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Mob Lynchings: Individual Preferences and Community Sentiments

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

Society and Individual

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

Mob Lynchings

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

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

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

Individual Preferences

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

Community Sentiments

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

Law on Cattle Slaughter

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

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

Gau Rakshaks and Lynchings

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

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

Church and Crimes Against Women and Children

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

Spate of Rapes by Clergy

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

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

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

Reasons for Spurt in Rapes

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

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

Fallout of Rape by Clergy

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

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

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

Baby-Selling & Child Trafficking

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

Bones & Organ Trade Racket

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

Church & Police Investigations

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

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

2nd term

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charges Galore

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

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

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

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

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

Prime Minister’s Counter

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

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

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

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

Appreciation an Incentive

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

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

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

Why NRC is Necessary to curb Illegal Migrants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why BJP Is Best Placed To Govern Karnataka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discontent is the enemy of stability.

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

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

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

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

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

A Year Under GST- Rhetoric vs. Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The article is featured in ‘Organiser’ )

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

The Case for Privatising PSBs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you privatise?

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

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

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

Which bank to privatize first?

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

The main reasons for privatizing PSBs are:

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

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

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

Some key points must be considered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Case for Privatising PSBs?

Who is To Blame For PNB Fraud?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there any long-term solution?

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

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

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

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

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

Who is To Blame For PNB Fraud?

Budget 2018 – Realistic And Balanced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget 2018 – Realistic and Balanced

The High-Stake Gujarat Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Army is Fighting a Selfless War

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

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

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

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

Should be Commended for Unsung Struggles

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

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

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

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

Anti-India Tirade is Full-time Profession

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

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

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

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

Soldiers Face a War Every Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laws Needed to Ensure Army is Respected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Unfettered Freedom of Expression an Alternative to Patriotism?

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

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

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

Expression of Patriotism

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

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

Patriotism versus Nationalism

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

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

Dissent in Democracy

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

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

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

Limits to Freedom

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

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

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

Too much Freedom

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

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

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

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

What L K Advani Means To Indian Polity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Good Governance in MSMEs

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

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

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

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

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

1. A well-defined business

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

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

2. Transparency in operations

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

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

3. Remunerative job positions

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

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

4. Risk management

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

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

5. Value Creation

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

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

Conclusion

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

UN Must Declare Pakistan a Terror-Sponsoring Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should Media be Made Accountable to Safeguard National Interests?

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

Vituperative Outpourings

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

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

Complicity of the Press

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

Allegations against Army

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

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

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

Sensationalism

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

High Table for Anti-Socials

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

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

Flagrantly Irresponsible Behaviour

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

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

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

Accountability

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

Working it Out

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis of the Problem

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

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

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

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

LoC – the Volatile de-facto Border

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time Ripe to Seek Permanent Solution

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

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

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

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

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

A blessing for Muslim women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A blessing for Muslim women

Blueprint for a new India

Blueprint for a new IndiaPM Modi’s speech this Independence Day will be long remembered for the vision of a ‘New India’ in the 21st century. In his short and crisp address from the ramparts of Red Fort, the Prime Minister exhorted the 125-crore strong “Team India” to build a just strong and prosperous country. And to make sure that this is not just a slogan, he laid out a detailed blueprint of what needs to be done to achieve that goal in a timely manner.

He set his priorities straight. He wants an India where youth and women have enough opportunities to fulfill their dreams. Where farmers earn well and sleep without a worry and where even the poor have a home, electricity and water. He wants an India free of terrorism, corruption, casteism, communalism and nepotism. These are the benchmarks by which the success of our republic should be measured and judged.

Anyone would think that this is a tall order. But that is the challenge PM Modi has set for himself. And he is known to be a tireless campaigner. How much of this we shall achieve by 2022 is difficult to say. But going by the tenor of his speech one can assume that the PM would give everything he has in order to achieve his dream.

In the past 70 years, India has evolved as an economic powerhouse. At the birth of our nation many skeptics expected it to collapse owing to caste and class diversities, but we proved them wrong. However many deficiencies remain. The PM’s speech acknowledged this but also held hope that we will win over these in near future.

The Prime Minister did not call for the betterment of a particular caste or religion. There was an explicit mention of peace, unity and harmony in his address, a clear indication to fringe elements that law is supreme and act of defiance will be brought to justice. There was also a resolve to oppose the brutal practice of Triple Talaq. This is particularly notable as politicians usually steer clear of social reforms that can affect their electorate. But PM Modi is made of sterner stuff.

The ‘Bharat Jodo’ call is yet-another aspect that will resonate in our memories for long. The Quit India movement, whose 75th anniversary we celebrate this year, has been brilliantly morphed into the ‘Unite India’ call. Many critics have held the belief that the NDAgovernment is furthering the cause of a Hindu-supremist society.Calling for unity, the PM demolished such notions from the ramparts of no less a place than the historic Red Fort.

One of the reasons why India did not realise the dream of an inclusive society even after 7 decades of freedom, and under the shadow of a wisely-drafted Indian Constitution,was the approach of the common man who learnt to make compromises on everything.

We have remainedmere spectators to corruption, appeasement politics and prejudiced policies. This was the reason behind the call for ‘BadalSakta Hai’ in PM’s address. A shift from ‘Chalta Hai’ approach is much-needed to achieve true development. Even seemingly trivial problems like potholes in roads and seeking of illicit money by an official to grant a death certificate should invite wide condemnation.

To the international community, particularly those who believe that our sovereignty and territorial integrity can be undermined, there was a tough message that India has the will and capability to safeguard its borders, whether in the Himalayas or in the waters.

Terrorism, extremism and infiltrationon Indian soil will face retaliation from a strong and united India. A special reference was made to the Kashmir issue that has reignited in the recent past in the backdrop of intensified military action and neutralizing of terrorists in the region. “Neither gaali, nor goli” was the solution the PM offered.

By calling youth as job creators and not job seekers, the PM offered his pragmatism in dealing with the concern of low employment creation in recent years. It is now upto the millennials to create, innovate and invent.

For stable economic growth it is time that we file more patents and trademarks rather than filling just job applications. Government schemes and programmes also found a place as mentions of the electrification drive, the Fasal Bima Yojana and collateral-free loans. Although these are almost trademarks of any address from Red Fort, it is important to underline rights of people by the highest in the land.

Good and inclusive governance can’t be attained merelyby a public address. It is hence incumbent upon the PM’s ministers and his officersto play their roles in attaining all that has been said by their leader.

A special mention of his one liner ‘Tantra se Loknahi, Lok se Tantra Chalega’ (establishment will not drive people but the vice-versa) is a must.

The Prime Minister realizes the fundamental rule of democracy, that it is the people for whom the establishment works, that the establishment derives its power and authority from the people. India today is cheered in the global arena as the world’s largest democracy, as a country that has preserved its unity in such a diverse society. The rhetoric of power in public’s hand, however, has often been misused by our politicians for their own good; the PM, if he can stop this trend, will go down in India’s political history as one of the most capable leaders.

In the end, let us also not forget that the Indian nationalists who laid their lives for a better future expected each of us to play our parts in making adeveloped and inclusive India. We must then pledge our support to this movement for a ‘New India’.

(The article published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 18th August 2017)

Blueprint for a new India

Should India Mull Sanctions on China?

