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Is Air Pollution Here to Stay?

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

Delhi Chokes

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

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

Addressing the Issue 

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

Stubble-Burning 

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

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

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

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

Construction and Demolition Activities

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

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

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

Odd-Even Policy

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

Swachh Hawaa

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

Water Management – A Huge Task Ahead

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

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

Global Warming

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

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

Fight Against Global warming

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

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

Deforestation

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

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

Irrigation Woes

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

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

Huge Task Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission Chandrayaan and India’s Giant Leap into the Future

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

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

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

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

Space Program

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

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

Chandrayaan-1

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

Chandrayaan-2

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

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

Chandrayaan-3

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

Gaganyaan

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

Conquering the Sky

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

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

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

The Stranglehold of Black Money over Politics in India

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

Parallel Economy

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

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

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

Politics and Black Money

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

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

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

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

Post-poll Scenario

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

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

Will and Resilience

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

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

कॉरपोरेट टैक्स रेट में कटौती शुरु होगा सकारात्मक चेन रिएक्शन

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

Protests in Hong Kong and China’s Predicament

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

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

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

Breaking Out of Protests

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

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

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

More Demands

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

Periodical Protests

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

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

World View

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

Way Out for China

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

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

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

Is the Pak economy on the brink of collapse?

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

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

Economic Woes

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

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

Religious Fundamentalism

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

Hotbed of Terrorism

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

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

Peevish Attitude

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

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

Pakistan’s Blame Game

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

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

Possibility of FATF Blacklisting

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

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

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

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

Economic Slowdown – Perception and Reality

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

Aftermath of Trade War

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

Neither Crisis nor Disaster

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

Fiscal Measures and Stimuli

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

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

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

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

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

Economy on Sound Footing

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

Neither Fish nor Fowl

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

The Arrest Of Shivakumar Further Exposes Congress’ Corruption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kashmir conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Triple Talaq Abolished, UCC Should be Next Step

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BJP alone can genuinely integrate J&K with India

Kashmiri politicians like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti want a separate Prime Minister for Jammu & Kashmir. This, they say, is in accordance with the terms of accession of the State and therefore a Constitutional demand. In the same breath, Mufti says, “We are Muslims”. So what they are actually asking for is a Muslim PM for J&K. Omar Abdullah went a step further and talked about a separate President as well for the State.

What a convenient arrangement for the father-son Abdullah duo to split the plum posts between themselves and spend the rest of their political life in the comfort of dynastic rule! Mufti would, on her part, alternate with the Abdullahs in an incestuously close contract of family rule, all in the name of keeping the Kashmiri identity distinct and separate from the State’s oneness with the Indian nation. They do not mind the State remaining within the Indian Union so long as it vests in them the power of ruling the State and takes away from them the responsibility of protecting the State from external threats.

All-Muslim Affair

It is obvious that these politicians look at people as Muslims and non-Muslims and practise partisan politics. They are simply not concerned about national issues although they do vent their spleen from time to time at the perceived Hindutva policies or initiatives of the NDA government. It is evident that they don’t have faith in a non-Muslim (read Hindu) nationalist Prime Minister like Narendra Modi. They believe that only a Muslim PM is capable of governing the State with the interests of the Muslim community in mind.

Obviously, they consider the interests of the Muslims and those of the others mutually exclusive. They don’t believe in communal amity and religious harmony. Why else would the response of the State’s political spectrum to a mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, running into hundreds of thousands in 1989-90, be a deafening silence? Wasn’t it a case in point when the separatist Muslim leaders fanned communal passion and tried to precipitate a flagrant ethnic cleansing? Fortunately and inexplicably, the sordid communal conflagration remained a localised affair and did not get out of hand. If it had spread to the rest of India, what was to follow might have been the equivalent of a sequel to the partition of united India.

It is more than evident that the separatist Muslim leaders of J&K want an Islamic nation for the Muslim people. Within the framework of the India that we know, this is high treason and sedition. For achieving their eventual goal of secession from India, the self-serving separatist Kashmiri leaders are well aware that they stand no chance against the powerful military and industrial complex of India. They are, therefore, reconciled to inching towards their goal, with the demand for a separate PM and a separate President and a continued special status for the State. Simultaneously, they are all for rallying the support of Pakistan, which wants to see India’s disintegration.

Pro-Pakistan Leaders

There is no dearth of separatist Kashmiri leaders operating within the State receiving support from Pakistan. Yasin Malik, the chief of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, is a case in point. Although he speaks of the independence of J&K from the rule of both India and Pakistan, his cavorting with the Pakistani politicians, on and off, singles him out as a party in nexus with Pakistan.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the pro-Pakistan separatist Hurriyat leader, is reportedly receiving terror funding from Pakistan for his separatist movement. His two sons have been subjected to interrogation for involvement in the charge, and his son-in-law was arrested on charges of sponsoring stone pelting in the State. This case has revealed that in 2018 alone, more than a hundred stone-pelters and terrorists had received funds from Pakistan. That Geelani is a Pak-sponsored separatist is a foregone conclusion. The Pakistani media had quoted him as saying in 2010, “Hum Pakistani hain; Pakistan humara hai”, while he was addressing a large group of his followers.

After the Pulwama incident early this year, as part of a strong drive by our security agencies, the Enforcement Directorate levied a penalty of Rs 14.40 lakh and also ordered confiscation of nearly Rs 6.8 lakh in connection with a FEMA case against Geelani for illegal possession of foreign exchange. In the past, he had supported Afzal Guru, who was the mastermind of the terrorist attack on Indian Parliament in 2001 and Hafiz Saeed, Chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba and mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. He has also been supportive of Kashmir’s union with Pakistan.

Geelani has been receiving vocal support of Pakistan, and he has been criticised for being an agent of Pakistan by fellow Kashmiri leaders. Sheikh Mustafa Jamal, leader of National Conference, has charged him with being a double agent of Pakistan’s ISI and being on that country’s payroll. He is one of the regular pro-Pakistan separatist Kashmiri leaders who are invited to the National Day reception of the Pakistan Embassy in Delhi year after year. Asiya Andrabi, Head of Dukhtaran-e-Milat, Kashmir’s biggest network of women jihadists, has been in prison since July 2018 for waging war against India and other unlawful activities.

Known for supporting the infamous stone-pelting rallies in 2015 across the Kashmir valley organised by Masarat Alam Bhat, leader of the Pro-Pakistan Muslim League, she hoisted Pakistan’s national flag in Srinagar and sang Pakistan’s national anthem on that country’s National Day in 2015. Asiya Andrabi also incited violence by slaughtering a cow and released a video to defy the ban on the sale of beef in J&K. Her husband Ashiq Hussain Fakhtoo is a well-known terrorist and one of the top commando leaders of Hizbul Mujahideen, openly supporting the secession of J&K and its union with Pakistan. He has been in jail since 1993 for the murder of a human rights activist.

Battle Lines Drawn

The recent development of open talk asking for a separate Prime Minister for J&K seemed to be a bait to the leaders of the leading national parties who were then trying hard to trounce the BJP at the polls and grab power at the Centre. Indian National Congress, the party most flagrantly notorious for its family rule, has not reacted to the demand of the separatists. It has, however, talked in its election manifesto of upholding the State’s special status besides holding talks to find an “honourable solution” to the problems that have come in the way of peace – a euphemism for the party’s acquiescing to the latest demand.

The BJP has, on its part, denounced the demand, and instead, it has spoken of abrogating Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution. The party’s stand has been succinctly, if a bit too sharply, brought out in the words of its new entrant Gautam Gambhir: “Omar Abdullah wants a separate PM for J&K, and I want pigs to fly! More than a separate PM, Omar Abdullah needs some sleep, followed by a strong coffee! If he still doesn’t understand, then a green Pakistani passport.” Thus, the battle lines have been drawn and positions taken by all the major stakeholders. Now that the results of the General Elections 2019 have been declared and the BJP-led NDA government has been reelected we just need to wait and watch how things shape up in the coming months, which will ultimately decide the final outcome.

