Emergence of Yogi as people’s CM

In Adityanath Yogi, Uttar Pradesh has at long last found a leader who is clear-headed, well-focused, action and result oriented, without being driven by the usual power ingredients of avarice and parivarwad as we have seen in most of the post-colonial rulers.

Within weeks of his installation as Chief Minister of India’s largest State, he has proved himself to be a person of character, substance and guts. He has put the people’s problems at the centrestage of his policies, postures and governance in close concert with his ministerial, bureaucratic and police teams. He has already built his reputation as a role model people’s CM whose promises and performance go hand in hand. This is a landmark development in Indian politics.

In Yogi, UP has a leader with a difference. His saffron attire might smack of his Hindutva flavour which is generally not relished by India’s brown sahibs and “secular custodians” of the Republic. I do not wish to go into the question of what is wrong where and who is right or who is in the wrong. In the absence of credible idealism, ideological moorings and principles, Indian politics has been running on divisive lines of caste, religion and money-cum-muscle power. Most political games are played to grab power for making money for the self and parivar at the cost of the public exchequer.

Yogi as CM is a class apart. In his first public pronouncement, he made it clear that “the government would not differentiate on the basis of caste, religion or gender. Development would be for everyone. There will be no differentiation.”

“Saab ka Sath, Saab ka Vikas” is not a mere talking point with Yogi Adityanath. This mantra seems to be his article of faith.

Of course, his installation as Chief Minister did create a frisson of fears and apprehension among the minorities. The secularists too had a field day forecasting Doomsday for Uttar Pradesh as the newly-minted Chief Minister was known for his fire-brand politics and inflammatory speeches.

But, the balanced and highly measured speeches and actions of Yogi Adityanath have flummoxed many of his detractors. The forward-looking CM has apparently belied the public perception about him. He has even declared that English would be taught at the nursery stage itself instead of class VI as was the case so far.

Yogi says that “tradition and modernity should blend.” A keen observer of the political scene summed up the surprising transformation of Yogi by quoting the old adage: “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future”.

Much of tirade against Yogi is politically motivated and hence misplaced. As a head-priest of Gorakhnath Math, he has had an excellent rapport with the Muslims working in his bastion of Gorakhpur. For example, Yasin Ansari, a Muslim, suprivises all construction work inside the Math for the past 35 years. He also keeps an account of the temple’s expenses.

Says Azizunnisa , “I have cordial relations with Chhote Maharaj”, as Yogi is popularly referred to….” I have never felt any disrespect or discrimination… He is a real saint.” Azizunnisa runs a shop.

Mohammed, chief caretaker of the temple gaushala, says, “I wake up at 3 am, milk the cows and serve them fodder. Chhote Maharaja takes care of all of us.”

Can we have a better example of a secular Hindu ? In fact, Hindus as a class and community are liberal and secular by birth, tradition and conviction. The rest is all part of dirty politics which our leaders more often than not practise for their note and vote purposes !

Just in a few weeks the Chief Minister has acted promptly on promises held out to the people during the election. He has already announced the government’s decision to waive loans of Rs 36,359 crore taken by about 94 lakh small and marginal farmers in the State.

This will surely not mitigate the manifold sufferings of UP farmers. The loan waiving off is just is a small step which should help the Chief Minister to attend himself to larger issues of deeprooted in the State’s farming sector. I understand Yogi has a comprehensive plan to revive the State’s agriculture and put its growth on healthy lines. His government has also announced 18-hour power supply to the villages. It will also ensure power supply to all villages before 2019.

True, some of Yogi’s moves have become controversial. For instance, his anti-Romeo squads in action which was promised in the BJP’s vision document. The basic idea here is to check eve-teasing crimes against women.

We all are familiar with UP’s track record on crimes against girls under the previous regimes. We also remember certain shocking statements of some of the State’s socialist leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Azam Khan in this regard.

The anti-Romeo squads are simply meant to prevent “harassment of young women students.” These squads are not part of Yogi’s earlier “love jihad” campaign in cases of Muslim men marrying Hindu girls. The Chief Minister has made it clear that those sitting in a park or are moving together “are committing no crime.”

He has also clarified that “police excesses”, if any, in this regard would not be allowed. The Chief Minister has stated emphatically that “harassment of girls is a serious matter and added, “because of this girls of all communities are forced to discontinue studies. This can’t go on.” (TOI).

Yogi is right. All the same, the going will be tough for the Chief Minister. UP is not an easy state to govern. He has to be extra cautious about his moves and public pronouncements.

It is necessary for the Chief Minister not to get lost in symbolic issues like singing of Vande mataram and people’s food habits. In this context, it will be worthwhile for him to listen to the sane advice from the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court on the people’s right to life and choice of food.

It is equally crucial for Yogi to firmly check the rowdy and criminal elements who are enrolling themselves in the Hindu Youth Vahini. They are playing with the people’s personal life and privacy under the cover of moral policing.

Well, the Youth Vahini persons have no business to take the law in their hands. The Chief Minister must draw a lakshman rekha on their conduct in the public arena. Otherwise, they would only tarnish his image in public eyes !

Yogi has done well to assure that “those who abide by the law have no reason to worry. But those do not believe in the rule of law ought to be worried.” The rule of law principle would be equally applied to “illegal slaughter houses.” This issue has become controversial because certain vested interests have tried to give a communal cum political twist to the move.

In this context, it will be interesting to look at some unknown facts which prompted the BJP to include the axe on illegal cow slaughter houses in UP. I have at my disposal certain ground realities of rural UP coming from Alok Verma, a veteran of both the print and electronic media. He felt that something was missing in the explanations ladled out by the media in post-election results. He visited some of the backwaters of Uttar Pradesh looking out for some missing vital gaps. To the surprise of Alok, who is presently Chief Editor of Newzstreet Media Group, the poor bovine creature’s stellar role in the elections was either ignored or underplayed by the media.

According to him, the promised ban on illegal slaughter houses in the BJP’s election manifesto played an electrifying role– an issue that remained under the radar of both the media and the political opponents of the BJP.

After talking to a large number of people in the State, Verma found that the cattle theft was an endemic menace in the rural areas. Be a farmer or landless villager, cattle is the most prized or probably only property for them. And theft of animals was a common source of resentment in the villages. The stolen cattle used to be slaughtered by in the mushrooming illegal abattoirs which more often than not were in private homes and which acted as sales outlets as well.

For the owners there was no way to recover their cattle. “The system operated like the theft of brand new cars in the city which are dismantled and the parts sold in the market. In the case of automobiles, thefts leave some tell-proofs if the police can act fast. But once the stolen animal is killed and eaten there is nothing to prove the guilt,” says Alok.

If any victim of the animal theft approached the police, it was rather impossible to get a case registered for a variety of reasons ranging from inefficiency, reluctance of the police to admit crimes in their area and of course politics. No wonder, there a groundswell of resentment had built up against the Samajwadi Government known for its kid glove approach to crime.

Alok says that the last straw on the back of the camel was the incident related to the theft of buffalos belonging to Azam Khan, the most famous Muslim mascot of the Samajwadi Party. That the huge posse of police force was deployed to search the animals became a major media event. And obviously the incident added fuel to fire as the common man watched in anger and jealousy the egregious bovine discrimination.

These hard facts should silence all those communal and self-styled secular forces who have been beating their chest at Yogi’s move on “illegal slaughter houses” !

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Achhe din for PM Modi !

But, UP’s man of destiny is Yogi

Will the spectacular electoral success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere in 2017 after his 2014 impressive Lok Sabha triumph make a difference to the fate of the masses ? I keep my fingers crossed, with a note of optimism. The 2017 people’s verdict is a watershed in Indian politics. It throws up an opportunity as well as a big challenge to the Modi establishment to perform on the ground for the good of the deprived masses still  left behind in India’s “tryst with destiny.”

The real challenge to the BJP leadership is to take the focus away from self-destructive caste and religious fanaticism to economic rejuvenation. An economic miracle can be brought about if extremism in thought and action is kept under check and new opportunities for jobs, quality education and all-round growth are created for the youth, farmers, their families and underprivileged sections of society.

Vulnerable segments of our population are susceptible to gangsterism and communal rhetoric. Take the case of the backward and poor Muslims in UP. They are virtually “imprisoned” in their ghettos by feudal and mafia elements and the Ulema, cutting them off from the national mainstream. Some sections of Muslims, especially the women under the hanging sword of Triple Talaq, have voted for Modi.

