differential with China, likely circumvention of rules of origin, keeping the base year as 2014 and absence of credible assurances on market access as well as non-tariff barriers. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pleasant word of hope during the recent Mamallapuram summit that China would be addressing India’s RCEP concerns remained just that – a word of hope. India’s dream of stealing the thunder from China in the future lies in its ability to build on its strengths and introducing structural reforms.

Formidable factors that the Indian manufacturing industry confronts, such as high costs of land, electricity, skilled labour as well as local transportation and inflexible labour laws, have to be addressed so that logistics, compliance and transaction costs do not inflate the manufacturing costs. The Free Trade Agreements that India has already entered into with ASEAN have not helped. So is the case with Japan and Korea. Lack of competitiveness of Indian products has held back exports. The government has to adopt effective policy instruments to improve the competitiveness of its domestic enterprises. In effect, India has to metamorphosize from being a large market into a trade-friendly country in the shortest possible time.

Political Stability, the Key

The most important of all factors contributing to a congenial economic climate for India’s joining the RCEP at some point of time in the future is political stability. The massive mandate that the NDA received in the last round of general elections has been a shot in the arm for the turbulent Indian economy. However, the mixed electoral fortunes lately witnessed by the BJP and its allies in some states are a cause for concern.

For instance, the emergence of the opportunistic post-poll alliance of non-BJP parties that captured power in Maharashtra, is a worrisome development. Fighting, as it is, several political and social battles simultaneously, the NDA government has to devise a strategy to further stabilise its hold on the nationwide power structure. This is vital for introducing the much-needed industrial and trade reform measures.

 

Is Air Pollution Here to Stay?

Environmental pollution is not a subject close to the heart of the common man in India. More so is the case with air pollution. The common man is much too preoccupied with the mundane matters of his day-to-day life to become exercised about a larger national issue like air pollution. Time is, however, running out, leaving no more room for complacency. Delhi enjoys the dubious distinction of being the most affected Indian city today. Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) are currently gasping for clean air.

Delhi Chokes

People in the affected regions reluctantly wake up on chilly wintry mornings only to be greeted by thick blankets of smog outside the comforts of their home. Their worst fears of the shape of things to come during the course of the day are confirmed by weather reports. Air Quality Index (AQI) keeps plummeting to worrisome levels for days together at a stretch. Commuting between home and the place of work or wherever the tides of life carry the people, becomes an uphill task, with traffic snarls becoming a regular feature of the city life. Flights and train services get delayed and even cancelled on occasions due to smog. Schools are closed for days together.

Corporates allow their employees to work from home on days when AQI is particularly bad. People mill around on the city streets in masks, giving the atmosphere an eerie, surreal look. Social gatherings and public events have been put on hold. Children, senior citizens and those with respiratory problems have been advised by doctors to stay indoors on days when the wind speed slows down, and the cloud cover returns, blocking sunlight and allowing little ventilation, pushing up pollution levels. There is a shopping spree for surgical masks and air purifiers like never before. Oxygen parlours have sprouted on the capital’s skyline to provide relief to the distressed people who are constantly exposed to the polluted air for long periods of time.

Addressing the Issue 

Air pollution is here without invitation but not without provocation. It is the direct result of careless and thoughtless actions by people of various segments, with far-reaching consequences on the environment. In any case, the problem shows no signs of going away soon. While statisticians quibble over the distressing figures of AQI and authorities are huddled in meetings to discuss measures to combat the situation, India’s Supreme Court became seized of the matter and asked the government agencies to take urgent steps to address the issue. It also directed the pollution monitoring committee to regularly report to it on the progress made.

Stubble-Burning 

Post-harvest stubble burning by farmers in the neighbouring states is one of the leading causes of air pollution in Delhi. According to a government report, stubble burning has 46% contribution to Delhi’s toxic air as on date. Data released by a study pertaining to the absolute contribution of stubble fires to PM2.5 (Particulate Matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns) concentration in Delhi, is distressing. It is believed that prolonged exposure to high levels of PM2.5 is a big health hazard. Fears have been expressed that it could cause bronchitis and even lead to lung cancer. Shorter exposures are harmful too. This is especially so with young children and the elderly.

Stubble burning has to stop. The neighbouring states of Delhi have to get cracking on this. However, here is a word of caution! Stopping stubble burning could bring down the severity of pollution but not to the desired levels. Moreover, wind speed and direction have their own impact on stubble fires as well as on the air pollution levels. Simply put, pollution levels of Delhi’s air could drastically change depending on the meteorological conditions, regardless of the stopping of the stubble burning or not.

Stubble burning could not be stopped by a governmental decree as such a measure would be perceived as high-handed and unilateral on the part of the government. It would generate avoidable hardship to the farmers and consequent heart burning and frustration. The alternative to stubble burning would be to use stubble cutting machinery, the hiring of which would add to the financial burden on the farmers.

The state governments could encourage the farmers to desist from stubble burning by offering them incentives. This measure is, however, fraught with problem areas in implementation, as has been discovered by the government of Punjab after disbursing over Rs 19 crore! The web portal meant for paying compensation to farmers who own five acres or less, for not burning paddy residue, was found hacked at two locations. In some villages, the number of claimants was more than the number of intended beneficiaries.

Construction and Demolition Activities

Construction activities in Delhi and NCR at a frenetic pace constitute another major cause of the human-made disaster. There is a blanket ban by the Supreme Court on construction and demolition activities in Delhi and NCR. Serious breaches of the apex court’s order have, however, been reported by the pollution monitoring committee, headed by the SC-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority, in its report to the court. The committee has also reported instances of hazardous waste being dumped in vacant plots owned by land-owning agencies, lying unguarded and undemarcated.

Such waste is eventually burnt, pushing up pollution levels. The report also mentions that many industrial units are using dirty (unapproved) fuels such as rubber and furnace oil which is banned. According to the report, the authorities have been asked to shut down such units. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee had already sealed 17 industrial units earlier this month for using dirty fuels. The pollution monitoring committee mentioned water sprinkling and other activities by the government agencies to provide relief from pollution, but much more needs to be done.

The report observed that unpaved roads, dumping of hazardous waste and construction debris, as well as large-scale encroachments, were found in several parts of the city. It also referred to the civic bodies in Delhi being asked to gear up as the desired action was found lacking on their part. All these go to prove that there has been some breakthrough in fighting pollution on the instructions of the apex court. However, the progress is inadequate and much more needs to be done to improve the situation on the ground.

Odd-Even Policy

The Delhi government had unveiled the odd-even policy for regulating vehicular traffic. Its efficacy in controlling air pollution is highly debatable. What is more, the policy is not uniformly implemented across the board, with exemptions thrown in to exclude some categories of users of vehicles. Nor is it enforced for a sufficiently long period of time to make a difference. Suffice it to say that the impact of the measure on air pollution is woefully inadequate to make a difference.

Swachh Hawaa

The need of the hour is for all of the governmental agencies to take concerted action to fight air pollution before the problem gets out of hand. The nation needs a Swachh Hawa programme on the lines of the Swachh Bharat scheme.

