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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Prime Minister Modi, a Master Magician

An army of stags led by a lion could be more formidable than the army of lions led by a stag. This Latin proverb is applicable in every situation in every area of human activity in any part of the world.

A visionary and daredevil leader as “guidepost” can make the difference in and off the field. Of course, the question of political leadership is a complex phenomenon, especially in the Indian situation. The people here look for an ideal image – charismatic and forward-looking, but in the traditional mould.

Where does Prime Minister Narendra Modi fit in, in the complex Indian setting ? He surely roars like a lion. After three years of his rule, it is still too early to have an objective assessment of the controversial former Chief Minister of Gujarat. It can, however, be safely stated that he has proved himself to be a Master Magician who could generate thunderous applause by his rhetoric despite visible gaps between Promise and Performance.

Only a Master Magician can take out a rabbit from his “hat” to the delight of his audience. Prime Minister Modi has perfected the intricate art of image-building even against the backdrop of his controversial masterstroke of demonetisation. Knowledgeable persons have raised a number of inconvenient questions on Notes Ban.

I am not questioning the Prime Minister’s good intentions. He is a well-meaning and forward-looking leader. What his Notes Ban move lacked was thought inputs from the ground. I am sorry to say the Prime Minister failed to make an objective assessment of grassroots realities before his historic demonetization measure.

He and his close associates continue to be guided by their inflated ego, though hard economic facts give distress signals on this count. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) report tells us about the growth slowdown to 5.7 per cent in the last quarter, growing joblessness, stagnation on the farm front and in the manufacturing sector. Even the net effect of “good monsoon” is anyone’s guess.

Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan has stated that “if the decision such as this Notes Ban turns out as exposed, the country would want to ask what were the inputs that went into that decision”. This is a legitimate issue in a vibrant democratic country like ours.

The Prime Minister’s problem is his style of governance, which is highly personalized and secretive. He banks on a small coterie of bureaucrats and some invisible experts who, I am afraid, might be well versed with the country’s complex ground realities.

May I ask: whether the demonetization pain inflicted on ordinary citizens and suicide-prone farmers were worth it ? A shattering damage has already been done to small and medium- sized industries. Millions of youngsters are without jobs. The sufferings of the economically crippled ordinary masses have increased manifold because of high prices even of rice and pulses.

What happened to the promise of generating one crore jobs? What of new jobs? Lakhs of workers in the informal sectors are still on the streets? So is the plight of daily workers. No Master Magician on the earth can take out jobs from his hat. This will require high speed economic growth and right development priorities.

Be that as it may. Prime Minister Modi continues to be popular with the majority of people. They trust him, hoping against hope that he would be able to deliver on his promises.

Narendra Modi is indeed seen as the best bet vis-vis the poor quality of Opposition leadership, headed by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Nitish Kumar had some potentialities to emerge as an alternative to Modi. But he has been roped in by the BJP-led NDA outfit. Good luck to the Bihar Chief Minister. He has a tough task ahead in the face of the odd but evergreen Bihar phenomenon of Lalu Prasad Yadav. The new factor in this setting is Sharad Yadav.

With 18 months to go for the 2019 elections, the BJP leadership’s target is the magic figure of 350 seats for the Lok Sabha. The ball is in the people’s court and the Prime Minister continues to cast a spell on them. It must be acknowledged that the reason for Prime Minister Modi’s high popularity graph is due to his certain initiatives on electricity for villages, toilets for every home, empowerment of girls etc. Even signals from his cabinet shake-up at the BRICS summit have been his plus points.

The elevation of Nirmala Seetharaman as the first woman full-fledged Defence Minister has been widely welcomed. She also takes her place in a male-dominated Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) along with her colleague Sushma Swaraj. This is absolutely fine. It will, however, be wrong to see this symbolic act as empowerment of women. We know that the country has still a long way to go for the safety and empowerment of girls and women, both in rural and urban India.

Similarly, replacing Suresh Prabhu by Piyush Goyal will not solve the Railways’ basic problems of mordernisation and improved facilities for ordinary passengers unless priorities in the rail set-up are reoriented.

Prime Minister Modi has, of course, done well by inducting “outsiders” on the plea of professionalism. But, ironically, they have been placed outside their areas of expertise. Well, no one can take Modi for granted. He has a reservoir of surprises. But he has to constantly keep it in mind that the Indian electorate could swing either way to anyone’s surprise.

The cabinet reshuffle apart, the Prime Minister clicked at the BRICS summit at Xiamen in China. He successfully diffused the Doklam stand-off crisis after his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He played a key role in naming two Pakistan-based terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed in the Xiamen Declaration which expressed “concern” on the security situation in the region and violence caused by these terrorist groups.
This is for the first time that a BRICS declaration named the terrorist groups despite China’s known axis with Pakistan and its blocking of the UN moves to dub Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. This is the Prime Minister’s big diplomatic success.

However the main challenge to the Prime Minister comes from the home front. What matters here is the delivery of promises for faster economic growth and employment generation. For this, he has to create congenial business atmosphere to turn India into a land of opportunity.

It will be worthwhile to quote former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. He said:

“…India’s greatest strength as it makes its place in the global economy is ….an environment of openness, free speech and tolerance. And if we were to lose this, we would lose what is our greatest strength and in an economy going forward where innovation, human capital contribution of the highest order is going to be where value is added…..The fact that we have achieved this with a modest level of per capita income is the strength that would be really misguided to lose”. (Indian Express, Sept 6)

I wish to leave these thoughts for the Prime Minister to ponder over. He has surely been talking against intolerance, violence and even cow vigilantism. What matters is the firm action on the ground. He also must not lose the sight of the hard fact of growing inequality in India. A report by economists Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel shows how India has gone from British Raj to the Billionaire Raj, with 22 per cent income accruing to the top one per cent income earners.