Beyond the vote bank syndrome, the Prime Minister needs to look at socio-economic problems of the minority communities, particularly widespread unemployment, poverty, hunger and lack of education which is at the root of Muslim backwardness.

It may also be worthwhile to tell the Prime Minister that Muslims, as such, do not hate him, as do the so called educated custodians of India’s “socialism and secularism”, who now find themselves on the wrong side of the lucrative “power cake”. They also find it hard to come out of Modi’s “shock treatment” at the hustings !

A new development edifice cannot be built on old theories and hackneyed responses. There has to be fresh thinking on key issues of stark poverty, lack of good education infrastructure and life-sustaining facilities in rural areas for Dalits, Muslims, backward castes, various ethnic groups, farmers, landless labour, artisans and the working class.

Equally crucial are matters of secularism and communalism, parametres of relationship between the majority community and the minorities, increasing fissiparous tendencies and extremism in parts of the country, public accountability of politicians and bureaucrats, growing nexus between muscle and money power, increasing crimes against women and children and the resultant criminalization of politics.

What is needed is a down-to-earth response to the manifold problems facing the people at levels of governance and non-governance. The hinterland of India is firmly behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The people, by and large, feel that they have a leader and government without a single scam during nearly three years of rule. This a great and welcome change for a country used to big scams and “a silent PM” during the 10 years of the Congress-led UPA regime.

Against this positive setting, I expect Prime Minister Modi to closely understand what the people want. He ought to reflect the people’s genuine hopes and expectations in his plan of action on the ground.

India is too large a country to be run by short-cuts and oversimplifications of burning issues of corruption, free economy, notebandi and cashless system. This requires massive reforms in the financial sector, both in urban and rural areas.

PM Modi needs to remember that clay has tendency to be moulded, but it requires a potters’s hand to take shape and form. This is where the Prime Minister has to show his skills on the ground. The people are a talented lot. Even in his parliamentary constituency of Varanasi, I could see a reservoir of highly talented artisans and workers who require modern tools and support to compete in the global market of arts and crafts.

It must be said that behind the massive success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the way his party played the social engineering card among the genuinely deprived sections of various caste and subcaste groups in different regions of Uttar Pradesh.

Even Modi turned the demonetisation issue to his advantage by multiple raids on hoarders of black cash. These raids, psychologically, created the impression that Narendra Modi means business to put the rich black-moneywalas in their place, to the utter delight of the huge deprived sections of the UP population. In the process, the Prime Minister could successfully project himself as a messiah, a sort of revolutionary for the poor masses of UP !

Notwithstanding the senseless chest-beating on “doctored EVMS” by the BSP supremo’s Mayawati and AAP’s marvarick leader Arvind Kejriwal, the BJP’s electoral show speaks a lot about about its intelligent social engineering and organisational skills of Amit Shah and his dedicated team. The BJP president seems to have learnt his lessons from the party’s debacle in Delhi and Bihar.

Apart from putting its Hindu consolidation plan on track with the help of Yogi Adityanath, Sangeet Som and others, the BJP stalwarts turned the two economic moves of demonetisation and anti-corruption rhetoric to their big advantage.

This, however, should not create the impression that the going henceforth will be all that easy. It will be a very very tough task ahead. The ground realities of the State are simply frightening even on the two keys of law and order and corrupt practices.

A Meerut entrepreneur has put this problem candidly. He says : “The corruption is so badly inducted in the system that it compels the entrepreneurs to sttle a matter at the lowest level. As higher you go, higher is the corruption level.” This should give the new leadership some idea about the level of the rot which has kept UP backward despite all claims of development of Akhilesh Yadav’s SP government. The growth rate was 5.9% under Akhilesh.

The moot point is : will Narendra Modi be able to translate his popular slogan Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas into action on the ground and turn the economic tide in UP and make it the “engine of India’s growth.”? This is a gigantic task which can be undertaken with the right focus and requisite determination. At stake is PM Modi’s credibility and his promise of better days.

It is gratifying that the new Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath (44) has promised to follow PM Modi’s Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas agenda and strive for “good governance”. He has told the media that his government will work for all sections of the society without any discrimination.

“I am confident the State will march on the path of development,” he said emphatically.
It will be interesting to see how a Hindutava hardliner transforms himself as a Development Yogi. There is no reason to doubt his intentions and ability to act upon what he has promised.

Yogi Adityanath is a man of action. He established his pro-people credentials as head priest of the Gorakhnath Mutt. At his daily Gorakhpur durbar, he used to promptly tackle the problems of ordinary people, including Muslims, who sought his help.

Maharaj ki chitti is that magic letter that gets all work done in Gorakhpur,” writes Maulshree Seth in Indian Express (March 20). No wonder, Adityanath Yogi is a popular leader who was elected to the Lok Sabha by the people five times. I am sure that UP’s new saffron Chief Minister will prove his critics wrong.

Indeed, the national and global focus henceforth will be on how the non-Brahmin head of the unique Gorakhnath Math in Gorakhpur functions as CM alongwith his two Deputy CMs– Keshav Prasad Maurya, an OBC, and Dinesh Sharma, a Brahmin. Apparently, the RSS-BJP leadership has been guided by deeper and larger social and political calculations in its radical moves in governing the complex State of Uttar Pradesh. It is a big gamble for the saffron party which could pay off in 2019 and beyond.

I look at the UP’s future on one simple mantra of all-inclusive development. This will require a new blend of economic-cum-social engineering to make the State shine with a difference.

For the onerous tasks ahead, the Chief Minister’s new team will have to, first of all, quickly and carefully assess the ground realities of each region of the State and accordingly work out time-bound plan of action.

Secondly, the government has to work out a new all-inclusive vision for industrial growth as well as for development of cottage and home entrepreneurship which could be a base for an overall growth of the State. Here the possibilities for modernization of the existing units are varied and challenging .

Thirdly, the welfare schemes require a new thrust and dimension. The poor have to be economically empowered, not by mai baapism of doles, but helping them to stand on their legs through faster development and enrichment of their skills.

The BJP leadership has indeed a long way to go to fulfil its electoral promises. As it is, its national election manisfesto has held out 42 promises, many of which are equally relevant for the achhe din of UP, including the Ganga clean-up. Then, the party’s manifesto — Jan Sankalp Patra—has made some core promises for job creation and farmer welfare measures like loan waivers, subsidized and easily available fertilizers like urea and incentives in MGNREGA.

Besides, it has held out the promise of financial security and housing for all. It has also promised to turn UP as a manufacturing hub with a specific focus on technology. If the new government takes up these tasks in right earnest, the face of UP will change radically to the great advantage of Prime Minister Modi for the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha election for his second term.

By ushering in the promised achhe din for the State, Narendra Modi will ensure his own as well as the party’s achhe din for the years to come. For this, he will have to make sure that he remains linked with the people on the ground, instead of flying in the air and allowing himself to he carried away by thundering applauses by cotorie and sycophants at home and overseas ! It will pay him to go along with the grassroots people, sharing their joys and agonies !

frankly speaking

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India’s growing inequality

57 billionaires control 60 to 70p.c. of wealth

The latest Oxfam report says that after Russia, India’s is the second most unequal economy in the world. This highly upsetting ground reality never seems to have bothered our Congress, Socialist and BJP leaders who have been at the helm of India’s destiny from time to time for the past several decades.

Even the present NDA establishment, led by globe-trotting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has so far not proved to be different from the earlier Congress regimes which swore by establishing a socialist pattern of society. Under their fluttering banner of secularism and socialism, they only took the poor and the have-nots on the garden path of the never-to-arrive golden tomorrow.

Regrettably, our politicians never realized that socialism is not a licence to play with economic common sense. Nor is it meant to be their plaything for vote bank. India’s big and small leaders never viewed the concept of socialism as a means to induct the poor into the economic mainstream in the shortest possible time.

Seventy years have gone by since our Independence. We have just to look around India’s poverty-stricken rural districts and slums-dotted glittering towns. It is the same old story of glaring disparities, distorted development thrust, widening gaps between the poor and the rich, alarming drinking water shortage, a grave environment crisis, growing size of wasteland through erosion, water-logging, salinity and what not. These are just some components of the paradox – the enigma of Bharat, that is, India.