Water Management – A Huge Task Ahead

With the solitary exception of air, could there possibly be anything more important than water for the survival of life on planet earth? Is this not the reason why water prospecting always finds a place right at the top in the to-do list of exploratory space missions? With the unnerving prospect of a steady increase in global warming and shrinking of the water resources by the day, the responsibility of man for preserving and sustaining the finite water resources is tremendous.

Rain being the benevolent response of Nature to the crying need of all the living things on earth for water, man is called upon to prudently use, conserve and preserve rainwater by building reservoirs, etc. The moot question is whether mankind is awake to the tremendous responsibility and is prepared to vindicate its obligation not only for its own sake but for the sake of all living things, flora and fauna included. Staring humanity in the face is global warming, which is the primary cause for the shrinking of water resources.

Global Warming

Indiscriminate industrialization, deforestation for human settlement as well as agriculture and other economic and developmental activities, the pillage of natural resources such as minerals, sand quarrying, and illegal mining are among the primary reasons for global warming. Glaciers are melting. Sea levels are rising. Forests are disappearing. Pollution and contamination are taking their toll on water resources. Denudation of forest cover results in sparse and infrequent rainfall.

Famines and droughts are regular features on the climatic calendar in some parts of the world while flash floods regularly devastate some other. India is no exception to this trend. The task at hand, therefore, is not so much as meeting shortfall of water resources as water management. At the macro-level, the government has to think out of the box and implement big-ticket projects while at the micro-level, every individual citizen should apply his shoulder to the wheel by participating in water conservation projects like water harvesting.

Fight Against Global warming

The comity of nations is on the quest for a consensus for arresting and reversing the scourge of global warming. Advanced and economically satiated countries have called upon the developing nations to reduce carbon emissions. On its part, India, which is an economic powerhouse in its own right, refuses to be cowed down under pressure.

Laying focus on the requirements of its industrial and economic development, it expects the advanced nations to set an example and lead the other countries by cutting down their own carbon emissions. In short, India will not compromise on its economic development for the cause of containing global warming, which is a global issue to be jointly addressed by all the nations.

Deforestation

Deforestation is an area where there is a vast scope for India to do a lot. There should be zero tolerance towards indiscriminate felling of trees and illegal mining. The State governments and the local populace have to be involved in the joint exercise. Appropriation of a forest area inhabited by a native tribe, for the construction of a dam or some other developmental activity, is fraught with sensitivity as it involves the sentiments of the directly-affected people.

In such cases, NGOs and assorted groups of rights activists jump into the fray and delay the projects with protests and flimsy court cases. The real intentions and motives of these busybodies have to be investigated by the government for appropriate follow-up action. At the same time, the genuine grievances of the native forest-dwellers have, to be taken into consideration by the government while executing the project.

Irrigation Woes

There are water-stressed areas spread across the length and breadth of our country, which receive sparse and infrequent rainfalls. To make matters worse, the groundwater tables are going down in many regions. In many instances, the groundwater becomes contaminated as well. The Union government has done a good deal of groundwork for making drinking water and irrigation facilities available in the water-stressed areas, including in the remote corners of the country. In the development of water distribution systems, farm ponds and water retention structures, the participation of the local populace is involved.

Application of modern scientific farming practices like the usage of remote sensing images, soil samples and hydrological information, complemented by strong community involvement, has helped agriculture in many poor rainfed parts of the country. In this exercise, the cooperation of external agencies like the World Bank has been roped in. India’s friendly relations with Israel have benefited the farming sector with the drip irrigation system. Another likely breakthrough in the area of distribution of drinking water is the innovative desalination of seawater.

Huge Task Ahead

After exhausting the traditional water conservation methods and modern technological alternatives, India is still left wanting more to upgrade its water management capability. The current scenario where stretches of agricultural land remain parched while much of the river water flows into the sea is no more tenable. After a great deal of engagement of the issue, experts have come up with an ambitious proposal to inter-link river waters.

There would be three grids in all: one connecting the rivers flowing from the Himalayas with the thawing and melting of glaciers; second, the Southern peninsula segment; and third, the intra-state segment of inter-linked rivers. The proposal is quite massive in scope and scale. It is obviously not something which could be conjured up overnight. Nor is the expenditure likely to be pretentiously modest.

A lot of planning and coordination between multifarious agencies as well as gruelling execution by man and machine would be called for. The expenditure and time taken for implementation of the project would be on an astounding scale, unmatched by any developmental project of the past. More daunting than the expenditure, the time taken and sheer size of the project would be the political factor. A broad consensus for the project between the States through which the rivers pass would have to be arrived at.

This indeed would be the huge task ahead. Considering the acrimonious political equations prevailing among the stakeholders – different political parties – a unified central command would be essential for the project to take off. Looking at today’s ground reality, only a BJP government is capable of providing an encouraging nationwide climate.

Anything less than a favourable political climate would hamper the ambitious project and reduce it to a distant dream. The likely advantages and benefits of the project are enormous. Our country would no more be hopelessly dependent on the monsoon rains. The rivers would connect practically all the States and make irrigation of the farmlands a viable reality.

Farming would no more be a non-profitable source of revenue. Nor would there be a shortage of drinking water. The process of conception and execution of the project would open up tremendous employment opportunities, what with the best of the engineering talent and technical and manual workforce having to be hired. The project spells a win-win situation for India in the realm of water management and farming.

Mission Chandrayaan and India’s Giant Leap into the Future

India’s space program started off both as an ambitious and bold venture for a young nation which had to rebuild its economy from scratch after having remained a colony for well over 200 years. Even after the dawn of Independence, the nation’s overall development remained embroiled in an unviable economic policy and unethical minority appeasement practices. Harsh ground realities like failed monsoons and periodical natural calamities worsened the situation. Pseudo-secularism gave rise to many a communal clash, which hindered a smooth social development.

Furthermore, our nation had to fight major wars and border skirmishes with its neighbours. Terrorist attacks across the country were the order of the day. Absence of muscular defence policy and aggressive foreign policy was the root cause of the wars and the internal disturbances. Failure to integrate the province of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh with the rest of the country in a smooth and seamless transition of power at the time of partition took its toll on the security situation in the entire region.

All of this had the combined effect of depleting the economy and sapping the morale of the nation. This deplorable situation could have been prevented if only we had a leadership with a vision at the Centre, unafraid of taking bold decisions in the interest of the nation. Instead, the leaders who assumed the reins of power in our country after Independence succumbed to the temptation of mooning over a romantic world view, which had no mooring in pragmatism or geopolitical tectonic shifts occurring from time to time.

It was only subsequent to the change of guard at the Centre in 2014 that the world witnessed the metamorphosis of a giant nation, which had hitherto been lying dormant, into a significant international powerhouse and a world leader. In fact, during the period 2004-2014, the government at the Centre was practically defunct, having been afflicted with policy paralysis, which led the nation to sink more and more into an abyss of uncertainty and despair.

