Job creation

PM Modi’s litmus test

Bagging

Is something “missing”? Or, has something gone wrong the way our rulers have organized and managed the country’s economy for the past several decades? Some of the early assumptions of economic policies and strategies have turned out to be unrealistic. Certain new assumptions look fragile or misplaced.

Indeed, in its long march from the socialist era to the globalised market economy, there are serious gaps in the country’s transition from struggling agrarian society to the 21st century polity. The transition, of course, cannot take place without problems. What is, however, disquieting is that most of our socio-economic problems are either politicized or self-generated in the absence of clear perspectives on basic policies, targets and ground realities.

fm3_660_122314015353

Arun Jaitely

The economy is not a matter of bargain. Nor is it a free play of statistics, though data do matter even if they, like a bikini, happen to hide the real stuff. Who would not know this better than our honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitely and, to some extent, BJP Chief Amit Shah.

amit-shah-pti_650x400_51495856242

Amit Shah

The ruling trio has so far been quite successful dream merchants of tomorrow’s achche din, with Amit Shah adding pakoda flavour to the plight of the country’s millions of educated unemployed and uneducated jobless.

62826606

Youth Congress members fry ‘pakodas’ to protest the PM’s statement on employment

Over the years, statistics on the economic transition tell their own tales. They speak of successes as well as failures of growth and transformation. In the process, they also provide clues to strengths and the weaknesses in the system and induce us to look forward with some optimism without losing sight of the facts which show how and where we have gone wrong.

Half-baked approach

More than statistics, we need to examine, dispassionately and objectively, the Modi government’s over three and a half years of economic policies and major steps like demonetization on the touchstone of common sense and human responses on matters ranging from poverty eradication to employment generation.

Notwithstanding tall claims and grand declarations like Make-in-India, it is a hard fact that India’s economic growth has not been commensurate with the people’s rising expectations and needs of employment growth. Nor has it led to the structure of distribution of income which could have helped to reduce poverty and substantially improve the quality of literacy and availability of minimum health services for common men.

The Union Budget, of course, takes the people on to the garden path of yearly Rs 5 lakh insurance cover per family for hospitalization. This is a half-baked approach to health services by the Modi establishment since it does not address itself to the vital question of improving “health” of primary health Centres in rural and urban areas. It is also worth noting that even graduates and post-graduates are not getting jobs, though the central and state governments have been spending the tax-payers’ money to educate them.

Looking back, the 2014 BJP manifesto said, “The country has been dragged through 10 years of jobless growth by the Congress-led UPA government….. Under the broader economic revival, BJP will accord high priority to job creation and opportunities for entrepreneurship”.

Sluggish growth

At a 2013 poll rally in Agra, Narendra Modi promised to “create one crore jobs”. The 2018-19 Union Budget now has promised a creation of 73 lakh jobs.

Labour-intensive industrial projects with skilling back-up and higher public investments in quality education, better health services and policy reforms in the working of the economy can ensure faster growth with job creation.

The 2016-17 Economic Survey, based on data from the labour ministry, said: “Employment growth has been sluggish”. It also pointed to a shift in the pattern of employment from permanent job to casual and contract employment. The increasingly ‘temporary’ nature of work, it said, has an “adverse effect” on the level of wages, stability of employment, and employees’ social security. “It also indicates preference by employers away from regular formal employment to circumvent labour laws”.

There are, indeed, wheels within wheels on what the government has promised and realities on the ground. Though India is the fastest growing economy in the world, yet, ironically enough, we are faced with the paradoxical situation of low investment, low credit off-take and low capacity utilization in industry and even agricultural growth being low. Poor private investment is also a matter of concern.

True, the latest Budget does try to address some of the people’s concerns. But “much will depend upon how the expenditure programmes announced by the Finance Minister will be implemented”, as former RBI Governor C Rangarajan points out. According to some eminent economists, “the clumsy implementation of GST and associated glitches have hit the small and medium-scale enterprises the hardest, derailing growth in sectors like textiles, gems and jewellery and leather”.

rangarajan_3202000f

C Rangarajan

Be that as it may. The entire focus of the Narendra Modi government today is the 2019 general elections. Some populist measures in the Budget are part of the Prime Minister’s 2019 win-win target. But the problem with the Modi government today is one of credibility gap, between promises and performance on the ground.

As it is, job creation under the present high-profile government of Prime Minister Modi has been “at an eight-year low. Can the Prime Minister’s magic wand reverse the process before the 2019 election deadline? I have to keep my fingers crossed.

Looking beyond, the only way to the India of our dreams – as a great society with the tremendous creative energies of millions is to concretise a vision of another India. An India where economic growth does not remain a reality only for a few and a myth for the vast multitude. The widening gap between myth and reality has to be erased, Modi or no Modi!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

PNB Scam

Where are the promised reforms ?

modi-pnb-web-750x500.jpg.pagespeed.ce.d1sphG6j0z

After known fraudsters Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi, the country is caught in yet another massive banking fraud by billionaire jewellery designer Nirav Modi. The question here is not one of starting year (2011) of the scam or the colour of government in the saddle –– the Congress-led UPA or the BJP-led NDA.

What is a matter of concern for the people is the leaky banking system and the quality of governance which help fraudsters and not loan-ridden suicide-prone farmers, poor account holders in public sector banks whose small deposits shrink regularly since they cannot maintain a minimum balance. This is not the India we had bargained for.

vijay-mallya-lalit-modi

Ten years of the UPA establishment (2004 to mid-2014) was scam-ridden even though it had an honest economist Prime Minister in Manmohan Singh at the helm. The scams during that period were the main reason for the Congress to lose power at the hustings.

In place of the Congress, landed on the nation’s centre-stage of power the saffron party’s Narendrabhai Modi. During his hurricane poll campaign, he promised to conduct himself as “chowkidar” of the national treasury, initiate reforms and install a transparent and accountable system of good governance.

It is a different matter that the country saw the vanishing tricks of the scamsters – Vijay Mallya, Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi ––during the past four years of “chowkidari” of Prime Minister Modi!

Public sector banks in India have lost at least Rs 227.43 billion (Rs 22,743 crore) because of fraudulent banking operations between 2012 and 2016, according to an IIM-Bangalore study. Electronics and Information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad gave this information to Parliament, citing Reserve Bank of India (RBI) data.

The honourable minister has said there have been over 25,600 cases of banking fraud, worth Rs. 1.79 billion up to December 21 last year. According to the data, released by the apex bank for the first nine months of FY 17, approximately 455 cases of fraud tansactions, each of Rs 1,00,000 or above, were detected at ICICI Bank: 429 at State Bank of India, 244 at Standard Chartered Bank and 237 at HDFC Bank.

48340-zhhyojukqp-1508767816

Ravi Shankar Prasad

Between April and December 2016, over 3,500 cases of fraudulent transactions were reported involving Rs 177.50 billion, which were facilitated by 450 private and public sector employees and the vulnerable banking system.

The latest scam “bombshell” has hit the state-run Punjab National Bank’s Brady House branch in Mumbai where Nirav Modi and his associates allegedly indulged in “fraudulent and unauthorized” transactions to the tune of Rs 11,450 crore in connivance with some members of the PNP staff. The Nirav Modi group reportedly managed to get at least 150 Letter of Undertakings (LoUs) fraudulently which enabled them to defraud the bank. The LoUs were encashed overseas by them from different banks. Union Bank of India, Allahabad Bank and Axis Bank are said to have given them loans based on PNB’s LoUs.