Whatever might be claimed officially, I am of the view that more than 40 per cent of the country’s population still lives below the poverty line, going by any minimum decent international standards. Nothing can be more shameful than this harsh truth. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has widened manifold over the years. The tumult, in the circumstances, is but natural, as the country is caught in a “revolution of rising expectations” and the insensitive leadership and the system with a colonial mindset. The problem here is not merely of equitable distribution of resources and wealth but also a correct sense of direction.

We, however, know the truth behind the Modi-economics. Its tilt is clearly for a select group of the rich and crony capitalism. The rest is all harsh realities wrapped in empty promises and pledges of ever-elusive achche din.

Indeed, the contradictions and contrasts in Indian society are nowhere as sharp and numerous as in the economic arena. No wonder, we find in our midst the people below and above the poverty line with millions of sullen faces dotting across the length and breadth of the country, just struggling to survive.

The 2016 Oxfam report states that India’s richest 1 per cent own nearly 60 per cent of the country’s total wealth. (Oxfam India CEO Nisha Agarwal puts the figure at 70 per cent). Be that as it may. In real numbers, just 57 billionaires control 60 to 70 per cent of India’s total wealth.

This reminds me of the words of US Senator Bernie Sanders who once said, “A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little”.

In the past 70 years, our ruling elite have lost all the values and the rules of dharma. The Gandhian tradition has cracked, throwing up new challenges to which the system and our leaders have no answers. Small wonder that the existing societal edifice is under tremendous strain, throwing up new socio-economic tensions at all levels in the form of crimes, communal and caste violence.

The Oxfam report on “An Economy for 99%” thoroughly discusses the problems of “extreme inequality” and provides a proportional approach to rebooting of the global and national economics to a more just path.

Each year at the World Economic Forum at Davos, the Oxfam highlights the harsh realities of “extreme inequality” of global wealth and its distribution. It talks about the plight of the people living in poverty when faced with severe “shocks” such as a poor harvest, rising debts, loss of jobs or medical bills. These situations could simply be shattering for them. For the very richest, on the other hand, wealth is “a source of power and influence”. We have seen in our country how, over the years, the rich have become richer and the poor poorer.

Oxfam’s 2016 global data tell us “while the incomes of the poorest grew 10 per cent (3 extra dollars a year) in recent decades”. But the incomes of the richest 1 per cent increased by 182 times. Oxfam’s analysis helps us to understand broader economic injustice, beyond extreme poverty measures.

In India, development policies and its welfare schemes under the government flagship of MGNRES (Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme), as practised over the years, for alleviation of poverty has been lopsided. They have grossly neglected the human factors as once spelt out by Gunnar Myrdal:

“There is a danger that our endeavour to procure the machine and the tools and to build dams and to find the money to finance and forget the human factor – the people whose bodies and minds must be the chief repository of a developing nation’s savings and investment”.

These human factors hardly figures in our policies and planning. In fact, the concepts of economic inequality, poverty and development have to be invested with new meanings so as to make them more sensitive to the needs of the marginalized. This requires responsive system and institutional support so that the ‘sensitivities’ of the poor and the have-nots are addressed promptly and effectively.

Oxfam India CEO Nisha Agarwal says that “over the last 25 years, the top 1% has gained more – more income than the bottom 50% put together. Far from trickling down, income and wealth are being sucked upwards at an alarming rate”. She also rightly states that “like many other countries, in India too policies have not focused on raising the incomes of the poorest”(TOI).

Nisha Agarwal has candidly said that the demonetization has affected the incomes of the poor more than the rich and that it is likely to further aggravate the problem of sharply rising inequality in India”.

I hope the Prime Minister will have a close look at the Oxfam report and related documents on growing inequality.

Incidentally, the Global Risks Report calls for a “fundamental reform” of capitalism in order to tackle the growing public anger against the existing global order. It also seeks changes in neo-liberal policies which “Davos itself exemplifies”.

Narendra Modi needs to look critically at his own policies and postures and take the necessary correctives for a just, fair and equitable social and economic order.

He ought to keep in mind that the Global Risk Report sees this income inequality as number one threat to the world order. This is all the more true of India today, Mr Prime Minister !

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There are no short-cuts to curb terrorism, Mr Trump

In a democratic polity, two basic principles of governance must never be lost sight of by the powers-that-be. First, it is necessary to think minutely all aspects of a major policy change before taking a plunge into it.

Second, a multi-dimensional problem cannot be tackled by an executive order as President Donald Trump has done by imposing an entry ban on Muslims from his select list of seven Islamic countries without examining the roots, range and dimension of the spreading post=9/11 terror outfits, including the most dreaded Islamic State (ISIS) launched by its self-styled caliphate.

From an attempted first strike in India, IS operators in Syria and Iraq are organizing terror strikes in the US, Europe and Asia, thousands of kilometres away through the internet, directing target sites to procuring weapons and bombs.

The least that President Trump should have done before issuing his controversial administrative order is to consult some knowledgeable American and Indian experts on Islamic terrorism. India has decades of the chilling experience of sufferings at the hands of Pakistan-sponsorsed various shades of al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorist groups in Kashmir and the rest of the country. The US administration then never cared for India’s sufferings.

Islamabad was then Washington’s favourite military ally in the Af-Pak belt. It is no secret that the sources of funding for these Pak terror activities were America’s petro-dollar rich allies in Saudi Arabia and other West Asian countries. But Washington hardly cared for New Delhi’s alarm signals on terror till the US itself became the victim of the September 11 terror shock on the twin towers of New York and the military establishment around Washington.

President Trump now happens to be entangled in a prolonged legal battle on the entry ban order on seven Muslim countries. Even several US multinational companies, including Apple and Google, have opposed the move. Even otherwise, the order, though well intentioned, is lop-sided and does not stand the test of logic.

Operationally, it has several loopholes as it does not take into account sources of funding of terror outfits and their operators. If President Trump means business, he should have first acted quietly on this front. But can he do it ? Will he rein in his allies Sheikhs of Saudi Arabia and other West Asian countries who export Islamic extremism through their petro-dollars?

Take the case of Pakistan which has been practising terrorism as its State policy against India and Afghanistan. Islamabad today is somewhat cautious. The fear of getting into the hit list of terror-exporting ban by the maverick US President Trump has led the Pakistan establishment to put Mumbai attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed under ‘make-believe’ house arrest in Lahore. The Pakistan Army claims it be a “policy decision” but we know for sure that the entire exercise is a farce, a big joke. There is no change of heart on the part of the Pak army and its operative arm of the ISI . They have been using the Lashkar-e-Taliba (LeT) founder and Jamaat-ul-Dawah (JuD) chief as a “strategic asset” for terror acts in India.

JuD now operates under its new banner of Tehreek Azadi J&K. Using fictitious names, Lashkar terror groups also operate bank accounts in Pakistan for their terror activities. These are hard facts of terror operations which President Trump has overlooked.

Terror is terror. Islamist terrorists are already targeting Pakistan’s non-Jihadi elements as well as the minority groups of Christians and Hindus. Funds are no problem for them. They flow in from their hardline brethren, the Wahhabis, of Saudi Arabia, and other Islamist sources in West Asia.

I am not sure how effective will be Trump’s executive order on terrorism? It cannot be a single item safety agenda. Terrorism is a multi-dimensional problem which demands right understanding of Islamic history, its competitive religious cum political overtones, double-faced feudal mindset of the Middle East ruling elite flushed with petro-dollars and enjoying close military patronage of the American rulers over the decades.

In fact, West Asian Sheikhs and military dictators in Asia and elsewhere have been part of Washington’s strategic alliances and collaboration for its global goals. Even the sufferings of the Indian people in Kashmir and beyond have been the result of America’s misplaced policies and strategies in the Pak-Af belt.

The US has its own myopic views of an international order. President Trump could be different. But he does not have a vision. Nor does he understand ground realities of the global theatre. His is a one-track mind. He thinks he can change the global order by his executive orders and put the age-old American policies and postures in the reverse gear at one go. What a pity !

Terrorism over the years has grown to such monsterous proportions that the battle against it cannot be fought single-handedly or in isolation. Trump has to keep in mind that not all Muslims are terrorists. In fact, the terror-oriented Muslims will not be even one per cent of its global population. Still, if these terror groups have become a major nuisance to peace and tranquility worldwide, he has to closely look at the real reasons behind their violent activities.