Article Statesman 03.08.17No nation can achieve military hegemony without success on the economic front. Same is the case with China, the world’s largest merchandise exporter, a nation that within a few decades, and on the back of flooding world markets with low-priced goods, has shifted the balance of power so authoritatively that any Chinese belligerence today can only invite wide condemnation and outcry but not direct warning or a full-blown assault.

In part, India has also fueled this domination of China by allowing the neighbor to export goods in such a manner that our local industry suffered unprecedented, irreparable damages. A lot has been talked about why our trade deficit with China is a cause of worry, a ‘matter of concern’ as termed by the Commerce Minister. While bilateral trade stood at USD 71 billion in FY 2016-17, the deficit (owing to fewer exports from India) was at staggering USD 51 billion.

The question is how deficit figures became a persistent trend and discussions in Parliament or assurances from government, in the form of encouraging exports and halting the dumping of Chinese goods did not fetch desired results. It is certain that by the end of the present FY the trade deficit will remain where it is; woes of local industry will remain unresolved and India, yet again, will only supplement the so-called Chinese hegemony.

The initiatives by the Indian government aimed at narrowing the gap between exports and imports – the Merchandise Exports from India Scheme and its services sector counterpart, SEIS, the Niryat Bandhu Scheme exclusively for new export import entrepreneurs, single window clearance for facilitation of trade – have all fallen short of expectations and needs of local producers who have been elbowed out by low-cost imports from China.

What then needs to be done? In his Mann Ki Baat address to the nation, PM Narendra Modi has stressed upon the need to purchase goods produced locally. Had the issue not been so grave, it would not have been explicitly cited in a public address by the Prime Minister. The economy, especially industries like consumer electronics, toys, tyres, leather, solar energy equipment, machine tools, textiles, mobile phones and even cottage industry goods, has been severely damaged, all thanks to the free flow of Chinese goods into India.

Let us move beyond patriotic fervor and examine the possibilities of India preventing any China-made articles of trade from entering the country. Practically this seems unmanageable, for India is not only a signatory to various multilateral and inter-governmental trade pacts but also because India cannot afford to symbolize ultra-protectionism in this era of free trade. When Chinese goods are available to bona fide buyer at cheap rates, any shallow appeal by any authority or politician asking people to refrain from buying Made in China product does not hold promise.

But there’s another angle to this Sino-India story – the recurring border incursions by Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control and McMahon Line. These border standoffs, which usually occur at key junctures such as a state visit of the Indian PM to the United States or an official visit of Chinese President to India, offer to India a chance to use hitherto unused ammunition – imposing sanctions on a belligerent, unaccommodating party.

A brief look at the past shows that this option has been exercised by China. It used this soft-power deterrent on Mongolia in retaliation for the latter’s invitation to the Dalai Lama in 2016. While China unilaterally went ahead with punishing the already ailing Mongolian economy, there have been numerous other instances such as the recent US sanctions on Russia. The US-Russia on-off rivalry is well-known but the India-China tiff has not achieved the same status because of India’s ever-easy stance on its ever-hostile neighbor.

But it is time the current dispensation, well-known for its reformist stance, its will as well as capability in taking bold decisions like demonetisation, mulls the idea of imposing economic sanctions on China, the country that is yielding high premiums on exports to India and is yet not supportive of its neighbor on key issues like counter-terrorism, her bid to join the Nuclear Supplier Group and become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

By not responding authoritatively to Chinese belligerence, apart from the recent challenge we have thrown in the Doklam Plateau, India has only indirectly supported the downfall of its local manufacturing sector that could not sustain the tsunami of deliberately low-priced Chinese goods flowing unchecked.

It can easily be noted that under the garb of free bilateral trade China has undermined India’s economic, social, even political, growth. The impairment is not caused to industry alone, the unemployed youth and rising non-performing assets (NPAs) of banks also are a direct outcome of ever-rising consumption of Chinese goods by Indians. From LEDs to plastic toys, solar panels to smartphones, China planned and successfully implemented its agenda of usurping the Indian market.

A superpower has recently raised the slogan of ‘buy and hire’ local in the backdrop of the dent that Chinese goods have made on its economy. On the other hand, India has responded with a much softer pitch of ‘Make in India’, which after almost 3 years of its unveiling hasn’t brought any real benefits to local producers, employment seekers or other key participants of  the economy including banks.

China has steered clear of repercussions even when they defied our territorial integrity, not just once in a full-blown war in 1962 but also by intermittently entering the Indian side of the border unlawfully with the intent to change the already settled boundaries. China has done the same in the South China Sea by way of building military installations; but matters are vastly different there because no country in that region can stand upto the might of China.

This, however, does not hold true in the India-China case owing to our possession of nuclear arms, our widely acknowledged stature as a strategic power in the region, our celebrated democratic credentials, our GDP growth rate that has outpaced all others, and above all, our diplomatic weight under Prime Minister Modi.

Enough reasons call for India’s sanctions on China – its support for ‘natural ally’ Pakistan, a safe haven for terrorists, its building the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that passes through areas India claims exclusive rights over (in itself a single compelling reason to cut off any economic and diplomatic ties with China), its opposing India’s bid to become a member of key inter-governmental agencies, and its employing state-backed media outlets to defame and intimidate Indian polity and armed forces.

It is high time now that the country resorts to exceptional yet necessary actions with a multi-pronged strategy that not only makes the world understand the will and ability of India in safeguarding its territorial integrity but also reverses the trend of downfall of local manufacturing industry. Given that countries across Asia, barring Pakistan and North Korea, are reeling under Chinese belligerence and hostile approach, placing economic sanctions will be much welcomed than denounced, it may alter the balance of power.

(The article published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 3rd August 2017)

Should India Mull Sanctions on China?

BJP and Tamil Nadu

BJP and tamilnadu picOver the last 2-3 decades, politics in Tamil Nadu has plummeted to its nadir in terms of ideological bereftness of the parties and the distancing of successive governments from the launching of developmental schemes in preference to populist measures and freebies. Furthermore, the political parties ride to electoral victory on the wings of sheer demagoguery. Unfortunately, the political class in the state has been monopolized by film stars, junior artistes, script writers and sundry other categories of people associated with the tinsel town. Catchy slogans and alluring promises for freebies have enabled them to conveniently sideline the need for a vision to develop the state on the lines of economic progress and social development. Time and again, the electorate has, on their part, fallen hook, line and sinker, for bogus political manifestos, promising the ushering in of an era of clean governance and corruption-free administration for the evolution of a truly egalitarian society.

All they got in return for their votes have been freebies and empty pre-poll promises besides, of course, a few bobs generously doled out by cash-rich political parties. After winning elections, these parties have been quick on the rise to make money during their stints in power by flagrantly resorting to corrupt practices and entering into all kinds of dubious methods and murky deals, with nary a care for the welfare of the state or high standards expected in public life. The descent of the state to political ignominy has, however, been anything but sudden. Surprisingly, it has not come as a shocker to either the right thinking people within the state or the political observers across the nation. The nosedive started as long ago as 1969 and has since continued unabated.