Baseless Allegations Shouldn’t Go Unpunished

During the last five-year rule of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the churning that happened in Indian politics enabled the Opposition to throw up a spot-the-thief-where-there-is-no-theft strategy. It was based on falsehood and aimed at spiking a great trail that marked the NDA reign. The landmark strategy set the ground for the evolution of the spit-and-scoot tactics aimed at maligning the most spotless of the reputations. In the post-2014 scenario, the continued absence of scams and scandals on the part of the government had rendered the Opposition desperate and the Media nervous.

The government showed no signs of a let-up on its avowed policy of clean governance, nor did the ruling coalition exhibit any sign of cracking up. The single instance of the pulling out of the government by a peevish Telugu Desam Party was no more than a classic case of a single swallow that does not a summer make. With its inability to set a narrative of its own, the Opposition had been reduced to a sorry state of marginal presence. Bereft of grist for its gossip mill, the mainstream media (MSM) found, to its dismay, the drying up of the fountainhead of sensationalism. In short, it was not business as usual any more either for the Opposition or for the MSM.

Formula for Relevance

It was at such a juncture of the downturn of events that the Opposition went for a huddle and came up with a formula for gaining political relevance. The strategy gave the Opposition the raison d’être, and the tactics gave the strategy the wings. Primary among the proponents of the formula was the Congress Party, whose high priest, Rahul Gandhi, lost no time to shoot from the hip. The party did not have to look far to spot a potential area for a scam. Having for long been in the eye of numerous scandals and scams while in power, Congress saw a windfall opportunity in the India-France deal for the procurement of fighter jets for IAF.

Had not the nation witnessed during the Congress rule, right from Jawaharlal Nehru’s time down to that of Manmohan Singh, some scam or the other in the area of Defence purchases? The Bofors scam still etched fresh in their memory, why should it take long for the people to be persuaded to believe that no Defence deal was corruption-free or, for that matter, no government was scandal-free? However, since the Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues had all along steered clear of corruption charges, the name of an industrialist, supposedly a so-called ‘corporate crony’ and promoter of the Prime Minister’s image, was thrown in to make the plot thicker.

Thief but No Theft

Accusations were hurled and allegations levelled against the PM, his cabinet colleagues, and the ‘corporate crony’. The involvement of a French angle in a murky affair was not spared either. The ‘scam’ was at the heart of all the events of the Opposition, be it a road show, street corner meeting or press meet. The government squarely rebutted all the charges and vehemently ruled out any impropriety, financial, political or administrative. The decibel level of the high priest of Congress went up higher and higher, and the ethical quotient of the attack on the PM lower and lower. The PM was flagrantly branded a thief who allegedly stole thousands of crores of public money and gave it away to his ‘corporate crony’. Interestingly, the amount of money supposedly stolen from the public, drastically varied in quantum from one public meeting to another, depending on the perceived need of the moment to produce a shock and awe effect on a stupefied audience who had no clue about what was being said.

Without prejudice to the intelligence of the rural and small-town audience who attended such meetings, what registered in their mind in the scorching heat of a hot summer day under the open sky was, in all probability, “Chowkidar chor hai.” Nothing more! It was evident from the beginning that the issue was baseless, with no proof or evidence. Congress, however, went about claiming that the onus of proving not guilty was on the Prime Minister. Very convenient, indeed!

Apology

In response to a PIL filed by some disgruntled ex-members of BJP and their associates, the Supreme Court found no corruption, foul play or impropriety in the Rafael deal. The CAG report further reaffirmed a clean deal. All this was not enough to deter the high priest of Congress from slinging more and more mud on the government. Referring to a Supreme Court verdict on a review petition, he brazenly went ahead to claim that the apex court had conceded that the PM was a thief. Rahul Gandhi had to subsequently tender an unconditional apology to the court, but he did it only after the honourable court warned him of strict action.

Contempt for Norms

Now he restricts himself to saying in public meetings “Chowkidar” and prompts the audience to shout “Chor Hai”. Whether his behaviour qualifies to be termed childish or churlish is a moot point. He has also gone ahead to state on camera that he has no details in his possession regarding the Rafael deal! Furthermore, he has no qualms about conceding that his attack on Narendra Modi was aimed at tarnishing the latter’s clean image and reputation of spotless personal integrity. In short, anything to bring down one’s opponent from the podium of public recognition for one’s own self-promotion! What could be viler or horrendously unacceptable than such a sinister display of contempt for decency, decorum, and integrity in public life, especially on the part of one aspiring to become the Prime Minister?

Accountability

In an up and coming nation like India, where there are severe constraints on the people’s accessibility to unvarnished truth, with paid sections of the MSM hacking the public opinion with misinterpretations, half-truths and plain falsehood, the price that the honest political leaders have to pay to vindicate their honesty and integrity is quite daunting, to say the least. However, when mealy-mouthed politicians gang up for their selfish agenda and cause the derailment of truth, it is the nation which suffers the most. A wrong person at the right place, surrounded by evil geniuses and conniving henchmen, could cause irreparable harm to the development of the nation by taking its economy several decades back, a severe beating to communal harmony, loss of faith in the people in democracy and territorial integrity.

After all, it is rightly said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. No amount of precaution is too much to take, nor is the time for action too soon. Politicians should be made accountable for their words and deeds, especially outside the Parliament, which provides them with a reasonable degree of freedom of expression, free of the fear of retribution. Their conduct outside the Legislature needs to be restrained too. Victory in an election is neither a licence for the politician to put himself above the nation or its citizens nor is an electoral debacle an adequate punishment for all his sins.

A Stable Government and Coalition Politics

Regional parties which stand absolutely no chance of forming a government at the Centre or in a State on their own strength, are much too happy to join sides with big parties in the fight so as to be able to share a piece of power after a collective victory. Coalition politics is all about fighting for and the sharing of power.

Is coalition politics here to stay? The answer seems to be in the affirmative, given the developments of the recent past in the political arena. Ground realities and pragmatic considerations make the fight for the numbers at the hustings ruthless. The stakes are too high for anyone to ignore. Victory becomes an absolute necessity for the participants in an election, both for the capturing of power and, very often, political survival. No matter how big a party or how wide its reach, the compulsions of Realpolitik call for the supplementing of the party’s national appeal with a shot of pizzazz peculiar to a certain region or local community, found aplenty in the state-level or smaller parties.

Level Playing Ground

It is a rare occurrence these days when two major parties are pitted against each other in a poll, be it for the Parliament or the state assemblies. Small regional parties which stand absolutely no chance of forming a government at the Centre or in a State on their own strength, are much too happy to join sides with big parties in the fight so as to be able to share a piece of power after a collective victory. It may, therefore, be stated that coalition politics is all about fighting for and the sharing of power. It affords a level playing ground to all the parties, small, big or medium, to come together to form competing blocs, and thereby have an adequate say in the wielding of power, which is no more the monopoly of big parties.

Bickerings Galore

In effect, this sounds too good to be true. However, political parties, big or small, need to have basic ethics which guide them from degenerating into power brokers. When coalition partners have common ethics, they could be counted on by the people, service to whom needs to be the core guiding principle of a government. Much too often, parties that have nothing in common except an unbridled craving for power, forge tie-ups to topple a government already in position or beat a rival alliance that stands in an election for all the right reasons. It is not all that difficult for the people to identify the power mongers or the nation-breakers from the very fact that such an unholy alliance sticks out on account of its lack of homogeneity. It is not only during the negotiations for the formation of the coalition that they quibble over the spoils of the ensuing fight but also throughout the duration of the alliance.

Much to the amusement of the people and scepticism of the political observers, the coalition partners of an unprincipled alliance tend to hark back to the past when they had shared the dubious honour of slinging mud at each other. The approach of the election at hand brings them back to the present, and make them bury the hatchet and gang up against the common enemy. Nothing other than the vanquishing of the common enemy and the capturing of power could be found on their agenda. In the unfortunate instance of their getting the right numbers at the election, they start a fratricidal war among their own alliance partners. The party to emerge as the biggest bloc would then have to tackle some other alliance partner or the other that demands its pound of flesh in the government. This process opens the door for horse trading and related inadmissible practices.