It is a pity that the arrogance of economic-military power has created distortations in the thinking of American policy-makers. For long the successive US administrations viewed Fidel Castro of Cuba as a symbol of all evils in the world. Later, their focus shifted to Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. Then came the Saudi billionaire and fugitive Osama bin Laden who was actually creation of the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI and its military dictators. Now, it is ISIS Islamic State and its caliphate.

There is, of course, no point in getting lost in the labyrinth of history. Tomorrow will judge Donald Trump’s policy offensive against the existing global order. What matters most is setting high liberal standards and strengthening the people’s confidence in Donald Trump’s America in the values of democracy. That confidence today stands shattered.

Looking back, what stands out is the way the US, over the years, has used the instruments of its power to aid and abet the very evil forces of terror it has been pitted against. This is a great paradox.

The question here is not who is striking anti or pro-American postures. The issues are fundamental in nature, on the right answer to which the future of human civilization lies.

September 11 has surely passed into history, leaving the Americans baffled. They are not sure what lies ahead. What is disturbing is America’s vulnerability. This has injected an element of fear and uncertainty about everything that the US has stood for and the symbols and values it has believed in.

It will probably take quite some time before President Trump comes to terms with the harsh realities. It is certainly a painful exercise since even the meaning of freedom and liberty, as the people understand, is undergoing a change in the name of what is officially termed as security compulsions.

What is particularly worrying a section of the American intelligentsia is whether. Trump will be able to retain America’s global primacy as a defender of freedom, human rights, democratic and liberal standards in the months and years to come. The period ahead is indeed one of agonizing adjustments with ground realities. A lot will depend on how the US President conducts his affairs in the months ahead.

As for the terrorism threat, there are no shortcuts to curb it. It is a long-drawn-out battle which has to be fought on the ground as well as in the realm of ideas.

In this context, it may be worthwhile for President Trump to listen to India’s spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. He says America, like India, has the unique advantage of multiculturism. So, it is important for Trump to take everyone along. It is, of course, for the US President to work out how he could go about this onerous task. Islamic terrorism is a tough global task, probably beyond the comprehension of Donald’s “America First” parameters and his weird diplomatic strategies.

The Economist has dubbed him as “an insurgent in the White House.” He is surely not an “insurgent” but what is regrettable is that he conducts himself as a guerrilla leader in a hurry to change the global order he has inherited as President. He has to take a pause and conduct himself in a dignified manner befitting the high position he occupies today.

frankly speaking_March’17

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Areas of our concern

After 70 years of India’s functioning democracy, what is that causes more concerns today to an honest observer of the national scene than ever before? The list of this unpleasant reality on the ground is long. It touches on the basics of life and society. It also reflects a state of drift as inner contradictions are getting sharper and sharper day by day. So do complexities. Most of these complexities are political and man-made. They carry within them traces of feudalism which are  now part of the social milieu.

The New Class of ‘lords’ have perfected the old colonial game of divide and rule into a fine instrument of governance.  Indian strengths and weaknesses coexist between promise and performance by the power-puffed leadership. A ray of hope was ignited in 2014 with the promise of good governance, acchhe din and a corruption-free and accountable system held out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Roughly three years have gone by. The shadow boxing in the promises made  entertains us as well as evokes disgust.

We, the people, continue to hope against hopes at the ever-elusive promise for Change. But, all that we see is that the power topi (cap) has changed colours – from white to saffron. The old rules of the system and governance, more or less, remain the same. The ground realities show the same old cracks of poverty, deprivation and injustice at the lowest  strata of society.

Prime Minister Modi’s anti-poverty rhetoric at public rallies reminds us of Indira Gandhi’s roaring thunder on garibi hatao in the seventies. The former Prime Minister was at her glorious best. She might have reasons too. The legendary artist M.F. Husain had immortalised her as ‘Durga’ after her courageous “operation Bangladesh” even in the face of pro-Pakistan America’s Seventh Fleet in the Bay of Bengal.

Paradoxically, in  2017 we still have in our midst 40-45 crore Indians living below the poverty line. The ‘Daridra narayan’ continues to be in focus as part of PM Modi’s political dharma. The style is the same, but his latest political thrust is on garib hatao through notebandi and cashless route in the name of fighting corruption and unearthing black money. This wild goose chase is a matter of our concern.

The test of New Nationalism under the Modi regime is the people’s silence in sufferings. The voices of dissent and disagreement are dubbed as anti- people. Rules of democratic functioning are being redefined. Most Opposition parties are at a virtual war with the Modi establishment. The Prime Minister’s much-talked about ‘cooperative federalism’ concept is in tatters. This confrontation has put half a brake on the development agenda.

Instead of ‘Make in India’ a global focus, Modi’s brand of personalized democracy is drawing worldwide attention. The ‘new Gandhi’ with Modi spinning the charkha has replaced Mahatma Gandhi of our hearts on khadi calendars. The sycophancy culture is increasingly creeping into the Sangh Parivaar leaders !

The poor and the backward dotting India’s digital landscape live on dreams and the leaders’ promises. Who cares if a Kendrapara tribal women of Odisha sells her male child to another childless woman in the neighbourhood to meet basic needs of her large family? The inhuman system butts in to deny the tribal woman the luxury of survival from her male child sale for mere Rs 2000/ ! This is the India, the uncared for India, we are concerned about.

This takes us to the fearless BSF jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav whose “food quality” video along ‘with other serious allegations has gone viral in the social media and beyond. More jawans have joined the chorus. This has damaged the high reputation the Indian armed forces have enjoyed. We are sure that the necessary correctives would follow. What, however, causes us concern is the absence of a credible internal communication and grievances redressal mechanism within the Command itself. One does not relish a jawan washing ‘dirty linen ‘ in public. We do require transparency and accountability even within the military establishment. At stake is the nation’s security and honour.

Our national motto says, satyameva jayate (Truth will triumph). In the existing system of governance, speaking unpleasant truth is frowned upon by the masters since this exposes the rotten system they preside over. This is yet another area of concern that runs counter to all high values that India stands for.

The leaders fly high, chasing their interests. They get back to the ground once in five years with a new series of promises for acchhe din. Ironically, even Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi talks about acchhe din in 2019, if his party is voted to power!

We can surely “change the future for the better,” says Prof Vir Chopra of London School of Economics, “if we possess two things’: the clarity of thought to exactly what we want, and second, the ability to perform to that end”. The point is how to acquire the clarity of thought to govern Indian complexities? And, from where to acquire the ability for our leaders to change the system and meet the rising expectations of the citizens?

In his book ‘The Future of Democracy’, Narverto Bobbio talks about ‘ideals’ and ‘brute facts’. In India, the goal post for ‘ideals’ keeps shifting. As for ‘brute facts’, no leader likes to face them. It could be different if ‘bare facts’ are packaged live on the ‘idiot box’in a dream sequence of scantily-clad dance belles! Everything is a matter of packaging.  Even ‘bare facts’ of poverty and ‘ideals’! A serious matter of our concern.

How can the dream concept of Change be achieved without systemic efforts to ensure that the process of growth gets seeped downwards to everyone, including those at the lowest rung? What matters in India today is the politics of manipulation, courtesy power brokers. This, in turn, has diluted the effectiveness of our institutions.

During the Indira Gandhi regime in the seventies and beyond, we saw how the ruling elite played with some of our democratic institutions. Today, we see a repeat of the old concern about our institutions. Even the RBI has come under strain for the first time. The distress signal has come from no other than credible former RBI governor Y V Reddy. This does call for a national debate, though the Finance Ministry says that it respects the RBI autonomy. A mere lip service does not change the reality.

Common sense suggests that democratic institutions tend to decline and get eroded when undue emphasis is placed on personalities, personal security and the attempt to use the public realm for self promotion and set goals. We have been witnessing this trend for the past several years.

Regrettably, there has been too much stress on personalized leadership, too little on institutions and their integrity and functional autonomy. This has not only led to a sharp erosion in the effectiveness and morale of crucial segments of the state apparatus, the party system, parliament, bureaucracy, law and order machinery, and even the judiciary, but has also given rise to arbitrariness and highly partisan and reckless intervention by power crazy politicians.

Much worse, it has led to a systematic neglect of the really backwards and the deprived and has generated an increasing tendency ‘to treat power as a means of personal aggradisement and the state as an instrument of patronage and profit’. In this setting, the fabric of the polity has got petrified. Institutional erosion in the face of rising expectations of the people is the basic crisis facing us.