Nirav_Modi_jewllery

Nirav Modi at the opening of their Hong Kong boutique.

The value of fraudulent transactions works out more than eight times PNB’s annual net profit of Rs 1,324 crore during 2016-17. Nirav Modi, incidently, figured in Forbes India’s Richest People List of 2016, with a net worth of $ 1.74 billion.

73215_304055169696366_488791808_n

Nirav Modi at the opening of their Hong Kong boutique.

Notwithstanding earlier alarm signals from a whistle blower, the PNB’s Brady House branch discovered irregularities in issue of letters of undertaking (LoUs) only in mid-January this year. PNB has Rs 1,700 crore loan exposure to Nirav Modi’s tainted companies in addition to liabilities up to Rs 11,400 crore.

Mehul-Choksi-1

Mehul Choksi

It is worth noting that LoU operationally works out to be a letter of comfort issued by one bank to branches of other banks, based on which foreign branches offer credit to buyers. According to a report, “foreign branches of these banks which have dealings with outlets of a jewellery company are said to have taken significant exposures”. All this was carried out in connivance with PNB officials. We are yet to fully know all the facts and the range and dimensions of the scam operation. Central agencies are on the job.

True, the pile of bad loans is a legacy of the UPA government. It is also a fact that Prime Minister Modi’s government had promised at the start of its term in May 2014 that a clean-up of bank balance sheets of state-owned banks would be one of its primary challenges. Even the 2015-16 Economic Survey had spelt out the road ahead. Still, nothing much has been done to improve the banking system and initiate the process of promised governance reforms. There are obvious supervisory failures both at the levels of individual banks and the banking sector regulator, RBI.

The scam raises a number of questions on the operative system of governing public sector banks.

First, LoUs for diamond trade are issued for 90 days. How come the bank staff issued 365 day LoUs? This shows how rules are flouted by the banking staff for the rich and the mighty who know the art of managing key persons within and beyond. No wonder, the richest one per cent of Indians own 53 per cent of the country’s wealth.

Second, how come the PNB’s internal audits and RBI inspections failed to notice irregularities?

Third, at the operative desk, why was PNB’s deputy manager Gokulnath Shetty allowed to remain on the same desk for years, flouting the norms of rotating people every few months? Shetty allegedly used his access to the Swift messaging system used by banks for overseas transactions to authenticate guarantees given on LoUs without any sanctions. Based on such authentications, overseas branches of several Indian banks gave forex credit. PNB is now denying liability, claiming that these are fraudulent LoUs. My point is: such things cannot happen without the power strings of some invisible hands, both inside and outside of PNB.

Four, like Vijay Mallya earlier, how come Nirav and his kin managed to leave the country for their foreign destinations in the first week of January? This cannot happen without the help of some government officials. Equally intriguing is that Nirav could manage to get into the businessmen’s group photograph with Prime Minister Modi at Davos. He was surely not part of the official Indian delegation. Still, how could he manage to slip in the group photograph?

Five, the people have the right to ask as to why various ministries and the PMO repeatedly overlooked complaints of wrong-doings against Nirav and his partner Mehul Choksi filed by a whistle-blower? Could this be because of the Prime Minister’s preoccupation with foreign trips to project the Shining India image for the flow of foreign investments for his various schemes, including Make-in-India ?

It is a pity that in the Prime Minister’s lopsided priorities, some of the burning domestic issues and problems facing the country have either been neglected or got sidelined. With one year to go for the next general election, the Modi government has now woken up to address itself to farmers’ hack-breaking problems and inject some life in the economy and the health sector. But one year is too short a period to make India shine and create promised jobs for millions of the unemployed.

As for Nirav Modi’s affairs, law has moved in swiftly, though we cannot be sure of the net result since there are visible and invisible wheels within wheels in loose ends of the system. One cannot be sure which wheel is operating at whose behest. Incidentally, Nirave Modi has a brother Neeshal Modi who is also a partner in his diamond business. Last year he married Ambani brothers’ sister Deepti Salgaonkar’s daughter Isheta. The rest is all a matter of guess.

1496319586-priyanka-chopra-nirav-modi

It is said that power flows from money-bags. And money-bags flow from power. To whom can the common man turn when money and power work in tandem? A grab mentality could be seen everywhere.

Those who are a part of the system exploit it, and virtually become insensitive to the sufferings of the less privileged. Indeed, what is disquieting it that scams, frauds and corrupt practices in the system indulge in by the rich and the powerful has begun to hit the common man badly.

Mood-Video-NEW-OPTION_2

On the face of it, the situation seems hopeless. But all is not lost as yet. All that is required is to build up public pressure through free flow of information. The current air of secrecy has to end. Secretiveness is the antithesis of democracy. In India, the ruling class has made a virtue of it.

It is imperative that the sluice gates of misinformation are identified and closed, whether they are operated by state agencies or by non-official agencies.

I wish to reiterate that less of secrecy and more of openness are basic ingredients for building a transparent and accountable system. Let there be fair play and fairness in the system. This alone can help build the confidence of common people in the system.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Education

An orphaned sector

HomeBannerEducation-India-0717

Whither India’s Education? This question has been debated in the country’s various fora, in Parliament and academic circles for years. Still, big gaps remain between official efforts-cum-claims and the people’s rising expectations for quality education in primary and secondary schools in urban and rural areas.

True, India needs more IITs and IIMs. It also needs more and more quality schools which could feed these institutions of high learning. If this aspect of high standards of schooling is ignored, as is the existing reality, we will see more Kota-like centres where students end up as wrecks mid-way through their preparations for higher studies and skills development.

As it is, the country suffers from a major shortfall in skilling which cannot be made up with the much-trumped official programme of “Skill India”. This harsh fact has serious repercussions for the country’s economy and society in view of the fact of over a million youth get set to join the work force every month.

However, looking at the poor standards of education, will they be employable? An honest answer will be: No. What, in that case, will be the future of these youngsters? Will they not become part of the growing ranks of destructive forces which have, of late, been increasingly used in the country’s trouble-prone sensitive areas by the vested interests for political, communal and sectarian purposes? Herein lies the country’s tragedy.

The real problem confronting government schools is shortage of teachers and classrooms. The concept of guest teachers and contract teachers has devalued teaching. “Operation Blackboard” was conceived just as a temporary measure to ensure at least one blackboard and one teacher at every rural school. But this has come to stay, with most state governments regularly slashing at school education budget, leaving the doors open for the privatization of schools over the years, to the disadvantage of the poor and the have-nots.

There is, of course, no magic wand for skills development of students and good results. For this purpose, teaching has to be made a worthwhile profession. Attractive pay packet and incentives alone can attract right persons to the teaching profession.

teacher5

Indeed, it is time to reinvent the wheel if India is to march with its head held high at global high-profile Davos-like gatherings. To put the matter simply, the government, the bureaucracy and educationists have to be sensitive to the needs of the rural and urban parents and respond to their craving for quality education and skills development with out-of-box thinking if our young people are to compete competently in today’s globalised world.