Well, the Prime Minister needs to correct his priorities. Instead of creating a pro- rich image, he ought to identify himself fully with the sufferings and deprivations of the poor and have-nots who are still waiting for a place of honour in the Republic.

The question is not merely of poverty and faster development. At stake is the quality of governance which has to ensure an environment of openness, free speech, a place for voices of dissent, tolerance and mutual understanding.

The India today cannot be turned back. Extraordinary changes have occurred at several levels over the years and will continue to occur. All that is required in this changing scenario is an open mind so that new challenges are faced effectively and decisively.

Prime Minister Modi, a Master Magician

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Wages of ill-informed sick society

The sickening episode of self-styled “godman” and rape convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim throws up a number of critical social and political issues which ought to grip the attention of citizens who have reasons to be concerned about the country’s state of drift in recent years. I am not looking at these happenings through politico-religious angularities often indulged in by the Congress and its UPA allies or the BJP and its NDA partners.

Nor am I prompted by Hindutva-bashing which has been the standard practice of a section of “secular and progressive forces” in the polity. I wish to look at sensitive issues revolving around the head of Dera Sacha Sauda objectively and try to find out how and why socio-religious matters have been hijacked by fake holy- men in our society.

The Special CBI Court has pronounced 20 years’ sentence to the rape convict. All credit to the CBI for having come out of its old mindset of “protecting” the cult leader at the biding of his political mentors, from NDA-1 to UPA-1 and 2 and now NDA-2. Perhaps, we shall never know what exactly transpired under different establishments for 15 years after Sirsa’s local journalist, Ram Chander Chhatrapati who exposed Ram Rahim’s dubious activities, was shot dead in October 2002. No tears are being shed for Chhatrapati. What a shame!

Is this not the failure of Haryana’s leaders who, instead of looking at his shady acts, were guided by vote gains from the followers of high-profile Ram Rahim? The gravity of crimes of such political leaders is serious. They left the poor and Dalit of backward areas of Haryana and Punjab at the mercy of “godmen” who used the platform of satsang, kirtan and bhajan to build their own parallel empires.

How could the state authorities allow them to build a virtual state of their own within the State with all the luxuries of life and even private armies? This harsh reality tells us a lot about the poor quality of personalized governance. The file pictures of such “godmen” with leaders of different parties tell us how ill-informed and sick our society has become, notwithstanding the thundering rhetoric of Narendra Modi about the poor and Digital India.

Talking about Digital India is fine. But the moot point is: who will take care of disprivileged and deprived sections of society scattered across the country? What about the promised economic uplift of millions of people who are still struggling for two square meals, minimum healthcare for children and their right to education and good living conditions even after 71 years of independence?

Haryana has been in focus for the past several years because of two holy men – Gurmeet Ram Rahim and earlier in 2014 Rampal Singh Jatin. Also, in the headlines recently has been Haryana’s BJP Chief Minister Ram Lal Khattar who has a fairly good RSS background. He was pulled up by the judiciary for his failure to maintain law and order in Panchkula.

I had a good impression about RSS persons because of their disciplined approach to personal and social matters and dedication to the causes they believe in. However, Chief Minister Khattar has exposed himself at least on three occasions as a non-performer. It is a different matter that he has publicly expressed happiness at his performance! Knowledgeable persons, however, think it otherwise. He is certainly going to survive as chief minister as long as he enjoys the backing of Prime Minister Modi. Who cares for ground realities?

My point is simple: how could the BJP high command tolerate inefficient persons in key positions? The BJP leadership’s tragedy is that it is following the footsteps of the Congress for petty gains. May I, therefore, legitimately ask: in what way is the BJP a party with a difference? BJP chief Amit Shah and Prime Minister Modi have a lot to answer on this count.

The people understand what is what. It hardly matters if the glass is half empty or half full. What is important in public perception is how deep is our leaders’ understanding of socio-economic and political complexities of India, that is, Bharat ?

In this grim setting, what is disquieting is the absence of social reformers. Some high-profile swamis have either got themselves commercialized or politicized under the canopy of yoga power. Nothing wrong with this, provided they draw a lakshman rekha between minting money and commitment to social causes.

The right sort of political dharma actually holds the key to the country’s turbulence-free order and all-round improvement in the quality of public life. The phenomena of Rampal Singh Jatin and Gurmeet Ram Rahim are aberrations in our socio-economic and political functioning. This must not be used as a tool for decrying Hinduism and the rich legacy of our great sages and rishis who have given this nation the basic greatness and vibrance of Indian spirit of tolerance and mutual understanding.

Rampal Singh Jatin’s Satlok Ashram and Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s Dera Sacha Sauda are, in a way, wages of the state’s failures to empower the poor, the have-nots and tribals of our society. The poor system of governance at the grassroots has created a fertile ground for self-styled godmen to grow in style under the patronage of the powers-that-be.

The poor and the illiterate are apparently taken for a ride by custodians of these deras and ashrams since they meet their daily needs for food, shelter and healthcare. True, some of these deras in the Punjab-Haryana region are genuine as they work at the grassroots to help the poor to come up in life. Some deras stood up boldly against the militancy in Punjab. This, however, does not absolve the ruling establishments of their failures to
uplift the lives of the downtrodden section of our society.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court has shown rare guts by speaking out boldly on the Chief Minister’s failure to maintain law and order in Panchkula. Apart from reprimanding the Haryana government, it has reminded Narendra Modi that “he is the Prime Minister not of the BJP, but of India”. Be that as it may. The issues raised by recent disturbing events have wider dimensions which must be seen in a larger national framework for creating a just, humane and egalitarian society that the country badly needs.

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India’s ailing health system

Who cares for children ?

A year back, a 10-year-old tribal boy Umesh Medhi made a frantic appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit his villages in Malkangiri in Odisha where 73 of his fellow children had lost their lives in the outbreak of Japanese encephalitis.

