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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Will ‘Citizen K’ click in Tamil politics?

Kamal Hassan

Kamal’s advantage is his freshness of ideas and concepts for new generation of voters. He regrets that the whistle-blowers in the media have been silenced. He wants to “strengthen the voice of truth” and looks at the Ashoka Chakra on the national flag as “the virtuous cycle of the nation”.

Will Tamil Nadu’s ace cine star Kamal Hassan, who has launched himself in politics under the brand of ‘Citizen K’, prove to be a politician with a difference? It is too early to predict the direction Tamil Nadu politics would take in the months ahead. Kamal has, of course, all the elements of charm and charisma for success. Right now, there a vacuum in the state’s turbulent politics after the demise of ever popular Jayalalitha. Even another popular cine star Rajnikanth is toying with the idea of taking a plunge in public life. This will give an interesting turn to the state’s traditional two-party syndrome of Karunanidhi’s DMK and MGR-Jayalalitha’s AIDMK.

The two parties have their own well-entrenched grassroots network. Tamil Nadu’s politics has actually revolved around these two outfits for decades. How the entry of new popular stars changes or upsets the existing power equations is difficult to say at this stage. We know politics is an art of the possible as well as the impossible. It can be safely said today’s new generation of young voters desperately look for a change better in all facets of political culture and idioms. The youth concept of New Politics is not based on rhetoric. It seeks firm commitments to perform and deliver on promises made to people. In any case, Tamil Nadu politics seems all set for change, hopefully for the better!

Kamal Hassan’s starts his public journey with a clean slate, sans any scam or scandal. This is a big Plus Point in today’s murky politics. Tamil  politics has quite a messy track record in this regard, whether it is the DMK or the AIDMK. Still, for a new comer in Tamil Nadu’s Political Theatre, it will not be easy to register a breakthrough in the state’s complex political setting. One never knows. Theoretically, even a Kejriwal could happen. But Chinai is not Kejriwal’s Delhi. The people in Tamil Nadu are made of a sterner stuff. So, it is going to be tough tasks ahead, both for Kamal and Rajnikanth.

At 63, Kamal Hassan gives the impression of evolving himself as a thinking person with a mind of his own. He wishes to build his political strength from the grassroots. He will formally launch his party after understanding the people’s problems and expectations.
A versatile actor, Kamal belongs to a traditional Hindu family. He, however, calls himself “a rationalist”. Hinduism and rationalism, I believe, are two faces of the same coin. Certain aberrations like blind faith in rituals, touch-me-not ism continue to be part of Hindu orthodoxy. But these factors do not dilute the Vedic purity of thought and sense of values.
Kamal’s advantage is his freshness of ideas and concepts for new generation of voters. He regrets that the whistle-blowers in the media have been silenced. He wants to “strengthen the voice of truth” and looks at the Ashoka Chakra on the national flag as “the virtuous cycle of the nation”.

He states, “if you do one good deed, it sows the seeds for more good deeds forming a virtuous circle”, and adds that “there is virtue in people’s hearts but it has not translated into action”. He feels that “this cycle has been poisoned and turned into a vicious circle. Our dream is to make it virtuous again”. This in itself will be quite a task. However, this puts Kamal in a different class of the political divide. The moot point is: will he be able to stick to high moral grounds in public life in today’s dirty politics?

Be that as it may. What has angered the custodians of Hindutva forces is his indiscreet remark on ‘Hindu terrorism’. In his weekly column in the Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan, Hassan wrote: “In the past, Hindu right-wing groups would not indulge in violence, but hold a dialogue with opposite parties on their arguments. But now they indulge in violence” In this context, he said that “one cannot say there is no Hindu terror anymore”.
Kamal’s use of the words “Hindu terror” may not be intentional but it has evoked sharp reaction from large sections of Hindu society. Perhaps, Kamal Hassan soon realized his lapse and immediately clarified that his real intention was to focus on violence that has entered Hinduism through the action of some of its ‘defenders’.

It is no secret that the so-called defenders of the Hindu faith have indulged in reckless lynching in the name of cow vigilantism. The victims in such obnoxious acts are Muslims, Dalits and other low caste groups. These senseless acts of violence in UP, Bihar, Assam or Gujarat are not Hinduism. Irrational behavior on the part of these fringe elements pollutes the public discourse and threatens rational  concepts and cultural openness, freedom of expression and the people’s sacred rights. Regrettably, those Indians who have taken a hardline position on Hinduism hardly understand its sublime nature. Bollywood star Deepika Padukone is right in saying that “we have regressed as a nation”.

Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion. It derives its strength from its liberal roots of tolerance and understanding of other faiths. It is flexible in approach as well as in practice. It acknowledges an individual’s right to differ, provided dissent is logically presented.
Here, I wish to recall certain observations by Nani Palkhivala, the Indian I admire most. He talked about innate paradoxes in the Indian situation in his booklet “India’s Priceless Heritage” published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in 1980. The late eminent jurist and thinker observed:

“It has been my long-standing conviction that India (today) is like a donkey carrying a sack of gold – the donkey does not know what it is carrying but is content to go along with the load on its back. The load of gold is a fantastic treasure – in arts, literature, culture and sciences like ayurvedic medicine – which we have inherited from the days of the splendour that was India. Adi Sankaracharya called it accumulated treasure of spiritual truths discovered by the Rishis”.

I do not blame the “donkey” (the Indian nation). It is its job to carry the burden of this “treasure”. What is regrettable is that ignorance as well as indifference of the masters of this “donkey”. They hardly understand what to make of the “treasure” and how to utilize it for the enrichment and greater good of society as we see “fringe elements” indulging in violent acts like flogging of Dalits and Muslims in the name of cow vigilantism or wordy duel of secularism and Hindutva.

It is a pity that India today has an overdose of small-minded politicians who overlook the fact that the Hindu is basically secular by tradition. Distortions in the faith are an afterthought by a “lunatic fringe” at the other end of the fence!

Hinduism is a way of life, a way of thinking and conduct leading to the path of higher values which make life sublime and all-embracing. I do not view Hinduism through peepholes of RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal or pre or post Modi BJP. Nor do I look at it through politicized angularities of the likes of Digvijay Singh or so-called “secularists” who put on a garb of logic and rationalism but conduct themselves like “brown sahebs” with old colonial mindset of divide and rule.

Will Kamal Hassan’s “rationalism” woven around the ethical tapestry of life click in muddy waters of Tamil politics? Let’s keep our fingers crossed and wish him good luck!

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Decriminalizing politics

supreme court

The increasing murkiness of Indian politics, combined with the corrosion of public life, has shaken the people’s faith in the system and politicians who are known to pander to criminal mafia. The nexus of netas and anti social elements is, unfortunately, a fact of public life in India today. The people often find themselves helpless since no firm action is initiated against them. I see a ray of hope now as our judiciary has taken a tough line against the country’s obnoxious facets of politics.

The Supreme Court deserves all praise for directing the Centre to constitute Special Courts on the lines of the Fast Track Courts to exclusively and speedily try criminal cases involving politicians. The Apex Court has come into the picture since the Government had been dragging its feet on its March 2014 directive to dispose of cases against 1,518 lawmakers facing prosecution in 1.35 lakh cases ‘within a year’. It is said that on an average 4,200 cases are handled by each of 17,000 subordinate courts, due to which cases against politicians cannot be fast tracked.

Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha have asked the Centre to frame a scheme to fund the setting of the Special Courts so that states are spared of the burden of finding resources. We welcome this pro-active face of the Apex Court to decriminalize politics since netas happen to be groomed and nurtured by the establishment’s ‘soft state’ attitude which makes it dither in this critical task of cleansing the polity.

It is a pity that the political track record of our rulers over the years has been far from flattering. That is why the judiciary has taken an interventionist role in several dubious moves by the ruling class of the day. For instance, it quashed a provision in the Representation of the People Act which allowed convicted law makers to escape disqualification.

The Election Commission has, of course, taken a very clear stand in this matter. It is in favour of a life ban of convicted MPs and MLAs from contesting elections. It has conveyed to the court that such a law is needed to curb a growing menace of criminalization of politics.

It is also no secret that the criminalization of politics has been a major problem before the nation for the past several decades. What is regrettable is that political parties have looked the other way whenever the issue of putting an end to criminalized politics has come up for action.

The moot point is: how can we improve the quality of our democratic polity if persons with doubtful credentials are allowed to contest elections? Who is to blame? Obviously, political parties which give tickets to candidates with a shady past.