Eclipsing of INC

The year 1969 marked the downshifting of electoral politics in Tamil Nadu, which had till then been cruising at a sedate pace since Independence. That year, the Indian National Congress (INC), which had come to be identified by the common man as the rightful inheritor of political power from the outgoing British colonial masters, received a jolt at the Assembly elections from a grand coalition, cobbled up by the Machiavellian master politician C Rajagopalachari (popularly known as Rajaji) with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) at the vanguard. Rajaji had sworn to rid the state of INC, which had become the groundswell of corruption, nepotism and pseudo secularism. This came as a shot in the arm for the DMK, which had been a secessionist party not long ago. It had been demanding a separate sovereign state called Dravida Nadu and had given up on its demand only as late as 1962 in the face of stringent anti-secession laws enacted by the Centre at the time of the India-China war.

The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and tilted the balance against INC at the state general elections was, however, the successful manipulation of the Centre’s official language policy by the DMK along the lines of its extremely narrow regional stance. The party launched a massive people’s movement, with the participation of the student community, against the Centre’s move to introduce Hindi as the sole official language of the nation. The movement, marred by incidents of violence, turned out to be hugely successful in whipping up popular sentiments against the Central Government. Goaded by the bogey of Hindi, which was projected by the DMK as a Trojan horse meant to subvert self-rule by the Tamils and obliteration of their interests in favour of a fictitious North Indian ruling class and Rajaji’s clarion call for a Congress-free state, the electorate heavily voted in favour of the DMK and its allies. The DMK completely overshadowed its electoral allies and formed the government.

Emergence of Dravidian Politics

Here, a brief introduction to the growth of DMK on the political horizon would be in order. Its forerunner, Dravida Kazhagam (DK), was founded by E V Ramaswamy Naicker (EVR), referred to as Periyar by his followers. He was a one-time Congress loyalist and political comrade and good friend of Rajaji. Along the lines of the now-defunct Justice Party that wholeheartedly supported the British rule in India, DK too stoutly defended the British rule and was vehemently against India being granted Independence. On the eve of Independence, EVR went on to write to the British government in London, fervently pleading its continuance in India or, at least in the then Madras Presidency. Those days the Madras Presidency comprised today’s entire Tamil Nadu and swathes of territories of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, which, along with Karnataka, were termed by him as constituents of Dravida Nadu. The British, however, acted entirely in their self interest and walked out of India, leaving behind a great country in fragments. Consequently, EVR became a bitter man and turned hostile against the INC, which he feared would take over the reins of power to become the new political masters.

EVR identified INC with Brahmins and other upper caste Hindus of North India and called them the descendants of the Aryan hordes from Central Asia that had purportedly invaded India thousands of years ago and subjugated Dravidians, the native people of the southern part of the country. On the eclipse of the British Empire in India, he feared that the Brahmins of the north would once again capture the reins of power and subjugate the Dravidians. He insisted that the goblin of Brahmanism was out to gobble the Shudras, the sons of the soil. With the planting by EVR of the insidious seeds of hatred against the North Indian centrifugal forces of the national politics that were bound to suck in and subsume their helpless South Indian adversaries, the state gave birth to a monstrous child in the shape of the great North-South divide and anti-Brahmin sentiments. Sadly, the monstrosity has survived till date despite the turbulent times and political vicissitudes that the state has undergone and it still continues to cast its dark shadow on the political scene.

How the Wheels Turn

Although Dravida Kazhagam has always remained an ideological umbrella organization and spoken about social reforms and the need to fight social evils of casteism and archaic practices and never directly contested elections, a host of its offshoots like the DMK, the AIDMK (which later on splintered into at least two major factions), MDMK, etc swearing allegiance to the parental organization, have been in the political fray with various degrees of success. The glaringly striking array of political parties of various shades and hues of the Dravida ideology have either as its leading lights or star campaigners, popular film stars and an assorted category of personalities of the filmdom. In these parties, which have no clear delineation and takers outside the boundaries of Tamil Nadu, the reigning film stars bring up the lead whereas the faded or fading ones bring up the rear, and the moneybags and power brokers provide the packing material. Furthermore, dynastic politics and parochialism are accepted norms, in the Dravidian political war game.

The entire cavalcade of merriment runs, however, on the steam of a frenzied mob of fan clubs, fuelled into frenetic political activity at the mere nod by the stars. Political campaigns are quite a spectacle. Campaigning centres on character assassination of the opponents, full of vituperative and vile language. The party leaders, however, graciously dismiss such crude depictions of their opponents (for whom they claim to have “highest” regards), which are downright vulgar or obscene, as unfortunate incidents of the well meaning cadre getting emotional and carried away by popular sentiments, and not to be taken too seriously. The more colourful the language, the more popular the campaigners who conduct roadshows of mirth and merriment where characters of the high and mighty are ruthlessly trodden on and the personal life of the hapless rivals besmirched, with nary a thought for their personal life or social standing.

Notwithstanding its claim to stand for secularism, social reforms and political justice, all the sound and fury emitted by DK thus far have remained focused on the denigration of Hindu gods and Hindu religious practices and customs as well as trivializing of the Hindu festivals. The central government and the Brahmin community are targeted for the evils of the society and the RSS and the BJP are branded communal. The other religions and minority political organizations are conveniently overlooked and spared. Pseudo-secularism and vote bank politics are at play, with all the Dravidian parties throwing their hats in the ring with glee, for the top slot. Thrown in are freebies and cash for votes. In the ensuing melee, substantive issues like harnessing of river waters, woes of the farming community, industrial development, etc have been eclipsed by trivial issues like Jallikattu, opposition to Hindi in the schools, etc. Some fringe parties and NGOs with ulterior motives and funding from dubious foreign sources have been trying to fish in the murky political waters by whipping up Tamil sentiments against nationalism and extending support to anti-national forces such as the Azadi brigade, stone pelters in Kashmir, human rights for Naxals and Maoists, etc.

Ramblings in the Edifice

Such is the dubious state of Tamil Nadu politics, which has shown little signs of willingness to pull itself up by its bootstraps out of the inglorious depths of corruption and regionalism seldom matched elsewhere in the country. There have, however, been ramblings in the yonder and seismic fissures in the decaying political organism of the Dravidian politics. The high and mighty have fallen with the disappearance of J Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi from the scene, and their citadels have developed cracks, which are beyond wall papering. Several scams and scandals ranging from amassing of wealth disproportionate to known sources of income, land grabbing, hawala transactions, money laundering, and sand mining to cash for vote have been unearthed. The consequences have been cataclysmic. A reigning Chief Minister and her close aides and associates were indicted by the highest court of the land and several lynch pins of corruption, including a serving Chief Secretary, have landed in the jail.

Flashes of Hope

However, lately there have been flashes of hope with the Bharatiya Janata Party, the only party in the state with strong ideological moorings, pitching for the coming together of progressive forces to rally round the strong and stable leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Despite BJP’s failure to make its presence felt in the state legislature thus far, its appeal for the people to get out of the rut of regionalism in favour of the mainstream politics of nationalism has found traction among all the right thinking men and women of the state. Superstar Rajinikanth, an actor with a difference and untainted past, who has given indications in the last few days to venture into politics to fight for restoration of the system that has not been working could, perhaps, act as a catalyst in bringing about a much-desired transformation in the state politics. Rajni, who with only a few words of criticism for Jayalalithaa cost her 1996 state elections, is the best possible face for the BJP. He, however, needs to be convinced that the role he envisages to play in socio-economic betterment of the state will be well-served only when he becomes a part of the political landscape from within. PM Modi’s overall national charisma and Rajni’s God-like standing in the southern parts of India will tilt the mood in BJP’s favour with this single stroke.