Space Program

In the scenario mentioned above, for a nascent Republic to embark on a space research program amid all the melee could have been considered audacious by the world at large. Yet the foundation of the program was laid in 1969 with the establishment of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Department of Space in 1972. From the days of the launching of India’s first satellite in space by the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1975, our space program has come a long way.

Lately, launching of communication and earth monitoring satellites by ISRO is happening on a regular basis. India successfully conducted a path-breaking launching of 20 satellites in space by a single vehicle in 2016. Moreover, our nation created the world record of launching as many as 104 satellites in space via a single rocket in 2017. India also has many firsts to its credit in its space ventures. In 2014, it became the first nation to succeed in its maiden attempt to put an Orbiter mission in the Mars orbit, and ISRO was the first Asian space agency to do so.

Chandrayaan-1

India’s tryst with a landmark lunar Odyssey came by when ISRO launched Chandrayaan-1, its first lunar Orbiter in 2008, which performed a controlled crash impact with its Moon Impact Probe (MIP). The MIP performed remote sensing experiments during its descent to the lunar surface. The Orbiter discovered traces of water on the lunar surface in the form of ice. Chandrayaan-1 mission also performed several other tasks such as mapping and atmospheric profiling of the Moon.

Chandrayaan-2

ISRO successfully launched its second lunar mission in July 2019 when it put into the lunar orbit Chandrayan-2. Consisting of three major modules, Orbiter, Lander and Rover, the mission’s objective was to explore the Moon’s surface and distribution of lunar water. Although the Lander did land on the lunar surface in what turned out to be a hard landing, contact between the Lander and the Orbiter was lost. Thus the Lander and the Rover are lost for all practical purposes. However, the Orbiter is still functioning and is expected to continue to function for a year. Meanwhile, ISRO has declared Mission Chandrayaan-2, a 95% success.

With this, India scored yet another first in its space ventures, by having its lunar mission land, albeit hard, on the southern lunar pole. All the other countries (the USA as well as the erstwhile USSR and China), the lunar missions of which have carried out a successful landing, have done so in the northern lunar pole.

Chandrayaan-3

ISRO has currently under consideration its third lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3 for launch by 2024. This will be a joint India-Japan mission, aimed at exploration of the Moon’s polar regions for water. Water prospecting, sample collection and analysis, and sample return are its likely objectives.

Gaganyaan

India’s space program has indeed come of age. The young nation, which had embarked on an ambitious space program even as it was trying hard to come to grips with a flailing economy, has joined the club of veteran space research nations. It has been planning, among other missions, Gaganyaan, a crewed-orbital spacecraft to be launched into low earth orbit in December 2021 as part of the Indian human spaceflight program.

Conquering the Sky

India’s space program is solely aimed at employing advanced technology and scientific innovations for the development of the nation as has been avowed by our political leaders and scientific community time and again. The idea behind the program is by no means to show off our might or to vie with the economically developed countries for recognition. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently pointed out, the hard work, innovative ideas and determination of our scientific community, which made Chandrayaan-2 a success, constitute a harbinger for a better quality of life, better healthcare, and educational facilities for our people.

The biggest take-away of Chandrayaan-2 is the fillip it has afforded to our illustrious scientific community, which is tirelessly toiling to launch more missions to conquer the sky. With a supportive government and a proud nation behind it, India’s space research program is all set to score more accomplishments, open new frontiers and soar to new heights. The technological and industrial advancement that accompanies the scientific achievements is bound to bring in its wake substantive economic growth and the opening of new vistas in the fields of education and research.

The Moon is no more in the realm of imagination of the poets. It is much closer now than ever in the past, and is much more than a ball of cheese that keeps waning and waxing. Just as we are about to discover the dark side of the Moon, we shall be tapping the unexplored reserves of man’s potential to go where only thoughts and dreams have hitherto ventured. We are going to do it not because it is going to be easy but because we believe in ourselves and in our capability.

The Stranglehold of Black Money over Politics in India

Although the spectre of black money has haunted our nation ever since Independence, it was only in 2013-14 that two political parties came forward and promised to strive for its total eradication. While the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) headed by Arvind Kejriwal made a hue and cry over the issue of corruption, he did nothing significant towards fulfilling his promise. Meanwhile, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) made zero tolerance of this social and economic evil a key plank of its poll campaign. After winning the Lok Sabha elections in May 2014, the NDA government had initiated several commendable measures to dismantle the menace. And those initiatives have started bringing in positive results, albeit in modest ways.

Parallel Economy

The Union government’s fight against black money is not merely aimed at crippling the activities of the Opposition parties as may appear to an unenlightened member of the general public. The idea is to strike at the very roots of a parallel economy which bedevils the growth of the Indian economy and hampers harmonious social development. Together, black money and corruption constitute the mainstay of the parallel economy. Money laundering is another vile crime that makes the parallel economy viable. A popular misconception among the laymen is that the term black money pertains solely to the piles of cash illegitimately stashed away in overseas tax havens.

While such deposits made by corrupt politicians and unscrupulous industrialists, businesspeople, et al form the core of the problem, there are other forms and ways of generation of black money closer at home. Some of these are seemingly innocuous to a layman and yet highly condemnable as in the case of huge amounts of black money stashed away abroad. Members of the general populace and the business and trading communities that they patronise do not always declare all their sources of income and the volumes thereof. Nor do they pay tax on the undeclared income in clear violation of the extant rules.

On the domestic purchases, seldom is a bill or receipt demanded or issued. Income generated this way does not entail taxes. Sometimes, the consumer doesn’t have to pay the higher price or maximum retail price, which is inclusive of taxes. This indeed is a convenient way of doing business for both the seller and the buyer. Thousands of crores worth of business is carried out day in and day out without issuance of invoices or receipts. The film industry in India is a particularly glaring field flush with black money. Furthermore, several fields of economic activity in the unorganized sector slip through the tax net.

Politics and Black Money

Strange indeed are the ways of democracy. Money power plays a vital role in the fighting of elections to the legislatures. Prospective candidates are required to access the electorate and showcase their worth and mettle and superiority over the rival candidates. A massive campaigning exercise is undertaken to promote their candidature at enormous costs borne by the candidates themselves or their political parties. The funds for the publicity campaigns are usually generated by inviting contributions from different segments of the public – corporates and industrial houses, businesspeople and trading communities, and individual members of the public. The moneyed sections of the society that contribute to competing candidates from different political parties, prefer to maintain a low profile about their contributions for more reason than one.

Some may not want the ruling party or their rival party to know which parties they are supporting with contributions. Besides, they like to avoid taxes on the expenditure that goes into the making of these contributions as the payment is made from their reserves of undeclared income. On their part, parties do not want to reveal the identity of the donors. Huge amounts are donated and accepted with barely any record of the actual quantum of the contributions. Needless to mention, this is slush money used by political parties for the legitimate purpose of campaigning as well as for the bribing and buying of votes.

Corporates and industrial houses, as well as businessmen and trading communities, come under great pressure of political parties for generous contributions often in under-the-table transactions. Although there are statutory stipulations to curtail the extent of money spent by political parties on campaigning, violations of those stipulations in letter and spirit is not unheard of. How can a political party declare its expenses for the bribing of voters or on the other clearly inadmissible categories of expenditure such as the hiring of muscle power for browbeating rival candidates or buying off of weaker candidates?

