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Containing The Likely Fallouts Of Covid-19 On Indian Economy

Will the consumer hold money in anticipation of further risks or will the bulls return to trigger spending of non-essential goods and services? Nobody can accurately predict.

These are times of uncertainty. But something that is certain is that no agency, no analyst can correctly predict the extent to which the global and Indian economy will be impacted by n-coronavirus. Most of the major cities of the world, from London to New York to Mumbai, are under lockdown. Factories are literally shut and no economic activity, except production and transportation of essential goods and services, is being undertaken. Passenger airplanes have been grounded, malls are closed and even e-commerce websites are selling nothing but essentials. This is unprecedented. And when we say ‘unprecedented’, this time the word isn’t symbolic alone. The United Nations has lately termed the crisis as the worst we have seen since World War II.

The reason why we call these times uncertain is due to a number of factors. First, although most countries are operating their sea ports and airports for at least cargo carriers, the ground reality is different. Second, although world leaders, including the US President Donald Trump and India’s PM Modi, have sounded optimistic about lifting the country-wide lockdowns as soon as possible, the rise in number of those being tested positive for coronavirus may only allow for phased lifting of lockdown. And third and the most important argument is nobody knows how the primary driver of economy, the consumer, will react after things turn normal. Will the consumer hold money in anticipation of further risks or will the bulls return to trigger spending of non-essential goods and services? Nobody can accurately predict.

Here, however, let’s see how the COVID-19 crisis will shape a few critical sectors of Indian economy and what can be done in the short-term to address concerns. There are some elements that are out in the open and studying them can at least give a fair idea, if not a certain picture, of how things will be in near future.

For the aviation sector, the outlook is certainly dim. Cash flow has severely been impacted given the ban imposed on domestic and international flights in India. All travel bookings have been cancelled and while some of the companies are giving full refund, others are giving credits to enable bookings at a later date. All in all, the sector is staring at subdued earning till the time when ban on air travel is lifted. Players have resorted to pay cuts and halted fleet expansion. The government can step in to lift the sector out of doom by giving GST holiday for at least some time once the operations resume. Another policy action can be bringing the aviation turbine fuel (ATF) under the GST ambit to enable input tax credit for the industry. Since the revenues have been hit, space rentals, parking and such other charges can be waived off.

The story of Indian tourism sector is no different. In simple words, hotels are without reservations and any region dependent on tourism as a mainstay for its economic growth is under stress. Some analysts even believe that the tourism and hospitality sector may face an impending employment loss with approx. 70 percent of the workforce losing their jobs. The government has announced a three-month moratorium on all term loans for individuals. On similar lines, an extended moratorium to players in these sectors can be worked out. It is widely known that many Indians prefer international travel over domestic for leisure activities. The government will have to staunchly promote domestic tourism and if this involves infusing patriotic fervor, it shall not be looked down upon.

Another key industry impacted by coronavirus-induced lockdown is building and construction. All related sectors, from cement to steel, are set to suffer. The housing sector was already under stress even prior to the COVID-19 pain. Now, even the commercial real estate will feel the pressure as private investment will worsen due to players shelving their plans. From allowing relaxation to players in RERA norms to bringing down lending rates to builders and developers, there is a lot that the government can do to bring the sector out of depression. We know that this industry provides ample employment in the unorganized sector, and hence for the sake of the survival of workers dependent on this, government will have to come out with sops. Now that serving EMIs on loans availed by real estate companies will be a concern, any classification of such loans as NPAs has to be delayed.

Nothing, but essential goods, is selling during lockdown and retail sector has been hit by this proposition. Now what further will impact the sector is restricted spending capacity of Indian households even after the country resumes normal market operations. Indeed, consumers are set to postpone their purchase of at least those goods which are deemed superficial. How many large screen television sets do you think will sell once the lockdown is lifted? Of course, the demand for such items will be muted in the near-term. Here, the players can be allowed to invoke the force majeure clause to delay rents. Another important and inevitable policy action is cutting import duties on raw materials and faster approvals to MSMEs in retail. It is also expected that to boost demand, the government must think tweaking personal tax rates.

Now that we know how the nation-wide lockdown has brought the country to a screeching halt, we also know that not only the above-mentioned sectors but every single fragment of economy will be impacted. Mass reverse migration of labourforce, especially from the unorganized sector, will play its own role. From mining to textiles and banking to insurance services, not a single branch of Indian economy will be spared in the wake of coronavirus. Moreover, India is a major importer of raw materials and even finished goods from China. Chinese factories are slowly resuming work but the picture for Indian importers is not very promising as our other import sources, from Germany to South Korea, are also hit by the coronavirus catastrophe.