A Literate India

It is a pity that education, along with public health system, continues to be the orphan in India’s social sector. This must change if India’s dream to become a big power has to turn into a reality.

2012-01-18-EducationOrphan_CareBihar_India_D

Near-universal enrollment and automatic promotion through the elementary stage have resulted in more and more children successfully completing elementary schooling. But What about their learning skills and standards ? We need to closely watch the quality of schooling both in rural and urban areas. Year after year since 2005, the Annual Status of Education (ASER) has highlighted the fact that many children (age group 5 to 16) are not acquiring even foundational skills like reading and basic maths that can make them go up in schools and life.

The latest 2017 ASER report for rural India has looked “beyond basics”. It confirms harsh realities about the poor state of education. It clearly states that school education is failing the majority of our 14 to 18 year olds. The report is quite comprehensive since it is based on the survey carried out in 28 districts across 24 states. Its focus is on 14-18 year old students who are part of the first batch to pass after implementation of the Right to Education Act. Let me restate certain facts of the findings of the survey.

One, 14 per cent of the students could not identify the map of India.

Two, 36 per cent of the students could not name the capital of India.

Three, one-fourth of the students could not read their own language fluently.

Four, 57 per cent of them were found struggling to solve a simple sum of division.

The moot point is: why this dismal show? The 2012 ASER report candidly pointed out that the decline in school education standards had been “more noticeable since 2010, when the RTE Act came into effect. This means that with targets of blanket coverage under the RTE, the quality and standards of schooling are being compromised. This is a typical example of the governments’ misplaced numbers game to claim success in the name of Right to Education.

The 2012 report has also noted that the private sector “is making huge inroads into education in rural India”. And, by 2019, when the RTE would have done a decade, the private sector “will be the majority service provider”. Besides, the private sector involvement “will also be strengthened by 25 per cent quota of the government under the RTE Act.

Ironically, the highest private sector enrollment is said to be in Kerala, where the successive governments have claimed commitment to welfare policies, especially on education and health.

The private sector, apparently, is exploiting the poor quality of government schools to its commercial advantage. Not that the private sector schools are role models. Even their low standards remain low. They have also reportedly “shown a downturn in maths beyond number recognition”, as Firstpost report underlines.

Against this backdrop, it will be worthwhile to look at the plight of rural parents. They pay higher fees for private schools. They also spend considerable sum for private tuitions. Poor families actually spend their hard-earned money to get “half-baked education” for their children.

The 2012 ASER report states: “There has been a feeling that RTE may have led to relaxation of classroom teaching since all exams and assessments are scrapped and no child is to be kept back. “Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) is now part of the law and several states are attempting to implement some form of CCE as they understand it”.

Looking at the magnitude of the problem, it will not be easy to find quick solutions for teaching-learning of “basic foundational skills” at the primary level.

We are, indeed, faced with a serious national crisis in learning. The quality of education and the performance of students in government and private schools will have to be improved through coordinated efforts of governments, teachers and school managements at all levels.

As it is, higher education has already been sold to those with money patronage power. Should primary school education also be allowed to go the same way? Educationists and the authorities at the Centre and in the States ought to give a serious thought to various facets of the illness that India’s education system is suffering from.

More than the Right to Education, what the country needs badly is the Right to Quality Education. Our leaders invariably settle for the easy route of the numbers game to flaunt their “success” instead of addressing themselves to serious issues of ensuring high teaching-learning standards with the requisite infrastructure backup and budgetary provisions. At stake is the future of  India and the Generation Next.

We need to learn from China’s big money allocation to education which, in turn, has ensured its impressive leap-forward in the economy and power status in the comity of nations. Beijing spends big money on education.

Rewriting textbooks to inject the ‘reigning political flavour” of the day, howsoever justifiable, cannot raise the standards and quality of education. Quality education demands quality teachers, modern instruments of teaching and learning, rigorous enforcement of quality standards, better management and objective assessment of performance of urban and rural schools by genuine educationists, and not by politically-sponsored-persons.

Quality education and healthcare can take the country to dizzy heights of productivity and prosperity. Hollow promises and tall claims by our leaders would not do.

Is this a tall order ? The young generation deserves a better deal. We cannot afford to create a vast army of frustrated educated youth.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

From the Editor

Cover- 17jan18


Ten years is not a long period in the life of a Think Tank National Magazine. Power Politics has, however, already carved out a special space in the Indian media scene, with its deep insight into what makes India grab attention in sunshine and on a dark night.

For us this journey has been arduous and challenging, both in resources generation and for creating a marketplace of ideas and informed opinions. In the pursuit of an independent and objective line of thinking on issues and problems, we are guided by the spirit of inquiry, and not by political angularities, casteist biases and religious jingoism. Our basic focus is on the development of common men and against any miscarriage of social and economic justice, from the grassroots upwards.

To mark its tenth anniversary, Power Politics has come out with a Special Number which, while looking at the years gone by from “I said so” perspective, takes stock of problems confronting the nation of 1.2 billion people and their rising expectations.

Good Governance is the leitmotif of the broad spectrum of advocacy for a Vibrant India — India of Gandhi and Nehru, Buddha and Mahavir, Ram and Krishna, Kabir and Guru Nanak, which is equally at home with Jesus and the Prophet. Our crusading zeal is meant to enable people at the nukkad level to breathe pluralism and practise tolerance, unmindful of the currents and cross-currents at play.

Good governance is the key to the people’s heart. Human Development Report looks at it as a democratic exigency and promoter of people’s human rights as well as their means and capacity to participate effectively in the decisions that affect their lives.

Minimizing corruption in the system apart, good governance is expected to give due weightage in decision-making to the views of minorities, tribals as well as to the voices of dissent and the most vulnerable sections of society.

Good governance encompasses the rule of law, transparent and accountable institutions and the system. It ensures access to knowledge, information, quality education, health care and good environment. Equally critical are its areas of gender equality, empowerment of women, consensus-oriented policy-making and effective and equitable of management of power and decision-making.

Looking beyond the 1989 World Bank concept of good governance, our entire exercise in the Anniversary Special is India-centric. After 71 years of Independence, the country is still struggling to find the right answers to come out of “long gap” between “verbalization” and implementation of policies and reforms aimed at fostering the development of all people. Even “decentralization” of power in the rural sector has not produced the desired results. If anything, it has led to concentration of power in the hands of “petty plutocracy.”

As it is, the social sector is the Orphan in India, as my colleague Malladi Rama Rao puts it. Both education and health have been privatized through the backdoor over the years. This has put good schools and hospitals virtually out of the reach of the underprivileged.

Small wonder, there are signs of restlessness in every segment of society. Young India feels cheated in the absence of promised generation of millions of the jobs. The latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) suggests that gender disparities and lack of skills to match young persons’ aspirations could upset India’s demographic dividend. India, by tradition, looks down upon in-house skill upgradation practices. This must change. It can change only if the government takes the initiative.

Should India look to the West for good governance models ? Not necessarily. In fact, it should explore its intellectual and managerial roots that are found in abundance in Kautilya’s rules of administration and take a fresh look at the people’s problems with their ever-changing and rising aspirational quotient and the politics of one-upmanship that are often an excuse to reinvent the wheel of status quo for short term political gains.