“Sir. Save our lives. Many of my friends have died of Japanese fever . You are roaming around the globe. Cannot you come over to our villages and see how are children dying here ?”

Medhi, a student of class IV of Polkanda Primary School under Sikapali gram panchayat, described the ordeal of parents who lost their children in the Japanese encephalitis. What prompted the tribal boy to write to Narendra Modi was Malkangiri villagers’ belief that the
Prime Minister could be their last hope !

This is understandable since nothing moves the Indian system of democracy unless a heavyweight leader or the Prime Minister himself takes personal interest in matters of public concern. I have no clue whether the Prime Minister responded to Medhi’s pleas since Modi’s priorities then were global rather than the sufferings of Malkangiri children or grieving families of debt-ridden farmers who committed suicide !

What can anyone do if ordinary people’s distress signals do not touch the hearts of our leaders ? Mercifully, the Prime Minister at least expressed his grief at the latest Gorakhpur tragedy during his Independence Day speech from the Red Fort. However, passing references can hardly help solve a deep-rooted rot in the country’s terribly sick medical system.

Public health care has never been a priority of our leaders in the States or at the Centre who have presided over the country’s destiny over 70 years of Independence. The poor, the have-nots, the tribals and the backwards hardly figure in our VVIP-oriented society. Our leaders sell them “dreams” of promises and people are left with no option but look heavenwards with dying children in their arms ! This is the India we all have learnt to live with, whether high-profile persons at the helm happen to be BJP-led NDA Prime Minister Modi or CM Yogi or CM Akhilesh Yadav or CM Mayawati or Sonia Gandhi’s UPA power bandwagon of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh !

Unfortunately, we see more of politics than serious efforts to go deep into the issues of children’s mental or physical health and work out concrete plans of action to make the life somewhat easier for the deprived and disprivileged sections of our society. No wonder, we continue to see replay of the same old stories of bunglings, malpractices and horrible working conditions in hospitals from Odisha to Bihar to Chhattisgarh to West Bengal and now in Gorakhpur in UP.

In Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi does hold out some promise since he has also represented Gorakhpur for five terms in the Lok Sabha. However, ironically, politics has already taken charge of the Gorakhpur tragedy. Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav and other opposition leaders are already at their old political games. Even CM Yogi’s Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh plays his own brand counter-politics on the shortage of life-saving oxygen cylinders at the Baba Raghav Das hospital.

Be that as it may. The District Magistrate’s report on the Gorakhpur tragedy is bound to open a can of worms. Even the Chief Secretary’s report submitted to CM Yogi is quite revealing.

Anomalies in cylinders’ record log book show serious financial bungling. This is the same old story of how persons at the helm cash in on the people’s sufferings. So do several government doctors with their flourishing private practices !

India’s medical system is indeed terribly sick. The country has one of the poorest health records in the world. Public expenditure on health is 1.58 per cent of GDP – far lower than the global median of 5 per cent.

According to the UN’s Millenium Development Goals (MDG) programme, 270 million or 21.9 per cent of people out of 1.2 billion Indians lived below the poverty line of $ 1.25 in 2011-12. Moreover, 84 per cent of all health care expenditure in India is out of pocket. This means a large number of families are constantly at the risk of falling into poverty on account of high health expenses !

According to UNICEF India, over two million children die every year from preventable diseases. The worst situation is faced by rural areas residents living below the poverty line.
Small wonder that every third child in India is malnourished . But, who cares ? What is particularly disquieting is that we do not have proper services or programme for children with mental health issues. In fact, the mental health budget remains just one per cent of the existing highly inadequate total health budget. In U.P., the latest report suggests that the Yogi government has slashed medical education budget by 50 per cent. What a shame !

Uttar Pradesh has actually the worst record on child care, with 46 per cent of the children being underdeveloped, including Muslim boys and girls ! My point is simple. Why can’t our Ministers, MPs, MLAs, bureaucrats cut down their hefty pay packets and perks to improve the lot of our poverty-stricken youngsters ? But the VVIPs hardly care for children !

What is needed urgently is a “total overhaul “ of the health system in the country with a view to promoting what Prof Rajni Kothari once put it, new concepts of public management and accountability. Apart from rational restructuring of public health ministeries and departments, the lower levels of administration in hospitals and primary health centres are critical areas for health care. They require special attention since “a million points of contact” are established at low operational levels every day.

In this context, I wish to quote S. Banerjee from his study titled “Some Reflections on Administrative Reforms” (Management in government, Vol 1 April June 1969). He says :

“If administrative reforms are to catch the imagination of the people of this country, our thinking and action will have to descend at the ground level. Our ingenuity and imagination will have to leave aside for a while the lofty “Manuals” which guide the path of our policy-makers in government headquarters, sitting in secure ivory-towers far from the maddening crowd ! They will have to be directed towards simplifying the maddening procedures, the multicity of terms and the vexatious rules to which the counter-clerk is asked to adhere. No high-powered commission is required to do this task. The answers lie in the much-neglected ‘obvious steps’.”

Over three years back, Prime Minister Modi had promised to bring about good governance at all levels of administration. But, where is good governance in critical areas affecting the life of the country’s ordinary citizens and the poor in our high-profile hospitals and health centres ?

Will the Prime Minister and State Chief Ministers, including Adityanath Yogi, learn from simple thoughts and work for eliminating the existing hiatus between the hospital authorities and the millions of people and their children ?

I hope that something something good would come out of the Gorakhpur and Malkangiri tragedies !

To ward off negative traits in the polity, we need to spread the message that “power does not reside in objects, it resides in systems”, which are meant to serve the greater good of society – and not individual interest. We cannot afford anarchy parading as democracy in any area of public functioning. We have to move beyond personalities and think of common interest of ordinary citizens and the future of millions of our suffering children. George Eliot has beautifully conveyed the idea in the following passage :

Our deeds still travel with us from afar,
And what we have been makes us what we are.