Some parties sell tickets to aspiring candidates who wish to contest on their aegis and symbol and make vast sums of money in the process. Pay off time comes when they seek to forge an alliance with small regional parties or local chieftains with a mass base and following. Poll pacts are made and unmade on the strength of money power or the lack of it. Huge hoardings, street corner meetings and publicity blitzkriegs in the mainstream media (MSM) are essential requirements for every political party gearing up for the polls. In the current age of social media, loyal footsoldiers are hired to build up the image and reputation of the party leaders and slaying the character and image of rival party leaders. 

Post-poll Scenario

After the elections, when government formation becomes an uphill task on account of insufficient numbers, horse-trading begins. Pliable candidates are sought to be purchased from rival parties. Fence-sitters and frustrated members of its own fold who cannot be accommodated with ministerial berths or other cushy posts of power with scope for making money on the sly, are to be kept on a tight leash of greed to make them desist from switching their loyalty and crossing the floor. All this costs huge sums of money.

If the media reports that have appeared about such shady deals in the recent past in states like Karnataka are anything to go by, then thousands of crores worth of black money are in circulation. This is a clear indication that powerful leaders of parties with no scruples as well as some power brokers are sitting on mines of black money. It is a common occurrence that every party which faces a poll debacle accuses the winning party of employing dubious means for its victory, which is a euphemism for the buying of votes or the rigging of the electoral machinery with the help of complicit officials.

Will and Resilience

The quantum of black money in the political domain is practically inestimable and lies in the realm of speculation. In fact, before and after an election, most political parties are busy building up their reserves of black money for financing their activities during the electoral jamboree. If a party like the BJP still manages to win a landslide majority in elections against the tantalising money power, it is on the sheer strength of its sound policies and programs and the flawless reputation and positive image of its leaders.

Having won the electoral battle, lately, the BJP has been bracing itself for breaking the backbone of the evil of black money. Meanwhile, investigation outcomes against some high-profile money launderers have shown an encouraging trend. Although India has still a long way to go, the BJP-led NDA government has the will to rid our nation of black money and break the latter’s stranglehold over politics in the new India that is in the making.

कॉरपोरेट टैक्स रेट में कटौती शुरु होगा सकारात्मक चेन रिएक्शन

(The article “कॉरपोरेट टैक्स रेट में कटौती शुरु होगा सकारात्मक चेन रिएक्शन” published in magazine Uday India in October 12, 2019 Hindi edition)

Protests in Hong Kong and China’s Predicament

While China is turning its back on the legitimate demands of the people of Hong Kong and has resorted to use of disproportionate extent of force to quell the movement for democracy, it had the gall to oppose the recent reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir by India in a democratic way. Democracy which is a misnomer in China, should worry about Hong Kong and not interfere in internal matters of democratic countries.

Hong Kong has been on the boil for nearly four months now. Even as the simmering discontent that manifested in the eruption of anti-government protests in June this year sent shock waves across to mainland China, its echoes were heard in the faraway shores of the US, Europe, Australia and Japan where protest marches were held in support of the movement in Hong Kong. Far from dying out, the flames of conflagration have since swelled in scope. The protestors have taken heart from the empathy extended by the international community and come up with more demands.

China, which was eyeing the developments warily in the initial stages, has since toughened its stand and condemned the goings-on as a “behaviour that is close to terrorism”. It has, at the same time espoused, in a reach out to the protestors, its resolve to continue with the existing ‘One country, two systems’ policy of administering the territory of Hong Kong. Nevertheless, the protests have shown no signs of abating, giving Beijing a lot to think and worry about the future course of action.

Breaking Out of Protests

Hong Kong has had a unique and checkered history. In 1997, its erstwhile British colonial masters handed it back to China on the understanding that Hong Kong would enjoy autonomy. Although it is indeed enjoying some level of autonomy, Hong Kong’s status beyond the cut-off date of 2047 is not clear. For it is in that year when the ‘Basic Law’ that ensures it a judiciary and legal system distinctly different from mainland China’s, expires. An overwhelming majority of the people of Hong Kong, which has evolved into a major port, and financial and manufacturing hub, don’t take pride in identifying themselves as Chinese.

They don’t want to ever lose out on their democratic rights, no matter how few, with a seamless merger with mainland China. It is precisely their apprehension of the looming threat of the loss of a separate identity that has precipitated the current unrest. When the government, headed by Carrie Lam, introduced in April an extradition bill in the Legislative Council, widespread fear of possible extradition of dissidents, journalists and activists to mainland China broke out. Soon it started to spread like a forest fire, despite a crackdown.

The protests gained momentum at a furious pace to the extent of forcing the Hong Kong International Airport shut down for a day. The protestors were dispersed only to gather again and again to carry on their show of dissent against the heavy-handed government proposal. The government put up a brave resistance for some time. Then it relented and put the proposed legislation under suspension. Finally, it withdrew the proposal in September in the face of a determined show of strength by the dissidents who included activists, press and people from different strata of the society.

More Demands

After having drawn the first blood, the protestors went on to demand more and more from the government. Their revised list of demands included the withdrawal of the government’s earlier categorization of the protests as “riots”, amnesty for all the arrested protestors, an independent inquiry into the police brutality, the resignation of Carrie Lam and universal suffrage for the elections of the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council. The government, which had succumbed to the dissidents’ pressure of withdrawing the extradition bill, was caught in a bind, not willing to go all the way in meeting the new demands. Consequently, the dissident action is yet to be fully contained. 

Periodical Protests

Protests are apparently one of the few hard options available to the Hongkongers to voice their dissatisfaction with the way the state affairs are being run. Dating back to 1966 when they protested over enhanced ferry costs, periodical protests over varied causes have become a way of life. Of late, protests have been on a focussed area – political. Faced with the stark probability of losing their already-sparse democratic rights and individual identity on being subsumed by mainland China, they want to hang on to the fig leaf of democracy. There have even been some cases of demand for independence for Hong Kong, which has not gained wide currency across the spectrum of protestors.

There have also been reports of infiltration by Triad gangs in the protests. In a vicious circle of violence breeding violence, the protests and police action have both been violence-prone. The police have been using tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse the protestors, some of whom started throwing bricks and firebombs. The protestors even mustered the courage to storm the Legislative Council. The predominant features of the protests have, however, been the unity of the participants and the consolidation of their resolve against state domination at the behest of China.

World View

The spontaneity of the protests and the nonchalance of its participants are seen by the world as a takeoff on the freak but the momentous incident of the brutal state action on the unarmed protestors at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing in June 1989. Several protest marches have been held in the free world in support of the Hong Kong movement. Evidently, the world is in no mood to see a replica of the brutality unleashed by the Chinese state at Tiananmen Square. There is no doubt Hong Kong forms part of China. Yet, the movement blossoming there for democracy does not qualify state action in such ruthless and insensitive terms as is usually the case in China.