Nevertheless, the most unfortunate fallout of all these shady developments is the failure of the people to recognise the powerbrokers and moneybags at play for who they are and raise their voice in protest. This shortcoming on the part of the public makes it possible for the unprincipled parties and legislators to shed whatever fig leaf of respectability and honour they had been donning and go about unashamedly and flagrantly pursuing their dirty tricks. Repeated occurrences of such sordid developments in some state or the other in a vast country like India where elections to the assemblies are held according to different time schedules and, not infrequently of late, at the Centre too, leave much to be desired for the health of the democratic system.

Coalition Norms and Ethics

It is, therefore, imperative that the dynamics of the coalition politics be reviewed to bolster up the system. The feasibility of the obliging of the alliance partners of a coalition forged before an election to be held honour-bound to a Common Minimum Programme or some such Action Plan is worth a thought. In case of the pulling out of a coalition by an alliance partner after the alliance comes to power, out of peevishness or as a strong arm tactic intended as a threat to topple the government, the Election Commission should consider disqualifying that party from fighting polls for a substantial period of time. It should also not be ridiculously simple for a party to switch sides except for a valid and genuine reason. In short, coalition politics should not be allowed to dwell only on the poll arithmetic of numbers and thereby degenerate and fall into the hands of unprincipled politicians. Nor should peevish coalition partners be allowed to hold a government to ransom by threatening to pull the plug out on it.

The melodrama that accompanied the No Trust Motion introduced by the Telugu Desam Party in the Lok Sabha last year, which miserably failed, as well as the TDP’s withdrawal from the ruling NDA coalition, is a case in point. Apart from causing avoidable pangs of anxiety all around and giving a pathetic opportunity to the government’s bitter rivals to drag the ruling coalition to a virtual street fight, what TDP’s move accomplished was zilch. The Parliament’s precious time could have been prevented from going down the drain. This would have been possible if coalition partners, whether they are on the Treasury benches or in the Opposition, had been made honour-bound by certain basic coalition norms and ethics, enforceable by the Election Commission.

Unity and Stability

Needless to say, it is easier to talk of political parties being made honour-bound to a set of coalition norms and ethics than formulating the means and political will to enforce it. However, the business of governance is by no stretch of the imagination a low hanging fruit. Not being in the category of here-today-gone-tomorrow political imperatives, coalition politics has to be hammered out to evolve into a workable formula capable of providing the nation with a stable government. The alternative would be a lethal dose of political anarchy and administrative chaos. For there is no party in the country today with a pan-Indian appeal. The BJP may yet emerge in the course of the foreseeable future, as the single cohesive party that binds the pockets of ideological isolation like in today’s Southern part of the country, with the mainstream national politics. Until such a positive development dawns on the political horizon, we have to channelise the strengths of coalition politics for the nation’s unity and a stable government.

(The article “A Stable Government and Coalition Politics” is published in ‘Organiser’ )

Misuse of the Freedom of Expression

To call Freedom of Expression the true hallmark of democracy is a case of belabouring the obvious. The value of the freedom could only be truly appreciated in its total absence like during the British Raj or during the short shrift given to democracy by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. Blanket bans and censorship of the Media constitute the most insidious onslaught on democracy. Nations of the post-colonial era, therefore, have been taking great care to grant their people the right to Freedom of Expression along with the fundamental rights to life, liberty and freedom of worship, and make it an inalienable part of their Constitution.

The governments are, however, seldom appreciative of the fact that Freedom of Expression serves the unintended purpose as a safety valve in a society of people overcome by pent up anger and frustration. On their part, it would be unfair to expect a free people to leave governance entirely to the tender mercies of a government, albeit legitimately elected by the very same people, and be mere onlookers. It is as much a people’s right to make suggestions to a government and point out the latter’s lapses and excesses as it is that of a government to make laws and govern, affecting the lives of the people. It is unthinkable to expect people to fulfil their democratic obligation of holding a mirror up to the government without the freedom of expression.

Gross Abuse 

However, Freedom of Expression is the most grossly abused of all the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The misuse of the benefits of the technical revolution in the sphere of information technology has made the abuse of Freedom of Expression more frequent and alarming than in the past. Both the society and the individual have to inevitably pay a hefty price for their indulgence although it is the nation which ends up as the ultimate loser to the abuse of the Freedom of Expression.

Cyber warfare has emerged as a much-dreaded form of attack on a nation by the enemy. It is, therefore, absolutely essential for a government to keep a strict vigil on the abuse of online control systems and networks from the espionage and sabotage points. This necessitates a guarded view of the use of the Freedom of Expression.

Old Habits

History is replete with instances of people misusing the right to speak out regardless of the age they lived in or the form of the government that was in vogue. One of the earliest accounts of such an instance may be found recorded in the Hindu epic Ramayana. The loose talk by a nosy parker in Sri Rama’s kingdom, which depicted Devi Sita in poor light, triggered a series of grave incidents that changed the course of the story altogether. How lack of self-control by way of loose talk could have an irrevocable impact on the course of events is a case in point.

Mud-slinging in Public Life

Faceless people and neighbourhood gossip mongers notwithstanding, the biggest offenders in today’s India are those in public life, such as political figures and celebrity artistes with a narrow personal agenda. They cast aspersions on the character, reputation and image of their rivals in broad brush strokes of vague accusations and baseless allegations with characteristic elan. For instance, what happens when a leader of a political party wanting to harm the party in power, calls a selfless leader of the nation a thief, without a shred of evidence to support his charge? Similarly, there are celebrity artistes and self-proclaimed intellectuals who complain about a perceived atmosphere of intolerance or the alleged targeting of members of the minority community by the government.

To start with, a ripple effect among the members of society is caused. The mainstream media goes gaga over such stories. The combined effect of the baseless accusations repeated ad nauseam, and the unwarranted media glare and publicity to the stories tend to enlarge the ripple effects into a storm. When the targeted leader is able to face the charges and stands his ground by virtue of his proven track record of a sterling character, integrity beyond doubt and blemishless financial propriety, the storm blows over. But not before an odious course of trading of charges and countercharges transpires.

At the end of the futile exercise of trying to pull down a tall leader from the podium of people’s adulation on the basis of false accusations, those who resorted to the cheap tactics and failed, do not have the courtesy or decency to aplogise. Nor do they wait long before going through the motions of throwing more mud at their rival. In short, this is a never-ending story. The unprincipled politicians who spread canard and are exposed in the bargain, do not have qualms about facing the people, with egg on their face. The only redeeming factor that provides relief to the victims of character assassination is recourse to law.

However, with the wheels of justice grinding much too slowly in our system for an innocent person’s comfort, it is much more important for him to win the people’s confidence and trust and win the war of perceptions. There are many misogynists in Indian politics who have a flair for heaping humiliations on their female colleagues and rivals by resorting to gender-specific invective and expletives. Their intention is to demoralise the targeted persons and provoke them into making a blunder or faux pas, which would lower their estimation in people’s eyes. When a woman politician proves too suave and well-grounded to feel affected by gutter politics, the cheap tactics backfire.

Family and Public Life

Those in public life are, more often than not, at the receiving end of uncharitable remarks by their opponents regarding their personal life. Many a mighty oak has fallen in the realm of public life in the face of a furious storm over a perceived unseemly behaviour or inappropriate conduct by a family member. Prudence demands that a person in public life keep his distance from his family and operate in an upright manner from the safety of splendid isolation to ward himself from the evil designs of those who are purveyors of human weaknesses and filial failings.

Preventing Misuse of Such Freedom

Freedom of Expression is stretched to its tether’s end when a government’s patience and political will are put to the test by anti-national elements and their connivers. The Tukde-Tukde gangs and Urban Naxals are those who take pride of place among such anti-nationals of whom there is no dearth. The support they get from the paid sections of the mainstream media in real terms, and the oblique and clandestine support from the power brokers with whom they enjoy consanguineous and close incestuous relations, constitute a daunting Gordian knot. Our nation is currently in the process of re-electing its honest and upright leaders who are capable of undoing the knot and putting an end to the misuse of the Freedom of Expression by the anti-national forces.

A Case for the Proscription of Communism

Communism does not speak of prosperity or plenty. It is obsessed with inequality, class struggle, the burial of capitalism and the bourgeoisie, power to the peasants and the proletariat and the withering away of the State. Not a very cheerful ideology for the people of a land subjected to a thousand-year slavery by successive invaders and colonisers.