To the ruling class, I wish to remind it of King Vikramaditya and his famous throne. He ruled well and acted justly. Unless the rulers follow the Vikramaditya creed of justice and fair play in conducting affairs of the nation and the states, the people’s faith in them and their policies cannot be revived or sustained.

Indian rulers have only to be true to themselves and the people, discover traditional roots and move on to the modern path of logic and reason to regain the nation’s greatness and make it shine in a true form which goes far above the narrow canvas of caste, creed, religion and community. India needs to be rejuvenated from the current mess by pursuing forward-looking tools of good governance for a faster politico-social and economic uplift of all sections of society.

Warning signals are clear : employment generation, better health services and quality education have to be given the top national priority, both in rural and urban India. Poor health care and low education standards could dash India’s hopes of becoming a leading power. The Prime Minister and State Chief Ministers must look at these issues urgently in a wider national perspective.

What the country needs is a balanced vision of Modern the country which should hold all communities together. India is too large to be moved by short-cuts and over-simplifications of sensitive issues. “Clay has a tendency to be moulded but it requires a porter’s hand to take shape and form”, to quote P.N. Haksar from his book Reflections on our Times. Well, more than the porter’s skills, only men of courage and convictions leave the imprint on the pages of history.

We are a great nation, inheriting an ancient civilization. We cannot settle for a second place in the comity of nations. Just look into the eyes of our youngsters. They have a lot to convey about their hopes and aspirations. We cannot throttle their revolutionary impulses for changes and reforms for a corruption-free, transparent and accountable system of governance at all levels, for improving the life of citizens and ensuring safety and honour of women and children.

The 10th Anniversary Special of Power Politics presents you the widest possible spectrum of thoughts and analysis by some of India’s brightest minds on good governance. Diversity and richness of ideas are not just ornaments of democracy. They are rather essential elements for its survival and taking the country forward, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Aam Aadmi : Missing human touch at the grassroots !

indiaflag

Riding on the wave of the people’s massive mandate in the mid-2014 general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about “maximum governance, minimum government”. He also promised to provide good governance, to the delight of every section of society.

On Good Governance Day on December 25, the Prime Minister’s message was candid and forthright. He said:
“Sushasan. Good governance is the key to a Nation’s progress. Our government is committed to providing a transparent and accountable administration which works for the betterment and welfare of the common citizen. ‘Citizen First’ is our mantra, our motto and our guiding principle. It has been my dream to bring government closer to our citizens”.

Very fine thoughts indeed! The problem with Narendra Modi, however, is one of translating his noble thoughts into a plan of action on the ground. If I understand him correctly, the BJP-led Modi government’s idea was to correct the inefficient functioning of the administration and unproductive “control mechanism” of economic policies generally associated with the Nehruvian model of socialism.

What he has so far done is to take are certain steps like ensuring babus’ punctuality, replacing the Planning Commission by Niti Ayogya etc etc. Enforcing office punctuality is fine. But this does not ensure a better work culture and response system to desperate pleas of ordinary citizens who cannot manage “juggar” for prompt disposal of their grievances in the corridors of power.

Be that as it may. Critical issues before the country are: ensuring transparent, accountable responsive administrative system, decentralization of power and an indifferent mindset of the ruling cliques which make people go from pillar to post to redress their grievances.

prob3

As a journalist and author, I have closely watched the Indian scene for decades. This happens to be my passion as well as an area of concern while Prime Ministers have come and gone amidst the politics of expediency dominating every walk of life.

Politicians call the shots in every area of public activity. That is the reason why even simple matters of governance get politicized and acquire rhetoric overtones in the absence of ideological roots and principled commitments to the people’s good.

No wonder, the country’s political bazaar continues to be a complex spectacle of opportunism, regional pulls and counter-pulls, personality cults, caste and communal divides.

realpolitik10

The voter, of course, knows how to act decisively and throw out an unresponsive government. All the same, barring a few exceptions, political behaviour patterns leave many questions unanswered. This makes India look like, to use the famous Winston Churchill phrase, an enigma wrapped in a riddle. Perhaps, it is the invisible mystic-cum-mystery touch that makes Indian democracy dynamically complex.

Like Indira Gandhi’s garibi hatao, Prime Minister Modi, too, talks of poverty elimination, but his policies and postures give the impression of his being pro-rich. Perhaps, this is not his fault. He is in the business of politics. And politics today has become a big business. It is, therefore, not surprising that larger economic, business factors influence his decision-making as well as day-to-day operations.

Narendra Modi surely thinks big and acts big. He is guided by yoga and Digital India mantras. However, the business of governance can click if the existing ground realities of rural and urban India are properly understood. I feel that he is yet to realise that the whole of India cannot be run on the Gujarat Model. The face of India and of poverty and deprivations changes after a cluster of 30 to 40 villages.

India is, of course, no fairyland, though it is a colourful and fascinating country that derives its substance from the grassroots wisdom. And, those who fail to grasp this common man’s wisdom or choose to ignore it, could be thrown in the electoral dustbin. This is what happened to Indira Gandhi. That is how Rajiv Gandhi lost to his one time colleague, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, who too subsequently suffered a blow when lost sight of rational perspective in the pursuit of his caste-based politics.

Looking back in a wider perspective of nation-building, V P Singh had a golden opportunity to reshape the destiny of India but frittered away his energy in chasing petty sectarian and mandalised goals and in the process lost his sense of direction. He virtually divided the nation by his one-track obsession with the reservation issue. By his senseless attempt to extend the caste-based reservations to the educational field, he provoked a violent backlash from the middle class student community in urban India.

Amidst strikes and gory spectacle of self-immolations, the nation virtually came to a halt. In a swift turn of political fortune, V P Singh lost support of the media and the educated middle class that had helped him win the poll. Suddenly, he was viewed as a villain of Indian politics.

I am recalling the V P Singh phenomenon, simply because of its relevance to the present and future leadership. The setting and issues could vary, but the basic lesson is the same: how not to govern India.

Even for Narendra Modi there are lessons galore from his shrinking electoral base in his home state of Gujarat. The Patidar stir, headed by firebrand young leader Hardik Patel, along with youthful Dalit and OBC leaders, conveys to Modi a number of lessons on rising unemployment, inadequate education opportunities for the middle class youngsters in the face of very costly privatized education and health systems.

prob2

Equally disturbing is the social scene one and a half years after brutalities on four Una Dalits of Gujarat shook the nation. The Dalit victims have now decided to forsake Hinduism due to unabated caste discrimination and embrace Buddhism. And Gujarat has been the BJP-ruled state for the past 22 years! These are all matters of good governance vis-a-vis people and their problems.

I am not questioning the Prime Minister’s good intentions to make India go in a big way. But he has to come to the grip of multi-dimensional distortions the polity is suffering from. There are loose ends everywhere.

prob1

Power flows from moneybags. And money flows from power. To whom can the common man turn to when muscle and money power operates in tandem? Those who do not have a share in the booty are showing signs of restlessness. Those who are part of the system merrily exploit it and virtually become insensitive to the sufferings of the less privileged. This is not the India we had bargained for.