Way Out for China

China is in a predicament over Hong Kong. It is especially so from the Indian perspective. Despite being guilty of illegally occupying swathes of territory in Kashmir and Ladakh, China had the gall to oppose the recent reorganization of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir by India in a legally and Constitutionally valid manner. Besides, it had the temerity to suggest to India that it sit at the negotiating table with an errant Pakistan to sort out the latter’s claim over Kashmir. China has no locus standi to interfere in the issue of Kashmir as it is absolutely an internal matter of India. Unlike the case of Pakistan, which has repeatedly violated the ceasefire line and engineered acts of terror in Kashmir, the happenings in Hong Kong are a delicate matter crying out for sensitive handling by China. 

As such, China should not turn its back on the legitimate demands of the people of Hong Kong or succumb to the temptation of using disproportionate extent of force to quell the movement for democracy. Kashmir had been lagging behind in social and economic development. The Government of India has only done Kashmir justice by bringing it around to join the mainstream national development. India is now in the process of building a new Kashmir. On its part, China should do Hong Kong justice by letting it blossom on its own to emerge as a harbinger of democratic and economic development for the rest of the country. No other course of action would be appropriate or just.

(The article “Protests in Hong Kong and China’s Predicament”  is published in ‘Organiser’ )

Is the Pak economy on the brink of collapse?

As Pakistan PM’s false bravado failed to enthuse anyone the worldover, back home the Islamic country’s economic woes, Islamic fundamentalism, breeding ground for Terrorists, lack of financial support from international agencies have put the country’s economy on the brink of collapse

Pakistan is caught in a cleft, with its deep-rooted hatred for a militarily and economically far superior India on the one hand and megalomania stoked by religious fundamentalist elements on the other. Facing numerous challenges ranging from a raging freedom struggle in Baluchistan and PoK and the general discontent among its people over a tanked economy, Pakistan is trying to keep itself from falling apart. Instead of focussing on providing its people with clean and good governance and reviving its sinking economy, Pak is digging its heel deeper into a pit of its own making. Sensing despair among the jihadi elements and the other mercenaries of terrorism in the Kashmir valley following the reorganization of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir, it has taken upon itself the mantle of the saviour of the Kashmiri people – a role neither called for nor justified.

Economic Woes

Currently, Pakistan’s economy is in a shambles. Its GDP is one-tenth of India’s. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected its expected rate of growth both this year and the next at less than 3%. With a run-away rate of inflation and a plummeting exchange rate, its financial situation is in a dire state. The country is buried under a mountain of international debts. As of March 2019, its outstanding debt was more than US$85 billion. Apart from individual countries ranging from the USA and several other Western countries to China, it has taken loans from several international financial institutions. It had sought a US$6 billion bailout from the IMF as recently as May this year. While desperately seeking IMF’s help to sustain itself for the 23rd time in its brief history, one of the loan conditionalities put forth by the IMF is that the Pak government’s revenues should rise by a massive 40% in this financial year.

However, there seems to be no hope for its economy in the face of a dysfunctional political system, misaligned economic policies, an uphill business climate, a weak tax administration and lack of transparency. Major donors like the US have become wary of extending further military and developmental aid to Pakistan on account of the latter’s dubious track record of diverting billions of dollars of aid for the financing of terrorism. It has now been confirmed that Pakistan deceived the US by siphoning off large swathes of the multi-billion dollar US aid, which was given for fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda, towards terrorist activities aimed at igniting an Islamic insurrection in Kasmir. This has resulted in a slowing down of the flow of US aid to Pakistan; the current trickle of aid is quite likely to come to a grinding halt sooner rather than later, leaving Pakistan high and dry.

Religious Fundamentalism

Pakistan is also a victim of a perverse mindset which does not allow it to live in peace with its neighbours. Nor does the theocratic state let its own people from minority religious communities or sects live safely, let alone practise their faith fearlessly. Pakistan’s history is rife with instances of girls belonging to the minority communities like Hinduism and Sikhism being abducted, married off to Muslim men and converted by force or even killed. The killing of members of the minority communities and forceful grabbing of their lands and properties has become a commonplace occurrence. It also has a tear-and-blood-soaked history of numerous attacks on Muslims of non-Sunni denomination and Christians in their places of worship.

Hotbed of Terrorism

Committed to promoting religious fundamentalism, Pakistan has reduced itself to a sanctuary of jihadi elements and other terrorist groups of foreign and domestic origin. Time and again, India has exposed it in various UN forums for its machinations against regional peace and global security. Calling it Terroristan, whose contribution to the globalization of terror is unparalleled, India has laid bare Pakistan’s flagrant act of granting global terror leaders safe havens in its military cantonments. And yet, Pakistan doesn’t hesitate to play the victim card at the hands of terrorists in a bid to seek empathy from the comity of nations. Ironically, it even attributes terrorism to its own economic backwardness. It is a classic case of a rogue state which breeds snakes in its backyard complaining about an occasional snakebite!

Even as terrorist masterminds like Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim, whose deportation has been repeatedly demanded in vain by India, roam its streets with impunity, Pakistan has the gall to charge India with human rights violations in Kashmir and carry out mendacious anti-India propaganda. Besides offering training facilities to the cadres of terrorist outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) on its territory, Pak army equips them with weapons and gives them safe passage into India under cover of cross-border fire as part of its strategy of bleeding-by-a-thousand cuts. Its double-faced villainy has left it truly friendless in the international diplomatic circuit, with the solitary exception of its all-weather friend China. Even the other Islamic countries have stopped openly supporting Pakistan in its stance against India over Kashmir. In the instant case of Pakistan’s tirade against India over Kashmir, China has counselled Pakistan to sort the issue out with India through talks.

Peevish Attitude

As soon as India announced the revocation of the special status granted to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and its reorganization, Pakistan started bristling with bluster and threats of hurting India. It severed trade links with India and downgraded diplomatic representation between the two countries. It closed its airspace to Indian flights, going to the extent of denying permission to VVIP aircraft to overfly. Closing of its airspace to the Indian commercial flights resulted in a substantial loss to Pakistan of much-needed revenue. Also, it cost Pakistan the goodwill of India with which it claims to desire peace talks over the outstanding issues. One wonders if this is not a political equivalent of cutting one’s nose to spite the face!

Pakistan has reduced itself to a sanctuary of jihadi elements and other terrorist groups of foreign and domestic origin. Its double-faced villainy has left it truly friendless in the international diplomatic circuit. 

Pakistan’s Blame Game

India has repeatedly asserted that the reorganization of J&K is an internal matter since J&K is an inalienable part of the country and that Pakistan has no claim or say in the matter. It has also categorically ruled out any third party mediation. Talks with Pakistan are ruled out except on the issue of terrorism and the return of PoK, which rightfully belongs to India. Pakistan’s claim over the territory of Kashmir or the purported suppression of the people of Kashmir and the alleged violation of human rights in the valley is nothing more than a cry in the wilderness over a figment of the imagination. Pakistan’s duplicitous track record in the matter of human right violations in PoK and Baluchistan has not helped its repeated attempts at international fora to malign India gain traction.