Communism is a dead horse, which has never completed a race when alive, let alone win a trophy. There is no hope for those who try to flog it back to life instead of burying it, carcass, memory and all. This has been proved time and again in several countries.

India Offers Sanctuary

When country after country across the globe gave up on Communism, it is ironical that the doctrine still finds some patrons in the unlikeliest of places for its survival – India, a traditionally conservative country with a great spiritual legacy and cultural ethos and home to the Westminster-style democracy in a highly politically turbulent part of the world. Communism has managed to show signs of revival by feeding on the very democratic system in India which had allowed it a sanctuary. The resultant situation reflects poorly on the country’s political system with its inherent fault lines rather than on the strength or merits of the doctrine.

Bury the Dead

Prudence demands that for a successful economic principle or political doctrine, what is not desirable should not be conceived; what is not feasible should not be attempted, and what is not viable should not be pursued. Communism is neither viable nor desirable. This universal truth is more so in a resurgent India, which is poised for a giant leap ahead to become a Vishwa Guru. And yet, a clutch of power-hungry politicians in Kerala have been serenading the odious ideology of a bygone era with an extraordinary passion and fervour.

It is rather strange that the people of a State with the highest literacy rate in the country have bidden adieu to pragmatism and fallen for the emotional appeal of a non-workable ideology. Apparently reconciled to the mistaken belief that there is a global conspiracy to stifle an ideology perceived noble, the people of the State seem to have taken it upon themselves as an onerous task to defend it and reboot it to its days of worldwide glory! Never say die may be a good policy but if someone has already died,then it is a must to bury the dead body.

Lacklustre Ideology

Communism does not speak of prosperity or plenty. It is obsessed with inequality, class struggle, the burial of capitalism and the bourgeoisie, power to the peasants and the proletariat and the withering away of the State. Not a very cheerful ideology for the people of a land subjected to a thousand-year slavery by successive invaders and colonisers. And that too for a people who were heirs to what is arguably the most ancient civilization in the world, a religious and spiritual temperament that has successfully withstood the onslaught of alien faiths, and is home-ground to several native dogmas, cults and philosophies.

And yet, Communism managed to secure a toehold in India. Wherever it was allowed to compete with democracy for the right to rule, Communism has left a trail of blood and brutalisation of the rival parties.Human lives mean precious little to Communism, which uses all ploys and instruments at its disposal to uproot the existing system and foist itself to fill the political vacuum. It connives with extremist outfits and terrorist groupings and lends support to them in their armed struggle against an orderly society. Communism believes that an orderly society is reflective of complacency on the part of a people, exploited and infused with a stupor of indifference, by the ruling class. The society must, therefore, be subverted from within to allow room for operation by the party. To this end, the party encourages infiltration by its cadre into political and administrative institutions, judiciary and the media.

Subversion from Within

Democracy is dubbed as the sword arm of the Capitalists which must be got rid of to make room for the Communist rule. This is, however, a hidden agenda. To realise this task, Communism puts the extremist and terror outfits such as Naxals, Urban Naxals,People’s War Group, Mao’s Army, etc. to use. Communists are good at the run-with-the-hare-and-hunt-with-the-hound game. They contest elections to the Parliament and the State Assemblies sometimes on their own and on other occasions in alliance with locally strong parties.

Before and after the elections which are a mere charade for them, they work hard to weaken and subvert the democratic institutions such as the judiciary, administration and the executive. Weakened institutions depict a slackness and inadequacy on the part of the State and lead to the people despairing and becoming dismayed over the system. The Communists support anti-national elements such as the tukde-tukde gang, which operate with the support of the anti-social and anti-establishment sections of the media.

Intending to further weaken the democratic system, the Communists interfere in matters of faith, such as the Sabarimala litigation case. The ultimate idea is to create all-around anarchy and erosion of faith in the system and amidst the unifying forces of the native religious and spiritual bodies of faith. The truly tolerant spirit of Hinduism,which has a nationwide presence of cultural and spiritual bonds of cohesion is dubbed and derided as hollow.

Wherever they are in power, such as in Kerala, the Communists undermine the role of Hinduism as a binding factor that unites people all over the country, cutting across barriers such as caste, language and regional nuances and idiosyncrasies. To this end,they have no qualms about lending oblique or even flagrant support to the elements that are anti-Hindu and incite communal disturbances and religious acrimony.

Bludgeoning the Opposition

Kerala is a classic case of the ruling Communist Party showing the ugly side of its face by commissioning brutal murders of the party cadres of Hindutva organizations such as the BJP and the RSS. The Communist Party is terrible while it is in the opposition and worse when it is in power.

Floundering Economy

The Communists do not have a viable economic policy and defray their time and energy in fomenting trouble for the industrialists with labour unrest. They don’t support proposals for the setting up of new industries in the State. Pitting up the labour and the employers against each other is a fulltime job for the Communists. Having no claim of their own for economic growth or social progress at home, they take recourse topeddling cooked-up stories of distant lands where the ground reality is far different from their hollow claims.

In the changing context of worldly order, which ceased long ago to be bipolar with the Capitalists and the Communists pitting forces against each other, Communism is an outdated concept. It holds no ground in a market economy where the focus is on production, marketing, creation of labour-friendly working environs, and generation of sustainable profits funnelled into management-labour harmony.

Ban for Consummate Peace

In view of the above, it is high time that India woke up to the reality of the chimera of Communism and put it to rest for all times to come. The grounds for the ban are several – the Communist Party is the fountainhead of extremist and terrorist outfits,anti-national and anti-democratic sentiments, anti-Hindutva and anti-humanitarian stances and dalliance with covert operations and overt collaboration with enemy countries.

(The article “A Case for the Proscription of Communism” is published in ‘Organiser’ )

Revocation of Articles 35A and 370 Will Bring Peace, Progress and Prosperity to Kashmir and Rest of India

No longer will February 14 mean the same to Indians as in the past. The day will go down the annals of the nation’s history as a cornerstone in its war against terrorism. While India has been busy preparing to conduct the massive democratic exercise of holding elections to the Parliament, Pakistan organised a ghastly terror attack at Pulwama. India’s response was in the form of airstrikes, wreaking devastation and destruction in the enemy’s heartland. Eton of international terrorism, Pakistan had made no secret in the past of its intention of bleeding India with a thousand cuts.

Pulwama marked yet another cut in Pakistan’s proxy war. Notwithstanding India’s repeated démarches and protests in the international fora in the past about Pakistan’s proxy war, this was the first time around that its efforts had succeeded in garnering absolute global support. The credit for the favourable political climate that has evolved over the last five years from a passive mood of indifference that had prevailed earlier on the part of the international community goes to the BJP-led NDA government that has worked tirelessly in exposing Pakistan’s insidious ways. Further diplomatic moves to isolate Pakistan among the comity of nations are afoot.

Concerted Exercise

Although the whole of India has been a victim of terrorism all along the nation’s existence as a sovereign republic, the State which has suffered the most is Jammu & Kashmir. This is on account of the State being in the line of frontal assault by a hostile Pakistan which has always coveted J&K. The nation must seize hold of the congenial atmosphere prevailing at home and abroad to end the perennial threat from Pakistan and the political impasse in the Kashmir valley. Our all-out diplomatic efforts to isolate Pakistan must be complemented by cutting out the support base of the enemy in J&K. A concerted exercise at different levels ranging from diplomacy to politics and military action would make terrorism a thing of the past.

Tough times call for tough decisions. The Union government has already started the crackdown on the fountainhead of violence with the detention of hundreds of hardened anti-national elements and the withdrawal of security cover for separatist leaders. The state chapter of the Jamaat-e-Islami has been banned. This has sent shockwaves among the anti-nationals and their sympathisers in the mainstream political parties across the State. Undeterred by the backlash over the developments, the Centre is mulling over ways and means to further strengthen the security measures. The mood of the nation has never been more congenial in the past for the government to take the next bold step. The time is propitious for it to go for the jugular of the enemy and establish to the world beyond any pale of doubt that India will never give up on Jammu & Kashmir, which is an integral part of the country.