Data compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADG) from election affidavits show one-third of law-makers face criminal cases. Apparently, in the country’s murky politics, political parties solely see the winnability of their candidates, based not on their character and integrity but on their money and muscle power. How come our leaders, who swear by principles and morality, happen to be so casual about this problem?

Looking back, I was disappointed at the way the country’s major national and regional parties had rejected in 2002 the Election Commission’s order that asked candidates to disclose their criminal antecedents in the form of an affidavit along with their nomination papers. The Election Commission then was only following the directions of the Apex Court.

It is interesting to recall the information then sought from candidates:
One: the details of candidates’ involvement in any criminal case.
Two: any pending criminal cases six months before filing of nomination.
Three: assets of candidates, their spouse and dependents.
Four: liabilities and debts in government and public institutions.

It is a fact that our leaders, by and large, have been indifferent to the question of information sharing with the public. But, any bid to cover up the credentials of candidates is not only undesirable but also counter-productive in the long run.

The question here is not of the legislature versus the judiciary. The judiciary legitimately intervenes if the legislature and the executive fail to perform their constitutionally-assigned duties. Call it judicial activism. But it must be noted that the power vacuum cannot remain for long in the critical area of governance!

The people have the right to get correct information about the persons they have to elect as their representatives, who frame laws to govern the world’s largest democracy. This is how we can ensure transparency and accountability in our legislative bodies and Parliament. This is essential, if democracy has to reflect the people’s hopes and aspirations. I shall, in fact, go a step ahead.

I believe that the people have the right to know what goes behind a policy decision-making process. Of course, I would exclude operational security and defence matters from this information flow. But I would not suggest this on the critical issue of Demonetisation which directly affects the life of ordinary citizens. Regrettably, the country is yet to know who and what went behind Prime Minister Modi’s Demo brainwave. In fact, the political decision on Noteban cannot be justified even on ethical and moral grounds as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has done. The sufferings of common men and loss of jobs of lakhs of workers speak louder than the thundering voices of the Prime Minister and his ministers in defence of DeMo.

As already stated, the people have the right to know. The current air of secrecy has to end. Secretiveness, for that matter, is the antithesis of democracy. In India, the political class has made a virtue of it. As things stand, even honesty is at a discount for all practical purposes.

Crime and crime-oriented tendencies of big and small political parties and politicians negate the democratic norm of social, economic and political justice and equality of status and opportunity enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution. The economics of politics and electioneering processes have actually weakened the political will to make the country’s democratic structure a mirror of the common man’s hopes and aspirations.

The question here is not one of saving the Constitution, but of saving the Nation and making the polity transparent, accountable, functionally and democratically more liberal, just and caring for ordinary citizens.

Here I wish to recall the observations of Justice B Lentin, former Bombay High Court Judge. He said: The Constitution has not failed the people, nor have the people failed the Constitution. It is only the unscrupulous politicians who have failed both! Herein lies the challenge.

The mushroom growth of unscrupulous politicians is in itself a result of bad laws and the faulty and inadequate electoral system that has put a premium on moneybags and mafia power. The time has come to say ‘no’ to criminalized politics and crime-linked politicians.

To say this is not to brush all politicians with black ink. Here, we have to draw a line between genuine politicians and bad ones having criminal cases of serious nature like murder, rapes, crimes against women and children and corrupt practices.

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J & K dialogue, a step in the right direction

Dineshwar-Sharma-with-N-N-Vohra-1

Crises are endemic to the problem of Jammu and Kashmir. Violence has begotten violence and in the process, paralysed everything, including rational thinking among stakeholders and political leaders, both in the state and at the Centre. Amidst this ongoing tragic setting, the voices of sanity in the Valley and beyond are hardly audible.

At a time when the Centre has taken a commendable step for the J & K dialogue among all stakeholders in the state, it was politically imprudent on the part of the former Home Minister and Congress leader, P Chidambaram, to have raised the question of “greater autonomy” for the state. What prompted him to do so? Did he wish to politicize the issue and deflate the BJP-led NDA government’s move for the dialogue? Chidambaram is a shrewd person. The timing of his utterances shows his ulterior motives to complicate the whole dialogue process.