Over to our Prime Minister Modi. It is high time he took stock of his numerous promises and tested them on the touchstone of ground realities !

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Beijing-Islamabad axis A big challenge ahead

Whither Pakistan ? Even the Almighty might not have a straight answer to this question. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, to use a Churchillian idiom, is an enigma wrapped in a riddle as it is constantly subjected to pulls and counterpulls of various Islamic forces, some known and some unknown.

There are brands and sub-brands of terrorist and fundamentalist Islamic groups who play with guns to impose their writ not only within Pakistan’s fragile civilian society but also across the borders in Afghanistan and India, Kashmir in particular.

The deadly Islamic terrorist outfits apart, the all-powerful GHO Rawalpindi calls the shots in security and foreign policy affairs. Major terrorist groups operate on its dicates through operational hands of ISI. In this setting, the Civilian authority is nothing but a symbolic mask in the name of democracy. The strings of power are controlled by generals and their hangers-on. Pakistan’s is indeed a classic example of how “democracy” could be controlled by military generals. This is how a number of elected prime ministers were dethroned in coups, including Nawaz Sharif in 1997.

Of couse, Nawaz Sharif lost his coveted position as Prime Minister by a “judicial coup”. The Pakistan Supreme court acted against him on charges of corruption against his family members as revealed by the Panama Papers. In a way, this is somewhat ironic since the whole system of Pakistan is soaked in corruption. Even the military establishment thrives on corrupt practices.

Ordinary Pakistanis talked about the greed and vulnerability of army personnel in hush-hush voices during my visit to that country in 1997. How Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted by General Pervez Musharraf then is part of Pakistan’s turbulent history.

Once bitten twice shy. This time Sharif was very cautious and guarded. He avoided direct confrontation with the military establishment and that is how he could manage to survive for quite some time.

I understand General Rabeel Sharif has had own ideas on conducting Pakistan’s foreign and defence affairs, keeping in view changing American strategies under the unpredictable presidency of Donald Trump and China’s emergence as an assertive power under President Xi Jinping in the Asia-Pacific region, especially vis-a vis India.

The multi-dimensional Beijing-Islamabad axis does pose a big challenge to the Modi leadership. Is New Delhi ready for the onerous task ahead ? The Doklam stand-off does show that India is not going to be bullied by Beijing’s tactics and war-mongering hysteria .

India certainly wants to sort out the Doklam crisis peacefully through quiet diplomacy. At the same time, it is clear about not letting the Chinese construct a motorable road to Jampheri, which goes against India’s strategic interest in the North-East and beyond.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is right in saying that “war” is not the answer. I believe that President Xi Jinping, too, understands this basic reality. But then he seems to be suffering from arrogance of power and personal ambition to outclass Mao as an undisputed supremo, both internally and globally.

China’s imperialistic ambition cannot be taken lightly. We have suffered a lot at the Chinese hands right from 1962 simply because we have failed to learn from China’s expansionist policy.

Whether one admits it not, Pakistan is trapped in a mess of its own making. This includes its special love and axis with un-Islamic President Xi’s China. After decades of US military alliance, Islamabad has drawn itself closer to Beijing.

In fact, Nawaz Sharif’s ouster as Prime Minister is viewed in certain quarters as a move prompted by Pakistan’s military establishment since it decided to opt for its strategic shift from Washington to Beijing. Pakistan’s strategic shift in global tie-ups has wider implications, specially for India. GHQ Rawalpindi sees China’s hostile postures towards India as its big advantage. This explains why Islamabad has opened up its doors to the Chinese economic corridor moves passing through PoK.

Be that as it may. Fanaticism in conduct of foreign affairs is a deadly game. When unleashed for grabbing powers, it acquires sinister overtones. A more pragmatic understanding of geopolitical realities can help Islamabad to rationalize things. Pakistan today is in a no-win situation and it will continue to be so unless it changes its course of hostility and confrontation, in concert with China, with India.

What is needed now is a two-way communication for peace, development and stability in the subcontinent without the China factor. Perhaps this is a tall order for the military commanders of Islamabad. They have a fixed anti-India mindset which suits even China.

As for India, it is certainly in a decisive stage of transformation under the Modi government. It can no longer afford to remain isolated from the regional dynamics. New realities in the neighbourhood and beyond ought to prod us to think on unconventional lines in the pursuit of our foreign policy and security objectives. Viewed in this light, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new economic and military ties-up with Israel is highly significant. This should help us in giving dynamic thrust to tackle the obnoxious Beijing-Islamabad axis.

The history of world affairs teaches us that things do not change sharply or fundamentally as newspaper headlines and political rhetoric claim they do. The onerous challenge before the South Block is how to manage Talibanised Pakistan and Afghanistan along with horrifying faces of terror activities in Kashmir as well as evil designs of communist China in our border areas.

Let me leave aside Sushma Swaraj’s impressive explanations in the Rajya Sabha. Operationally, what is needed is fresh thinking and total clarity in our security and economic goals and targets to neutralize the fallout the Beijing-Islamabad axis. Otherwise, we shall continue to suffer as we did for several decades in the past. I expect Prime Minister Modi to check the drift both at home and abroad, address the basic issues on the ground and lead the nation on to the right course. India must not be pass off as a soft power nation.

Is Prime Minister Modi ready for this onerous task? I keep my fingers crossed. The Pakistani hate-India campaign led by the likes of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and China’s anti-India hysteria over the Doklam face-off have vitiated the atmosphere in the sub-continent. What Pakistan and China are preaching and practising does not fit in the 21st century world. We cannot generate peace and stability in the region with Pakistan-style fanaticism and Imperialist China’s sweet and sour tactics.