In these difficult times, measures undertaken by the Indian government and other authorities including the RBI are the saving grace. Although most of the policy actions announced by the Finance Minister are targeted at providing subsistence support to the poor, they will have a far-reaching impact. RBI, on its part, has resolved to inject liquidity in the market by bringing down repo rates, slashing CRR and increasing marginal standing facility. The PM in his recent interaction with chief ministers has deliberated on the need to have in place an effective strategy for a phased lifting of lockdown. The targeted response of various authorities on coronavirus hotspots are surely making us feel optimistic that the spread of the disease will soon be brought under control, and the engines will soon be up and running. Let’s shun negativity and show resilience.

(The article Containing The Likely Fallouts Of Covid-19 On Indian Economy” published in “Business World”)

Fighting An Invisible Enemy Called Covid-19

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

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

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

International Reaction

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

India’s Response

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

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

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

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

Global Leadership

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

Indian Economy

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

People’s Reaction

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

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

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

India Fights

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

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

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

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

The Legislative Route To Social Reforms

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

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

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

Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinister Designs and Ploys

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

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

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


Bold Initiatives

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

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

Legislative Route

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

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

Women’s Safety and Public Ire

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

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

Woman’s Place in Society

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

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

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

Agitated Public

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

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

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

Media’s Role

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

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

Judiciary’s Role

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

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

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

Is Patriotism on the Wane?

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

Love Supreme

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

“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,

Who never to himself hath said,

This is my own, my native land!”

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

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

Scourge of Terrorism

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

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

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

Anti-National Forces

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

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

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

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

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

Counter-Measures

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

Patriotism to the Fore

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

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

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

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

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

Primary Causes

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

Farming Woes

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

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

Banking Blues

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

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

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

Employment Levels and Consumer Demand

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

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

Government steps in

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

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

Boosting of Exports

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

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

Infrastructure Development

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

Union Budget 2020

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

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

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

Many Aspirations and Budget 2020

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

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

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

Cut in personal income tax

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

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

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

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

Divestment

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

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

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

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

Fiscal Prudence- Now or suspended

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

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

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

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

Special incentives to new technologies

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aftermath of CAA

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

Strident Opposition 

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

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

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

Unholy Alliance against Govt

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

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

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

Flawed Argument

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

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

Pakistan’s Mischief

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

Government’s Resolve

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

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

Is Hinduism Losing Ground at Home?

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

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

Alien Faiths

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

Invasions and Conversions

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

Somnath Temple Ruins

Love Jihad

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

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

Evangelists on War Path

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

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

Last Hope

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

Will Delhi Become Victim of Freebie Culture Yet Again?

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

Vote Bank

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

Freebies and Corruption

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

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

Beyond Comprehension

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

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

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

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

Enticing with Freebies 

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

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

Say No to Freebies

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

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

India and the RCEP

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

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

Thorny Issues

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

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

India First

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

Japan to Follow

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

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

How the Decision Helps

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

What Needs to be Done

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

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

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

Political Stability, the Key

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

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

 

Is Air Pollution Here to Stay?

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

Delhi Chokes

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

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

Addressing the Issue 

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

Stubble-Burning 

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

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

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

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

Construction and Demolition Activities

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

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

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

Odd-Even Policy

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

Swachh Hawaa

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

Water Management – A Huge Task Ahead

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

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

Global Warming

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

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

Fight Against Global warming

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

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

Deforestation

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

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

Irrigation Woes

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

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

Huge Task Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission Chandrayaan and India’s Giant Leap into the Future

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

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

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

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

Space Program

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

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

Chandrayaan-1

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

Chandrayaan-2

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

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

Chandrayaan-3

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

Gaganyaan

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

Conquering the Sky

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

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

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

The Stranglehold of Black Money over Politics in India

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

Parallel Economy

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

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

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

Politics and Black Money

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

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

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

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

Post-poll Scenario

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

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

Will and Resilience

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

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

कॉरपोरेट टैक्स रेट में कटौती शुरु होगा सकारात्मक चेन रिएक्शन

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

Protests in Hong Kong and China’s Predicament

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

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

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

Breaking Out of Protests

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

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

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

More Demands

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

Periodical Protests

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

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

World View

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

Way Out for China

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

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

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

Is the Pak economy on the brink of collapse?

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

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

Economic Woes

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

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

Religious Fundamentalism

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

Hotbed of Terrorism

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

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

Peevish Attitude

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

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

Pakistan’s Blame Game

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

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

Possibility of FATF Blacklisting

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

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

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

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

Economic Slowdown – Perception and Reality

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

Aftermath of Trade War

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

Neither Crisis nor Disaster

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

Fiscal Measures and Stimuli

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

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

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

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

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

Economy on Sound Footing

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

Neither Fish nor Fowl

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

The Arrest Of Shivakumar Further Exposes Congress’ Corruption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kashmir conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Triple Talaq Abolished, UCC Should be Next Step

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)