Dineshwar Sharma, a former Intelligence Bureau chief, has the mandate to talk to everyone, including separatists, if they come forward. The Hurriyat, as expected, has already said ‘no’ to the talks. The separatists and militants are known to speak only for a section of Muslims in the Valley, that too Pakistan-aided Hurriyat persons.

The problem in Kashmir today is that the separatists do not wish to sit across the table because of certain external factors. It is a known fact that militancy in Kashmir is a proxy war under the direction of the ISI, funded largely by the money provided by drug lords of Pakistan. That is why the operation against narcotic trade has to taken seriously. Then, there has been quite a sizeable flow of money into the Valley from various Islamic fundamentalist outfits in West Asia and other places. Mercifully, the NIA is on the job.

Indeed, if right and comprehensive measures are evolved by the interlocutor and authorities concerned, we will, sooner or later, be able to silence the guns of the militants and mercenaries. We have to break the backbone of militancy so that the people feel reassured of the protective umbrella of the police and security forces.

In any case, what makes the current initiative for dialogue interesting is its wide-ranging ambit since it will also involve the state’s youth. Says Dineshwar Sharma: “The youth of J & K are the most important stakeholders I shall be talking to. I will listen to their views and problems and convince them that solutions can and will be found through peaceful engagement. Let me understand what the youth really want”.

Apart from varied political and non-political outfits, the interlocutor’s idea of engaging with youth could turn out to be a path-breaking move, provided the dialogue with them is handled with care and in a constructive spirit. Besides caring attitude, what Kashmir youth want is a credible plan of action for educational and employment opportunities.

Positive action on the ground can create the right atmosphere and help to wean away the youngsters from the path of radicalization and violent protests fueled by fundamentalists and secessionists through social media.

For a long time, Kashmiri politicians have been diverting the people’s attention from the basic issues of development to issues like autonomy. It is high time the state and Central authorities focused firmly on development and economic and educational empowerment of the youth, women, as well as on the skill development of workers and artisans.

There are, however, a number of issues relating to public and private investment which have to be examined. These are: how can investment flows reach the state when its leaders have erected a “Berlin Wall”? When an outsider cannot acquire land, how can he set up an industrial unit? Enterprises need land, factory sites and workers’ colonies.

All these facilities have to be provided for the much needed generation of jobs. The process of development for the people cannot be blocked under the cover of Article 370. Indeed, if Kashmir has become a problem, it is because we continue to live in a make-believe world. What is more, over the years of wrong policies, the plea for autonomy has turned into a demand for greater autonomy.

It may also be worthwhile to examine the possibility of setting up independent development councils for all the three constituents units of the state – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Also, a way has to be found to distribute equitably the revenue of the state among the three units. These councils may have an apex body to coordinate their activities.

As for the question of autonomy, the issue has, once again, acquired emotional and political overtones, courtesy P Chidambaram. No wonder, out-of-job National Conference leaders – Farooq and Omar Abdullah – have got into a highly volatile political mould, vitiating the atmosphere in the Valley.

Incidentally, even last year the Congress leader had suggested that J & K should be accorded greater autonomy as promised in Article 370 to defuse unrest in the Valley. Chidambaram’s autonomy talk does not reflect well on his understanding of the Kashmir problem.

Mercifully, the Congress has distanced itself from Chidambaram’s statement. But the damage has already been done. Ironically, the former home minister has given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi an opportunity to exploit the “greater autonomy” and “azaadi” issues against Rahul Gandhi’s poll campaign in Gujarat. May I ask: whose purpose Chidambaram has served by raising the autonomy issue at this juncture?

It needs to be acknowledged that India can be governed only by a measure of firmness with a human touch. But, alas, we have allowed our principles and values to be eroded for the expediencies of personal and electoral politics. It is a pity that power has become the sole objective of politicians of all shades and hues, both at the Centre and in the states.

This impels me to ask one question: are our politicians not responsible for the mess in Kashmir today? How is it that only in Kashmir the question of autonomy has become a matter of life and death, whereas in all other states, there is  recognition that autonomy is the product of an evolving Centre-state relationship, of a process of give and take? How is it that we failed to tell the Kashmiris that they already have more autonomy than fellow Indians in any other state of India? Instead, we started haggling with their leaders on the “quantum” of autonomy to be given to the Kashmiris. The Sarkaria Commission Report showed how the autonomy question could be solved. But we have hardly given the report its due importance.