Politicians exploit the innocent masses. Businessmen and traders exploit consumers by selling substandard or adulterated commodities. Malpractices, such as black marketing, underweight or overcharging, are not signs of good governance. The bureaucratized system, more often than not, hardly cares for the susceptibilities of the poor and the have-nots. The guardians of the law tilt towards the rich and the mighty.

How can we arrest such a decline? Simple. No one should be allowed to get away with any violation, minor or major, of the law. How about cow vigilants who take the law in their hands to harass the Dalits or Muslims?

Law has to have a humane face. It should be applied equally for all, the mightiest as well as the weakest of the land. This is the essence of democracy and good governance.

As part of the concept of good governance, the Prime Minister and his policy makers need to promptly take care of basic national priorities, such as drinking water for villages, better public health system, drive towards aforestation, halting deforestation, more vigorous drive to check the “baby boom”, tapping solar and indigenous sources of energy for the benefit of rural India, pollution control, urban planning with green lungs, strengthening road and communication network, improving the quality of public health and education, expansion of career and professional courses, generation of new employment opportunities.

The stress has to be on key areas of social and economic activity, especially creating jobs for the youth. Mr Prime Minister, do we need pilotless trains when lakhs and lakhs of youngsters are desperate about jobs?

Narendra Modi also needs to look back, think and reflect whether it was necessary for him to visit as many as 60 foreign countries in three years instead of providing a healing touch to suicide-prone farmers in distress! A human touch at the grassroots can provide him better political dividends than thunderous applause overseas.

Democracy demands fairplay and honest approach to men, matters and issues. If men could be expected to be selfish or worse, as James Madison once put it in the American context, “ambition must be made to counteract ambition”. In the Indian situation this is possible if a proper system and effective instruments of governance are created. For “if men were angels, no government would be necessary”.

In absence of a viable and responsive system, manipulators and operators have a field day. This is not acceptable. The existing system needs to be revamped and rebuilt on the new edifice of transparency and accountability at all levels of public activity. Equally vital for good governance is less of secrecy, more of openness, and greater involvement of people in development.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My Lords ! Matters of Judicial Dharma

scourt

Notwithstanding the controversial nature of the move, I am of the view that the nation needs to be grateful to the Supreme Court’s four senior-most judges-Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Rajan Gogoi (in line to be CJI in October, by which time Chelameswar will have retired), Madan B Lokur and Kurien Joseph- for bringing into public focus certain critical issues which have a bearing on the independent functioning of the judiciary and citizens’ faith in the system.

The judges’ voices of dissent are not issues of trade unionism, indiscipline or of “political conspiracy” as a senior RSS leader sees it. The protests were prompted by certain principles of justice in the face of what the top four judges thought to be serious infirmities and irregularities in administration and assigning of cases (by the Chief Justice of India) for hearing to the benches in the Apex Court.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra

Chief Justice Dipak Misra

The judges’ letter addressed to Chief Justice Dipak Misra states: “There have been instances where cases having far-reaching bearing for the nation and the institution (SC) have been assigned by the Chief Justices of this court selectively to the benches ‘of their preference’ without any rational basis for such assignment”.

Traditionally camera shy, the judges said they were forced to hold the press conference, a first of its kind, because the letter the judges had sent to CJI two months ago had gone unanswered. We do not yet know why the Chief Justice was unresponsive and reportedly turned down the last minute request by the seniormost judges to shift a politically sensitive case from a particular bench.

The four judges – all members of the Collegium by virtue of being No. 2 to No. 5 in seniority – thought that a matter of importance to the integrity of the judiciary and to the nation should be assigned to a bench headed by a judge who is senior to Justice Arun Mishra, who is 10th in the pecking order of the 25-member Supreme Court. Moreover, the well-established norm in the jurisprudence of the country is that “the Chief Justice is only the first among the equals”.

Justice Jasti Chelameswar

Justice Jasti Chelameswar

The allocation of cases is surely an administrative matter which could have been sorted out internally. There can be no scope for any outside interference, not even by any government. This is in keeping with the dignity of the judiciary. Why the CJI stuck to his ground is not known. I appreciate the sentiments expressed by Justice Chelameswar at the media meet. He said, “Twenty years later, wise men shouldn’t say that we sold our souls”.

Justice Rajan Gogoi

Justice Rajan Gogoi

In this context, it may be worthwhile recalling the views of an eminent former judge of the Supreme Court, Justice V D Tuzapurkar. He said that “sycophantic Chief Justices” were a threat to the independence of the judiciary because they could easily pack the court or withdraw cases from one bench to another.

Justice Madan B Lokur

Justice Madan B Lokur

The Chief Justice of India is supposed to be the master of the roster. This has been the pattern of CJI working for decades. His power to constitute benches for “important judgments” has surely a bearing on the larger interests of society and the working of India’s democratic polity.

Justice Kurien Joseph

Justice Kurien Joseph

In the past 20 years, as many as 15 “super sensitive” cases are said to have been assigned to junior SC judges. In any case, there is no reason why the existing system cannot be changed or reformed to bring more transparency in the working of the judiciary. It is, of course, for the highest court of the land to look within and decide its future course of action.

A selective approach will not help improve matters. Here it may be worth recalling the observations of a distinguished British Queen’s Counsel, David Pannick well recorded in his book “Judges” (1987) which broadly reflects the concerns which also often bother us about the Indian judicial system.

“English ‘Judges’ have every reason to be proud of the quality of their performance and no reason to fear more extensive public knowledge and assessment of their work. Nevertheless, these are aspects of judicial administration, appointment, training, discipline, criticism, mysticism and publicity – which hinder or detract from their ability to serve society.

“We need judges who are trained for the job, whose conduct can be freely criticised and is subject to investigation by a Judicial Performance Commission; Judges who abandon wigs, gowns and unnecessary linguistic legalism; Judges who welcome rather than shun publicity for their activities.

“It is unlikely that men and women will ever cease to wound, cheat and damage each other. There will always be a need for Judges to resolve disputes in an orderly manner. As people grow even less willing to accept unreservedly the demands of authority, the judiciary, like other public institutions, will be subjected to a growing amount of critical analysis. The way in which ‘Judge & Co’ is run is a matter of public interest and will increasingly become a matter of public debate”.

Debate or no debate, an independent, transparent and accountable judiciary is the best safeguard of citizens’ rights in a democracy.

At stake is the image and credibility of the judiciary. A lot depends on how the CJI reacts and acts, keeping in view the fact that in a democratic system, institutions are bigger than individuals. One wrong step may not only give sanctity to a wrong act but also damage the institutional reputation of the judiciary and affect its standing in the public eye.

Attorney General of India K K Venugopal and Bar Council of India Chairman Manan Mishra have claimed that “the crisis has blown over”, but it looks like “an uneasy truce” amidst “exchange of pleasantries” when all judges met as usual over tea on Monday morning (January 15). It is also claimed that the “ice has started melting” after a meeting of the Chief Justice with the four judges on Tuesday (January 16). Well, we have to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best !