Instead of ushering in good governance to eliminate the causes of the people’s sufferings, the leaders feed them on the syndrome of Maa Baapism to make sure of public dependency on them. This basic character of the ruling elite has remained unchanged, whichever party is in power.

The mid-19th century French diplomat, political scientist and historian Alexis de Toqueville wrote:
“Those sovereigns of our day who try to concentrate on themselves alone all the new desires created by equality and to satisfy them will in the end, if I am not mistaken, regret that they ever embarked on such an undertaking. One day they will discover that they have put their own power in hazard by making it so necessary and that it would have both safer and more honest to have taught their subjects the art of looking after themselves”.

The point is that the omnipresence of the government only throws up opportunities for corruption and exploitation of aam admi. This is a far cry from the Prime Minister’s promise of “minimum government and maximum governance”. Today it is the case of maximum government and no governance!

I am not sure whether this underlying message will get registered with the present rulers working under Narendra Modi who himself was a chaiwala at a railway station in Vadodara district of Gujarat. He does occasionally recall those days with tears in his eyes, but, as is true of most leaders, power changes character as well as behaviour patterns of the ruler. Narendra Modi no longer gives the impression of his earlier chaiwala days of struggle!

Reminensces of the past are one thing, but to see in one’s thought the heartthrobs of injustice and deprivation of others makes all the difference. Herein lies the tragedy of the promise of Change India!

Any change has to be directed towards the good of the poor, backwards, have-nots, over-exploited tribals and the minorities left behind on the social-economic ladder of whatever progress we have achieved so far. Unfortunately, the Indian system of governance has made the rich richer and the poor poorer. A never-ending area of  concern – from Nehru to Modi!

The challenge before us is one of ushering in an all-inclusive India as a land of new opportunities for millions of jobless young women, men and children craving for quality education,  safer and better life and living conditions.

Will the leaders, elected representatives and Ministers care for the feelings of the people they are supposed to serve? Fighting for petty matters when the country is beleaguered by acute crises in every area and direction would be self-defeating. Equally unacceptable is intolerance and stifling of the voices of dissent and legitimate criticism.

In the 21st century India, we do not wish to see the nonchalant dismissal of the people’s voice as Frederick, the Great did with his famous remark: “let them say what they want, I shall do what I like”.

Responsiveness and accessibility have to be part of good governance, Mr Prime Minister. Equally crucial is the strengthening of the institutions and reaching out to persons of substance for a dialogue and attending to their concerns for the good of We, the People, and for the healthy functioning of our democratic institutions. India will shine in the comity of nations if its rulers take care of the people’s areas of concern, instead of directly or indirectly working for the interests of the rich and the powerful and their cronies and power brokers alone!

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Separtists’ communal card

Whither Kashmir? No straight answer can be given to this query by any knowledgeable person on the State’s highly messy affairs. There are wheels within wheels operating all levels of the polity and it is invariably difficult to say which wheel is working for which patron and for what ulterior motives.

Amidst prevailing complexities and politics of convenience even non-issues become major issues for separatists’ never-ending blackmail of protests and agitations to the disadvantage of law-abiding people of the Valley. This is what we saw when several schools were burnt down in the Valley by goons in connivance with the separatists and their Hurriyat supporters.

This has been the pattern of politics not only of the separatists but also the State’s mainstream parties. The only silver line in an otherwise bleak setting in the Valley  was the open defiance of the Hurriat dictate by the school children which subsequently made the trouble-makers to tone down their aggressive postures to the relief of thousands of parents.

The Hurriat leaders live by agitations and thrive on the politics of negativism without caring to understand the merit or demerit of an issue. Their latest ploy for protest is the PDP-BJP government’s decision to issue domicile certificates to West Pakistan refugees who have been residing in the State for decades after Partition. Nearly 20,000 such families are spread out in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts of the State.

Barring 20 Muslim families, the rest are mostly Hindus from West Pakistan. They now number approximately 1.5 lakh. Herein lies the problem for Kashmi-centric parties, including Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference and separatist groups who have opposed the move while Jammu-centric ones – BJP, VHP, Shri Ram Sena and Bhim Singh’s Panther Party – support the historic decision of Chief Minister Mahbooba Mufti.

This bold move has virtually divided the State along communal lines. This is ironical since these very political elements did not raise a voice against the entry of the increasing number of Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar in the State. Roughly 8,000 Rohingya Muslims are said to be living in the Jammu region. They work as unskilled labourers in homes and private business units as rag-pickers. Some are masons and small time vendors.

Jammu leaders say that the Rohingya population is actually larger than the figure officially quoted. They also resent the settlement of new Muslim families in Jammu as they feel that this eats into the State’s limited resources and job openings. But then, who cares for the voice of Jammu people since the Kashmir leaders dominate the state polity in practically all aspects of governance and policy-making.

The moot point is: Is this a credible example of Kashmiriyat and secularism of the National Conference leaders? As for separatists and Hurriat leaders like Ghilani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chief Yasin Malik, playing anti-India and anti-Hindu card is in their blood. Let us have no illusion on this count. For them, Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar are welcome, but not the Hindu refugees from West Pakistan living in the State for the past 70 years.

With their fourth-fifth generation now living in Jammu and around, they are Indian citizens, but not permanent residents of J & K. The domicile certificates only correct this anomaly. This would entitle them to own property in the State and allow them to get admission in professional colleges against the quota or in jobs. The question is: how does it change the demography of the Muslim majority in the State of Jammu and Kashmir?

The present upsurge of communalism among Muslims in Kashmir shows that a great regression has taken place in their psyche. With constant propaganda from Pakistan drummed into their ears, the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Hurriat have been laying down the rules of conduct and the terrorist enforcing them, leaving the Valley Muslims hardly any choice for an independent voice.

Of course, the British were primarily responsible for creating this situation. They sowed the seeds of communalism by institutionalizing communal differences, for example, through the introduction of separate electorate, communal representation to the services etc. These policies, over the years, have created vested interests for the perpetuation of communal differences, communal claims and an apparent identification for an increasing communal outlook in the Valley. This poses a big challenge to all secular forces in Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the country.

India, for that matter, refused to become a theocratic sate because that would have done a grave injury to the genius of our people and their civilizational values. However, the leaders should have realized (and should realise) the clear implications of such a stand. We must allow our quest for truth to continue, preserve the right to differ and remain secular, multi-ethnic and multi-religious. For this purpose, we have to be bold enough to state our own precise obligations that we, as a society, Kashmir included, and as individuals, must carry forward the values and basic convictions of such a civilization. If we fail to do this, we will invite new perils.

Today, if Kashmir has become a problem, it is mainly because we continue to live in a make-believe world. A few thousand terrorists, separatists and opportunistic politicians of the Valley hold the rest of the State and India to ransom. We ought to sideline all such elements and decommunalise the process of governance throughout the length and breadth of the country, including Jammu and Kashmir.

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Poll reforms are the answer, Mr Prime Minister

Arnold Toynbee believed that history bore constant witness to the truth of Meredith dictum, “We are betrayed by what is false within.”

This profound observation provides us the key to our series of crises we lived with for decades in the absence of credible electoral reforms which makes our Republic tilted in favour of the rich, criminals, upstart politicians and vested interests.

Since the voices of sanity and dissent are at a discount, a permissive atmosphere prevails in favour of the powers that be. Small wonder that persons of influence, power, money and with criminal background manage to nibble at the system for their enrichment.

The people do vent their anger at the hustings, but without realising that some of the ills of the system are byproducts of a corrupt and inefficient state of affairs and faulty electoral laws. A faulty system gives wrong signals to the disadvantage of the people. Herein lies the challenge.

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s traumatic demoralization drama and its fallout, the country these days is caught in the five-State election hysteria. A number of Opposition parties like Mayawati’s BSP, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP, Sonia-Rahul Gandhi’s Congress and Mamata Banerjee’s TMC are crying hoarse as their massive accumulated funds have been hit by what BJP chief Amit Shah calls “surgical strike” of the notebandi to fight corrupt practices in the polity. The ruling BJP party’s president can say and claim anything. We will have to wait for the people’s verdict in UP, Punjab, Uttrakhand, Manipur and Goa on March 11.