Though it is too early to foresee whether the BJP can win some seats or hope to come to power in Tamil Nadu, here it needs to be emphasized that to make inroads into the state any political party will need to keep the following points in mind. Since the Tamilians are very proud of their language and culture, any political party that meddles with their language and culture has no chance to come to power in the state. As such, the BJP should not only refrain from imposing Hindi, but also nurture Tamil language in the state and learn to appreciate the culture of Tamilians. Here, it needs to be reiterated that because the then Congress Party had tried to impose Hindi in Tamil Nadu in 1965, even a tall leader like K Kamaraj could not avert the collapse of the party in the state and till date the Congress has not been able to capture power again. Furthermore, to make the BJP appealing to the voters of Tamil Nadu, BJP leaders would have to learn to connect with the masses, which is possible only if it overcomes the language disconnect disadvantage and communicate with the common man in Tamil. So the party needs to rope in a strong and visionary leader who can appreciate the people’s mentality, connect well with them and respond rightly to their sentiments. If Rajinikanth joins the BJP before the next Assembly elections, this problem will get sorted out automatically. However, if Rajini is unwilling to take the plunge, the BJP must act fast and rope in a charismatic and popular personality with great oratorical skills as a potential face to lead the party in Tamil Nadu in the coming years. In all cases, the bottom line is to better the lives of people in the state with focus on inclusive development and zero tolerance on corruption.

Protect Honour of the Armed Forces

Statesman 02.07.17

The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 is backed by a rationale that no person has any right to insult the Indian National Flag and National Anthem. It is sad, however, to notice that while these representatives of our sovereign pride are duly protected by central legislation, the armed forces, comprising of the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force are left vulnerable to hateful/ derogatory remarks by our political elites.

No other job in the country involves such harsh duty in extreme conditions on land, water, air, even underneath seas. Away from their families and devoid of privileges such as leave on festivals and weekends to convenientwork timings and work-leisure balance as enjoyed by civilians, armed forces personnel undeniably deserve at least a sense of respect for their tireless duty towards the service of the country and its citizens.

And yes, the makers of independent India and of its supreme law of the land, the Constitution, factored in these elements; sadly, the political class,slowly and progressively, overruled these and in want of electoral support has insulted the armed forces time and again. It is to be noted that the same part of the Indian Constitution that bestows upon people fundamental rights has under Article 33 made an exception, which reads as:

“Parliament may, by law, determine to what extent any of the rights conferred by this Part shall, in their application to –

(a) the members of the Armed Forces; or

(b) the members of the Forces charged with the maintenance of public order; or

(c) persons employed in any bureau or other organisation established by the State for purposes of intelligence or counter intelligence; or

(d) persons employed in, or in connection with, the telecommunication systems set up for the purposes of any Force, bureau or organisation referred to in clauses (a) to (c)

be restricted or abrogated so as to ensure the proper discharge of their duties and the maintenance of discipline among them.”

The intent of the makers of the Constitution was clear, armed forces and such organizations discharge special duties and hence they cannot have absolute and unrestricted access to fundamental rights.

Again, under Article 136, the Constitution says:

“(1) Notwithstanding anything in this Chapter, the Supreme Court may, in its discretion, grant special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree, determination, sentence or order in any cause or matter passed or made by any court or tribunal in the territory of India.

(2) Nothing in clause (1) shall apply to any judgment, determination, sentence or order passed or made by any court or tribunal constituted by or under any law relating to the Armed Forces.”

The above Article restricts the powers and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in matters related to armed forces of the country, a clear indication of the fact that the internal security of country and also its safety from external threat are special functions that should be differentiated from the civilian judicial apparatus.

It is nothing but a perfect rejection and insult of these principles that the political elites of today never refrain from defaming the armed forces in public. Such denouncements are widely covered by the media and are debated in prime time slots, all to play with nationalistic sentiments of the general public. Politicians, cutting across political parties and ideologies, have resorted to bad mouthing the actions of armed forces to fetch petty political gains.

While freedom of expression has explicitly been concluded as a basic right, it must be remembered in light of Article 33 of the Indian Constitution that the armed forces are a special service and they need differentiated treatment. This very article that takes away the basic right from armed forces implicitly expects safeguard of at least the honour of forces. Those safeguarding the country cannot be exposed to hate speeches and defamatory comments of politicians.

It is thus hereby suggested that the armed forces of this country be included in the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, alongside the Indian National Flag and National Anthem. The government should place the bill, The Prevention of Insults to National Honour (Amendment) Act, 2017, in Parliament, which shall make such necessary amendments as are required to thwart any ill-intended attack on the honour of the armed forces. By declaring defamation of armed forces as an offence in the amended act, we shall be better placed in terms of protecting our men in uniform from verbalabuse and dishonor.

Pending such legislation, it is also expected from the Hon’ble Supreme Court, which placed a ban on coverage of news related to a recently convicted High Court Judge in view of protection of honour of the highest court of justice in India, that it takes suo-moto action in interpreting the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Actin a manner that armed forces areconstrued as part of national honour.

(The article published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 2nd July 2017)

Protect Honour of the Armed Forces

BJP and Karnataka

Image 1 (updated)With the Karnataka Assembly elections hovering around the corner early next year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of a Congress-mukt Bharat does not seem to be too far away. In fact, if BJP’s recent historic win in UP is any indication of Congress going into a coma, there are strong reasons to believe that a repeat performance by the former in Karnataka, would sound the death knell of the country’s oldest political party. The failure of the Congress to evolve with the changing political scenario in the country in keeping with the aspirations of the people, its outdated and lacklustre leadership and a clueless cadre have all had the combined effect of sending the party into a tizzy. Besides the failing and faltering on the part of the Congress, the buoyancy of its main adversary, namely the BJP, riding the crest of a winning spree all over the Hindi heartland and the inroads it has successfully made in the northeastern parts of the country, which had thus far remained a Congress stronghold, coupled with the skyrocketing of the popularity and the towering image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the architect of a modern India through an ongoing series of reformation measures, has made the wilting of the Congress under pressure, inevitable and unavoidable.

Why BJP?

So much depends on the ability of the BJP to do a UP in Karnataka. Besides sending Congress into political oblivion, a pro-BJP outcome would mark the single-most transformation witnessed in post-Independence India, namely, an absolute rejection of pseudo-secularism as a primary political issue, let alone poll plank, by the people. No more elbowing out of the economic development of the nation and social progress of the people by appeasement of minorities and the bogey of communalism. The victory of the BJP would truly mark the purging of the imaginary and falsely projected ghosts of communalism of the past and the coming of age of developmental politics in the country. To this end, the BJP should continue to project its policy of the all inclusive development of the nation with the participation of all sections of our society, as its main poll plank. The party must convince the voters that their long wait for a smooth and uninterrupted economic development, the benefits of which would percolate down to the last man in the country, is over and a viable alternative to the corrupt Congress ideology is at hand. It must also allay the baseless and unfounded fears of persecution instilled in the psyche of the minorities and the marginalized sections of society during all these years since Independence by the Opposition. The electorate must be weaned away at all costs from the bogey of Communalism and pseudo secularism. This would be the single-most prominently striking takeaway from the elections.