Enough is enough. We have already paid a heavy price for goody-goody diplomacy. If the leadership has a vision for tomorrow and shows sufficient guts to translate national objectives into action, solutions of even very complex issues can be explored. To meet the formidable challenge of the Beijing-Islamabad axis, New Delhi has to be firm where firmness is needed most. It cannot opt for soft options in an area where the very edifice of India as a nation rests.

Writing in Foreign Affairs (Spring 2000) a former US Deputy Secretary of State argues that “We should not plan to redraw borders with blood.” The emphasis hereafter should be our democracy, good governance, federalism and the protection of human rights, and not only breaking up states. This exactly is the Indian position that ought to be conveyed to Pakistan’s military regime and Beijing’s one-party imperialist tantrums in our border areas.

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Lest we repeat mistakes !

Mao’s popular dictum used to be: “Signal Right, Turn Left.” With his unstated ambition to emerge a Mao –probably larger than him–, President Xi Jinping is toeing the helmsman dictum in conducting Chinese affairs, especially with India.

Just recall the euphoria built up in the country around a full-throated slogan of “Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai” in the fifties . Jawaharlal Nehru then was at the helm of India’s destiny. He was taken for ride on the “bhai-bhai” path by the Mao-Chou duo. He signed the Panchsheel agreement, hoping that Communist China would take to the peaceful co-existence path and honour the promised autonomy for Tibet. What happened subsequently is part of the tragic happenings in Tibet and the Dalai Lama and his people’s exodus from their home land and the blood-soaked 1962 chapter of Indian history.

History is not “ a pack of tricks we play upon the dead”, Voltaire once opined. It holds out a mirror as a guide to the future on the premise that mistakes committed in the past are not “played upon the dead.”

Much water has flowed down the Brahmaputra since the 1962 betrayal of Nehru’s India by China. I do not wish to sit in judgement on a series of recent events which have revived the bitter memories of the past amidst Beijing’s war hysteria and claims on the Bhutanese Doklam plateau at the trijunction. India is bound by the treaty to protect the territorial integrity of Bhutan. Indian trops had earlier blocked Chinese road works in Doklam and have since been in a faceoff with PLA troops.

Defence Minister Arun Jaitely is on a firm wicket when he said recently that the “2017 India is not the India of 1962.” Still, it cannot be claimed with certainty whether India can fully match China’s economic and military power, especially keeping in view the Beijing-Islamabad dubious axis which adds to India’s problems of terrorism and related issues in Kashmir and beyond. What is equally worrisome is China’s belligerent postures on India’s long-drawn out border which hides China’s hidden agenda of expansionism, colonialism and military adventure. Beijing’s recent moves on the economic corridor passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) speaks a lot on its evil designs on this country.

President Xi Jinping is obviously back to the old Chinese games of expansionism and brinkmanship. History tells us that whenever China grows economically and militarily strong, it pursues its colonial policy to grab the neighbouring territories. We have had our problems with China on this count from 1962 onward. Our problem is that we are poor learners of history. That is why there were hush-hush murmurings in knowledgeable quarters when Prime Minister Modi played Jhula (Swing) Diplomacy during President Xi Jinping visited India in September 2014.

Narendra Modi’s was well-intentioned move since peace in the region alone can ensure economic development as visualized by the Prime Minister. All the same, it is in our national interests that we should never allow China’s real face erased from our memory !

The latest Chinese postures are but natural as Beijing seems to be conducting itself like imperialist Britain’s East India Company. Will NSA Ajit Doval have some sobering effect on the Chinese leadership ? I keep my fingers crossed.

Mercifully, the Modi government has been quietly bracing up India’s critical military gaps and has even started thinking on new strategic and defence lines, keeping in view today’s changing global realities. The recent defence ties-ups with Israel by Prime Minister Modi is a clear indication that New Delhi is very much alive to twin threats posed to this country by sinister games of the two neighbours.

Well, more than vigil, we have to be constantly on guard and bridge the vital gaps both on defence and economic fronts. The Doklam stand-off looks like the war of nerves being played by the PLA troops. In such a setting, I expect the Prime Minister to play his diplomatic and strategic cards tactfully to neutralize China’s brinkmanship.

Let us not be carried away by Sushma Swaraj’s remark that “all nations are behind us.” Nothing of the sort. War is, of course, not the answer in today’s Nuclear Globe. What India needs is not a policy of reaction but a pro-active dynamic diplomacy in the neighbourhood and beyond.

One thing, however must not be lost sight of. That is a nation’s power flows from its economic strength and military muscle and not by big talks. It will be better if Prime Minister Modi attends to ground realities and strengthen India’s grassroots, development-wise and add to the people’s power that ultimately holds the key to India’s destiny as a democratic power vis-à-vis an egoist one-party regime that China is. It now aspires to become a super power a la Imperial China.

As scholar Suisheng Zhao of University of Denver has put it : “Following the policy of fusion and expansion, whenever Imperial China was powerful, it tried to expand frontiers by claiming suzerainty over smaller neighbours. The expansion, however, often met with resistance. Chinese empire was not shy about military conquest.”

President Xi Jinping has apparantely used the legacy of Imperial China to pursue his political ambition. Fine. But it is high time world leaders looked behind the Chinese “peace” mask !

Perhaps, President Xi would learn a lesson or two from the Indian civilisational strength when rubbed in the wrong ! This is not a matter of Hindu nationalism. At stake is India’s civilisational roots and strength which bank on ethics and the message of peace to win the hearts and minds of people at home and abroad.

Added to these norms are the instruments of modern statecraft to stand up to dubious Chinese designs of President Xi. We failed to fathom Mao’s mind in 1962. We must not repeat the mistake and see to it that the India of 2017 is in reality different, both diplomatically and strategically, Mr Prime Minister.