Big-Ticket Decision

Military action against the enemy must be complemented by big-ticket political decisions in J&K. The last barrier before the State in extricating itself from a web of political machinations and intrigue needs to go. This presupposes the need for the consigning of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution to their rightful place viz the dustbins of history. It would mean no more separate Constitution, flag or special status for J&K. The falsity of the claim by those who are opposed to peace that abrogation of the two Articles would not be in the interest of the State and would spell fresh violence must be exposed.

The unique circumstances leading to the grant of special status to J&K are a thing of the past and have no relevance anymore. Why and how the special status was accorded are a matter of historical detail set in troubled times, never to be revisited. The redundancy of the special status makes it eminently worthy of removal, with no likely negative impact. On the contrary, its continued retention makes it a major irritant towards ensuring social harmony between people of the State and their compatriots in the rest of India. Its removal would make conditions easier for the Kashmiris seeking education and employment outside the State and also for non-Kashmiris who wish to migrate to the State and buy properties, get married and settle down over there.

Economy & Justice for All

Removal of Articles 35A and 370 would make the State’s economy a level playing ground for industrialists and entrepreneurs from all over the country. Fresh inflows of investments, skill and talent, would ensure multifold growth in the State’s industry, agriculture, tourism, MSME and all other areas of the economic and social spheres besides opening up new vistas of progress. Cessation of terrorism and removal of the two redundant Articles of the Constitution would make J&K a worthy and equal stakeholder in our nation’s growth and development.

Apart from doing immense good to the State, dispensing with the special status would do justice to the sentiments of the citizens living in other States whether they want to migrate to J&K or not. Why should there be a wheel within a wheel? How much longer should a State, which has been part of the country for seventy years, be allowed to enjoy special status and to what end? As a sovereign democratic republic, India should not hesitate to exercise its inalienable right to remove the inequality between States in the form of special status. Every citizen of the country has the Constitutional right to be treated alike, Kashmiri or not. Besides, prohibiting or restricting a non-Kashmiri citizen from buying property in the State or marrying a Kashmiri citizen albeit by means of a temporary Constitutional provision, militates against natural justice.

Restoration of peace and doing away with the inequality between citizens would facilitate the return of thousands of Kashmiri Hindus who had to flee from the State some years ago, leaving behind their home and hearth, to escape the wrath of mobs of hostile elements. Their return to J&K and rehabilitation should be facilitated by the government for the sake of restoration of the people’s faith in the rule of law.

Shed to Gain

The basis on which Muhammad Ali Jinnah had based his claim for Pakistan was that Muslims could not live safely in a Hindu-dominant country. The proclamation has been proved hollow, and the two-nation theory was a monumental failure. The people of J&K should not allow themselves to play into the hands of separatist leaders who try to instill in them the fear that they would be subsumed by the rest of India and lose their separate identity. By shedding the fig leaf of special status, people of J&K would gain peace, progress and prosperity, which have eluded them thus far. Nothing more could the people want. Political will and gumption are all that the government at the Centre needs to set a historical flaw right and make the country the overall beneficiary of the course correction.

India should take Israel’s help to tackle terrorism

Pakistan was born out of spite and intolerance towards India. Its founding fathers had staked their claim for a separate country for Muslims on the plea that they could not live safely in a Hindu-dominated society. Pakistan’s formation has not done its people any good even though the state is monotheistic. Pakistanis wrongly nurture a belief that Kashmir belongs to them and India should give it to Pakistan without any reservation. And it calls Kashmir an unfinished agenda of partition.

Immediately on its formation, Pakistan forcibly occupied swathes of territory of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir while an unwary India was preoccupied with coming to terms with its newfound status of a free nation. While illegally occupying the forcibly taken territory, Pakistan has been surprisingly clamouring for the whole of Kashmir. India’s policy on Kashmir is irrevocable as Kashmir is an integral and inalienable part of the country. As such, the parts of Kashmir under Pakistani occupation should be returned to India. After three major wars and several skirmishes over Kashmir, Pakistan finds itself in gridlock, with no solution in sight.

Despite blustering its way into becoming a sovereign country, Pakistan has failed to exorcise its ghosts. Democracy in Pakistan is a non- starter. The State being precariously wedged between rigid religious dogma and a series of back-to-back military dictatorships, Pakistan’s economy floundered, faltered and simply failed over the years. Financial assistance and aid packages from friendly countries and international financial institutions were diverted and pumped in to inflating its war machine, which was already far too disproportionate to itsdefence requirements. Pakistanis lagged in every segment of economic and social progress. The Army, and its intelligence agency, the ISI, lulled them into a state of complacency by playing out the bogey of a hostile India and bragging about Pakistan’s superior armed strength to trounce the enemy.

Pakistan’s repeated attempts to militarily annex Kashmir have failed. So have its diplomatic manoeuvres in the international fora. All the wasteful expenditure on military campaigns has put its economy way behind India’s. Late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan once vowed to wage a thousand- year war against India. In reality, how- ever, Pakistan has been defeated in every single war it has waged. Licking its war wounds and diplomatic reverses, it has adopted the doctrine of “bleeding India with a thousand cuts” by means of covert and low-intensity warfare with militancy and infiltration.

In the meanwhile, Pakistan could not last even a quarter of a century as a united nation. At the end of a suicidal war with India, necessitated by count- less crimes and atrocities committed by Pakistan against its own people in its eastern wing, Bangladesh was liberated, and Pakistan became a truncated nation. This became yet another cause for Pakistan to become more vengeful and export terror to India.

Pakistan has settled for a proxy war with India. Littered on the terrain of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) are camps of terrorists who are trained and prepared by ISI for infiltrating into India and causing damage to military assets and civilian population and property. Many of these camps and the terrorists receiving training there have been wiped out by Indian forces in surgical strikes carried out in the post-Uri and post-Pulwama terror attacks. Although the resultant loss was considerable, Pakistan would not give up on its foolhardy terror campaigns despite India’s stern warnings.

Besides not letting its guard down and not resting on its laurels, India needs to do a lot more. A welcome development in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack was an offer by Israel to support and aid India in its fight against terrorism. This development was expected due to steady progress in India-Israel bilateral relations. Many meaningful and insightful deliberations at the level of top leadership have gone into making mutual cooperation between the two countries in obliterating terrorism, viable and more realistic than in the past. Although India has been doing well on its own in its war on terror, our nation would do well to recalibrate its policy, factoring Israel in the context of the overwhelming support India has lately received from the international community.

To begin with, India and Israel should strengthen the existing bonds in the field of intelligence sharing. This would ensure the scope of identifying, locating and bringing the enemy into the ambit of successful pre-emptive attacks by our forces.

Modernization and upgradation of the equipment employed for espionage and counter-insurgency operations is a vital area of cooperation. Training of our troops in Israeli-type operations would complete the collaboration.

The Israeli security forces are a class apart in dealing with stone-pelters and missile launching terrorists from areas inhabited by the civilian population. There is a lot to be learnt in this area in segments such as counter-resistance, battle fatigue, and overcoming psychological barriers such as an unintentional attack on the civilian population while trying to single out terrorists and damage caused to places of worship, schools, hospitals, etc.

Pakistan is a natural choice of shelter for terrorists and masterminds of terror attacks wanted in India. Furthermore, India’s requests to Pakistan for their deportation or for putting them in the dock for a credible judicial determination in Pakistan have been in vain. India should, therefore, not hesitate to take the next step pick up these targets and neutralize them in their own habitats to ensure zero tolerance to terrorism. This kind of der- ring-do is an area of high specialisation, which security forces of a few nations like Israel have successfully carried out in the past. Such an operation could entail a full-fledged war or a war-like situation. Changing times and changing priorities call for changes in tactics. Thus, many areas in which Israel excels could benefit Indian forces.

Israel is surrounded by several enemy nations and has successfully fought several wars. It has played a stellar role in containing regional terrorism from getting out of hand. Whether India wants, on the lines of Israel, to declare Pakistan an enemy country and totally sever diplomatic relations, trade, information and cultural links is something our leadership at the highest level has to take a call on. Pakistan should, in any case, be made aware that India has zero tolerance to terrorism and is in no mood to subjecting itself to the ignominy of being bled from a thousand cuts.