Economic Accomplishments

The BJP should recount its successful demonetization program and the blitzkrieg conducted by the governmental agencies to unearth black money and bring the economic offenders to account. How the Prime Minister’s pro-poor economic measures helped shore up his stock among the poor and the middle-class which helped the government in successfully implementing the demonetization is the kind of stuff that should prominently figure in the party’s campaign. The electorate should be assured as to how the high and mighty have fallen from their high horses, being unable to escape the clutches of law for the economic offences flagrantly committed by them with impunity in connivance with the corrupt elements in the government and establishment in the past. That the rule of law reigns supreme in the country under the BJP rule is what would win over to it the electorate in the state disenchanted with the evils of corruption and nepotism prevailing in Karnataka. An alternative government capable of providing clean governance, responsible for its actions and answerable to the people is what the people of the state are yearning for in place of the current Congress dispensation under an opaque state leadership. How the BJP would provide a viable and effective alternative, on the lines of the popular government at the Centre is a key factor that would determine its success.

It must also be noted that although the central government funds a long list of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (where a part of the budget is contributed by states) and Central Sector Schemes (wholly funded by the centre and related mainly with scholarships to backwards), many such programmes fail to reach the intended beneficiaries owing to their lack of knowledge of such schemes and the lackluster approach of local administration in implementing these social sector initiatives with dedication and effectiveness. For BJP to let people of southern states realise the works done by present NDA government, promoting these centrally funded schemes, both for ultimate welfare of the needy and for winning the electorate’s support, is warranted.

Social Development

Of equal importance are NaMo-led government’s social welfare measures that are aimed at empowerment of women (PM Ujjwala Yojana), prevention of foeticide and infanticide, encouragement for educating the girl child (Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Scheme), etc. How the effective implementation of such schemes and measures helps identify the most vulnerable link in the chain of women development, namely women in rural areas, and strengthen them for their individual and collective development, would be of special interest to the female segment of the electorate. All these will contribute towards making them proud and equal partners in development.

Triple Talaq and Polygamy

It is an established fact that the BJP’s determination to do away with outdated and undesirable practices of triple talaq and polygamy and the steps the government at the Centre has already taken on this count resonate well with the female population and all right-thinking men among the Muslim community nationwide. The Muslim women and the right-thinking Muslim men of Karnataka would be no less enthusiastic about the introduction of a Uniform Civil Code in these matters. A guarded and appropriately orchestrated publicity campaign to enlist the support of the people coming under the ambit of the Muslim Personal Law would be in keeping with the BJP’s stance on the equal treatment of all the people, irrespective of their religion, caste or creed.

The BJP would do well to keep track of the fact that whereas the government is Constitutionally bound to be fair and unbiased in its treatment of the people in all matters of state, wherever the party is in power either on its own or in coalition with the other members of the NDA, it still remains a Hindu national party. The mainstay of the party is the groundswell of support it receives from the Hindu community, which has squarely and unequivocally reposed its faith in the BJP in preference to the other parties. The party could, therefore, ill afford to press ahead with its efforts to win the support of the minority communities by any move or measure, which is perceived inimical to the interests of the Hindu community. The Congress government of Karnataka had been insensitive enough to commemorate Tipu Sultan’s Jayanthi last year in complete disregard of the sentiments of and protests by sections of the Hindu community who were descendants of the victims of the controversial ruler’s excesses.

This was obviously a part of the Congress party’s age-old practice of appeasement of the minorities in keeping with its pseudo secularist policy. The BJP should take care to put an end to such uncalled for and unjustifiable practices and win over the trust of the majority community. A clear message has to be sent across to convey that the emotional wounds of people who have suffered historical blunders and injustices would not be allowed to be reopened and the underlying feelings of bitterness and hatred between different communities exacerbated. Then, cow slaughter is another emotive issue that has to be tactfully addressed during the campaign. It should also be made clear that a BJP government in the state would be governed by the party’s national policy in the matter; however, while doing so, the sentiments of Karnataka’s majority community would definitely be taken into account. The government would work for the progress and development of all the people with no appeasement gimmick to mar the government’s resolve to do justice to every community strictly in accordance with their legitimate interests and bonafide religious concerns.

Law and Order

Growing incidents of violence and crimes against women, children and people from northeastern states are a matter of great concern in Bengaluru. A police force, free from political interference, with zero tolerance towards such crimes, is the need of the hour. Furthermore, the overall security of the state vis-a-vis the scourge of domestic and international terrorism has to be the top priority of the state government. Only a BJP government is capable of ensuring that the state’s interests are in alignment with the Central government’s stance on the matter.

Anti-encroachment Drive

Another issue that the BJP election campaign should vigorously highlight is the rampant land grabbing cases that have plagued Bengaluru and other districts of Karnataka. A detailed report titled ‘Greed and Connivance’ prepared by V Balasubramanian, Chairman of the Task Force for Recovery of Public Land and its Protection, states that 12 lakh acres of government and public land have been encroached upon in the state by influential builders and land mafia with active involvement of persons in power, out of which 33,878 acres of land belongs to the Revenue Department in Bengaluru alone.  The Bengaluru district administration has managed to dispose of only 13 land grabbing cases out of the total 6,000 cases that it has been dealing with for some years now. It is an open fact that land was illegally acquired even during past Congress-led governments of Karnataka through co-operative societies, and subsequent quashing of such land allotments by Hon’ble courts substantiates this. 

An anti-land grabbing special court set up in Bengaluru for speedy trial of cases pertaining to land encroachments, which became functional on August 31, 2016, has seen the registration of 348 land grabbing cases by March 31, 2017. Furthermore, an additional 243 suo motu cases were registered by the special court itself. In an order in April 2017, while quashing the acquisition of 189 acres of land for a cooperative society, the Karnataka High Court held that a middleman (now a minister in the Congress-led government) used his political influence and that ‘the land acquisition was opposed to public policy’. The BJP should assure the voters that if it wins the 2018 Assembly elections and comes to power, the state government will take up the disposal of all these pending land grabbing cases on priority basis and also initiate tough action against the land grabbers as soon as encroachment has been proved. The state voters should also be assured that stringent measures to curb organized attempts to grab lands belonging to the government, local authorities or other statutory or non-statutory bodies owned, controlled or managed by the government, will also be strictly implemented under the Karnataka Land Grabbing Prohibition Act.

Widespread Corruption, Appeasement

Although the coal and 2G spectrum scams, besides other illicit paybacks received by ministers of Congress-led governments in many states, made national headlines and have established that the Congress is the second name for corruption, it is the recent findings by the Centre for Media Studies that are illustrative of wide-ranging corruption in the state of Karnataka. It must not be shocking that the state, which is presently being led by ministers already under investigating agencies scanner, ranked at the top in corruption perception in the survey carried out by CMS. Along with Karnataka, all other Southern states have come out to be homes of corrupt government services; states like Bihar and Chhattisgarh, however, have shown improvements as compared to their past rankings. Good news for the BJP is that the same survey concluded that people could feel that corruption level went significantly down during and after the demonetization of higher currency notes; hence the public opinion is now tilted heavily toward the BJP.