Although the Pakistan economy is on the brink of collapse, Prime Minister Imran Khan is surprisingly more concerned about the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir by India government. Rather than being worried about his country’s economic woes and instead of initiating concrete measures to revive the Pak economy, Khan has been running helter-skelter trying to internationalize the Kashmir issue on all global platforms. To seek the support and intervention of various countries as well as mediation of the United Nations on the Kashmir issue, Imran Khan arrived in the US on September 21 on a seven-day visit. At the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 27, he kept harping about Kashmir and insisted that the US President, as well as the United Nations, should mediate between Pakistan and India on the Kashmir issue.

Possibility of FATF Blacklisting

In a bid to get financial aid from Western nations, Khan said Pakistan is going through tough and challenging times economically and needs help from rich countries. Revealing that rampant corruption and money laundering resorted to by Pakistan’s former ruling elites has impoverished his country, Khan said currently half of Pak’s revenues go into debt servicing. He further stated that Pakistan was finding it very difficult to retrieve the money that the former “corrupt ruling elites have siphoned off from our country” and deposited in tax havens where they have secret accounts. To garner support against the possible blacklisting of his cash-strapped nation by Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, Khan alleged India is trying to “push us into the FATF blacklist to bankrupt us.”

In 2018, the FATF had placed Pakistan on the grey list of nations for falling short on its 27-point action plan prepared to enable Pak to escape blacklisting after the Islamic republic’s laws were found to be weak to tackle challenges of terror financing and money laundering. FATF had then made it clear that if Islamabad failed to meet its commitment by October this year, it could be blacklisted. Given the above, Pakistan had better reorganize its own internal affairs and save itself from an economic breakdown before it slides faster and faster into being labelled by the international community as a failed state, and a rogue one at that! Moreover, the earlier Pakistan realizes that it is only a matter of time before PoK and the territory it had handed over to China are integrated with Kashmir by India, the better for its own survival.

(Author is a Chartered Accountant, author and blogger. He has served as an Independent Director on the Boards of India’s most influential public sector banks. He tweets at @cadrsunilgupta)

(The article “Is the Pak economy on the brink of collapse?”  is published in ‘Organiser’ )

Economic Slowdown – Perception and Reality

The knives are out for the Modi 2.0 government. Trying to pin it down to the mat over the slowing down of the nation’s economy, the Opposition has been trying to deal the unkindest cut of them all in a bid to make political capital out of the issue. No die-hard supporter of the BJP-led NDA government would call the slowdown a fictitious Frankenstein’s monster born out of the fertile imagination of a vengeful Opposition. However, it is not the result of the government’s mishandling of the economy either.  India happens to be just yet another port of call of the global phenomenon of an economic slowdown. 

Aftermath of Trade War

The US-China trade war that has been raging for well over a year has created volatility globally and has left its footprint all over the Indian economy. The textbook account of the slowdown attributes it to slower consumption demand and weaker investment. Patchy monsoons compounded by devastating floods and cyclones, general elections and anxiety on the part of investors on account of the muddying of the political waters by desperate Opposition parties – these are some of the factors which have contributed to the slowdown. Fortunately, a stable government at the Centre, sound foreign and defence policies and the complete eclipse of terrorism on the domestic front have had their salutary effect on the overall situation.

Neither Crisis nor Disaster

Apart from the loss of jobs in the auto sector and the slowdown in other labour-intensive sectors, the damage in no other industry is close to being termed terrible. There has been a discernible downswing in the private consumption segment, which can be perceived as a passing phase. Recalibration of the tax structure and the ruthless forays made by the NDA government in its war on black money and tax evasion have resulted in a wary investment climate. This has also led to the tightening of the fist by the cautious domestic consumer. Since the nation’s economy is interconnected with the global economy, it is not realistic to expect the former to totally distance itself from the reach or sway of the worldwide phenomenon. The situation on the domestic front is anything but alarming. Nor is it indicative of a crisis that could warrant fears of a recession.

Fiscal Measures and Stimuli

The Central Government has pulled no punches in addressing the slowdown. Being well aware that the need of the hour is a comprehensive package of reform measures, it is intent on boosting job creation and making various sectors investment-friendly. The RBI announced, on its part, a resounding Rs 1.76 lakh crore transfer of surplus reserve to the Central Government. This timely measure provides the government with an opportunity to carry out remedial measures to cushion the freefall of the economy and arrest the slowdown.

To start with, the NDA government set in motion talks with representatives of all the sectors to hear out their problems as well as suggestions and solutions before it could take a stand. It announced the removal of the enhanced surcharge on capital gains on shares for both foreign portfolio investors and domestic investors previously unveiled in the budget. In a major move aimed at ushering in structural reforms, the government announced a slew of measures in the banking sector. Several public sector banks were merged, bringing down their number from 27 to 12. While doing so, the Central Government categorically ruled out job losses and provided upfront Rs 700,000-crore equity infusion to boost lending.

The banks have decided to launch interest rates linked with RBI repo rate. This translates into reduced EMI housing loans and cheaper working capital. In the auto sector, the Central government has assured, among other things, that it was not pushing for electric vehicles in place of petrol and diesel ones. All GST refunds due to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) would be promptly paid in a time-bound manner in a bid to ease liquidity and cash flow for small businesses. The federal government is also seized of the need to ensure a smoother tax collection process by means of technology and big data. Targets for tax collection have been fixed with the current economic scenario in mind. A signal has been sent across to the tax authorities “not to over-reach”.

The Central Government has also assured that there will be no curtailment on the budgetary spending and social sector spending because of the economic slowdown. This would help in the realisation of the government’s target of US$5-trillion economy within a 5-year timeframe. Furthermore, a task force has been set up to identify infra projects for Rs 100-lakh crore investment. The government is all geared up to defuse the economic slowdown with fiscal stimuli. Public Sector banks have cut interest rates on housing, auto and other personal loans to boost consumer demand well ahead of the festive months of Dussehra and Diwali. They will also organise credit shamiana meetings to disburse loans to Non-Banking Financial Companies and retail borrowers, including homebuyers and farmers.

On September 20, the Union Finance Minister has announced a slashing of the corporate tax for domestic companies (from 30 to 22%) and new local manufacturing companies (from 25% to 15%). Enhanced surcharge on income will not apply to capital gains arising out of equity sale or equity-oriented funds liable to Securities Transaction Tax. All these will go a long way in restoring confidence in the Indian equity markets and boosting the overall profitability of Corporate India. In another positive development, the GST Council has also announced rate cuts on several items in response to demands from several quarters of India Inc.

Economy on Sound Footing

Despite the slowing down, the basics of the Indian economy are excellent, and the macro indicators are on an even keel. For instance, forex reserves at US$428.6 billion are quite high; CPI inflation is tracking at 3.2% and has remained below the 4% mark for nearly 12 months; Core inflation has decelerated meaningfully during the past 12 months; Gross FDI flows have remained robust, tracking close to 2.4% of the GDP on a 12-month trailing basis. Even though the GDP growth rate has slipped to 5% during the first quarter of the current fiscal, the fundamentals of the Indian economy are quite sound and are relatively better than the economies of many other countries across the world.