Kashmir has always been part of Indian civilization since time immemorial. Is Kashmiriat not a part of this civilisation? No one is going to extinguish Kashmir’s identity. The fear on this count is a false alarm and part of the mischievous tactics of those who are opposed to India.

Finally, J & K has great potential to develop, provided the political leadership gives up its dirty games and engage itself seriously in bettering the lot of the people. Corruption at all levels, coupled with the lack of political will to generate employment and investment, has prevented the state from reaching the required level of prosperity that is within its reach. I hope things would change for the better.

J&K footballer back home

asiya-khan

Finally, a mother’s cries and father’s pleas prevailed.

A week after he announced on Facebook that he was joining the Lashkar-e-Taiba, young footballer from Anantnag, Majid Arshid Khan, has come home, ending his brief life of militancy and violence.

IGP, Kashmir, Muneer Khan said, “Majid has neither surrendered, nor has been arrested. He has returned home.”

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Of brinkmanship and ‘expressive mind’!

padmavati-release

“Any film or drama or novel is a creation of art. An artist has his own freedom to express himself in a manner which is not prohibited in law and such prohibition (like those specified under Article 19(2) of the Constitution) are not read by implication to crucify the rights of expressive mind”.

These landmark observations by the Supreme Court’s three-member bench deserve wider appreciation by all sections of Indian society which is, once again, caught in a siege mentality over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmavati. The film supposedly takes us to the legendary Mewar royalty of an era gone by.

I do not wish to get into certain facets of the story woven around Rani Padmavati. A historical fact or part of folk lore, one fact must be gracefully acknowledged that over the centuries Rani Padmavati’s tales of Jauhar and related events have become part of the sentiments of the Rajput community. A matter of intense human sensitivity can hardly be fully captured on the silver screen.

To begin with, Sufi poet Malik Mohammad Tayabi, resident of Jayas in Awadh, had his own poetic format of the Padmini story. Ramaya Sreenivasan has traced varied facets of this fascinating story from Rajasthan, North Indian regions to Bengal from the 16th to the 20th century in her fabulous book The Many Lives of a Rajput Queen. With such a wide time span, it is but natural for facts and fiction to get intermingled. Interestingly, Jawaharlal Nehru University’s medievial historian Harbans Mukhia states, “it was in Bengal in the 19th century that Padmini acquired the persona of a heroic queen committing jauhar.

Be that as it may. What is disquieting is the way Bhansali’s film has got politicized even before its screening, with overtones of violent communal rhetoric. Karni Sena chief Mahipal Singh Makrana and Akhil Bharatiya Kshatriya Yuva Mahasabha chief Thakur Abhishek Som have publicly offered Rs 5 crore each for “beheading” Deepika Padukone’s and Leena Bhansali’s heads. Suraj Pal Amu, the BJP’s media coordinator in Haryana, has offered a prize of Rs 10 crore for this job. This is shocking, to say the least. Are we living in a medieval barbaric society? How could the authorities at the helm look at the other way in Rajasthan, Haryana and at the Centre in the face of   open threats and intimidation against the director and the actor?

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari has said that “filmmakers should not distort historical facts”. Right. But the moot point is: how and where do we draw the line between democracy and uncivilized public conduct?

The Yogi Adityanath government’s wants the film to be delayed (now “voluntarily deferred”) on the plea of law and order. What is disturbing is that the BJP-ruled-states show authoritarian tendencies to curb the freedom of expression on the plea of maintaining law and order, which is their job and responsibility. Even the Chief Minister of Congress-ruled states are a divided lot in this matter. This shows our political culture in poor light.

Ironically, the Rajput netas are out in the streets protesting against the film without having watched it! Perhaps their protests are promoted by the film’s certain selective promotional scenes flashed on TV screens. This is a poor commentary on the mindset of the agitators. In the first place, Rajput leaders could have asked the director for screening of the film before its release. Even Bhansali could have taken such initiative. He has to take care of the community’s sentiments.

Every controversial issue in the public realm must be subjected to a dialogue and discussions for possible cuts or changes in what is seen as hurting the Rajput sentiments. This is a civilized way of dealing with a controversial matter in a democracy. Politicians and leaders have, of course, minds of their own. They could go to any absurd extent for the sake of votes and other petty considerations, courtesy television channels!