This is also a time when the Modi-led central government has completed three-years of ruling and it is a notable achievement that not even a single evidence-backed corruption charge has come up against any minister. The changes in the ministries were backed by performances and rationales and not by the obligation to remove any tainted minister. On the other hand, it is being felt that Muslim women are rethinking their stance and are now backing the pragmatic approach of the government in dealing with issues like Triple Talaq and Halala. The Congress-led Karnataka government could only appease the Muslim community by offering them sops; the BJP however is working for holistic development of the community and the same message must be spread by ground level workers of the party so that appeasement does not become a deciding factor in the upcoming state polls. Tepid police action against offenders from Muslim community, along with biased chargesheets to prevent convictions, has been a policy of the Congress government. The community, however, has realized that they can only grow by way of education and empowerment of women, not through government-backed impunity and pity sops.

Nationalism

There are Naxals, Maoists and other such anti-national forces in the form of the Azaadi brigade among the students, academia, multimedia, religious institutions and political parties, which are inimical to the interests of nationalism and territorial integrity of our country. They are out to destroy the very concept of India that is Bharat. Today, the BJP is the only national party that is capable of unifying all the patriotic elements around the pivotal force of devotion to the task of nation building. The corrupt form of secularism currently rampant in the body politic has to be replaced with a strong sense of pride for the country, its flag, national anthem and other icons and legends that constitute the strands of patriotism. Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign for Karnataka has to be imbued with this message for striking an empathic chord to the cause of clean governance and the cause of nationalism. The BJP should not shy away from propounding its case, which is in the best interests of the nation as well as the party and, needless to say, the people and the state of Karnataka. The party owes to itself the clinching of the campaign for Karnataka, which could become its gateway to greater victories in the remaining southern states.

What Modi has done and need to do

Statesman Delhi - 2The leftist media and analysts have all negatives; on the contrary, the rightist proponents are all-praise for the three years of Narender Modi-led union government. The environment prevailing today in the largest democracy on earth is of either outright submission or absolute condemnation. No one seems to be willing to judge without bias the outcomes of the actions of a government that saw unprecedented support from the electorate in 2014. In the subsequent paragraphs, let’s dig out some real facts, forget false allegations, and assess whether the country did gain under the ‘Modi-raj’ and if yes, then are there still any areas that need the PM’s attention.

One change in the political scene of country that cannot escape the attention of any prudent analyst is the popular nomenclature of the present administration. Past governments were rarely termed as Manmohan-led or Vajpayee-led; the present setup however steers clear of being referred to as BJP-led or NDA-led. National and foreign media have been using the term Modi-led, to showcase the hold of one person over the political, social and economic landscapes of India. Then it becomes obvious that the report card is issued in the name of the Prime Minister, not for his cabinet or MPs.

Without doubt, it can be said that the government has been in action mode ever since it won the mandate. Crucial bills like Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, Goods and Service Tax Act, Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) Act and many others are and should be hailed for their passage was necessary to uplift the economy, improve India’s standing in the financial and business landscape and to infuse inclusiveness and equity in the entire arrangement. But let us exercise some restraint while terming these actions as extraordinary, for a government of any country is expected to function in a manner that wealth is enhanced and distributed equitably among all citizens. The Modi-led government has been doing the same.

In this sense, the government seems to have just fulfilled its commitment. Instances when the administration thought out of the box and brought some unexpected reforms provoke at least a humble pat on the back of the present cabinet. Demonetisation of higher currency notes was the most decisive among these measures, a non-populist choice that was welcomed by the public at large despite the condemnation by opposition and media. With a single stroke the government not only unearthed some illicit cash hoarded by individuals and corporates alike, it also boosted the CASA deposits of Indian banks, thus bringing down the rate of interest on credit, along with making credit accessible to the until-now deprived.

On the other fronts, there were policy initiatives like the PM Ujjwala Yojana, a scheme under which LPG gas connections are bring given free of cost to poor households; the MUDRA Yojana, a flagship scheme with a motive to ‘fund the unfunded’ by extending formal credit to micro and small enterprises; the Startup India Programme, aimed at building an ecosystem where innovation is nurtured by facilitation through loans from the formal sector; and the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, a scheme that replaced ineffective National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (NAIS) and modified NAIS so that yield loss as well as post-harvest losses of farmers are covered with lowest possible premium.

The list is long enough and can be accessed from the websites of various government ministries. When we talk about achievements and setbacks of any government, formulation of policies and schemes is a significant but not the overriding part. Hence, it is vital to note the overall impact of government actions by not only highlighting the liberalisation of FDI regime and the record foreign direct investment received in past couple of years but also measuring micro indicators that are a true representative of nation’s progress.

In this respect, the high unemployment rate is the weightiest challenge. The world may be discussing our demographic dividend, the so-called youth power, but the harsh reality is that this dividend cannot be reaped unless the youth is put to work. IT giants have been laying off employees at the highest rates ever seen, industrial output has not been such that it could match the needs of job-seekers and the infrastructure push by the government, which involves ports and coastal development under Sagarmala and building of houses under Housing for All, cannot absorb all. The government has to tap new avenues, including food processing and bring more and more global companies to manufacture in India. But the pace of building food processing infrastructure and easing regulations under Make in India are vital.

The government can be praised for realizing the stressed condition of Indian banks. Prudent measures like phased infusion of capital and an ordinance giving powers to RBI to resolve non-performing assets crisis are likely to ease some pressure. Viability in the long-run, however, can only be guaranteed when functioning of banks is looked at afresh, expenses are rationalised and profitability is targeted through far-sighted business activities and not by resorting to transaction charges and other fee from customers who have no other option than to pay these predatory imposts.

Having talked about commerce and economy, let us now move to domains that are a part and parcel of every citizen yet are overshadowed by discussions and debates over GDP growth rate and widening or easing of fiscal deficit. The most relevant among these is the safety and well-being of all irrespective of faith, caste, colour or culture. India conducted surgical strikes on terrorist outposts in PoK and has also lately fired punitive assault on posts which aid infiltration into Indian Territory. These actions elevated the morale of army men and civilians alike; still there is a long path to tread. Acquiring defense machinery to empower our forces with latest weaponry and condemning Pakistan at international forums are crucial for long-term safety of the country.

The China issue, which involves its resolve to not let India enter the Nuclear Supplier Group, along with its construction of roads and other infrastructure on the disputed territory currently in Pakistan’s control under its much-hyped One Belt One Road initiative, demand dedicated deliberation and an effective strategy to undermine the growing stature of China as a country that can replace the US hegemony, at least in Asia. By not sending an official representative to the recently held OBOR Summit, we may have shown our dissent, it needs acts of commission and not omission to deal with China effectively. Same is the case with the internal issue pertaining to Kashmir where school and college students have resorted to stone pelting on Indian forces.

It must be remembered that after his stint as the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi will be assessed on macro issues more than on matters like economic growth rate or inflation. China and Kashmir are two such issues; while the former needs continuing strategy building, the latter awaits urgent actions by a leader who not only is the highest decision making body at the Centre but also has a say in the J&K state government. To make sure that he is remembered as a game changer in the political history of India, PM Modi must integrate Kashmir with the rest of India in such a manner that every Kashmiri thinks of being an Indian first and a Kashmiri later.