Neither Fish nor Fowl

In view of the above, it is evident that the prophets of doom are wrong. Their call to press the panic button is both premature and immature. This move may be an attempt to divert the NDA government’s attention and thereby weaken its determination to tackle economic offences and corruption on a war footing, or it may be a desperate act to give the Modi 2.0 government a bad name. Hence, let me here reiterate that the current economic slowdown is not a crisis, and there is no need to panic. The slew of revival measures announced recently by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to bolster the Indian economy and enable it to achieve higher growth rates in the coming months.

The Arrest Of Shivakumar Further Exposes Congress’ Corruption

The constitution of India is the mother of all laws. It is a comprehensive document that underscores the importance of rule of law and equality before law. While on one hand it states that every citizen of India is equal before the law, irrespective of the office s/he occupies or has occupied in the past, it also provides multiple defences to the arrested person. Consider this in light of the arrest of senior congress leader of Karnataka, Mr. DK Shivakumar and the reaction of the party and its members. The former minister was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for serious allegations against him in a money laundering case. The law took its course with government officials, judges and advocates in picture but the Congress party, rather than resorting to lawful means and justifying the accused in the court of law, decided to take law in its own hands and created an atmosphere of intimidation by protesting against the arrest in the public, bringing the Bengaluru city to a grinding halt. What followed was violence, rioting and an attempt to subvert the process of law.

The cunning congress party repeated its stance of ‘political vendetta’ by the ruling BJP in the case,an easy excuse that it is employing at a time when party’s senior leaders are being brought to books for their past sins. Let’s remind the party that the allegations against Mr. Shivakumar haven’t come up lately and the Income Tax Department has been probing the dealings of the leader since long. Indeed, the congress party and its ally, JDS (Janata Dal Secular), had to vacate the seat of the government some months ago but this was owing to legislators of both parties going disillusioned with the functioning of the coalition government and the shift in power was imminent. The congress party remains unconcerned with the serious accusations against its leader, which involve recovery of unaccounted wealth and using illicit means to bring the black money back into the legal channel by resorting to money laundering and hawala.

The gravity of the matter can be grasped from the fact that the ED has claimed to have detected unaccounted assets that run into hundreds of crores and that Mr. Shivakumar and his close aides operate more than 300 bank accounts. That Mr. Shivakumar has been the so-called ‘troubleshooter’ for the congress party in Karnataka is a much documented and studied subject. Political experts can easily recall how this man used all his political and money power when Congress leader Ahmed Patel was eying a consecutive term in Rajya Sabha. The man is also well-known in power circles for his ability in bringing party legislators to a common understanding and then flying them out of one place to another with a view to preventing their defection or defying party’s whip. Mr. Shivakumar is the same man who once acted as savior for congress party CM Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh by sequestering party MLAs in a Karnataka resort and ensuring that the trust vote results in congress’ favour. Mr. Shivakumar’s tactics, however, failed in July this year when the congress-JDS coalition lost power in Karnataka to the BJP.

The list runs long and a simple google search can reveal many more misdeeds of the man who was quick to decry his ‘innocence’ after the arrest. Mr. Shivakumar cunningly placed his trust in the country’s judiciary, which turned out nothing more than a botched gimmick. The arrest when challenged in the court was ruled lawful and bail was not granted to the politician owing to law enforcement agencies’ credible probe and a plethora of evidences that speak piercingly against the culprit. Now that all the avenues of defeating the law were lost, the leader has questioned his detention alleging that he is accused of financial irregularities and not of terrorist activities. The congress and its leaders seem to have overlooked the fact that the power of ED to detain an offender are enshrined in the law of the country and court’s rejection of first the anticipatory bail and then the bail plea after arrest corroborate that the Income tax Department (which filed the chargesheet last year) and ED are both abiding by the rules laid down under the law.

The ED has lately declared that at least 200 complaints against Mr. Shivakumar have been received by the agency relating to dubious dealings in a housing project where the money of many investors perished. A probe is on. The question that arises out of this is whether the violent protest by congress party after the leader’s arrest and the recurrent resort to ‘political vendetta’ are acceptable? The arrested person has multiple lawful options to challenge her/ his arrest in the Indian democracy and hence, it shall be in the best interest of the congress to defend their leader in the court of law rather than on roads and in news rooms. This is no emergency when the congress party employed all unconstitutional means to detain opposition political leaders and curb any form of dissent against the tyrannical government of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. This is, indeed, a time when law enforcement agencies aren’t functioning under any political pressure and are probing cases of graft against powerful men with an unbiased approach. This is a time when covert phone calls to officials can’t save an offender from the clutches of law.

Mr. Shivakumar and other congress party leaders are to understand that the age of vested interests and subversion of the rule of law by the powerful is a thing of the past. The party must contest the accusations against its leaders in the court of law and not on public roads and TV debates. The plank of ‘political vendetta’ can no longer dupe the general public and the sympathy of voters cannot be gained on unjust grounds. The process of law and justice in India was never this fair and expedient as it is today, no culprit can dream of escaping the law. Better to abide by the laws than to blame ruling party for one’s own sins.

(The article “The Arrest Of Shivakumar Further Exposes Congress’ Corruption” published in magazine Uday India in October 12, 2019 English edition)

The Kashmir conundrum

Opposition parties have been taking pot shots at the Narendra Modi government over the Jammu & Kashmir issue. The Congress and the DMK have not stopped complaining about the re-organisation of the erstwhile State which had been encumbered by its special status.They are insistent, contrary to the ground reality, that all people in J&K are up in arms against the Central government’s move. Preventive detention of some politician sand potential troublemakers has made these partiessee red and cryhoarse about the alleged brutal repression of a hapless people. Going by reports on social media, the people of the nation appear to have welcomed the government’s move.

Contradictory reactions from within the Congress Party against the Government’s bold step has brought into the open the lesions that had appeared in that party following its traumatic losses in two back-to-back parliamentary elections. On his part, Rahul Gandhi dubbed the exercise “undemocratic and unconstitutional” without substantiating his charges. The DMK went to the extent of asking that the President’s assent to the bill that had already been passed by both Houses of Parliament be put “on hold”. To crown that party’s approach to the issue, a party spokesman made an audacious statement in a national TV programme that J&K was not an integral part of India! Such is the lack of understanding of the issue among Opposition parties.

It is evident that forces inimical to a strong India are working overtime to discredit the government for correcting a historical wrong. A terribly upset Pakistan that has failed to whip up outrage in the international community has found allies and supporters within India.

A larger conspiracy to push through an Akhand Bharat is openly suggested. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has called the recent development as the tip of an iceberg of a larger plan against his country. He has spoken of India’s plan to appropriate his country’s territory in a move akin to Adolf Hitler’s military adventure for a Lebensraum. Neither the UN nor any of the major global powers have taken his wild claims seriously. Nor has any of them shown an inclination to become a mediator in what has been universally acknowledged as a bilateral issue with India categorically ruling out mediation as an option.