For years, Congress leaders have talked about garibi hatao while corruption has thrived in the backyards of corridors of power. Notwithstanding pro-poor rhetoric, millions of the country’s have-nots and disprivileged people continue to groan under the weight of deprivation and injustice because of our leaders’ games of trickery, decit and treachery to garner votes.  No wonder, the problems of poverty and corruption remain as acute as ever. Can the painful route of demonatisation succeed to eliminate corruption and black money from the system and remove poverty? I doubt it.

As it is, the notebandi has given a shock treatment to daily wagers, labourers, middle class housewives, ordinary citizens from different walks of life.  It has hit the economy and its growth rate. Lakhs of youngsters have also lost their means of livelihood.

In this context, it may be worthwhile for the Prime Minister to listen to the words of wisdom by President Pranab Mukherjee. He has said that the country has to be “extra careful” to  alleviate the sufferings of the poor. He has rightly cautioned the Modi government that “the poor cannot wait that long” and that “they need to get succour here and now.”

The problem of poverty is badly entagled in politics and has become a potent weapon in the hands of political masters and their cronies.

Prime Minister Modi has to understand the real face of India’s stark poverty and corrupt practices. The wheels of power operate through the route of political funding. To check this, we need comprehensive electoral reforms. Without poll reforms the battle against corruption cannot give the desired results.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has often expressed serious concern about the use of black money in elections. It is a vicious circle. A well-established nexus exists between money bags and politics.

Black money pours in and in the process more black money gets generated. That is the reason why the black money economy has become more powerful than the official economy.

Indeed, cancerous cells of ill-gotten wealth have been eating into the vitals of the body politic, maiming and hampering its progress. The rot is at the root of the system of money flow in electoral functioning.

Basically, we are confronted with three aspects of the electoral problem – the ever-rising costs, the means by which the resources are raised and the manner in which the electoral administration functions, to the disadvantage of honest citizens.

On an average, elections are held every four or five years at the local, State and national levels.  One can imagine the quantum of black money that gets generated by hundreds of corporators, legislators and parliamentarians. Millions of rupees are churned out by the existing corrupt system which, while sustaining democracy, becomes an easy prey to rich men’s money power and the mafia brigade’s muscle power.

“The collection of party funds, especially for elections purposes, is today the largest source of political corruption and other fields of corruption,” Jayaprakash Narayan observed in Everyman, the journal founded by him.

In its historic judgement in Amarnath Chawla versus Kanwarlal case, the Supreme Court was forthright on its observations on political funding . It said :  “The small man’s chance is the essence of Indian democracy and that would be stultified if large contributions from rich and affluent individuals or groups are not divorced from the electoral process.”

The apex court said this as far back as 1975, but the political leaders have gone ahead merrily with their abuses and the pursuit of “note through votes” and “vote through notes.” The silent majority has only worsened the situation.

Today corruption is a big business in electoral politics. The free play of money bags has not only dehumanised politics but has devalued the traditional value system.

It was, of course, nice to hear the Prime Minister’s anti-corruption rhetoric during the notebandi days. But corruption cannot be eliminated by big talks. This calls for massive reforms in the financial, administrative and electoral system, especially relating political funding. In fact, in the absence of comprehensive electoral reforms, the notebandi and corruption talk is nothing but mere shadow-boxing, an eye-wash.

Mercifully, at the BJP national executive meeting on January 7, Narendra Modi said, “people have a right to know where our (political) funds are coming from..” But, the moot point is : how to go about the task ? The Election Commission had sought a ban on anonymous donations of over Rs 2,000. The current cap in this regard is Rs 20,000.

Electoral reforms have to be viewed in a large national framework. They must be comprehensive and all-embracing. Viewed in this light, the Prime Minister’s suggestion for holding central and State elections simultaneously does make sense. It might help in curbing corruption to some extent, but this will not solve the massive problem of corruption and black money in the polity. For this purpose, all-round poll reforms have to be initiated and enforced. This calls for an in-depth round table discussion on poll reforms.

Looking beyond , we ought to eliminate vulgar display of money power and related malpractices which have made today’s politics a slave of money bags, affecting the quality of legislators and parliamentarians in the process. Many of them are known to have criminal records.

The 16th Lok Sabha polls showed that out of 541 winner 186 have criminal cases and 112 have “serious” criminal cases against them. The way undesirable characters of money and muscle power are sneaking into the mainstream of Indian politics is highly disturbing. We have today more crorepatis in the two Houses of Parliament than ever before. Where is the room for ordinary citizens in the present corrupt systems ?

The dysfunctional system of election financing is a major reason for criminalisation of the Indian polity.This is gradually shaking the faith of honest and educated Indians in the very system of democracy :

In fact, the “new dynamism” in the political system and assertive electorate has exposed the structural and operational weaknesses of Indian democracy. This calls for major electoral reforms.

In the first place, we have to ensure total independence of the Election Commission. It must not be beholden to the powers that be, nor should it be fearful of the executive.
Second , there should be a ceiling on expenditure by political parties in the poll fray as is applicable to the candidates.

Three, the ECI should be empowered to deregister dubious political parties enjoying tax exemptions and other benefits without contesting elections.

Four, the existing cash donations of Rs 20,000 should be lowered to Rs 2,000 only.
Five, all payments to political parties and individual candidates need to be operated digitally and through banking channels.

Six, it should be mandatory for candidates to show their sources of income, not merely their assets and liabilities under Form 26 of the Conduct of Election Rules of 1961. Form 26 declarations, as JD (U) leader Pavan K. Varma puts it,  “hide more than they reveal.” This calls for major changes in the existing Representation of the People Act.

Seven, the CEC and the CAG should be empowered to monitor and scrutimise a party’s financial transactions. This should ensure better financial transparency that Prime Minister Modi talks about.

Eight, the persons against whom cases of heinous crimes are pending in courts should be debarred from contesting elections.

Nine, the question of “internal democracy within parties is crucial to any democratic system. It is equally necessary to bring the parties under the preview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act to ensure transparency in political functioning.

The suggestions given above are not comprehensive. All facets of the existing electoral laws have to be examined afresh by an experts committee which can be asked to submit its reports within six months. We must not continue to politicize poll reforms.

For years, politicians of all shades and hues have paid lip service to the suggestions of poll reforms without adopting concerate measures. Will  Prime Minister Narendra Modi prove to be different ? Going by his recent public declarations, he seems to be genuine in his intentions.

But his real test lies in giving a concrete shape to what he says at public fora. I keep my fingers crossed.

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Judicial independence sacrosanct

At stake is citizens’ rights

Instead of adopting conciliatory approach, it is regrettable that the judiciary and the executive should be on a confrontationist path on the question of appointments to the higher Judiciary. There are said to be 500 vacant posts. Justice T.S. Thakur, who retires as Chief Justice of India (CJI) on January 3, has repeatedly complained about the acute shortage of judges in the high courts—an assertion the government does not fully agree. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad says the government has cleared appointments of a record number of 120 judges in 2016.

The whole issue has acquired somewhat politico-judicial overtones, with Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi asking the judiciary to exercise “self-restraint” and be mindful of its lakshman rekha. To this, Justice J.S. Khehar, who takes over as Chief Justice of India on Justice Thakur’s retirement, has asserted that the Judiciary is well aware of its lakshman rekha. Justice Khehar is right. The judiciary enjoys high credibility vis-à-vis the executive in people’s perception.

Justice Thakur has been very candid and forthright in his observations. He states : “If they (Parliament and the State) are making law which is out of the limits granted under the Constitution or against the fundamental rights, the judiciary has every right to say that it was wrong”, adding, “Any order which is against the Constitution, the judiciary can set it aside to maintain the rule of law !” No one can dispute the Judiciary’s role as custodian of the Constitution. It alone can ensure transparency, fairplay and accountability in the system and bring the guilty to book and put the persons at the helm on the right course.

Differences between the two main pillars of the Republic  are not a new phenomenon. They surfaced even before formal adoption of the Constitution on January 26, 1950. In his book  The Judiciary I served, P Jagmohan Reddy refers to how and why India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru objected to the proposed appointment of Justice H.J. Karnia as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court  on the ground that he “exhibited mentality which is very far from being Judicial and is totally unbecoming in any person holding a responsible position.”

Nehru’s views prevailed since Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was able to tactfully manage the matter. As per Nehru’s wish, the top slot was given to Justice Bashir Ahmed Sayeed of the Madras High Court in the face of opposition from Justice Kama. Governor-General C. Rajagopalachari agreed with Nehru.