In the end, let us return to where we started. Modi alone cannot be the Messiah of Indian political scene, for the Prime Minister of India is the first among equals(his council of ministers). People may have voted for their local representatives fielded by the BJP in the name of Narendra Modi, every single MP, MLA or Councilor has to be made result-driven and honest enough for the sake of taking India to new heights, to a place from where we only grow, not dip. And this task involves revolutionising politics and political leaders so that all representatives of people aim for collective benefits, not personal. Introducing electoral bonds in political funding is just the beginning, police reforms, decriminalisation of politics and producing a new line of leadership for future should be the aim of Modi-Shah duo for the next 2 years, or even 7 years if we judge the leaning of the electorate toward PM Modi.

(The article published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 27th May 2017)

What Modi Has Done And Need To Do

Turning Kerala from Red to Saffron

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With a 100% literacy rate to its credit, how could the backwaters of Kerala be any less congenial for the lotus to bloom than places loosely termed to constitute the cow belt? With the saffron upsurge recently witnessed in the Hindi heartland, and the inroads made in the northeastern states, the BJP has its sights set on making forays into the anti-BJP citadels in the southern part of the country, like Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, to establish its pan-India appeal and reach. As of now, while the party has a modicum of respectability with a seat share of 44 in a House of 225 in Karnataka, its headcount in the assemblies of the other two states reads a dismal one in Kerala and a disastrous nil in Tamil Nadu. This notwithstanding the traditional sway that the party’s ideological forerunner the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has among chunks of the right thinking men and women, especially in Kerala, with fastidious nationalist moorings and commitment and total disregard for regionalism, and the immense popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The task needs to be addressed by the BJP in right earnestness, not only to consolidate its position as the largest and most successful political force in the future rounds of elections among the wide spectrum of national parties, most of which are currently in a state of disarray and bedlam consequent upon the crushing defeats handed out to them during the last three years, but also to sustain its own winning streak. A clinching victory in Kerala in the next Assembly elections would undoubtedly pitchfork the party to a vantage position of strength and stability by throwing open a breach in the wall of resistance in state politics. Such a victory would also create a stronghold in the forefront of the party’s nationwide electoral strategy. A thumping victory in Kerala would truly herald BJP arrival in style in the south of the Vindhyas and mark the emergence of the party over the murky swirls of regionalism and fractious communalism as well as the corrupt ideological spins being infused into moribund political ideologies like Communism, Marxism and Naxalism in the state.

What needs to be done?

The BJP in Kerala has the unenviable disadvantage of having to fight an opportunistic alliance between leftist and communal forces. The overall political atmosphere in the state is surcharged with violence, which has already taken a heavy toll on the BJP workers. The BJP and the RSS cadres have been finding it increasingly difficult to resist the urge to retaliate, in the absence of a ray of hope for an early end to the relentless political violence spiralling out of control under the benign watch of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front coalition. The party’s central leadership needs to find a quick solution to the problem of unabating violence to keep the morale of its state cadre intact and to convince the electorate about the party’s commitment to upholding democratic values in the face of extreme provocation. To this end, it has to send, in tandem with the Union Home Ministry, a strong message across that it would brook no more systematic perpetration of attacks on its human resources and assets in the state. While doing so, it must ensure that the local leadership of the party is sufficiently strengthened and empowered with adequate resources and wherewithal to enable it to keep its flock together under its wings, given the ground realities.

This is imperative to boost up the strong Keralite pride in the local leadership in its equation with the central leadership. The party would do well to persuade the Union Home Ministry to bring the state government around to realise that there indeed are red lines, which should not be crossed by the ruling coalition as well as the state machinery while tackling the rising political violence. The state government should be gently but firmly reminded by Delhi that the state would, under no circumstances, be permitted to degenerate into a lawless political wilderness in the absence of firm and timely action by the state machinery. Again, this exercise needs to be carried out with alacrity and without engaging disproportionate use of authority lest the state government should cry foul and try to present itself, in the eyes of the people, as a victim or martyr to a perceived case of the Centre trying to usurp the state’s prerogative to maintain law and order, a state subject under the Constitution. A series of well-orchestrated moves by the local and central leadership of the BJP with the support of the Home Ministry to achieve the goal is the need of the hour.

Terrorism

Furthermore, the state has been witness to the recent phenomenon of the rearing of their ugly heads by international terrorist organisations like the Islamic State and the Al Qaeda and other home-grown jehadi outfits. Of late, there has been a series of incidents of individuals, and even families sneaking out of India en masse to distant lands like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, to join banned terrorist organisations and fight insidious religious wars against their perceived international enemies, including India. The state has earned the dubious distinction of having become a breeding ground for international terrorism. Evidently, the terrorists-in-the-making are indoctrinated, radicalised and brainwashed beforehand to make the vulnerable targets to become thoroughly dissatisfied with the democratic institutions and concepts such as secularism, nationalism, India’s cultural ethos, communal harmony, etc. The disgruntled elements try to subvert the system and pose a grave threat to peace, development and harmony in the multicultural, egalitarian society that India has been home to.

What has been happening in trickles so far should not be allowed to turn into a tidal wave. Indoctrination centres, training grounds, sources of funds, etc have to be identified and nixed. Evidently, given its ideological handicap and appeasement policy towards minority communities, the Marxist government in the state cannot be expected to put an end to this menace. The Centre must step in and convert the state into a strong bulwark against the rising spectre of terrorism. A BJP government in the state would ideally complement the Centre’s moves in this regard. This fact should be projected as an intricate part of the party’s program of awareness of the dangers of terrorism during its election campaign. That a BJP government in the state would be the one most capable of taking suitable measures on the ground in sync with the Centre’s efforts and initiatives aimed at wiping out terrorism should be an inherent part of the party’s roadmap to success. No stone should be left unturned to convince the people of Kerala that the state needs to be reconverted into a safe haven for the peace-loving citizens like in the past as against the hotbed of terrorism and mindless political violence that it has been reduced to over a period of time.

Living Testimony

The NRI community abroad is a living testimony to the promptness and diligence with which the BJP government at the Centre has successfully diffused countless numbers of crisis situations in which the former had found itself in during the last three years. This segment of the community has immensely benefited from the Central government’s service-to-the-people policy both from Delhi as well as through the Indian diplomatic missions abroad. A large number of Keralites working abroad have been successfully repatriated during wars and warlike situations and also relocated during times of peace. No case was too big or too small for the Union government. The affected people of Kerala living abroad or currently at home could collectively form a notional goodwill Ambassador for carrying out BJP’s people-oriented policies more effectively. Meanwhile, the party should also think of a way to achieving this end. For example, the BJP national leadership can consider appointing or deputing K J Alphons (Alphons Kannanthanam), a bureaucrat-turned-politician from Kerala, as Special Advisor or Poll Strategist or Campaign Chief with the aim of winning the next Assembly polls in the state. A 1979 batch IAS officer, Kannanthanam had quit the bureaucracy in 2006 and got elected as an independent Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Kanjirappally in Kottayam district of Kerala, with a huge majority. He had joined the BJP in 2011. In 1989, as the District Collector of Kottayam, Alphons had pioneered the literacy movement and made Kottayam the first 100% literate town in India. Kottayam had also achieved a quality health index better than the United States of America, when he was the District Collector.