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Changing global realities

Importance of “strategic relationship” with Israel

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s warm hug picture with 11-year-old boy Heltzberg Moshe in Jerusalem symbolically signifies India Israel new ‘strategic- relationship with a human touch. Moshe’s Jewish parents in Mumbai were killed during the Pakistan-sponsored 26/11 terror attack in India’s commercial capital. Having survived miraculously the terror attack, Moshe, then just two years old, thereafter traveled with his grandparents to Afula where he now lives.

More than the warmth and courtesies extended to our Prime Minister by Israeli leaders and people, young Moshe holds out a mirror of the 26/11 bloody chapter of Indian history and related geopolitical realities of Pakistan and China woven around it. Indian developments since Independence remind us of the bitter truth that we as a people are poor learners of history.

Small wonder that India’s has been a saga of tragic stories from the Oct 1947-48 Pakistani tribal invasion in Kashmir to the 1962 Chinese betrayal of the Panchsheel principle in NEFA to Beijing’s suppression of Tibetans and their mass exodus from their beloved country to Pak-sponsored Mumbai terror strikes and beyond. We have had to pay a heavy price for being a ‘soft state’. It is time we come out of this ‘goody goody’ mindset if we mean to take India forward.

Narendra Modi has visited 60 countries in three years of premiership. But for the first time he has given a definite swing to the conduct of India’s diplomacy by breaking the old mental barriers of foreign policy in tune with our national interest. He has walked on a new path to reach out to Tel Aviv, which the old political stalwarts dared not tread. Here is the Prime Minister’s pragmatic foreign policy at its best. A major achievement of this visit is the de-hyphenation of India’s relations with Israel and Palestine. This has been criticized in India as abandoning the Palestinian case. But the evidence on the ground suggests otherwise. India’s traditional commitment to the Palestinian cause remains undiluted. And rightfully so, India must honour this age-old commitment.

Looking around the neighborhood and changing global realities we cannot ignore the security implications of changing trends in the world. What matters today is the right perspective that takes into account all facets of internal and external threats so that the country could evolve a credible medium and long term views of its goals and objectives in its pursuit of strategic security and economic policies.

Narendra Modi’s three-day trip to Tel Aviv was a major departure from status quo pursuit of India’s foreign policy during the past 70 years. Of course, P. V. Narasimha Rao gets the credit for establishing diplomatic ties with Israel 25 yeas ago. Still, South Block was invariably extra cautious in striking a balance act between Israel and the Arab world, especially with regard to Palestine. Narendra Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to go to Tel Aviv without visiting Palestine while broadly sticking to the same policy. He has thereby given a powerful signal to the global community of India’s special relationship with the Jewish state that has survived amidst a hostile atmosphere of the oil-rich West Asian countries. How could Israel do it has often tickled the curiosity of several thinking Indians both within the establishment and outside of it.

The Jewish brains are known for their innovative technical and scientific spirit and skills. They have made their water-starved arid land bloom with new water techniques in the farm and horticulture sector. They have quenched the thirst of the majority of people by the desalination technology of the seawater. They have evolved a unique military strategy with the backup of very powerful weaponry system on the land, in the air and the sea. Small wonder that no enemy state encircling dare touch it, whatever might be its wealth and military muscle.

Prime Minister Modi has been well focused in correcting some of the basic weaknesses India suffered for decades in critical areas of security, water and agriculture. He has signed 17 wide-ranging MOUs with the Israeli government. These include industrial R&D and technological innovation, drinking water, sanitation, water conservation, energy, agriculture, space and atomic cooperation, GEO-LEO optical links. Tel Aviv will also help New Delhi to conserve water and clean up the Ganga.

To boost bi-lateral trade from $5 billion to $20 billion in five years, Indian and Israeli companies have signed strategic pacts worth $4.3 billion. Even $40 million innovation fund has been set up, the area where India lags behind. In fact, we ought to make special efforts to create congenial professional working atmosphere to get the best out of India’s indigenous talent.

There is too much of political interference in every sphere of public life. Will Prime Minister Modi give a serious thought to this matter, if he means to learn from the Israeli and Western success story? My point is simple: if the Indians overseas could become a big hit, why can’t they be a success in their own land? The answer is simple: the country continues to suffer from politico-bureaucratic control mechanism, which kills the people’s innovative skills and initiatives.

Be that as it may. The catch phrase for Modi, as Indian Ambassador to Israel Pawan Kapoor put it, was defence development and “strategic partnership” in areas of innovation, science, technology and space. While the relationship in these fields have already been upswing for the past several years, the new deals and commercial agreements are set to ramp up and upgrade the already strong bi-lateral ties.

The Modi regime has worked quietly in giving twists and turns to Indian diplomacy, keeping in view the need for bridging India’s gaps in defense and security needs. As it is, India is faced with a barbaric face of Pak-sponsored militancy in J&K and beyond, for which this country has to find new answers. Tel Aviv has the expertise and target-based technology, which can do wonders in curbing the on-going menace of terrorism from across the border.

Viewed in a larger framework, the existing Indian system has to be jolted out of its business-as-usual syndrome. We have to look at our security needs afresh against the backdrop of the changing regional and global environment, especially in the light of the growing Beijing-Islamabad axis and China’s hostile postures at the borders and the Indian Ocean. We have also to constantly keep in mind the tactics and strategies being adopted by the Islamic fundamentalist groups as part of Pakistan’s gameplan.

Our strategic doctrine vis-à-vis Pakistan and China needs drastic revision. To think that any future conflict would be mere extrapolation of our past experience could be wrong. A long-term perspective demands resilient diplomacy backed up by sound economy and the ability of our administrative structure and political processes to command loyalty of the people belonging to all sections of society, Muslims included.

Ironically, China today talks about Panchsheel, forgetting that it killed this principle not only on the question of Tibetan autonomy but also by its 1962 conflict. The problem with the Indian leadership has been it has invariably overlooked certain harsh facts of Chinese history and its expansionist policies whenever it happens to be strong.