True, India is neither traditional nor modern, neither fully conservative, nor adequately progressive; neither wholly feudal nor fully egalitarian. It still gives the impression of being a makeshift nation, caught in currents and cross-currents of the times, past and present.

As it is, the country is vulnerable. It is volatile socially. And our political and social leaders either do not know how to contain the fire smouldering within or they deliberately play their vote bank card. This is what we have been seeing in the film Padmavati row. Obviously, the burden of the past weighs heavily over the present!

Here I wish to recall V S Naipaul’s observation that ours is a “wounded civilization” He says: “India absorbs and outclasses its conquerors, Indians say. But… I wonder whether intellectually for a thousand of years, India had not always retreated before the conquerors and whether in its periods of apparent revival, India hadn’t only been making itself archaic again, intellectually smaller, always vulnerable”.

I wonder where do the Apex Court’s sane comments – “Right to freedom of speech and expression is sacrosanct and should not be ordinarily interfered with…”fit in the prevailing atmosphere of intolerance and brinkmanship?

The Honourable judges – Chief Justice Dipal Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud – apparently rebut violent elements protesting against the release of Bhansali’s film Padmavati. At the same time, it states, “a thought-provoking film does not mean it should be expressive to provoke the conscious and subconscious mind of a viewer”.

I am not sure what sort of “mind” the protesters nurse. But in the midst of the turmoil, what we see on the streets is a parallel India, wrapped up in legendary tales but exhibiting in avoidable prejudices and protests.

India’s tragedy today is that social reformers and rational voices are few and far between. The new “breed” consists of highly politicized and sectarian persons. Some good ones are still there, but most of them are “operators” or manipulators who put the self and the party before the good of the nation!

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Governing India.. Not by the prism of communal politics

taj_big“History is not a pack of tricks we play upon the dead”. The observation by 18th century French historian and philosopher Francois Marie Arout, popular by his non de plume Voltaire, was known for his wit and attacks on the established orthodoxy, then symbolized by the Catholic Church. Voltaire stood for liberal values, free society and civil liberties.

I am recalling Voltaire’s thoughts during the age of Enlightenment since they happen to be relevant to present-day India in the wake of putting the Taj Mahal in the cross hairs of controversial statements by some BJP leaders. Uttar Pradesh’s BJP MLA Sangeet Som has questioned the 17th century architectural marvel’s place in India’s heritage and said history would be “rewritten to erase Mughal emperors from it”. This is absurd, to say the least

As it is, new socio-economic tensions are surfacing at all levels of our society following varied crimes, communal and caste violence and cow vigilantism. Statistics of social and economic realities on the ground are disquieting, notwithstanding the big promises for a better tomorrow held out by the powers-that-be from time to time, including today’s ruling establishment of the BJP-led NDA regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The grassroots realities are telling. They spell out the dangerous dimensions of growing intolerance in Indian society.

“If the country is most peace-loving, how could people take to the streets and dulge in reckless violence, even in the name of cow protection? But, who cares for cows? We see them loitering on the streets helping themselves with the rubbish, including plastic bags. There must be something terribly wrong with the way we conduct our governance, political culture and social growth”, a dhoti-clad Gandhian told me the other day regretfully.

K. J. Charles, a Canadian Professor of Economics, once expressed the view that had the country taken the Gandhian vision seriously,  intelligently applying and adopting it, it would not only have brought improvement in the standards of living of the masses but would have also introduced a new and just pattern of economic and social development.

Many Indians think likewise. But in the absence of the requisite political will to go in for hard options, Indian leaders have always looked for shortcuts to catch up with the West. This has led to shortfalls in targets and policies.

Just look at Prime Minister Modi’s ill-conceived measure of notebandi which took into account neither harsh rural realities nor the ordeals ordinary citizens would have to go through. Small wonder, the economic growth has been put in reverse gear, rendering lakhs of workers and youngsters jobless.

The panic button of 2019 has now sent shock waves in the Modi establishment. But the damage has already been done. The people have lost confidence in the fairness of the system as we see big gaps between promises and performance by the ruling class.

The polity in India’s Republic over the past 70 years has indeed plummeted the depth of decadence falling from the heights of Mahatma Gandhi and other leading lights of the nation.