India should also consider the military option to retrieve POK and reunite it with Jammu and Kashmir. The appropriate moment for this would be when the movement for the liberation of Baluchistan gains momentum and the time becomes ripe for India to do another Bangladesh to Pakistan. Israel can be expected to stand by and help India in more ways than one in this mother of all surgical operations.

(The article “India should take Israel’s help to tackle terrorism”  is published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 03 April, 2019)

Need and Importance of Ethical Leadership in Indian Politics

It is a matter of abiding concern that ethical behaviour in Indian politics seems to have become increasingly in short supply over a period of time. Politicians are far too preoccupied with the battle of the ballot that needs to be fought every now and then in some corner or the other in a nation as big as India. In such a scenario, they neither have the time nor the inclination to introspect over the rapid drop in their standards of behaviour and actions. As such, the battle of wits, which precedes and succeeds the polls, has become too murky an affair to make every right thinking citizen despair.

The trajectory that Indian politics has taken since Independence has left the people under no illusion about the fast depleting scope of decency and decorum in public life. The alarming descent in standards in the way political debates are carried out in legislatures and various public fora and the accompanying bickering and aggression has foreclosed the option for the law-abiding youngsters to consider becoming a full-time politician. Suffice it to say that the universal opprobrium attached to the vocation of politics succinctly put in the immortal words of Bernard Shaw that “Politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel” has never been more acutely felt than now.

Intemperate Language

There hardly passes a day when an avid newspaper reader does not feel assaulted by headlines screaming at him about the deplorable conduct of some politicians. Proof or no proof, reports of corruption, nepotism or involvement in assorted scams and scandals by those in high offices get splashed with alarming regularity. The electronic and social media are even more vociferous than the print media, with an eye on the TRP ratings. While the reports are often reflective of the baseless allegations made by political leaders against their rivals in the name of freedom of speech, what is sadly missing is accountability.

The public learns to live with a slew of charges seldom proved in the court of law. However, the politicians who concoct false allegations and spread canards against leaders of impeccable character and blemishless integrity are the real beneficiaries of the situation. Such crook politicians know they have already won half the political battle as they have succeeded in sowing seeds of doubts, suspicions and scepticism in the minds of the unwary public, which readily lap up the sensational stories. What is most disturbing in such a scenario is the usage of the highly inflammatory and objectionable language used by the unprincipled politicians.

High Stakes No Justification

The fact that there are high stakes in politics does not make the usage of unethical practices justifiable. Who can justify or defend anyone that seeks to malign a leader of the people, besmirch his image or ruin his reputation with baseless allegations? While the attacked leader has legal recourse to compensation for defamation, what about the hurt caused to the sensibilities of the public that is caught in the crossfire between the offender and the attacked leader? Why should the common people suffer the indignity of being exposed to a series of scurrilous writings and speeches with no scope for compensation for being taken for a ride?

Many a time, it is not only the individual political leaders who are targeted for slandering. Even high institutions such as the Court, investigation agencies, Election Commission and the Armed Forces are not spared either. They are flagrantly or indirectly accused of colluding with the government. At the instigation and backing of some political leaders or their parties, many anti-social elements, trouble-makers and mischief makers in the guise of academics and student leaders launch a blitzkrieg of an unacceptable and highly objectionable publicity campaign against their political adversaries, for a price.

Furthermore, they do not even spare religious authorities or institutions. Resultantly, the common man’s faith in democracy and secularism is severely shaken. The Sabarimala temple issue is a case in point. Terrorists, Urban Naxals, anti-nationals and other fringe political groups take heart from such reprehensible developments and set about their demolition work to weaken the nation by twisting and distorting the truth. Constant exposure of the people to such an unhealthy atmosphere would instigate an attritional effect on their self-esteem and also on the pride in their country’s culture, history and political system.

Higher the Authority More the Abuse

Let us take the case of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has been at the receiving end of the Indian political Opposition that loves to hate him. It will reveal the extent to which the latter would go and the level to which they would stoop to defame the PM and deride his authority. When the Prime Minister claims in a moment of utmost humility to be a chowkidar that would not allow the looting of the country by anyone, he wins the approbation of the people. On the contrary, it is ironical that his detractors arrogate to themselves the liberty of trying to downgrade him in the people’s estimation to a chowkidar in stature and respect. Here we get to see that humility is reciprocated by arrogance and audacity. This is the kind of unethical behaviour amidst the ranks of the Opposition that people are shocked to witness – pull down an elected leader of the people from his high office and trample all over him!

Odium, Jibes, Barbs Ad Nauseam

However, this is nothing new. Haven’t we witnessed the self-proclaimed champions of Secularism and casteless society, who are now reduced to the ranks of the political Opposition, badmouth our current Prime Minister before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, as a mere “Chaiwallah”, as if tea-making is a much-abhorred odium, if not a sin! They seemed to ask how a common man can have the audacity to run for the Prime Minister’s office? There were many more such jibes and barbs from the same crooked politicians such as Merchant of Death, Hitler, Butcher of Gujarat, Gangu Taeily who challenged Raja Bhoj…the list is endless.

After his ascension to the high office, every move and deportment of his came into sharp focus: his expensive clothes, alleged desertion of his wife and mother, the bonafides of his educational qualification, his travels abroad, so-called crony capitalism, etc. His private life was no more that private as it used to be. He had become a goldfish in the spotlight. Put him in a bind – damned if he acts and doomed if he doesn’t! Baseless accusations on the jet fighter procurement and cynical observations about the veracity and success of the surgical strikes refuse to die down despite the vindication by the apex court and the army authorities. Every single act of virtue, simplicity and piety was reduced to an object of ridicule and derision reserved for a much-reviled enemy rather than a political adversary.

Ethics Supreme for Clean Governance

The political atmosphere in India today is so putrid and unhealthy that nothing short of a surgical strike would cleanse the toxic air. The people of our country should summon the courage of conviction to strike at the very root of the problem and flush out the dregs of dynastic rule, as it seems to deter capable and ethical people from entering politics since they believe they don’t stand a chance of winning against their dynastic peers. This, in turn, is one of the reasons instrumental for perpetuating unethical behaviour in Indian politics. In this scenario, all that the Indian voters need to do is to reboot the current system by returning Team Modi to power, with a thumping majority. Because there is no way, our country can have a people-oriented government and clean governance based on ethics without breaking the vicious grip and stranglehold of dynastic rule in Indian politics.

India Should Pass a National Law Against Proselytisation

A bane, a curse, a demeaning exercise, a social evil – that is what proselytisation is all about. It is a reprehensible tool acquired by a section of mankind, and it has spilt much more blood in the name of religion than in the name of war. Being subscribers to the credo of “My God is superior to yours,” religious bigots are merchants of hatred, responsible for creating a schism in the doctrine of universal brotherhood and communal harmony. Proselytisers are their agents and foot soldiers. Where the alien invaders and colonisers failed, the foot soldiers strive hard to succeed with the help of their new-found tool. Their modus operandi – brainwash and put people into a religious straightjacket, and cut them down to size to fit a set of rigid religious beliefs.

Conversion by Deception

The medieval Islamic invaders and Christian colonisers brought upon India the scourge of 1,000-year old slavery and religious persecution. They derided the ancient religions of India as blasphemous and berated their practitioners as barbarians and sinners that worshipped dark evil forces. They have been convinced that converting the ‘non-believers’ and ‘idolators’ to their faith is their religious obligation. Successive generations of the bigots of the medieval ages gradually revised their strategy and replaced the sword with deceit and allurements. The process of conversion starts with an over-the-transom counselling by religious mountebanks and evangelists who make it their business to tell the peaceful people how the latter’s religion makes them uncouth savages. The holier-than-thou attitude of the proselytisers and the horrid berating of the indigenous religious beliefs as barbaric practices tend to cause irreparable damage to the social fabric.

Gullible sections of the people are misled into believing that their rich cultural heritage is but a heap of a worthless and shameful burden of the past. They are further brainwashed into thinking that their past history of slavery and subjugation was a direct result of their ‘sinful’ beliefs and practices. Victories after victories by the invaders and colonisers in their military campaigns against India were attributed to their divine right to rule over the ‘infidels’ and ‘pagans’. Bereft of self-esteem and shorn of pride in their cultural legacy, the ill-informed and misinformed sections of Indians are talked into trading diamonds for glass beads and shells. Eventually, these people shift focus from the goal of attaining spiritual bliss to acquiring material comforts, often passed off as an adjunct to an alternative faith or a rigid religious system enforced at the cost of liberty or life.