As it is, the judiciary is dependent, if not subservient, upon the executive since it enjoys certain substantial powers under the Constitution. In fact, it could be often vulnerable to the whims of the executive.

During the Indira Gandhi regime, the talk of politically  committed judiciary was very much in the air. Mercifully, the question of a committed judiciary is behind us, though, rightly or wrongly, a suspicion persists that the NDA government indirectly, if not directly, wishes to push Indira Gandhi’s agenda of “committed Judges” forward. It unsuccessfully tried twice to replace the present collegium system with a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).

The collegium system became operational not under a constitutional provision or by an Act of Parliament. It has got evolved through Judgements of the Supreme Court over a period of time. The apex court collegium consists of the Chief Justice of India and four other seniormost Judges.

It may be recalled that a five-Judge Constitution Bench headed by Justice J.S. Khehar declared as unconstitutional amendments that sought to be made to create NJAC. A 4:1 majority Judgement stated : “There is no question of accepting an alternative procedure, which does not ensure primacy of the judiciary in the matter of selection and appointment of Judges to the higher Judiciary”.

The collegium system is an in-house arrangement which is supposed to ensure independence of the judiciary. Some critics, however, see it as a non-transparent closed-door affair with no prescribed norms regarding eligibility criteria or for the selection procedure for elevation as a Judge.

To plug the loopholes, a Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) is supposed to guide future appointments. The government is excepted to draft a new MoP in consultation with the CJI. But even after a year or so, the MoP is yet to be finalised for reasons which can be easily guessed. In absence of agreed MoP, it must be said that the government has been somehow slow in clearing the appointments under the cover of security clearance.

In fact, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice noted on December 8 that the government may assume a “veto power” and reject any name recommended by the Supreme Court collegium for appointment as a judge if it succeeds in inserting clauses of “national security” and “larger public interests” in the proposed MoP. We endorse the House panel’s views in this matter.

An independent Judiciary and its enlightened role is the only hope when the ruling establishment fails to discharge its constitutionally assigned duties fairly and honestly . All the same, it is equally necessary for the judiciary to start the process of reforms at all levels of operations from the lowest court upward. There are roughly 5000 vacancies in the subordinate judiciary where the executive has no role to play. Then, the apex court needs to tackle the problems of long delays, ever increasing list of pending cases, visible and invisible corrupt practices at all levels of judicial process. At stake is the honour, prestige and credibility of the judicial system. Indeed,  the Supreme Court needs to examine closely loose ends of the judicial machinery and ensure better transparency and accountability in its temple of Justice.

Finally, we must keep in mind that we all are under watch : the executive, the judiciary, the legislatures,  the Bar and even the media. Each organ of democracy has to conduct itself with dignity and sobriety, not only for the sake of survival today but also for the legacy it leaves for the Generation Next.

This is not a matter of ego play between the executive and the judiciary. Nor is there any room for politics. An independent, judiciary is the best safeguard of citizens’ rights in a democracy. Equally vital is a forward-looking responsive executive without delaying tactics or political angularities for ‘a committed judiciary.’

At stake is the common man’s quest for fair and speedy justice. This simple message demands a simple response, especially when it involves vital public interests and the very honour of the judicial system and its independence.

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It’s poor governance !

People caught in Modi’s shabdjaal

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has certainly shaken up the country, if not the system, by his daredevil step on demonetisation. Whether his magical wand would help to erase 70 years of the parallel system of black money and corruption and bring some sunshine in the lives of poverty-stricken people remains to be seen.

The people do wish to see a corruption-free India. But doubts remain whether monkey tricks on demonetisation by the PM, his clueless team, poor RBI and banking network and confused follow-up action can ensure people’s freedom from corruption and black money. The whole exercise looks more of a drama in the name of nationalism rather than a well-coordinated effort to help the poor.

Corruption is very much there in the system. Only its styles and patterns have changed. So, the Prime Minister ought to have, first of all, reformed the administrative and financial sectors before taking a plunge into complex and unknown areas of rural and urban India.

Mere rhetoric on Digital India without adequate preparations on the ground cannot give the desired results. Just look at some harsh facts. First, 600 million people still have no bank accounts. Second, roughly only 25 per cent of Indians have a smartphone. Third, internet reach is still awfully poor in the absense of regular power supply in rural and urban areas.

Even otherwise, the Modi establishment’s sudden zeal for a cashless society is simply baffling. Does it realise serious implications of such a move on the people’s psyche and their freedom from official preying eyes into privacy, personal and family life.

The world’s democratic countries are mostly very much alive to their citizens’ sensitivities on privacy and freedom from governmental interference in personal matters. Take, for example, in Germany nearly 80 per cent of transactions reportedly take place in cash. In the US 45 per cent transactions are carried out in cash. This is despite the fact that these countries have highly advanced banking and technological infrastructure — the two critical areas where India is lagging far behind.

Still, the Prime Minister talks big on matters beyond his control while ordinary citizens continue to suffer in chasing their own money from banks and ATMs. Herein lies the tragedy of the Prime Minister. By his poor homework, he gives issues and talking points to the Opposition parties both within Parliament and outside.

What is equally regrettable is the disruption of Parliament by the Opposition MPs over demonetisation. President Pranab Mukherjee has rightly told them, “For God’s sake, do your job. You are meant to transact business in Parliament.” He observed : “Disruption is totally unacceptable in the Parliamentary system. People send representatives to speak and not to sit on dharna and not to create any trouble on the floor.”

Narendra Modi’s intentions may be honourable. He wishes to take India on to a higher trajectory of development and growth. Going by his track record during two and a half years of his prime ministership, I think he probably wishes to Americanise India and make its urban face glitter like New York skyscrapers!

He may not have spelt it out publicly, but his dream project  of 100 smart cities, proposed rejuvenation of 500 towns, passionate pleas for Digital India and cashless society show the direction of his mind. His government has cleared a total Central outlay of Rs 98,000 crore for smart cities.

Nothing wrong with such futuristic concepts. My regret is that he does not fully understand the country’s complex ground realities. The bulk of India lives in villages and their profile changes every 20 or so districts. He has, therefore, no clear idea about their pangs of pain.

In formulating his  demonetisation scheme, his trusted political and bureaucracy team failed to take into account precarious condition of the rural economy which mainly depends on cash transactions in the absence of well-knit banking and digital network.  Certain curbs on cooperative banking operations only made things worse for farmers in the thick of growing winter crops.

Narendra Modi dreams big and thinks big. His grand ideas of Digital India. Smart cities, cashless society etc. may have a pride of place in tomorrow’s India. However, my point is : why doesn’t he think of Smart Villages as well on a priority, where lakhs of cottages still go without power, potable drinking water,  good schools and viable health care units ?

The Prime Minister must have a close look at the grim picture of our villages, state of agriculture and levels of deprivation among our tribals and rural people. India as much belongs to them as to privileged lots in cities. He has to first think and work for poor villagers and tribals who flock to cities in search of jobs and add to the number of slums.

Rural India needs massive investment for all-round growth. Will PM Modi’s demonetisation help Village India in this direction and help remove poverty ? There may be some ray of hope. The latest changes proposed in taxation laws to mop up black money provides for the Prime Minister’s welfare scheme for the poor under which the money collected will be utilized for irrigation, housing, construction of toilets, infrastructure, primary education, primary health, livelihood. This is a welcome initiative, but we have to see action on the ground.

Meanwhile, has the Prime Minister given any thought to tremendous loss of jobs in the informal sector and terrible slide-down in the economic growth and fall in exports ?

I strongly feel that the demonetisation plan should have been first tested on the touchstone of the smallest unit on the ground. The Prime Minister’s team failed to do so.

There were probably a number of critical political, economic and security calculations behind PM Modi’s dramatic demonetisation move. One major motivating factor was intelligence input that revealed Islamabad’s latest “proxy war” to hit India’s financial market. Pakistan’s idea was to inject a massive dose of fake currency in the Indian market which could have a very serious economic and financial implications for the country’s development plans, apart from widening its terrorism reach.

As it is, Pakistan plays with fake currency to keep its proxy war going in Kashmir. The country has already paid a heavy price on this count.

Corruption/black money is one of the biggest threats to our country. It has reportedly grown to the extent of 25-30 per cent of the GDP. This amounts to Rs 30 to 50 lakh crore.