Be that as it may. We all are under watch: the administration, the judiciary, the Bar and even the media. Each organ has to conduct itself with determination, dignity and sobriety, not only for the sake of survival of democracy but also for the legacy it leaves for the Generations Next. What also needs to be kept in mind, as enshrined in holy books and scriptures, is that there is a divine court above which expects transparency and fair play in justice and the enforcement of judicial ethics and accountability!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rising crimes speak for poor governance

National-Crime-Records-Bureau-to-hire-deputy-superintendant

India has reasons to be terribly concerned about its disquieting Social Index. By the Social Index, I am specifically referring to the rising graph of various categories of crimes which have both social and economic components and they reflect on the quality of governance.

Look at any area of crime graph – rape, dowry, domestic violence, female infanticides, trafficking in girls, drugs and arms and petty crimes, the overall picture is grim to the core. The 2016 data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) speak for themselves.

What is particularly disturbing is the rising graph of crimes against women and children. There has been 82 per cent increase in incidents of rape of children compared to 2015. The highest rise on this count has been recorded in Uttar Pradesh, where figures have trebled. UP recorded 400 per cent jump in child rapes. Madhya Pradesh has witnessed over a 60 per cent rise in sexual abuses of children. The case of Maharashtra is equally bad. In Tamil Nadu, where no case of child rape was registered in 2015, it reported 1169 such cases in 2016. Could this be because of the exit of Jayalalithaa from the state’s political scene on December 5, 2016 after her prolonged illness?

The former Chief Minister was known for her ruthless governance when it came to the safety of women and children. She knew how to make the police accountable for lapses in law and order issues.

The tragedy of the country since Independence has been its poor police outfit, despite attempts at occasional patch-work reforms. Whatever changes have been initiated for police reforms from time to time are far from satisfactory. They hardly meet the changing profiles of crimes in various segments of society.

The NCRB’s latest figures by themselves are alarming. The ground realities, however, could be far worse because of Poor Police Performance we all are familiar with.

Nothing could be more shameful than to see 82 per cent rise in rapes of children in 2016 from the 2015 data. Equally worrying area is the rising graph of sexual assaults on women. The post-Nirbhaya Delhi looks like a lost dream. Delhi reported the highest crime rate against women – 160.4 – compared to the national average rate of 55.2.

Crimes against women rose from 3, 23, 243, in 2015 to 3, 38, 954 in 2016. These include cruelty by husband or relatives, followed by assault on woman with intent to outrage her modesty, kidnapping, abduction and rape. Among 19 metros analysed by NCRB, Delhi, followed by Mumbai and Bengalaru reported most number of crimes against women.

India recorded 106 rapes a day, despite several tough court rulings and tightening of laws to deal with this menace. What a shameful commentary on the deteriorating social environment and on the state of the nation which boasts of its great tradition of respect for women! This underlines one harsh reality: there is nothing like the fear of law and law-enforcing agencies in the country among crime-prone persons.

This prompts me to suggest that we should look afresh at the country’s crime scene and work out a new plan of action. It must be appreciated that everything boils down to good governance, which includes both the tightening of laws and efficient working of the police. There can be no short-cuts to good governance with accountability in critical areas which remain neglected by the central and state governments.

The National Crime Records Bureau has also highlighted several disturbing social and economic trends which must not be lost sight of. We see a rising trend in the number of economic offences like cheating, breach of trust, forgery and counterfeiting, illegal gains through cyber crimes. Delhi, Mumbai and Jaipur figured prominently in these areas.

We have also to seriously look at the agrarian distress which led to a series of protests and riots. The NCRB reports suggest that farmers took to streets in large numbers demanding their rights last year with 4,837 riots taking place across the country. The number of riots incidents doubled in 2016 because of shrinking farm lands, failure of crops, poor irrigation facilities, bad seeds, drought, the rising burden of debts etc.

This agrarian crisis, again, brings me to the critical question of governance. For one, India just does not have enough cold storage. Secondly, there is not adequate processing of food to ensure that crops do not perish or go waste, leading to the farmers’ distress.

Farming policies actually need a radical overhaul in varied areas to quell farmers’ revolts. They must not be taken for a ride, whether it is the question of loan waivers or insurance payments! The point which I wish to reiterate is that the rise in the crime graph is proportionate to – rather more than proportionate – if the governments at the Centre and in the states fail to manage grim ground realities, whether they relate to the safety of children, women, farmers’ distress signals or atrocities against Dalits or the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The country is indeed paying a heavy price for poor governance by the authorities concerned in varied areas of economic and social conflicts.

Looking beyond the 2016 NCRB data, we also must take cow-related hate crimes seriously. IndiaSpend’s database records suggest that 97 per cent of all such incidents have occurred since the BJP regime came to power in May 2014. This is highly disturbing.

According to Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights watch; “Attacks based on race, religion, caste ethnicity in India occur when the attackers believe that they have political cover and will not be prosecuted and punished”. Meenakshi is right. The ruling class must not be party to such crimes. Such an approach would undermine the people’s faith in the justice system and the fairplay of our leaders at the helm.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Model Village and our MPs’

SAGY

How come most of our people’s representatives are unable to sustain their interest in the development of villages they represent? I am raising this issue in the wake of a recent report which says that as many as 475 out of 543 Lok Sabha MPs have not even cared to identify the village they would develop under Phase- III of the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojna (SAGY) launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi amidst great fanfare in 2014.

Under Phase-1 of the scheme, each MP from the two Houses of Parliament is supposed to identify a gram panchayat in his constituency with a view to turning it into a model village of development by 2016. Two more gram panchayats – three in all – would acquire Model Village development stamps by 2019. This is surely a laudable scheme by the Prime Minister which could keep the MPs grounded to the soil for all-round growth at the grassroots.

It all started off very well, to begin with. As many as 500 Lok Sabha MPs and 203 Rajya Sabha MPs identified villages in the first year of the launch of the SAGY scheme. In Phase II, 234 Lok Sabha members and 136 of 243 upper House members failed to identify villages. For the latest Phase – III, 90 per cent of MPs are yet to adopt a village while the time is running out fast for the 2019 deadline. Does this waning interest among MPs suggest some in-built flaws in the scheme? Or, have MPs found the proposition to be time-consuming and not lucrative enough, politically and otherwise?

No doubt, the scheme suffers from some serious flaws. In the first place, it does not provide for a separate budget since it seeks convergence of various schemes and programmes already in vogue.

Second, parliamentarians, especially from the Lok Sabha, feel that picking up one village in the constituency could create adverse reaction in other villages under their domain, to their political disadvantage. This is understandable.

Third, the MPs have to focus on micro-level monitoring work in gram panchayats – the job which comes under the jurisdiction of MLAs. This could unnecessarily generate conflicts of interest, especially if parliamentarians and legislators happen to belong to two different political outfits.

The SAGY is typical of Modi’s development mantra which is hurriedly conceived without giving due weightage to the ground realities. This was seen in the case of Demonetisation as well as GST. Both the schemes were full of flaws, operationally and otherwise.

The Hon’ble Prime Minister ought to realise that misplaced thoughts could become counter-productive in the long run. Every development scheme and initiative for reforms needs to be in tune with ground realities. Also, it needs to be appreciated that we cannot have a uniform approach to development tasks in a country of diversity like ours. The face of India changes after every 25 or 30 districts.

The only answer to this onerous challenge is decentralization of policy and planning. Equally crucial for rural development is empowerment of the panchayats, both financially and functionally.