Prime Minister Modi has rightly picked up the threads and made serious efforts to put the country’s defence in order. In this context, what is needed, is a broad based national institutions, which should draw the best available talent and expertise in specified areas of foreign policy, geopolitics, economics and security priorities with the objective of evolving an integrated foreign policy within the framework of global realities. The country can no longer afford to go by ad hoc reaction of its leaders who, as past experience shows, often get influenced by short-term political considerations.

Besides, our thinking on security must not be trapped in rigidity. It needs to change with the changing security needs.

In his book, “The Open Society and its Enemies”, Paul Popper writes:
“The future depends on ourselves and we do not depend on any historical necessity”
It is indeed for us what we want ourselves to be, keeping in view the nation’s march forward. There are no shortcuts to the country’s greatness and our march forward mainly depends on the political will of our leaders at the helm. The CPM’s assertion that “the BJP led government’s alliance with Israel is a reflection of its pro-imperialist, Hindutva-oriented foreign policy” is totally misplaced. We know the CPM mind-set: What PM Modi has done is in India’s national security interest, which has to be the primary responsibility of any democratic government.

Israel is a shining example of how a nation could keep its flag high even in a highly hostile neighbourhood – the sort of unfriendly atmosphere we are faced with vis-à-vis Pakistan and China. Apparently, South Block has to correctly measure China’s real intentions and Pakistan’s dubious goal of grabbing Jammu & Kashmir by hook or by crook. Here I wish to say in all humility that in today’s global complexities and sophisticated technological needs for our defence and our economic strength, New Delhi needs Tel Aviv more than what Israel seeks from India as a ‘Dost’.

Changing global realities

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Looking beyond GST

In economic swaraj lies India’s future

The launch of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) at the stroke of midnight on June 30 – July 1, 2017 at the Central Hall of Parliament is undoubtedly a landmark event in transforming Federal India into a common market – a radical step forward in the country’s economic reforms for an all inclusive faster development. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minster Arun Jaitley deserve all credit and praise for taking considerable pains to firm up the historic concept, the foundation of which was formally laid by Dr. Manmohan Singh in the 90s.

It is a different matter that the Congress today suffers from a death wish. It boycotted the midnight event along with the Left Front, the DMK and few other parties on the plea that the GST concept in its present form is “full of flaws”.

Flaws, if any, could have been corrected at a later stage after assessing the GST working on the ground. Regrettably, logic and reasoning do not work with the Congress leadership these days. It invariably pursues the politics of negativism, little realizing that such a course of thinking ultimately becomes counter productive.

Prime Minister Modi has rightly observed, “GST is an example cooperative federalism which will always give us more strength to move forward together”. In fact, looking at India’s manifold economic and security challenges today, the country has no choice but to move forward together. This will require better communication and active consultation mechanism between the Centre and the States, irrespective of ideological and political differences, if any.

The Prime Minister has hailded GST as a “good and simple tax” which, according to him, should help business persons and put an end to “Tax Terrorism” and “Inspector Raj”, while contributing to the welfare of the people and fight against corruption and black money. Going by the experience of the operational system in the country during the past 70 years, the Prime Minster’s words, though reassuring, right now appear too good to be true.

As it is, leaders and babus at the local and state levels lack a sense of commitment to national goals and objectives. Instead of working for the welfare of the public, they work for themselves. To bring about a change in this mindset involves transitional pain and adjustment. For this purpose, the ruling elite has to set the right pace for social and economic justice on secular and egalitarian principles.

In his popular book “Revolution in the Revolution”, French philosopher – journalist, Regis Debray wrote:

“History advances in disguise; it appears on the stage wearing the mask of the passing of the preceding scene and we tend to lose the meaning of the play. Each time the curtain rises, the continuity has to be reestablished. The blame, of course, is not history’s, but lies in our vision, encumbered with memory and images learnt in the past. We see the past superimposed on the present even when the present is a revolution”.

I am sure the Prime Minister will get the message so beautifully narrated by Regis Debray. We are probably not yet cut out for a revolution, as was once passionately talked about by our former Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju in an interview with a media person.

On the ground, there are signs of socio-economic unrest, which are generally overlooked by the ruling elite as a matter of convenience. Then, what is to be done if the leadership vision happens to be terribly blurred and even the mask loses the shine of the “preceding scene”. As, it is, the twin pillars of governance of India – the civil service and education institutions – are showing signs of cracks.

It is quite disquieting that the road ahead is littered with fanaticism and all forms of distortions. Even the concept of secularism and democratic values are being twisted and tattered by opportunistic politicians, spineless bureaucrats and their collaborators.

Should we give in? Certainly not, Mr. Prime Minister. We ought to keep our head high and not lose sight of principles and values while pursuing the desired changes in a determined manner. However, even for the success of GST, Prime Minster Modi has to create the right atmosphere by ensuring firm checks and controls of the fringe elements who take the law in their hands or talk loose on communal lines. These are matters of good governance and faster economic progress of all sections of society. In this regard, it may be worthwhile to make a fresh beginning with a reoriented civil service and police force. They can set the pace for good governance and all inclusive development process.

We need to realize that Indian politics does not follow straight line even in matters of economic reforms and ushering in the dream concept of economic swaraj (economic freedom).

Looking beyond the magic of common market of the three words of GST, we have to simultaneously and actively think of millions of poor people and the have-nots who are still groaning under the weight of denial and deprivation. The poor and the weaker sections of society have to be taken along on the path of economic freedom with a human face.

There are 60 million households that come under the poverty line. Their growth with social justice has to be tackled frontally by focusing on productive employment opportunities and other social and economic amenities both for the rural and urban poor. It is necessary for this purpose to change “Investment priorities and policies” and bring about institutional reforms with an infrastructural backup.