Bribing today has become a way of life. And corruption and corrupt practices are systematized. Already, a sub-parallel juggaad system in corrupt practices has come up at all levels to overcome the problems faced by vested interests !

Mere demonetisation cannot meet the people’s hope for a corruption-free India. This calls for cleansing of the existing system. Equally critical is the task of minimizing the influence of black money in public life by putting in place a viable system of transparency and accountability.

Too much of red-tapism tends of become a breeding ground for corruption. We have not done much to improve the system which does have today two sets of rules—one for the rich and influence-wieldes and the other for the poor.

The problem here is the increasing crimalisation of the system with loopholes in the electoral and related laws of the land which enables criminals to thrive and fight elections and acquire respectability in public life, legistative houses included.

Loose ends of the system apart, political waywardness, too, has contributed to the black money economy. Political funding is the singlemost important generator of illegal money. The rest is taken by real estate developers, neo-industrialists, film stars, smugglers, Pak-sponsorsed terrorists, speculators and operators. There are numerous hawala channels which resourceful persons use for depositing their ill-gotten wealth in banks in tax havens of Switzerland and 30 other tax havens overseas.

The Prime Minister had promised to tackle this black money problem over two and a half years ago. But nothing much has been achieved on the front of these tax havens. This reminds me of Swaraj Paul’s words conveyed to me during the Commonwealth Conference at Edinburgh in October 1997. The ace India -born entrepreneur told me that his study suggested that “India’s several five-year plans could be financed by the huge money that the Indians, not NRIs, had illegally deposited in foreign banks.” Herein lies the real challenge on the black money front, Mr PM.  

We know exactly what is what and who is what in India’s burgeoning rich club of unscrupulous businessmen, vulnerable sets of politicians belonging to all parties and “Yes Ministers” brand of bureaucrats, underworld operators, drug lords, smugglers etc. The varied ruling establishments have tended to overlook the matter for reasons which can be easily guessed rather than deliberated upon for reasons of safety first.

Reversing this corruption prone trend will not be easy for Prime Minister Modi. The task is of gigantic magnitude. Today, the entire issue is caught in a war of words between the ruling establishment and the Opposition parties under the cover of demonetisation and people’s sufferings.

“In our age, there is no such thing as keeping out of politics”, George Orwell said. All issues get mixed in politics in our country, with leaders of various shades and colours misleading the public as naturally as cattle-fish squints ink. No wonder, the impact of inflated  rhetoric, new promises and ideological woofing is both intriguing and puzzling to a transitional society which is not quite sure of itself.

The sole option for the public right now is to take the “transition” seriously without waiting for something dramatic to happen.

Going by his rhetoric and promises, Prime Minister Modi gives the impression that he has taken the corruption cum black money cum poverty-ridden transition of India seriously.

But the increasing number of people today are not quite sure whether, like his predecessors. Narendra Modi, too, is taking them for a ride in the name of nationalism and creating a corruption-free India.

We keep our fingers crossed. There are wheels within wheels in PM Modi’s system and we cannot be sure which wheel is working for whom and for whose benefit in India’s rich men’s club. Come 2017. We shall get a fair idea of the direction the country is heading to keeping in view the forthcoming elections in UP, Punjab, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand.

The BJP leadership, meanwhile, derives some satisfaction from its suceess in the Chandigarh municipal elections, winning 20 seats in the 26-member civic body. Its real test, however, lies ahead in the forthcoming Assembly elections in the five states.

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Kashmir can’t be made a Taliban zone

Schoolchildren show the light !

It speaks poorly of the PDP-BJP establishment in Srinagar and the high-profile Central leadership to have looked sheepishly at the systematic burning of over 30 schools in the strife-torn Kashmir Valley in the past four months. Ironically, the Central security agencies have tried to explain away these arson attacks on schools as an attempt by local mischief-mongers and separatists to keep the “fires burning” since the “violent stone pelting agitations” over the killing of terrorist Burhan Wani were showing signs of ebbing.

The question here is not one of ebbing or rising of the agitation tempo, but of the quality of governance and working of intelligence agencies Were they in deep slumber a la  Kumbkaram while “masked men” played with the future of Kashmir’s school children ? In several schools, student records have been charred and the principals’ offices destroyed.

The targeted schools in Kashmir are mainly modern educational institutions, such as the government Higher Secondary School in Kabamarg and Jawahar Navodya Vidyalaya in Aishmuqam (both in Anantnag district).  The whole exercise looks like a deep-rooted conspiracy by pro-Pak Hurriat persons and some vested interests among land mafia and drug-lords. They have, in fact, have made terrorism a big money-making business.

As for the Hurriat  leadership, it has its own full-fledged anti-India agenda. In the process, it is destroying the very fabric of the Kashmir society which has to derive its substance from educated girls and boys in the Valley.

The schools  in the Valley have remained shut for around four months as per the Hurriat diktates. This is highly disturbing, to say the least. A group of students staged a protest the other day against the closure of schools. They also appealed to the separatists to exclude education from their strike agenda. Even the Army has opened its own window on education for Kashmiri youngsters.

Interestingly,  gauging the changing mood of the Kashmiris against  the burning of schools, separatist leader Ali Shah Geelani has now condemned the incidents. He said, “Those involved in such acts can never be well-wishers of the society, not to talk of the movement (Azadi)”. Nice to hear Gheelani’s sane words, for change. However, we must not be taken in by his crocodile tears ! He is only following Pakistan’s Talibani terrorists’ agenda in the Valley!

The separatists leaders, Gheelani included, make sure of uninterrupted studies for their children in overseas schools or in Indian towns, but their business of terrorism in the Valley continues unabated. They are playing with the future of Kashmiri children. What a shame !

Whether Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti admits or not, the separatists are taking Kashmir on to the Taliban path of Fundamentalist Islam. We have to find quick answers to this problem. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court last month ordered the State government to rope in Village Education Committees to curb the menace of burning of schools buildings. We are yet to see the desired result.

Look at what is happening in Pakistan itself. Just recall how the militants attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014. They killed 141 people, including 132 school children. It was Jehrik-i-Taliban (JJP) show. Similar attacks have taken place at other places in Pakistan where Taliban terrorist groups are out to destroy its modern educational outfits.

The Hurriat leaders ought to take some lessons from Pakistan happenings and give up their Taliban road to self-destruction.

In fact, the highly disturbing Valley scene raises a number of questions. Do Kashmiri Muslims care more for their Kashmiri identity than for their Islamic identity ? Why did they opt for Urdu as the official language ? Why did they adopt the Persian script for Kashmiri ? Why did they force the Persian dress for Kashmiri women ? Are these steps part of separatism ? Seldom do the protagonists of “Kashmiri identity” think that the people of Jammu and Ladakh also have an identity of their own. Do the Kasmiri Muslims consider themselves “special” because they are Muslims ? If so, what about the millions of Muslims in the rest of India?

Ironically, communalism was injected in the Valley by the Jamaat-i-Islam and its front organisations. Arab money helped Jamaat to organise madrasas in large numbers, which spawned a semi-educated generation of communalised young persons. It is these people who are providing grist to the militants’ mill.

The mullah, for that matter, has always dominated life in the Valley. And the politicians too have built their politics around the mosque.

Combined with these fact is the trade in narcotics which has come to play a major role in Pakistan’s proxy war against India, with its Hurriat face in the Valley. Unfortunately, the law enforcement agencies are full of officers who cooperate with drug and land mafias in the Valley!

Also, endless stream of foreign money through hawala routes is pouring in the Valley from various Islamic fundamentalist sources. All the factors make the task of Prime Minister Modi’s Delhi establishment to tackle Kashmir’s problems much more difficult than it has visualised. I wonder if our leaders are fully familiar with the Valley’s fast changing ground realities. Half-baked understanding of today’s Kashmir realities can hardly help to find right solutions to the Valley’s complexities, including burning of schools by Taliban terrorists and various shades of vested interests.     

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti needs to have a close look at the report by Yashwant Sinha’s group that visited the trouble-torn Valley recently. It has a lot to say about the turn of unfortunate events in Kashmir and has asked the PDP-BJP establishment to start the process of reopening schools and rightly so. We cannot be a party to playing with the future of the Valley’s school children.

One redeeming feature of an otherwise bleak situation in the Valley is that nearly 95 per cent of class XII students appeared for their state board exams on Day One defying separatists’ diktats against reopening of schools. Hope the separatists will get the right message !­­­­­­­­­­­­­

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