After taking hasty steps of ending trade and cultural links with India and lowering the level of diplomatic relations, Pakistan finds itself a victim of a strategic miscalculation. With all the aces up its sleeve, India is in no mood to engage in talks with the largest exporter of terrorism in the region. Growing dissent and resistance to Pakistan’s authority in Balochistan and PoK is further having a debilitating effect on Pakistan, which is afflicted with a doddering economy. With no significant economic aid or financial assistance coming from any of its major global allies, and the US growing more and more restive over Pakistan’s failure to deliver on the global war on terror, Pakistan finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Despite its threat that it would go to any extent to help the people of Kashmir in their struggle for “self- determination” (a euphemism for secession from India), Pakistan is in no position to exercise the military option. Its penchant for chest-thumping and the self-delusion of military parity with India is not matched by the ability of its teetering economy to fuel its war machine. Failed military campaigns in the past have taught it a valuable lesson – that it would be foolhardy to engage in a sustained war. As such, apart from the distant thunder of a menacing war and posturing, the prospects of war are remote. The only probable hard option that Pakistan is left with is to light, off and on, a short fuse of brief incursions into the Indian territory and hope to cause demoralising damages in terms of civilian and military personnel and equipment.

India has always upstaged Pakistan in the latter’s mind games. What is more, Indian forces are much more prepared for action than at any other time in the recent past. Retribution would be in full measure with long- lasting consequences. Poised on the verge of becoming a failed state beyond redemption with implosion from within staring it in the face, Pakistan is unlikely to embark on political harakiri. It has realised that, with the Modi government in place, India will never give up on Kashmir.

Rahul Gandhi has been asking for the Union government’s permission to visit J&K, along with a delegation, to be able to talk to the detained political leaders as well as a cross-section of the people at large. There is no reason why the government should grant this request to discredited politicians who have only recently been rejected by the people in nationwide polls after one of the most vilifying political campaigns launched against a popular government. They don’t even have the people’s mandate to engage in any exercise outside the Parliament.

As regards the mainstream political leaders of J&K who are under detention, the scope of their role in the re-organised J&K at the local or national level should be subject to their acceptance of the changed reality. The abrogation of the special status accorded to the erstwhile State is irrevocable. Furthermore, “one nation, one flag and one Constitution” is the bottom line of political survival in the new India. There could be no argument on these basics. Nor should they expect soft-pedalling by India on the plea of special treatment to one of its territories in the name of autonomy. The Kashmiri people are and will continue to be as free as the people of any other part of India to settle down in J&K or migrate to any other place of their choice, pursue an economic activity of their liking and practise any religion.

(The article “The Kashmir conundrum”  published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 30 August, 2019)

With Triple Talaq Abolished, UCC Should be Next Step

With the passing of the Triple Talaq Bill, the disgusting practice of instant divorce by uttering the word talaq thrice has effectively been consigned by the Modi 2.0 government to the dustbin of history. The outlawing of talaqe-biddat marks not just an ideological victory for the BJP but a landmark breakthrough in furtherance of women’s empowerment in the changing political landscape of India. Unlike in the past,the Opposition, which had been pampering the hardcore religious elements of the Muslim community, was unable to stall the Bill in the Rajya Sabha.

What made the triumph particularly satisfying for the BJP was its successful floor management in the Upper House despite the shortage of numbers. Besides vindicating its commitment to protecting the interests of women cutting across religious barriers,the BJP has demonstrated its willingness and preparedness to bring the people of the nation in matters of civil jurisprudence under the single umbrella of the Uniform Civil Code(UCC). This is in keeping with its poll promise and in alignment with provisions of the Constitution.

A Uniform Code would end the sorry saga of minority appeasement,which marked the policies of the self serving rulers of the past. The very idea of its introduction has unleashedtrepidation in the ranks of the Opposition which lies, in any case, hopelessly scattered. The UCC will see the end of vote-bank politics and its replacement by development politics. This would put the Opposition on a sticky wicket in future elections.

Marriage, divorce, maintenance,adoption and inheritance are staple issues that constitute personal laws unique to different religious communities.Personal laws are fraught withoutdated practices and customs sanctioned by religious beliefs of a bygoneera with barely any relevance to modern times. Any attempt by the government to streamline these laws in the form of UCC in alignment with modern civil law is bound to create a bogey of a threat to religious freedom. Hardcore religious elements are expected to bristle with indignation and take umbrage at the perceived breach of their age-old customs which are by and large patriarchal.

However, the Central government would do well to keep to its resolve to introduce the Uniform Civil Code not with standing the obstacles posed by moribund religious elements with vested interests. This is a prerequisite imperative to update and modernize our country’s legal system to ensure social justice uniformly across all sections of the society. Women’s pressure groups can play a vital role in mustering support among their respective communities and help the government to overcome bottlenecks.

Apart from hardcore religious elements,the government may also expect stiff resistance from Opposition political parties and Opposition-ruled state governments.

As the Central government is currently on a fast track mode to fulfil its poll promises and is working overtime to carry out required legislative work at a frenetic pace, the BJP would beaccused of working to a sinister agenda.The party would be accused of seeking to saffronise the legal and social systems. This may lead to the creation of a bogey among minority communities, which will allege that the safety and the fundamental right to practise the religion of their choice has come under attack.

Equality before the law and up holding the dignity of women and gender justice are the cardinal principles of the case for UCC. Empowerment and emancipation of women presuppose the banishing of patriarchyas the cornerstone of personal laws.

Clerics do not want to lose their hold over the community. In turn, the Opposition parties that have been banking on support of the clerics,which translates into a community voting en bloc, are afraid of losing their base. The dubious and rigid basis of personal laws and the clique comprising religious zealots and self-serving politicians needs to be broken.

Besides removing gender inequality,the UCC would create social harmony among all sections of society.What could be more just than the treatment of citizens of diverse religious backgrounds on an equal footing before the law? Thus, the UCC is not only a welcome option as envisaged by the framers of our Constitution but also the need of the hour. The abolition of Triple Talaq has paved the way for the UCC. However, its introduction will not be easy. Massive pressure will be mounted on the government by terming it as anti-democratic,anti-minority and communal.

Governments of the past suffered from ideological bankruptcy and policy paralysis to address the issue. With adequate numbers in Parliament and an unflagging resolve to introduce a just and equitable system, now is the time for the BJP to live up to its image as the party with a difference. The present government is more stable than any in the recent past. Furthermore,it is free from any scam, scandal or narrow selfish agenda. In the matter of the UCC, its intentions and motive would easily pass the test of honour in the eyes of its detractors as well as non-biased observers.

With the goodwill of Muslim women gained in the matter of Triple Talaq under its belt, and the substantial support to its measure to reorganize Jammu and Kashmir, the Modi government is riding high. The UCC could well be a path breaking measure for more radical legislation to follow in the future.

(The article “With Triple Talaq Abolished, UCC Should be Next Step”  published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 21 August, 2019)