The ongoing policies of sanctions, grants, subsidies, free services, loan waivers, etc are aggressive because it stunts initiatives, self-dependence and sense of responsibilities. It encourages “Ma-Bap-ism”, the concept of the colonial era.

Here, it will be worth recalling the words of Rabindranath Tagore. He said :

“Swaraj” is the kind of liberation in which our people discover their truth, the truth of India. Freedom means not just political independence, but the freedom of each individual to become himself, only within the stream of communion of people with people”.

I believe that economic swaraj – economic freedom – can help us restore and recreate the fabric of an integrated and forward-looking national society as we all dream about. Mr. Prime Minister, if we are serious about making the GST system “the most relevant for the poor” and their welfare as you believe in, what is vital is to put the nation before the party and individual interest without using the poor and caste factors as part of vote bank politics!

Can we? I keep my fingers crossed. The message is, however, clear: while welcoming the GST reform, restless audience in the Indian political theatre today want their leaders to act firmly and decisively and fulfill hosts of promises of a government that works faster for the good of the people in the streets as well as for the uplift of farmers left behind in the economic march.

Indeed we have to move beyond the competitive politics of negativism and work for people’s common interest in a revived India. George Eliot has beautifully conveyed the idea in the following passage:

“Our deeds still travel with us from a far,
and what we have been makes us what we are”.

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Don’t muzzle the media !

Whether we like it or not, the credibility of the Central Bureau of Investigation continues to be of a “caged parrot” of the ruling establishment. It was so during ex-CBI Director Ranjit Sinha’s tenure under the Congress-led UPA regime. The change of political masters at the Centre in 2014 does not seem to have made any difference to the style and functioning of India’s premir investigative agency despite all big talks of democracy and transparency of the system. No wonder, every move by the CBI on the plea of wrongful or corrupt practices smacks of being a politically motivated exercise as is the case of its sudden raids on the residence of the NDTV’s co-founders Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy.

The raids relate to an alleged loan default of Rs 375 crore from the ICICI Bank by the news channel in 2010 during the UPA rule. This in itself raises a simple question; how come the CBI became “wiser” after a lapse of seven years, and that too, under the BJP-led NDA regime ? Doesn’t this smell a rat in fixing up the popular TV channel for not being so convenient to the masters of the day? Apparently, this seems to be the motive which led to widespread protest by the media personnel. The warning signal from the large assembly of journalists at the Press Club of India on June 9 is sharp and clear. The authorities ought to have learnt from some of the past events, especially Indira Gandhi’s ill-advised move on the Bihar Press Bill and Rajiv Gandhi’s Defamation Bill which were quietly buried in the face of massive protests by journalists against playing with freedom of the press in India’s vibrant democracy.

Freedom of the media is non-negotiable. We in Power Politics are fully committed to the independence of the press. We care for the voices of dissent which logically question policies and programmes of the ruling elite. Even otherwise, the entire handling of the NDTV matter puts the CBI in a zone of suspicion. It could have at least done its homework properly and objectively and not gone about its business in an amateur manner. The CBI has accused the NDTV group and ICICI executives of “ conspiracy and cheating .”

Legal pundits point out : “Though lakhs and crores of rupees have not been paid by several industrialists, no criminal case has yet been registered against any one of them by the CBI. In the NDTV matter, the CBI has not only chosen to register an FIR, but also conducted a search for a loan which had already been duly paid by the NDTV management to the ICICI Bank, a private bank.” Presumably, the CBI has acted arbitrarily under pressure from the powers-that-be to fix up the news channel and forewarn all electronic and print media : behave or otherwise….. !

Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu says there is “no political interference” in the agency’s action, stressing that the law has to take its course. Of course, the law must take its course in all matters of defaults, frauds and wrong-doings. No one disputes this basic principle of law. However, an element of suspicion creeps in when the law enforcement agency becomes selective in action, and that too, after a gap of seven years of alleged default which, the NDTV management says “has been paid seven years ago.” Curiously enough, the ICICI bank is not the complainant. The CBI has reportedly acted on the basis of an FIR filed by Sanjay Dutt, whom the NDTV authorities describe as “a disgruntled former consultant” with the news channel.

Minister Naidu says : “If somebody does something wrong, simply because they belong to media, you cannot expect the government to keep quiet.” We welcome Naidu’s statement. The media is surely not above the law of the land. But the moot point is : Is the CBI not being partisan? Has it ever tried to look beyond in a wider perspective the goings-on in business-cum-political-cum criminal nexus which has cost the public exchequer crores and crores ? Instead of being selective, the authorities need to reform the system to make every business activity, the media included, transparent and accountable.

The authorities must appreciate the media’s job is to thoroughly examine facts and events and report them accurately without any prejudice or biases. This is very much needed in a dynamic democratic society like India. The media must take special care that facts, ideas and information are not distorted to leave the reading or viewing public confused or blinded.

A democratically elected government cannot and must not conduct itself in a partisan or motivated a manner which leaves people with a defective understanding of men, matters and issues.

The freedom of press is not an ornament but the very soul of a democracy. Every establishment needs to appreciate this elementary fact.

We are totally against any form of censorship or a controlling mechanism to muzzle the media. We do not wish to indulge in any blame game. We can only say that the time has come for honest soul-searching by all right-thinking persons in the Government, the Opposition and the media as well.

We want all organs of democracy – the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary as well as the Fourth Estate to function correctly, objectively and justly in the interests of the people. We also take this opportunity to tell our fraternity that we need to be equally concerned and agitated about the plight of fellow journalists working in small towns and mofusil areas who often have to bear the brunt of wrath of the State or local authorities for speaking the truth. In Bastar and other places, many of our media persons have had to pay a heavy price for pursuing journalism of courage. They, too, deserve our salute, attention and support.

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