Travesty of Tolerance and Unity

In a nation that is committed to re-asserting its traditionally historical role in the comity of nations as Viswa Guru, proselytisation is a travesty of religious tolerance and unity in diversity. It simply has no place in a country where people have been taking pride in the doctrine of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. On the contrary, the implanted faiths are hell-bent upon bringing the whole world under the central command of their respective religious authority. Flush with illegally-sourced funds from vested interests abroad, proselytisers find a soft target in the poor gullible people, whom they convert with cash inducements, tempting allurements and false promises. They have no compunction about spreading canards such as casteism being an evil creation of Hinduism. Converted people are often led to believe that the votaries of the two Abrahamic faiths in India do not practise casteism. By the time the converts discover the truth, they realise that it is too late to undo the mistake they have committed.

The proselytisers also find pliable colluders amongst the disgruntled members of the intelligentsia, academics and artists with a cock-eyed vision of history or misplaced loyalty to an alien political ideology at odds with India’s cultural ethos. These elements provide the much-wanted support system to the proselytiser to sway the far too young and ideologically infirm among the society, who are susceptible to the crosscurrents of the pseudo-secular ideology or nihilism. Another segment of the society that allows itself to play into the hands of the proselytiser is the paid sections of the mainstream media (MSM). This segment is too happy to promote disharmony and restlessness in society by questioning the relevance of traditional religious beliefs in a world of changing priorities. The possibility of the seemingly innocuous activities of these elements doubling up as a front to the covert operations of the anti-national elements and divisive forces cannot be ruled out.

Freedom of Religion 

Proselytisation is evidently a non-democratic dogma, which needs to be put down by the State with a heavy hand. Else, the very fabric of communal harmony and the territorial integrity of the nation would be at peril. A morally reprehensible phenomenon of a bygone era, marked by witchcraft and sorcery, proselytisation is ethically and politically untenable in today’s age of freedom of thought and religious practice. Clear lines of segregation of religious propagation and proselytisation have been drawn in every modern society for the benefit of its peace-loving people. In India, where people are free not only to practise a religion of their choice but also to propagate their faith without the fear of persecution, freedom of religion is enshrined as a fundamental right in the Constitution. This freedom is subject to public order, morality and future wellbeing of our nation.

Need for a National Law

So far, there has been no national law enacted against the evil practice of proselytisation by the Union Government as the subject falls purely under the Constitutional domain of the states under the State List in the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Even among the states, legislations have been enacted by only eight of them, to regulate religious conversions carried out by force, fraud, or other inducements. The absence of a nation-wide anti-conversion law and the failure of most of the states to enact laws that prohibit conversions which are not absolutely voluntary, is a matter for serious reflection by all the right-thinking people. If the current state of affairs is allowed to continue any longer, serious demographic changes are bound to occur, particularly in India’s bordering states.

With people of the minority communities tending to live in clusters, the precipitation of more and more such clusters would make them increasingly isolated and alienated from the national mainstream. The apprehension of the majority community of being outnumbered some day in the future by the swelling numbers of the members of the minority communities cannot be ruled out either. Such a situation would likely jeopardise the doctrine of Secularism and pose a threat to our nation’s territorial integrity. India has already gone through a partition and too many wars to let its guard down. Furthermore, the dangers of Proxy Wars, Terrorism and Naxalism call for the downshifting of gears in the country’s security preparedness. Worrisome demographic changes and another partition are threats that India cannot afford to face anymore. Hence, it is high time that a national law banning religious conversions, which are not entirely voluntary, is passed by the government in the interest of our country’s survival.

Ardh Kumbh success will provide poll boost to BJP

Even as 2019 was ushered in with customary joy by people all over the world, the stage was set in India for two important events. Even though both have tremendous appeal for the people of our country, these mega-events could not have been from two more diverse – spiritual and political. Both call for meticulous planning and preparation by the state machinery. More importantly, neither will be feasible without people’s participation.While one of these, the ArdhKumbh or the KumbhMela as it is more popularly known, has limited direct appeal to the Sanatanis currently living in the multicultural society of modern India and abroad, its overall reach across the globe cannot be overlooked.

Recognised as the biggest human congregation on earth, till February 21 as many as 22 crore devotees and tourists from India and abroad had already visited the Mela. The significance of the occasion did not go unnoticed by the growing number of foreigners known for active interest in the spiritual and cultural riches of India. Meanwhile, 220 delegates from 185 different countries landed in Prayagraj on February 22 and participated in the KumbhMela festivities. The other grand event, the upcoming General Elections to the Parliament, is a subject matter of tremendous interest to the whole world for its likely impact on regional and international developments. How does the ArdhKumbh impact the General Elections?

All the life forms that take birth on planet earth are bound to experience pain and misery, decay and death. Death only heralds the beginning of a new life, which means a repetition of birth, experiences of pain and suffering, decay and death. The process of birth and death and what- ever lie in between are repeated ad nauseam till one’s Karmic account is settled. Is there no way out for some- one to cut the process short and enter a state free of pain, misery and decay? Sanatana Dharma, which propounds this theory of the cycle of birth and death, does reveal a way out. Take a holy dip in the confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati during the auspicious event of KumbhMela at Prayagraj, held at periodic intervals, with pomp, gaiety and religious fervour. One is then free from the cycle of birth and death and ushered into the realm of the Gods, where prevails a state of eternal bliss.

How far removed is the cycle of birth and death from the process of the election of a new government for a limited period until it is re-elected or voted out in a democracy like India? Elections are ahealthy and positive exercise that enable people to renew their faith in a government or vote it out of power till the next round of elections. Democracy is the pride and glory of the nation in a milieu of military dictatorships and truncated versions of the system practised in India’s neighbourhood. Transfer of power through the mam- moth nationwide exercise of elections is the crowning glory of India’s political system.

Whether it is a question of attainment of bliss or betterment of the society, the choice of the course of action is that of the individual. In both cases, one has to reflect, retrospect and decide before embarking on any action. Having stated this, one wonders if the KumbhMela is likely to leave its footprint in the minds of the voters on their way to the polling booth. How has the ArdhKumbh 2019 impacted the electorate? What is the main takeaway of the event?

To make the ArdhKumbh a grand success befitting the grandeur of the occasion, the Central and the State governments put their best foot forward. The place at the ‘TriveniSangam’, formerly known as Allahabad, where the ArdhKumbh is organised, was renamed Prayagraj in October last year well in time for the event. The initiative of the state government to change the name was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Central government. The renaming, nay, restoration of the historical name of the city brought in its wake a soothing balm.

The nation looked back with nostalgia and pride as to how its his- tory that had been trampled all over by alien invasions. It had taken all of seventy years of an independent existence as a modern nation for this cultural hub to rid itself of the medieval demeaning of its ancient culture. What better way to kickstart an occasion of spiritual and cultural magnificence than by restoring to the site its lost pride and name?

First and foremost, the excellent administrative arrangements made for the congregation of millions of devotees on the river-front in Prayagraj need special mention. The event commenced on January 15, and by the time it concluded on March 4, an estimated 28 crore people ranging from sadhus and sants of different groupings to laymen and women, and wide-eyed tourists and pilgrims from abroad had descended on the venue. Such an epochal occasion calls for arrangements on a monumental scale seldom necessary for a government to make in the normal course of social life.

Access to Prayagraj by road, rail, air and inland waterways was taken up for enhancement and upgradation. An airport barely 12 km from the city, four railway stations in the city, an airboat service between Varanasi and Prayagraj, four floating terminals, and operation of small boats are the highlights of the special transport arrangements. Elaborate security arrangements with updated technology and visitor facilities were made. Several thousand CCTV cameras, deployment of 20,000 policemen including 1,100 lifeguards, temporary police stations and fire stations complete the picture. A massive operation for cleanliness, hygiene and safety was put in place. To house the pilgrims and tourists, the authorities erected a new mini-city of more than 4,000 tents with modern amenities, and this temporary mini-city was lit by over 40,000 LED lights.