I believe in an objective and honest appraisal of events so that the facts are seen as facts, howsoever bitter, both by the leaders and the led. The fate of the nation cannot be changed by distorted facts and false promises. Nor can the diversionary tactics and illusionary proposition by the New Class of power-puffed leaders  change the course of history. Such persons ought to remember that only the right inputs from the grassroots as well as from history can make a difference to the quality of decision-making processes in a complex polity like ours.

And learning from history is a two-way process: To review the present in the light of the past and learning about the past in the light of the present. Thus, the function of history is to generate a deeper understanding of both past and present through the process of inter-relation between them.

I am against making history a slave of officialdom or the ruling clique’s ornamental outfit. Such official games are self-defeating and counter-productive. I am raising these issues in the light of the latest move by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s BJP government to drop the Taj Mahal from the government booklet on tourism projects.

Of course, the UP establishment has every right to promote Hindu centres of pilgrimage for tourism. But I feel uncomfortable by the official move to downgrade the 17 century monument of love built during the Mughal period. What is particularly disquieting is the mindset that looks at the historical monument through the prism of Hindutva.

Laxmi Narayan Chaudhary, the minister –in-charge of religious affairs and culture, claimed that the UP step was necessary as the present UP government was “rashtrvadi” (nationalist) and run on “dharm niti” (religious policy). He also wants the Taj Mahal to be “replaced with the Guru Gorakhnath Peeth”.

Why induct religious and nationalism issues in the march of Indian history? History is a mirror that shows our strength as well as weaknesses of the period under reference. And historical monuments have to be seen as a constant reminder of lessons we could learn from history. And lessons can be learnt not by rewriting history or by demolishing or downgrading a structure.

Facts are sacred. They cannot and should not be tampered with. A flawed perspective of history would be disastrous. So would be any emotional responses to it. Emotions blur thinking and create illusions.

We can go nowhere or achieve nothing by rewriting history or seeing it selectively through narrow religious or sectarian angularities. The questions that need to be understood and addressed are: how come a handful of invaders could conquer this country of sub-continental dimensions without any popular resistance?

Why is it that the periods of effervescence in literature followed in the wake of conquerors and with their degeneration, periods akin to the Dark Ages set in? Why is it that the disintegration of every powerful dynasty commenced simultaneously with its attempts to perpetuate its memory in grandiose building projects?

Why is it that, while in other countries the growth of civilization from primitive society to the present-day industrial one has occurred in a spiral fashion, in India it has moved in cycles?

History is the source of inspirations as well as warnings. As a vibrant democracy, we cannot learn from the past by destroying the structures of history or renaming them. The historical structures are constant reminders of how and where we went wrong as people.

We cannot generate nationalism or strengthen Hindu identity by turning the Taj Mahal into “Guru Gorakhnath peeth” or rewriting history to “erase” Mughal emperors from it.. Let the 17th century structure of love remain as it is – as tourists’ love for an expensive wonder in white marble!

The past is as much part of our strength and weakness. It is part of the glorious march of the Indian civilization which has survived in a state of suspended animation, as it were, for thousands of years.

Regrettably, in today’s vote-bank politics, leaders of all shades and opinions, tend to believe only in “quickies”. We have, however, to look beyond and avoid politicizing history by bisecting it into different blocks of communities, religions and castes!

In any case, the Taj Mahal is a symbol of eternal love. It represents a King’s love, and craftsmen’s toil and sweat. Love knows no boundaries or religious and social barriers.It may be the king’s special prerogative, but it is also tourists’ delight, both “swadeshi ” and “videshi ”. Let it not be the victim of whims and fancies of some perverted minds of the ruling clique! The spirit of India and its rich multi-dimensional heritage must not be seen through the peep-hole of communal politics.

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Of inequality and poverty

farmishedchildNotwithstanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s thundering declarations on tomorrow’s New India, the most critical issue of inequality has not drawn much of his government’s attention.

I am not questioning the Prime Minister’s honourable intentions. I am also not blaming him for the country’s growing inequality and its related phenomenon of poverty. It is the legacy of the Congress rule of over sixty years. It was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who raised the war cry of “Garibi Hatao”, but without much result on the ground. Herein lies India’s tragedy.

The country’s political class has been following the one track approach of slogan mongering to take people on the garden path of Shining India but with a limited and lopsided success on the ground.