We Have Been There and Done It Before

The post-poll developments in Uttar Pradesh, which has turned out to be BJP’s biggest electoral success yet, have accentuated the truth that a strict implementation of preventive laws and wholehearted acceptance of people welfare programs are capable of catapulting an already popular government to dizzying heights. This is arguably the most singular lesson from the party’s strategy that saw it romp home at the end of a tortuous journey in UP. The people of Kerala have to be convinced that the BJP government in the offing in the state is one that would care and dare; the government would care for people’s welfare and the state’s development and dare to do the right thing, with nary a thought of appeasement to any community, no matter how minority or majority in terms of its numerical strength. The government would function strictly in conformity with the constitutional provisions and strive to enact laws in terms of the Directive Principles of State Policy for improving the quality of life and not for curtailing people’s freedom. The rule of law would be upheld ever and anon. The minority communities would be equal partners in development.

These are the messages that have to be carried across the length and breadth of the state. The needs and requirements of the constituents must be ascertained and stitched into a garb of glory in the form of the party’s program of action. People understand the strengths and constraints of every party and welcome their candid admission of what is likely to pan out once the die is cast. The people of Kerala are not wired any differently from the people of states that have returned BJP governments, except that they have thus far been supporting the parties, flogging dead ideologies like Communism to bring them back to life. With a candid presentation by the BJP of how precisely they propose to transform Kerala into a dynamic state, there is no reason why the people would not deem it fit to give a decent burial to the ideologies long dead and say goodbye to the fractious communal elements, always on the double to fish in the murky political waters. There is no shying away for the BJP from identifying itself as a party for Hindutva. Now, Hindutva is no more a bad word, not even in Kerala. Results are all that people are interested in. If a party that espouses Hindutva could deliver, as it has already demonstrated elsewhere, give them a break. It is a real time tie in Kerala between pragmatism and ideology. With conviction and diligence in its arsenal, the BJP has every reason to feel upbeat about its ability to hard sell pragmatism in God’s Own Country as it has done elsewhere, time and again.

Making the case for a Uniform Civil Code

Uniform Civil CodeThe Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is one of the most contentious issues staring the Indian polity in the eye. Although Article 44 of the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution speaks of a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens, it has remained a distant dream, with no government thus far addressing the issue with seriousness.

This has been primarily on account of the fear of a possible backlash at elections from sections of voters. The present government’s attempt to implement UCC has been vehemently resisted by large sections of the Muslims led by clerics and their ilk. Endless debates and discussions between stakeholders have not succeeded in carrying the issue to fructification. Religious sentiments have prevailed over aspirations of all the right-thinking men and women of the nation for a level playing field.

A Uniform Civil Code for all the citizens is in agreement with the secular ethos of the nation. Unlike in the West, where secularism is a mere act of the State distancing itself from the Church, the concept means in the Indian context, equal treatment of people of all religions – a proactive stance on the part of the State.

This calls for respect from the government for the sentiments of the people of different religions, without leaving any room for favour or prejudice. While the endeavour to treat all citizens alike before law is in keeping with the exhortation of the relevant Article of the Directive Principles of State Policy as well, the State is hard put to carry out the implementation without its action being perceived by the people of the minority communities as an attempt to trample upon their sentiments or to curtail their freedom to live in terms of their religious beliefs.

At the same time, people of any religion cannot be viewed or treated as clones cast in the same mould and should not be expected to unquestioningly fall in line with the provisions of the personal law applicable to their community. That is because such personal laws were fashioned and designed on the basis of religious tenets and cultural mores, dating back to medieval times to primarily suit the people living in a distant land in harsh conditions, fighting for the perceived supremacy of their religion.

In the Indian context, a community is made up of individuals with their own views, beliefs and opinions in their vital personal matters and private lives in changed circumstances and conditions prevailing in the country. They may not be faulted for seeking redressal for a grievance in terms of natural justice, just like any other citizen, without prejudice to their religious standing or beliefs.

In the matter of personal law, interpretation of its provisions is heavily loaded in favour of the clerics and other religious entities and agencies. An individual’s inalienable right to natural justice is stifled by his or her religious identity, in matters such as marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption, inheritance, etc.

The issue of triple talaq is a case in point. The fundamentality of a divorced woman’s right to alimony is at stake. The self-esteem of a woman to live a life of gender equality is in question. This is the kind of a helpless situation in which a large number of persons, mostly women, of the minority communities find themselves in.

The question of such men and women being able to contribute their optimal share to the nation’s and society’s development in accordance with the evolved social situation is a matter of equal concern to the majority community.

When aggrieved individuals find their voice to protest against the provisions of the personal law and choose to step out of the line and try to seek justice in a court of law, the State cannot afford to stand on the wings as a mute spectator and do nothing to ameliorate the situation.

Judiciary, on its part, finds hardly any maneuverability in the present system to address the situation, leaving the aggrieved person to fall back into the mires of the personal law. Lack of conviction on the part of politicians or their obstinacy to take any measure for social welfare that would impinge on their vote bank politics prevail over the concern of Judiciary for fair play and natural justice for all the citizens, as was witnessed in the Shah Bano case during the Congress rule.

The individual liberty of members of a community which is governed by personal law thus falls prey to the stubborn attitude of the community elders and their insistence on the freedom to have their own personal civil code. The government cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the travails of the forlorn individuals on account of their vulnerability against the personal law.

The resulting situation is a simmering discontent among individuals, particularly women, in minority communities, who find themselves victims of a lacuna in the system. In a society such as the one in India where people of diverging religious beliefs have been living in harmony despite grave instigations and provocations, for the State to continue to allow this kind of despair among vast numbers of its citizens does not augur well.

It is not only the various religious groups in the country but also the faceless individuals who form these groupings and yet feel left out, who have to be carried along by the State in the interests of fair play and its own survival lest discontent have a detrimental effect. Failure on the part of the government to be proactive in such a crucial matter would not only reflect poorly on its efficacy but also be a sad commentary on the poor shape of democracy in the country.

Speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival on January 23 this year, Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin, who is well-known for slamming misogynistic ideas in Islam, rightly asserted that India urgently needs the UCC to protect the democratic rights of Muslim women as well as to stop the issue of fatwas by some religious clerics. To cut a long story short, the UCC is long overdue. To further delay its implementation would be tantamount to the State abandoning a section of its own people, no matter how small or large their number, purportedly on account of lack of a consensus, while, in reality, on account of lack of political conviction.

The returning of the Law Commission’s questionnaire on the UCC by the Chief Minister of Bihar purportedly because “the questions have been framed in such a manner so as to force the respondent (Bihar government) to reply in a specific way” is a classic attempt on the part of the naysayers of Indian politics to tactfully avoid taking the bull by its horns.

As the first step in the long way to be traversed, the people of our country need to be educated by the government about the issues involved. How several countries around the world, including a fair number of Islamic ones, have opted for UCC in the interests of their own social and overall development needs to be projected.

The people of the minority communities should be spurred on to realize that the time for self-introspection and rejection of complacency in matters vital to their interests is well at hand. The foremost task at hand is for the government is to convince the people to stir out of their comfort zone and help themselves.

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

Making The Case For A Uniform Civil Code