Cultural programmes, laser shows and other innovations were lined up to pep up a hectic day of spiritual indulgence by the pilgrims. The preparations for this mega-event were carried out at an estimated cost of Rs 4,200 crore. Out of this, nearly Rs 3,000 crore was for permanent projects and upgradation in Prayagraj city and the rest for works inside the Mela area. The permanent projects would be a real boost for the up liftment of the region’s economy that is reportedly job and cash-strapped. As such, the KumbhMela is undoubtedly an economic blessing for the local economy.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the apex industry body, is expecting Kumbh 2019 to generate a revenue of Rs 1,20,000 crore for Uttar Pradesh government and employment for over 600,000 workers across various sectors.

With the excellent arrangements that were put in place, it may be expected that pilgrims and tourists would carry pleasant memories back. The acclaim that the superb work entails is bound to shore up the image and popularity of the ruling BharatiyaJanata Party at the Centre and the State which, in turn, would most likely translate into votes. ArdhKumbh 2019 may, therefore, be expected to serve as an unintended curtain raiser for the BJP’s 2019 electoral essay; its success promising good governance.

(The article Ardh Kumbh success will provide poll boost to BJP is published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 07th March 2019)

Farm loan waivers should not be promised before polls

No sensible lady would fall for a wild promise to pluck the moon and stars for her by a besotted lover. All the same, she would hardly mind being serenaded, pampered silly and being infused with a sense of vainglory. Similar is the case of a discerning voter. He may like being wooed and pursued for his vote but would still take the promises made by political parties with a generous pinch of salt, if not with downright scepticism. He is also pragmatic enough to realise that election manifestos are only broadly indicative of the action plan of the parties with no real timeframe.

Politicians are capable of conjuring up visions of Utopia to lull the voter into a sense of stupefaction and make him believe that it is he, the individual voter, who is in actual control of the democratic system. A deceptive and alluring roadmap to a non-existent oasis in the vast political wilderness, an election manifesto is nothing more than symbolic of the carrot-and-stick policy of parties. While parties with sound ideological moorings appeal to the electorate with their track record, those founded on an ersatz political philosophy tend to ride high on manifestos generously peppered with fakery.

Apart from the general category of promises, which are far too lavish and yet fall within the realm of feasibility, made by one and all in the race, there is a beguiling category that is perilously close to downright deception. This category vitiates the healthy atmosphere of the poll process by pushing the bar very high for genuine contenders for victory. Winnability being directly proportional to perceptions, no party wants to be seen lagging behind the others in reaching out to the imagination of voters. One-upmanship is the hallmark of the par- ties that are not confident about their winning chances or political survival in the aftermath of the polls.

With the next round of parliamentary elections around the corner, the one area where parties find ample scope for winning the trust of the rural segment of the voters is farming. The BJP has been cruising through troubled waters of assistance and assurances to farmers with caution and trepidation. The Congress Party, on the contrary, has been approaching the problem in a cavalierly ad hoc fashion, marked by non-application of mind. It has promised to waive farm loans all over the country if voted to power, which is a tall order for any party to fulfill owing to the sheer magnitude of the loans.

The game plan is, however, obvious for political analysts to see through. If it manages to capture power, Congress would not be able to carry out the promise beyond a token gesture. In that event, it would accuse the outgoing NDA government of leaving behind a depleted treasury and hold the latter responsible for its inability to waive loans. If, on the contrary, it comes a cropper in the polls, it would conveniently be absolved of the stupendous responsibility of fulfilling the promise. If BJP, on its part, plays into the hands of Congress and matches the latter’s promise with its own, it would be obliged to carry out a promise made not entirely on its own volition.

Meanwhile, if the BJP resists the temptation of outsmarting Congress with an outrageous promise, it would be branded as an anti-farmers party. Either way, it would be caught in a bind. This is indeed a dicey situation for the BJP. Having already announced several welfare measures for farmers, both in the interim budget and on earlier occasions, it would be safe to presume that the BJP would watch out for the pitfall and toe a realistically pragmatic path. Playing it safe by showcasing its achievements and going easy on promises would be the key to success.

In any case, farm loan waivers do not make the most effective relief measure nor bring about the desired result owing to inherent fundamental flaws. The waivers generally benefit large farmers and not the small and marginal farmers who take loans from professional moneylenders and land-lords and not from banks for want of collateral. Besides, waivers vitiate the credit culture. More importantly, these are little more than a sop. The waivers are welcomed by the farmers in distress for their feel-good factor, which is sadly not long lasting. The amount of funds notionally saved by the government that refrains from splurging on a sop can be diverted on substantial schemes of relief and welfare of the farmers.

The NDA government chose, therefore, to make two key announcements in its recent interim budget. One is regarding interest rate subvention, which has been increased from 2 to 5 per cent, provided loans are serviced by the farmers on time; the other is regarding a perennial income sup- port scheme whereby a cash transfer of Rs 6000 per annum is made to marginal and small farmers.

Indian farmers are beset by a spectrum of problems which need practical solutions and not sops or largesse. To make farming hassle-free and viable, the government has introduced several welfare measures. These include an increase in minimum sup- port prices of crops (22 in number), providing better seeds and soil information and improvement in irrigation systems. The Union government’s goal is to facilitate the doubling of the farmers’ income.

A nationwide farm loan waiver is estimated to involve a 2 per cent forbearance of the GDP. And yet, it is no substitute for major reforms in the agri-economic system and structural changes in the credit system. The feasibility of bringing professional moneylenders within the network of banks on realistic terms should be explored for the benefit of small and medium farmers. In the meantime, this segment of farmers should be more realistically helped out by Direct Benefit Transfer rather than by loan waivers.

The mode and manner of assistance to the farmers notwithstanding, the focus of the political parties vying for power should be on long-lasting solutions to farmers’ woes and not on sops or a short-term relief measures that are cosmetic in nature. The thrust of their campaign should be on reforms in the agri-economic system, restructuring of the credit system and related issues. Opportunist politicians should not be given the leeway to go about bandying wild promises about farm loan waivers in their election campaign.

If we look at the numerous elections held in India so far, it becomes evident that political parties make reckless promises with the intention of capitalising on the farmers’ misery. Unfortunately, later on, these political parties cannot be held accountable if they fail to fulfill any of those promises. The federal government should, therefore, enact a law that prohibits the inclusion of farm loan waivers in poll promises or election manifestos. Such a law will preclude exploitation of an emotive issue by unprincipled politicians for their personal gains at the cost of the fiscal health of the state or nation.

(The article Farm loan waivers should not be promised before polls is published in daily newspaper “The Statesman” on 22nd February 2019)

India needs some critical reforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s time to defuse the population time bomb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gordian Knot

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

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

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

Melodrama and Unruly Behaviour

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

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

Coliseum of Gladiators

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

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

Disappointment and Discontent

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

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

No Rocking of Boat

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

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

Wonder Tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legitimacy

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

Power at Any Cost

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

Finger in the Honey Pot

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

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

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

Governance versus Rule

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

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

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

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

Stranglehold of Obscurantism and Regression on Muslim Society

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

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

Charge of Apostasy

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

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

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

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

Population Growth and Conversion 

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

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

Education and a Narrow Vista

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

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

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

Women’s Predicament

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

Stymied Progress

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

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

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

Dead Horse and Dirty Diapers

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

Alien Concept

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

Truncated Ideology on Last Legs

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

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

Forgotten Class War

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

Advent of Democracy

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

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

Farmers to the Fore

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

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

Winds of Change

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

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

Indian Scenario

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

 

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

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

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

Cloak-and-Dagger Operations 

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

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

Daunting Combine

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

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

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

Lowering of Standards

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

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

Anti-State Stance

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

Opaque System

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

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

Doughty Spirit

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

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

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

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

Elections and Ethics

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

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

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

Congress and Calumny

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

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

More Lies

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

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

Canard and Shifting of Stands

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

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

Modern Day Don Quixote

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

The Bugbear of a United Opposition

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

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

Why a United Front?

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

Talks for Coalition

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

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

Stuck to Drawing Board

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

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

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

Great Fallout

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

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

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

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

Looming Bugbear

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

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