True, anti-poverty programmes have been launched at several stages of our history by different leaders with great fanfare. Still, the bitter truth is that the problem of poverty remains with us as acute as ever before. Nearly 300 millions of people (30 per cent) of the population are still struggling for two square meals a day.

The main reason for this situation is that the much-needed basic changes in the institutional structure have remained unattended. No wonder, the “inegalitarian structure” of our society has continued to grow. In due course, this has created “a long gap” between “verbalization” (of enactment of laws) and implementation of policies of reforms.

Even decentralization of power has not produced the desired results. If anything, it has led to concentration of power in the hands of “petty plutocracy”. I am sorry to say that Prime Minister Modi has also not given much thought to structural reforms necessary for handling the twin problems of poverty and inequality which are very much interlinked directly as well as indirectly. Therefore, we continue to see readymade poverty bazaar with hungry mouths, and famished and pot-bellied children. What can be more tragic than the fact that India still ranks 100th among 119 developing countries on the Global Hunger Index (GHI).

It so happens that the basic issue of poverty has got entangled in politics of our leaders, their cronies and half-baked and leaky programmes of poverty elimination. We have now disquieting reports of growing inequality in the country. What is not being realized by the ruling class is that the increasing inequality tends to slow down even the ongoing efforts on poverty reduction, apart from undermining the sustainability of economic growth.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report clearly states that economic inequality will lead to a wide range of health, education and social problems like mental illness and violent crimes.

The Johannesburg-based company New World Wealth report says that “India is the second-most unequal country globally, with millionaires controlling 54 per cent of its wealth. With a total individual wealth of $ 5,600 billion, it is among the 10 richest countries in the world and yet the average Indian is relatively poor”.

What a paradoxical situation! The latest data from Credit Suisse shows that the richest one per cent Indians own 53 per cent of the country’s wealth. Ironically, it is “far ahead of the United States where the richest one per cent own 37.3 per cent of total wealth. Even the paper by economists Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel tells us how the top one per cent has grown at 130 times of the bottom 50 per cent and the middle 40 per cent at a three times higher rate than the bottom half.

Of course, there may be varied angles of looking at inequality and poverty. For instance, economic liberalisation is said to have raised 138 million people above the poverty line between 2004 and 2011. The new opportunities emanating from liberalisation have even created 3,000 Dalit millionaires.

And in the changing socio-economic atmosphere, Dalits have begun to assert themselves in their search for freedom from social subjugation. Even in Gujarat, young Dalits stand up to the upper caste groups to defend their right to grow pointed moustaches.
These are happy signs of change in the old socio-economic order! Still, we cannot yet ignore the harsh fact that millions of people are still left behind in the country’s onward marches towards development.

According to Oxfam, this sharp rise of inequality in India…”will lead to slower poverty reduction, undermine the sustainability of economic growth, compound the inequalities between men and women, and drive inequalities in health, education and life chances”.

While working for policy changes, do India’s politico-bureaucratic masters take these harsh socio-economic facts into account? I doubt it. The country’s ruling class is known for its insensitivity towards the poor and the have-nots. We know how income disparities have been playing havoc in areas relating to education and health care, to the disadvantage of disprivileged sections of society.

What is particularly disappointing is that over three years of the Modi government has not proved to be any different from the earlier Congress regimes.

Not that the problem of economic inequality cannot be handled effectively. This is a matter of policy choices and reforms in taxation and social spending. First, tax reforms have to aim at redistribution of resources in such a way that profit- making companies and rich individuals pay more taxes and thereby help in redistribution of wealth rationally for the greater good of society. This is what I call a fair play in a developing society like India.

The 2017 Oxfam report says that India spends only three per cent towards education and 1.1 per cent towards health. Even South Africa spends much more on education and health. Is this not shameful? It shows lack of right political focus on the part of the Indian leadership. In the circumstances, how can India honour its global commitment of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and ending poverty for the 300 million people by that year? It is time Prime Minister Modi reviewed his lop-sided policies which, rightly or wrongly, give the impression of his tilt in favour of the rich.

It is good that Narendra Modi talks about all-inclusive growth. But how is it possible unless he makes “inclusion” and “income distribution” an integral part of  his national policy and economic reforms? The authorities need to realise that the ongoing widening income disparities will not only affect the economic growth but also endanger the country’s social stability. At stake is India’s honour and standing in the comity of nations as a country that cares for its citizens of all races and religions in a fair and just manner!

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