The monitoring work of development is generally done by the district-level-administration. MPs and MLAs could be associated with it for a six-monthly or yearly review for re-fixing of priorities, depending on changing demands and expectations of the villagers concerned.

What is needed in today’s complexities is depoliticisation of the development process. Development tasks must not be seen through political or sectarian angularities.

Development demands empowerment of the people, educationally, health-wise as well as in meeting their basic necessities of life and infrastructural connectivity between Bharat and India.

As it is, the overall development in the country is far from flattering. I do not wish to talk of big projects or schemes which have their own tales of flaws. What disturbs me is the latest report from the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IRPRI)’s 2017 Global Hunger Research Index (GHI), in which India ranks 100 among 119 countries studied. The country’s rank, in fact, has fallen by three places compared to 2016. Significantly, in the 2017 Hunger Index, India falls behind even war-ravaged Iraq and North Korea. The only consolation that could be derived by officials is that in Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan are below the ranking of India!

A number of global and Indian studies have talked about the sufferings of the common men on various counts like nutrition and child mortality, awfully poor standards of primary and secondary schooling, lopsided growth and the prevailing illiteracy. These harsh facts show how precarious the country’s social and human conditions are.
True, major changes relating to human affairs, including in education, public health and infrastructure development, cannot be brought about overnight by the Modi government. All the same, decades of failure demand changes in policies, strategies and prioritization of the very concept of Vikas.

Development tasks must be in tune with grassroots realities in villages. Here, areas of flaws have to be identified afresh and new plans of action evolved and operationalised on a war-footing basis.

Indeed, the real challenge before the Niti Ayog planners and leaders is to ensure that the poor get a reasonable share in the “human resource and economic cake” through new avenues of growth and development. This is possible if the rulers at the helm adopt the required correctives urgently to rid the Indian society of the imbalances that make the poor poorer and the rich richer.

The government is expected to be a “prime mover” in the development process. But in a vibrant democracy like ours, it cannot blindly or instantly transplant one Model or the other. Our “development strategy” has to be tailored to the actual conditions prevailing in our villages.

I hope the Prime Minister would think along new lines. He needs to appreciate that the centralization of decision-making does not improve performance on the ground. Rather, it creates obstacles for innovations and creativity of indigeneous talents at the grassroots.

A developing economy like ours cannot afford extravagance to support the whims of politicians and the indifferent functioning of the bureaucracy in the name of Model Village Development!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Looking beyond Modi’s waning magic

modi

In India’s personalized electoral politics, it needs to be graciously acknowledged that the Modi Magic factor still rules supreme from the coastal lines of Gujarat to the snow-bound rugged hills of Himachal Pradesh, whatever might be the nature of people’s anger and grudges over their social and economic discomforts.

In Himachal, the anti-incumbency factor was working decisively against the Congress’s 83-year-old CM face of Virbhadra Singh amidst charges of corruption and inept governance. He, therefore, could not have reversed the hill state’s tradition of dethroning incumbents.

Even otherwise, the ‘Crown Prince’ Rahul Gandhi of the 133-year-old Congress had virtually given up Himachal, as a “lost case” well before the battle of ballots. The only consolation the party could draw was the defeat of the BJP’s 73-year-old potential CM face of Prem Kumar Dhumal. This however, does not spoil the flavour of the saffron party’s victory.

The total electoral concentration of Rahul Gandhi, who took over as Congress President on December 16, was on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home turf of Gujarat. And it turned out to be a fierce duel between Gujarat’s ‘Master Magician’ Modi and ‘Pappu’ Rahul derisively dubbed initially by his BJP “admirers”! After the December 18 historic verdict in which the Congress has put its best show since 1985, Rahul has definitely emerged an alternative national leader for the biggest electoral show of 2019.

What would make the 2019 battle highly competitive is clear from the fact that Prime Minister Modi no longer looks invincible. He had to fight hard for the party’s wafer-thin majority in his saffron bastion of 22 years. To get 99 seats in the 182-seat Gujarat Assembly, this is the BJP’s lowest winning tally since 1975, thereby denying it the psychological zone of comfort of the three-digit victory. But then, a victory is a victory. I & B Minister Smriti Irani has rightly put it, “Jo jeeta wohi Sikandar”.

Be that as it may. What is crucial for our “magician Sikandar” is to look, reflect and think afresh on how and where he and his party are showing signs of drift. There is also a growing anger among young voters against Narendra Modi’s policies and postures in his vibrant home turf.

Young voters of Gujarat, headed by “caste cowboys” Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor (OBC) and Jignesh Mevani (Dalit), have raised some critical questions over the much-triumphed Gujarat model of development. They have clearly signaled resentment over stagnant employment scene and slow-to-moderate lop-sided growth. Even clearly visible have been signs of farmers’ distress in critical areas of cotton and peanuts in the state.

The question of GST and demonetization also cannot be made as personal prestige issues by Prime Minister Modi. Small and medium sized manufacturers and traders have a lot to talk about these issues, even beyond the borders of Gujarat.

The answer to all the economic ills is surely Vikas. But the range and dimension of Vikas and reforms have to be in tune with ground realities rather than matters of theoretical arguments.

Prime Minister Modi also needs to have a critical look at his contents and style of campaigning, if he wishes to repeat or improve upon his 2014 success.

In the traditional Indian yardstick, a leader is expected to speak truthfully and without any distortions to his people, whatever might be the nature of provocations. The BJP’s tallest of all leaders as of today – Narendrabhai Modi – went off tangent while campaigning fiercely for his party during the Gujarat poll campaign.

I do not wish to go into his electoral compulsions. My point is simple: A top leader at the helm of national affairs is not expected to cross the Lakshman rekha in public conduct, even while campaigning for his party. For, at stake is his credibility as Prime Minister which must not be compromised.

Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “neech” remark was of course shocking and in bad taste. He has been known for his off-the-cuff remark, showing the class he belongs to. Prime Minister Modi is not supposed to bring himself to the level of Mani’s “neech culture”.

Manishankar

It, however, must be said to the credit of Rahul Gandhi that the party subsequently suspended Mani Shankar Aiyar. He also reacted in a dignified manner and talked about his high respect for the dignity of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The “neech syndrome” apart, what has particularly disturbed me most is the way the Prime Minister played with facts regarding Mani Shankar Aiyar’s informal dinner on December 6 which was attended by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, former Army Chief Deepak Kapoor, former foreign secretary Salman Haidar, senior ex diplomats, journalists, former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and Pakistan High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood.

At an election rally in Gujarat on December 10, the Prime Minister made a specific reference to this dinner get-together, called it a “secret meeting” and alleged Pakistan’s hand of “conspiracy” to sabotage the BJP’s  prospect of winning the Gujarat elections.
The logic of Modi’s interpretation is intriguing. Finance Minister Arun Jaitely dubbed the dinner meeting as a “misadventure” and worrisome that violated the “national position” concerning regard to talks with Pakistan as specified.

arunjaitley

There is nothing like an agreed all-party national position on a dialogue with Islamabad. ‘No-talks’ may be the official position for the present, though the dialogue goalpost officially keeps shifting every now and then.

In any case, Aiyar’s was a private dinner at which some Pakistani and Indian dignitaries were present. There was nothing wrong if they exchanged their views on the prevailing bilateral deadlock.

manmohan

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, known for his personal integrity and honesty, had reasons to be terribly upset and hurt at what he called Modi’s “falsehood and canards”. In an uncharacteristic attack, he rightly asked Modi to “show the maturity and gravitas expected of the high office he holds” and apologise for his “ill thought transgression” to restore the dignity of the office he occupies.

It needs to be appreciated that the reigning leadership plays a crucial role in the building of the Nation-State. A visionary leadership can help build a congenial atmosphere for healthy political discourses and put a stop to the process of “deformed democracy” acquiring overtones of what Edgar Owens refers to in his book “The Future of Freedom” as “false democracy”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a great admirer of Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore. I shall quote from a book edited by Chan Heng Chee  – Obaid ul Haq in which S Rajaranam in his contribution “The prophetic and political” writes:
“… the greatest achievement of Prime Minister Lee is not the physical transformation of the mind and character of the average Singaporean.. Today more than ever before, the apologetic immigrant has acquired a sense of his worth; has taken roots”.

The “mind and character” of the people of India cannot be built on distorted facts, “falsehood and canards”. Nor can politicking and petty political games played by our political elite help to cover up the cleavages in our society. The challenge here lies in building the right kind of political and social environment to build a self-reliant and self-sustaining Indian citizen.

While we are good at championing high values and norms, we are equally poor at following them. This brings me to my last point on how low-grade public discourses are vitiating the atmosphere of our electoral democracy.

It is indeed regrettable that Indian politics in recent years has not only acquired violent communal overtones but has become awfully dirty. We saw such dirty spectacles regarding Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmavati and cow vigilantism.

Law and order matters must not be allowed to be “privatized” as seen in areas of public health and education to the disadvantage of the poor, the have-nots and the middle class.
With more than 70 per cent of the population still struggling to survive, the ruling class must not discard the state’s “welfare face” to take care of the disprivileged and underprivileged sections of Indian society! Even in the Gujarat verdict, the warning signal from the youth on systems privatised education and health are quite ominous.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is it the spirit of Vande Mataram?

dyal-singh-college

What’s in a name? Probably everything, if we go by the misplaced zeal for name-changing by a certain class of our politicians, public men and educationists. Take the18th November decision of the governing body of Dyal Singh evening college to rename the co-educational institute of University of Delhi as Vande Mataram.

I have no idea whose brainwave it was.  The college principal says that the decision was taken without “pressure from any political individual”. I am not sure if the principal has been authorized by the governing body to speak the ‘truth’.

It is no secret that nothing works in India’s public arena these days without some “hidden” political or sectarian agenda. I, however, must say that members of the governing body have done a big disservice to the very spirit of Vande Mataram by renaming the institution. They have either no proper appreciation of the rich legacy in education and knowledge-building that Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia has left behind, or they are simply playing to the political gallery for some kudos or favours.

Vande-Matram-Hindi-Message-White-wallpaper-Whatsapp-Image

The governing body needs to be reminded that Dyal Singh’s pioneering work represents the very spirit of Vande Mataram. He was India’s first rate visionary ahead of his times. He was instrumental in setting up a successful bank, Punjab National Bank. Dyal Singh College and Dyal Singh Library were set up after his death out of funds earmarked by him.
The Tribune, set up in 1881 in Lahore, was part of his vision to bring about socio-economic and political awakening among the people of Greater Punjab. During the British regime, it raised its voice against socio-economic and political injustice and played a major role in evolving enlightened public opinion.

dyal singh

I have tremendous respect and admiration for Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia since I was closely associated with The Tribune for 20 years – first as Assistant Editor for 11 years and later as its Editor for nine years. I can proudly proclaim that apart from its pioneering role in the freedom of India, The Tribune has always upheld “liberal, ethical and democratic values and stood for national unity and reconstruction of society on progressive and modern lines”. The guiding spirit of Dyal Singh, is spelt out in The Tribune Trust papers.
Maulvi Syed Iqbal Ali, the contemporary of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, said about Dyal Singh: “Truly speaking, it can be said that not in Lahore, but in the whole of Punjab, if there is one man of whom Truth and India can be proud, it is he” (Dyal Singh Majithia).

Dyal Singh’s close friend Jogendra Chandra Bose called him the “Leader of the educational community of Punjab”. Prof V N Datta writes: “He (Dyal Singh) fulfilled what he had planned. He was indeed the herald of a new era in Punjab. He acted as a focal and rallying point of the ‘moderates’ in the first decade and half of twentieth century Punjab. It is amazing how much respect he commanded in his time. He was indeed one of the leading figures of the country”. The Tribune: 130 years. A Witness to History by V N Datta).
I am briefly recalling Dyal Singh’s historic role in promoting education knowledge- building through libraries and creating informed public opinion for the benefit of the governing body of Dyal Singh Evening College. The guardians of the college set up in Delhi in 1959, do not seem to have proper idea of this legendary figure in education.    It is supposed to represent “a synthesis of tradition and mordernity”.

v n datta

My point is simple: how could the members of the governing body obliterate the rich legacy of this great soul who represented the very spirit of Vande Mataram, the hymn to the Motherland? Dyal Singh’s whole life and contribution to the Indian society reads like a living hymn to the Motherland! May I, therefore, humbly request the governing body to rethink and reverse its decision.

The spirit of Aurobindo’s Vande Mataram that Dayal Singh represents must not be killed. This move goes against the very spirit of India’s crusade for freedom from illiteracy.

Let me recall the words of Sri Aurobindo: “Unbelief in blind – it does not see far ahead, neither stimulates strength, nor inspires action. The lack this faith has kept our moderate politicians ties to a worn-out ideal which has lost its credibility. No man can lead a rising nation unless he has faith, first of all, that what other great men have done before him, he also can do as well, if not better.

It is a pity our “learned persons” often allow themselves to get lost in the short-cut jugglery of name-change, without giving a serious thought to the contribution made by great souls for the good of the Nation. A great educational cause and knowledge-building cannot be sustained by shadow boxing of name-changing.

For the benefit of honourable members of the managing committee of the college, I wish to recall what Surendranath Banerjee wrote in his memoir about his close associate Dyal Dingh:
“It is not the only gift (The Tribune) Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia gave to the Punjab. He gave away all he had for the benefit of his country, and the Dyal Singh College is an enduring monument of one of the worthiest sons of Punjab whose death all India mourns in common with the province of his birth” (A Witness to History by V N Datta).

On the foundation day of Dyal Singh College in Lahore on May 3, 1910, Sir Louis William Dane, the lieutenant Governor, lauded ‘his patriotic and public spirited action in devoting so much of his fortune to promote the cause of education in Punjab’.

The moot point here is: how can the guardians of the evening college be party to obliterating the name of the patriotic and visionary institution-builder who will remain an inspiring model for the generations of students today and tomorrow. It is also worth remembering that patriotism is not a slogan-shouting, but a pious act of doing something constructive for the larger good of society. Taking to shadow for substance does not make the nation great, nor does it serve the cause of education and welfare of society.

Finally, the college authorities ought to remember that the hymn to the Motherland symbolizes the pioneering work of great souls like Dyal Singh of our great land. Whose cause are they serving by their senseless move!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment