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Secret of Small Budget Films Big Success

Small Budget films are showing the mirror of society and people are liking their own story

Geeta Singh
Geeta Singh

Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian

Bala made in the budget of 25 crores earned more than 170 crores, although it came into controversies like copyright violation from the makers of Ujda Chaman that also has a storyline similar to it. Ujda Chaman is an official remake of Kannada film Ondu Motteya Kathe. Bala’s one song “Don’t Be Shy” was too claimed by music composer-singer Dr Zeus that the makers have used his track without giving due credit and acquiring any sort of rights. But these things did not hinder its success. It raised the issues of body image rooted in Indian society along with selfie and Tik Tok obsession in a humorous manner, which connected with the middle class of the country. Ayushmann Khurana’s recent release Dream Girl, made in the budget of 30 crores, is a blockbuster which earned more than 200 crores. Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, which tells the story of an aspiring rapper from Mumbai’s slum Dharavi, spell bounded audiences and critics alike. Made in a budget of 34 crores, the film grossed around 140 crores at the box office. Two other small-budget films Badla and Luka Chuppi, released in March, also captivated the audience and were blockbusters. Shahrukh Khan’s banner Red Chillies produced Badla at a small budget of 10 crores. The crime thriller starring Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu earned 88 crores. Whereas, Kartik Aryan and Kriti Sanon starrer Luka Chuppi, a comedy movie set in the backdrop of Mathura, raked in around 94 crores in the domestic BO collection. Last year, Indian black comedy crime thriller Andhadhun, produced by Matchbox Pictures and co-written and directed by Sriram Raghavan, was made in 32 crores and grossed over whopping 456 crores worldwide. These films coming in the grey shades are showing us the mirror of society. And people want to see their own story. Nowadays, in Hindi film industry, content-driven films with stories, narrating the nuances and emotions of the middle class have hit the right chord and are super hit on box office. This storytelling style is inspiring new age directors as well as producers to think new and bring a fresh way of looking at commercial cinema. Maybe this being the reason big-budget films like Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas have flopped. Sunny Deol directed and produced his son Karan Deol’s debut film in the budget of 60 crores but its soulless and storyline could manage to collect just 10 crores on box office. This year such perspective can be seen in the films Bala, Gully Boy, Uri-The Surgical Strike, Article 15, Luka Chuppi and Dream Girl. These films earned more than 100 crores. Interestingly, these films were made in a budget of less than 30 crores, which is considered small in Bollywood. This is consecutively for the third year in a row when stories dominated the silver screen more than a superstar. Last year Stree, Badhaai Ho and Raazi beat the big-budget films on box office and entered into the club of 200 crores. Before that small budget films like Pink, Hindi Medium, Dear Zindagi, Naam Shabana, Toilet Ek Prem Katha, Begum Jaan earned big on box office.
Toilet Ek Prem Katha highlighted the toilet problem of the country, especially in rural India, and the consequences of this problem which led to a lot of frustration among women and dangers of open defecation around sexual harassment. The story starring Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar, made in the backdrop of Mathura, was made in 18 crores and earned more than 300 crores on box office worldwide. It became Akshay Kumar’s highest-grossing film and, in fact, his first film to enter into the elite 300 crores club.
Pink, a film focused on the life of three young women who deal with thorny day-to-day issues, was found relatable by the young women the world over. It was a powerful, brave Hindi mainstream film made in a small budget of 23 crores and grossed over 100 crores worldwide.

A Visible Change
All these films have one thing in common - content-driven cinema. Earlier too films with meaningful stories were made, but their texture and treatment were different which failed to make their reach to a sizable audience. These were confined to film festivals only. But things are changing. Cinema is changing itself - in telling stories that its audience can relate to - and dynamics for selling such films has also diversified and broadened. Content-driven films are now giving competition to masala films. This big change has been visible in Bollywood in the last few years. The dynamics of storytelling has changed, new young directors are making films which are telling relatable stories. The new business model of Bollywood is attracting new players, which is reducing the industry’s total return on investment. And the new age producers, often an outsider operating in a close-knit clannish industry, are bringing in a fresh perspective to commercial cinema. Their success with filmmaking acts as a buffer for new directors, writers and ideas that leap beyond the conventional Bollywood gamut.

New Age Producers
Raising finance for a film is the most difficult task and the financiers put their money on many parameters. Usually, an expensive film has a big star cast, expensive director and exotic foreign location. But the story plays a vital role in the film and is its biggest strength. This formula is attracting young directors and producers because a powerful story reduces the dependence on the star cast and exotic locations. This is the reason that in the last 2 years more than a dozen new films have tasted success. Dharma Production CEO Apoorva Mehta said, “The content of films like Andhadhun, Stree, Badhaai Ho and Raazi speaks. These films have earned up to three times their budget.”
Ronnie Lahiri, who has produced films like Vicky Donor and Piku, comes from the background of management and worked in the hotel industry until he met director Shoojit Sarcar in 1998. As Ronnie said, “I knew that 9-5 job is not meant for me, but I didn’t know what to do. Then I met Shoojit through a common friend. That time he was into ad filmmaking. And I wanted to join some ad agency. Shoojit told me he is good with the creative field and knows how to make a film, but bad with finances. Coming from a management background I know how to handle finances, so we collaborated.” Ronnie and Shoojit’s collaboration with their banner Rising Sun Films came up with Yahan in Bollywood. After that, they made Shoebite, Vicky Donor, Piku, Madras Cafe, October and Pink. Next year they are coming up with films Gulabo Sitabo and Udham Singh.
In the past decade, a growing number of outsiders, from personal and professional backgrounds who have nothing to do with the film, have impacted mainstream cinema of the country. The business of making films is more attractive today than it was more than a decade ago. These new-age producers, coming from different backgrounds, contribute to films at many levels than just financing and exhibition. They are redefining the role of producers. These contemporary producers evolve from managerial to creative tasks. They operate with a content-first approach to films. From scratch to finish they put their efforts. For them, homegrown Indian stories are a priority as they find audiences consistently. These producers are not limiting their function to the finances but involving themselves from script development to finding the suitable cast and crew, to post-production, and finally, the pre-release process of marketing and promotions.
According to Ronnie, Shoojit Sarcar and he begin the project after assessing if a story idea can be transformed into film. Once they decide, they engage with the writer, usually Juhi Chaturvedi. “For us, writing is a long process spread over a year with discussions and evaluations. For films like Pink, Madras Café and now Udham Singh, given my background in history, I am completely engaged in developing the script. We run a tight ship till this stage. Once the script is in place, we come up with a wish list of actors. But I always begin with the thought that there might be no star for this film, and it must hold up with Shoojit’s repute,” Ronnie added. 40-year-old Dinesh Vijan, founder of Maddock Films gave up his high-income job of a banker in 2005 and entered into Bollywood as a producer with Being Cyrus. He was one of the producers as well as the youngest member associated with the film. In 15 years Dinesh Vijan has produced critically and commercially acclaimed films like Bala, Stree, Hindi Medium, Luka Chuppi, Badlapur, Love Aaj Kal and Cocktail. He will make his directorial debut next year with Angrezi Medium, a sequel to 2017 hit Hindi Medium, and a small budget film Rooh Afza with Raj Kumar Rao and Varun Sharma.
Similarly, Neeraj Pandey, who is originally from Bihar and graduated from Delhi, had worked with Bosch before stepping into Bollywood as a director-producer. He produced his directorial debut A Wednesday under the banner Friday Filmworks, which he founded with Shital Bhatia. Neeraj Pandey has produced films that he doesn’t direct himself but believes in making good stories. They produced films Special 26, Baby, M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, Rustom and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. Another such banner is Clean Slate Films, which Anushka Sharma and her brother Karnesh Sharma co-own and has produced nominal budget films like NH 10 and Pari. Karnesh turned to film production after leaving his job in merchant navy. Aanand L Rai is another potential producer who left his career in computer engineering and moved to Mumbai where he started assisting his elder brother and television director Ravi Rai in television series. Later he started directing TV shows. He then turned to Silver screen. Director of Raanjhnaa and Tanu weds Manu series, Anand Rai went on to become a producer by producing films like Manmarziyaan, Mukkabaaz, Nil Battey Sannata under his banner Colour Yellow Productions.

Story is Star
The producers of Dream Girl (made in 30 crores) were not sure about the response of the audience, so they expected that if the film crosses 40 crores mark they will consider it a hit. The film was released on 1800 screens and it was on a rampage. It grossed over 200 crores. The film is written and directed by Raaj Shaandilyaa, who made his debut as a director with it. Dream Girl brought the issue of small-town Indian male fantasies and loneliness in the form of witty one-liners and jokes.
Last year released Badhaai Ho’s story was brilliantly penned by Shantanu Srivastava, Akshat Ghildiyal and Jyoti Kapoor and director Amit Ravindranath Sharma put it on the silver screen with equal beauty. The film revolves around Ayushmann Khurana, Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao and Surekha Sikri. Before its release trade analysts assumed that it will do average business around 50 crores. Produced by Vineet Jain, Badhaai Ho (made in 29 crores) proved everyone wrong and did the business of more than 220 crores. Whereas big-budget films like Padmaavat and Sanju’s profit ratio were not that big. Trade analyst Taran Adarsh said, “Padmaavat grossed over 300 crores and Raju Hirani’s Sanju made in 80 crores also earned more than 300 crores in India.” Small-budget films made their place in the hearts of the audience. Last year, 10 big films of the year were dominated by films that did not have big heroes and big budgets. Be it Badhaai Ho, Andhadhun or Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety.
On choosing the stories connected to the common man, Dinesh feels his background of not belonging to the film industry matters. He says, “When I started, there was a gap between the films I wanted to make and what was working. We tried to bridge that gap while making them. Right now, I feel all the stories I’ve always wanted to tell are in fashion. I don’t like making films that have a reference point and I don’t like repeating ideas.” On the films that didn’t go well on the box office, Dinesh feels they become monumental in his life because you learn more from your failures than from your successes. He adds, “Films Agent Vinod and Raabta have flopped but Agent Vinod gave me Badlapur, while Raabta gave me Stree. I managed to sell Hindi Medium because the trade was interested in Raabta and look at how that turned out! At that point, we were still dependent on outside funding. From Stree, we are doing everything in-house. If the film makes money, we make money but if it doesn’t, no one outside loses money.”

Big Studios Alliance
In the 80s, for content-driven film directors had only one support -- NFDC. Government-aided National Film Development Corporation made several films including Mirch Masala, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and Salaam Bombay. Filmmakers like Kundan Shah, Meera Nair, Ketan Mehta and Shyam Benegal were supported by NFDC. But these filmmakers were asked to make films on a very low budget. Kundan Shah, the director of the highly-acclaimed Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro which was released in 1983, said in his interview with BBC that he had to face a lot of trouble while making the film. He said, “A budget of about seven lakh rupees was set for making the film. It is a different matter that later it was increased while shooting. But we had to shoot in very tight conditions. For the people of the unit only dal, roti was made. Sometimes they got rice.” However, now the scope has increased. With the alliance of big production houses and studios, filmmakers can make story-oriented movies more freely. Amid the known and well-established banners, Yash Raj Films has shown flexibility by making Maneesh Sharma their in-house producer for non-typical YRF films. Maneesh Sharma produced Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Sui Dhaaga. Karan Johar, who is known for making grandeur commercial films like Student of the Year, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Kalank and Brahmastra, too has had joined hands with small budget films like Lunch Box, Hasee Toh Phasee. About his alliance with Lunch Box, Karan Johar explained in an interview that the film was a move away from masala films, but still a film that he was proud to join. He said, “I believe that I cannot make such films but still, at least we can join them to encourage such films.” Viacom18 has financed films like Tanu Weds Manu, Kahaani, Mary Kom and Andhadhun. In 2018, Viacom 18 made a lucrative profit with Andhadhun. Its COO Ajit Andhare said that the film’s story is its biggest strength.
Last year, films like Badhaai Ho, Stree, Raazi and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety thrashed industry’s Khans -- Aamir Khan’s Thugs of Hindostan, Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero and Salman Khan’s Race 3 -- on box office. This trend continues this year. This year films like Uri, Tashkent Files and Article 15 drew the audience to the theatres.

Big Budget vs Small Budget
Looking at the success of small budget films, it would seem that now big expansive films should not be made. Why are big-budget films flopping? Ronnie Screwvala, the producer of Uri founded his independent banner RSVP after UTV. He has his point of view on it. According to him, though small budget films are successful, the success rate of such films is very low. He says, “Three low-budget films have been successful, but fifty such films have come and gone. No one is aware. If the low-budget film is a hit, it has a great script, strong trailer and behind it mouth publicity is responsible.” However, expensive films can be considered as an example of low risk and low rewards because generally broadcasting companies and digital companies sign deal only in the name of the star before the film is made.
A film financer too believes that the main reason for big-budget films getting flop or doing average business on the box office is superstars’ irrelevant demands. Industry’s top five stars either want 50 per cent of the cost of the film or they take 80 per cent of the total revenue with them. Both business models are dreadful and putting the industry in losses. Film distribution and promotion is another big issue with small-budget filmmakers. Just two years ago, Shoojit Sircar and Ronnie Lahiri were not able to find a film studio, which would release Pink (a successful social thriller), because distributors were not positive about its success on box office. Therefore the duo decided to go a step further and distribute it independently. As Ronnie said, “Before Pink, we depended on the studios to market and promote the film. When we decided to distribute Pink, not a safe bet after the success of Piku, we learnt a lot. Now Shoojit and I can decide how to market or promote a film, which is ideal”. For Ronnie Lahiri, social media publicity is another big step in selling such films. He said, “Revealing an image on social media more than a year before the film’s release makes no sense. We prefer to save the interesting material for people once a film is set to release, as that serves the purpose.”
Multiplexes are also playing a big role in supporting low budget films. In the last few years, many multiplexes have opened up in big cities which have created a new audience. Therefore established studios and production houses do not hesitate in joining these films as they want to increase their range. A new passion is seen in producing such films. A veteran actor like Manoj Vajpayee finds the current phase as a good phase. He believes today small filmmakers dare to make serious, meaningful, out of the box films because they believe that the story will have power for the producers to invest money. However, until a few years ago, people were not ready to invest in such films. Even the new market also emerges for short films.
The trend of content-driven cinema earning good money started with Kahaani film in 2012. The Vidya Balan starrer was directed by Sujoy Ghosh and proved a blockbuster. It was made in just 8 crores and did a business of more than 70 crores. However, behind every successful film, there are also five unsuccessful films. Another big tool that helps in gaining the popularity of small budget films is digital video streaming. Digital media gives viewers to these films, adding to that it is also giving a big platform for new, promising and talented stars like Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkumar Rao, Vicky Kaushal, Karthik Aryan, Kriti Sanon, Kiara Advani and Taapsee Pannu. It has boosted their popularity manifold.

Supreme Power Of Supreme Court

The Supreme Court had a sense of urgency, and perhaps a little activism

virag gupta
virag gupta

Virag Gupta practices at the Supreme Court of India. He is a former IRS officer and has worked with Ernst & Young

Prime Minister Modi in Mann ki Baat welcomed the verdict of the Supreme Court in the Ayodhya case. He expressed his content and said that the verdict will bring happiness among the citizens after years of adjudication. The country may be spearheading its efforts towards ease of doing business, it is clear that all such steps are for big and the mighty. However, the mightiest of all, Lord Ram himself, had to wait like a common person for years for getting a verdict.
The Ayodhya case finds its legal origins from a dispute that took place in 1822. Following this, Hindus and Muslims clashed over their right to worship at the disputed site. Hindus claimed that it was the birthplace of Lord Ram while Muslims claimed that it was a Mosque built on the instructions of Mughal Emperor Babar. In 2019, the Supreme Court, which had the matter pending before it for ten years, conducted speedy hearings in 41 days and the five-judge bench delivered a unanimous verdict. Surely, the Supreme Court had a sense of urgency, and perhaps a little activism. The manner in which Counsels were directed to make time-bound arguments, the court sitting for longer hours and judges delivering a judgment within two weeks after concluding the arguments was unheard of.

The Ayodhya dispute is possibly India’s oldest litigation, which is proved by the following: After the reign of the Mughal Regime, Ayodhya became a part of the princely state of Awadh. The British government then took direct control of Awadh from the East India Company as per the Government of India Act passed by the British Parliament in 1858. The British Government subsequently passed several laws including the Indian Penal Code in 1860, the Indian Evidence Act in 1872, the Civil Procedure Code in 1908 and the Mussalman Waqf Act in 1923. As a consequence of this, centuries-old clashes from the medieval period concretized into litigation in the British era, the first suit being instituted in 1885.
Though the Ayodhya dispute had been simmering for years, it reached the Supreme Court in a concretized form of a land dispute in 2010. The case before the Supreme Court was an appeal from the judgment of the Allahabad High Court delivered in September 2010. The proceedings before the Allahabad High Court were agonizing slow and might have cost the exchequer around Rs. 144 crores, as per a study done by think tank Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change (CASC). The Allahabad High Court in its final verdict had directed that the land be divided into three parts, two of which were for Hindus and one for Muslims. All parties agreed that this was not a solution. The Supreme Court immediately stayed the judgment of the Allahabad High Court but after that, the case progressed very slowly. There may be around 25 crore individuals in India who may be directly affected by 3.25 crore pending cases. This wait before the court is also a testament to the immense time it is taken to deliver justice in India.

It took three years to transfer the record from the Allahabad High Court to the Supreme Court. This was despite the fact that the entire record before the Allahabad High Court was in a digital format. The subject-matter of the Ayodhya dispute relates to the ancient and medieval period while modern courts evolved during the British era. Many of the case records are in Sanskrit, Persian, Urdu, and Hindi. As per rules, Hindi documents are allowed to be used in Allahabad High Court proceedings. However, as per the Supreme Court Rules, only English documents or English translations are allowed to be used. This objection was raised after many proceedings, and the Supreme Court felt the need for certain documents to be translated. The respective parties took a long time of nearly two years to get the documents translated into English. However, the issue of translation was not resolved until the final hearings began.

The State and Central Government acquired the disputed land and adjoining areas after the incident of December 1992. This acquisition was challenged before the Supreme Court, which held it to be legal. This case on the validity of acquisition was heard by a Constitution Bench of Five Judges which delivered its judgment in 1994. After the 1994 judgment by the Constitution Bench, it was said that the Ayodhya matter is a simple title suit and was accordingly allocated to a three-judge bench. There were serious questions as to how a three-judge bench could finally put an end to this humongous dispute. In the matter of title suit, aspect of temple or mosque on the disputed site was to be determined, which necessitated a Constitution Bench. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi indeed formed a Bench of five judges, as was suggested in my book “Ayodhya’s Ram Temple in Courts” published by CASC. However, in the absence of a reference, it could not be said to be a Constitution Bench. This aspect was also clarified in the judgment of the Supreme Court wherein it was said that the Bench of 5 Judges which finally decided the matter was a usual one formed under the powers given to the Chief Justice.

The most beautiful part of the Supreme Court judgment is that it is a unanimous judgment. It is very rare that in the case as big as this, all the judges are on the same page and echo the same thoughts. Even the High Court judgment delivered in 2010 by the bench of three judges was not unanimous and differed considerably on several points. The fact that it is a unanimous judgment by the Supreme Court makes it more difficult to further challenge it in the review or curative petition. However, the judgment of the Supreme Court is quite unusual. The judgment does not mention who the author of the main judgment is. It does not mention the name of the judge who wrote the addenda to the judgment. Perhaps this is the only case in which this has happened. One does not know how to decipher this. What is the judgment authored by all of the five judges? Even if that is the case, the name of the judge who authored the addenda must have been written.

Law makes it clear that every human being has a legal personality. That means, every human being can sue and be sued. Similarly, artificial persons like companies, corporations, etc. have been given the status of legal personality. In Hinduism, Idols are recognised as legal persons, who can be represented through their friend. The Ayodhya case too was initiated by a friend of Lord Ram. However, the Hindus also advanced another argument that the Ram Janm Bhoomi, that is, the land itself had legal personality. The Supreme Court did not agree with this claim and the judgment discusses this in detail. With respect to the legal personality of the idol, the Court said, “At the heart of the present dispute are questions pertaining to the rightful manager of the deity and the access of the devotees of Lord Ram to the idols. To ensure the legal protection of the underlying purpose and practically adjudicate upon the dispute, the legal personality of the first plaintiff is recognised”. It is true that the Supreme Court has said “For the purposes of recognising a legal person, the relevant inquiry is the purpose to be achieved by such recognition. To the extent such purpose is achieved, the form or corpus of the object upon which legal personality is conferred is not a matter of substance but merely a question of form.” But there are still some questions lurking around.

Now that the verdict has been delivered by the Supreme Court, the next logical step in order to find any infirmity with the same is a review petition. A review petition can be filed only on very limited grounds and is governed by Article 137 of the Indian Constitution and order 47 of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013. A review petition has to be filed within 30 days and those who were not parties before the Supreme Court can also file the same. Ordinarily, the bench hearing the review petition should be the same as the bench which delivered the verdict in the original matter. However, the Bench for the Review Petition in Ayodhya matter will be altered in view of the retirement of Chief Justice Gogoi.
For review, one has to show error apparent on the face of the record, after which the Supreme Court may interfere. There may well be certain points which need a relook. Few Hindu factions have remarked that when the disputed site was only 0.313 acres, why give 5 acres for a Mosque? Also, why shouldn’t only a monetary compensation be paid and no alternate land be given? Why did the Court comment on incidents of 1949 and demolition of 1992, when the same were not before it? Should not the court have added that its observations were not going to affect the ongoing criminal trial? On one hand, the Court has commented upon issues that were not before it, and on the other hand, it has taken no steps, despite several applications in the Aslam Bhure matter, which is pending since 2002.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) in its press conference has also stated, “We feel that the restitution by granting 5 acres· land where fundamental values have been damaged to the extent of causing national shame, will not in any manner heal the wounds caused…Mosques are essential for the religious practice of Muslims. Building the same Mosque at some other site in situations like this is also not permissible as per Islamic Law.” On the other hand, Shia Waqf Board has stated that if Sunni Waqf Board does not want the 5 acres land, the Shia Waqf Board is ready to accept the land and build a hospital over it.

The Constitution of India impliedly agrees with and institutes the principle of separation of powers. There is a question that when the state has ownership of the disputed land, why should it not be the authority which acts upon the same? India is a secular republic and the State does not have a religion as such. However, it does regulate the matters of religion. The Judiciary is also propounding the view that matters of religion should not be judged through the prism of rationality. The aspect of the Supreme Court deciding the Ayodhya dispute as a title suit, but on the basis of evidence of faith is also being criticized.

After the demolition of the Babri Mosque, the disputed site along with adjoining land was acquired by the Central Government through a law passed by Parliament in 1993. Subsequently, Narsimha Rao Government gave the affidavit to allocate the land for temple purposes if the same was proved by excavation. Archaeological Survey of India did the excavation of disputed site as per instructions of Allahabad High Court and that evidence became one of the grounds for allocation of land for temple purposes. As per Section 6 and 7 of the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993, previous Governments could have allocated the land for temple purposes to end the longstanding litigation. Ruling party BJP had consistently mentioned Ram Temple at Ayodhya in its manifestos but did not use the power given as per a law passed by Parliament. In Kesavananda Bharati’s matter before the Supreme Court, the Court had said that the government had the rights to acquire the land and basic structure would not be violated. Accordingly, the Central Government could have ended the dispute a long time back by using its authority. Challenge to Government’s decision before the Judiciary would rather have been limited to the payment of compensation and not become a title suit which went into matters of faith.
The interesting fact is that the Supreme Court judgment directs Centre, or State Government to allocate five acres of land for a mosque, yet they were never heard before the Court. The 5 acres of land is to be allotted to the Sunni Wakf Board, while it is the other Muslim groups who are opposing such grant. As per the Supreme Court verdict, the Centre may allot the 5-acre land from within the 67.7 acres that were acquired by the Centre as per the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993. Else, the State Government may give the 5-acre plot at any prominent place in Ayodhya. Interestingly, the same political party is in power at both Centre and State, and there may not be a problem in allocating the land. What if the power equation was different? Surely, a mess would have been on the cards.

Parliament in 1991 enacted the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 to protect religious structures. Made by the Narsimha Rao Government, the law prohibited the changing nature of any religious structure. It said that the nature of a structure will remain as it was on 15th August 1947. Importantly, Ram-Janm Bhoomi/Babri Mosque was excluded by this law. Now that the Supreme Court has decided in favour of Ram Temple at Ayodhya, there is a fresh vigour in support of reclaiming Kashi and Mathura. However, the Supreme Court in the Ayodhya verdict sounded caution about the same. Certain activist lawyers have stated that they will challenge the validity of Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. Any such challenge will be ominous and have the scope of changing the status quo of all structures, especially those which are considered to be made after removing an earlier religious structure.

It is the Parliament which made the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 and any change to the same must be through Parliament. It will be a challenge for the Supreme Court to test the validity of the law as it has the scope of opening a Pandora’s box. In the Ayodhya case, the Court showed its determination of finishing up a case pending for years, within weeks. Can the same resolve not be shown for all cases? Sadly, the Court in the Ayodhya matter did not implement its own judgment for live streaming. Had it been done, it would have been a positive first and a great step towards access to justice. Overall, the Ayodhya judgment shows that the Apex Court becomes an activist when it wants to be. At times, it shirks from the obvious while at times, it proceeds with tenacious speed. One hopes that the Ayodhya judgment will bring an end to India’s longest dispute and the country will march on together to ensure that years are not spent in order to get justice.

Society After The Ayodhya Verdict?

The two prominent Muslim bodies continue to slug it out, how has the average Muslim reacted to the Supreme Court judgement?

Rashme Sehgal
Rashme Sehgal

Rashme Sehgal began her career as a poet-cum-short story writer in 1970s. She then shifted to journalism and worked with several leading newspapers including The Independent, The Telegraph and The Times of India

The falling of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, delivered a seismic shock to the nation’s social equilibrium. These seismic rumblings continue to be felt after the Supreme Court attempted to give legal closure to this divisive religious conflict that has plagued India through the decades. The Supreme Court in a unanimous verdict ordered that a Ram temple be built at the site of a masjid and an alternate plot of land to build a masjid be given to the Muslim community.
Unhappy with the verdict, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has gone on record to state that they will file a review petition against the verdict by December 9. The low key secretary of the AIMPLB Zafaryab Jilani commenting on the Sunni Waqf board decision to accept the judgement said, ‘The Sunni Waqf Board chairman (Zafar Faruqi) does not represent the views of the entire 20 cr0re Muslim population unlike the AIMPLB.’
When questioned that even Muslim intellectuals had spoken out against the filing of a review petition, Jilani snapped, ‘Why, are we not intellectuals? Why should you presume members of the AIMPLB are not intellectuals? We have discussed the judgement in tremendous details and have come to the conclusion that there are major errors in the Supreme Court judgement which we would like to highlight.’
One major error, according to Jilani, is that ‘the idols were illegally brought from the outer chabutra to the central dome of the masjid on the night of December 22, 1949. Then how can these subsequently be given the status of legal entities?’ He also questioned how the court could state that they have been there for hundreds of years.
As these thrusts and counter thrusts continue, there is little doubt that there can be no closure to the Ayodhya tangle simply because the identity and the rise of the BJP is inextricably linked with the Ram Janambhoomi issue and its corollary, the construction of the Ram temple.
The big guns of the BJP have made the construction of the Ram Mandir the central plank in several national and state elections. They are once again trying to make the Ram Mandir the key issue in the coming Jharkhand elections.

Still on Agenda
In his first election rally in Jharkhand, prime minister Narender Modi accused the Congress of delaying the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Not to be outdone, BJP Home Minister Amit Shah spoke about how his government had facilitated the closure of this six-decade-long dispute with the highest court ordering that five acres of land at an alternate site be given for the construction of a mosque.
While the two prominent Muslim bodies continue to slug it out, how has the average Muslim reacted to the Supreme Court judgement? So far, they have responded with sullen silence. They do not see this as being a case of equitable justice. They also point out how the 27-year-long case against several BJP leaders including LK Advani and Uma Bharati, accused as being responsible for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, continues to drag on indefinitely.
But for them, a matter of much greater concern is Amit Shah’s announcement in Parliament that his government plans to push ahead with the citizenship bill which will link citizenship to religion as far as immigrants/refugees from neighbouring countries are concerned. This is highly discriminatory because while India will provide refuge to Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist immigrants, this will not be the case with Muslim refugees.
Shah also told Parliament that he planned to set in motion a National Register of Citizens which would use 1951 as its cut off date. But as experience has shown, the NRC in Assam has turned out to be a botched up operation which has left 19 lakh applicants out of the loop. A nationwide exercise could deprive millions of their citizenship is what many in the minority community fear. Senior constitutional advocate Rajeev Dhawan who had appeared for AIMPLB, the Sunni Waqf Board and three other Muslim applicants in the Ayodhya case are also pressing forward for a review of the judgement.

Hindus, Too!
‘Muslims have never been responsible for disturbing the atmosphere in the country. Hindus do it.’ Clarifying this statement, Dhawan told a television channel that his earlier remark had not been directed at the Hindu community at large but only Sangh Pariwar since he believed many of these people were involved in acts of violence and incidents of lynching. ‘I am not talking about the Hindu community. I have faith in the larger Hindu community. In Ayodha, the majority of citizens who belong to the Hindu community do not agree with this kind of violence,’ he said.
Muddying the waters has been the recent statement of the chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities chairperson Ghaorul Hasan Rizvi who believes challenging the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict will not be in the interest of Muslims and will “harm” Hindu-Muslim unity. The minority panel chief said filing the review petition would send a message to the Hindus that they were trying to put roadblocks in the way of building the Ram temple. He also urged the Muslim side to accept the five-acre alternative land to be given for a mosque, saying they would be respecting the judiciary by doing so.
Rizvi believes Muslims should come forward in helping to build the temple in Ayodhya, while Hindus should help in the construction of the mosque. This would prove to be a milestone in strengthening the social harmony between the two communities.
‘Review petition should not be filed at all because all sides, including the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, had promised that the verdict given by the Supreme Court will be respected,’ Rizvi said especially since all the concerned Muslim bodies knew only too well that it would be rejected ‘100 per cent’.
‘The common Muslim of this country is not in favour of a review petition because they believe the matter has been settled. So the question is for whom are you filing the petition for? Are you filing the petition to harm the brotherhood and disturb the harmony among the communities? Are you doing this for your personal satisfaction?’ he asked. An unexpected criticism has come from members of the Sikh community who have also expressed their ire at the verdict. They have taken strong objection to their religion being described as a ‘cult’, a word which has a negative connotation. For another, the judgement claimed that Guru Nanak Dev visited Ayodhya to have ‘darshan’ of Ram.
The Shiromani Gurudwara Committee (SGPC) has issued a statement condemning the verdict. The chairman of the SGPC Gobind Singh Longowal went public voicing his displeasure stating that Guru Nanak visited many religious places including Mecca and Ayodhya where he preached and spread the message of one formless god.
The Supreme Court judges have relied on the testimony of one ‘Rajinder Singh’ who claims to have an interest - ‘a person who claims to be having an interest in the study of religious, cultural and historical books of Sikh cult’, without consulting scholars, historians and other experts on this religion.

Kashi, Mathura Baaki Hai
In an attempt to break the deadlock over this Ayodhya tangle, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind head Maulana Syed Arshad Madani met RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in early September. Apart from the many issues discussed, Madani has reported having sought an assurance from Bhagwat that if the Muslims went along with the Supreme Court judgement, the festering issue of the status of the mosques at Mathura and Varanasi would remain undisturbed. Other issues that were discussed were incidents of mob lynching and the setting up of the National Register of Citizens. No one knows what assurances Madani was able to glean from the shrewd Bhagwat since both leaders have remained silent on this score.
But people living in Varanasi and Mathura have frequently expressed their apprehension that the Ayodhya dispute should not be allowed to shift to their cities. During the build-up to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, one slogan the Hindutva brigade often spouted was, ‘Yeh toh sirf jhanki hai, ab Kashi, Mathura baaki hai” (This is only the trailer, now Kashi and Mathura remain). This again was the slogan that thousands of kar sevaks chanted as they left Ayodhya a day after the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.

Target Varanasi
Muslims in Varanasi are openly apprehensive about the Sangh Parivar’s designs on the Gyanvapi mosque because they are pursuing the same tactics that were employed when the Ayodhya dispute had just started.
A large number of properties were acquired by and demolished by the Kalyan Singh government around Babri Masjid between October 1991 and December 1992. The reason stated for this acquisition was the ‘beautification and modernisation’ of Ayodhya. Several temples were demolished in this beautification spree which included Sumitra Bhawan and Sakshi Gopal temple. The mahants of these temples, Ram Gopal Das and Raj Mangal Das, did raise objections to these demolitions and took up the matter in the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court to little avail. The Sangh Parivar continued to tighten its hold over Ayodhya and all mahants who did not owe their allegiance to the RSS were eased out. Following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Ram Kripal Das is reported to have disappeared under mysterious circumstances while Ram Mangal Das died an unhappy man.
A recent visit to Varanasi confirmed how a similar game plan is being unfolded in this city. Hundreds of houses, shops and temples have been destroyed so that the powers that be gain full control of the Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi mosque complex. When local contractors and workers refused to demolish these buildings, the government is reported to have brought in contractual labour from Gujarat.
All this work is being facilitated by various departments of the BJP-led state and central governments accompanied by several Hindutva groups who are functioning under the banner of ‘Target Varanasi Project’.
The ostensible claim of the government is that they are going ahead to create a motorable access to the Kashi Vishwanath temple which is why this project is also called the Sri Kashi Vishwanath Corridor.
The redevelopment of these 45,000 square metres of land spread between Manikarnika Ghat and Lalita Ghat is being done under the supervision of the Ahmedabad-based HCP Design Planning and Management Pvt Ltd. The firm was founded by architect Hasmukh Patel, who helped design the Sabarmati riverfront development project.
Vishal Singh IAS, who is CEO of the Sri Kashi Vishwanath Mandir Trust and also secretary of the Varanasi Development Authority responding to accusations that the demolition work led to the destruction of several temples, insists not a single temple has been broken down in order to build the corridor.
Singh said, ‘One of our prime objectives is to restore these temples to their pristine state and once the master plan is finalised, we will float tenders in order to get specialists involved in this restoration bid.’
While it all appears to be smooth on the surface, what is happening in the subterranean domains of the government and within the hydra-faced right-wing Hindu outfits is something only time will tell. No wonder the majority of Muslims in our country are observing a sullen silence.

Nirmala Fine Print

The FM merely cherry-picked the figures that proved her case but did not present an objective and true picture

Alam Srinivas
Alam Srinivas

Alam Srinivas is a business journalist with nearly three decades behind him, working for The Times of India, India Today, Outlook, Financial Express and Business Today. He is the author of “Cricket Czars: Two Men who Changed the Gentleman’s Game”

Always read between the lines when the governments talk about the economic situation. Focus more what’s been left unsaid, rather than what is explained. This is also true about Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s recent speech in Parliament on the state of the Indian economy. In a confident mood, she later told the media that she, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were prepared to discuss the issues, but the opposition political parties, which walked out during her discourse, were unwilling to do so.

In her speech, the FM essentially made five broad points, which included:
l She, and the PM, were on top of the situation, and she had taken nearly three dozen decisions to tackle the problems in each sector and area
l India was going through a slowdown for sure, but not a recession
l Government expenditure was up, which indicated that public investment was on track to create jobs
l Tax collections too were up in the first seven months (April-October) of this fiscal year, which indicated consistent, but lower, growth
l Banking crisis, which was responsible for lower growth, was a thing of the past; bad loans do not imply loans that are written off
Sadly, each of these assurances came with several unsaid, and possibly misunderstood, riders. They were partly correct but short of overall facts and explanations. The FM merely cherry-picked the figures that proved her case and did not present an objective and true picture. She smartly chose issues that indicate growth. Most importantly, she was right on one point, and this is an important one because it wasn’t openly acknowledged till now. India is indeed going through a slowdown, and not a recession.
Almost three dozen, and counting Over the past few months, the FM announced several decisions, especially after the uproar within India Inc over tax coercion, and tax terror. Sops and benefits were doled out to several segments – foreigners, wealthy Indians, auto sector, small and medium firms, banks, and many more. But there were two distinct features about most decisions, and both don’t augur well for Sitharaman. In fact, they proved that neither she nor the PM was in control of the situation. The opposite seemed to be true.
The first is that most of the policies were reactive. When the situation in the auto sector seemed unbearable with months of negative growth, huge job losses, part-shutdowns of the factories, and large inventories, the FM swung into action. The government dealt with the mess in the non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) after the scandalous fall of IL&FS became public. Benefits were given to SMEs after they loudly, boldly and openly (through large newspaper advertisements) complained about their problems.
Second, most of the actions were in the form of Budget rollbacks. Several policies that the FM announced in her July Budget speech were retracted in a single day. Largely, they related to the higher taxes on rich Indians and foreigners. In fact, Sitharaman later went several steps forward when she reduced the corporate tax on large and small firms. And that too when government revenues were lower than Budget estimates! This proved that Budget 2019 was an ill-thought-of exercise, and didn’t consider the ground realities that were evident to most experts in July this year.

Slowdown versus recession
In economic parlance, a recession implies negative growth in two consecutive quarters. This hasn’t happened in India – not yet. But growth has slowed down considerably. India is still the fastest-growing economy in the world. But there isn’t any room for optimism. Things can go from bad to worse quite quickly in the near future. The reason: news and facts from several sectors, and many different indicators, show that the problems are acute. The precarious economic situation can easily lead to social tensions.
For example, there are some sectors that are clearly in a recession, or about to sink into it. The core sectors, which are crucial to any economy and include oil and gas, coal, steel, cement, electricity, and fertilizer, are down in the dumps. In October 2019 they contracted 5.8%, September 2019 saw a decline of 5.2%; the figure for August was a minimal growth of 0.1%. The same is true for the auto sector, and NBFCs. The regular banking sector, saddled as it is with looming bad loans (we will talk about this later), is also on a shaky plane.
Consumer demand has shrunk in several segments. The government, in its wisdom, has adopted the tax route to put more money in the hands of the companies. It may do the same with individuals in the near future. Lesser taxes may indeed mean more disposable incomes, but it cannot ensure higher spends. Companies that have tottered on low profits in the past, may shore up their profitability and reserves, rather than invest during a slowdown. The same can happen with people, who were tight-fisted for two years.
What is more crucial to note is that some sectors were decimated. These include the unorganised sector, largely due to demonetisation and GST (Goods and Services Tax), and the small firms in the organised segment. Even large companies have downsized. Hence, joblessness has zoomed; it is the highest in several decades. Unemployed youth can easily come on the streets to protest and resort to social violence. A part of the mob narrative, including lynching, can be explained because of this factor.

Where the money comes from, and where it goes
Sitharaman is at pains to explain that India’s growth trajectory is intact, even if it has wavered, because government revenues and expenditure have gone up consistently. This narrative hides more than it reveals for several reasons. One, no one believes that official data anymore. This was especially so after the huge discrepancies in government revenues between the figures in Budget 2019 and Economic Survey (2019). Experts pointed out that the differences revealed that revenues were possibly on the lower side.
Two, although revenues were up, they were lower than the official estimates. The most notable impact was on GST, where the difference was huge in 2018-19. This indicated that the slowdown was really a major issue, and had to be addressed soon. In addition, it showed that the overtly optimistic policymakers had turned a blind eye to realities in their budget plans. Their revenue targets were based on healthy growth. Only when they were inundated with criticism did they act, and that too in a piecemeal manner.
Three, some of the major sources of revenues have had a negative effect on public investment. A large chunk of the money came from the sale of government’s stakes in public sector units to other state-owned entities. Hence, Peter’s left pocket was picked to boost his right one. The money merely exchanged hands from one section of the government, PSUs, to another one, Exchequer. No new money was created in the bargain. In addition, the RBI’s coffers were used to finance the government.
These resulted in major investment disruptions. While the government was able to prove that its expenditure went up because of higher revenues, the ability of the state-owned entities to fund their own investments was severely curtailed. The cash-rich PSUs were unable to pursue their growth strategies and were forced to help the cash-strapped government, which made the mistake of high revenue estimates due to high growth. Overall, therefore, public investments either didn’t grow as much. In many cases, the government almost destroyed the PSUs. Consider the case of ONGC, which not too long ago, was cash-rich, and had the ability to invest huge sums in its oil and gas projects. However, the government first forced the company to buy oil assets in Russia at an inflated price for diplomatic reasons. Later, ONGC was forced to gobble up the loss-making Gujarat State Petroleum at a hugely exaggerated price for political reasons. The end result: ONGC is up to its neck in huge debts, and its cash reserves are almost empty.

Banks, the bad boys
Ever since the current economic crisis loomed up, about three years ago, the government consistently blamed it on the calamity in the banking sector. More importantly, it held the previous UPA regimes responsible for it. This served two purposes. One, it proved that the current regime was not involved and, in fact, took initiatives to solve the problems. Two, it allowed the past FMs and PM to take the moral high ground. In the process, as was logical, the economy tanked faster than it should have.
Let us examine these points. The boldest policy to tackle the bad loans was the 2016 insolvency code. It allowed the lenders to force any company, which defaulted on its loans, into insolvency. The company was then sold off within a prescribed time period. The buyer had to agree to pay the outstanding loans to the lenders. While this was a notable move, the problem lay with its inevitability. There was no room for manoeuvre, even for the honest companies, whose defaults were not “willful” or due to corruption.
Consider a scenario where the government did nothing to shore up the ailing economy and the fact that the worst impact, as discussed earlier, was on the core sectors. The bulk of the existing bad loans, and loans that were stressed but not bad, were in these segments – coal, energy, and steel. The slowdown forced more companies in these areas to declare insolvency, which put more pressure on the banks. Hence, while the banking crisis took shape during UPA, it was exacerbated during NDA-II. As more companies went through the loan crisis, production suffered, and slowdown intensified.
Since the NDA-II took a moral position on the economy, it did nothing to stem other disasters that too took roots during UPA. This was the visible and openly-discussed disaster in NBFCs. For months in advance, most knew that IL&FS was in grave trouble. The signs were boldly painted on the walls, as its credit rating slumped, and it was unable to repay small loans. But this government allowed it to go bust. The IL&FS emergency engulfed the entire NBFC segment, which negatively impacted consumer demand.
Normally, the NBFCs lend to retail consumers. The mix of a slowing economy and restricted finance to consumer acted like a double-edged sword. Companies stopped spending, and individuals had no access to cash. Corporate and retail investment slumped, and the government did not have enough money to make up for the difference. The economic predicament deepened, and still, the government took no measures to help things. Given the regular elections, politics had more priority than the economy.
For any economy to grow, a stable policy environment is a must. Investors, whether private or public, Indians or foreigners, should know what to expect, and what will happen. A 10-20 year vision is necessary. This was never the case with this government, which thrived and became more popular due to disruptions. Demonetization and GST are examples. The BJP’s politics and social endeavours are also about disruptions. So, there was no interest to guide the economy and soften the shocks.

Day Zero Threats!

The water levels in the four main reservoirs, which supplies the drinking water to the city, fell below one per cent of storage level

Robin Keshaw
Robin Keshaw

Robin Keshaw is a development sector professional with rich experience in the domain of education, life skills and governance. He is a computer science graduate from BITS Pilani and has previously worked with Teach For India and CM office in Haryana.

The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation admitted in end May that unemployment was at a four-decade high. This had already been highlighted by the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) job survey for 2017-18 which had shown a spike in the unemployment rate to over 6 per cent.
The NSSO stats also show that there is higher unemployment in the urban areas as compared to rural India. For the rural areas, the unemployment rate was 5.3 per cent, while in the urban areas it was 7.8 per cent.
This data was collected from 433,339 households located in both rural and urban areas. The government read Ministry of Finance has decried this data claiming this survey conducted between 2017-18 cannot be compared with previous years because they have used education as a criterion unlike earlier surveys which had used expenditure as a hallmark.

Clear Bluff
This is the first comprehensive report on the country’s employment scenario in the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government and assumes significance as it captures the impact of demonetisation on the domestic economy.
In a primary school of Topchanchi block in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand, around 150 students are taking a pledge for conserving water during the morning assembly, as part of the Jal Shakti campaign. “Jal hi hamara jeevan hai aur iske bina ham jee nahi sakte….”. Barely 10 metres away from the assembly ground, is a water tap which is leaking profusely. The marks of water trail near the tap are indicative of the fact that the leaking tap is lying unattended for quite a few days. “….aur ham sankalp lete hai ki ham paani ki ek-ek boond bachayenge”. The pledge ends and the students walk away to their respective classrooms. The water keeps flowing from the leaking tap. The glimpse of the primary school from Dhanbad is representative of the dichotomy of the water crisis in India. On one hand, the monies are flowing in, new schemes are being designed, rankings and reports are being released. On the other hand, ground realities paint a grim and scary picture. Recently, Dhanbad district was ranked number 12 amongst 255 participating districts in India by Ministry of Jal Shakti, for successfully running programs related to water conservation, watershed development, etc.

Parched pandemonium
India is staring into a nationwide water crisis which is going to severely affect majority of its population. According to the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) released by the NITI Aayog in 2018, 21 major cities (Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and others) are racing to reach zero groundwater levels by 2020, affecting access for 100 million people. This summer, Chennai got a glimpse of the ‘Day Zero’, a dystopian situation when the water stops coming out of city taps and people have to queue up to collect their daily quota of water.
The water levels in the four main reservoirs, which supplies the drinking water to the city, fell below one per cent of storage level. Part of this is attributed to the failed monsoons for the last three consecutive years, but the majority of the blame goes to the mismanagement of water resources by the successive governments. A study by Anna University has found that Chennai has lost 33 per cent of its wetlands in the last one decade. During the same period, Chennai lost 24 per cent agricultural land, crucial for improving groundwater table. Even though Chennai braced the water crisis this year, the problem is only going to aggravate.
“Governments do not believe in cost-effective, common-sense solutions. They are always looking at expensive megaprojects and engineering solutions,” complains Dr Sekar Raghavan, Director, Rain Centre, Chennai. “Tamil Nadu has a rich tradition of water harvesting, capturing rainwater in irrigation tanks known as ‘ery’. Every government since the 1960s have totally ignored and neglected them. It did not maintain the 39,000-odd water bodies, the legacy of our ancestors, forget creating additional ones. Unless we capture rainwater during the monsoon season, we will always run out.”
What happened in Chennai is not an isolated incident of lackadaisical government attitude towards the water crisis. As per Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) released by the NITI Aayog, 12% of India’s population is already living the ‘Day Zero’ scenario. The CWMI report also states that by 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6% loss in the country’s GDP. The same report mentions that 600 million people are dealing with high to extreme water shortage.

Nature’s fury?
The irony, on the other hand, is that there are cities and other parts of the country which saw unprecedented flooding. Mumbai got more rain this year than it had in 65 years, and several times this season, it came in exceptionally heavy downpours. In the month of August, Kerala saw floods affecting nine of its districts, almost as a repeat of last year’s devastating floods, albeit with lesser destruction and damage. Unusual suspects like Pune, Vadodara, parts of Rajasthan, Goa, etc also witnessed floods.
Over the last century, the number of days with heavy rainfall has increased in the Indian subcontinent. These heavy spells are interspersed by longer dry spells which affect the agricultural economy of the country adversely. Predictable and steady rainfall has become less common, which affects the groundwater recharge severely. According to a scientific paper published in Nature journal, over the last 70 years, extreme rainfall events have increased threefold in the central region of India, while total annual rainfall has measurably declined.
Assam, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal have always been ravaged by the floods. But this year, the capital city of Bihar, Patna saw unusual flooding in the month of October. Different parts of the city were submerged for almost a week, close to Durga Puja – one of the widely celebrated festivals in East India. “This has never happened before in my lifetime”, laments Subhash Chandra, a research scientist and environmental expert at National Physical Laboratory, whose hometown is in Bihar. “It is easier to blame climate change for such erratic floods. However, the real culprits are unplanned development, greed and mismanagement”, believes Chandra.

Plethora of policies
By 2050, the World Bank estimates, erratic rainfall, combined with rising temperatures, stand to “depress the living standards of nearly half the country’s population.” Is India waking up to a new reality recently? Or we already had the wisdom to foresee this threat. Ironically, India was a pioneer in developing National Water Policy (NWP), way back in 1987, which was rather uncommon those days. The policy has been revised twice, in 2002 and 2012.
NWP, 2012 opens with the statement – ‘A scarce natural resource, water is fundamental to life, livelihood, food security and sustainable development. India has more than 18 % of the world’s population but has only 4% of the world’s renewable water resources and 2.4% of the world’s land area. There are further limits on utilizable quantities of water owing to uneven distribution over time and space. In addition, there are challenges of frequent floods and droughts in one or the other part of the country. With a growing population and rising needs of a fast-developing nation as well as the given indications of the impact of climate change, availability of utilizable water will be under further strain in future with the possibility of deepening water conflicts among different user groups.’
It goes on to enumerate twenty-six important concerns pertaining to water resources and their management which includes urbanization, water governance, groundwater recharge, etc. It also lists the basic principles which should guide the public policies on water resources and talks about the principle of equity and social justice among others. More than half a decade later, the ground reality is grimmer.
In 2016, a Committee constituted by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation under the Chairmanship of Dr Mihir Shah suggested a draft National Water Framework Bill, 2016 which contains provisions for an overarching national legal framework with principles for protection, conservation, regulation and management of water as a vital and stressed natural resource. The Bill also talks about Right to water for life, wherein ‘every person has a right to sufficient quantity of safe water for life within easy reach of the household regardless of, among others, caste, creed, religion, community, class, gender, age, disability, economic status, land ownership and place of residence.’

Politics of water
The lofty ideas proposed in different policy documents fail to see the light of day due to the politics associated with the water as well as the unrealistic and wishful thinking of the policymakers. Experts feel that the policies are still driven by the demands of the political masters rather than a data-driven, evidence-based approach which clearly states what is necessary, how it will be achieved, who exactly will do what, within what time frame, and what preceding actions are a prerequisite to do it.
Central government’s common rhetoric is that water is a state subject and the ball is in state governments’ court to implement the policies. In 2017, India formed a new groundwater Bill asserting the state governments’ control over the extraction of groundwater. However, not many states have responded well, and only Maharashtra has set up a regulatory authority to enact it. States have shown an indifferent attitude towards the National Water Framework Bill as well. Only recently, Meghalaya came out with a state water policy and became the first state in India to do so. “Our politicians have managed water mostly for short-term electoral gains and not for long-term benefits of the country. It is now facing a water crisis in terms of quantity, quality, magnitude and severity which no earlier generation ever had to face. Sadly, there are no signs that our politicians have realised the severity of the situation the country is facing and are willing to take some hard decisions. If the current trends continue, India’s water crisis will only worsen with time,” comments Chetan Pandit, former member of Central Water Commission.
Our policymakers’ approach towards irrigation policies have become the proverbial albatross hung around their neck. Irrigation consumes 85% of the groundwater in India. Subsidised electricity by successive state governments and skewed pricing policies around water-intensive crops like rice and sugarcane has led to over-utilisation of the groundwater in certain pockets of the country. But no government wants to bell the cat and tamper with the existing policies as it might upset the farmers, one of the largest vote banks in India.
In urban and semi-urban areas, the water mafia has spread its wings in connivance with local politicians and administrators. They take advantage of the shortcomings of the government supply system in the most impoverished neighbourhoods to establish the black market. They go to the extent of damaging water pipes and diverting tanker routes to mint money. “This summer, I spent Rs 2000 from my monthly income of Rs 9000 on getting water for my house. They were charging Rs 30 per bucket of water. This is pure cheating. The water which is meant for us is supplied to hotels and malls, every night I see tankers lined up near these malls”, complains Ravi, a resident of south Delhi’s Sangam Vihar community.

Governing the water
Things can definitely improve if there are concerted efforts from politicians, policymakers, civil society and most importantly, the citizens. Recently, Modi government created Jal Shakti ministry, an amalgamation of ministries of water resources, river development and Ganga Rejuvenation with the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. This has been done to improve water governance in our country. The ministry already has a fairly wide ambit- it needs to implement the Modi government’s flagship Nal Se Jal scheme to providing piped water supply for every household by 2024. It has to take forward the government’s controversial river linkage programme, a national mission on irrigation for providing water to every field and examine controversial measures like pricing of water.
Experts also feel that some of the stickiest problems in water governance can be solved through a well-researched, data-driven approach. “The reason farmers cultivate rice and sugarcane, both water-intensive crops, is because they get a better price for these crops. Government’s focus should be on incentivizing farmers for crop diversification, creation of local markets for different crops and reduction of area under rice and sugarcane cultivation in the notified and over-exploited blocks. This can be easily done by having a sector-specific policy and execution plan”, opines Tushar Agarwal, a water expert working with ERM, India.
A crucial element of the water governance structure is the role of civil society and organisations in driving sustainable behavioural change. Government programs can only do so much. A shining example of citizen-driven effort is the story of Ara and Kelam villages in Ranchi district. PM Modi appreciated the efforts of the villagers in his monthly Mann ki Baat program. The villagers came together and did shramdaan for three months to build Loose Boulder Structure (LCB). They arranged the boulders to direct the flow of waterfalls from hills and channelised the flow towards agricultural fields.
There are numerous organisations who are working at the grassroots in driving citizen-led change in water management and conservation. Organisations like Paani Foundation, Water Aid, Sarvajal, etc are reaching to different corners of the country and helping the governments in driving water-related projects. District administration of Gurugram has started a unique experiment in Public-Private Partnership mode, where it has set up a Project Management Unit in the Deputy Commissioner’s office. The initiative is named GuruJal and it works with different government agencies like municipal corporation, irrigation department, agriculture department, etc as well as with the research agencies to drive the change at the ground level.
Shubhi Kesarwani, program manager of GuruJal explains, “We work on multiple fronts. We run campaigns to sensitise the community on water conservation. We work with Gram Panchayats and handhold them in construction of recharge structures, tree plantation and ponds rejuvenation. We also work with experts in creating an integrated water resources management plan for different blocks of Gurgram”.
India is witnessing a watershed moment in its history as it prepares itself to fight the water crisis. There is a long way to go from here. As Kesarwani puts it succinctly, “The problem which we are seeing today has arisen after decades of mismanagement. We didn’t run out of water overnight and hence we should not expect it to reappear overnight. It will be a slow and gradual process and we will make India a clean water abundant country again”.

The Right & Right To Education

The New Education Policy suggests increasing spending on education from 10% of total government expenditure to 20% by 2030. However, there is no funding available for such an increase in India’s current education budget

Chandrani Banerjee
Chandrani Banerjee

Chandrani Banerjee has studied at the Columbia Journalism School, and covered the US elections, 2016. She has also filed an experience report for UN office of Drug and Crime about the Indian migrant workers, and worked with Outlook

The rising dissenting voices across the country opposing a higher fee structure for higher education brings in one vital issue to the fore- how feasible it is to follow a higher fee for higher education model?
For almost three weeks, students of JNU have been protesting against a 300 per cent fee hike that will come into effect next January. And JNU is not alone, the protesting voices from other prominent institutes like IITs and IIMs have also surfaced.
For the past several weeks, JNU is making headlines as the protests turned violent turn because police used force and detained over 50 students and later released. Protesting students claim that a sizeable number among them does not have the financial liberty to afford costly education. So there should be a complete rollback of the proposed fee hike.
The university did announce a partial rollback and the matter is still under consideration that there will be complete rollback with the agitating students standing firm on their ground. The HRD ministry has set up a three-member committee to study their demands and come up with a solution. Meanwhile, the protests continue. JNU Student Union president Aishe Ghosh has said the students will not step back until there is a complete rollback.
The Indian Institute of Mass Communication has also decided to hike the fee for various courses for journalism and mass communication. The students are staging a sit-in for the past two weeks. Speaking to Parliamentarian, Akash Pandey, a student and the one who is spearheading the campaign said, “Students from all walks of life come to the campus. These are not very financially demanding courses yet the government is not considerate towards the students. Students from different strata should get the opportunity to access quality education and we will fight for it.” The situation in IIT Bombay is no different- the problem here too is -fee hike. Several M.Tech and PhD students at IIT Bombay protesting against a 300 per cent hike in the tuition fee effected in September. The IIT council recently brought in changes in the fee structure that included an end to the monthly stipend provided to M.Tech students.
The council passed a resolution on 26 September increasing the tuition fee from Rs 30,000- Rs 50,000 to Rs 2-Rs 3 lakh. The monthly stipend of Rs 12,400 given to the M.Tech students was also rolled back.
Sample IIT-BHU in Varanasi- Prime Minister Narender Modi’s constituency. As part of a nationwide call for protest at IITs against the HRD ministry’s decision to hike the fees and stop some of the stipends, the students of IIT-BHU joined the agitation last week. On the convocation day on November 7, a group of students protested and refused to receive their degree from Union Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank.
Ayurvedic Colleges in Uttrakhand are also dissatisfied by the hiked fee structure. It has been over 50 days since thousands of students of Uttarakhand’s private ayurvedic colleges have been protesting in Dehradun against a 170 per cent fee hike. The Uttarakhand High Court had directed a rollback of then Harish Rawat-led government’s decision to increase the fee in 2015. The order, however, is yet to be implemented. This has forced students to take out rallies, hold hunger strikes and sit-in protests. The tuition fee has been increased from Rs 80,000 to Rs 2,15,000 per annum. In July 2018, the high court had ordered a reversal of the fee hike stating that it was ‘unreasonably high’. The court also asked the private colleges’ management to refund the increased amount, which has still not been initiated. The colleges not supporting the high court’s orders are allegedly owned by several RSS and BJP members. One of the colleges is run by the Divya Yoga Mandir (Trust) that is headed by Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna. While social media is abuzz with reactions to the protests and police action at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi where students are agitating against the Narendra Modi government’s decision to effect a steep hike in the hostel fees, student protests and demonstrations have hit some of India’s many other prestigious academic institutions too. Speaking to Parliamentarian, Jyotsna Jha, Director of the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies (CBPS), Bengaluru, who has actively worked with the educational policy said, “Whatever we have on the plate right now is short term. I mean it cannot be considered for long term gain. India is a country where we need educated people and we need to invest heavily in public education to create good evolving societal environs”. In India, such an approach will have a limited impact given class, caste and gender barriers to using technology. The use of such technology is biased towards urban, upper-caste males, according to research on open and distance-based schooling in India by the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies.
As Jha has mentioned in her exhaustive piece in India Spend Website the government’s Draft New Education Policy that was released in May 2019 suggests increasing spending on education from 10% of total government expenditure to 20% by 2030. However, there is no funding available for such an increase in India’s current education budget.
Further, since 2015, government spending on school education has actually decreased after correcting for inflation, according to an analysis of state and central education finances over the years.
She mentioned, “Good public education is a fundamental right in India, and there is a strong correlation between public investment in education, child development and empowerment. For instance, states that spent more on education, such as Himachal Pradesh and Kerala, scored higher on the empowerment index, which takes into account attendance levels at primary, upper primary, secondary and senior secondary levels, as well as indicators linked with gender equality such as sex ratio at birth and early marriage.
Even as the government promises an increase in spending on education, the share of the union budget allocated to education fell from 4.14% in 2014-15 to 3.4% in 2019-20, the period during which the Bharatiya Janata Party headed the central government, according to budget documents from 2014 to 2020. In the 2019-20 budget, the share of the union budget allocated to education remains at 3.4%, which means that this financial year, the government is not allocating more money to education as the new education policy would require.
In funding higher education, the largest share goes to premier institutions such as Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research and central universities. There is little push to widespread undergraduate education.
If we look at the budget- it has an allocation of Rs 130 crore in 2019-20 for the promotion of technology-based online courses, but research shows on open schools in India and research from across the globe on technology-based education shows that literacy levels, access to and ease with technology, and the presence of a self-learner who decides for herself and acts on her own have an impact on learning digitally. Meanwhile, as the reports surfaced that government may slash the budget for school education. Attacking the ruling government the Congress Party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, speaking over the reports of a possible significant cut in the school education budget for 2019-20, accused the Modi government of benefiting its “rich friends”.“The BJP government forgives loans of Rs 5.5 lakh crore of its rich friends. Gives away six airports to its rich friends,” the Congress general secretary alleged in a tweet in Hindi.
Priyanka Gandhi’s attack came over a news report that the Modi government is likely to cut the school education budget for 2019-20 by Rs 3,000 crore on account of a “funds crunch”. Subash Dhuliya, former vice-chancellor Uttrakhand open university said, “ The model for the higher education and higher pay cannot be introduced in India. Education is the only option for many and they somehow reach this level. If this is denied to them than there are very limited options remains for them. Low priced education is the only option in our economy.
Airing similar views Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury. Pro-Vice-Chancellor. Adamas University. Kolkata and Former Dean of Symbiosis and Amity University said, “Higher education higher fee can be introduced in the private sector. And could be justified by high-quality infrastructure and delivery of education. However in the public sector which is taxpayers’ money supported education must be cheap yet with good quality and for the masses. Otherwise, people’s right to be well educated is compromised. National wealth is for nurturing national talent and from all walks of life, especially the financially challenged yet meritorious students. Private-sector education can be market governed”.
Experts students and professors believe that the proposed model will not only push people behind but the contributory community that can actually help the economy grow will also be left behind. The policies should be planned and viewed for a long term gain. Education is a basic need of an evolving society and access has to be free flow for every willing student in the country.


The Judgement pronounced in his favour, now Ram Lalla will stay in Ayodhya Temple

Reeta Singh
Reeta Singh

Reeta Singh is a senior journalist with over 30 years’ of experience in print and electronic media. She is also a social activist, working on gender issues

It was in 1528 that Babur conquered India. He got a mosque constructed at the Ram’s birth place in Ayodhya. That’s why it was called Babri Mosque or Janmasthan Mosque”.
This is how Sunni Waqf Board began its petition in Allahabad High Court in 1961, which in 2010 divided the disputed land in Ayodhya in three parts - one third land to Ram Lalla (infant Rama) for his temple, second to Nirmohi Akhada and third one to Sunni Waqf Board for construction of a mosque. But Supreme Court used this very ground to allot entire 2.77 acre land for construction of Ram Janmabhoomi temple. It implied that Babur was an invader who got a mosque constructed at Ram’s birthplace to morally subjugate the Hindu natives. Muslims have been compensated by getting five acre land in Ayodhya for their mosque. Nirmohi Akhara got a representation in the trust meant to oversee temple construction and management.
So Ram triumphed once again. This time in Supreme Court, in probably more protracted battle than his fight with the demon king Ravana. The Supreme Court has declared that he, in his incarnate form, has sovereign rights to 2.77 acres of disputed land. Any other claimants to the land, especially the waqf board, cannot claim adverse possession to the land.

Nuanced Verdict
The Supreme Court had a difficult job on its hands. It is hard to imagine what Indian politics would have been, had the Court asked for the restoration of the Babri Masjid. So, the only two other options were a victory for the Hindu side, or some imaginative solution that did equal justice to all kinds of claims involved in this dispute. The Allahabad High Court judgment, flawed as it was, was a balancing act: divide the land, respect all faiths, and put the past behind us.
In some ways, the Supreme Court judgment has gone for a similar solution. The Supreme Court has tried to please everyone in its much awaited judgment on the property dispute in Ayodhya. The worshippers of Lord Ram have been given land for the construction of a temple at the very site where the Babri Masjid stood between 1528 and December 6, 1992.
The Nirmohi Akhara has welcomed the judgment as it will be given some representation in the trust that would construct the temple. The Sunni Waqf Board too must have the satisfaction that the highest court has accepted their central argument that the Babri Masjid was a Sunni, and not Shia, waqf property, and the same was not constructed after demolishing the Ram temple.
Similarly, Muslim grievances about the trespass in 1949 and the tragic demolition of the mosque in 1992 have been accepted by the court. In fact, the court has accepted that there was a violation of their legal rights. Accordingly, the court, invoking its extraordinary jurisdiction of doing complete justice under Article 142 of the Constitution, has given them almost 20 times more land in Ayodhya - 5 acre in place if 0.30 acres plot in which Babri Masjid stood.

The History
The Ayodhya dispute began in 1886 with litigation in the British courts over a chabutra that was constructed outside the Babri Masjid by one Mahant Raghubar Das in the late 1850s. When the British prevented the construction of a canopy over the chabutra, Das unsuccessfully litigated his cause in three judicial forums. Each time, the courts emphasised status quo — that is, the Muslims would pray inside the Babri Masjid while the Hindus had limited rights to pray at the chabutra. Surprisingly, the apex court has rejected title of Muslims for want of proof of title document. The court rejected the revenue record and gazetteers as sufficient proof. Even the British grant papers were said to be sufficient only for proving the upkeep of the mosque.
The Babri litigation is a story of changing “status quo”. On the night of December 22-23, 1949, trespassers placed Lord Ram’s idol under the central dome of the Babri Masjid. District Collector KK Nair ordered a ‘status quo’ - by not permitting Muslims to pray inside the mosque and not removing the idol. He also allowed Hindus a “limited” right to pray and pujaris would ensure daily bhog. On February 1, 1986, District Judge K M Pandey ordered unlocking of gates that acted as a “barrier” between the idols inside the masjid and the devotees who had come for the darshan. This decision had the blessing of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who in order to mollify the self-anointed regressive Muslim leadership would subsequently introduce the bill to reverse the Shah Bano judgment on February 25, 1986. The demolition of the mosque on December 6, 1992 was also the destruction of the rule of law. Within a few hours of the mosque’s demolition, a makeshift temple was constructed at the site. Within a month of the demolition, the Allahabad High Court allowed for darshan at the makeshift temple.
The Supreme Court took up the case as property dispute but decided it on the basis of faith. The Supreme Court despite conceding that faith cannot confer title, it still went ahead to give property to worshippers on the basis of faith.

How Court Decided
Reliance on records of European travellers, lack of evidence from the Muslim side to prove continuous, uninterrupted and exclusive possession prior to 1856, treating the outer and inner courtyard of the disputed structure as one unit in a significant departure from the Allahabad High Court verdict — a combination of these factors tilted the Constitution Bench verdict in the Ayodhya title dispute against the Muslim side.
In criminal cases, the established standard of proof is for the prosecution to prove the claim beyond a reasonable doubt. In absence of witnesses and forensic evidence, the prosecution relies on circumstantial evidence. “Preponderance of probability” is a lesser standard of proof required in civil cases — and is generally accepted as probability to lean towards one side being greater than leaning to the other side.
In property disputes, the court looks into ownership records - both in possession of earring parties as well as in government records. In Ayodhya case, none of the parties had land records in their favour. And government records did not precede 1528, when the mosque was built. The Supreme Court therefore, relied on historical evidence to examine who had possession of the land before mosque was constructed. And it found the place was known as Ram Janmasthan and puja being performed here since ages. Archaeological evidence lent credence to the theory. Reliance on scriptures was apparently to invoke faith while travellers accounts were treated as historical evidence.
The court looks at three timelines to determine possession of the disputed area to award the title — prior to 1856; between 1856 and 1934; and after 1934.The possession of Muslims is accepted readily from 1856 — when Awadh was annexed by the British — relying on land revenue records, court documents and police reports during riots. However, the court notes that the mosque was constructed in 1528 “by or at the behest of Babur, there is no account by them of possession, use or offer of namaz in the mosque between the date of construction and 1856-57.”
Thus, for a period of over 325 years, the Muslims have no evidence to establish the exercise of possession of the disputed site. Nor is there any account in the evidence of the offering of namaz in the mosque, over this period, the court said.

No More Temple Politics
The judgment is likely to de-politicise the issue. It is the culmination of four decades of hard labour of BJP-VHP workers, many of whom laid their lives for it. The issue was the pivot of many electoral campaigns and helped the BJP in being catapulted from mere two Lok Sabha seats till 1989 to 182 in 1998 - with a gap of just nine years. A phenomenal growth, mostly due to Ayodhya movement spearheaded by Lal Krishna Advani.
So, will the verdict result in the loss of one of the most potent weapons from BJP’s arsenal? Or as Rahul Gandhi claimed - the judgement has taken the air out of BJP’s Ayodhya sail for ever. His contention however, seems too far fetched and more hope than reality. For Hindu nationalists, this is a moment in a long historical struggle. They identify Hindus as subjugated. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was a cathartic moment, and the building of a temple will be the denouement for a long-repressed civilisation.

In Govt’s Court now
The court has put the ball in Modi Government’s court. It has to constitute a trust that will get the temple constructed. It along with Yogi Adityanath government in UP, has to identify the plot of five acre land to be given to Sunni Waqf Board for a mosque. But these things are not easy. Board apparently, is in no mood to accept the ‘charity’.
While Muslim Personal Law Board has been mulling filing a review petition, main plaintiffs Sunni Waqf Board and Iqbal Ansari have denied going for an appeal. “We respect the verdict. Because more than anything, it is expected to promote social harmony, said UP Sunni Waqf Board Chairman Zafar Farooqi.

Sangh Strived for Calm
BJP and RSS affiliates too had undertaken a massive exercise to ensure that the verdict did not elicit extreme communal reactions. They trained media teams to promote messages of social harmony. The government too came down hard on trouble mongers. UP government’s cyber security team not only flagged down inciting social media posts and arrested the propagators but also publicised the arrests. This acted as a major deterrent and even passed off peacefully. Sangh Parivar has also abandoned plans to reclaim similar disputed structures in Kashi and Mathura. While Gyanvapi Mosque oversees the Kashi Vishwanath temple in PM Modi’s constituency Varaṇasi, an Idgaah stands contiguous to Krishṇa birthplace in Mathura. On being reminded of their warcry, “ye to sirf jhaṅki hai, Kashi, Mathura baaki hai”, VHP working president, Alok Kumar sheepishly says, “Our focus right now is on building Ram Temple in Ayodhya. We don’t want to be distracted by anything else. We will mull over such things once the Ram Temple in completed”.

The Temple Trust
Even the constitution the proposed trust isn’t likely to be smooth. PM Narendra Modi wants it to be a grand, all religion body to augment his stature. Vishwa Hindu Parishad however, wants it to be an exclusive body of its cadres and saints. “We won’t allow non-believers and infidels to be part of the body which would build Ram Temple,’’ said a senior VHP leader. They don’t want prominent Hindu seers like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on board of the trust as he is a nirgun upasak (believer of non-formative God). VHP wants only Vaishṇav (Vidhnu followers) and Shaivites) seers to be part of the proposed trust. In fact, a three-hour long all-religion meeting convened by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to discuss trust formation, remained inconclusive since VHP leaders objected to inclusion of Muslims in it.
VHP also wants the temple to be built as per the map and model prepared by it decades ago. It already has fully carved stones to build the plinth of the three-story temple. They claim that the design had been approved by the grand old man of VHP, Ashok Singhal, who passed away a few years ago. According to Chandrakant Sompura, the architect of the proposed temple, it would require about hard labour of 22000 workers non-stop for the next three years, to get the temple completed in time.
But, there is much more to it than meets the eye. The land around the present site is not only uneven but full of ravines. It would require several months to level it for even first stone to be laid there. VHP vice president Champat Rai however, exclaims, “we have the wherewithal to do it fast and we are ready to hand over the easy construction material to the government-trust”.
Modi was a charioteer of Lal Krishna Advani during his October 1990 rathyatra that invigorated the entire country into demanding Ram Temple in unison. Having received the task of construction of the Temple, must be fulfilling his long cherished desire. Getting it done peacefully is the cherry on the cake, the world would be approvingly looking at.


The Judgement pronounced in his favour, now Ram Lalla will stay in Ayodhya Temple

Reeta Singh
Reeta Singh

Reeta Singh is a senior journalist with over 30 years’ of experience in print and electronic media. She is also a social activist, working on gender issues

It was in 1528 that Babur conquered India. He got a mosque constructed at the Ram’s birth place in Ayodhya. That’s why it was called Babri Mosque or Janmasthan Mosque”.
This is how Sunni Waqf Board began its petition in Allahabad High Court in 1961, which in 2010 divided the disputed land in Ayodhya in three parts - one third land to Ram Lalla (infant Rama) for his temple, second to Nirmohi Akhada and third one to Sunni Waqf Board for construction of a mosque. But Supreme Court used this very ground to allot entire 2.77 acre land for construction of Ram Janmabhoomi temple. It implied that Babur was an invader who got a mosque constructed at Ram’s birthplace to morally subjugate the Hindu natives. Muslims have been compensated by getting five acre land in Ayodhya for their mosque. Nirmohi Akhara got a representation in the trust meant to oversee temple construction and management.
So Ram triumphed once again. This time in Supreme Court, in probably more protracted battle than his fight with the demon king Ravana. The Supreme Court has declared that he, in his incarnate form, has sovereign rights to 2.77 acres of disputed land. Any other claimants to the land, especially the waqf board, cannot claim adverse possession to the land.

Nuanced Verdict
The Supreme Court had a difficult job on its hands. It is hard to imagine what Indian politics would have been, had the Court asked for the restoration of the Babri Masjid. So, the only two other options were a victory for the Hindu side, or some imaginative solution that did equal justice to all kinds of claims involved in this dispute. The Allahabad High Court judgment, flawed as it was, was a balancing act: divide the land, respect all faiths, and put the past behind us.
In some ways, the Supreme Court judgment has gone for a similar solution. The Supreme Court has tried to please everyone in its much awaited judgment on the property dispute in Ayodhya. The worshippers of Lord Ram have been given land for the construction of a temple at the very site where the Babri Masjid stood between 1528 and December 6, 1992.
The Nirmohi Akhara has welcomed the judgment as it will be given some representation in the trust that would construct the temple. The Sunni Waqf Board too must have the satisfaction that the highest court has accepted their central argument that the Babri Masjid was a Sunni, and not Shia, waqf property, and the same was not constructed after demolishing the Ram temple.
Similarly, Muslim grievances about the trespass in 1949 and the tragic demolition of the mosque in 1992 have been accepted by the court. In fact, the court has accepted that there was a violation of their legal rights. Accordingly, the court, invoking its extraordinary jurisdiction of doing complete justice under Article 142 of the Constitution, has given them almost 20 times more land in Ayodhya - 5 acre in place if 0.30 acres plot in which Babri Masjid stood.

The History
The Ayodhya dispute began in 1886 with litigation in the British courts over a chabutra that was constructed outside the Babri Masjid by one Mahant Raghubar Das in the late 1850s. When the British prevented the construction of a canopy over the chabutra, Das unsuccessfully litigated his cause in three judicial forums. Each time, the courts emphasised status quo — that is, the Muslims would pray inside the Babri Masjid while the Hindus had limited rights to pray at the chabutra. Surprisingly, the apex court has rejected title of Muslims for want of proof of title document. The court rejected the revenue record and gazetteers as sufficient proof. Even the British grant papers were said to be sufficient only for proving the upkeep of the mosque.
The Babri litigation is a story of changing “status quo”. On the night of December 22-23, 1949, trespassers placed Lord Ram’s idol under the central dome of the Babri Masjid. District Collector KK Nair ordered a ‘status quo’ - by not permitting Muslims to pray inside the mosque and not removing the idol. He also allowed Hindus a “limited” right to pray and pujaris would ensure daily bhog. On February 1, 1986, District Judge K M Pandey ordered unlocking of gates that acted as a “barrier” between the idols inside the masjid and the devotees who had come for the darshan. This decision had the blessing of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who in order to mollify the self-anointed regressive Muslim leadership would subsequently introduce the bill to reverse the Shah Bano judgment on February 25, 1986. The demolition of the mosque on December 6, 1992 was also the destruction of the rule of law. Within a few hours of the mosque’s demolition, a makeshift temple was constructed at the site. Within a month of the demolition, the Allahabad High Court allowed for darshan at the makeshift temple.
The Supreme Court took up the case as property dispute but decided it on the basis of faith. The Supreme Court despite conceding that faith cannot confer title, it still went ahead to give property to worshippers on the basis of faith.

How Court Decided
Reliance on records of European travellers, lack of evidence from the Muslim side to prove continuous, uninterrupted and exclusive possession prior to 1856, treating the outer and inner courtyard of the disputed structure as one unit in a significant departure from the Allahabad High Court verdict — a combination of these factors tilted the Constitution Bench verdict in the Ayodhya title dispute against the Muslim side.
In criminal cases, the established standard of proof is for the prosecution to prove the claim beyond a reasonable doubt. In absence of witnesses and forensic evidence, the prosecution relies on circumstantial evidence. “Preponderance of probability” is a lesser standard of proof required in civil cases — and is generally accepted as probability to lean towards one side being greater than leaning to the other side.
In property disputes, the court looks into ownership records - both in possession of earring parties as well as in government records. In Ayodhya case, none of the parties had land records in their favour. And government records did not precede 1528, when the mosque was built. The Supreme Court therefore, relied on historical evidence to examine who had possession of the land before mosque was constructed. And it found the place was known as Ram Janmasthan and puja being performed here since ages. Archaeological evidence lent credence to the theory. Reliance on scriptures was apparently to invoke faith while travellers accounts were treated as historical evidence.
The court looks at three timelines to determine possession of the disputed area to award the title — prior to 1856; between 1856 and 1934; and after 1934.The possession of Muslims is accepted readily from 1856 — when Awadh was annexed by the British — relying on land revenue records, court documents and police reports during riots. However, the court notes that the mosque was constructed in 1528 “by or at the behest of Babur, there is no account by them of possession, use or offer of namaz in the mosque between the date of construction and 1856-57.”
Thus, for a period of over 325 years, the Muslims have no evidence to establish the exercise of possession of the disputed site. Nor is there any account in the evidence of the offering of namaz in the mosque, over this period, the court said.

No More Temple Politics
The judgment is likely to de-politicise the issue. It is the culmination of four decades of hard labour of BJP-VHP workers, many of whom laid their lives for it. The issue was the pivot of many electoral campaigns and helped the BJP in being catapulted from mere two Lok Sabha seats till 1989 to 182 in 1998 - with a gap of just nine years. A phenomenal growth, mostly due to Ayodhya movement spearheaded by Lal Krishna Advani.
So, will the verdict result in the loss of one of the most potent weapons from BJP’s arsenal? Or as Rahul Gandhi claimed - the judgement has taken the air out of BJP’s Ayodhya sail for ever. His contention however, seems too far fetched and more hope than reality. For Hindu nationalists, this is a moment in a long historical struggle. They identify Hindus as subjugated. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was a cathartic moment, and the building of a temple will be the denouement for a long-repressed civilisation.

In Govt’s Court now
The court has put the ball in Modi Government’s court. It has to constitute a trust that will get the temple constructed. It along with Yogi Adityanath government in UP, has to identify the plot of five acre land to be given to Sunni Waqf Board for a mosque. But these things are not easy. Board apparently, is in no mood to accept the ‘charity’.
While Muslim Personal Law Board has been mulling filing a review petition, main plaintiffs Sunni Waqf Board and Iqbal Ansari have denied going for an appeal. “We respect the verdict. Because more than anything, it is expected to promote social harmony, said UP Sunni Waqf Board Chairman Zafar Farooqi.

Sangh Strived for Calm
BJP and RSS affiliates too had undertaken a massive exercise to ensure that the verdict did not elicit extreme communal reactions. They trained media teams to promote messages of social harmony. The government too came down hard on trouble mongers. UP government’s cyber security team not only flagged down inciting social media posts and arrested the propagators but also publicised the arrests. This acted as a major deterrent and even passed off peacefully. Sangh Parivar has also abandoned plans to reclaim similar disputed structures in Kashi and Mathura. While Gyanvapi Mosque oversees the Kashi Vishwanath temple in PM Modi’s constituency Varaṇasi, an Idgaah stands contiguous to Krishṇa birthplace in Mathura. On being reminded of their warcry, “ye to sirf jhaṅki hai, Kashi, Mathura baaki hai”, VHP working president, Alok Kumar sheepishly says, “Our focus right now is on building Ram Temple in Ayodhya. We don’t want to be distracted by anything else. We will mull over such things once the Ram Temple in completed”.

The Temple Trust
Even the constitution the proposed trust isn’t likely to be smooth. PM Narendra Modi wants it to be a grand, all religion body to augment his stature. Vishwa Hindu Parishad however, wants it to be an exclusive body of its cadres and saints. “We won’t allow non-believers and infidels to be part of the body which would build Ram Temple,’’ said a senior VHP leader. They don’t want prominent Hindu seers like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on board of the trust as he is a nirgun upasak (believer of non-formative God). VHP wants only Vaishṇav (Vidhnu followers) and Shaivites) seers to be part of the proposed trust. In fact, a three-hour long all-religion meeting convened by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to discuss trust formation, remained inconclusive since VHP leaders objected to inclusion of Muslims in it.
VHP also wants the temple to be built as per the map and model prepared by it decades ago. It already has fully carved stones to build the plinth of the three-story temple. They claim that the design had been approved by the grand old man of VHP, Ashok Singhal, who passed away a few years ago. According to Chandrakant Sompura, the architect of the proposed temple, it would require about hard labour of 22000 workers non-stop for the next three years, to get the temple completed in time.
But, there is much more to it than meets the eye. The land around the present site is not only uneven but full of ravines. It would require several months to level it for even first stone to be laid there. VHP vice president Champat Rai however, exclaims, “we have the wherewithal to do it fast and we are ready to hand over the easy construction material to the government-trust”.
Modi was a charioteer of Lal Krishna Advani during his October 1990 rathyatra that invigorated the entire country into demanding Ram Temple in unison. Having received the task of construction of the Temple, must be fulfilling his long cherished desire. Getting it done peacefully is the cherry on the cake, the world would be approvingly looking at.


The apocalyptic day when we will beg for a glass of water is not far away. And yet, there is no short of it, just a huge greed to waste it, everywhere…

Bhavdeep Kang
Bhavdeep Kang

Bhavdeep has worked for publications like The Times of India, The Telegraph, The Indian Express, India Today & Outlook. She has authored a book ‘Gurus: Stories of India’s Leading Babas’. She is presently freelancing for several publications -both print and digital

Z ero Day – when taps run dry and citizens can no longer look to the municipality for water supply - arrived in the small town of Tendukheda, Madhya Pradesh, more than a decade ago. Local boys could not find brides, as no girl wanted to live in the parched town. Water was sold by the bucket, at rates comparable with Bisleri. The municipality resorted to importing water from far-flung tubewells, but to this day, even an hour’s water supply is like manna from heaven.
Chennai was the first of the metropolitan cities to declare Zero Day on June 19, 2019, when all four of its reservoirs dried up and water supply to citizens was cut off. According to Niti Ayog, 20 more cities will follow suit in the coming years. Bengaluru, despite its access to the Cauvery, faces continual water shortages. On July 12 this year, Hyderabad declared it had just 48 days’ supply left. The same story is being repeated in the North. In the summer of 2018, Shimla went dry. It wasn’t the only hill station struggling for water. Across Uttarakhand, popular tourist destinations like Mussoorie and Almora were water stressed. Even the ‘lake district’ of Nainital suffered acute water scarcity and continued to do so well into the summer of 2019.
The Cape Town Zero Day story attracted global attention, but through stringent water discipline, it managed to stave off the crisis. A similar ‘Jal Anushasan’ (water discipline) is urgently required in Indian cities.
Take Delhi, for example. Its share of the Yamuna waters is not enough to sustain the city. The bulk of its water supply is imported, notably from the Tehri and the Bhakra dams. Groundwater accounts for the remaining 14 per cent. Water tables are overexploited as a result and have fallen by as much as 350 feet in some areas. Even as Delhi struggles to meet water demand, nearly 46 per cent of its piped water is lost through leakages.

Capital Punishment
Picture Delhi as it once was, fed by numerous streams flowing eastwards from the hills. Travellers had to stop overnight at ‘serais’ before crossing over. Many areas of Delhi still carry the appellation ‘serai’, but the streams themselves have either dried up and been built over or are now foul-smelling ‘nullahs’ (drains).
Insatiable Delhi gulps clean Yamuna water and spews out raw sewage, a phenomenon clearly visible on Google maps: the greenish band of the river enters Delhi but abruptly turns black, downstream of the waterworks. Yet the city remains thirsty, with supply following short of demand. Earlier this year, Delhi t inked an agreement with Himachal Pradesh for water from the Renuka Dam, which will straddle the Giri River in Sirmour district. Nearly Rs 700 crore has already been committed to the project. The denizens of Sirmour, who will have to pay the ecological, social and economic costs of the project, have protested but have not been heard.
Now, picture Delhi as a bloated tick, sucking the lifeblood of the Himalaya to quench its thirst. Scores of villages submerged, hundreds of thousands of people displaced, forests destroyed and local economies wrecked, all to ensure that Delhi can continue to waste the water it has looted from hapless villages of other states.

Water is already rationed, in the sense that few areas in Delhi get a 24 x 7 supply. Tanks must be hastily filled up, usually by installing two pumps – one to ‘pull’ water from the pipeline and the other to ‘push’ it up to overhead tanks. Here, we encounter another hazard. Surface water sources have either dried up or are too polluted to drink from, so thirsty monkeys attack the tanks, removing the lids or breaking pipes, to gain access to the water! Lip service is routinely paid to water conservation, committees are set up and project reports commissioned, but so far, nothing concrete has emerged. The tough measures needed to recharge ground water, limit leakages and inculcate water discipline among consumers are not forthcoming.

Poor Harvesting
The National Green Tribunal has urged the government to examine whether buildings on plots of 500 sq metres and above are practising rainwater harvesting, in accordance with the rules. In fact, buildings of 100-500 sq metres constructed after 2012 are also required to harvest rainwater. The rule makes sense, because of Delhi’s immense capacity for rainwater harvesting. With an average rainfall of 800 mm per year (as compared to 210 mm for Jaisalmer), Delhi has adequate scope to meet its own requirements.
But it was only earlier this year that the Delhi government decided to make rainwater harvesting mandatory for all city government buildings in the state. A handful of citizens’ associations have banded together to undertake water harvesting projects at the colony level, with barely any encouragement from government agencies. They are the exceptions rather than the rule. For the most part, voluntary and collective efforts among the very loosely-knit, heterogeneous communities of Delhi is next to impossible. As a result, most of the rainwater is lost as runoff and no municipal body – and Delhi has four – has as yet coaxed or coerced its denizens to practice water-harvesting. At last count, there were a grand total of 1,200 rainwater harvesting facilities for the entire city.
Similarly, although waste water recycling is mandatory if discharge from a structure exceeds 10,000 litres, the rule is not enforced. It is only recently that Delhi decided to make water recycling mandatory in its schools and the project is yet to take off. As for the city’s sewage treatment capacity, the state of the Yamuna testifies to its inadequacy.
The city’s existing water harvesting structures are in a state of disrepair. Delhi has literally hundreds of water bodies, 201 of which it is only now seeking to revive. Lakes have vanished, as catchment areas have been built-up and trees felled. The Badkhal Lake in Faridabad, a large natural water body where denizens of Delhi may remember boating, fell prey to unchecked mining and is now completely dry.

Moon Water
States across India have passed legislation on rainwater harvesting. Uttar Pradesh, a late comer, did so in the month of July. Tamil Nadu was among the first to make rooftop rainwater harvesting by all buildings statutory in 2003. That Chennai has the distinction of being India’s first zero day city indicates just how lackadaisically the law has been applied. In 2015, Chennai was submerged because of heavy rains. Today, it is parched.
The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Board (CMWSSB), finding humour in the midst of crisis, tweeted to ISRO: “We are in the process of augmenting new water resources for our city. If you find any water on the Moon, you know whom to call first”.
Denizens of all major cities have faced the tanker-to-kitchen-and-bathroom nightmare, until water supply has been restored to their area. Obviously, systematic solutions are necessary to maintain a sustainable water supply. Water is used as if it does not have a cost, other than that of transportation. Only if tariffs go up will water use be voluntarily rationed. The groundwater cess must be strictly applied, provided the proceeds are used to augment water harvesting and storage. Natural lakes that have dried up can be revived by vigorously clearing encroachments and desilting.

Political Costs
The trouble is that such measures carry a political cost. Higher tariffs, groundwater cess and removing encroachments and unauthorised structures are all unpopular measures. In addition, conflicts over water between cities and their hinterland are bound to erupt, as farmers protest the diversion of the precious resource for domestic use.
As the Cape Town crisis indicates, the problem is not exclusive to India. Sao Paolo in Brazil, Mexico City, Cairo, Jakarta and Istanbul also face water stress. The story is same everywhere: overpopulation and overexploitation of water sources, with citizens and government agencies in denial, as if water is someone else’s problem.
The solutions, likewise, are universal although the methods may vary according to climatic and geological conditions. Conserve water and cut down consumption. Or resign yourself to Zero Day, because it is coming.


The market for renewable energy could not only help India buy carbon credits but create thousands of jobs in the neat nascent industry

Rashme Sehgal
Rashme Sehgal

Rashme Sehgal began her career as a poet-cum-short story writer in 1970s. She then shifted to journalism and worked with several leading newspapers including The Independent, The Telegraph and The Times of India

The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation admitted in end May that unemployment was at a four-decade high. This had already been highlighted by the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) job survey for 2017-18 which had shown a spike in the unemployment rate to over 6 per cent.
The NSSO stats also show that there is higher unemployment in the urban areas as compared to rural India. For the rural areas, the unemployment rate was 5.3 per cent, while in the urban areas it was 7.8 per cent.
This data was collected from 433,339 households located in both rural and urban areas. The government read Ministry of Finance has decried this data claiming this survey conducted between 2017-18 cannot be compared with previous years because they have used education as a criterion, unlike earlier surveys which had used expenditure as a hallmark.

Clear Bluff
This is the first comprehensive report on the country’s employment scenario in the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government and assumes significance as it captures the impact of demonetisation on the domestic economy.
The reason why so much emphasis is being given to the NSSO survey is that although it paints a gloomy picture vis a vis jobs in the Indian economy, one sector which is presenting a picture of hope is India’s renewable energy sector which is growing at a fast pace. While the manufacturing sector is seeing a downward spiral, India’s green sector is offering a ray of hope with more and more companies coming up in this high investment area. (See Box: Seven Startups) Several reports brought out by international agencies confirm this trend. A report done by International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted that India would be the fastest -growing energy consumer and market by 2040. The forecast also promises a bright scope for the renewable energy sector. This is good news for a country like India which has over 80 per cent of its workforce employed in the informal sector.
This is in line with countries across the globe gradually switching to clean energy in sync with their commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change. Jobs in the renewable energy sector globally crossed the 10 million mark in 2017. All the countries together had created over half-a-million new jobs in the sector last year—a 5.3 per cent increase from 2016.
Though most countries are making efforts to move towards a low-carbon economy, six of them - China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany and Japan - have created 70 per cent of jobs globally in this sector according to the findings of the report of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
The figures show that the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry remains the largest employer of all renewable energy technologies, accounting for close to 3.4 million jobs worldwide, including 2.2 million jobs in China and 1,64,000 jobs in India. All in all, de-carbonisation of the global energy system can create up to 28 million jobs in this sector by 2050.
The IRENA report also highlighted how the costs for setting up solar PV projects have dropped by about 80 per cent in India between 2010 and 2018. India has realised that it is cheaper to build and operate solar farms than to run existing coal-fired power plants.

Solar Glitter
The growth story of the Indian solar market is remarkable because the government has failed to come up with a uniform policy. Experts have been stressing the need for a National Solar Policy but that has not come about. The cost of capital in India is also higher than in other South Asian countries. The present cost of borrowing from the current levels of 10-1 per cent need to be brought down.
The International Labour Organization in a separate report titled World Employment and Social Outlook Trends 2018 highlights that by 2022, over 300,000 people will be employed in the solar and wind industries, which is practically double of the number employed in 2009.
These workers will be working in the area of ground-mounted solar, rooftop solar and wind power projects all of whose numbers will have to increase significantly. The report further states that while India is rapidly increasing its share of renewable energy sources but still relies on coal, oil and natural gas and the related carbon emissions for 80 per cent of its electricity.
However, major expansion in the renewable energy sector could change the situation on the ground. It is keeping this in mind that India’s 12th Five-Year Plan and the Niti Aayog roadmaps have made environmental sustainability as core to India’s development strategy.

This has resulted in the setting up of a comprehensive framework for skills development for a green transition.
India has already become the world’s third biggest solar power, and has already achieved the target of 20 GW it had set for 2022. Next up, India has now set a target of achieving 100 GW in the next four years.
Given that power is a state subject, the states play a key role in promoting solar energy. The states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu promoted open access through concessional loans and by providing banking facilities for solar. Other states including Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are expected to follow suit.
Another problem that solar energy is facing is acquiring land for projects. Acquisition of land is both time consuming and an expensive process. Since the cost of land constitutes about seven per cent of a large scale solar project, in 2016, the MNRE Solar Park Policy introduced guidelines that would help state governments help identify waste and non-agricultural land to speed up the process.
The IRENA report has shown that India has set a target of installing 175 GW of renewable power by 2022. This includes 100 GW from solar power, 60 GW from wind power, 10 GW from biomass power and 5 GW from small hydro power. India’s cumulative solar installations stand at 19.6 GW as on December, 2017. The country had added record 9.6 GW of solar power last year.

Power Jobs
The IRENA gives specific figures to assess the number of jobs created. In all 11 million jobs were created, 3.6 million jobs in the solar PV industry, 2.1 million in biofuels and hydropower. Asia accounted for 60 per cent of these jobs of which 39 per cent were cornered by China. But renewable energy is good for women because 32 per cent of these jobs went to women. India’s largest renewable-sector employment generation was in the labour-intensive hydro-power segment, with 17 per cent of the global hydropower employment generation being from the country. India could perhaps tackle its unemployment problem via the renewable energy sector—the report puts India in the top 10 countries that are generating renewables employment. The report further highlights how the focus in solar must also be on the rooftop solar segment which is more labour-intensive as it provides around 25 jobs per year per megawatt (MW). The ground-mounted solar accounts for 3.45 job-years per MW and wind power for 1.27 job-years per MW.
All these statistics of providing three million new jobs in the next ten years add up provided 40 per cent of the country’s electricity is generated through renewables

The Clue
But the key question is, is this happening on the ground? The think tank and NGO Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has repeatedly emphasised that India needs a renewable energy policy that is less about industry and more about ensuring supply to meet the needs of the poorest in the country. It should be a means to both de-carbonise the economy and provide access to large numbers of people who are energy-deprived. Renewable energy is not just another infrastructural challenge, rather this sector is important to achieve the challenges of the modern era the CSE Director General Sunita Narain has repeatedly emphasised.

Deprivation Story
The reality of energy deprivation was highlighted by Upendra Tripathy at an International Solar Alliance meet when he stressed that 600 million people would not have access to energy even in 2040. A large number of these are in India.
Priyavrat Bhati, advisor, Energy Group, CSE, said that renewable energy received a boost in 2015 when India decided to install 175 GW capacity of such energy by 2022, but the momentum seems to be slowing down.
Bhati believes that inconsistent policies in this sector have been one of the biggest problems faced by the renewable energy sector especially when it is seeking to attract global investors.
The CSE’s 2019 State of Renewable Energy report emphasises that while there is no doubt that renewable energy (RE) has expanded and is looking to provide 20 per cent of the country’s installed capacity for power generation but it has not grown to the extent that it should have. The report highlights some of its limitations.
First, there is the challenge of access to energy. The fact is that even as the grid reaches everywhere, the light does not. Whatever the reason, millions in the country are still in darkness. Second, there is the challenge of clean cooking energy. Women, across the developing world, continue to be exposed to toxic emissions because of the biomass they burn to fuel their cooking stoves.’
Other challenges are the facts that the world and India remain addicted to fossil fuels. How can it replace coal and yet provide this energy security? That is the key challenge for which there are no easy answers.

Green Education
The other important and corresponding message is how to integrate green skills in formal education and training programmes. Thailand provides a good example of this, having forged ahead by training people in constructing green buildings and other green skill competencies in the construction trade.
India has failed to develop a curriculum in the area of technical and vocational education run by the government which is in alignment with the needs of the market. The Indian government has seventeen ministries engaged in providing educational and technical training which is not in alignment with the needs of the industry. People coming out of these institutes are simply not trained.

Reality Disconnect
The Prime Minister’s Skill India Mission is one such example of failure. Although it had a kitty of Rs 12,000 crore funding from the government, the programme called the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana was a disaster because although it trained over 41 lakh persons in the past three years only 6.15 lakh people managed to get jobs as revealed by Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister of Skill Development, informed Parliament, which makes it a placement rate of 15 per cent. This happened largely because many of these youth were not trained according to the needs of the industry.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has also launched a Green Skill Development Programme (GSDP) which aims to train over 550,000 people in the environment and forest sectors in the next three years so that they can get employment in these sectors. But here again these programmes must partner with the private sector so that their syllabi and training incorporates the needs and requirements of prospective employers.
India’s plans of reaching 100 Gigawatt (GW) of solar installations by 2022 may fall short of the target by almost 30 per cent, unless further aggressive incentives are offered and focus is given more on rooftop installations.
Despite the hype and incentives, solar installations in the country are slowing down. Though the first quarter of 2019 saw a 4 per cent jump in installations to 1,737 MW, when compared to the 1,638 MW installed in Q4 2018 it was down 49 per cent compared to 3,377 MW added in the first quarter of 2018.
Another problem looming large in the renewable energy sector is the Andhra Pradesh government’s decision to review and bring down the purchase cost of wind and solar energy as this could cause financial trouble for 5.2 GW of renewable projects with estimated debt exposure of over Rs 21,000 crore. Of this, Rs 10,600 crore worth of projects may be at a higher risk of default pointed out the rating agency Crisil.
If a similar decision is taken by other states, it could prove a serious blow to this section of RE. Thanks to the central government’s push for renewables with a target of 175 GW renewable capacity by fiscal 2022, investments in the country’s renewable energy sector had doubled over the last five years to around $20 billion in 2018. But to reach these targets, it will require further investments of around $80 billion till 2022. By May 2019, utility solar installations were over 27 GW and wind 36 GW of wind energy. Raising money for these projects will prove a gigantic task. But there is no doubt we need to come up with sustainable practices for this green economy to take roots at the grass root level. Transition to the green economy needs investment. It needs consistent policies. It is only when all these policies and practises are in place that we will see major job increases and more sustainable environmental practices in place.


Mahatma Gandhi launched many of his experiments in Champaran. He did not collect a single penny as donation. He also ensured that British Raj couldn’t brand it as a violent struggle in any way

Arvind Mohan
Arvind Mohan

The author is a senior journalist, political commentator and socialist thinker

CHAMPARAN has been the focus of historical attention for a long time -from Janak to Chandragupta Maurya, from Ashoka to the Mughal rule. When the Dutch, the French and the English arrived here to trade in Indigo and export it, the initiative looked pretty profitable because it was providing opportunity for extra income besides agricultural production. The fertile soil producing commercial crops like cane, opium, chillies and turmeric, promised a new phase of development. But soon the only people who continued to live here were the British, all others were compelled to migrate through severe thrashing. The British took over Bettiah, Ramnagar, and Madhuban states and after taking their agriculture rights, imposed land-revenue tax and cess-taxes on the region. The new combination of trade, administration and the old feudal structure created such terror that the lives of peasants became hell. People left their fertile and rich region seeking respite and mercy. But the British and Indigo farmers rule created such a situation that they couldn’t salvage their money or reputation. Whenever any voice of protest was raised, the oppression became greater. No plea was of any consequence because the thief, the looter and the police were all one and the same.

Indigo production from Champaran and Tirhut was considered to be the best and the entire business of dying and clouring depended on it. The price of indigo became 50 times higher by the time it reached the markets of London and Europe from Champaran. If even a fraction of this benefit had reached Champaran, the district today would have scaled unimagined heights. On the contrary, the peasant here was caught with this one crop throughout the year and every year Nilhe (Indigo planters) forced them to grow indigo on the new fields because continuous harvest made the fields less fertile. Although this marked the beginning of contract farming, eventually it became a structure in which power, zamindari rights and bullying, a part of the fields was confiscated - 5 katta from the first bigha i.e. one-fourth of total land and from subsequent lands 3 katta per bigha because of which this crop came to be known as ‘teen-kattiya’. Also, peasants were compelled to work begari (without wages), their plough-bulls and carts taken away at the time when they were needed and heavy fines imposed for the slightest error. There was no mention in the contract as to how the crop would be produced and in what quantity or what would be the farmers’ share in the transaction. Therefore it ultimately became the peasants’ responsibility to sow the crop, irrigate it, check the growth, harvest it and send it to the factories; while the planters had absolute power simply to get all the jobs done.
At first the peasants liked the crops that earned them hard cash at the very start. Cane and opium farming was different experience and growing indigo was an entirely a different story. They did not know any use of this crop and in very little time growing indigo became unprofitable for them. Humiliation and suffering indignities was a new experience, but there was protest too. On several occasions there was violent opposition - first on personal scale and then collectively. But when the entire administration was behind indigo planters, every violent opposition proved to be the cause of further difficulties. Then came the phase of letter writing and efforts were made to send a word to the British monarchy. But there was no solution. Legal battles were fought but then how many people could go to the court. Moreover, courts too were a part of the administration. The matter was not confined to peasants. The indigo farming operation which had enchained the farmers also employed more than 35,000 workers employed in more than 100 kothis and factories. All of them were paid wages in cash. In the beginning, the workers too liked the work and the regular income. Because of this, they even clashed with the farmers. But later even the workers decided that they had had enough when the firangi raj along with all the old feudal ills created a trap for their meagre earnings through extortion, commission, taxes etc. Therefore people from all groups joined in the protest against indigo planters and in the violent clashes during 1908-9 people started looking for new options. Gandhi reached there as part of this process.

The decision to approach Gandhi was taken by people who had new ideas despite being defeated in the earlier protests. At that time Congress unit had not been properly constituted in Bihar let alone Champaran. The Congress workers in Bihar worked under some other names but attended the convention as Congress men. Then there was Lucknow convention of Indian National Congress, in which the number of representatives from Bihar was not known. Raj Kumar Shukla who attended the convention, invited Gandhi to Champaran. Probably just one or two people only from the intelligence had attended the convention posing as Congress representatives. Gandhi had deliberately kept away the name of Congress in Champaran because it would provide the administration additional reason to suppress the protests and instead of viewing it as the peasants’ problem, they will see it as a part of the national struggle and will handle it accordingly. Since Gandhi was particularly cautious about this matter he stopped Madan Mohan Malviya, Mazrul Haq and other important leaders for joining the movement directly. At times when confrontation was imminent, Gandhi used his influence to prevent it. Several times he held on certain issues to make the British and the protesters agree to his point. At other times he compromised himself but did not allow the movement to be derailed. Now it is publicly known that there were several reports - including the plot to poison him that Gandhi kept to himself in order to prevent an uproar leading to digressions in the movement.

Gandhi personally, had arrived fully prepared in Champaran. He was conscious that he was alone, without means but well prepared and was also aware of the good and bad things prevailing in the society. He had made arrangements for certain means when he reached Champaran and refused outrightly to accept any charity and donation. He had given instructions during the movement that no one should write or discuss the matter, should not organise lectures and meetings and should keep away the press. Not just this, Gandhi never linked the Champaran movement to the said national movement. Contributions were taken from outside Champaran but not spent there. Later, when during the 10-month movement it was discovered that expenses were well within 2200 rupees only, Gandhi was overjoyed and said that they were actually able to save 500 or a 1000. Although he was worried about finding volunteers and the financial aspect of Sabarmati Ashram and other commitments, but at this time his primary anxiety was Champaran. Instead of bringing people from outside to Champaran he exercised the reverse option, sending people out of Champaran. Swami Satyadev was one such worker who was sent to south India from Champaran to promote the Hindi language. In Champaran Gandhi did not speak of any revolution, no call to uproot powers, he did not argue about alternatives to violence, and did not lead any movement against the destruction of records by mahajans or the bashing up of zamindars by the peasants. While staying in Champaran he did not mention any caste or any community. He spoke a little Hindi, but only that. He did not go on fasts but left everything to pay attention specifically to matters when they threatened to turn violent. He extended affectionate behaviour not only to the English bosses but also to the Indigo planters. There is no evidence that he expressed any bitterness against Indigo planter Wilson, who attacked him at every point and probably even tried to poison him. However when he made a personal accusation against Kasturba then Gandhi who generally kept away from media debate gave a reply, albeit without any bitterness. It is due to this that in all writings by British officers one does not find a direct criticism of Gandhi. While Gandhi was burning down their palaces, planters too usually criticised his supporters instead of attacking him directly though Gandhi was working directly against them.

After looking at Gandhi’s orders, suggestions, observations and conduct, he seems to be focused on achieving only three goals - one, to end the suffering of peasants in Champaran, two, to dispel the fear of administration and the white men, third, the attempt to give a local alternative to the oppressive British system. The first job he accomplished with gusto and exercised great pressure on the British administration. He did not allow this matter to get diluted and he did not keep it a secret. One criticism made in this context is that indigo was any way about to die a natural death at this point because artificial colours had been introduced and vegetable dyes were on their way out. It is said that Gandhi made use of the opportunity because the demand for indigo saw a revival just once for a short time during the World War. If this was so obvious, the planters themselves were turning away from indigo farming then it is not possible that Gandhi did not understand the situation. But Gandhi also took little time to understand how the peasants were at the receiving end of the ‘teen-kattiya’ farming, the zamindari of nilhe (Indigo planters), the close links between them and the British bosses and the dozens of levies/contributions that were an integral part of the old zamindari system. Immediately upon reaching Champaran, Gandhi realised that nilhe themselves, backed by the registered support of the administration, foresaw the end of ‘teen-kattiya’ farming and were imposing higher lagaan on the farmers in order to set them free. Gandhi raised these questions at every forum and in just a few days he convinced them into supporting him.
As soon as it occurred to Gandhi that the administration along with the Indigo planters were not prepared to place their reputation at risk and Indigo planters will not be able to continue with their activities, he began working for his third goal. For this he sought support from both the government and the Indigo planters. Although he did not get the support he had asked for, the opposition to him too was not as forceful as it was in the matter of ending the ‘teen-kattiya’ farming of indigo. In this work there was something like the earlier situation in which everything was achieved through one command. When Gandhi left Champaran on the request of peasants from Kheda and the mill workers of Ahmadabad, he regretted that he could not see the result of his first experiment and many of his dreams were still incomplete. His latest mission was not accomplished with the loudness with which he had sought to end the fear of the administration and the white man. But it was such a big secret too. This was probably the most effective initiative in his fight against the western culture or for alternatives. He achieved the basic aim of the movement through this strategy. He not only assured the support of all sections of society but of thousands of other people. Gandhi presented the successful achievement of his experiment in order to end the trauma of indigo farming, the terror of the white race, in order to establish the pattern of his simplicity and indigenous methods, and in order to present an alternative to creative activities.

When we look at Gandhi’s experiments a hundred years later now, it becomes important to see and understand that in Champaran there was no lathi-charge and no shooting. Nobody got a long term in jail, no life-risking strikes, no charity donation and no expenses on pomp and show. Gandhi did not allow a single penny to be collected from Champaran as donation. In the 10 months of the movement just 2200 rupees were spent. The contribution that Gandhi had collected from outside too remain unspent. The money collected by Brij Kishore Babu was used later in different matters. Gandhi’s experiment in Champaran is special in several ways and its unique quality is important not merely in the context of national struggle and the end of British colonialism. Actually it was through this movement that Gandhi made a systematic beginning of his creative and cultural alternative plan. In this, it was his desire to seek support not just from the British administration but also from indigo planters, but this was not fulfilled. Not just this, he was not successful in taking this experiment to the level he had planned. The time shortage was a factor, also the number of trained workers for the purpose was limited. In some matters the support from local people too was not of the level expected. He wanted to start five-six schools, but could start only three, and one of these too had to close down later. Gandhi wanted to experiment with rural universities and modern cow sheds but could not do any better than starting one cow shed in Betia. Gandhi did not have the time to even make a proper estimation of his experiments. The only evaluation criteria visible was the number of students who came to the schools. It would have been good if more research had been done in this matter, regarding its beginning, expansion and the debates that took place at that time. Later research could have been done on the changes and the expansion. Gandhi himself gave much weight-age to this sort of work and tried to expand it. Champaran too was a witness to the success of such experiments. But the process to continue Gandhi’s efforts and to find an alternative to the western model of development remained incomplete.

Gandhi’s coming to Champaran proved to be a historical event. It was a unique experiment in multiple ways. In addition to illustrating Gandhi’s strength it is also an interesting story about the rise of the spirit of protest in a living society against injustice, about Gandhi’s own attempts to establish a relationship with the local people and their difficulties with complete honesty, trust, strength and understanding. It is also a story about the thousands and lakhs who placed their ready faith in Gandhi and made him their own. This is also the first non-violent experiment that underlines the people’s strength to oppose injustice through co-operative and collective efforts based on truth. In Indian social history, individual examples of power struggle have been witnessed on earlier occasions as well. But experiment that Gandhi initiated in Champaran has a lot more of far-reaching impact; it included boycott of foreign goods, khilafat and non-co-operation movement, salt satyagraha and then on to the public revolt of 1942. The new generations today who are looking for a lasting and alternative development look at Gandhi’s creative alternative options as their model. The people who are now opposing the weaknesses and limitations of the present model of development and life style, have perceived elements central to Gandhian action and philosophy in matters of decentralisation, diversity and the rights of local inhabitants on natural resources. Gandhi has been the source of inspiration throughout the world for groups who have a post injustice participated in non-violent movements and searched for alternative to the western model of democracy. Gandhi remains at the centre of hope for people looking for an alternative world structure. In the situation, it is important that Gandhi, his movements and his experiments should be studied in detail and a path found to lead people to solutions for their needs.


With two-thirds of the population still living in rural areas, it would be prudent for the government to boost rural economy, if it wants to turn India into a robust country

Robin Keshaw
Robin Keshaw

Robin Keshaw is a development sector professional with rich experience in the domain of education, life skills and governance. He is a computer science graduate from BITS Pilani and has previously worked with Teach For India and CM office in Haryana.

INDIA is a predominantly rural country. 83 crore of its 121 crore population according to 2011 census lives in villages and 65 per cent population has agriculture as the sole means of sustenance. Agriculture, however, is no more a highly profitable business since it depends a lot on various vagaries of weather. There has been a spate of farmers’ suicides from across the country including Haryana and Punjab country’s food bowl. This has given a major impetus to migration from rural to urban areas. Farmers have been selling their land and settling down in cities where they are working as labour mostly in the construction industry or are plying rickshaws. Their plight is aggravated because of lack of skills.
This situation leads us to do a rethink on our economic and social policies. Whether we are neglecting the villages while providing thrust to industrialisation. We need to create job opportunities in villages. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA) was such a scheme. It halted migration to a large extent. But, it provided employment to the rural poor but did could have also created infrastructure marvels it had been envisaged to have produced.

Heart of India lies in villages, Mahatma Gandhi had said. His vision of development incorporated villages not only as a basic unit but also as the key to progress. He used to say, the nation will develop only when its villages are developed, all villages are electrified, have a strong infrastructure and all villagers are fully employed and contribute to making a robust economy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has imbibed Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of governance. Most of the schemes announced by his during past three and a half years are directing at uplifting the lot of rural poor - whether it’s providing free LPG connections, free electricity connections, free LED bulbs, providing skill training, antyodaya scheme, subsidised ration, old-age pension scheme and agri-loan waiver. Most important of these are Rurban mission that entails providing same infrastructure facilities to rural folk what are available to urban dwellers - be it roads, power, water, education or health. This is one reason why most Americans and Europeans prefer to stay in the countryside than in cities. Only if Government is able to provide adequate employment opportunities in rural areas and make agriculture a profitable venture, there is no doubt that migration will come to a halt. Before venturing into the intricacies of these schemes, let’s recall Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of a developed India. He was a visionary to stress the need for the upliftment of rural economy, as the first step to accelerate country’s growth curve.
Gandhi has said, “I would say that if the village perishes India will perish too. India will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost. The revival of the village is possible only when it is no more exploited. Industrialisation on a mass scale will necessarily lead to passive or active exploitation of the villagers as the problems of competition and marketing come in. Therefore we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use. Provided this character of the village industry is maintained, there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines and tools that they can make and can afford to use. Only they should not be used as a means of exploitation of others.”

Gujarat is often in the news, for being the leading industrialized state in the country. It is true that Gujarat, with 22 per cent of the country’s total investment, leads the country in industrialization. Narendra Modi’s vision and leadership as chief minister of the state for 12 long years, has made it possible for Gujarat to not only attract industries and investments but has also led to an improved quality of life in rural areas. Today, Gujarat is a model state when it comes to initiatives in rural development The roots of Gujarat’s holistic approach towards rural development can be traced back to Modi’s early years. As pracharak and party-worker, Modi travelled the length and breadth of this country. He stayed with local workers, shared meals with them and in doing so developed a deep understanding of the issues plaguing rural India. Thus, Rural Development schemes in Gujarat deal with subjects as diverse as rural housing and employment, forestation, grievance redressal, sanitation, cleanliness and promotion of peace and brotherhood.

Elections in villages are often acrimonious and the bitterness creates impediments in the development of the village. In order to prevent such hindrances, the Government of Gujarat launched the Samaras Gram Yojana. Under this initiative, villages, which select a Sarpanch by consensus, receive monetary benefits. Almost 3700 villages in the state are now ‘Samaras villages’ and have received Rs.2306.4 lakh from the government.
Houses in rural India often lack toilets leading to uncomfortable situations for the residents, especially women. Empathising with them, the government of Gujarat launched the Nirmal Gram Yojana. In the past decade over four lakh toilets have been built in Gujarat and today there are over 4000 Nirmal Villages in the state, up from only 4 a decade back. This is exactly the model, he is trying to replicate at the national level as part of Rashtriya Swachhta Mission. Understanding the importance of a clean and green environment for the well-rounded development of the state, the government of Gujarat launched schemes to promote cleanliness in the villages and has undertaken afforestation drives. Under the ‘Swachh Gram Swasth Gram scheme,’ sanitation and hygiene are highlighted and monetary incentives are offered to villages, which undertake cleanliness drives. Under the ‘Panchavati Yojana’ the advantages of tree-plantation are explained to the people and fallow lands are identified for tree plantation drives. These schemes have not only made the villages more scenic but have also improved rural health. He also addressed the housing problem in rural areas, especially amongst landless labourers. The Government of Gujarat launched the Sardar Patel Awaas Yojana. Under this scheme, the government provides free plots of land for the purpose of house-building to BPL cardholders. This scheme has been immensely successful and has been very well received across the state. Gujarat is an innovator when it comes to incorporating technology into Governance.

Under the ‘E-Gram Vishwa Gram Yojana’ computers with broadband internet connections have been installed in all Gram Panchayats across the state. These centres provide a number of services to the people such as providing birth/death certificates, proofs of income, caste certificates and residence proofs. Realizing the opportunity E-gram centres provide for facilitating the exchange of ideas, Voice over Internet Protocol facility has also been provided to the E-gram centres. This has led to increased communication between village officials and the state leadership. It was Mahatma Gandhi’s vision that village-level problems be solved locally. Abiding by this philosophy, the Government of Gujarat launched the Gram Swagat program. Under this program, aggrieved citizens in villages can lodge their complaints at the E-Gram centres. These complaints are then taken up by the village head and are solved in a time-bound fashion.

In addition to these, schemes like the Garib Kalyan Mela, Krishi Mohatsav and Jyotigram Yojana have been instrumental in the overall development of the rural areas. The Garib Kalyan Mela, a ground-breaking program of the Government of Gujarat makes it easier for the people to receive entitlements from the government. The Government has organized around 1000 Garib Kalyan Melas resulting in 85 lakh people receiving benefits worth 12,500 crores from the state government. Krishi Mahotsav has been a key driver behind Gujarat’s phenomenal Agriculture growth-rate and it functions on similar lines. It includes kit distribution, cattle vaccination programs, and provision of soil health cards. In the recent Krishi Mahotsav, benefits worth 720 crores were provided to 15.17 lakh farmers in Gujarat. Because of the Jyotigram Yojana, which guarantees 24-Hour uninterrupted power to the villages, the quality of life in villages has gone up manifold.
These schemes have resulted in a substantial improvement in the quality of life in villages. The overall industrial development of the state has led to increased employment opportunities in villages. Owing to these factors, migration from rural to urban areas has reduced by 33 per cent.

In the Indian context, rural development may be defined as maximising production in agriculture and allied activities in the rural areas including development of rural industries with an emphasis on village and cottage industries. It attaches importance to the generation of maximum possible employment opportunities in rural areas, especially for the weaker sections of the community so as to enable them to improve their standard of living. Provision of certain basic amenities like drinking water, electricity, especially for the productive purpose, link roads connecting villages to market centres and facilities for health and education etc. figure prominently in the scheme of rural development.

Gandhian approach to rural development may be labelled as ‘idealist’. It attaches supreme importance to moral values and gives primacy to moral values over material conditions. The Gandhians believe that the source of moral values in general lies in religion and Hindu scriptures like the Upanishads and the Gita, in particular. The concept of ‘Rama Rajya’ is the basis of Gandhiji’s idea of an ideal social order. Gandhi defined Rama Rajya as “sovereignty of the people based on moral authority”. He did not view Rama as a king, and people as his subjects. In the Gandhian scheme, ‘Ram’ stood for God or one’s own ‘inner voice’ Gandhi believed in a democratic social order in which people are supreme. Their supremacy is, however, not absolute. It is subject to moral values.

The village is the basic unit of the Gandhian ideal social order. Gandhi succinctly pointed out, “If the village perishes India will perish too…. We have to make a choice between India of the villages that are as ancient as herself and India of the cities which are a creation of foreign domination”. Gandhi’s ideal village belongs to the Pre-British period, when Indian villages were supposed to constitute the federation of self-governing autonomous republics. According to Gandhiji, this federation will be brought about not by coercion or compulsion but by the voluntary offer of every village republic to join such a federation. The work of the central authority will only be to coordinate the work of different village republics and to supervise and manage things of common interest, such as education, basic industries, health, currency, banking etc. The central authority will have no power to enforce its decisions on village republics except the moral pressure or power of persuasion. The economic system and transport system introduced by the British have destroyed the “republican’ character of the villages. Gandhi, however, admitted that in olden times tyranny and oppression were in fact practised by feudal chiefs. But, “odds were even”. Today the odds are heavy. It is most demoralising.” In this way in the Gandhian scheme of things the ancient ‘republic’, an Indian village without tyranny and exploitation serves as a model unit.

Gandhi firmly believes that village republics can be built only through decentralisation of social and political power. In such a system decision-making power will be vested in the Village Panchayat rather than in the State and the national capital. The representatives would be elected by all adults for a fixed period of five years.
The elected representatives would constitute a council, called the Panchayat. The Panchayat exercises legislative, executive and judicial functions. It would look after education, health and sanitation of the village. It would be the Panchayats responsibility to protect and uplift ‘untouchables’ and other poor people. Resources for Gandhian Approach to managing village affairs would be raised from the villages.
All the conflicts and disputes would be resolved within the village. And as far as possible not a single case is to be referred to courts outside the village. The Panchayat would play its role in propagating the importance of moral and spiritual values among the villagers for bringing about rural reconstruction. Apart from managing its own affairs, the village would also be capable of defending itself against any invasion. A non-violent peace brigade of volunteers would be organised to defend the village. This corps would be different from the usual military formation. They would repose the utmost faith in non-violence and God.

Such a decentralised polity implies a decentralised economy. It can be attained only through self-sufficiency at the village level. The village should be self-sufficient as far as its basic needs – food, clothing, and other necessities – are concerned. The village has to import certain things which it cannot produce in the village. “We shall have to produce more of what we can, in order thereby to obtain in exchange, what we are unable to produce”.
The village should produce food-crops and cotton in order to meet its requirements. Some lands should also be earmarked for cattle and for a playground for adults and children. If some land is still available, it should be used for growing useful cash crops like tobacco, opium, etc. to enable the village to get in exchange things which it does not produce.
Village economy should be planned with a view to providing full employment to all the adults of the village. Each man should be guaranteed employment to enable him to meet his basic needs in the village itself so that he is not forced to migrate to towns. In the ultimate analysis, full employment should be linked with equality.
Physical labour occupies a central place in the Gandhian concept of the self-sufficient village. In this respect, he was highly influenced by Ruskin and Tolstoy. According to Gandhi, each man must do physical labour to earn his bread. Physical labour is necessary for moral discipline and the sound development of the mind. Intellectual labour is only for one’s own satisfaction and one should not demand payment for it.
The needs of the body must be supplied by the body. Gandhi said, “If all laboured for their bread then there would be enough food and enough leisure for all.” Shriman Narayan rightly observes, “Gandhiji recognised toil to be not a curse but the joyful business of life as it has the power to make man healthier, merrier, fitter and kindlier”.

Gandhiji maintained that industrialization would help only a few and will lead to concentration of economic power. Industrialization leads to passive or active exploitation of the villages. It encourages competition. Large-scale production requires marketing. Marketing means profit-seeking through an exploitative mechanism. Moreover, industrialization replaces manpower and hence it adds to unemployment. In a country like India, where millions of labourers in the villages do not get work for even six months in a year, industrialization will not only increase unemployment but force labourers to migrate to urban areas. This will ruin villages.
In order to avoid such a catastrophe, village and cottage industries should be revived. They provide employment to meet the needs of the villagers and facilitate village self-sufficiency. Gandhians are not against machine per se if it meets two aims: self-sufficiency and full employment. According to Gandhi, there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines and tools that they could make and could afford to use. Only they should not be used as a means of exploitation of others.

Gandhiji was not against the institution of private property. But he wanted to restrict the right of private property to what was necessary to yield an honourable livelihood. For the excess, he prescribed the principle of trusteeship.
Gandhiji emphasized the principle of trusteeship in social and economic affairs. He firmly believed that all social property should be held in trust. The capitalists would take care not only of themselves but also of others. Some of their surplus wealth would be used for the rest of the society.
The poor workers, under trusteeship, would consider the capitalists as their benefactors; and would repose faith in their noble intentions. Gandhiji felt that if such a trusteeship were established, the welfare of the workers would increase and the clash between the workers and employers would be avoided. Trusteeship would help considerably “in realising a state of equality on earth.”

Gandhiji firmly believed that land should not be owned by any individual. The land belongs to God. Hence, individual ownership of land should be shunned. For that, a landowner should be persuaded to become a trustee of his land. He should be convinced that the land he owns does not belong to him. The land belongs to the community and must be used for the welfare of the community. They are merely trustees. By persuasion, the heart of landowners should be changed and they should be induced to donate their land voluntarily.
If the land-owners do not oblige and continue to exploit the poor workers, the latter should organise non-violent, non-cooperation, civil disobedience struggles against them. Gandhiji rightly held the view that “no person can amass wealth without the cooperation, willing or forced, of the people concerned”.

If this knowledge were to penetrate and spread amongst the poor, they would become strong and learn how to free themselves from the crushing inequalities which have pushed them to the verge of starvation. But the oppressed should not take recourse to violent methods. In the Gandhian scheme of things, the principle of cooperation, love and service is most important and violence has no place in it. Violence is against “moral values’ and civilized society is inconceivable in the absence of moral values.
Gandhiji’s concept of development is oriented to the uplift of the common man. He preferred village habitats to megalopolises and Swadeshi craft to imported technology for the economic well-being of the common man. He stressed the need for cottage industries in place of gigantic industries and advocated for a decentralised economy instead of a centralised one. He realised the need for integrated rural development and believed that education, health and vocation should be properly integrated. He emphasised the need for education and training which he called ‘Naitalim’ (New training) for rural reconstruction.
In fine, Gandhian approach to rural development strives to reconstruct village republics which would be non-violent, self-governed and self-sufficient so far as the basic necessities of ruralites are concerned. Apart from creating a new socio-economic order, it endeavour’s to transform man; otherwise, the changes in the socio-economic order will be short-lived.

India does not need to be industrialised in the modern sense of the term. It has 7,50,000 villages scattered over the vast area 1900 miles long 1500 broad. The people are rooted to the soil and the vast majority are living a hand to mouth life. Agriculture does not need revolutionary changes. The Indians peasant requires a supplementary industry. The most natural is the introduction of the spinning wheel, not the handloom. The latter cannot be included introduced in every home, whereas the farmer can, and it used to be so even a century ago. It was driven out not by economic pressure but by force deliberately used as can be proved from authentic records. The restoration therefore of the spinning wheel solves the economic problem of India at a stroke.

The real India lies in the 7,00,000 villages. If the country has to make its full contribution to the building up of a stable world order, it is this vast mass of humanity that has to be made to live again. We have to tackle the triple malady which holds our villages fast in its grip - want of corporate sanitation, deficient diet, inertia.
Villages have suffered long from neglect by those who have had the benefit of education. They have chosen the city life. The village movement is an attempt to establish healthy contact with the villages by inducing those who are fired with the spirit of service to settle in them and find self-expression in the service of villagers….
A true life lived amongst the people is in itself an object lesson that must produce its own effect upon immediate surroundings. The difficulty with the young is, perhaps, that he has gone to the village merely to earn a living without the spirit of service behind it.

A Samagra Gramasevak must know everybody living in the village and render them such service as he can. That does not mean that the worker will be able to do everything single-handed. He will show them the way of helping themselves and procure for them such help and materials as they require. He will train up his own helpers. He will so win over the villagers that they will seek and follow his advice.

The villages will be surveyed and a list prepared of things that can be manufactured locally with little or no help which may be required for village use or for sale outside, such for instance as ghani-pressed oil and cakes, burning oil prepared through GHANIS, hand-pounded rice, jaggery, honey, toys, mats, hand-made paper, village soap, etc. if enough care is thus taken, the villages, most of them as good as dead or dying, will hum with life and exhibit the immense possibilities they have of supplying most of their wants themselves and of the cities and towns of India.

The villagers should develop such a high degree of skill that articles prepared by them should command a ready market outside. When our villages are fully developed, there will be no dearth in them of men with a high degree of skill and artistic talent. There will be village poets, village artists, village architects, linguists and research workers. In short, there will be nothing in life worth having which will not be had in the villages.
Today the villages are dung heaps. Tomorrow they will be like tiny gardens of Eden where dwell highly intelligent folk whom no one can deceive or exploit. The reconstruction of the villages along these lines should begin right now. The reconstruction of the villages should not be organized on a temporary but permanent basis.


Chinese entrepreneurs have launched a host of apps targeted at the youth, which are deranging, and sometimes dangerous for them. This becomes important in the context of India’s 5G auction

Geeta Singh
Geeta Singh

Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian

These are very, very troubled waters.
Quote the MINT: Operators may soon decide how much more pain they can endure for a high-speed wireless network that can offer better user experience in streaming, gaming and entertainment in a market where Netflix Inc. to Amazon.com Inc. are making inroads. With applications ranging from manufacturing to education and health care, 5G could be the catalyst for India’s digital economy that has the potential to reach $1 trillion by 2025, according to a report by Deloitte.
On top of that comes the war of attrition between Chinese players and their smaller Indian competitors, the latter wanting the Chinese giants like Huawei to be taken of the starting block. Huawei Technologies strengthened its dominance of China’s smartphone market, with shipments rising 66% in the third quarter as domestic consumers rallied behind it after U.S. sanctions, according to market data released by Canalys. Huawei smartphones captured 42% market share in China.
After the US blacklisted Huawei Technologies Ltd’s and software supply on charges of espionage, the South China-based company is willing to make a “no backdoor” pact with the Indian government to tone down the potential security concerns. Huawei India CEO Jay Chen said, “We are proposing to the Indian government that we are ready to sign a ‘No backdoor’ agreement. We encourage other original equipment manufacturers to sign this kind of agreement with the government and telecom service providers.”
The Chinese telecom behemoth is keen to expand its business in India and is ready to provide 5G network services in the country after battling intense pressure from the US because, within the days of the US government action, Huawei took a sever backlash. And right now, India is a vital market for the Chinese company so it is hopeful of being allowed to participate in the trial. Meanwhile, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also expressed security issues over allowing Huawei to participate in the 5G network trial for 5G services.

What does Backdoor mean? In technology, Backdoor is a technique in which a system security mechanism is bypassed undetectably to access a computer or its data. It shares data with the government or any other third party. This is done with unauthorized and malicious software. To curb with the backdoor problem, the department of telecommunications issued security guidelines in 2011 where telecom service providers were instructed to set up valid tools and devices in their network to ensure that they are free from any bugs or bad software. However, the government is yet to set up a laboratory to check security issues in the telecommunications equipment and products.

Apps Threat
Surprisingly, this is not the first time Huawei came under surveillance for its product. In November 2017 Indian Defense Ministry released an advisory related to Huawei’s device along with the phone of ZTE, another Chinese company, and banned them from the use by international border troops in the region of Line of Actual Control, but the ban did not apply to the rest of India. As per a report published in Financial Express, the Indian intelligence agencies have identified more than 40 apps made by different Chinese companies as ‘dangerous’. These apps pose the risk of unleashing a potential cyber attack against the country. An advisory was also circulated by the agencies against the use of the listed mobile applications, saying these were categorised as malware and spyware and issued a warning to the Indian army and paramilitary forces against their usage. Sources say defence ministry asked border troops from the Armed Force and Central Armed Police Personnel to uninstall them from their smartphones immediately.

TikTime Bomb
Although the world’s second-largest smartphone maker Huawei has given its clarifications several times, controversies always surrounded it. Because the company’s founder Ren Zhengfei had served in China’s People’s Liberation Army (Red Army). So, the company faced charges by governments around the world of working with Chinese national spy agencies and sharing foreign data from other countries with the Chinese government, a charge denied by both Chinese government and Huawei.
Substantially, the threats of bugging do not stop many Chinese apps gaining popularity in India. As per numbers, India has become the fastest-growing mobile application market globally over the recent years.
With more than 1.3 billion potential consumers, the app market in India has drawn much attention as a great opportunity for app growth. Hence, Chinese apps like TikTok’, ‘Kwai’, ‘Like’ and ‘Halo’ have managed to gain popularity in India.
The Chinese appTikTok’ predominance in the Indian market at a very fast pace took the attention of everyone when the ban on TikTok made headlines. The imposing and lifting of the ban was for just 20 days and during that time Indian media had featured various articles on the loss of million dollars of app’s income.
But very few was the reportage on the dangerous aspect of such apps. In India, the rise of the short video-sharing app TikTok is so eye-catching over the past year that it is now nearly impossible for any social media user to not have come across its content. This application was the fourth most downloaded app in the world in 2018 and it reached a billion download mark in February this year. Globally, TikTok has far crossed 1.1 billion installs until March 2019 and emerged as the third most installed app in the world, ranking behind only Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
Strikingly, India plays a vital role in the tremendous growth of TikTok. Among the global users of TikTok, 39 percent of the users are from India, mostly between the ages of 16 to 24. The app has more than 9 crore monthly active users in India. Figures show that out of the total 1 billion downloads worldwide, India alone has 300 million downloads. Stats show that TikTok users increased significantly last year in the country, with over 32 million app downloads. As per the latest report of Sensor Tower, a mobile app intelligence firm, out of the 18.8 crore new users that TikTok added globally in the first quarter of 2019, 8.86 crores were from India.
Owned by Beijing-based Chinese startup Bytedance, TikTok create videos that often contain memes, lip-syncing songs and sometimes sleazy posts. These videos regularly find ways to other popular social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and ShareChat. through these social networking platforms, TikTok promoted in a big way worldwide. Any of them can share the app with others through the file sharing apps like ShareIt (another Chinese app).
Once the app is shared, the user can install the app and start using TikTok. For teenagers and even younger kids of 13 years, the app needs no introduction.

Zhang Yiming?
In 2012, when 29-year-old Zhang Yiming, a software engineer from Nankai University, came up with the idea of a news aggregation app powered by artificial intelligence (AI), significant investors like Sequoia Capital were cynical. He perceived the idea when Chinese mobile users struggled to obtain the details they cared about on many apps because of the country’s draconian screening of information. Zhang thought he might do higher than incumbents like Baidu, which enjoyed a near-monopoly on search. The investors challenged how would he outsmart the numerous news portals operated by social media giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. and extract profit where even Google failed. But Zhang proved wrong everyone.
He founded Bytedance seven years ago, an app ecosystem based on Artificial Intelligence (AI), that makes personalised (news, video-based social media) content globally. Zhang started his innovative idea with news site JinriToutiao with strategic expansions that propelled the company into mobile video service TikTok known as Douyin in China and a plethora of platforms for everything from jokes, dance to celebrity gossip.
By nurturing a raft of successful apps, it’s gathered a force of hundreds of millions of users and now poses a threat to China’s largest internet operators like Alibaba and Tencent. Company’s two apps that are already mainstream success stories. Bytedance, the first fully mobile AI company, has succeeded in the areas where Google, Facebook and Tencent have not and become one of China’s largest content platforms as well as global too.
It is the most valuable startup, valued at 75 billion USD with over a dozen mobile apps globally boasting over 1 billion monthly users. Bytedance made Zhang Yiming the top entrepreneur in the world in just seven years. At present, he’s 35 and has a personal net worth of 4 billion USD. According to CB Insights, it has surpassed Uber Technologies Inc. to top the world. And typically has behemoth investors like KKR & Co, General Atlantic, Sequoia and now Softbank Group Corp, which is tentatively planning to invest about 1.5 billion USD. In an interview, Zhang stated, “He has not set boundaries at all, He intellectually challenges his team to reinvent users’ window to the world and never settle for less.” Zhang never employs editors or reporters. He said, “We are doing very innovative work. We are not a copycat of a US company, each in product and technology.”

China Base
Tech analyst Jerry Liu opines that Zhang’s company succeeded with web portalJinriToutiao that has leveraged traffic for its cluster of apps that were terribly good at attracting users and typically retaining their time. Apps like TikTok helped Zhang’s company to venture into the global market including U.S., India, Southeast Asia and Japan.
China has always led ahead in the race streaming services. When there were no smartphones still streaming services were popular in the oriental country. Companies like YY Inc in the era of desktop computer championed a model where people sang and danced in virtual showrooms to win online gifts. Bytedance also saw such favourable chance but made its videos precise, shorter in seconds.
Before TikTok, Bytedance’s app Douyin caught the eyes of millennials after its launch in 2016. The app was very easy for users to shoot and edit footage, add filters and share them across social networking platforms like Weibo or WeChat. That format attracted millennial attention and became an instant hit, so much so that WeChat later blocked direct access to the app.
Another popular app Musical.ly was also created by Chinese a company headquartered in Shanghai with an office in Santa Monica, California, on which platform users create and share short videos. Through the app, users could create 15-second to 1-minute lip-syncing music videos and choose soundtracks to accompany them, use different speed options (time-lapse, fast, normal, slow motion, and epic) and add pre-set filters and effects. The app also allowed users to browse popular “musers”, content, trending songs, sounds and hashtags, and uniquely interact with their fans. In May 2017, musical.ly had over 200 million users. But Bytedance bought musical.ly, because it saw synergy between the buzzy teen video app popular created by Chinese co-founders and TikTok, therefore in 2017 Bytedance acquired Musical.ly for $800 million. And combined the two apps into a single app named after TikTok.

Bytedancelaunched another social networking app Helo in India last year. It is now among the leading Indian social platforms with more than 40 million users. It gives cut and throat competition to our local app Sharechat. Helo covers a variety of topics like entertainment, politics, parenting and farming. The strong point for number of its downloads is that it enables multiple Indian languages including Hindi, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Malayalam, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada, Odia, Bhojpuri, Assamese, Rajasthani and Haryanavi, which allows users all over the country to connect with rural and semi-urban population to connect with the world. On the same pattern, Kwai and the LIKE have been downloaded by millions of smartphone users in tier-2 and tier-3 cities who are using them to share personal videos. As per the data, last year Likee formerly known as LIKE was the third-most downloaded app in India. Here, it has approx 64 percent of users. For consumers who cannot afford tech savvy smartphones or have limited data with slow wifi can access the facilities of good smartphones with UC Browser, a mobile ISP. The search engine is developed by UCweb, a company owned by Alibaba group (A Chinese company and among the richest in the world) and is very popular with people who own very low budget phones. Because the app can compress data, speed up navigation and help users save a lot of cellular data traffic. According to The Techy, a website about apps, it was found that this ISP also poses a risk to mobile user’s security and privacy.
Well, the rise of these Chinese apps highlights that the videos are the future of the Internet in India. A decade before the rural girls and women were dared little to put their profiles on Facebook but now they are uploading their videos freely on these apps. Apps like TikTok enable rural Indians especially women to express themselves by making and uploading their creative videos.

Why Growth?
Another vital reason behind the tremendous growth of these Chinese apps is that they allow people to express themselves even if they do not have the talent of the gab. So anyone who feels ostracised on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter about showing their talent and intelligence may find comfort on easy to handle apps like TikTok, Hola and Like because they provide space to those who feel left out on other primarily-text platforms, either because of literacy or language inadequacy. But we also cannot ignore the threats which invade our privacy and sometimes proves dangerous to innocent users.


Mahatma Gandhi was extremely progressive. This is reflected clearly in his writings. He often tried to dispel gender stereotypes

Urooj Fatima
Urooj Fatima

A post-graduate in Media Governance from Jamia Millia Islamia and a budding journalist, she writes on gender and minority issues. She is philosophical, pensive, reclusive and broods on deeper questions of life. At the same time, she also loves to travel and reads voraciously

OF ALL the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity to me, the female sex, not the weaker sex. It is the nobler of the two, for it is even today the embodiment of sacrifice, silent suffering, humility, faith and knowledge.”
(YOUNG INDIA, 15-9-1921, p. 292)
“Woman must cease to consider herself the object of man’s lust. The remedy is more in her hands than a man’s. She must refuse to adorn herself for men, including her husband, if she will be an equal partner with man. I cannot imagine Sita even wasting a single moment on pleasing Rama by physical charms. “
(YOUNG INDIA, 21-7-1921, p. 229)
“If I was born a woman, I would rise in rebellion against any pretension on the part of man that woman is born to be his plaything. I have mentally become a woman in order to steal into her heart. I could not steal into my wife’s heart until I decided to treat her differently than I used to do, and so I restored to her all her rights by dispossessing myself of all my so-called rights as her husband. And you see her today as simple as myself.” “You find no necklaces, no fineries on her. I want you to be like that. Refuse to be the slaves of your own whims and fancies, and the slaves of men. Refuse to decorate yourselves, and don’t go in for scents and lavender waters; if you [woman] want to give out the proper scent, it must come out of your heart, and then you will captivate not man, but humanity. It is your birth-right. Man is born of woman, he is flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone. Come to your own and deliver your message again. “
(YOUNG INDIA, 8-12-1927, p. 406)

“To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater courage? Without her man could not be. If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with woman… Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?”
(YOUNG INDIA, 10-4-1930, p. 121)
‘‘Had not man in his blind selfishness crushed woman’s soul as he has done or had she not succumbed to ‘the enjoyments’, she would have given the world an exhibition of the infinite strength that is latent in her. The world shall see it in all its wonder and glory when woman has secured an equal opportunity for herself with man and fully developed her powers of mutual aid and combination.’’ (YOUNG INDIA, 7-5-1931, p. 96)
‘‘Woman, I hold, is the personification of self-sacrifice, but unfortunately today she does not realize what a tremendous advantage she has over man. As Tolstoy used to say, they are labouring under the hypnotic influence of man. If they would realize the strength of non-violence they would not consent to be called the weaker sex.’’
(YOUNG INDIA, 14-1-1932, p. 19)

“Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in very minutest detail in the activities of man and she has an equal right to freedom and liberty with him.”
“She is entitled to a supreme place in her own sphere of activity as man is in his. This ought to be the natural condition of things and not as a result only of learning to read and write.”
‘‘Man the law-giver will have to pay a dreadful penalty for the degradation he has imposed upon the so-called weaker sex. When woman, freed from man’s snares, rises to the full height and rebels against man’s legislation and institutions designed by him, her rebellion, no doubt non-violent, will be none the less effective.’’
(YOUNG INDIA, 16-4-1925, p. 133)

“Women are special custodians of all that is pure and religious in life. Conservative by nature, if they are slow to shed superstitious habits, they are also slow to give up all that is pure and noble in life.” (H, 25-3-1933, p. 2)
“I do not envisage the wife, as a rule, following an avocation independently of her husband. The care of the children and the upkeep of the household are quite enough to fully engage all her energy”.
“In a well-ordered society, the additional burden of maintaining the family ought not to fall on her. The man should look to the maintenance of the family, the woman to house-hold management, the two thus supplementing and complementing each other’s labours.
Nor do I see in this any invasion of woman’s rights or suppression of her freedom…. The epithets used in our literatures to describe a wife are Ardhangana, ‘the better half’ and sahadharmini, ‘the helpmate’. The husband addressing the wife as devi or goddess does not show any disparagement.’’

“I do believe that it is woman’s mission to exhibit ahimsa at its highest and best…For woman is more fitted than man to make explorations and take bolder action in ahimsa… For the courage of self-sacrifice, woman is any- day superior to man, as I believe man is to woman for the courage of the brute.’’
(H, 5-11-1938, p. 317)
“My own opinion is that, just as fundamentally man and woman are one, their problem must be one in essence. The soul in both is the same. The two live the same life, have the same feelings. Each is a complement of the other. One cannot live without the other’s active help.”
(H, 24-2-1940, p. 13)
“I have suggested…that woman is the incarnation of ahimsa. Ahimsa means infinite love, which again means infinite capacity for suffering. Who but woman, the mother of man, shows this capacity in the largest measure? She shows it as she carries the infant and feeds it for nine months and derives joy in the suffering involved. What can beat the suffering caused by the pangs of labour? But she forgets them in the joy of creation. Who, again, suffers daily so that her babe may wax from day-to-day? Let her transfer that love to the whole of humanity, let her forget that she ever was or can be the object of man’s lust. And she will occupy her proud position by the side of man as his mother, maker and silent leader. It is given to her to teach the art of peace to the warring world thirsting for that nectar.” (ibid, pp. 13-14)
“Man should learn to give place to woman and a country or community in which women are not honoured can not be considered as civilized.” (YOUNG INDIA, 25-11-1926, p. 415)

“And why is there all this morbid anxiety about female purity? Have women any say in the matter of male purity? We hear nothing of women’s anxiety about men’s chastity. Why should men arrogate to themselves the right to regulate female purity? It cannot be superimposed from without. It is a matter of evolution from within and, therefore, of individual self-effort.”
(YOUNG INDIA, 3-2-1927, p. 37)
“Chastity is not a hot-house growth. It cannot be protected by the surrounding wall of the purdah. It must grow from within and, to be worth anything, it must be capable of withstanding every unsought temptation.” (H,23-5-1936, p. 117)

“The system has to go. Marriage must cease to be a matter of arrangement made by parents for money. The system is intimately connected with caste. So long as the choice is restricted to a few hundred young men or young women of a particular caste, the system will persist no matter what is said against it. The girls or boys or their parents will have to break the bonds of caste if the evil is to be eradicated. All this means education of a character that will revolutionize the mentality of the youth of the nation.“
(YOUNG INDIA, 21-6-1929, p.207)
“Any young man who makes dowry a condition of marriage discredits his education and his country and dishonours womanhood.A strong public opinion should be created in condemnation of the degrading practise of dowry and young men who soil their fingers with such ill-gotten gold should be ex-communicated from society. Parents of girls should cease to be dazzled by English degrees and should not hesitate to travel outside their little castes and provinces to secure true gallant young men for their daughters.”

“Voluntary widowhood consciously adopted by woman who has felt the affection of a partner adds grace and dignity to life, sanctifies the home and uplifts religion itself. Widowhood imposed by religion or custom is an unbearable yoke and defiles the home by secret vice and degrades religion. If we would be pure, if we would save Hinduism, we must rid ourselves of this poison of enforced widowhood. The reform must begin by those who have girl-widows taking courage in both their hands and seeing that the child-widows in their charge are duly and well married-not remarried. They were never really married.”
(YOUNG INDIA, 5-8-1926, p. 276)

“Marriage confirms the right of union between two partners to the exclusion of all the others when, in their joint opinion, they consider such union to be desirable, but it confers no right upon one partner to demand obedience of the other to one’s wish for union. What should be done when one partner on moral or other grounds cannot conform to the wishes of the other is a separate question. Personally, if divorce was the only alternative, I should not hesitate to accept it, rather than interrupt my moral progress, assuming that I want to restrain myself on purely moral grounds.” (YOUNG INDIA, 8-10-1925, p. 346)


“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man”

Geeta Singh
Geeta Singh

Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian

The man who is hailed no short of a god in India, the father of the nation, the person who played a pivotal role in our independence, the creator of the idea of non-violence and so many more accolades that speak of character at every turn.
Revered the world over for his nonviolent philosophy of passive resistance, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was known to his many followers as Mahatma, or “the great-souled one.”
He began his activism as an Indian immigrant in South Africa in the early 1900s, and in the years following World War I became the leading figure in India’s struggle to gain independence from Great Britain.
Known for his ascetic lifestyle–he often dressed only in a loincloth and shawl–and devout Hindu faith, Gandhi was imprisoned several times during his pursuit of non-cooperation, and undertook a number of hunger strikes to protest the oppression of India’s poorest classes, among other injustices.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, at Porbandar, in the present-day Indian state of Gujarat.
His father was the dewan (chief minister) of Porbandar; his deeply religious mother was a devoted practitioner of Vaishnavism, influenced by Jainism, an ascetic religion governed by tenets of self-discipline and nonviolence.
At the age of 19, Mohandas left home to study law in London at the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court(for barristers and judges).
Upon returning to India in mid-1891, he set up a law practice in Bombay, but met with little success.
He soon accepted a position with an Indian firm that sent him to its office in South Africa. Along with his wife, Kasturbai, and their children, Gandhi remained in South Africa for nearly 20 years.

Did You Know?
In the famous Salt March of April-May 1930, thousands of Indians followed Gandhi from Ahmedabad to the Arabian Sea. The march resulted in the arrest of nearly 60,000 people, including Gandhi himself.

Gandhi was appalled by the discrimination he experienced as an Indian immigrant in South Africa. When a European magistrate in Durban asked him to take off his turban, he refused and left the courtroom.
On a train voyage to Pretoria, he was thrown out of a first-class railway compartment and beaten up by a white stagecoach driver after refusing to give up his seat for a European passenger.
That train journey served as a turning point for Gandhi, and he soon began developing and teaching the concept of satyagraha (“truth and firmness”), or passive resistance, as a way of non-cooperation with authorities.

In 1906, after the Transvaal government passed an ordinance regarding the registration of its Indian population, Gandhi led a campaign of civil disobedience that would last for the next eight years.
During its final phase in 1913, hundreds of Indians living in South Africa, including women, went to jail, and thousands of striking Indian miners were imprisoned, flogged and even shot. Finally, under pressure from the British and Indian governments, the government of South Africa accepted a compromise negotiated by Gandhi and General Jan Christian Smuts, which included important concessions such as the recognition of Indian marriages and the abolition of the existing poll tax for Indians. In July 1914, Gandhi left South Africa to return to India. He supported the British war effort in World War I but remained critical of colonial authorities for measures he felt were unjust.
In 1919, Gandhi launched an organised campaign of passive resistance in response to Parliament’s passage of the Rowlatt Act, which gave colonial authorities emergency powers to suppress subversive activities. He backed off after violence broke out–including the massacre by British-led soldiers of some 400 Indians attending a meeting at Amritsar–but only temporarily, and by 1920 he was the most visible figure in the movement for Indian independence.

As part of his nonviolent non-cooperation campaign for home rule, Gandhi stressed the importance of economic independence for India. He particularly advocated the manufacture of khaddar, or homespun cloth, in order to replace imported textiles from Britain.
Gandhi’s eloquence and embrace of an ascetic lifestyle based on prayer, fasting and meditation earned him the reverence of his followers, who called him Mahatma (Sanskrit for “the great-souled one”). Invested with all the authority of the Indian National Congress (INC or Congress Party), Gandhi turned the independence movement into a massive organisation, leading boycotts of British manufacturers and institutions representing British influence in India, including legislatures and schools. After sporadic violence broke out, Gandhi announced the end of the resistance movement, to the dismay of his followers.
British authorities arrested Gandhi in March 1922 and tried him for sedition; he was sentenced to six years in prison but was released in 1924 after undergoing an operation for appendicitis. He refrained from active participation in politics for the next several years, but in 1930 launched a new civil disobedience campaign against the colonial government’s tax on salt, which greatly affected India’s poorest citizens.

In 1931, after British authorities made some concessions, Gandhi again called off the resistance movement and agreed to represent the Congress Party at the Round Table Conference in London. Meanwhile, some of his party colleagues–particularly Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a leading voice for India’s Muslim minority–grew frustrated with Gandhi’s methods, and what they saw as a lack of concrete gains.
Arrested upon his return by a newly aggressive colonial government, Gandhi began a series of hunger strikes in protest of the treatment of India’s so-called “untouchables” (the poorer classes), whom he renamed Harijans, or “children of God”. He fasting caused an uproar among his followers and resulted in swift reforms by the Hindu community and the government. In 1934, Gandhi announced his retirement from politics, as well as his resignation from the Congress Party, in order to concentrate his efforts on working within rural communities. Drawn back into the political fray by the outbreak of World War II, Gandhi again took control of the INC, demanding a British withdrawal from India in return for Indian cooperation with the war effort. Instead, British forces imprisoned the entire Congress leadership, bringing Anglo-Indian relations to a new low point.

After the Labour Party took power in Britain in 1947, negotiations over Indian home rule began between the British, the Congress Party and the Muslim League (led by Jinnah). Later that year, Britain granted India its independence but split the country into two dominions: India and Pakistan. Gandhi strongly opposed Partition, but he agreed to it in hopes that after independence Hindus and Muslims could achieve peace internally.
Amid the massive riots that followed Partition, Gandhi urged Hindus and Muslims to live peacefully together, and undertook a hunger strike until riots in Calcutta ceased. In January 1948, Gandhi carried out yet another fast, this time to bring about peace in the city of Delhi. On January 30, 12 days after that fast ended, Gandhi was on his way to an evening prayer meeting in Delhi when he was shot to death by Nathuram Godse, a fanatic enraged by Mahatma’s efforts to negotiate with Jinnah and other Muslims.
The next day, roughly 1 million people followed the procession as Gandhi’s body was carried in state through the streets of the city and cremated on the banks of the holy Yamuna River.

He followed the principles of non-violence, truth and peace throughout his life. He guided his fellow citizens to struggle for freedom, not by using weapons, but by following ahimsa (non-violence), peace (Shanti) and truth (Satya). He proved that Ahimsa (non-violence) is more powerful than the sword. He adopted the principles of satyagraha in the Indian Independence movements.

He remained the most influential leader of India’s freedom movement during the period from 1919 to 1948 and thus the period is called the ‘Gandhian Era’in Indian history. Mahatma Gandhi was both a saint and a practical leader of his compatriots. He was a simple, pure, unselfish and religious person. He did most of his personal jobs on his own. He fought for the freedom of India through non-violent and peaceful methods. He tried hard to raise the distressed sections of the society. He fought against illiteracy. He dreamt of providing mass employment through Charka and Khaddar. He always felt for the poor and untouchables. He wanted to abolish untouchability from Indian society. The life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi were so glorious that people around the world still pay homage to him. We will always remember him in our hearts.


Gandhi’s concept of non-violence was that it needed utmost courage to practice, hence it is not the last resort of the weak

Rajiv Ranjan Giri
Rajiv Ranjan Giri

The author is a writer on Gandhian thought and is currently a professor at Rajdhani College, Delhi University, teaching Hindi literature

The land: Champaran. A new experiment in truth and satyagraha was being conducted by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Before this, he had conducted a similar experiment in South Africa and attained success. This “experiment” had given him a new identity in India. Possibly this was the reason Rajkumar Shukla didn’t request the other leaders to come to Champaran and see their plight, but spoke to Gandhi about it and invited him.

THE month: April 1917
Looking at the political backdrop of those times, it can be seen that in 1907, Gandhi was not one of the top leaders of the Indian National Congress. But the trust and faith that a farmer living at one end of the country had for Gandhi is remarkable. In his autobiography, Gandhi has written about Champaran in great detail. He says he witnessed the form of the goddess of non-violence (Ahinsa devi ka sakshatkar) here. In Mahatma Gandhi’s experiment of Satyagraha in India, it was the land of Champaran that was put to use. A sea change came about in the Indian Independence Movement after the Champaran Satyagraha in 1917. After this, Gandhi took centre stage in India’s Independence Movement and in the Congress.

While going to Champaran on Rajkumar Shukla’s insistence, Gandhi had no inkling that he was going there to do Satyagraha. He had no idea he would stay there for so long, that he would give a tangible form to his ideology on education; that he will call for people such as Kasturba Bai Gandhi and Rajendra Prasad; that the investigation to find out about the real plight of the farmers in Champaran will prove to be so significant; or that this Satyagraha in Champaran will change the course of history.
Speaking about how the word “Satyagraha” came about, Gandhi has made it clear that before the word was born, it was an action that was to take place. Later, this was known as Satyagraha in the world of words and knowledge. When the word was born, even Gandhi hadn’t been able to understand its true ramifications. Everyone knew about its English meaning– namely, passive resistance. In a meeting with the whites in South Africa, Gandhi observed that passive resistance has a big meaning. It is the weapon of the meek. It is also believed that it might give rise to differences, and its last resort can be visible in the form of violence. Gandhi spoke in its favour during such times. To define a new fundamental phenomenon, a new word is needed to describe it. A word that can describe it in its entirety. Many a time, new phenomena add new meaning to old words. At such a time, the old word loses its meaning and the new word attaches itself to it with vigour.
The form in which the struggle against power was led by Gandhi in South Africa, the phrase passive resistance was not enough to describe its true meaning. That is why it became important to come up with a new word to introduce the real meaning of their struggle. Gandhi was unable to come up with a relevant and independent word for this. Thus, for a small token prize money, he organised a competition for the readers of “Indian Opinion” for the same. The award went to Maganlal Gandhi. He joined “sat” and “agraha” to make “satyagraha”. To make the word clearer, Gandhi added a “ya” to it and made it “Satyagraha”. As a result, this struggle was called Satyagraha in Gujarati. With time, the word became a synonym for non-violent struggle.
It had become clear from the Satyagraha days of South Africa that the foundation of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s work and philosophy was truth and non-violence. For him, non-violence was the one touchstone for Satyagraha. Thus, it also involved a lot of discussions and arguments. Many people were not agreeable to making non-violence as the biggest value in life, as they aren’t even today. People who are at the two ends of the thinking spectrum also oppose non-violence as the touchstone. Polar right-wingers and fanatic Communists, who don’t agree on anything, speak in the same tune on this.
Not just that, the great freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai was also not on the same page with Gandhi on this and opposed it vehemently. The discussion that took place between the two on non-violence is notable. In the July 1916 edition of “Modern Review”, which was published from Calcutta, Lala Lajpat Rai published an essay “Ahinsa parmo dharma: The truth or eccentricity?” while questioning non-violence. In the write-up, Rai said “I have the highest regard for Shri Gandhi in my heart. He is one of the people I worship. I have no doubt about his truthfulness either. I don’t suspect his intentions either. But I think it is my duty to vehemently oppose this view of his. In this aspect, even a man like Gandhi should not be allowed to tamper with the minds of the Indian youth and poison it. No one should be given the independence to dirty the community strength.”

Due to his inability to understand non-violence, Lala Lajpat Rai called it a delusion, which makes a human being a coward, helpless and dumb. The wrong usage of non-violence is like a rot that takes over the entire body and poisons it. This rot weakens human faculties and deforms men and women, makes them delirious and transforms the fearful. According to him, one of the reasons India has become downtrodden in the past 1,500 years and had lost his humanity was because it was non-violent. Qualities such as courage, bravery and fearlessness became eroded since non-violence became the top touchstone for purity. Purity and self-respect became less important. The pride in one’s community, patriotism, love for one’s land and family, all was finished. Using non-violence in its poor form and in a wrong way and to give it importance over every other thing has meant Hindus have seen their downfall socially, politically and morally.
Gandhi gave a reply to these allegations in Modern Review’s October 1916 edition. He wrote that while respecting Rai as much, he needed to counter the charge that India’s downfall has happened due to giving too much importance to non-violence. Mahatma Gandhi said, “There is no historic evidence that our humane behaviour has vanished due to too much non-violence. Have we given enough examples of our physical prowess in the past 1,500 years? Internal fighting and differences have kept us away from each other and our personal greed took preference over love for the nation.”
Gandhi said truth and courage were important elements of non-violence. He said you needed utmost courage to practice non-violence. Thus, it was wrong to consider non-violence as the weapon of the meek and weak.
In 1936, the great poet Suryakant Tripathi “Nirala” had his poem published under the title “Ram ki shakti pooja”. In this poem, Nirala writes how power is on the side of injustice. That is why “Shakti ki karo maulik kalpana”; that is, make power an important part of your fundamental thinking. It is not wrong to say that injustice is indeed backed by strength. In reality, strength has been often looked upon as the synonym for violence. What Nirala is asking for as a fundamental imagination is the strength of non-violence. It seems as if Nirala is talking about the same strength that Gandhi found in South Africa when he called upon the strength of non-violence in his Satyagraha. By proving non-violence to be a synonym for strength, power, courage and bravery, Mahatma Gandhi talked about it as a fundamental need for strength and presented it as an alternative to the present violent times.


This is a speech by Guru Rabindranath Tagore wherein he explains the meaning of ‘living a life of sacrifice’ and how human beings can reach immortality

Reeta Singh
Reeta Singh

Reeta Singh is a senior journalist with over 30 years’ of experience in print and electronic media. She is also a social activist, working on gender issues

I wished, when I came to Ahmedabad to visit this Ashram once more, in which I spent a happy time with you a little over two years ago when Mahatmaji was with you. I know how very deeply you are all feeling his absence from your midst and how you would like me to speak to you before I leave. I will try to do so very briefly.
You are all living in this Ashram a life of self-sacrifice. I do hope that you will be able to realise the significance of that discipline which you are undergoing. All training, which takes the form of self-renunciation, has its positive aspect. It is nothing negative. Only, unfortunately, human beings make the mistake and get infatuated with the idea of suffering for its own sake and as an end in itself. That idea is not true. What, then, is the true meaning of sacrifice? It means that for human beings, the life of the body is not the best life, but the life of the soul. The material world which we share with the animals, is not the only world. We have higher needs, because we have a deeper and higher life is hidden within us. That hidden life is immortal. Our physical life has its immortality. Only those human beings, who can get rid of the sheath of self, can reach that immortality. They must lose their separate self in order to realize the infinite. They must become ‘Dwija’ twice-born; born of the spirit; born into the light. They who realise the Infinite in themselves become immortal.
They realise the life that knows no loss; and it is the privilege of human beings to be born again into the sphere of immortality. Just as the chick breaks through the shell and comes out into the light, so men must break through the shell of self and come out into the world of spiritual freedom.
Since men have always felt dim that the material world is not final, therefore, they have sought all kinds of discipline in order to rid themselves of its thraldom and bondage. All the different religions of the world have this one meaning. They express this one aspiration. They point the way to be born again, even through the portals of death into the world of spirit, the sphere of immortality. All forms of self-sacrifice, if they are true, must have this ultimate goal, the goal of freedom from the self into the realm of the unselfish. We must all of us have our tapasya, if we would truly get rid of self. That is the meaning of the prayer of our sages:
Lead me out of the world of unreality into the kingdom of the truth.
Lead me out of the world of darkness into the light.
Lead me out of the world of death to immortality.
This prayer, which we all must utter, must be supported by the life of self-sacrifice. You are in this Ashram, going through that discipline of sacrifice. You are striving through tapasya to reach that Amrita-Loka that kingdom of immortality.
I am sure, you all feel that the spirit of Mahatmaji is working among you. What is the true meaning of the great word Mahatma? It implies the emancipated soul that realises itself in all souls. It means the life that is no longer confined within itself, but finds its larger soul of Atman, of Spirit. Then in such realisation, it becomes Mahatma. For it includes all spirits in itself.
That spirit is working among you, that Great Spirit. You have to realise that it is not merely deprivation of comfort that has any value. There is no true value in sacrifice, in tapasya except the spiritual value. For it is said in the Upanishad: This is the divinity of universal activity who is the great soul, who constantly dwells in the hearts of all people. They who know him with the heart and with the mind, which is sure in its perception, become immortal. The meaning is this. The great universal spirit, the Mahatma, whose activities are for the world, is not for any confinement, or limitation, but for the universe. Therefore, this Deva himself is called Vishvakarma. He is the Infinite Soul, whose activities are for the whole. He dwells in the hearts of all. The Infinite Soul, whose activities are boundless and whose dwelling place is in the hearts of all human beings, he is the Mahatma.
The Upanishad text goes on to say:
He dwells in the hearts of all men.
The meaning is that they who know him with heart and mind shall attain immortality. To know him with the heart and mind is to be Vishvakarma, to dedicate one’s activities to the service of the Universal Man; to be one with Mahatma, the Great Soul, to realise one’s spiritual unity with all beings.
Our discipline of self-sacrifice is to attain this goal, it is to be emancipated from the confined life of self and to attain the true freedom of the spiritual life. It is for this great end that men are required to live the life of sacrifice.
In our scriptures, it has been wonderfully said that Brahma began this world with sacrifice. Thus, he created the universe. Therefore, self-sacrifice in this higher sense, is creative. When men live this life of self-sacrifice, they come thereby into touch with the Infinite whose great sacrifice is this world. When we have this spirit within, we are one with the Vishvakarma, we are united with the Mahatma; we become his partners, his fellow-workers, in the boundless work of creation.


Gandhi has envisioned a thriving and invigorating democracy where plurality, diversity and opposition had an important role to play

Acharya Ramamurthy
Acharya Ramamurthy

The author is a famous Gandhist thinker, philosopher and author. He was very close to JP and Vinoba and is thought of as the propounder of the Total Revolution concept

AN epochal man knows the direction of an era and also how to merge it with the present. Two great men of the 19th Century made this happen in an extraordinary fashion. Karl Marx was a German who hogged the limelight when he identified the exploitation of labour class by the Capitalists by studying the history of civilization for nearly 10 years at London’s British Museum. There can no better example than Marx of self study leading to social philosophy. The second example is of Gandhi who practised a new vision of life and social philosophy through meditation and changed the overall perspective of revolution. There is a similarity between the philosophies of the two. Marx understood the exploitation and violence on workers and Gandhi understood the discrimination and violence based on racism.
As per Marx, all the civilizations had their roots in violence. Before Marx, no other thinker has identified this truth. Although Gandhi’s period comes 24 years after the Karl Marx theory, when Gandhi was confronted with the theory of Karl Marx and was asked by journalists whether he agrees with it, he said that he will fully subscribe to it if the ‘Indian civilization’ is added to it.
We are always proud of our civilization being spiritual, but never thought that violence could be lurking somewhere under our spiritualism. Nobody thought of this before Gandhi. This was revealed to us by none other than Gandhi himself. If we combine Marx’s exploitation and Gandhi’s racial discrimination, then we will be able to clearly see the roots of developed civilizations till date.
When Vinoba started his Bhoodan Yagya Movement, he was actually searching for an ownership which was free of exploitation. Will we consider this discovery as that of Marx’s exploitation-free society or Gandhi’s exercise for a non-violence culture? In reality, Vinoba did the task of bringing two great minds together. Vinoba spread the message of co-ordination in his 13 years of journey on foot to the villages during which he gathered lot of support. This was the material lesson of human life which Gandhi had started and was continued by Vinoba. Jai Prakash’s total revolution was perhaps not the last letter of this lesson and we will probably never find that last letter. Because man will keep on growing, the forms of civilizations will keep on changing and level of coordination will keep on manifesting in newer forms.
An important thing which did not click Marx’s mind was that a citizen will be independent only if he attains freedom from the state, but he was unable to find a solution to the question that how will a person’s life be free from violence? This was done by Gandhi. This was also done by Buddha. Buddha accomplished his goals by his spiritualism and meditation.
We cannot expect every citizen to be a master of meditation who will attain all values of life through his meditation. Gandhi accomplished this task - by spreading a culture of peace. In fact, he trusted modern teachings for the purification of the mind rather than depending upon meditation. Vinoba too evolved himself through a combination of intensive study and meditation. This process had a touch of politics but was devoid of any struggle for power. It had spirituality but without practices used in the name of spiritualism. We have all the three samples of life before us: Gandhi’s Satyagraha, Vinoba’s Public Service and Jai Prakash’s Advanced Citizenship. In today’s scenario, the citizens of India individually and as a society should decide as to which of the examples quoted above is beneficial to him as well as will be followed by him.
It has been proven that the current day politics has no room for advanced citizenship. Similarly, the religion of the priest is also devoid of high values of life. There is no planning for new life in the prevailing system of education. In view of the prevailing circumstances, the need of the hour is a new culture which will enable us to live a life where there is no violence, where a person is able to earn his living without any exploitation and violence, and our relations with our neighbours are free from violence.
We live in a traditional society. The second phase of change is democracy and the third phase is that of an ethical society about which Gandhi wrote extensively in his book ‘Hind Swaraj’. The basic challenge being faced by us today is that how can the traditional society be transformed into a democratic one. We were ruled by the British which has now ended but we have attained freedom, and independence only in the sense that British have departed from India. The assassination of Gandhi at the hands of a Hindu had made it clear that Hindus and Muslims cannot stay together. Does Swaraj also imply the same thing that people belonging to different races, castes, religions and cultures cannot stay amicably together as neighbours? If we don’t want to say this, then we will have to assume that there is no place for diversity in a democratic society and it should be the endeavour of the society as well as the Govt to minimize the dissimilarities as well as to nullify them at a particular point. Buddha laid down the principle of having meetings, dialogues and conversations till there is a meeting of minds between them.
Today’s democracy patronises opposition. Why will there be an opposition if everything is done on the basis of consensus and mutual agreement? We feel that opposition is a vital aspect of democracy since many decisions are required to be taken. Minority opposition always opposes the government. All these tasks may be accomplished on the platform of advanced citizenship. To tide over the critical situations, it is not enough to just form a political party and convene an all-party meeting to prevent racist politics from taking over a racist country like India. This is why we need a culture of peace. The culture of peace never puts before us any demands which cannot be fulfilled by means of education or educating people. Developed and enlightened citizenship will make democracy thrive where there would be no need for intervention of the police or the judiciary.
In the Congress plenary session in 1934, Gandhi proposed an amendment in the constitution of the party. It was clearly written in Congress’s basic objectives that freedom would be obtained only through peaceful and valid means. Gandhi wanted to replace ‘Peaceful & Valid’ with ‘Truthful & Non-violence’. His proposal was rejected by the Congress General Body which made Gandhi disassociate himself from the Congress.
This example was necessary to show the differences between the Congress and Gandhi on the issues of Satyagraha. Nehruji used to spin the wheel and cut the yarn but he never considered Khadi (handloom) more than an attire for gaining independence. But for Gandhi, Khadi was a weapon as well as the means for serving the downtrodden, thus helping in the creation of a new society. The allegiance towards Khadi by Gandhi as well as that of other workers of Congress and the principles of truth and non-violence were also of prime importance to Gandhi. To some, it was a weapon for resistance, so we see Satyagraha in a different perspective altogether. People who advocate that we are free now and there is no need to lay emphasis on truth and non-violence as well as proclaim why to make khadi mandatory in building the society, are only propagating their views and not those of Gandhi.


The epic struggle for liberating the farmers of Champaran, from the torture of forced indigo farming, turned into a much wider struggle for education, sanitation and testing the weapon of satyagraha

Kumar Prashant
Kumar Prashant

The author is a senior journalist and Chairman of Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi

HISTORY does not pass away, it repeats itself in new forms and references and forces us to open our eyes wide and recognize our surroundings. Some pages of history are such that whenever they touch you or you open them, they move you. The chapter of Champaran is an example of this touch which changed everything, especially Gandhi and he got what he was looking for On April 15, 1917, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi reached Champaran with an unknown person like Raj Kumar Shukla. Gandhi did not even know the name of Champaran and had no knowledge about indigo farming. He had merely been told of the farmers’ crisis. Earlier, as is well known, he had been to England to study law, and then in South Africa where he opened up his practice. Everything was going on well. Advocacy came to a standstill when at Moritzsburg station, the ticket checker threw Gandhi out of the compartment. Little did he know that by throwing this black man out of the compartment, he would shake the foundations of the British empire.
In South Africa, he experimented with the weapon of satyagraha, which he had sharpened and used it against colour discrimination. He made his family imbibe his way of life, developed his own ashrams and methods to live accordingly.
Before coming to Champaran, Gandhi had also entered the battleground. During the Zulu rebellion, he had raised an ambulance brigade for the British Army and served as Sergeant Major. He wrote the book ‘Hind-Swaraj’. After winning his own struggle in South Africa, he came to India and found his mentor, Guru Gokhale. For an entire year, Gandhi travelled the length and breadth of the country to study the conditions of Indians. He saw how the slavery of a hundred years has afflicted Indians. During this phase of seeing India, he recognised that this slavery has changed the state of mind of Indians.

Rajkumar Shukla took Gandhi to Champaran to show him the plight of the indigo farmers. He saw the scourge called slavery. Interestingly, Gandhi avoided a direct confrontation with either the British government or the indigo farm owners. He started the fight against the mentality of slavery. He kept on teaching Indians about their mentality. Bihar’s first grade lawyers came up and joined him which included Babu Braj Kishore Prasad, Ramanavami Prasad, Rajendra Prasad, Dharnidhar Babu etc., all came closer to Gandhi. These were the lawyers who used to charge Rs 10,000/- as their fees. Gandhi made these people realize one thing: that they should not get carried away by the worldly treasures and nobody should fight the battle half-heartedly. Professor Kripalani was also around, but he was more concerned about watching Gandhi speak.
Gandhi called the people as per his requirement from Gujarat, Maharashtra, etc. and told them to live with cleanliness, start studies and reading, and cooking etc. He requested as well as insisted that food should be cooked at one central place, that is in a common kitchen. Every reputed lawyer had brought his convoy which included his servant and his cook etc. Gandhi insisted to do away with this tradition as it was unnecessary and explained that they can all do the work together with the help of each other and there is no need for anyone to depend upon others.
It is only on one occasion that he allowed others to cook. CF Andrews, educator and social reformer, was to go to Motihari one day. He hurriedly cooked some half-baked chapatis and boiled potatoes. At that point, Gandhi walked in and on seeing the poorly cooked food, he asked people to cook and himself sat down with Andrews.

But before Gandhi reached Champaran, his fame had reached there. The image which was created in the minds of the public was that he was a very effective weapon against oppression. Even those people who did not know what Gandhi did in South Africa had this picture of him in their minds that he was a miracle man. Not only farmers but also government officials kept on coming to see Gandhi on his way to Champaran. The British officers and the administration shocked. They knew, more than Indians did, what Gandhi had achieved with his methods in satyagraha. They were highly apprehensive where Gandhi would take the farmers, for they knew well the extent to which the farmers had been crushed.
Gandhi reached Motihari on April 15 and stayed at the house of Babu Gorakh Prasad. He apprehended being arrested, as he had seen how the British function while he was in South Africa.
The supporters were eager to know how Gandhi would start satyagraha. He replied with a calm voice: “Tomorrow I will be going to Jasauli Patti.” he said. He had heard that people of a reputed family had been tortured there. But the lawyers rightly pointed out that such torture is rampant all over Motihari and Champaran, so he should start his struggle from Motihari.
The night passed and the morning dawned. Gandhi got ready to go to Jasauli Patti. Dharnidhar Babu and Ramnavami Babu came out with him. They were to ride on an elephant in the scorching summer heat. Gandhi had never ridden an elephant before, and that too with three men sitting stifled. Gandhi started his discussions. He was worried about the position of the women.
He had been shocked by what he had seen as the condition of women. During his journey, an official from the District Magistrate told him that he would have to leave the area as he was an outsider and was creating trouble. Gandhi informed that he was not an outsider and that he had no intention of creating trouble by working for the upliftment of the local women. However, he anticipated further trouble and drew up a list of things to do and the path to be taken by his followers just in case he is arrested.

The next day, the real picture opened in the courtroom. The fame of Gandhi spread all over. Farmers thronged the court room. The public prosecutor came prepared to teach a lesson to the foreign returned Indian. The judge asked Gandhi as to who was his counsel. Gandhi replied ‘nobody’. He further said that he had already sent the reply to the District Collector’s notice. There was silence in the court room. The judge said that the answer has not reached the court. Gandhi took out the paper containing his reply and started reading it out. There was pin drop silence in the courtroom.
And he said that he would not accept any restrictions by anyone on the freedom to visit and work anywhere in his country. But he accepted that he had broken the District Magistrate’s order and would also accept punishment for it.
Gandhi’s written answer was complete and there was silence in both the camps and everything went topsy-turvy. The government lawyers were astonished to see how a person who was being tried turned the tables on them, and even demanded punishment for himself. But there were no grounds on which he could be tried. The government and the administration had got ensnared in its own trap.
The judge told Gandhi to apply for the bail but Gandhi replied that he has nobody who can be his guarantor and take his surety. The judge got confused and further said that if Gandhi assures that he will leave the district never to come back again, then all the charges levelled against him will be taken back. Gandhi then told the judge that if he passes a jail sentence, then after finishing his term, he would permanently reside in Champaran. In the meanwhile, orders were received from Delhi cautioning the judge not to involve himself with Gandhi and let him do what he wishes.
In many ways, this sums up the concept of satyagraha: non-cooperation without violence, but with absolute firmness. Gandhi took a vow from everybody that if the time comes for them to go to jail, they will not hesitate. All these lawyers were till date fighting cases to save their clients from going to jail and sending their opponents but now the time had come for them to go to jail. Going to jail was considered to be a disrespectful thing, but Gandhi made them understand that going to jail for a noble cause is not considered bad but is a matter of honour and respect.
The task of lodging the statements of the farmers was not less than a war. People speaking different languages from all over the country had gathered to help the people of Bihar record the statements of the indigo farmers. Gandhi took a side track, which is very interesting. He started two campaigns: one for sanitation and hygiene and the other for education. He realised that it is ignorance that had enslaved the people of the country. And in these campaigns, he was highly successful. In the end, Gandhi ensured that forced indigo farming was banned and the farmers were paid all their dues. After Champaran, he became the tallest leader in the country. From Mohandas Karamchand to Mahatma Gandhi.


The practice of Satyagraha, championed by various social and political entities to achieve different goals, finds its origin in Champaran. Anand Kumar writes


TO say that a new era had started in the Indian politics with the advent of Satyagraha from Champaran will not be an exaggeration. In fact, Gandhi had started the use of Satyagraha in reference to India at Champaran. Before the advent of Satyagraha, the Indian public had only two ways to fight the menace of injustice. It was either to resort to violent means for its abolition or to keep silent, ignore it and get away from that place. But Gandhi came out with a way of helping his co-workers as well as the farmers who had fallen prey to the unjust means of the British and were dissatisfied with them, by awakening their moral force wherein there was a difference between the unjust and the injustice was mandatory. One should hate the sin but not the sinner because the person who sins also falls into a strange type of temptation and keeps on sinking in it. Therefore we should devise a means where the sin and the sinner both are taken care of. Gandhi also made it mandatory to have a critical analysis or view towards the unjust. Injustice breeds where there are cowards. Based on this theory, Gandhi developed a feeling of self-acceptance to overcome the ills of cowardice and stupidity. To summarize, if Gandhi had taken 6 weeks to confront the atrocities committed on the indigo farmers by the British and their Indian supporters, subsequently he has also spent 18 months to understand the pain of the grief-stricken and illiterate villagers and addressed the issues related to untouchability, and the declining lifestyle of the village women as well as the indifference amongst the farmers. Struggle was called the procedure by which revolutionaries sought the origin of the downfall. The revolution of France is a glaring example wherein we see that people not only broke open the jails but they also beheaded the emperor, burnt down the palace, thus giving way to any inconsistency and selfish motives. If we look back at the century-old history of Champaran we find that Gandhi had performed a historical duty to define the entire struggle and placing them on three strong pillars. They were truth, self-pity to defend the truth and third to establish the truth on a solid foundation by constructing warp wefts.
Insistence for truth and the necessity for its creation had become the pre-requisites for the formation of a rightful and justified society like a river flowing out of it. Gandhi’s Satyagraha coupled with its integrity had impacted and inspired various leaders right from Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, right from Czech intellectual Harbin to Tibet’s leader Dalai Lama as well as Aung San Suu Kyi the Premier of Myanmar.
Back here, we see the politics of Satyagraha taking roots during the struggle for independence as the lone answer. It is to be noted that all the Satyagraha campaigns held after the death of Gandhi had a spirit of impatience and restlessness which was vengeful in nature as compared to the Satyagraha during the lifetime of Gandhi which was full of integrity. Why has this happened?
It seems that after the death of Gandhi there was a rift between the followers of Satyagraha into two factions. One faction under the leadership of Vinoba has done many constructive works, thus making it synonymous with Gandhi’s Satyagraha by including agriculture and service of the dalits as well as saving the cows from being slaughtered. The basis of this was farming and handloom. This faction became more forceful and effective after the socialist movement generator Loknayak Jai Prakash Narayan dedicated his life for the Sarvodaya Movement in 1954. This faction was further divided into two more factions in 1974. One opposed emergency and called in for freedom by resorting to Satyagraha while the other kept silent considering emergency a procedure to enforce discipline.
It would have been better had both these factions, on completion of 100 years of Satyagraha, shared the same platform in conversation with each other as was 100 years ago. Otherwise, there will not be any worthwhile dialogue to bring back the people who have already embarked on the road leading to non-violence from Kashmir to Kanker and to Imphal. Without certifying the relevance of Satyagraha in the present scenario, the new wave of resistance which gave birth to social awareness, started at Champaran, will remain restricted to museums and seminars. If we talk about a Satyagraha in continuity with that of Gandhi, it would be the which took place soon after the independence in 1948 to end the aristocracy in Nepal. People resorted to Satyagraha, which started in Delhi by a follower of Gandhi, Ram Manohar Lohia. A similar remarkable experiment could be earlier seen in the Civil Disobedience Movement during Gandhi’s time.
It is interesting to note that Ram Manohar Lohia was jailed many times later as compared to the time when he was fighting for independence. It was a big challenge for the socialists and had become mandatory to know how many times a person was jailed fighting the cause for Satyagraha, though this order weakened after 1977. Parliamentarianism had separated the socialists from the strategies of Satyagraha. The present day socialists are busy with the challenges of elections and hardly have pondered on the politics and ethics of Gandhi, Lohia and Jai Prakash. However, during this period there was immense expansion of Satyagraha against power establishments. We have a successful history of Satyagraha starting right from the Chipko Movement in 1971-72 to protect and save the forests from the cruelty of the paper mill owners as well as to restore the water resources of the hills and the rivers. It was not without reason that the followers of Gandhi by practising the Gandhian method have resorted to the constructive resistance method of Satyagraha for the safety of the forests, water and land. The resuscitation of ponds and water harvesting in water scarce regions by Anupam Mishra, water management as well as revival of rivers by the ‘Waterman of India’ Rajendra Singh, environmental activist Vandana Shiva who worked to promote bio-diversity in agriculture to increase productivity, nutrition and farmer’s income and Land Reforms under the leadership of PV Rajagopal, are all living examples of mass movements. By expressing creative resistance, women also plunged into Satyagraha for saving themselves from the clutches of violence from within and outside the family. Because of the culmination of anger and compassion, a change in the legal structure and Cultural Revolution took place at the same time.

Indigo Insult

In 1917, Gandhi started a movement in Champaran that ended in the agreement between planters and peasants. But he did not go for a direct collision with the British. In his own words, lets read how he did it...


CHAMPARAN is King Janak’s land. Just as you see mango orchards everywhere in Champaran nowadays, it had indigo farms in the same way in 1917. Legally, farmers there were bound to cultivate indigo on 3/20 of the land. This system was called ‘tinkathiya’. Twenty ‘kathhas’ made one acre, and to sow indigo on three kathhas there, was the system of ‘tinkathiya’. I must admit that before going there, I had never even heard of Champaran. However, I was totally unaware of this. I had seen indigo tablets, but I had no idea that these are manufactured in Champaran, and because of which thousands of farmers were suffering.
Raj Kumar Shukla was a farmer from Champaran. He too had been suffering. But this sadness from the suffering made him want to wash away the indigo insult for everyone. I went to the Lucknow Mahasabha, which is where I met these farmers. “Vakil (lawyer) babu will tell you everything,” they would keep saying, and kept inviting me over to Champaran. By vakil babu, they meant Braj Kishore Babu, now a very dear associate from Champaran. Raj Kumar Shukla brought him to my tent. He was wearing a black achkan (long A-line coat) and trousers. I did not find him appealing at the moment and thought he must be one of those lawyers who fleece poor farmers.
I heard about Champaran from him briefly. I remarked: “I can’t give an opinion without seeing the place for myself. You speak in the Mahasabha. For now, let me be.” Raj Kumar Shukla needed the help of the Mahasabha in any case. Braj Kishore Babu spoke about Champaran at the Mahasabha and a sympathy vote was passed.

Raj Kumar Shukla was happy, but not satisfied. He wanted to tell me about the plight of farmers of Champaran himself. I told him, “I will include Champaran in my tours and be there for a day or two.” He said one day would be enough. I only needed to see the place for myself.
I had gone to Kanpur from Lucknow. Raj Kumar Shukla was present there too. “Champaran is close from here. Please give it a day.” But I said: Excuse me for now,” and promised to go to Champaran.
When I went to the ashram, Raj Kumar Shukla followed me there as well. “Please decide on a date now,” he said. I said, “Fine, I am going to be in Calcutta on such and such a date. Come there and take me to Champaran.”
Where I should go, what I should do and what I should see, I had no idea. Before I reached Bhupen babu’s house in Calcutta, he was already there. This determined and illiterate farmer was after my heart.
In the beginning of 1917, we started from Calcutta. Our team was worth seeing; both of us looked like farmers. We took the same train Raj Kumar Shukla did, and reached Patna in the morning.

This was my first visit to Patna. I didn’t know anyone in whose house I could stay. I had assumed that Raj Kumar Shukla may be illiterate but he was sure to have a place to stay there. I learnt more about him on the train and found out more in Patna. Raj Kumar was a simple man. The lawyer he had thought as his friend, was not really his friend, and Raj Kumar Shukla was kind of dependent on him. The difference between a farmer client and his lawyer is as wide as a river’s expanse during monsoons.
He took me to Rajendra Babu’s house, who had gone to Puri or somewhere else. There were one or two servants in the bungalow. I had something to eat but needed dates, and poor Raj Kumar Shukla had to get it from the bazaar.
But untouchability was a big issue in Bihar. Water from my mug could upset the servant. He didn’t know my caste. Raj Kumar told me to use the washroom inside the house. But the servant pointed to the one outside. This didn’t upset me or bother me in the least. I had become accustomed to such incidents. The servant was merely doing his master’s duty. Such entertaining incidents made me respect Raj Kumar Shukla even more.
I took over the reins from Patna onwards. Maulana Mazharul Haq and I had studied in London together. We had met again in 1915 in the Congress meeting in Mumbai. He was the president of the Muslim League that year. He had mentioned our old association and told me we should catch up when I am in Patna. Taking him up on that offer, I wrote to him and told him why I was there. He immediately came in his car and told me to come with him. I thanked him and requested him to send me where I wanted to go, by train. He spoke to Raj Kumar Shukla and told him I should go to Muzaffarpur. The same day, I was given a seat on the evening train to Muzaffarpur.
Acharya Kripalani used to live there in those days. I knew him well. When I had gone to Hyderabad, I had learned of his sacrifices, his life and about the ashram that ran on his money, from Dr Choithram. He was a professor in a Muzaffarpur college, but had disassociated with it for a while. I sent him a telegram.

The train reached Muzaffarpur at midnight. Dr Choitram was present at the railway station with his group of students. But he didn’t have a house of his own there. He used to live at Mr Malkani’s house. Malkani was a professor in a college, and my staying in the home of a government employee was not an ordinary incident for those times.
Kripalani detailed the condition of Bihar, and the Tiruhat department in particular, and gave me an idea of the tough task ahead of me. Kripalani ji had developed a strong bond with Bihar, and he had spoken to the people there about my work. In the morning, a small group of lawyers came to visit me. I remember Ramnavami Prasad was one of them. He caught my attention with his request.
“The job you have come to do can’t be done from here. You should stay with the likes of us. Gaya babu is a well-known lawyer here. On his behalf, I request you to come. There is no doubt we are scared of the government, but we will do all that we can to assist you as well. A lot of what Raj Kumar Shukla has to say is true. The sad part is our leader is not here today. I had sent a telegram to Babu Braj Kishore Prasad and Rajendra Prasad. Both of them will come here as soon as possible and assist us. Please do come to Gaya babu’s house.”
What he said had an impact on me. I was a little reluctant that my staying with Gaya babu might put him in trouble but Gaya babu assured me that was not the case. I went to stay with him. He and his family members showered their love and affection on me.
Braj Kishore Babu came from Darbhanga. Rajendra Babu, from Puri. Here Braj Kishore Prasad seemed a different personality from the man I had met in Lucknow. Here he had the humility of a Bihari. His good intentions and extreme faith moved me. The respect the Bihari lawyers’ group had for Braj Kishore Babu was a pleasant surprise for me. An unbreakable bond of love developed between me and this group.

Braj Kishore Babu appraised me of everything. He used to fight cases for poor farmers; two such cases were on at the moment. He would get personal satisfaction by working on such cases. Sometimes he would lose some cases as well. But he would still charge a fee from these simpleton farmers. Despite being known for their magnanimity, Braj Kishore Babu and Rajendra babu didn’t hesitate from charging a fee. Their argument was if they didn’t charge a fee in their profession, how would they run their households, and how would they help these people. When I heard the kind of money the lawyers in Bihar and Bengal got, I was shocked.
“We charged Rs 10,000 for giving our opinion to sir.” I didn’t hear of anyone charging anything less than a thousand rupees. This group of friends took my gentle reprimand about this in a sporting way. I said, “After reading up on these cases, I am of the opinion that we should stop fighting these cases. These cases give very little profit. Where the citizens are so downtrodden, where everyone lives in fear, courts are not really the solution. The real solution would be to take fear out of people’s hearts. We can’t sit in peace until the “Teenkathiya” tradition is not abolished. I have come to see as much as I can in two days. But now I feel this work can take even upto two years. But I’m ready to put in that much time. I can also gauge what needs to be done. But I need your help.”

I realized Braj Kishore Babu was someone with a calm temperament. He replied softly, “We will do all that we can to help. But you will have to tell us what needs to be done.”
We spent the entire night discussing it. I told them, “Your legal prowess won’t be of too much help here. I would need your help as an assistant and a translator. I can also see chances of going to jail. I would like you to take this risk. But if you want to, it’s all right. But to leave your legal practice as a lawyer for an uncertain period, and to work with me as an assistant is not a small demand I make of you. I am having extreme difficulty understanding the Hindi here. All documentation here is either in Kaithi or Urdu, which I can’t read. I expect you to translate it for me. This work is not possible with monetary compensation. This needs a feeling of service and without money.”
Braj Kishore Babu understood me. But he started to have discussions and arguments with me and my associates. He tried to understand the deeper meaning of what I said: how long will lawyers have to stop their work, how many will be needed, will it work if a few people came for short durations in circulation, and so on. He asked the lawyers how much they were willing to sacrifice.
In the end, he made a decision and said, “All of us are ready to do the work you assign for us. Out of these whoever you ask for, will be there with you. Going to prison is something new, and we will try to come to terms with this reality as well.”
I wanted to see how the farmers were in reality. I wanted to see for myself how true were the allegations against the goras of the kothis, who owned indigo farms. I needed to see and meet thousands of farmers for this. But before that, I found it necessary to meet the indigo owners and the commissioner, and see what they had to say about this unfair practice. I wrote letters to both.

The owners’ minister told me clearly before the meeting that I am an outsider and that I should not interfere between them and the farmers. But if there was something I had to say, I should do it in writing. I humbly told the minister, “I don’t consider myself an outsider, and if the farmers agree, I have the full right to see how they are.”
I also met commissioner sahib. He started to threaten me and advised me to leave Tiruhat without moving any further. I told my associates all this and said that the government will stop me from making further inquiries, and there was a possibility that the jail term could happen sooner than expected. If I had to let them arrest me, I should have it done in Motihari or, preferably, in Betia. So, I should reach there as soon as I can. Champaran is a district in Tiruhat commissionary, and Motihari its centre. Raj Kumar Shukla’s house was near Betia, and the farmers living near the kothis there were living in abject poverty. Rajkumar Shukla was keen to show me their plight and I too wanted to see it.
Thus, I left for Motihari that very day. There, Gorakh babu gave me shelter and his house became a dharamshala. Somehow we all would manage to fit in. The day we arrived, we heard that a farmer who lived about five miles from Motihari had been wronged. It was decided that I would go to meet him in the morning along with lawyer Dharnidhar Prasad.
We left for the village on an elephant. In Champaran, elephants were used in the same way as bullock carts are used in Gujarat. We must have been half-way there when the police superintendent’s man arrived and told us, “Superintendent sahib sends his greetings.” I understood the rest. I told Dharnidhar babu to go ahead. I sat with the messenger in his rented vehicle. He gave me a notice asking me to leave Champaran, took me to his place and asked for my consent. I told him I couldn’t leave Champaran, and that I have to do my investigations and move forward. Not agreeing to leave Champaran meant a summons was passed against me and I was asked to present myself before the court the very next day.
I sat up the entire night writing the letters that I had to, and gave instructions to Braj Kishore Babu on what had to be done. The news of the summons spread like wildfire and people say the scene they witnessed in Motihari was one they had never seen before. People thronged the kacheheri (court) and Gorakh babu’s house. Luckily I had finished all my work at night and could manage the crowds.
I realised the importance of having associates. They worked on trying to keep the people under control. Hordes of people followed me wherever I went in the court. I bonded with the collector, magistrate, superintendent, and others as well. If I wanted, I could have brought legal action against the government notices, but instead, I accepted all of them and behaved in a personal and nice manner with the government officials. They understood that I didn’t want to go against them, but wanted to politely oppose their orders. Thus, they weren’t scared of me. Instead of creating trouble for me, they happily helped me and my associates in controlling the crowds. But they also understood that their authority had been undermined. For a moment, people had left behind their fear of punishment and were now in control of the love they had for their new found friend.
It is worth noting that no one knew me in Champaran. The farmers were illiterate. Champaran is a land in the Himalayan lowlands, on the other side of River Ganga, adjacent to Nepal and is a different world in itself. Here no one knew about Congress, neither was there a Congressman there. Those who had heard of it were scared to even utter the name, leave alone become a part of it.

Today, without the name of the Mahasabha (Congress), it, and its people had made a foray into the area and had carved a niche for itself.
I consulted my associates and decided that no work will be done in the name of the Mahasabha. This was about what we did, rather than who did it. Here, the Mahasabha was unpopular, as people thought of it as a conglomeration of lawyers who fought cases against each other and were simply too engrossed in finding legal loopholes. That the real Mahasabha was not this had to be explained to the people through what we achieved, not by arguing about it. Thus, no role was assigned for messengers from the Mahasabha, either in an evident or hidden manner. Rajkumar Shukla didn’t have it in him to enter a meeting of a thousand people. He had never done anything vaguely political. He didn’t know the world outside Champaran, and yet, his and my meeting felt like that of long-lost friends. This gave me a feeling of having witnessed God, non-violence and truth; this is no exaggeration, but the truth. When I think about my role in this, I see nothing but people’s love for me. I have nothing but unshakeable faith in love and non-violence.
This day in Champaran was one I can never forget. This day for me and the farmers was like a festival. According to the law of the land, a case was to be registered against me. The trap that the commissioner had laid for me had ensnared the government.
The case was called to court. The lawyers and magistrate were a frightened lot. They didn’t know what to do. The public prosecutor was requesting to postpone the hearing. I stepped in and said there was no reason to postpone the date, because I confess to having broken the law and the notice that had ordered me to leave Champaran. After saying this, I read out something I had written. I went somewhat like this:

“I want to give a small explanation on what I had to do to take the serious step of not obeying the order under Section 144. In my humble opinion, this is not about obeying the order, but about a difference of opinion between me and the local government. I have come to this region with the intention to serve the people and the country. The indigo owners do not do justice to the farmers. I have been requested to come here and aid them, which is why I am here. How can I help them without knowing everything that is going on? Thus, I am here to study the matter further and, if possible, with the help of indigo owners and the government. I have no other motive, and I don’t believe my coming here will lead to unrest and bloodshed. I claim that I have adequate experience in this. But the government’s opinion is on the contrary. I understand its dilemma and also agree that it has to believe all that is fed to it. As a law-abiding citizen, I feel like automatically obeying the order given to me by the government, but I feel if I do so, I will not be carrying out the task given to me. I feel my duty to them can be served only by living amongst them. Thus, I can’t leave Champaran on my own free will. I am now forced to ask the government to carry out this duty. “I understand well that in India, a person of my stature should be careful before setting an example by doing something. But I whole-heartedly believe that the quagmire that we are in, a self-respecting person like me has no other alternative, except to disobey the order that has been given to me. In return, I accept whatever punishment is to be given for the same.
“My intention of this speech is not to make you decrease my punishment and be lenient towards me. I only want to prove that my motive behind disobeying the order is not to insult the government, but to obey the law coming from the highest order there is – listening to your inner voice.” Now there was no need to postpone the hearing date. But the magistrate and the lawyer did not expect a verdict either. Thus, the court adjourned to give the verdict at a later date. I sent a telegram to the viceroy apprising him of the entire thing. A telegram was sent to Patna as well. The same was sent to Bharat Bhushan, Pandit(Madan Mohan) Malviyaji and others as well.

Just before the court was to announce the verdict, I got an order from the magistrate that the viceroy has said the case should be withdrawn, and then I got the collector’s letter saying I could carry on with whatever investigation I wanted, and that I could ask any help from the officials in the same. None of us had expected this quick and happy result.
I met the collector Mr Heckock. He looked like a fair man who wanted to be just. He said I could ask him for any documents I wanted and meet him whenever I wanted to. On the other hand, India got a living example of Satyagraha, that is, passive political resistance. The newspapers wrote about it a lot and Champaran and my investigation got a lot of exposure. Although my investigation asked of me to be objective towards the government, I didn’t need the newspapers and reporters talking about it. Not just that, their extra-analysis and long reports on the matter could do more harm than good. So, I requested some major newspapers not to send their reporters here. I told them I would send whatever I thought should be published, and would apprise them of latest news.
I understood the indigo owners were miffed at me. The officials weren’t too happy either, I knew that, too. Seeing newspapers publishing news that was half-true or lies would mean their irritation would not come down on me, but on the poor, scared, helpless people. And I knew that would come in the way of the true reality that I wanted to find out. The indigo owners stared a vitriolic campaign. On their behalf, a lot of lies were printed about me and my associates. But they missed their aim because I was extra careful and would find a strain of truth in the smallest of things. They didn’t hold back while trying to pull down Braj Kishore Babu in every way. But with their trying to bring him a bad name, respect for Braj Kishore Babu only increased. In such a fragile situation, I didn’t encourage the coming of reporters to the place. I didn’t invite leaders either. Malviyaji said, “I will come when you ask me to. I am ready.” I didn’t trouble him either. I didn’t let this struggle take on a political hue. Whatever happened, I would send reports of the same to newspapers. Even when it comes to politics, when there is no room for exercising it, any attempt to do so results in “Maya mili na ram” (Everything was lost). I had experienced this a dozen times. Even when it comes to just social work, there is politics in it, if not in an evident way, then in a hidden way. The Champaran battle was proving it all over again. Now about a critical point. If this investigation was to happen in Gorakh babu’s house, he would have had to vacate the premises. And in those days, people in Motihari had not become so courageous as to rent us a house. But Gorakhbabu found an intelligent solution and we all moved into a new place.

However, the condition was not just that we could work without money entirely. I was of the firm opinion that not a paisa will be taken from the farmers of Champaran. That would be misconstrued. I had also decided that I will not ask money for the cause from Indians. Doing so would give the movement a national and political hue. Some friends from Mumbai promised to help with Rs 15,000/-. I turned down their assistance politely. I decided to accept whatever help Braj Kishore Babu’s team could get from the wealthy and rich people from Bihar, but those who were not from Champaran. Whatever was the difference, I would ask for from Dr Pran Jivandas Mehta. He had written to me saying I could ask for whatever amount of money I wanted. Money was not a problem anymore. But we had decided to fight the battle with as little money as we could. We didn’t need any more money than this, we felt, and it was true. I believe that the total spending was not more than Rs 2,000-3,000. I also feel we had Rs 500-1,000 left from what we had collected.
We needed a lot of strength, though, because several groups of farmers started coming to us to document their stories. Crowds would gather in front of people writing down these stories. The entire house would be full of people. My associates would try with all their might to protect me from people who had come to see me, but to no avail. The only solution was to send me out at a specified time to meet with people. There would be no less than six-seven people documenting the stories, and yet, it wouldn’t end until late evening. We didn’t really need stories from so many people, but they felt at peace after having recounted their hardships, and I would get to understand their feelings.
Those documenting the stories would have to adhere to a script. They had to have discussions with every farmer. Anyone who didn’t have proper answers would not have his story documented. Anyone whose story would seem baseless from the beginning would be told to go. Although this meant the process became more time-consuming, the stories were very much truthful and legitimate.

The police’s intelligence agents were bound to be around somewhere. We could have stopped them from coming, but we had decided we would do nothing of the sort. Not just that, we would be polite with them and give them whatever report we thought we should. All the documentation was done in front of them. This meant the farmers became more fearless. Initially, they were terrified of such police, but now that fear was gone and chances of any exaggeration in front of them were lesser. Farmers would be careful in telling the tale since they knew that not telling the truth would mean they would have legal cases against them. I didn’t want to pester the indigo owners, but to win them over with good behaviour and righteousness. So I would write letters and even try to meet those against whom there were a lot of complaints.

The team of Braj Kishore Babu and Rajendra babu was matchless. Their love had made me practically handicapped, and I couldn’t take a step without them. Call them their disciples or associates, but Shambhu babu, Anugraha babu, Dharni babu, and Ramnavami babu, all of them would be together at all times. Vindhya babu and Janakdhari babu would also come whenever they could. This was the Bihari sangh. Their main work was to document farmers’ stories. How could Acharya Kripalani be left behind? Despite being a Sindhi, he was more Bihari than most. I had seen very few examples of people who immerse themselves in the culture and soul of the place they go to, and don’t let anyone realise they are from some other area. Kripalani ji is one of them. His main assignment was that of a guard. He had taken it to be his life’s work to save me from those who had come to see me. His strategies included joking around with someone, or threatening someone else in a non-violent way. At night, he would take on the garb of a teacher, joke around with people and encourage anyone who was weak of purpose and intention.
Maulana Mazharul Haq registered himself as my assistant, and would come and meet me at least twice a month. There was a world of difference between the times when he lived a life of luxury, and now, when he lived a simple life. He would come and spread his love, but due to his regal ways, those who saw him from the outside looked upon him as an outsider.

As I started gaining experience, I realised that any real work in Champaran needed the advent of education. The level of ignorance in people was abysmal. Children would run around all day, or their parents would put them to work in the indigo fields for daily wages of two-three paisa. Men would not be paid more than 10 paisa. Women would get six paisa and boys, three paisa. Anyone who got wages of 25 paisa was considered lucky. After consultation, it was decided that schools would be opened in six villages. The condition was that the village head would give the teacher money for food and a house to live in. We would provide for the other expenditure. These villages didn’t have too much money, but they did have grains. Thus, people were ready to give dry ration. Now the big question was where to get the teachers from. In Bihar, it was tough to find good teachers who would charge less or nothing at all. We wanted teachers who may have less knowledge but should have strength of character. Then again, I could not remain content with just education alone. The villages were dirty beyond description. The lanes would be full of trash, the areas around the wells were full of smelly filth and you couldn’t even look at people’s houses. The elders needed a lesson in cleanliness. People in Champaran seemed to be ailing with one disease or another. Our thought process was: try to bring about as much improvement as possible, and by doing that try to make a difference in all facets of life there.
Here, we needed the help of a doctor. For this, I asked for assistance from Dr Dev from Gokhale’s society. I already had nice relations with him. I had profited from his service six months ago. Teachers had to work under his supervision.

Everyone had been told not to get into the matter of complaints against the indigo owners. They shouldn’t come anywhere near politics, and no one should step out of their work space. The discipline with which the people adhered to it was amazing. I don’t remember even one instance when someone didn’t obey what was told.
On one hand, social service was taking place and on the other, documentation of people’s stories was taking place, and it was increasing with every passing day. Stories of thousands of farmers were noted down. How could that not have had an impact? As the number of people coming to me increased, the irritation of indigo farmers increased as well. Their attempts of bringing a stop to my investigation increased.

One day, I received a letter from the government of Bihar. The gist was: Your investigation has gone on for a while now. Now you should conclude it and leave Bihar. The letter was a polite one, but the meaning was clear. In reply, I said the investigation would go on for more time, and that I didn’t intend to leave Bihar until the investigation was over and the people in the region weren’t out of their many troubles.
The government had only two ways to bring an end to my investigations. One, they believe the complaints and take action. Two, appoint their own investigative committee to address these complaints. They invited me to become a member of the committee. Seeing other names and after consultation with my associates, I agreed to become a member on the condition that I will be free to consult with my associates, and that the government will be wrong if it thinks I will not think or speak in favour of the farmers. If I am not satisfied with the committee’s ruling, I will not abandon my quest for working for the farmers’ welfare.

Children of sex workers: Giving them a chance

A Delhi based NGO operating in the city’s red light area has rescued over a thousand children from the sex trade by providing food, shelter and education. But resources are limited and the government is apathetic, so the plan to expand the rehabilitation programme is in serious difficulty

Sutirtha Sahariah
Sutirtha Sahariah

Sutirth Sahariah is a graduate in media management and journalism from the University of Stirling, UK. He writes for the London Guardian from Delhi covering human trafficking, gender violence and development issues. He has worked for the BBC, for Dutch Public Radio & TV and the NPR

Lalitha Nayak, 54-years-old, has spent half her life knocking on the doors of one brothel after another in Delhi, trying to convince mothers, who work as sex workers, to educate their children. Nayak’s shelter for children, run by the Society for Participatory Integrated Development (SPID), is located at the edge of G. B. Road, Delhi’s infamous red light area.
More than 4000 women, mostly from rural and lower caste backgrounds, live in inhuman conditions, crammed in dingy rooms of dilapidated buildings. They were brought to the city by traffickers on the pretext of good jobs and were then sold to middlemen or pimps in the area. “I first visited the area in 1988 to share information about AIDS, but was horrified to see the condition of sex workers,” Nayak recalled. “The brothel owners were subjecting them to systematic physical and mental abuse. Since I speak a number of languages, I gained the trust of the sex workers. Many young mothers requested me to do something for their children who were growing up in the brothels.”
In 1991, with some support from the government, she was able to start a day care centre with five children, aged 4-6 years, in a room for which she had to fight hard with the municipal authorities. The centre provided crèche and pre-school facilities. For the older children, funds were raised to send them to boarding schools and other shelters in different states of India. Over a thousand children from the red light area have gone through the centre in the last two decades and around 500 of them have completed college education. The centre now provides boarding facilities to 35 children. The early years weren’t easy for Nayak. The brothel owners physically attacked her as they feared she would get the girls out of the brothels and hit their livelihood. “But I was determined to bring the children into the mainstream,” Nayak said. “I couldn’t directly rescue the women, but could help indirectly by saving the children. So whenever I had information on a child, I had to adopt a strategy – in most cases it meant convincing the mother if the brothel owner wanted to take control of the child.”
Government funding for the day care centre stopped in 1993 after the inspectors reported “low attendance” by students. But Nayak suspects it was because she refused to pay a bribe to the inspectors. In fact, to cope with the growing number of children she had demanded more space from the government and had to wait ten years to get another room from the authorities. Two more rooms were given after 20 years. Nayak says that “most children are born of “illegitimate” relationships and lack basic care and protection. In the beginning my focus was on the girls as there wasn’t much money to pay the school fees for everyone. I treat both boys and girls equally but I feared leaving the girls was risky as they could easily become victims.”
Bimla, a 35-year-old mother of two daughters, was forced into prostitution by her husband, a drug addict. Her daughters were aged four and one when she arrived at the brothel.
“I was shocked to see the environment when I first came here. The brothel owner said I have to work if I wanted shelter. My husband soon passed away and I didn’t want my daughters to grow up in the brothel”, she said.
Her daughters are now attending boarding schools and doing well. Bimla is also encouraging other mothers to educate their children. “I will do everything in my power to educate my daughters so they can live with dignity in society. I have seen so much suffering in my life that I don’t want my daughters to suffer. The day my daughters stand on their own feet, I will leave this profession and spend time with them,” she says. Bimla plans to campaign for women’s education and against child marriage once her daughters complete their studies. The main problem for sex workers is the lack of alternative employment and it is also very difficult for them to rent a house.
Laxmi, 50, started working as a sex worker when she was very young, She suffered from cervical cancer 15 years back and could no longer work. With the help of an NGO, she started working as a HIV peer educator. She, however, has no place to stay and has no choice but to live in the brothel where she cooks for the brothel owner. Her monthly salary as peer educator is 1500 rupees but she hasn’t been paid in the last six months due to delay by the authorities in sanctioning the money.
“I continue to work without pay because I like what I do now. It’s disgusting what I have done all my life”, she says. Her daughter was brought to Nayak’s centre, and is now studying in the university where she aspires to be a teacher. The centre has become indispensible to Delhi’s red light area. “Our children have become something because of the centre. We look at the centre as our own”, says Laxmi.
When asked about the debate in India about legalizing prostitution, the sex workers say they are against it.
Nayak says controlling women is not a solution. “Is this the only job left for women? Is this empowerment? There is already a lot of discrimination and violence against women in India. Legalizing prostitution would mean pushing women to untold violence. In the red light area it is mostly the low caste women who are bought and sold. Why should poor women suffer? Legalizing prostitution means controlling the brothels but it doesn’t target the sex trade outside the red light area.

Famous Sex Scandals

India maybe a late starter when it comes to catching politicians with their pants down, elsewhere in the world it’s as common as eating ice cream. Here’s a look at some political figures who ruined their careers and legacy by “flying too close to the sun”

Geeta Singh
Geeta Singh

Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian

If women would only realize their dignity and privilege, and utilise it for mankind, this world will certainly be better than now. But man has delighted in enslaving you and you have proved willing slaves … the slaves and the slave-holders have become one in the crime of
Impaler impaled
In 15th century Romania, a ruler by the name of Vlad was a byword for the cruelties he inflicted on his enemies. It is said that he used to impale them with hooks, spears and stakes. Thus was born the sobriquet of Vlad the Impaler
He’s got a 21st century British counterpart whom the festive local press has labeled Vaz the Impaler!
The name hardly fits the man. In fact, he’s rather portly, balding, with a reasonable paunch and addicted, it seems, to sober suits. Labour MP Keith Vaz is the man so named, but he’s no killer, rather he’s the height of respectability being a Labour party MP and chairman of the Home Affairs select committee. The impaler probably derives from his recent adventures with two East European male prostitutes caught on video by the Sunday Mirror. It was a shocking comedown for a man who, it was widely believed, would fall not because of his libido but his shady record in public life.
As the Independent described it: “… for 26 years in the corridors of power, (Vaz) was mired in near-scandals, actual scandals, watchdog scrutinies, leaks, accusations, investigations, complaints, even a suspension … he glided through it all in his serene, elaborately polite way… he seems to slide past trouble lubricated against failure.”
It earned Vaz the other sobriquet of “Teflon Vaz” and “Keith Vazeline.”
But the sex charge was impossible to paper over with the local press full of graphic reports about Vaz talking to the East European male prostitutes at his London home, giving his name as “Jim” and describing himself as a washing machine salesman. Sample this from The Daily Mail: “The married father of two casually discussed drugs, unprotected sex and money with the male escorts … “As an MP, Mr Vaz took part in a safe sex campaign in his constituency last year. But in his flat, he apparently admitted he did not practise what he preached. “He told the pair to bring along poppers, a legal sex-enhancing substance which he defended in Parliament when it faced a ban.”
He even offered to pay for cocaine if it was brought to his flat.
Clearly, Vaz led a murky double life and the encounter with the two male prostitutes would not have been the first of its kind. There are also allegations that Vaz may have connived in breaching security as the man who paid for his male escorts, Daniel Dragusin, was granted a pass to the House of Lords. Dragusin, local reports said, left large portions of the application form blank. Allegations about him receiving money and gifts and his evident wealth are now doing the rounds. Vaz is lying low for the moment, perhaps comforted by the fact that his wife says she will stand by him. But his political career is probably over, all because he couldn’t keep his pants on.
‘Inappropriate contact’
His sexual adventures with a young woman intern nearly cost him the presidency of the United States over 20 years ago. The worry is will Republican nominee for president Donald Trump, go hammer and tongs at Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions in the White House in order to torpedo Hillary’s chances? Trump did go public with some remarks three months ago: “There certainly were a lot of abuse of women, you look at whether it’s Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones, or any of them, and that certainly will be fair game.”
But a recent book Crisis of Character by former secret service officer Gary Byrne who served in the White House during the Clinton years, could do more damage.
It has revived memories of 1998 when Monica Lewinsky exploded in America’s face. The American people got to know of the affair their president (then 51) had been having since the last three years with an intern 30 years younger. The affair was passionate, they were always

Reviving The Slowdown

The modi govenment is taking some bold steps to revive the economic slowdown

Alam Srinivas
Alam Srinivas

Alam Srinivas is a business journalist with nearly three decades behind him, working for The Times of India, India Today, Outlook, Financial Express and Business Today. He is the author of “Cricket Czars: Two Men who Changed the Gentleman’s Game”

Three incidents, two of which happened before the 2019 national election, and one a month after the results, define the attitude of the Narendra Modi’s regime towards the economy. During the campaign, the prime minister’s close aide, Amit Shah urged voters not to vote for development, but for national security. In a pre-election TV interview, Modi said that even the pakoda-wala outside the channel’s office was employed. The first Budget in the government’s second tenure seemed more like a pre-election one, rather than a vision and mission statement for the next five years.
Shah can easily claim that his comments were mere chunavi jumlas, or ways to emotively connect with the electorate, they revealed a hidden, possibly subconscious, mindset. Kashmir, Pakistan, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and China were more of a priority for this government, compared to GDP, growth, and development. This is reflected from the current urgency to politically and constitutionally solve the Kashmir issue, and that too when the country is in the midst of an economic slowdown. For Modi, despite his insistence for the past five years on the creation of jobs through ‘Make in India’, several loan schemes, and skill development, employment is just a state of mind. Any work, even if it is through MNREGA, or in the informal sectors, which he partially decimated through demonetisation, is fine. The country doesn’t need growth to keep people employed. It required a slew of welfare schemes, cash subsidies, loans, and other means to directly transfer money into the people’s bank accounts. Doles? Bribes pre-elections?

Polling Slowdown
Nirmala Sitharaman, the first woman finance minister to present a Budget, if one ignores Indira Gandhi, who was the prime minister and held additional charge of finance, echoed what we had known for five years. This government, as the previous one, is in a perpetual election mode. Economics is just one of the means to achieve political ends. For the past five years, every major economic decision was a tool to win elections. Why does one have to seriously think about the economy, if one can win more seats despite the lack of growth, as was the case in the 2019 national election? Such thought processes, which are linked to each other, as they feed into the vote-machine churn, reveal why the two Modi regimes have lurched from one economic crisis into another one. In fact, when he came to power in 2014, he had everything going right in economic terms. But he threw away the opportunities, failed to capitalise on them, and instead myopically focussed on the several assembly elections, the breaking up of the state governments and, despite the odds, how to win more seats in 2019. In effect, the current slowdown, or the persistent slower GDP growth, is a government-made crisis. If certain actions were taken at the right time, it was avoidable, or at least its consequences could be tempered. But this did not happen. Instead, the policy moves aided the political motives,-and put the economy on the back burner. The actions to deal with crucial issues were not aimed to fix the specific problems, but to achieve results that would ensure that the BJP could remain in power for a longer time. Long-lasting changes in the political and social structures are more critical for Modi, BJP, and its ideological wing, RSS. Hence, there is an inherent desire to use any crisis, be it political, social, or economic, to move towards a long-term end – the making of a New India as per their ideology.

Decimating Economy
The financial sector epitomises this perfectly. It is also crucial because most of the problems – lack of consumer demand, the slowdown in the core segments and manufacturing, farm crisis, and decline in stock markets – stem from it.
As India stuttered towards a slowdown in the last two years of UPA-II government, the banks were saddled with huge bad loans. The government took two main decisions, one short-term and one medium-term, to deal with them. Although demonetisation had largely political aims, it helped the banks in the short run. A huge inflow of cash enabled them to put a check on non-performing assets (NPAs), at least temporarily.
Clearly, this was short-sighted because the cash would be taken out within a few months.
The other important policy was the new insolvency and bankruptcy law. It sounded rational on paper – it was desirable to put wilful defaulters on the dock, and punish business people who had run up huge debts without any concern about how they would repay them. But, in effect, the impact was also on the hundreds of companies that got into a debt trap because of the economic slowdown. No distinction was made between the bad and good guys. The banks, and other lenders, declared everyone, and anyone, bankrupt, and dragged them to the insolvency courts.
Since the code was enacted in 2016, thousands of companies were declared bankrupt. It led to a new crisis in manufacturing, where the promoters were unable to save their companies, even if their businesses were legitimate. While many of these companies were sold to new entrepreneurs, after the banks took huge hair-cuts on their loans, most remained unsold. Thus, the NPAs in terms of loans were converted into non-performing real assets, i.e. plant and machinery, and hundreds of factories.

Negative Policies
Obviously, this exacerbated the manufacturing calamity. However, it had far-reaching consequences. It created a climate of negative sentiments, where businesspersons were cagey, even scared, to invest. Private investments, which were anyway down, took a beating. This was further enhanced by an environment of ‘Tax Terror” The latest death of VG Siddahartha, the founder of Cafe Coffee Day, is a testimony to such an atmosphere. His empire had huge debts, and he faced the wrath of the income tax department.
After his suicide, many prominent entrepreneurs, including DP Pai, have said the same thing.
Public investments were the only option left. Sadly, the government was not in a position to spend money. This was because of several reasons, including the ongoing slowdown, which was aided by moves such as demonetisation and the hurried imposition of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Lower revenues, and the desire to buy votes through welfare schemes and subsidies, ruined the government’s budgets. Hence, it encouraged the cash-rich public sector companies to pump in money to revive the economy. While this was laudable, the ends were, yet again, political. Let us take one example – the huge investments made by ONGC.
Between September 2015 and October 2016, the oil exploration major, along with three other state-owned oil companies, purchased 49.9 per cent stake in Kremlin-controlled Rosneft’s Vankor oilfields in Siberia for $4.23 billion. Most experts felt that the Indians overpaid because the production in the oilfields had fallen, and Russia was under global economic sanctions for its military actions in Ukraine.
This was followed by another deal – Rosneft’s purchase of Essar Oil’s refinery, fuel pump network, and Vadinar port and related infrastructure for Rs 86,000 crore. This too was thought of as an inflated price because financial experts pegged the valuation at less than half the price. Speculations are rife that the two deals were inter-related – the first one put more money in Rosneft’s hand, which was used to pay more for Essar Oil. Remember, both ONGC and Rosneft are owned by their respective governments. In 2018, ONGC paid almost Rs 37,000 crore to buy the government’s 51.11 per cent stake in another state-owned oil firm, Hindustan Petroleum.
The government maintained that this was the first step in several others to create mega oil giants, which could compete with the global oil majors. The officials in the two companies maintained that this would lead to synergies, cost savings, and higher profits in the near future. Experts dubbed it a “cosy deal” because nothing changed on the ground – only the stocks changed hands, and the two companies continued to be run separately.
Finally, the oil major purchased a debt-ridden, almost-defunct Gujarat State Petroleum for Rs 8,000 crore. The former ONGC chairman, D K Sarraf justified this because the price was less than the replacement cost of the latter’s oil reserves, and less than half of the asking price of Rs 20,000 crore. However, the fact remains that for years, the Gujarat company had taken huge loans, and had not discovered any oil or gas. The sole aim of the deal was to save the company, which started when Modi was the state’s chief minister.
The three ONGC deals wiped out the huge cash reserves it had, and saddled it with high debt. There was negligible impact on the economy. The Rosneft purchase was for an oilfield, whose production was falling, and ONGC had no management control. The Hindustan Petroleum one was to merely help the government shore up its revenues. The Gujarat one was only a face-saving device – to help a company that Modi had propped up earlier. No new assets were added, no additional business activity took place.

Core Dip
Minus the investments, manufacturing suffered. As a consequence, the core segments took a dip. Consumer demand, especially in areas like auto and fast-moving consumer goods, could make up for the difference. But here again, politics played a deathly role.
When IL&FS was in trouble, everyone felt that the government needed to act and come up with a rescue plan. But this wasn’t done, as the head of IL&FS, Ravi Parthasarathy, was perceived to be close to the former finance minister, P Chidambaram.
Since a Congress politician backed the non-banking financial company (NBFC), the BJP government backed away from it. IL&FS was forced to go down. The government did not realise that it could take down other NBFCs and create a new crisis in the financial sector. As the NBFCs’ loans dried up, consumers found it tough, if not impossible, to get loans to buy their cars, televisions, and washing machines.
One of the crucial reasons behind the dip in car sales over the past few months is because of the NBFCs’ problems. The net effect of these developments, many of which originated from the financial sector, was an aura of negative sentiment. No one wanted to invest, no one wanted to take a decision. This was further impacted by the state of the stock markets. Given the slowdown, and the problems in manufacturing, one would expect stocks to go down. This was true for most of the mid-caps and small-caps, but the large-caps, the BSE Sensex and Nifty continued to move northwards. The shares of large companies went up. Experts contend that this was done, largely for political purposes by the state-owned financial institutions, to convey an overall message that all was well with the Indian economy. But scores of investors suffered, especially when the large-cap stocks began to tank over the past two-three months. Suddenly, people saw their savings vanish, and took huge paper losses. In such a situation, they were scared to sell because they didn’t wish to incur actual losses. But then they didn’t invest more money. Another loop of the investment cycle, through equity, ripped apart.
Clearly, politics ruined economics, and the Indian economy. But one needs to remember that most of the decisions were deliberate with politics in mind. Economics became a mere tool to achieve these objectives. RIP, Indian Economy.

BJP Beats the Drums

The BJP seems to have changed its stripes and is not mowing down opposition criticism, rather, taking it in its massive stride of 303 seats. Interestingly, the non-UPA, non-NDA members will make for some curious say

Reeta Singh
Reeta Singh

Reeta Singh is a senior journalist with over 30 years’ of experience in print and electronic media. She is also a social activist, working on gender issues

History has been made, exclaimed Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, immediately after Rajya Sabha approved Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019 - euphemistically called Instant Triple Talaq (Prohibition) Law.
Prasad was right for never before has a government tinkered with Muslim Personal Laws against the community’s wishes. That too without evolving a political consensus. It took the BJP led NDA government three long years and two attempts to enact this law. Its first attempt in 2017, Modi Government couldn’t enact the law because it didn’t have majority in Rajya Sabha then and the Bill was stonewalled by the joint opposition. It didn’t have majority in the upper house this time either, but managed to get the bill passed through some deft political manoeuvring.
History did get created. But, benefits and losses will be counted for months at least. Both on social and political fronts. BJP dared venture in a territory considered a no-go-area by most political parties. Muslims normally vote en bloc and no party ever wanted to antagonise the community for the fear of suffering erosion if vote share results in political loss.
BJP didn’t have much to lose. It prided itself in being a majoritarian party with a pronounced Hindutva agenda. It never had support of Muslims. Hence, it never feared loss of a vote bank. It rather served it well in cementing its position among its staunch Hindu supporters as being the only party which could ‘show Muslims their place’. On the other hand, it expected some support from Muslim women who would have perceived emancipation from age-old practice of Instant Triple Talaq (TTT) or Talaq-e-Biddat.

The practice of uttering ‘Talaq’ thrice at one go, resulting in instant divorce among Muslim families doesn’t find mention in Quran or Hadees, scriptures which are supposed to direct Muslims’ social, religious and personal lives. It is gender-skewed, as only Muslim husbands could divorce their wives through this. A repentant husband wanting to reunite with wife, had to allow his wife not only to marry somebody else but also consumate marriage before divorcing her second husband to reunite with the first one. The process was called Halala.
It was conceived by Muslim clergies that the thought of allowing his wife ṭo sleep with somebody else, would deter a Muslim man, from resorting ṭo TTT. But, they overlooked the agony of the woman who would have to sleep with someone else - often against her wish - to get back to her family. Such practices have been highlighted of late, in now famous Imrana and Gudia cases. Imrana was raped by her father-in-law. The Shariah court - governed by Muslim Personal Law - ruled that she should divorce her husband and marry her father-in-law.
Similarly, Gudia’s husband Arif, an army jawan, was supposeḍ to have become prisoner of war (PoW) in Pakistan. After waiting for him for a few years, she married Taufiq. But, as she was about to deliver Taufiq’s child, Arif returned. The matter was taken up by the Shariah court which ruled that she should go back to Arif. Gudia however, wanted to stay with Taufiq. On the other hand, Arif was ready to accept Gudia as his wife but not her child from Taufiq. No court asked Gudia what she wanted. A traumatised Gudia died soon after.

Callous Clergy
It is cases like these which have exposed pitfalls and shortcomings of Muslim Personal Laws (MPL). Muslim clergies have strongly resisted any fiddling with MPL, calling it an unsolicited infringement. So called secular parties too have desisted from touching the sensitive subjects like these for fear of losing their votes.
On the other extreme were parties like Congress, Rashṭriya Janata Dal, Triṇamool Congress or Samajwadi Party which walked an extra mile or two to please Muslims. SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, in those turbulent years of 1990-91 - at the peak of Ram Janmabhoomi agitation - had famously said, “Muslims have a right to keep weapons for their safety”. Belligerent rogue elements among the Muslims, took advantage of such proddings and Uttar Pradesh saw one of the worst communal riots in November 1990 after Vishwa Hindu Parishad cadres tried to assault Babri Masjid and police under then chief minister Mulayam’s instructions - ‘Parinda bhi par nahiṅ mar sakta’ (Even birds won’t be flying without state’s permission- opened fire on unarmed kar sevaks.
Then there was Rajiv Gandhi who enacted a law in Parliament to nullify a court verdict in Shah Bano case granting her maintenance allowance from her husband post divorce. Rajiv had a chance to support the court verdict and emerge as a reformer of Muslim Personal Law. He, however, chose the other path. Having overwhelming majority in both houses of Parliament, he passed a law to reverse the SC ruling. This enraged Hindu hardliners who saw the act as state’s capitulation to Muslim fundamentalists.

Modi Method
Thus, Modi took a completely uncharted path. He had scant care of fundamentalists or the secular leaders. He had his own vote bank in mind, besides of course, the image of being a social reformer of Muslim Personal Law. He conveyed that in so many words as well. In his speech in the Parliament, Modi said, had Raja Ram Mahan Roy cared for traditions, popular sentiments and religious feelings, social issues like sati and child marriages would still have been prevalent in the country. If social evils like these may be eradicated from Hindu personal laws, why shouldn’t Muslims come forward and support the initiative to weeken out illogical and regressive social practices from their customs and traditions?
But politically sagacious analysts see the development as a decoy to please BJP’s belligerent Hindutva constituency, which is not only vocal but also assertive. The strident Hindutva core base was initially supposed to consist of upper caste radicals. But, that was the case from 1989 to 2012-13. Emergence of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister has expanded this constituency. As analysis of 2019 Lok Sabha results demonstrated, the neo-Hindutva constituency which catapulted BJP back to power, now comprises almost all castes - including OBC, hitherto considered a bastion of leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav; as well as Dalits, so far treated as sole preserve of Mayawati.

Secular Failure
The political polarisation is apparently the result of secular leaders’ overtures pandering to Muslims in all respects. Who can forget then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s announcement that Muslims had the first right to the country’s natural resources? Or West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee attending namaz and ordering a delay of Durga Puja processions to avoid a clash with Muharram procession. Mayawati’s clarion call to Muslims during 2019 election rally in Deoband, not to allow split in their votes by voting for Congress candidate, had apparently set the ball rolling for a return of Modi raj at the Centre. It is because of these developments that analysts feel that BJP has killed two birds with one stone - placating the Hindu hardliners and emerging as social reformer of Muslim social evils. One of them has in fact compared BJP’s focus on triple talaq to the United States of America’s attack on Afghanistan. The US made its people to believe that they were attacking the Taliban. They however, ignored America’s role in the rise of the Taliban. The US said that its aim was to protect women from the Taliban, when the real agenda was getting access to Afghanistan’s natural resources and becoming powerful. Gender protection was just their stated agenda.

Stronger Hindutva
It is in this context that one should view BJP leaders’ penchant for talking about now bringing in a Uniform Civil Code (UCC). In fact, not just instant talaq, even the talaq that takes three months should go. This is not to say that divorce should be disallowed.
Actually, a legal form of divorce should be irrevocable. If for any reason a married couple wants to separate permanently, the law governing the process should be just and equal for both men and women. In Muslim personal law, the power to divorce is only with the male. The patriarchal system, which has such a strong hold on society that rights to property, adoption, surrogacy, etc., place woman on a lower pedestal than man. This happens in all personal laws, not just Muslim personal law. This is why gender justice and not triple talaq should be the frame of reference for both the government and the civil society.
However, the newly enacted law proscribes three years sentence for the offending husband. It is unclear from the Act as to how long the process of going to the police, then the magistrate, who will summon the husband, and the final order in the case will take.
What is the woman supposed to do between the time she is thrown out of the house and the final order? Will she return to the marital home? The Shah Bano case did not seem to protect or bestow rights on women. Not much was gained from the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act.

Other Facet
There is yet another facets to ITT law enacted in Parliament. It was easy for the government to get the Bill passed, courtesy walkouts and absence of Opposition parties and MPs superficially opposed to the legislation. There was little bipartisan scrutiny of the Bill. The behaviour of various parties and lawmakers who ensured that BJP’s minority became majority in the House, showed their inability to counter BJP’s accusation of them being ‘pro-minority’. Blindsided, they did not realise that siding with BJP would mark a major step in their eventual political demise. Hereafter, an ally like Janata Dal (United) leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar will find it tougher to retain their core base, already chipped away by BJP.
The BJP managed to convey to its supporters within the majority community that even ‘secular’ opponents of the anti-ITT Bill were aligned with the Muslim orthodoxy. The opposition was in complete disarray in Rajya Sabha. As many as 56 MPs, half of whom belonged to the opposition, were absent from the house. Interestingly, some of its members spoke against the Bill in the morning but were not present to vote in the evening (See Box).
Many opposition leaders who had spoken against the Bill refrained from voting. For instance, TDP’s Ravindra Kumar Kanakamedala, who had actively participated in the debate, was conspicuously missing during the vote. Similarly, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti voiced her opposition to the Bill on Twitter. TMC’s Derek O’Brien said “This is not floor management. It’s the not-so-invisible but most dependable allies of the BJP: the CBI and ED,” hinting at the investigative sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the missing MPs.Actually, seeking ‘revenge’, not justice, for wronged Muslim women was the driving spirit behind BJP’s campaign and legislation for outlawing ITT. This falls under the panoply of Muslim men who commit crimes — those who wage ‘love jihad’, engage in ‘cow slaughter’ and ‘instantaneously’ divorce their wives.

Real Motive
Interestingly, BJP leaders are silent on the plight of abandoned or divorced women among Hindu and other religions. The Census 2011 data on the marital status of Indians shows that among all divorced women, 68 percent are Hindus and 23.3 percent Muslims. It further reveals that 5.5 in 1,000 Hindu couples tend to get separated, including cases of wives being abandoned by husbands. Thus, both legal divorces plus separation among Hindus amount to 7.3 per thousand women. This brings to light the fact that Hindu divorce and separation rates are much higher than among Muslims, just 5.63 per thousand women in 2011 census, wherein separation or abandonment is not a significant factor due to easy divorce and notorious use of triple talaq. Obviously, politics and not sociology is the deciding factor for the BJP.

BJP-Opposition Tango

The BJP seems to have changed its stripes and is not mowing down opposition criticism, rather, taking it in its massive stride of 303 seats. Interestingly, the non-UPA, non-NDA members will make for some curious say

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

When the National Investigation Agency Amendment Bill was to be passed in Lok Sabha, Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen’s Asaduddin Owaisi pressed for division. Union Home Minister Amit Shah immediately acceded to the demand and of course he gave his reason for doing so. He said “Let the country know who are those standing against the bill.” And he assured in his reply to the discussion that the amendment to name individuals, and not just organisations, as terrorists, had a reason behind, that people start a new organisation with a different name once an organisation is banned for its terror activities, and he assured that it would not be used to harass people, though it did not carry much conviction because that is what all governments say.
When Vijay Sai Reddy of the Yuva Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) of Jaganmohan Reddy moved a Private Member bill seeking a constitutional amendment to reserve seats for the Other Backward Classes in the legislatures, Union Minister Law, Information Technology and Telecom Ravi Shankar Prasad requested Reddy to withdraw the bill as a constitutional amendment bill has to be moved by the government. The YSRCP has just one member in the Rajya Sabha.
It seems that the BJP feels that it is much better to let the Opposition to voice its dissent, vent its anger because they pose no threat to the government. The Opposition on its part will do everything every time it can to oppose the government. The Opposition was quite vocal on the amendments brought in the Right To Information (RTI) Amendment Bill, the triple talaq bill titled the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights) Marriage Bill, but the government held its ground. A similar pattern could be seen while passing the National Human Rights Commission Amendment Bill and the extension of President’s Rule in Jammu and Kashmir by six months.
It is Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla who has raised the bar for impartiality and given enough time to the Opposition members time in the House. After a debate on a bill and the minister’s reply to the debate, Birla makes time for Opposition leaders to seek clarifications from the minister. And in the commotion over Samajwadi Party (SP) member Azam Khan’s remarks about BJP member Rama Devi who was in the Chair at the time during the debate on the triple talaq bill, and the Treasury benches were up in arms against Khan, Birla sent out a clear message that the House belongs to everyone and not just to the 303 members of the BJP.
It is not a simple confrontation between a united opposition pitted against the united Treasury benches. For example, on the controversial Muslim Women (Protection of Marriage) Rights Bill, the Congress had staged a walkout along with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the National Congress Party (NCP) abstained from the voting, and the Janata Dal (United) of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, which is a member of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), opposed the bill during the debate and it had then staged a walkout. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and the YSRCP voted for it.
The fear that the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, who continues to be president of the BJP as well, give no quarter to the opponent and they are not likely to be generous and courteous to the opposition has been partially belied. The BJP is not yet showing its mailed fist and it is not throwing its weight of 303 members against a numerically weak opposition. The BJP and the Treasury benches are also not afraid of combative and eloquent speakers from the Opposition benches like first time Member of Parliament Mahua Moitra of the TMC, who spares no punches. Her words fall on deaf ears.
The BJP believes that it has the mandate to implement its agenda and it is an assumption that cannot be countered. But as Moitra pointed out in one of her interventions in the House, the Opposition members are also elected ones and they too are duty-bound to express their views and oppose when they think that the government is overstepping its bounds.
But there is a long way to go for members of this Lok Sabha. The two sides – the government and the opposition – will spar with each other for five years, till March 2024, when the next elections will be announced.
The BJP and its allies are likely to become more aggressive in the third – in 2022 – or the fourth – in 2023 – and the opposition too would be equally combative when the next election approaches. The difference in strength in Lok Sabha between the two main parties, the BJP and the Congress is huge. The BJP has 302 – without the Speaker – and the Congress 52. The steady ally of the Congress is the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar is 5. The other party that is an ally of Congress is the DMK with its 23 seats. Congress-NCP-DMK form a block of 80, while the BJP along with Shiva Sena (18) and Akali Dal (2), Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan (5) form a block (his brother Ramchandra Paswan passed away), with Janata Dal (United) of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with its 16 members keeping their options open. The JD (U) staged a walkout over the Muslim Women (Protection of Marriage) Bill. It is those who do not belong to either the NDA or the UPA, who would make this Lok Sabha interesting. These include TMC and YSRCP with 22 members each, Bahujan Samaj Party (BJP) with 10 and Samajwadi Party (5), the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (9), Biju Janata Dal (12) along with much smaller parties form a third bloc in the House. So, the Congress-led bloc has around 80 and the non-UPA, non-NDA bloc comprises another 80. So, there would never be a mortal combat where these two blocs would join hands and oppose the BJP-led NDA with determination.
There is then a fractured opposition which makes things easy for the BJP.
Parliamentary debates and voting would change on the opposition side, sometimes crossing the 160 mark if they all stand united and falling to around 100 if some of the parties choose to go their way. The BJP led bloc would maintain a solid phalanx of 300 plus. And it is this which makes this Lok Sabha much less powerful than it could be. When the government commands a solid majority, the Lok Sabha goes with the government. It is only when the government’s majority is on the edge, when the parliament becomes a crucial battlefield.
Despite the disparate numbers, the individual voices from the opposition will leave their mark. Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chaudhury is energetic and always on his feet to challenge the government on every issue. But he may not be in a position to corner the government in its acts of omission and commission because the Congress position on many issues is ambiguous and it may not always oppose the BJP on every issue.
An example is its walkout over the triple talaq amendment bill. There was the expectation that by voting against the bill, the Congress would make its stand clear. Surprisingly, the NCP had abstained from the vote on this bill. On the amendment bill regarding the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and other changes, the opposition did not have objections in principle and supported it, as it did with Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) amendments. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had acknowledged as much while replying to the debate on these amendment bills in the Lok Sabha and in the Rajya Sabha. Not all the bills have an ideological tinge.
The Parliament will witness more cooperation among the parties because on many matters of governance there is convergence over aims and there will be differences over the details. Shyam Singh Yadav of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) from Jaunpur speaking on the Indian Medical Commission Bill, which is to replace the Medical Council of India (MCI), was sharply critical of the Modi government’s tendency to change names without effecting qualitative changes in the working of the institutions.
Yadav gave the example of the Planning Commission being replaced by the NITI Aayog, implying there is not much difference between the functioning of the old and the new. And he pointed out that a similar thing was happening in the case of National Medical Commission headed by bureaucrats replacing the MCI. The criticism of Yadav, who is a lawyer and who was coach of Olympian and former sports minister Raghavendra Singh Rathore, was both informed and barbed.
The Modi government despite its comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha cannot afford to be complacent. It will have to be on its feet. The man who seems to feel it the most is Shah, who is leading the government’s offensive as well as defense from the front. The Modi government wants to counter the criticism from the opposition on every count as a way of preparing for the 2024 election.

Want farm land? check out africa latin america

The squeeze on land is quite evident in India, as also the squeeze on water. Result is food shortages that are going to get worse with climate change. A possible solution is to lease land in South America or Africa where fertile land is there in plenty

Huma Siddiqui
Huma Siddiqui

Huma Siddiqui is a Senior Correspondent for one of the leading financial dailies, The Financial Express in New Delhi. She specialises in foreign affairs especially in coverage on Latin America & Strategic and Military Issues

Lush green fields, bountiful crop, happy farmers … no we are not talking about India here if recent reports of our farmers in crisis is anything to go by. With little or no investment in the agriculture sector, it is estimated that 45% of Indian farmers want to quit farming—supply-side constraints have been a major cause for concern.
Add to that rapidly falling water tables in north India – India’s bread basket, and erratic monsoons from climate change leading to domestic food output falling short of demand, a scenario repeatedly sketched by meteorologists and climate change experts.
So what is the way forward? Looking at best practices for sure. But should India also look at Latin America (LatAm) and Africa for food security? In late 2009, the Ministry of External Affairs started preparing a policy framework to enable Indians to acquire farm land overseas where grain could be grown and shipped back home. This would help address the country’s food security problem, especially during years of drought.
The government of Punjab since 2008-9 has been exploring land leasing in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico to grow food grain for consumption in India. There have been several high level delegations visiting the region, including one by Punjab’s deputy chief minister.
It helped that there is widespread corporate investment in land for food and fuel production in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. In many South American countries there is abundance of fertile land. Incidentally, in this region they don’t plough the land, rather they practice what is called Direct Seeding (siembredirecta). They don’t prepare the land by ploughing after the previous harvest. They let the residue from the previous harvest rot and become manure. It aids land fertility.
The region is also well known for cutting edge farm technology. There are no restrictions on foreigners owning land. In some places, land prices are lower than in parts of India.
“The cost per hectare is less than half the price of agricultural land in Punjab,” says Rengaraj Viswanathan, former ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
Officials here reasoned that since the land acquisition would be by private parties only, the chances of such purchases becoming a political issue were remote. They estimated that Brazil has around 30 million hectares on offer, Argentina 32 million hectares, and Uruguay 10 million hectares with lesser amounts in other countries.
Early investors include Sri Renuka Sugars, one of India’s largest sugar producers, which has signed an agreement with a Brazilian conglomerate Grupo Equipav, to buy a controlling 50.79 per cent stake in it, with which will come control over the company’s vast sugarcane fields.
As yet, however, there is no financing available to buy land in these countries. But unlike in Africa, there is no competition from China. China does have around $ 24 billion invested in South America, but does not encourage private ownership of land.
In fact an increasing number of Indian companies are looking at LatAm as a safe investment destination, mainly because of stable governments and economic policies. These markets are also becoming a potential lifeline as India deals with food shortages and droughts. Earlier, India was bullish on Africa, but political turmoil gradually saw interest shift towards LatAm.
This is not to say that India and Africa do not have much to learn from each other. Being the biggest producer of food grain and horticulture crops, India could help the African continent develop its agriculture. Diplomats from India and Africa say Indian industry can help in training and transfer of technology even as it imports pulses from the African continent.
Africa’s farm sector is expected to be worth about $1 trillion by 2030, although this growth will largely depend on adequate technology infusion. An Indian Exim Bank report states that, “While some parts of northern and southern Africa have increasingly inducted tractors for agriculture, farmers in most parts of Africa still depend on hand-held implements for farming. Africa could learn from India’s Green Revolution, White Revolution and the expansion of its agri-processing industries. Also, ‘tractorization’ of African farms is an area that needs to be addressed.”
Cheap land and low labour costs in Africa are attracting a number of Indian firms with interests in the farm sector. It helps that in countries like Kenya in east Africa, cultivation of tea, coffee, corn, vegetables, sugarcane, wheat and fruits, is widespread, as in India.
India has a well-established national research system, seed sector and testing laboratories in place. In this scenario, an enhanced Africa-India STI cooperation could play a significant role in facilitating African countries for building R&D infrastructure, which is mutually recognized and brings in necessary Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs), shares successful mutual practices and expertise, and supplies appropriate planting materials. India has already provided better sugarcane germplasm to Ethopia for higher yields.
Indian companies could help Africa’s agriculture sector in several ways including farm mechanization; agro-processing and storage; investments in training and development of human resources for the farm sector and employment generation; greenfield investments, local vendor development and agriculture exports to neighbouring countries; setting up of agro parks in Africa; and setting up of horticulture industries, floriculture units and contract farming.
The Indian government acts as a facilitator to the whole process. It is supporting the conventional new greenfield foreign direct investments, merger and acquisition purchases of existing firms; public-private partnerships; and specific tariff reductions on agricultural goods imported into India through the negotiation of regional bilateral trade and investment treaties and double taxation (avoidance) agreements.
Not to forget the Indian private sector is the main vehicle through which investments in agriculture are being made. Many business enterprises such as Jain Irrigation, Karuturi Global, Kirloskar Brothers, Mahindra and Mahindra, Ruchi Soya and Renuka Sugars have established their presence in several countries in farm and related sectors. In addition, several new players such as Yes Bank and McLeod Russel are making forays into the agriculture sector in Africa.
Further, while boosting Africa’s agriculture production, India too can meet its food needs with imports from the continent, especially pulses, where India faces a huge shortfall. Besides, Indian industry could also help African governments establish agriculture vocational training schools in their respective countries.
About 65 % of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives in rural areas, as does bulk of the labour force. For example, in Tanzania, the farm sector provides livelihood to more than 80% of the population and is the anchor of the economy. Farmers are engaged in predominantly small-holder subsistence production, marked by low output. Rudimentary production tools and agricultural technologies, vulnerability to drought conditions, declining soil fertility, climate change and poor access to inputs and capital have led to low productivity per acre. Precisely because food insecurity is acute in Africa, there is great potential for agricultural transformation. The Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), under the aegis of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), has identified the agriculture sector as an ‘engine of growth’ and a potential ‘sustainable solution to hunger and poverty in Africa’.
Experts have said that, “Latin America can meet India’s food needs, a place where agriculture commands the status of IT in India, with the best brains and fortunes in that sector. Indian companies should join US and European companies who have realized this, and participate in the agro value chain there – investing in contract farming to agro-inputs to food processing to logistics.” LatAm price arbitrage exists in hi-quality farmland – prices ranging from $2000 to $3000 per acre in Uruguay and Paraguay, for ready to farm properties.
According to senior officials who requested anonymity, “Our food security concerns are immediate. The other option that the country has is increasing the acreage under critical crops, however, there is little scope for this and increasing acreage, especially under pulses and oilseeds, which are critical for us, can only be done at the cost of other crops. Not a win-win scenario again. Besides, it would be difficult to maintain status-quo in net cultivated area due to strains from climate change, water shortages and industrialization.” Since 2006, more than 20 million hectares of agricultural land, an area equivalent to total French agricultural land mass or one-fifth of the total European Union land mass has been taken on lease by several nations. Most of these deals have been done in Africa, LatAm and East-Asia. These partnerships have been largely triggered by the tightening of world food markets. While the above would be a workable solution in the Indian context, it would be a win-win scenario for host nations in Africa and LatAm. There is immense scope for increasing acreage and crop productivity. Senior officials from the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Agriculture along with several envoys have been discussing opportunities in contractual farming in these regions.
A FICCI-Deloitte Paper on “India and Latin America & Caribbean (LAC): Business Environment and Opportunities for Collaboration”, notes that with climate change wreaking havoc in agricultural output, India and Latin America could synergize and complement each other to meet the growing food crisis. India’s raw material needs can be met and its food security facilitated by trade with LatAm and the Caribbean, as the region is transforming into a major supplier of essential raw materials like crude oil, edible oils, minerals and metal products. It also has a large available area of fertile land and abundant water resources. That India holds importance for the region is evident from the fact that former Brazilian President Lula da Silva visited India thrice during his administration.

The grace of kumartoli

he fragrance of wet clay from the Ganges, dry straw beneath one’s feet, the criss-cross patterns of bamboo spread out within the narrow confines of ramshackle studios; dimly-lit workshops full of idols in various stages of completion, blending seamlessly with the labyrinths of alleys and lanes where the artisans creating goddesses from clay, live their art.

Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

Welcome to ‘Kumartoli’, described as the “cradle of Indian idols” (not to be confused with the eponymous TV show). Kumartoli is more than 300 years old, and found mention in The Bengal Consultations, a journal published in 1707, which describes “Kumartuli’s artisans” who occupied 75 acres of land at Sutanuti (present-day north Kolkata).
There are many claimants to the treasured history of Kumartoli, but for the average Bengali, settled anywhere in the world, Kumartoli is a comforting continuum equally associated with animated adolescence, and the whole span of adulthood, claims historian Runa Sen.
“Durga Puja is not just a religious festival of Bengal, but in itself a religion that is celebrated by all sections of society,” says Sen. “The five-day festival means many things at various stages of your life; each comes with its own colour and flavour. I distinctly remember holding my parents hand and visiting the various pandals, later I used to hang around with friends and admirers, and now as a mother, I take my son pandal hopping. And all this starts and ends with ‘Kumartoli’, thus completing the cycle of life,” she added, visibly nostalgic.
Ramesh Chandra Pal, one of the most talented artisans of Kumartuli known for his life like creations of the goddess, could not agree more. “Kuamrtoli symbolises life, where the frame on which we build the goddess comes back to us after the idol is immersed at the end the Durga Puja, thus symbolising a new beginning, where we start to prepare for the next year.”
Today more than anything Durga Puja celebrates the cultural and religious harmony that symbolises Bengal. “Though it is a Hindu religious festival, there are pujas being organised by Muslims and Christians along with Hindus. There is hardly any religious or social divide, when it comes to the pujas, the entire state comes to usher in the joys of festivity,” says sociologist Tarun Goswami.
Every Bengali has a puja tale-to-tell. Even for Bengali’s born outside India, the word puja becomes so much a part of the household vocabulary, that they come at least once in their lifetime to relive their roots. “I was born and brought up in United States. Never visited India or Bengal, but always heard of stories about puja from my parents. But now since they are no more, it become imperative on my part to come and see for myself why it meant so much for my parents. Even at the age of 53, I must admit, I have missed so much of my country of origin. All my life I considered myself a proud American, but today I am proud Bengali, wish I was here before,” said Shalina Bose.
Cut back the romanticism, Kumartoli is the place that provides employment to thousands of people and is the sole source of their livelihood. For the hundreds of shopkeepers, painters, labourers’, suppliers of various raw materials, and of course artisans, it’s a place for sustenance. “Today, there are around 400 workshops in Kumartuli which provides direct employment to at least 4000 people and indirect employment to another ten thousand,” said Mintu Pal, general secretary of the Kumartuli Potters Association.
Though over the years, the city has undergone tremendous metamorphosis, nothing much has changed for the artisans of this fabled place. Faced with financial hardship, these artisans barely manage to make both ends meet. The rising price and declining supply of raw materials, lack of space, working capital and labour problems plague the lives of all idol-makers. An average studio in Kumartuli is merely a space where the earthen floor is not even paved. The walls are a fencing of two wooden boards held together with rope. Tin and matting are some of the materials used in constructing the roof. Electric lighting is minimal, and the artisans squat on the floor to work.
The West Bengal Government had promised a ‘modern’ Kumartuli through ‘The Kumartuli rehabilitation plan’. Spread across an area of five acres, the complex would have housed a sophisticated auditorium that would serve as a studio for the artisans and their assistants. Promises were made about offering housing to the workers and an art gallery where their work could be preserved and showcased. A miniature model of the projected Rs 260-crore plan was also made.
But like many things in Bengal, it also remained confined to the drawing board and the artisans remain where they were. “Nothing happened,” was the only answer most could offer when asked about the project.
Others complain that chief minister Mamata Banerjee who is so keen to change the image of Bengal, completely lost sight of Bengal’s biggest cultural export the Durga Puja. “Didi (Banerjee) inaugurates hundreds of pujas every year. Even the idols could have at least reminded her of our plight,” said another artisan unwilling to be named.
“The project got delayed because of some administrative procedures. Earlier we identified a piece of land further north of the city to rehabilitate the artisans but there were some litigations pending for that ground,” said an official of the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority, the nodal body for implementing the project.
Apart from crumbling infrastructure, artisans complain of lack of social security. “There are Durga Puja organisers who spend lakhs of rupees in organising the Puja, but when it comes to paying for the idols, they are tight fisted,” complains Shibani Pal, one of the few practising women in this male-dominated trade. “It’s human to look for financial security especially for old age. But for artist like us, there is none and every year we find we are left with less money to sustain ourselves,” she added.
Gouranga Pal, another well-known sculptor is unwilling let his grandsons join him in this trade unlike his three sons. “The future of this trade looks bleak as with every passing year it getting difficult to sustain. There is little help either from the government or from society at large,” said the octogenarian artist.

Youth Challenge VS Opportunity

These are exciting, even euphoric times for India’s youth. Never before have the opportunities been so many, the horizon so close. Yet they need to understand the enormous challenges ahead in terms of politics, society, and their utter lack of preparation

Robin Keshaw
Robin Keshaw

Robin Keshaw is a development sector professional with rich experience in the domain of education, life skills and governance. He is a computer science graduate from BITS Pilani and has previously worked with Teach For India and CM office in Haryana.

Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, in an interview with Charlie Rose, spoke about the role of young people in creating value for the future. He said emphatically: “My father did a better job than my grandfather. I did a better job than my father. And I am sure, my kids are going to do a better job than me. Nobody can stop it.”
India today has the potential of emerging as an economic superpower. At least two generations of its people have reached their prime and then passed on the baton to the next generation. In that sense, 2019 is going to be the year of reckoning for millennium kids, the ones born in the 1990s and the intervening years. If Jack Ma is to be believed, this lot would do a better job than previous torch-bearers. The theory of accelerating returns shall make the task easier.
But one needs to be fairly credulous to buy such optimistic arguments. Until and unless we analyze the current context and set the correct agenda for the following year, things are not going to get as rosy as we would like to believe. Words like growth, progress, development have diverse ramifications and everyone, youth all the more, needs to examine these minutely to set the correct course for an incredible India. Let’s try and figure out the Ordre du jour for Gen Y.
Gen Y has been witness to recent political developments that could be the prelude to the politics of the future. Modi and Kejriwal’s brand of politics has drawn many youths into the political arena. Thousands rallied behind these leaders to realize political change. But is the youth participation going to remain limited to electoral politics or are they ready for the long haul?
Abinav Singhal recently returned from the US after completing his Masters in Public Policy at the University of Texas-Austin. In his view: “This is not a repeat telecast of Total Revolution or anti-reservation protests of the 90s, when students were misused for electoral gains. The political awareness has spilled out of college campuses to office spaces, glass buildings and green fields. Youth have much higher stakes in politics now.” Singhal has launched an advisory firm for political parties. If the recent UP panchayat elections are any indication, where young graduates, both men and women in their early twenties defeated political stalwarts, Singhal is absolutely right. Young India has upped its ante in politics. The December 16 protests, anti-corruption movement, etc led to a wedding of sorts between social issues and politics, and young people played the roles of matchmaker. The same youth that had conditioned themselves into believing that politics is to be avoided, have now realized that political participation is a sine qua non for the nation’s development.
RTI, RTE, Jan lokpal etc are not just about politics, it is about the political capital that Gen Y needs to invest to draw suitable returns in the future. These are long term investments. In the coming year, it would require a lot of foresight on the part of Gen Y to change the country’s political climate. A political hotbed like India cannot be seen through the lens of narrow mindedness and short term gain. Young India would need to chart out realistic vision and goals for the polity and that won’t be easy. I am reminded of a Chinese proverb: “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.” Our political history had been deeply mired in the politics of identity and ideology. This has led to a kind of partisanship where consensus is also difficult to arrive at. This needs to change. Gen Y would need to shift its focus to issue based politics, where each issue is examined on benchmarks of development, human, social and economic, and not through the myopic prism of political affiliations.
One of the common threads that bound together the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia was unemployment. One would be extremely cynical to lump India with the Arab world, or Africa or Easern Europe but sample this: The Labour Department’s Annual Employment and Unemployment Report for 2013-14 puts the unemployment rate for young graduates (18-29 years) at 28 per cent. India adds around 13 million people every year to the workforce. Even though the Labour Force Participation Rate is quite low at 52.5 percent, the number of job-seekers is staggering.
Check out some other statistics. Indian startups created 80,000 jobs in 2014-15. Around 72 per cent of the startup founders are less than 35 years of age, making India the youngest startup nation in the world. But these numbers don’t stand a chance against the unemployment numbers mentioned above although there is a silver lining.
Job creation has been Prime Minister Modi’s main agenda. It is the reason why he launched initiatives like Digital India, Make in India, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana. When he declared “Start up India, Stand up India” from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day, he had serious business in mind. The government is providing tax breaks to startups, it is fostering incubation centres and simplified the approval process for new projects. In the pipeline is a Bankruptcy law and changes in Intellectual Property laws to enable a better environment for startups.
India never suffered from lack of great ideas, what was lacking was strong, collective will for implementation. With government pushing the reforms, it is an ideal scenario for Gen Y to leverage the situation. The huge domestic market is going to make it a lot easier to experiment with ideas. Gen Y must shed the inhibitions and insecurities which plagued earlier generations, and demonstrate the entrepreneurial spirit. It is the perfect time to fail in India, and learn from the failures to bounce back.
Along with this risk-taking attitude, young entrepreneurs also need a value-based approach to foster creativity, innovation and strong culture in their organizations. Revenue generation and profit making are definitely important objectives, but should not be the most important ones. If we look at the history of successful organizations across the world, the ones with strong vision and values stand out. Young entrepreneurs need to replicate such successes here as well, to create a long lasting impact.
“On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In the politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. We will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.” Babasaheb Ambedkar’s warning rings no less true today. For long, India has been a crucible for forging concrete social identities, which has done us more harm than good. Our personal and social insecurities have led us towards social alliances. Our social milieu has been so compartmentalized that we always seek the compartments which are built around our social identities, be it gender-based, caste-based, religion-based etc. In the process, we seem to make some personal progress but at the cost of social prosperity.
Similar observations have been made about economic inequality. Recent research by Angus Deaton, Thomas Piketty and Abhijit Banerjee has clearly shown the social as well as economic costs of inequality, especially in the context of India. How does young India perceive inequality?
“There is no clear pattern”, observes Vandana Agarwal, a career counsellor in a Delhi-based firm. “For a sizeable portion of urban youth, who have studied in public schools and have remained alienated from rural or semi-urban life, inequality doesn’t exist. But there are many more who endorse the egalitarian view of society and are actively working to root out inequality. My optimistic side wants to believe that the numbers of the latter are increasing day by day.” Gen Y would do itself a lot of good in proving Vandana right and not just because of the Utopian ‘God-has-made-us-equal’ view. In a very pragmatic sense, our social surroundings are impacting on our personal lives in more direct ways. The more turbulent it becomes, the more opportunity cost it would incur in our lives. Of course, we would have to forego a lot of choices we have been accustomed to. But this should not stop Gen Y from making the right choice for the future.
For our parents’ generation, financial stability and a secure career was their topmost priority. They did all the hard work to create a problem-free environment at home and made us believe that we are special and destined to do big things in life. Somewhere in this process, the role of sincere effort and hard work got diluted and created a sense of entitlement in us. Our generation started believing that we are so awesome; we deserve a degree of respect and recognition irrespective of how much actual work we do.
Many of the problems with our generation, as perceived by elders, can be traced back to such distorted perceptions. We tend to be strongly opinionated, intolerant of the perspective of others and inclined towards unethical shortcuts. When there is a huge difference between our sense of identity and socially perceived identity, it leads to frustration, which has much wider ramifications.
Paul Harvey, assistant professor of management at the University of New Hampshire, conducted some research at the workplace to understand this new sense of entitlement among the younger generation. He said: “Managers have reported a lot of problems associated with this – primarily that these employees have unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback. Entitlement involves having an inflated view of oneself, and managers are finding that younger employees are often very resistant to anything that doesn’t involve praise and rewards.”
Indian youth need to understand that identities are not created through Facebook posts or tweets. It takes blood, sweat and toil to build an identity. It requires a lot of effort and any digression from the path of hard work leaves gaps that are difficult to plug later. No one owes us anything; respect and recognition are earned through perseverance and persistence. As we try to bring reality and expectations closer, our life would be much simpler and more satisfying.
Young India must tread its travel plans for the New Year. If travel blog posts and Instagram pictures are any indications, travelling is the latest craze for Gen Y. With each passing day, new bucket lists are being created, new destinations are being explored. As the saying goes, “To travel is to take a journey within oneself,” and Gen Y is increasingly taking the path to self-discovery.
As we meet new people, visit new places, understand different cultures and shatter our comfort zones, we realize that the world is far more beautiful and diverse than our opinions and egos. We, our thoughts, our exaggerated opinions, are minor against the vast expanse of nature. The whirlpool of emotions and self-questioning settles to give an inner peace, which calms all the noise out there in the world. As India’s youth prepare to pack their bags for travel, allow you to tread on a path of self-awareness and enjoy the beauty within.
Let me end with these lines from author Bill Bullard, one wonders if he was reflecting on India’s youth when he wrote them: “Opinion is really the lowest form of knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self-kind of understanding.”

Call From The Sunainas

The media is stoking language issues around the Draft Education Policy, but the policy itself has other glaring problems depriving millions of poor children from quality education

Robin Keshaw
Robin Keshaw

Robin Keshaw is a development sector professional with rich experience in the domain of education, life skills and governance. He is a computer science graduate from BITS Pilani and has previously worked with Teach For India and CM office in Haryana.

Many of you might remember Sunaina Rawat, a 14-year-old girl from Mohanlalganj in Uttar Pradesh. While covering the General Elections, 2019, NDTV’s Prannoy Roy landed on Sunaina’s doorsteps, as if by an act of providence. Sunaina walked with Roy and team through her kachcha house and barren fields and took the audience through her dreams, struggles and hopes. She talked about the financial issues at home, her daily chores of filling water and carrying bales of hay and her challenges of going to school daily. She then confessed that the reason she’s studying is because she wants to become a doctor and open up her own hospital someday. Sunaina is not the only child who’s dreaming big. There are millions and millions of Sunaina and Suresh who have pegged high hopes on education to bring the desired change in our society. Yet, year after year, our education system categorically bludgeons these innocent hopes and butchers the aspirations of these children owing to its archaic, and moribund structures. The draft National Education Policy (NEP), which was put out in the public domain on May 30, has rekindled many such hopes.
The deliberations for the new policy started when a committee under Late TSR Subramanian was tasked with submitting a report. The Subramanian Committee held a large number of discussions and consultations before submitting its report to the government. However, this report was junked as the government found it a ‘mere compilation’ of some older reports. Later, a committee was constituted under the chairmanship of Dr K Kasturirangan, erstwhile ISRO chief. The committee went through another round of discussions and consultations and submitted its report to the government in December, 2018.
In Dr Kasturirangan’s words: “Much has changed in the country and the world on social, economic, development and political fronts, and the knowledge base on which we work today is very different as an ecosystem compared to what we had 25 years ago. The new policy recommends radical changes that are aimed at addressing these issues.”
The Draft
The former ISRO head is right in some ways. The draft NEP indeed consists some of the much-needed reforms to uplift our ailing education system.
The Draft NEP has dwelled considerably on the importance of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). It talks about how more than 85 per cent of a child’s cumulative brain development happens before the age of 6 and an investment of ₹1 in ECCE yields a return of ₹10. The draft proposes to bring the three years of pre-primary and the two years of Grades 1 and 2 into a composite unit with “a single curricular and pedagogical phase of play and discovery-based learning” between the ages of 3 and 8 years. It also provides a comprehensive framework of promoting ECCE through a network of Anganwadis and pre-primary schools with active support from primary schools.
It proposes to bring the ECCE component under HRD ministry so that curricular and pedagogical aspects are taken care of. Dr Venita Kaul, an ECCE expert and Professor Emerita at Ambedkar University says, “If implemented well, this can have a positive impact on children’s learning as it would ensure a play-based, developmentally appropriate curriculum for children up to not just 6 but 8 years, which would give them a stronger foundation.”
The draft recommends bringing the ECE under the RTE Act, thus extending the ambit of ‘free and compulsory education’ to children above 3 years of age.
Teaching Them
The committee has dared to acknowledge the severe learning crisis which is plaguing our country today. One of the major reasons for such pathetic learning levels is the weaker foundational literacy and numeracy in our students, which completely kills their interest in learning and ultimately results in dropouts.
The report says that ‘attaining foundational literacy and numeracy for all children must become an ‘immediate national mission’. It suggests a slew of measures to tackle this national crisis – expansion of midday meal programme to include breakfast, National Tutors Programme, Remedial Instruction Aides Programme, etc.
The draft relies heavily on parental and community engagement, but doesn’t provide a clear roadmap to implement such measures.
The NEP recommends that a 5+3+3+4 curricular and pedagogical structure based on the cognitive and socio-emotional developmental stages of children, should replace the current 10+2 model. It wants the three years of pre-school (ages 3-6) to be clubbed with Grades 1 and 2 (up to age 8) and made into a single pedagogical unit called the ‘Foundational Stage’. Grades 3-5 (ages 8-11) will be called the Preparatory Stage, followed by a Middle Stage of Grades 6-8 (ages 11-14), and finally a Secondary Stage of Grades 9-12 (ages 14-18). This has been welcomed by many educationists.
Elusive Burden
The recent spurt in the suicide cases of students highlights the excessive burden of education being faced by our young ones. NEP seeks to reduce the content and textbook load on students and discourage rote learning.
The curriculum framework will, therefore, shift focus from textbook learning to hands-on, experiential and analytical learning. All subjects, including arts, music, crafts, sports, yoga and community service, will be curricular. The curriculum will promote multilingualism, ancient Indian knowledge systems, a scientific temper, ethical reasoning, social responsibility, digital literacy and knowledge of critical issues facing local communities.
To reduce the pressure of board exams, NEP suggests many flexibilities around them. Between Grades 8 and 12, students will be allowed to take board examinations twice a year. Later, when computerised adaptive testing becomes widely available, multiple attempts will be allowed, in at least 24 subjects or, on average, three a semester. The examination will test only core capacities, basic learning, skills and analysis. ‘Students should be able to pass comfortably without coaching and cramming,’ the NEP states.
Missing the Shots
Typically, the shelf-life of the new education policy is 15-20 years. The long timeframe means that the policy should be highly aspirational in its approach and envision a roadmap which shapes the discourse around education. While the committee has recommended some visionary reforms, it has missed the shots in some crucial areas.
The societal landscape has changed drastically in the last couple of decades and will continue to do so at a much rapid pace in coming years. Global problems like climate change, terrorism, refugee crisis, etc., are very real and will be affecting our daily lives. On the other hand, socio-psychological issues such as deteriorating mental health, rising degrees of anger and impatience, lack of civic engagement are eating away our social fabric. As our young students enter into the real world, our education system completely fails them as it doesn’t teach them to address these issues. “The answer lies in equipping our children with a range of socio-emotional skills (also known as life skills or 21st century skills),” says Neha Arora, a Delhi government school teacher. “We teach our students to solve trigonometry problems and make them memorise World War dates. However, we are not teaching them problem solving, decision making, empathy, resilience, emotional management and other skills which will not only help them live a positive life but also bring a positive impact on the world,” she adds.
Happiness Curriculum
The draft NEP mentions that ‘Students must develop not only cognitive skills both ‘foundational skills’ of literacy and numeracy and ‘higher-order’ cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem solving skills but also social and emotional skills, also referred to as ‘soft skills’, including cultural awareness and empathy, perseverance and grit, teamwork and leadership, among others.’ However, it completely ignores the integration of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) into our education system. This is a glaring blind spot. The committee needn’t have gone too far and study the impact of SEL in Delhi government schools as part of its Happiness Curriculum.
The role of a teacher is of paramount importance in developing social-emotional skills in our students. The Policy Draft (page no 113) has correctly mentioned some of the key attributes of outstanding teachers – “…passionate, motivated and well qualified” and teachers should be able to “relate to the students whom they teach, and are invested in the communities they serve.” But then it goes completely silent on improving the socio-emotional competence of the teachers and dwells mostly in the administrative realms of teacher motivation. “It’s almost as if a high school student is made to write a 5 marks question on ‘qualities of a good teacher’, “quips Radhika Menon, a teacher education expert.
Eerie Silence
“The policy draft is eerily silent on the approach to improve teacher mindsets and relies on the age-old traditions of capacity building. These haven’t worked in the past and will definitely not work in the future, where the role of a teacher will be to facilitate learning and role-modelling socio-emotional skills, rather than of a mere knowledge-giver,” she remarks. The draft doesn’t talk about reforming the pre-service and in-service teacher training to develop socio-emotional competence in teachers and hence it leaves a conspicuous gap in the teacher education framework.
Even though policy draft sets a target of achieving 100% GER across all school stages, it offers only superficial recommendations to bring out-of-school children in the mainstream education. TAP India works for the out-of-school children and school dropouts in Gurugram. Its CEO, Rita Mishra, comments, “It feels as if millions of out-of-school children have been cheated by the new policy draft because it doesn’t offer any credible solution to get them back to schools. In a nearly 500-page long document, school dropouts could manage only 7 pages worth of attention of committee members”. The draft mentions that ‘in absolute numbers, an estimated 6.2 crore children of school age (between 6 and 18 years) were out of school in 2015.’
Political Draft
The draft is surprisingly silent on some of the major contemporary issues of our education system. It is almost as if the committee members have got their message from what happened to Subramanian Committee report. It is completely silent about the political interference in higher education institutions.
A cursory look of the policy will tell a reader about the significantly higher levels of centralisation through the proposed framework for higher education – Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog which is to be chaired by the Prime Minister.
Anita Rampal, erstwhile Professor from Delhi University says, “The draft’s highly centralising agenda also comes to the fore. Both the government-controlled Rashtriya Shiksha Ayog and the well-funded National Research Foundation, with links with the industry to “ensure that most urgent national issues are researched” merit discussion.”
Recently, the Rajasthan government revised its textbooks to get rid of the so-called saffronisation which was induced by the previous BJP governments. Off late, textbook revisions have become a political tool to brainwash an entire cohort through our school education.
Surprisingly, the policy draft doesn’t acknowledge this growing menace and doesn’t provide any space to talk about this issue. This clearly means that such revisions will always be under political control and our children will continue to suffer.
As visionary and ambitious one would expect the policy draft to be, it ignores the perils of caste and class dynamics on the education system. Even in the chapter on inclusive education, it simply parrots the already known facts and repeats the age-old recommendations to build inclusive schools. The committee had a golden chance to be bold and courageous to talk about some of the issues that matter in contemporary India, but it chose silence and conformity over speaking truth to the power.
In one of his articles, Anil Swarup, former secretary for school education and literacy, laments, “Government doesn’t require an education policy; it requires a clear-cut action plan because that is missing on the ground”.
He can’t be truer. In a country like ours, where policy implementation gap has almost been institutionalised with bureaucratic indifference and lack of political will, we needed much more than a lofty policy document. As of now, Sunaina and millions of our children will have to probably just wait for many more years for the inclusive, equitable and excellent education to become a reality in India.

‘Prakand’ Kishor On the Roll

The man who made Modi win several times in Gujarat and then, stunningly to the Centre in 2014, is a new age poll manager, extremely costly, but a winner most often

Rashme Sehgal
Rashme Sehgal

Rashme Sehgal began her career as a poet-cum-short story writer in 1970s. She then shifted to journalism and worked with several leading newspapers including The Independent, The Telegraph and The Times of India

Election strategist Prashant Kishor has single-handedly changed the way elections are being held in India. Post 2012, he helped Narendra Modi get re -elected as chief minister to Gujarat for the third time. He then went on to create a Citizen for Accountable Governance (CAG) group that helped the BJP and more specifically Modi win power at the centre in 2014.
The strategy employed to catapult Modi to power in 2014 laid out a template for all our subsequent elections. Following the 2012 Gujarat state elections, Kishore went on to create a mammoth electioneering team of professionals that saw winning seats as a project-management challenge away from the way elections had been held earlier, where work was overseen by local satraps and part-time volunteers. These professionals did not hesitate to use a vast armoury of weapons including campaign analytics, social media, technology, and campaign management. Of course, the fall out of using top-of-the-line professionals to provide inputs and oversee every detail of electioneering has seen the cost of electioneering sky rocket. It was therefore no shocker when one learnt that the Centre for Media Studies calculated the cost of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as having been over Rs 60,000 crore. The 2019 elections have been found to be the most expensive elections held anywhere in the world trumping even the cost of the US presidential election of 2016.
In his earlier avatar, Kishor repeatedly assured his critics that none of the members of his team were attached to any political party. They in fact functioned as a non-profit group providing a mix of consultancy and campaign solutions to Modi. But the fact is that prior to working for any political leader, Kishore insists on some prerequisites being met, the first of which is that he be given 24x7 access to the political leader he is working for.
In effect, from 2012, CAG worked out of Modi’s residence in Gandhinagar. But Kishor also set up eight other offices around the country which were staffed by around 400 paid members along with another 800 paid interns and more than one lakh volunteers.
None of these people worked pro bono and in retrospect it is anyone’s guess as to where the money was coming from.
Dress Rehearsals
But Kishor’s thoroughness in preparing Modi for the elections can be gauged from the fact that he told Pavan Verma who in turn told Karan Thapar who in turn has quoted in his biography Devil’s Advocate that Kishor made Modi see the interview he did of him thirty times over in order to prepare him for the 2014 elections. It must be recounted that Thapar asked some tough questions regarding the Gujarat Kishor’s team used the interview to teach Modi how to handle difficult questions and uncomfortable situations, Thapar claimed in his book.
During the build up to the 2014 elections, CAG brought out a detailed 200 page report on each of the 450 seats from which the BJP was planning to contest. The CAG team had held ground level opinion polls to gauge the mood of the voting public and this data was added to the information provided by the report. The BJP were informed on how they could strengthen their presence in constituencies where they were weak, how they could use local caste equations to their advantage and most importantly, since the RSS was kept in the loop of these developments, how the RSS could be used to educate people further about the BJP’s candidates.
When Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyer took a dig at Modi’s background of selling tea at railway stations, the CAG team decided to turn this remark to his advantage. They came up with a concept called Chai pe Charcha in which he chatted with 1,000 tea stalls spread across India via video conferencing.
In Uttar Pradesh, which Kishor predicted would be a difficult state, the CAG came up in the 2014 election with a rather off beat campaign titled Modi Aane Wala Hai and this worked surprisingly very well. This campaign saw 400 video vans spread across thousands of villages in the interiors where his speeches were played over and over again before the villagers. Just before voting day, the CAG team conceived of the Bharat Vijay rallies, during which Modi spoke at three or four venues in a single day, and was projected by 3D holographic image to 100 locations simultaneously.
The unprecedented success of the Modi campaign saw Kishor’s stock rise across political parties. He was seen as the messiah of the political class and the following year saw him being hired by chief minister Nitish Kumar to help him become chief minister for the third time. As Kishor moved into Nitish Kumar’s residence, the chief minister is reported to have sent his tailor to stitch a few white kurta pyjamas for this master strategist. Kishor informed Kumar that he was not a politician and therefore did not wear white clothing.
Nitish Prediction
But Kumar was insistent and said he would need them at some future date and three years later he was formally enrolled into the JD(U). But this is jumping the gun. When he moved into Kumar’s residence, he was asked to stitch up a Laloo Prasad and Nitish Kumar Mahagatbandhan (Grand Alliance) along with the Congress to defeat the BJP in Bihar.
Kishor was sceptical about his ability to bring the two giants together. Theirs had been a bumpy ride starting off as being friends a quarter century ago and then breaking up as bitter foes. Under Ki shor’s encouragement and guidance, the two leaders went on to fight the elections. The BJP was defeated and Kumar, to express his gratitude to Kishor, appointed him as special adviser. Unfortunately, the Mahagatbandhan soon broke up and Laloo and Nitish went their separate ways.When asked to comment on what happened, especially with RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav calling Nitish Kumar paltu chacha for his constantly changing sides having switched from being a member of the mahagatbandhan to the BJP in a matter of four months Kishor apparently told the press that Nitish Kumar had tried hard to make the coalition work but there were governance stumbling blocks.
The main issue is that the people in Bihar were happy with Nitish’s alliance with Modi and this move has not dented his popularity in the state, and Kishor then went on to philosophically state that leaders constantly change their alliances as has been the case with N. Chandrababu Naidu and Naveen Patnaik. Nitish should not be singled out for this, he stated. Kishor, as had been predicted by Nitish Kumar, was inducted into the Janata Dal-United last September 16 and became part of Kumar’s inner circle. The Bharat Vikas Mission, a consultancy within the state government was his brainchild. Not surprisingly, Nitish Kumar hired him earlier this year to negotiate a seat-sharing formula, this time between his party and the BJP for the 2019 general election.
Congress Failure
Following his success in the Bihar assembly elections, Kishor found himself flooded with work He was contacted by the Congress to help them win the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh assembly polls. Kumar’s attempts to get the Congress revived in UP turned out to be a more formidable task than even he could handle. Even though he struck up a friendship with Rahul Gandhi, Kishor could not handle the intrigue and manipulation that has come to mark the moribund Congress.
In 2017, he had suggested that Priyanka Gandhi become the face the campaign and hold rallies extensively across UP while Rahul Gandhi conduct a one month long UP yatra. But the surgical strikes conducted by the Modi government post Uri and Pathankot put paid to this suggestion. The result was that the Congress collapsed in UP winning just 7 out of 105 seats in UP.
Kishor did deliver Punjab for the Congress but party insiders attribute this more to the popularity of Captain Amarinder Singh in the state and anti-incumbency against the Badal regime and to a lesser extent to Kishor’s management skills. Many members of the Congress old guard question why the entire campaign should be outsourced to an outsider.
There is one apocryphal story of how in one of Kishor’s earlier meetings with Rahul Gandhi, the Congress President had ordered a dish. Kishor questioned him as to whether the quality of food would be at the same level as what had been laid out in the menu, or whether Rahul would follow the chef into the kitchen and tell him how to prepare the meal. Kishor is said to have asked Gandhi to trust him to deliver in the same way.
That trust between the Congress and Kishor never got established, though Rahul and he have remained good friends.
Ultimately, Priyanka never campaigned in UP, except for a 5-minute speech in one rally in Rae Bareilly and also turned down Akhilesh Yadav’s plea to be a part of the Samajwadi’s Varanasi road show.
No wonder when asked what was the big difference between Modi and Rahul, Kishor stated that while Modi was willing to take big risks, Rahul was more of a status quoist.
He is not willing to rock the boat. Kishor’s explanation for this is it could be because he had inherited the mantle of a 100-year old party.
Kishor had told Rahul Gandhi in 2017 that the party could be revived only if they were willing to move beyond the conventional practises of fighting elections and then hoping for the best. While Rahul’s objective in 2019 was to defeat Modi at all costs, Kishor had suggested the aim should be to revive the party from the grassroot levels. This could happen only if a ten -year revival plan was implemented but it cost the Congress dearly in the Lok Sabha elections,
Southern Success
Kishor’s winning formula has worked in south India also. He proved his mastery by propelling the YSR Congress of YSR Jagan Mohan Reddy to power with overwhelming majority and handing over a shocking defeat to N Chandrababu Naidu.
The YSR Congress has won 21 of 25 Lok Sabha seats and 151 out of the 175 assembly seats in Andhra Pradesh where simultaneous elections were held both for the assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies.
Jagan Mohan founded YSR Congress in 2011 breaking away from the Congress but he lost the 2014 assembly election primarily due to lack of organisational strength. His party in the 2014 assembly elections had polled 45.4 per cent votes for 66 seats against TDP’s 48.2 per cent votes for 103 seats. Five years later, Prashant Kishor and his India Political Action Committee team identified his party’s weaknesses and helped Jagan Mohan build an organisation right from the booth level structures upwards. Of course, one has heard that YSR’s Jagan Mohan Reddy had to fork out a lot of money for the advice and inputs provided by Kishor but Jagan, presently chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, is not grumbling.
Frontier Bengal
Political strategist Prashant Kishor will work with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress for the 2021 West Bengal assembly election, sources have confirmed. An agreement has been signed between Prashant Kishor and the TMC to this effect, sources said. The development came shortly after Trinmaool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee held a meeting with Prashant Kishor. The meeting between the two lasted for two hours. Prashant Kishor was accompanied by Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata’s nephew. As per reports, Kishor will start working with the West Bengal CM next month onwards.Trinamool Congress is facing a challenging political situation since the Bharatiya Janata Party managed to expand its seat share in West Bengal from two in 2014 to 18 in recently concluded 2019 Lok Sabha elections. TMC wants to take Kishore’s assistance to augment its strategy to counter BJP ahead of 2021 state polls, sources have told India Today TV.
Money Matters
CAG spent almost Rs 2 crore on just ‘Chai pe Charcha’ during the 2014 parliamentary elections that played around the theme that PM Modi was a tea-seller running for the country’s most powerful job. CAG’s total administrative expenses during the campaign was around Rs 3.5 crore. It received ‘donations’ of almost Rs 8 crore and paid almost Rs 7 crore in stipends and professional fees to hundreds of volunteers who orchestrated the BJP’s winning campaign. ‘Chai pe Charcha’ was the rath-yatra equivalent of BJP’s campaign that helped create an aura around Modi that culminated in BJP’s resounding win.
IPAC, that won the Bihar elections for Nitish, has also established a corporate office in Mohali in Punjab. IPAC received Rs 19 crore in 2015-16 as project management and execution fees by doing “political consultancy”. IPAC, like CAG too incurred most of its expenses on hoardings, digital media advertisements, promotion and hiring volunteers for various campaigns in Bihar.

Maa in ‘Maati’... Maanush Furious!

Mamata Banerjee’s naïve politics of Muslim appeasement has dug a grave for Trinamool Congress that BJP just pushed it into. Mamata’s huge promise of ‘paribartan’ or change has blown in the face of naked extortionism

Chandan Nandy
Chandan Nandy

Chandan Nandy is a senior, Delhi-based journalist with decades of experience, especially in political coverage and analysis

When Mamata Banerjee led a gigantic people’s rally in central Kolkata a couple of days after her party’s stunning electoral victory in 2011, she and the Trinamool Congress genuinely represented hope. The people of Bengal had booted out the hated CPI(M)-led Left Front, mobilised as they were by Mamata over the twin issues surrounding Nandigram and Singur. Mamata’s rhetoric of ma-maati-maanush appeared to have captured the imagination of Bengal. She had promised paribartan change and her party’s manifesto waxed eloquent on how Bengal would be transformed in no time.
But by the time her first year in office ended, her image and that of the TMC had begun cracking up, enmeshed as she and some of her party colleagues were by allegations involving the Sarada and Rose Valley chit fund cases. The people mocked her move to play recorded Rabindra Sangeet numbers at street intersections. Her penchant for painting on canvas was seen as a fake attempt to project herself as a refined connoisseur and practitioner of an art that was good only for the campaign leading up to her 2011 victory.
Whispers turned into torrents of public anger when it was revealed that some of her abstract paintings were sold for a few crores, whose trail led uncomfortably close to the TMC. Bengalis were not amused when financial scandals, surrounding the awarding of contracts to paint public buildings and other government installations white-and-blue, surfaced to reveal that the only beneficiary was her nephew Abhishek who had earlier been inducted into the TMC and given an elevated position in the party’s power hierarchy.
Shadow Deals
There were allegations that a shadowy company run by Abhishek was the sole beneficiary of a contract involving the purchase and installation of trident-shaped street lights. There were no serious attempts to pull Bengal out of the economic morass: the state’s coffers remained empty, public debt continued to mount, visits abroad to fetch investments were simply junkets and policies sounded more like jokes. Credible stories leaked that some of her closest party colleagues, including ministers, had amassed huge wealth and had taken to unrelenting loot.
Suddenly, the promises of parivartan and ma-maati-maanush began to sound hollow. Doubts were raised about Mamata’s ability to govern. To ward off growing public anger, she announced schemes, which were really doles and showering of patronage. And yet, the people of Bengal persisted with her, voting her and the TMC in for a second term.
By this time, a different kind of affliction appeared to have struck her: as a means to hold on to her most-valued constituency, the Muslims, Mamata took to unbridled appeasement, which had the unintended consequence of polarising the Hindus.
Polarising Hindus
The embrace of the Muslims grew tighter and tighter still. This too had its unintended consequence: the drift among several Bengali Hindu communities towards the BJP picked up a rapid pace. This was certainly not lost on Mamata, who found this alarming enough to assuage the sentiments of the majority community. But cracks had begun to appear on the ramparts. It took just about three years for the force of public anger to breach the dam: the BJP, whose vote share stood at 17 per cent following the 2016 assembly elections, steam-rolled the seemingly unbreakable TMC’s party machinery to win 18 of 42 Lok Sabha seats in May when the parliamentary election results were announced.
How could this be achieved? After all, the BJP was always an anathema as far as Bengalis were concerned. From the heydays of the Left Front which too had carefully cultivated the state’s Muslims, albeit with liberal public doses of secularism and protection of minority rights, the BJP had for years been a pariah political party, always on the fringe.
Before we embark on how the BJP could dramatically turn its electoral fortunes around, an examination of the rapid decline in the popularity of the Trinamool Congress and its supremo is in place.
Economy in Ruins
Speaking to the Parliamentarian, Kolkata-based veteran journalist and political analyst Subir Bhaumik said that much of the problems that Mamata is faced with today are a creation of her own a result of her own folly. “Mamata should have gone for resurrecting Bengal’s traditional strength in manufacturing. Having come to power through the Singur-Nandigram agitations, she should have shown sagacity by aggressively courting investments in automobiles, engineering, food processing, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, and like Narendra Modi as Gujarat chief minister, should have turned to China for big ticket investments.”
Instead of single-mindedly pursuing the investments route to reviving industry in Bengal, which had been laid to waste by the Left, the TMC outdid the Marxists in political patronage. There was no real urgency on her part to draw up a blueprint, for that could have at least conveyed to the people that she meant business.
Her 2011 election manifesto was quickly abandoned and she launched into theatrics, inanities and opening the floodgates of corruption and criminalisation of the polity self-glorification, free allowance to some of her closest aides to resort to loot, involving members of her extended family to be part of the skimming and appeasement of the Muslim minority to an extent that put the CPI(M) to shame.
In between her less than infantile statements – like Rabindranath Tagore and Shakespeare having taken walks together by the Thames – bought her loads of ridicule.
One of the chief public complaints against her was her patronage to thugs and criminals who masqueraded as politicians. The result of this “allowance” was the rise of a “syndicate” a criminal-politician nexus that turned parasitic. This syndicate controlled the real estate and construction markets, forcing the people to buy from them rather than from legitimate sellers. The syndicate’s grip and writ ran not just in Kolkata but across West Bengal. No wonder now that Mamata is witnessing a rapid erosion of her political ground that she has begun to openly voice her “anger” against her party colleagues’ practice of accumulating “cut money” (some prefer the abbreviation, CM).
Indeed, Mamata’s second term in office was marked by internecine battles between various groups within her party seeking to partake off the proceeds of extortion.
Blind to Extortion
A former senior journalist, who did not want to be identified, said: “Mamata knew all along about the existence and extortions of the syndicate, but turned a blind eye to it because it helped swell the party’s coffers. And now that she is faced with an electoral challenge, she is trying to rid herself of the taint. This may not work as her party faces the threat of implosion.” No senior TMC leader was prepared to comment on the record.
It is not that the TMC did not work to lay claim to achievements. The doles and patronage, in the form of schemes for school girls and women, the laying of cemented roads in many villages, where too party functionaries benefitted from skimming, and improving municipal services in Kolkata were amplified and projected as “great deeds” by the chief minister.
In development-starved Bengal, such patronage was more like a drop in the ocean that helped a miniscule section of the population.
According to Bhaumik, what Mamata should have done was to focus on “Shilpo (Industrial) Bangla rather than Biswa (Global) Bangla. She should have pushed for big infrastructural projects such as a deep-sea port at Sagar or Tajpur and pushed for growth in tourism by taking advantage of Bengal’s climatic diversity in a relatively small geographic area. After all, tourism creates more employment than hi-tech industry. Mamata did make some progress in tourism but not of the kind that could match Kerala. She took some initiative for generation of new IT ventures focused on areas such as Artificial Intelligence but Bengal needed SEZs for the IT sector.” To compound the problem was growing unemployment and underemployment, which are at the root of the BJP’s sudden popularity. From the perspective of realpolitik, the BJP was able to successfully identify the demographics that could bolster its electoral push.
Hindutva Realpolitik
In the once semi-industrial belts of North 24 Parganas, where over the years hundreds of thousands of migrants from Bihar and UP had settled, the BJP pushed for celebrating Ram Navami and other socio-religious functions of no consequence to the larger Bengali-speaking population. It was a strange but effective brand of Hindutva that helped mobilise the non-Bengali, Hindi speaking population. To battle Mamata’s Muslim appeasement, the BJP used such Hindutva tools as legitimate means to make a crack.
A more potent weapon was the unabashed use of the deadly issue of the National Register of Citizens, whose application in Assam had won the BJP rich political-electoral dividend, and the 2016 Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which promised to grant citizenship to millions of Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants settled illegally across Kolkata and other parts of the state. The Bill and the promise associated with it helped the party mobilise the Hindu immigrants in ways that could balance the weight of large Muslim support for the TMC.
While the periodic and episodic use of the CBI and the corruption cases that hung over some TMC leaders worked to the BJP’s advantage, the real body blow for Mamata’s party was the almost wholesale shifting of the Left vote to the saffron party.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury was candid enough to admit this shift which party cadres on the ground rationalised as the only means to stay safe from TMC-orchestrated violence against them. What Mamata failed to do was to ensure a broad-based alliance between the TMC, the Congress and the Marxist parties to prevent the so-called “secular” vote from splitting.
On the one hand, she did not try hard enough to stitch this alliance and on the other “payoffs” on the ground by the BJP helped the Left voters to go out in droves to vote for the former. The Left is finished in West Bengal, but even in its death throes the CPI(M) has ensured, perhaps for all times to come, that there could be a credible opposition to the rising and frightening tide of right-wing politics in the state.
Confident BJP
On its part, the BJP doesn’t even have to project an alternative plan to revive Bengal’s economy for its ruthless strategists know only too well that progressively lethal doses of Hindutva and other means, legitimate or otherwise, will catapult it to power sooner than even the party believes. The writing on the wall for Mamata is clear: the BJP is now on the ascendant in Bengal and to stop it in its track would be well-nigh impossible at this juncture. After its spectacular electoral performance in the state, the BJP will not quite slow down its march to capture power. It has already begun to chip away at the TMC’s legislators who are pulling out in ones and twos to join the BJP fold.
Already, the buzz is that BJP strategists are in “talks” with 58 TMC MLAs and will slowly but surely cause the cracks in Mamata’s outfit to widen before the inevitable blow is delivered. Mamata is fully aware that her seeming invincibility just three years ago will not last too long as she faces an imminent crisis. She has hired the services of political and electoral strategist Prashant Kishor who in the past has proved his mettle. But this move may not pay off because Bengal is primed for another parivartan.

Making Of New Andhra The Challenges Ahead

The incumbent Andhra Pradesh has an unparalleled victory both in the state assembly and Lok Sabha but is forced to admit his displeasure that Modi still rules supreme at the Centre. Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr writes

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

The feisty leader had his political baptism on the rocky path of hurdles, obstructions and failures before he got what he wanted to be : Chief Minister It was sweet victory and sweeter revenge for Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy. When his father YS Rajasekhara Reddy died tragically in a helicopter crash in September 2009 after an impressive victory for a second time earlier in that year, Jaganmohan Reddy demanded the Congress party that he should be made the chief minister. Then Congress president Sonia Gandhi and others in the party’s high command refused. They offered him a cabinet berth at best. But Jaganmohan Reddy was not willing to accept anything less than the post of the chief minister. In 2011, he formed the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), the first three letters coinciding with that of his father’s name. In the 2014 election he lost out to N Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party rather narrowly and became the leader of opposition in the new state of Andhra Pradesh after the bifurcation of the old state of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana was created. In May 2019, he scored a total victory both in the assembly where his party had won 150 of the 175 seats and 23 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats. He knows that his party’s overwhelming victory in the state assembly election has been tempered by the overwhelming victory of Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) victory in the Lok Sabha election. And he admits his disappointment with the turn of event. Who’s God? In an interview with BBC Telugu television programme, he said that he had prayed to God that he should win in the state assembly elections and that the BJP should not get an absolute majority so that the national party would have had to depend on regional parties like his to form the government at the Centre and he would have been in a position to exert pressure to get things for his state. And he said that God had heard his prayers in the state and he heard the prayers of the BJP at the national level. And after his first meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the election, he told the media that in the new context where the BJP had a comfortable position in Lok Sabha, he could only request the Central Government to consider Andhra Pradesh’s demand for the special category status, and that he did not have the numbers to exert pressure on the Modi government. In many ways, the political candour of Reddy is the sign of the new generation. They do not believe in futile circumlocutions. Reddy is resigned to the fact that he has to deal with the Modi government at the centre in a different way. Tough Tasks The victory in Andhra Pradesh is challenging in itself. Leader of the YSRC Parliamentary Party (YSRCPP) Vijay Sai Reddy in an informal chat with Parliamentarian said that in 2014 when the new state of Andhra Pradesh began its inning, the public debt was Rs 97,000 crore. At the end of Chandrababu Naidu’s first term, it rose to Rs 2.25 lakh crore. The state does not have resources of its own and it needs assistance from the Central Government. It will be tough for Chief Minister Reddy to attract private investment to the state as it was for his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu. The party is confident that their leader will persuade many of the Information Technology (IT) multinationals to set up their offices in the state and that it will trigger growth in the services sector in the state. The farmers’ distress, which is acute in the state, is one of the top priorities of the new government. Chief Minister Reddy has announced financial assistance of Rs 12,000 per acre to the farmers, and this is in addition to the Rs 6,000 per acre announced by Prime Minister Modi. Vijay Sai Reddy explained that Chief Minister Reddy has not resorted to the populist measure of writing off the loans owed by the farmers to the banks. It is now left to the farmers how they would use the direct cash subsidy. They can choose to pay partial payment of the loans, or they could use it for the next crop which would enable them to pay off the loan due to the banks. According to Vijay Sai Reddy, the cash subsidy to the farmers did not come with strings as in the case of similar schemes announced by Prime Minister Modi, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik or Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao. Facing a financial crisis combined with rural distress, the new government in Andhra Pradesh is forced to look for ingenious ways to deal with the challenges of governance. One of the major issues seems to be corruption, a legacy from the Naidu government. The YSRCP wants to prove its credentials by showing zero tolerance towards corruption. Chief Minister Reddy has displayed his intention to improve the quality of governance when he demolished the Praja Vedika, the conference hall built by the previous state governments on the river bed, violating the environmental rules. Addressing the collectors’ conference, Reddy said that government should not be violating its own rules. There is then an attempt to show that the new government means to improve governance and follow rules like anyone else Huge Challenge But it will remain a huge challenge for the new government. It will have to devise ways to deal with the financial crisis at the state level and walk the tight-rope with a central government which would demand political support to meet its own agenda at the national level. The YSRCP will have to decide its stance over the triple talaq bill, on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, which could prove to be tricky, given the BJP’s determination to mould the national polity in majoritarian, Hindutva colours. There is also the lesson to be learnt from Chandrababu Naidu’s failures. Naidu supported the BJP and Modi in 2014, but when he did not get the special category status for the state, he broke with the BJP-led NDA government of Prime Minister Modi, and he had even tried to forge an anti-Modi, anti-BJP national alliance. It did not take off, and Naidu and TDP paid a big price for it. Chief Minister Reddy may not want to be too cosy with the Modi government or become its bitter critic. The YSRCP may follow the policy of neutrality, and try to get what it can from the central government without playing the second fiddle to Modi and to the BJP. At the moment, the YSRCP stands without a rival in the state politics. Vijay Sai Reddy rules out the revival of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) citing that there is leader in the party to take over from Naidu, who is turning 70, and who will not be in a position to lead the fight in 2024. He says that neither the Congress nor the BJP can hope to take advantage of the political vacuum because the two parties were responsible for thrusting the bifurcation of the state on to the people of Andhra Pradesh which they did not want. The YSRCP analysis might hold good for the moment, but the situation is likely to change. One of the three parties has to emerge as an alternative if only to keep the ruling party in check. The BJP is trying to find a foothold in Andhra Pradesh by getting the TDP members to join its ranks as have the four TDP members of Rajya Sabha recently. It is not clear whether the trickle of defections from the TDP to BJP would turn into a flood, and whether that in turn would help the BJP to appropriate the social and electoral base of the TDP in the state. Given the caste fault-lines in Andhra Pradesh, Congress might find it difficult to move into the space vacated by the TDP. In many ways, the Congress shares the same social and electoral base as that of the YSRCP. It is therefore an interesting logjam in the state’s political space. The absence of a political opposition and a political alternative may not make things easy for Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy and his party. It will become difficult o deal with the challenges and contradictions which are inherent in any complex polity like that of Andhra Pradesh. Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Reddy face a similar challenge – the absence of political opposition. It might appear to be a happy situation for a political party in power without a rival in sight. But it becomes an unnerving experience as there is no one around to share the political burden of governance. Neither Modi nor Reddy are obliged to create and nurse the political opposition, but they will find that it is not a happy situation without an opposition which keeps the party in power on its toes.

Technophile Modi’s picture of a futuristic society is based on technology and data minting, as seen from the latest Economic Survey

Utopia Dystopia

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

TWO chapters in The Economic Survey 2018-19 focused on public policy based on behavioral economics and data to influence people and mold their behavior to achieve desirable outcomes make for interesting reading.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is nothing but a technophile. He strongly believes that technology should be used to improve his standing – in his words “Ease of Living” – and he does not have much apprehension that technology can become a nightmare if not used properly.
There is a certain innocence and naiveté in Modi’s faith in technology, which even Jawaharlal Nehru despite all his talk of scientific temper did not have similar trust in science and technology. The Economic Survey apart from its quotidian strategies to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2025 through savings, investments and exports, and Sanskrit quotations, has in two main chapters created a futuristic landscape based on behavioral economics and big data.
Chapter Two, titled, Policy for Homo Sapiens, Not Homo Economicus: Leveraging the Behavioural Economics of “Nudge” and Chapter Three, titled, Data “Of the People, By the People, For the People. The chapters on behavioral economics and on use of data seem to have been written keeping in mind the Prime Minister’s penchant for public policies which will make India a cleaner and happier and comfortable.
Influence Spectrum
Chapter Two, under the sub-heading, “The Influence Spectrum of Policy”, states the issue quite clearly. It says, “Public policy affects all aspects of our lives. Public policy influences people to act in a socially desirable way, be it driving safely, conserving natural resources, educating children, respecting the human rights of fellow citizens or saving for retirement. Some policies subtly influence by fostering the right incentives while others mandate desired behavior or ban undesirable ones.”
The second paragraph explains further: “Public policies can therefore be graded on a spectrum capturing how strongly they influence (or coerce) behavior. On one extreme is laissez faire i.e. doing nothing and leaving individuals/firms to chart their own course. Laissez faire works well when markets achieve socially desirable outcomes on their own. Where markets fail, laissez faire fails. For instance, individuals/firms in a free market would not restrain pollution. Public policy – in the form of regulation – mandates people to act in a socially desirable manner.” And in the following paragraph we are introduced to one of the tenets of behavioral economics, where people are not forced but ‘nudged’ towards socially desirable behavior. The Survey says, “Nudge policies gently nudge people towards desirable behavior even while preserving their liberty to choose.” These sentences could almost have been from utopian/dystopian novels like Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We” (1924), Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932) and American behavioral psychologist’s fictional work, “Walden Two” (1948). But the authors of the Survey led by Chief Economic Adviser Subramanian Krishnamurthy have no such apprehensions or misgivings. They are innocent technophiles like Prime Minister Modi.
The chapter highlights the so-called and much touted success of two of Modi’s programmes in his first term as prime minister, Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP). In a box, titled, “Use of Behavioural Insights in the SBM”, it is written: “SBM, as a nationwide cleanliness drive, was launched on 2nd October,2014, the birthday of India’s most revered ‘role model’ Mahatma Gandhi. The day was chosen to leverage the values propagated by him and thereby create a mass movement on the lines of ‘satyagraha’ for a cleaner India. The symbol (the pair of spectacles worn by Gandhi) used by the SBM invokes Gandhiji’s ideas. Behavioral economics emphasizes the role of context in influencing choices and decisions, which has been effectively adopted by the SBM campaign.”
With regard to the success of BBBP, the box titled “Effective use of “Social norm” in BBBP” devoted to the case study says, “The success of the BBBP Scheme demonstrates a powerful use of the insight on ‘social norm’ in its ‘Selfie with Daughter’ initiative… The selfie campaign showcased examples of parents around the country who were exactly doing that. The celebration of the girl child quickly became the norm. Most people wanted to conform, and more and more parents posted selfies with their girls. Started by one proud father in a village in Haryana, the campaign went viral and #SelfieWithDaughter became a worldwide hit.”
Sourcing Info
This chapter began with an interesting and unattributed epigraph in Sanskrit and English, which is both ironical and intriguing. The Sanskrit line reads: tarko apratishto shrutayo vibhinna-aneko rishiryasya matam pramaanam which has been roughly translated into: “We cannot rely totally on rational thinking to gain information as it is not without its bias.”
The epigraph for the chapter on data is from Chinese leader who unleashed economic reforms in China in 1978, Deng Xiaoping, and it says, “Cross the river by crossing the stones.” In the summary at the head of the chapter, Deng’s aphorism is explained: “Navigating in an uncertain, wobbly world requires constant monitoring of the path followed by the economy using real-time indicators. Thus, data can serve as the stones that enable one to cross the river.” And in the context of privacy as a fundamental right as spelt out by the Supreme Court of India, the survey keeps the issue of privacy constantly in view. In the summary it is stated, “Given that sophisticated technologies already exist to protect privacy and share confidential information, governments can create data as a public good within the legal framework of data privacy. In the spirit of the Constitution of India, data should be “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
Minting Data
The Survey makes a persuasive argument as to why government should be involved in creating data which then can become a public good. It recognizes the limitations of even the largest data-collecting companies like Amazon, Facebook and Instagram. And there is a bold suggestion that so vast is the data about citizens collected by different institutions and ministries which may be of use to private companies, there is a suggestion that government should monetize the date and allow private companies to access it. It is noted that the data about citizens available with the government is transparently collected. It says, “Consistent with the notion of data as public good, there is no reason to preclude commercial use of this data for profit. Undoubtedly, the data revolution envisaged here is going to cost funds. Although the social benefits would far exceed the cost to the government, at least a part of the generated data should be monetized to ease the pressure on governmental finances. Given that the private sector has the potential to reap massive dividends from this data, it is only fair to charge them for its use.”
An innocuous example is given of the use of government-collected data by the private sector: “Consider, for example, allowing the private sector access to data about students’ test scores across districts (with all personal information completely obfuscated). Using test scores of students, demographic characteristics of each district and publicly available data on the efficacy of public education schemes, a private firm may be able to uncover unmet needs in education and cater to these needs by developing innovative tutoring products to the specific needs of the specific districts.”
This is of course convoluted thinking at its best, and the writers of the survey are grappling with hypothetical issues that are embedded in big data. There will be many false steps on the way before the right path emerges.
What lies behind all this thinking about data is that the government realizes the importance of data and how best it can be used in the targeted delivery of public services.
Unclear Vision
But what is not clear and what creates suspicion is that the data can be misused both by the government as well as the private sector. The attempt to keep the digital data free of human interface is both interesting and ominous. Data burglary or hacking remains a potential danger in more senses than one. By spelling out the data dreams of the welfare state that the Modi government is keen to run, the Survey has done yeoman service by putting it all out in black and white as it were, an antiquated figure of speech. Ideas, facts are all there in bits and bytes and they are all embedded in the mysterious cyberspace.
There is need to challenge the government and other experts on the field and the citizens cannot sit back and allow the information about themselves being thrown around for various purposes. What is needed is general awareness about data among all the citizens. They should know that they are all embedded in the matrix. They cannot wriggle out of it, but at the same time that they have to bend their knee to the masters of big data, whether it be the government or the private firm.
Prime Minister Modi’s simplistic thinking about the advantages of technology should not stop others from raising the moral, political, economic and even philosophical questions regarding data about ourselves which is now a click away to others. There is a possibility of utopia in this data revolution, but one must be aware of the dystopia that awaits us if things were to go wrong.

The ‘Never Before’ Speaker

For the next five years, all his actions will be weighed on the scale of neutrality. He will have to be vigilant to defend the sanctity of the institution and also have the vision to strengthen it. In this challenging journey, his guiding light will be the Constitution and the rules of procedure of Lok Sabha

Reeta Singh
Reeta Singh

Reeta Singh is a senior journalist with over 30 years’ of experience in print and electronic media. She is also a social activist, working on gender issues

The Lok Sabha speaker’s represents the dignity of the House, the freedom of the House and because the House represents the nation, the Speaker becomes a symbol of nation’s freedom and liberty. Therefore, that should be an honoured position, a free position and should be occupied always by persons of outstanding ability and impartiality.
These were the views of the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru which he expressed while felicitating the first Lok Sabha Speaker Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar. He apparently had lofty ideas of the chair of Lok Sabha speaker and the person who occupies it. It is not that the incumbent Speaker in 17th Lok Sabha, Om Birla fails to match those ideas. He is actually still an untested commodity. But, even on his first day in the chair, Birla demonstrated what he is capable of and what can be expected of him.
Birla justified raising of slogans like Jai Shri Ram in the house by fellow BJP MPs, on the other hand he chided leader of Congress Parliamentary Party Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury for speaking to fellow party MP Shashi Tharoor. “Jai Shri Ram slogans, Jai Bharat, Vande Mataram, are old issues,” Birla said, “During a debate, it is different. Every time there are different circumstances. What are the circumstances is decided by the person sitting in the speaker’s chair.”
Then he tried to balance it out by saying, “I don’t think Parliament is the place for sloganeering, for showing placards, or for coming to the well. There is a road for that where they can go and demonstrate. Whatever people want to say here, whatever allegations they have, however they want to attack the government they can, but they can’t come to the gallery and do all this.” Asked if he could give assurance that heckling will not be repeated, the Speaker said, “I don’t know if it will happen again but we will try to run Parliament by the rules,’’ he said.
RSS School Master
Given his background he was closely associated with ABVP and the RSS - and his attitude - to run the Parliament like a headmaster - it is more than clear that the 17th Lok Sabha would be as chaotic if not more, as the last one which had Sumitra Mahajan presiding over as Speaker. Birla dropped more than enough hints by saying, “I will talk to all parties and discuss with them that what action can be taken against those who repeatedly show placards in the house and come to the well. Such actions of the members show Lok Sabha in poor light.”
Underlining that every member of the house should be heard, Birla said, every party will be given opportunity, irrespective of their strength even if it has one member. He or she should be heard and the government should respond whenever required.” As a custodian of the house, Birla said he is fully aware of his responsibilities but added, Members should also understand they have been elected by lakhs of people. They should raise issues which matter to the last person standing in the row.
The fact that Birla had to assure the Lok Sabha members that he will remain fair and unbiased, in itself is a certain give away that he feels they won’t trust him implicitly.
On the first day of the new Lok Sabha, several members took oath amid an intense slogan-shouting contest between treasury and opposition benches. While ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ were heard intermittently during the day, the ‘mandir wahin banayenge’ was raised after Unnao BJP leader Sakshi Maharaj’s swearing-in. Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, too, walked down the staircase of the House to take oath amid chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and Vande Mataram’. He could be seen raising his hands and gesturing the lawmakers to continue the slogans. As soon as he ended the oath with chants like Allahu Akbar, a few MPs yelled ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. The Protem Speaker Virendra Kumar, presiding over the House then, could merely say - please maintain decorum of the house. It was only after assuming the charge of Speaker that Birla reacted to the development. That he is full of disdain towards the opposition is to state the obvious. It was reflected in the way he chided Adhir Chowdhury but also in the manner he overruled opposition members demanded to ask supplementary questions during Question Hour. “I am determined to have maximum questions. Today, I could take only seven. I intend to take up 18-20 questions during Question Hour every day”, he said. This means just three minutes for each Question. That wouldn’t leave scope for any supplementaries.
Reverse Silence
In a way this is an attempt to lower the government’s accountability. Parliament is a forum where the opposition can bring the government on the mat. And Question Hour is the only time when an MP, whether from treasury benches or the opposition, can ask the government questions related to corruption, inefficiency, retarded development not only of their constituency but of the country as well.
It is the Speaker’s duty to ensure that government doesn’t evade any question, Ministers come prepared in the House and an MP’s query is addressed properly. There are instances when Speaker has pulled up even senior ministers for taking Question Hour frivolously. But of late, Speakers like Sumitra Mahajan have been defending the Ministers. Birla is likely to take her legacy to a whole new level.
Glorious Past
Contrast this to first Speaker of Uttar Pradesh Assembly, Purushottam Das Tandon who had offered to resign when an opposition MLA disputed his ruling. His logic was - Speaker’s role has to be running the house impartially. If even a single member loses faith in me, morally I lose the right to be in chair. It was because of such qualities that he was bestowed with the title - Rajarshi. First Lok Sabha Speaker Mavalankar too was one such individual who maintained the stature of the Speaker. Before taking over the job, he was Speaker of the constituent assembly as well. He had in fact, taken up his first legislative assignment as Speaker only as presiding officer of Bombay Legislative Assembly. He continued to preside the Lok Sabha till he breathed last in 1956. In the bicameral parliamentary structure that we have inherited from the British, Speaker’s post in the most sanctimonious one. Upon his election as Speaker, the person resigns from his parent party and continues as an independent member. Even in the next general elections, no party fields a candidate against him to ensure that he is elected unopposed. And he continues in the job till he willingly relinquishes it. This is done to preserve his impartiality, dignity and integrity. It is a tradition that is followed till day.
However, we tweaked the tradition. In 1951 and 1953, the Conference of Presiding Officers of legislatures in India passed a resolution for the adoption of the British Convention. Mavalankar tried to create a consensus among political parties on adopting this British convention but was unable to make much headway.
The 1954 decision of the Working Committee of Congress in response to Mavalankar’s attempts sealed the fate of the issue. It stated, “The Working Committee considered Shri G V Mavalankar’s letter for establishing a convention for the uncontested election of Speakers and felt that this was not a feasible proposition for the present in view of other political parties being involved in the question.”
Nehru Vision
With no security in the continuity of office, the Speaker is dependent on his or her political party for reelection. This makes the Speaker susceptible to pulls and pressures from his political party in the conduct of the proceedings of the Lok Sabha.
Nehru succinctly described this aspect of the Speaker’s responsibility in 1948. At the unveiling of the portrait of Vithalbhai Patel, he said: “We would like the distinguished occupant of this chair now and always to guard the freedom and liberty of those from every possible danger, even from the danger of an executive incursion. There is always that danger even from a National Government — that it may choose to ride roughshod over the opinions of a minority, and it is here that the Speaker comes in to protect each single member, or each single group from any such unjust activity by a dominant group or a dominant government.”
Other than the election of Mavalankar, every other Lok Sabha Speaker has been elected unanimously. After the election, the Speaker is escorted to his chair by the leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties. These conventions are meant to reflect that after his election, the Speaker belongs to the entire House.
For the next five years, all his actions will be weighed on the scale of neutrality. He will have to be vigilant to defend the sanctity of the institution and also have the vision to strengthen it. In this challenging journey, his guiding light will be the Constitution and the rules of procedure of Lok Sabha.
CJI Stature
The speaker is the conventional head of the lower house with a constitutional status at par with that of the Chief Justice of India. It is the speaker who decides when a member speaks, how much time she gets, what gets included in the official account and which statements get expunged, and whether, in cases of a member causing disturbance, she remains in the House or is expelled from it.
The Lok Sabha Speaker is also the principal spokesman, the ultimate arbiter and interpreter of those provisions which relate to the functioning of the House
It is the speaker who allows the members to introduce the bills or to move motions. The speaker fixes time limit for the debates in the House, puts matters to vote and announces the results. The speaker also gets to decide whether this House will have a leader of opposition, given that Congress falls short of getting LoP status - for which opposition party requires 10 per cent seats of Lok Sabha or 55 seats - by 3 seats. Crucially, it is the speaker who gets to arbitrate over a dispute on whether a bill is a Money Bill or not. Such a decision is final and cannot be challenged inside or outside the House.
The provision of Money Bill, since it does not need to be passed by the Rajya Sabha, is often misused by the Government. Since the Speaker is the sole arbiter in such matters, government wants a pliable person to be in the chair.
In Modi government’s previous term, one such contentious money bill was the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016. The opposition argued that the Aadhaar bill did not qualify as a money bill, which is defined as one that contains provisions for taxes, appropriation of funds, and other purely revenue-related matters. Political Turf
Since Speaker is also the person who certifies if some MPs defecting from one party to the other is legal, it bestows upon him immense power to make or mar fortunes of a party and the government. This is another reason why ruling parties want a yes man as speaker. Shivraj Patil’s decision regarding Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal’s defection to Congress was one such example. Singh did not have enough numbers so Patil devised a strange phenomenon called split in continuity.
Ajit Singh split the 59-member Janata Dal with three of his colleagues in 1992. JD leader VP Singh asked then Lok Sabha speaker Patil to disqualify Ajit and his friends. But, Patil delayed the decision. In the meantime, there was another split as 16 other MPs separated from JD. Ajit Singh applied to Patil for recognition as separate group including the next batch of 16. Patil immediately granted them recognition of a separate party since together they had become 20, one third or total strength 59, thereby avoiding provisions of anti-defection law. BJP’s Reply
BJP was peeved. Advani called this a dangerous precedent, little realising that his party was going to adopt a similar strategy in Uttar Pradesh. When BSP separated from BJP, former’s MLAs broke away in groups. But, even if aggregated they wouldn’t become one third of the original party strength.
Then Assembly Speaker Keshari Nath Tripathi, devised another ingenious way - split within split which meant that one third of BSP MLAs split from the original party. So anti-defection law didn’t apply. Later one third of this splinter group again broke away and went back to the original party. Again no anti-defection provision could be invoked. But, in reality, all but one split happened only in paper and signatures were forged to formalise the splits. However, he didn’t adjudicate on BSP’s application to disqualify the splinter group, keeping the case hanging for four years. It is because of the benefits like these that the ruling parties want a Speaker who shouldn’t be too rigid in his approach towards work. He needs to oblige the ruling party in hours of need. BJP doesn’t yet have majority in the Rajya Sabha. That means it can’t get contentious bills like a Triple Talaq passed from both Houses of Parliament. Would bills like these be pushed as Money Bills, avoiding Rajya Sabha, like BJP did for Aadhaar? Only time will tell. But, it does need a Speaker like Om Birla to serve the purpose.

BJP In A New Avtar

The post 2019 polls shows a no holds barred Bhartiya Janata Party that is no longer a shadow of its mother organisation, the RSS

Sanjay Bechan
Sanjay Bechan

Sanjay Bechan is a freelance journalist who started his career with Jansatta Hindi Daily of Indian Express Group. Later on, he moved to TV and worked with Nalini Singh and BAG Films

I was in the midst of a TV discussion on the eve of 23 May 2019 when elections results were being declared. The anchor took a break for a live feed from BJP HQ wherein Amit Shah was addressing BJP enthusiasts. Humbled by the massive victory bestowed on the Party he was thanking the nation. However, he was not humble in his approach while making special mention of West Bengal and Chandrababu Naidu. He proclaimed that the change of guard in West Bengal is inevitable and the BJP is all set to form the government in the state after the assembly election which is due next year. Following Shah, the tone of PM Narendra Modi’s address too was humble but its spirit was vigorous. New BJP-Sangh Both the addresses have one thing in common:– to target general elections of 2024. It was a different BJP that I have known so far. The message of both the leaders clearly indicated that the birth of a new BJP has taken place. This BJP is not only a party with a difference but it is talking differently too. It was staking claims in very clear terms as a natural incumbent of seat of power in New Delhi. And this endeavour to stake claim was not under any wrap as done in the past. It was straight and direct. It was no more keen to talk about the ideas toed by the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and the BJP in the past. Abandoning old ideas and picking new ones is not a new phenomenon for the party. But this new BJP is not picking a new idea. It went back to basics. Once again it rekindled the idea of Cultural Nationalism, the idea of Akhand Bharat and the idea of larger Hindu Pariwar and the idea of India as the supreme power and as a custodian of knowledge and culture which were put in a cold storage during Vajpayee regime for the sake of running the coalition with ease. In fact, going back to its root is a paradigm shift. However the birth of New BJP is not all of a sudden incident and had not happened in a day. Saying goodbye to Gandhian socialism, integral humanism and minority appeasement was not at all easy. But during recently held elections, these issues were not even in the reckoning, which not only helped the BJP immensely but prevented the opposition to rake up the issue of appeasement to clinch minority votes. It also paved the way for an election to be free from clutches of Iftar and fatwas which have lost their sheen during the election campaign. The current BJP has successfully blended the idea of New India, idea of cultural nationalism, idea of Akhand Bharat, Idea of Hindu Nationalism and idea of a greater Hindu Samaj into one to create a consolidated vote bank. It also mixed aspirations of young India and old India into one. It also redefined India’s world view and the world’s outlook towards India. It was able to deliver a message to its voters that only the BJP can convert the country into a strong and resurgent India. An India which stands tall in the world order, which can see eye to eye with world’s top powers and which can convert it into a superpower in terms of economy and national security and an India which strikes back and can stand before Chinese hegemony in the region. The concept of unstoppable India and unstoppable BJP are converted into one. So it’s new BJP of a new India. The newly emerged BJP is now a party with a difference in its real terms. It is now a confluence of diverse views. It is not opposed to creation of wealth and free enterprises. But it is not a capitalist party in rigid terms. It is pro-people at the same time. It is credited with launching world’s largest schemes. And its right wing lineage and nationalist approach have never been a secret. Under the leadership of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, the BJP has converted itself into a party which is always ready to face elections. The party has successively placed a mammoth poll machinery which is always election ready. While all other parties are still in aftershock of defeat in general elections of 2019, the BJP is preparing for forthcoming assembly elections in full throttle. Free from the tantrums of strategists and pollsters the new BJP is more focused on increasing its strength and the number of its members at booth levels. It focuses more on booth management and it is not complacent at all. Soon after the victory in recently concluded elections, Party President Amit Shah has very emphatically stated that the BJP may have notched up its best ever tally in the recent Lok Sabha polls but it is yet to reach its peak. He made it clear while chairing a meeting of top party office bearers that the party cannot reach its peak without forming governments in states like Kerala and West Bengal, among others. The Modi and Shah’s BJP is so concerned about its future victories that it decided to increase its members by 20 per cent soon after the elections The party’s goal to bump up the membership by 20 per cent more is not only aggressive but a guarantee to boost party’s performance in forthcoming assembly polls. Panna Pramukhs, vistaraks, RSS whole timers and thousands of its office bearers and workers are engaged in making preparations for forthcoming elections round the clock throughout the year. Panna Pramukhs play pivotal role in election management at primary level. Now, in elections it’s BJP which sets the agenda, manages issues successfully and forces others to respond. While, before the polls of 2019 the BJP used to respond to the issues set by others. However during 2014 to 2019 it perfected the art of setting agenda and managing issues at every level. Recently held elections were an example wherein the opposition was forced to abandon its tried and tested tricks of secularism vs communalism, minority vs majority, Dalit versus OBC. etc. Nehru-Gandhi family scions Rahul and Priyanka were seen shuttling Hindu Holy Places. Akhilesh and Maya were seen refraining from meeting Muslim clergies and throwing lavish iftar parties. Not only that, they also failed miserably to make GST & demonetization to occupy centre stage during the elections. Issue of cow vigilantism and mob lynching also failed to gain momentum. Issue of corruption -Rafael deal – and much talked about scheme NYAYA also collapsed without yielding any result. And it all happened due to aggressive campaign by the BJP which prevented these issues to take centerstage. While erstwhile BJP derived its strength from the bashing of the Congress and the Communists for constantly raking up the issue of minority appeasement and ignoring Hindu interests. The new BJP derived its strength from its delivery through the governance. It converted the whole election campaign as Modi vs all. Earlier it was Congress vs. others, now it is BJP vs. others. Modi was positioned in such a manner that it outsized everyone. Not only that it exposed the negative narrative being pestered against it and turned them into its strength and built the campaign block by block. Earlier, it was perceived that if you are a BJP wala you are communal. Now, Modi and Shah took the issue of Nationalism at such a level wherein everyone talking against BJP was perceived as Anti National. The issue of nationalism not only attracted young voters but also silenced its detractors. It made a situation wherein anyone talking against the BJP was treated as anti-national. The BJP took the spirit of nationalism on such a high level that the communal angle failed to match its intensity and effect on the electorate. In fact it turned the tide. Balakot strike was an icing on the cake. And the entire strategy was designed in a manner wherein Indian Muslims were insulated from mischief played on them by the Congress and third front that their existence would be in danger if the BJP comes into power. The BJP did not allow them to play a faux pass this time. And this was the reason that everyone believed Modi’s statement in the NDA parliamentary party meeting wherein he declared that Muslims are BJP’s potential voters and his Government would work for their wellbeing. The journey from being untouchable to a most preferred party is remarkable in the political history of India. After the demise of its predecessor, the Bhartiya Jan Sangh, the BJP was formed to revive Hindutva but it was put on back burner under the wrap of coalition Dharma in past. Now The New Avatar of the party is working successfully to push Hindutva and issue of Indian nationalism as its core. It would be interesting to understand that how the BJP got benefitted by bringing the issues of Indian and Hindu Nationalism in centre of its entire election strategy. A series of surveys conducted in almost all Indian states between 2016 and 2018 by Lokniti-CSDS and Azim Premji University unfolds its chemistry. As per the findings of the survey the majority of Hindus are in agreement with the BJP’s idea of Indian and Hindu nationalism. This support is remarkably broad-based. The survey reveals that a majority of Hindus from different caste and tribal communities believe that those who eat beef should be punished. A majority of Hindus across different castes also believe that those who do not say “Bharat Mata ki Jai” at public functions should be punished. The majority of Hindus also believe that most of the Hindus are patriotic. According to the survey 44 percent of all Hindus voted for the BJP in 2019, which is 8 percentage more what it got in 2014. The support for the BJP has also widened. As per the findings : 52 percent of Hindu upper castes, 44 percent of Hindu backward castes, 34 percent of Hindu Dalits, and 44 percent of Hindu Adivasis voted for the BJP in the 2019 elections. For each group, the percentages of support for the BJP were significantly higher in comparison to 2014. Most interesting is the case of conversion of Indian youth especially first time voters into BJP’s votaries in 2019. To target young and first time voters was a great strategy. Connecting with youth’s aspirations with a concept of new and resurgent India was its strength. While Modi was communicating with youths giving tips for examinations and engaging with them in a series of activities everyone took it as a ploy to avoid real issues. No one has the clue that Modi was basically building a future vote bank for the BJP, a vote bank which was not captive of RSS which was exclusively created for the BJP by the BJP. These are the voters who will keep the BJP in power in future . Modi specifically underlined the aspirations of teenagers and developed devices and campaigns aimed at them. Evidence is now available to indicate that most of first time voters voted for the BJP and party is strategizing in a manner that this trend is bound to be maintained for a long time. It would be interesting to mention that some top stalwarts of the Party were always of the opinion that party means the parliamentary or legislative party and rest is the RSS responsibility. Modi and Shah worked relentlessly and successfully came out of this by establishing a BJP’s loyal youth vote bank which has no leaning towards the RSS. Interestingly RSS is also happy with this addendum, as this youth vote bank and RSS both are the votaries of the concept of a great Indian Nation. Earlier it was RSS who through Akhil Bharitya Vidyarthi Parishad acted as a nursery to groom BJP voters and workers. But by targeting first time voters and connecting with them by addressing their aspirations and convincing them that Modi is building a new India. The BJP has created a vote bank which is exclusively for the party and has nothing to do with RSS .Off course the idea of Indian nationalism is a common connect between them. The preceding avatar of BJP, the Bharitya Jansangh was founded in 1951 to push the agenda of cultural nationalism at centre stage of national politics and oust the so called unholy alliance of the Congress and the Communists from the power. The initial years of the Bhartiya Jansangh were not very encouraging. The first general elections in 1952 were a great disappointment. Only Dr. Mukherjee and two of his friends were elected to Lok Sabha. However on the basis of its scoring 3.06% of the votes, the party was recognized as a national political party. However, despite a general belief in political circles that the Bhartiya Jan Sangh will cease to exist after the death of its founder, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. The results of the second general elections proved that the Bhartiya Jan Sangh not only survived, but moved in upward direction as well. After a long struggle and facing numerous rough weathers during Nehru-Indira era it reached its pinnacle in post-Emergency Janata Party regime during 1977-79 when it had 93 MPs. After the downfall of Desai ministry due to the rift within the Janata Party on the issue of Jan Sangh’s affiliation with RSS, the BJP was established in April 1980. The BJP was distinct in thought from its predecessor and propounded a new concept of Gandhian Socialism and a tag line of “party with a difference”. The adoption of Gandhian Socialism as a policy concept faced open defiance from stalwarts like Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia, the founder Vice President, and Bhairo Singh Shekhawat, the late Vice President of India and former Chief Minister of Rajasthan. But Party has accepted it as one of its core values. And on the basis of that in the same convention Justice Mohammed Currim Chagla, perceived BJP as “the alternative that can replace the present (Indira Gandhi) Government.” Chagla proved to be right in 1998 when Vajapyee led Government was formed at the Centre. But this success was nothing to do with the idea of Gandhian Socialism which was actually put in side after debacle in general elections of 1984. After merely securing two seats in the 84 elections, the party had very rigorously and aggressively pushed a hardline Hindutva agenda which ultimately brought it in power in 1998. However the idea of Gandhian Socialism helped Vajpayee to attain a greater acceptability with a liberal face .Vajpayee always accepted the contribution of Gandhian Socialism in shaping his political image and always pushed it in his political musings. In September 2004, when the book “The Quest, The Hurdles: A Socialist Testament” written by former PM Chandra Sekhar, was being launched Vajpayee took up the issue and questioned why the nation had stopped talking about socialism. “It is in the preamble of our Constitution and is a guiding goal for all parties. For the Bharitya Janata Party, Gandhian socialism is what we want to achieve and make society free of exploitation and full of opportunities. So, we need to start this debate again,” he said. Despite Vajpayee’s penchant and insistence to continue with Gandhian Socialism BJP got rid of it and resorted to its hard-line Hindu ideology to secure power and succeeded. The towering personality and popularity of Vajpayee helped the party In forming a grand alliance of 13 political parties which proved instrumental for the victory in Lok Sabha elections, 1999. The victory ramped up political acceptability of the BJP among all parties in general and amongst alliance constituents in particular. The old BJP always tried to camouflage or sugar-coat its Hindutva agenda and ambition of power under the idea like Gandhian Socialism or integral humanism for its non-supporters. The new BJP is not at all apologetic about its Hindu ideology and RSS ideology. Whenever and wherever it requires, the party expresses emphatically and that also without any sort of shame. The new BJP is not keen to have any mask. While Vajpayee era BJP was RSS driven but its new avtar is a self-propelled organization. Defining roles regarding the three dimensions- the party, the government & the pariwar is totally demarcated in the new BJP. The new BJP proclaims its root of Hindu Nationalism with proud. In new BJP there is an exclusive room for Hindutva and the rest has been immersed in nationalism now. So the BJP now wants to convert and rebrand itself as a Nationalist party rather than a right wing Hindu party. And the party is doing it in a manner that its all the votaries are happy and think that its their own show. The RSS is happy that NRC is being implemented and minority appeasement has gone. The RSS long cherished idea of a casteless broad based Hindu society is taking shape, Article 370 and 35A will go. Hardliners within the Sangh Pariwar are happy that the Ram Mandir will be build, triple talaq is being banned, two child norms and common civil code for the country is in offing. In fact every constituency and constituents are happy as this new BJP is addressing them all. Mastering such an art with perfection is new BJP’s forte. It has mastered the art of feel good which has never been witnessed before. Vajpayee came to power bashing the Congress, the Communists and the third front. BJP 2.0 came to power on its own steam and has nothing to do with the downfall of others. Under leadership of Atal–Advani the BJP for years tried hard for political acceptability by adopting a liberal mask but that did not help the party much. However it helped Vajpayee to get a liberal face and a greater acceptability in national politics which helped him to lead two successive coalition governments from 1998-2004. Elections of 2004 proved to be a debacle despite India Shining Campaign and the BJP had to sit in opposition for ten long years. In 2014 rising on wave of anti-incumbency and Modi’s positioning as an alternate to UPA misrule BJP came back to power with full majority. But it decided to stick to its coalition dharma following the footsteps of Vajpayee. However at the same time, it also decided to change its outlook totally. After landslide victory in 2014. Amit Shah was made BJP head which proved game changer. Shah and Modi realized and recognized that politics without power is a lifeless object. The new BJP has tweaked the proposition of “Nation First, party second and self-last” as “Nation first power must.” This new BJP knows how to tackle its opponents. We have seen the bonhomie between the Congress and NDA during Vajpayee’s regime. Now it does not fussy about that any more. To destroy its enemies it can go beyond the so called culture of mutual respect. It’s not shying away from taking up a fight to finish. It is not apologetic in claiming and working in a direction to make India Congress Mukt. It is not shying away in taking legal actions against Gandhi family. Issues related with political courtesy are now a matter of the past. The advent of the New BJP after victory in General elections in 2019 is a natural corollary of the churning which took place in the BJP between 2014 -2019 that power and party are two inseparable organs of the politics and politics without power is a life without soul. Departure from the policy of “one person one post” is an evidence of the same. BJP always adhered to the policy of one man, one post since its beginning. However recent elevation of JP Nadda as working President of the party and retention of Shah on the top slot is a clear cut statement that BJP has changed. Nation and elections are its top two priorities. From single digit number in the Lok Sabha in 1984, the party has successfully scored 303 seats in the House of 545 in 2019. But even then it’s not complacent in approach. As Amit Shah described recently that the BJP is yet to reach its peak and till it reaches the top, there is no full stop. It’s always on move. The statement of LK Advani describing the BJP is very apt and explains new BJP in right perspective, “It has risen to become one of the strongest national-level parties in the country based on its progressive agenda of focusing on overall speedy growth of the nation. The party has always remained indefatigable in its approach to national unity, integrity, identity and strength through its individual and national character. The BJP, which is nurtured by and akin to the Rashtria Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS), is wedded to India’s intrinsic identity and cultural fabric of unity and distinctiveness that have been the hallmark of this great country and its people for millennia. The BJP, today, is all set for a great leap forward which can bring about a paradigm-shift in the life of every Indian, so much so as to rewrite the history of this great nation in a way that its future generations would be proud of. Even the party’s detractors now believe that BJP has transformed into an ‘unstoppable’ force.” Echoing the views expressed by its patriarch, the BJP is now converted it into an organization which is born to rule with a concept that Nation first, Power Must.

Modi’s $ 5 trillion Economy dream

It is not just that the government of the day is tweaking GDP figures, GDP does not reflect the real progress of a welfare economy like India

Alam Srinivas
Alam Srinivas

Alam Srinivas is a business journalist with nearly three decades behind him, working for The Times of India, India Today, Outlook, Financial Express and Business Today. He is the author of “Cricket Czars: Two Men who Changed the Gentleman’s Game”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his second inning has successfully sold several new grandiose ideas to the public. Last month, he pulled a new rabbit out of his economic hat – the desire to become a five trillion dollar economy by 2024, i.e. a jump of more than 70 per cent from its existing size. While economists debate about whether this is feasible, and whether the prerequisite conditions exist for it to happen, there is a crucial aspect that is being shunned. Is the size of the economy, or its GDP and its growth, reflective of a country’s wellbeing – the “health, happiness, security, and material comfort” of a nation and its people? Recent research by several institutions such as World Economic Forum (WEF), Brookings Institution, and McKinsey, among others, concludes that the answer is a huge NO. According to an article by Robert Constanza (2014) on the WEF website, “The real economy – including all things that support human wellbeing – is much larger than the market economy estimated by GDP. GDP was never designed as a measure of overall societal wellbeing and its continued misuse for that purpose needs to stop.” According to a recent study by McKinsey, the global think tank, “Perhaps most important, GDP was not meant to be an anchor metric for targeting national economic performance or a measure of national wellbeing. For the latter, there are many alternative measures, including the Human Development Index (HDI), introduced by the United Nations in 1990, and the OECD’s Better Life Index.” A piece on www.khanacademy.org mentions two other such indicators – Genuine Progress Indicator, and Happy Planet Index. Before we get into the reasons why these indices are better than GDP, let’s look at what’s wrong with the manner in which we calculate economics and, by default, social, progress. As is now clear, policy makers can manipulate – or tweak the GDP figures. Leading economists, including Gita Gopinath, Chief Economist, IMF, have questioned India’s formula to calculate the size of her economy, and its growth. Earlier, 108 economists, including former RBI Governor, Raghuram Rajan, wrote a letter to express doubts about India’s GDP. A few months ago, Gopinath said, “There were important revisions that were made in 2015 as a part of modernising India’s national accounts statistics, so this is certainly welcome. That said, there are still some issues that need to be fixed… and this is something we have flagged in the past.” Another economist pointed out that there was a contradiction between different figures – growth is up, but so is unemployment (at a 45-year high). This cannot happen unless productivity levels have shot up, for which there is no evidence. In the case of India, like other nations with huge informal sector and cash economy, there is a major flaw in GDP’s calculations. In a chapter on demonetisation, the Economic Survey (2017) categorically stated, “It is clear that recorded GDP growth… will understate the overall impact (of demonetisation) because the most affected parts of the economy – informal and cash-based – are either not captured in the national income accounts or to the extent they are, their measurement is based on formal sector indicators.” For economists and laymen, this statement is explosive. The official statistics either do not capture, or only roughly do so in some segments, the output in the unorganised sector. This is mindboggling because it employs, according to ILO, close to 81 per cent of the employed people in the country. Speculating on such data, based as it is on what happens in the organised sector, is naïve. The reason: while in normal times, the growth in both these sectors may approximate or be similar, in times when one is hit more than the other, the overall figures will be grossly over or under inflated. Obviously, there is no consistency in, and sanctity of, such calculations. Thus, India’s annual GDP, and its growth rate, are mere numbers that can be quoted often by economists, media, policy makers, and other experts. In effect, they can be completely delinked from reality. If the GDP cannot even capture the economic truth of a country, how can it be looked upon as an indicator for a nation’s wellbeing, prosperity, and development? Hence, the McKinsey observation: “There is almost universal agreement that GDP alone is an imperfect metric for growth and prosperity.” Even if there is a mechanism to track the output in the informal sector, the GDP figures will still be inadequate. This is because they will always exclude a number of non-market activities. Consider the example of your mother, who converts fruits and vegetables into squashes and juices on a regular basis. Or consider the outputs from services such as baby-sitting and lawn mowing. These are never reflected in official data, nor can there be a reasonable way to calculate them. This is why the Brookings paper stated that the “exclusion of non-market activities that bear on economic wellbeing merit more attention, particularly given the potential for changes in the importance of such activities over time...”One must also remember another huge gap in the GDP data. This is the total exclusion of the black, or gray, markets. In developed economies, where their sizes are smaller, they can be reasonably neglected. But not so in India, where the illegal economy is estimated at between 14-62 per cent of the official GDP. The lower estimate may distort the overall figures a bit, but if the higher one is true, it has tremendous implications. This may entail a dramatic change in the way we think about the Indian economy. Consider how Arun Kumar, an economist and a leading expert on black economy, views it: “It (India’s unofficial economy) is larger than the income generated by agriculture and industry…. It is larger than the size of the Government (Centre plus states) spending…. Because of its existence, the country’s economy has been losing on an average 5 per cent growth (compared to official figures) since the 1970s…. If we add 5 per cent to the rate of growth over the past four decades, the size of our economy would be Rs 1,050 lakh crore (or about $15 trillion)….” In effect, we would be thrice the $5 trillion dream today. We tend to think of the real economy in terms of the market economy – the goods and services that are deliberately produced every year. But let’s take a few steps back, and look around us. As the article on WEF website stated, “The real economy includes our natural capital assets – all of the gifts from nature that we do not have to produce – and the immensely valuable, but non-marketed, ecosystem services those assets provide. These services include climate control, water supply, storm protection, pollination, and recreation.”Economists feel that such natural assets “contribute significantly more to human wellbeing than all of the world’s GDP combined”. In essence, the overall global GDP is more than double of our calculations. Imagine what will happen to the economic growths of nations like India that are endowed with huge amounts of natural resources and assets. Sadly, we have overlooked the benefits, and depleted these assets. Since 1997, the world has possibly lost $20 trillion a year in non-marketed ecosystem services, i.e. an amount that is larger than the GDP of the United States. Given such resource degradation, coupled with the negative impact on climate change and greenhouse effect, we have destroyed the ecosystem’s abilities to endure in the future. Hence, GDP and sustainability have to be thought of as interlinked and enmeshed. If the former negatively affects the latter, it “diminishes the quality of life of the nation’s households over time”. It reduces the overall prosperity. The same will be true of activities that create negative values for a society – think of air and other forms of pollution. Another aspect that is grossly overlooked when we look at a nation, purely through a restricted economic (market-related) lens, is social capital. Built over centuries, even thousands of years for certain communities, this includes the formal and informal networks between individuals and societies; the democratic, liberal, and other institutions that serve the various needs of the society; and cultural traits that are both specific and widespread. Obviously, these cannot be quantified, but they form an integral and inherent part of a nation, household, and individual’s wellbeing and happiness. This is why multilateral institutions now think in terms of indicators that can capture the state of the nation and globe in a better manner, with all the nuances. The UN HDI, for instance, “includes measures of health, wealth, and education”. Hence, it is more broadly based than the GDP, which covers only economic activities, and that too partly. The Happy Planet Index captures a nation’s quality of life with measures of “happiness, life expectancy at birth, the degree of inequality across society, and the ecological footprint”. Even the GDP formula was tweaked into Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). Although this too focuses on output, it includes both the additions and subtractions. Hence, the “cost of negative effects related to… crime, environmental degradation, resource depletion, and the costs of climate change” are subtracted from the overall value addition to the economy. Thus, it provides a more accurate and realistic measure of a nation’s quality of life. As a website claimed, “The relationship between GDP and GPI mimics the relationship between the gross profit and net profit of a company.” A website explains how the GPI formula works. “GDP increases twice when pollution is created – once upon creation (as a side-effect of some valuable process) and again when the pollution is cleaned up. By contrast, GPI counts the initial pollution, as a loss rather than a gain, generally equal to the amount it will cost to clean up later plus cost of any negative impact the pollution will have in the meantime. Quantifying costs and benefits of these environmental and social externalities is indeed a difficult task.” One of the biggest impacts of economic growth, if it is positive, is lower inequality, both economic and social, within a nation or society. However, GDP fails to capture the effects of growing, and yawning, gaps between the rich and poor in practically every country. In the last several decades, even in rich and developed nations, most of the GDP gains went to the top 1 per cent earners, as the incomes of the remaining 99 per cent stagnated. In such a scenario, a high GDP, or double-digit GDP growth rate, is irrelevant.

Modi Matters

There was no trace of Modi wave on the ground but the impressive majority of the BJP shows the characteristic of a wave

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

ThE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won 303 seats in this summer’s Lok Sabha election, 30 seats more than what they won in 2014. BJP’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had managed to muster another 50 seats. The BJP-led NDA then commands an unassailable 353 in the 543-seat Lower House of Indian Parliament. There are two intriguing aspects of this story of BJP’s, which is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s, victory. First, BJP president Amit Shah and before him senior party leader Rajnath Singh had claimed a week before the verdict day that the BJP is going to win 300 seats on its own. It seemed tall talk because it appeared that BJP will manage about 230 to 240 seats on its own, and that it will need the help of allies to form the government. The second is the absence of Modi wave on the ground. Many people felt that Modi and the BJP should get a second term in office but it was more for the sake of stability and continuity and not because of any spectacular achievements of Modi in his first term in office.
Modi and party president Amit Shah harping on national security, nationalism in the wake of the Pulwama terrorist attack and the retaliatory aerial strike in Balakot appeared a sign of nervousness on the part of the BJP, which was desperately clutching at emotive issues like nationalism and anti-Pakistan sentiments. Modi had however denied in the media interviews he gave in the final phase of electioneering that he was pressing the panic button and he was falling back on emotional issues like national security. He argued that his half-hour speeches were mostly about the positive achievements of his government and that the national security issue was only one of them. There was apprehension on the part of Modi’s political rivals a year ago that Modi would somehow conjure up a situation which would raise the sentiment of nationalism to win the election. Modi and Shah are sure to argue that they did not anticipate Pulwama, and that the decision to retaliate through the Balakot air strike was taken in the context of defense preparedness rather than with elections on mind. Modi and Shah then went on to use the Pulwama and Balakot incidents for political purposes during the campaign, and they even defended that it was legitimate to do so.
It is difficult to disentangle the reasons as to why the people voted in favour of Modi. What was the impact of Pulwama and Balakot? Did this give an advantage to Modi, and if there was no Pulwama and Balakot, would Modi and BJP have got 303 seats? Did the people give the verdict in favour of Modi because they did not like the divided opposition and not because they were charmed by the genius of Modi? Did the people prefer stability and continuity and they did not very much fancy the high decibel patriotism of Modi and Shah? What is however very clear is that there was no visible and tangible wave in favour of Modi in 2019 as there was in 2014. It would not be off the mark to infer that Modi won because there was no credible alternative. Indirectly, Modi himself admitted to this, but in his own rhetorical fashion. Speaking to the victorious Members of Parliament of the NDA in the Central Hall of Parliament, Modi said that the competition was between the Modi of 2014 and Modi of 2019, Modi 2019 beat the record of Modi 2014. In 2014, BJP became the first party since 1984 to have won a majority on its own.
The details of the Lok Sabha poll results show that the BJP did well in the states where it had a stronghold – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka – and it won the extra seats from West Bengal and Odisha. The expectation was that the BJP would not be able to win the same number of seats in these states that it had won in 2014. The law of statistical averages suggested that the BJP would lose many seats on the way and yet remain the single largest party short of simple majority. The BJP just romped home.
So, the question crops up yet again? Why did Modi win? Is the Modi magic intact? The media are of the general view that this was a Modi election, and that he is the charismatic leader who has carried the day. The others who feel that the verdict is not a simple endorsement of Modi, the Leader are groping for an explanation that reflects the fact of Modi’s victory and also the reason the people voted for him.
The meaning of the verdict has a bearing on what Modi and his government would do in the second term. If they believe that they managed to win the election because of Pulwama and Balakot, then they will have to flex the military muscle in the neighbourhood, against terrorists based in Pakistan. The assumption here is that failure to tackle the challenges of the economy would not matter if the Modi government can keep the spirits of patriotism up.
There is also the argument within the school of Modi admirers and among Team Modi that it was welfare measures like Ujwala, which involved giving LPG cooking gas connection to village women, and the Jan Dhan Yojana scheme that won them the election. Then it would mean that the Modi government will have to step up on its welfare schemes. But the Modi government has little or no idea as to how it would finance these schemes. Its simple presumption is that the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which was launched in Modi’s first term, would fetch enough revenue which could be used for supporting the welfare measures. But it is not aware of the issue that the tax collections could go down if the economy does not grow sufficiently, and the fluctuation in economic growth is a natural.
It is not that the Modi government can ignore the other challenges like improving the educational qualifications and skills of Indians, or of creating world-class scientific research and development infrastructure in the country because Modi is keen to make India a leading country in the field of science and technology. But the government does not seem to have a clear idea as to how this is to be achieved. Is India willing to invest in good universities and will it allow researchers the freedom to go about their work? The BJP and Modi tend to believe that research should be beneficial to the country without realizing that the element of serendipity is high in scientific research and that there will be many dead-ends before one comes up the breakthrough discovery. And scientific research flourishes when there is untrammeled intellectual freedom. But the BJP’s ideology requires both blinkers and controls which are counterproductive.
On the economic front, Modi’s government is unable to find innovative ways of building the country’s manufacturing base, which is necessary if India is to become a powerful economy in the world. This would require that there should be technological breakthroughs in the manufacturing sector, which in turn presume a highly skilled and highly trained technical work force. India cannot compete with either Europe or Japan, or even China and South Korea on this front. The Modi government does not have the patience to deal with a complex problem like this. It prefers to deal with the simple and tangible things like the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (Isro’s) manned mission to the moon, which can be showcased as an achievement to the world and which could then be used as political capital to win the next election.
Modi and Shah have shown in the last five years that they are very good at fighting elections and winning them and they are not interested in anything else. Whatever good that happens in the course of governance is a side-effect of the Modi-Shah plan to win an election. It can be argued that as long as development is taking place if only to enable the Modi-Shah-led BJP to win election after election, then it should not matter.
This poll-related developmental agenda is likely to result in misshapen development, but it would help India to march onward somewhat somehow. The greatest challenge for the Modi government in its second term would be to maintain social harmony and to keep the lumpen Hindutva elements on the leash. Modi and Shah may be tempted to believe that social tensions might have their political value for the BJP’s electoral prospects. It is the point when the script could get out of hand.

Colombo’s Easter tragedy: Questions

The similarity between the Indian and Sri Lankan polities has lessons for both countries

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

Given the mood fostered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of zero-tolerance towards terrorism, the response to the serial blasts in Colombo on Easter (April 21) is predictable: Root out the terrorists, who have international links, and step up surveillance. The decision of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, using his emergency powers, to ban the wearing of burqa, reflects this knee-jerk response. What is interesting is that the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulema (ACJU) had asked Muslim women to cooperate with the security personnel after United National Party (UNP) member Ashu Marasinghe moved a Private Member’s Bill in parliament banning the burqa, lift the veil when asked to do so, and they had even asked the women not to wear the burqa, as reported in the Sri Lanka media.
Meanwhile, Colombo’s Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith had mooted the idea that President Sirisena should appoint a fresh commission to probe into the security lapses that led to the blasts, and that the commission should have religious heads, and the commission should be led by the Buddhist clergy. Indian analysts are likely to interpret these developments in a different way, but the Indian interpretation would not be the right one.
Archbishop Ranjith held his press conference along with a member of Buddhist clergy, Venerable Ittepane Dhammalankara Maha Nayake Thera. Sri Lankan politicians and community leaders are grappling with the issue, and the analysts have recognized the fact that there has been a spread of puritanical Wahabism in the island-nation, and that the community has been getting isolated and ‘ghettoised’. While Wahabism might be driving the community into a corner, the Buddhists and Christians too have been found to be cocooned as well. Interestingly, the suggestion is that there should be a greater intermingling of communities to combat the fanatics in each community.
The politics of Sri Lanka has been majoritarian long before it has emerged in India. The Sinhala-Tamil rivalry is based on language, religion and territory, and this turned bitter and violent because of the hardliners among the Sinhala Buddhists and the Jaffna Tamilians. The emergence of fanatical, violent groups among the Muslims in Sri Lanka will make the situation complicated than ever.
The other main question is whether violence unleashed by local Muslim groups is part of the international jihadi network which was once led by Al Qaeda, and now by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)? The video released by the IS claiming responsibility for the Colombo carnage seems to settle the issue. The connection does not clarify issues as much as it complicates it.
The United States has tried to draw everyone into this so-called global war against terrorism, and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) under prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee naively believed in it. NDA-2 under Prime Minister Narendra Modi too appears to believe in it, but less than the Vajpayee government because Mr Modi’s worldview is Pakistan-centric. For Mr Modi, Pakistan’s Islamic militant groups pose a greater challenge, ideologically as well strategically, than the Al Qaeda and the IS. And he is quite right as well.
However, Mr Modi is a little nonplussed because the Colombo terror act involved two minority groups – Muslims and Christians. He does not know the stand he should take in the matter. It can be said that even the Sri Lankan government seems to be at a loss because the majority Sinhala Buddhist majority has not been affected.
This should partly explain the puzzling response of the Sri Lankan security agencies in ignoring the Indian intelligence inputs. But sooner than later, the Sri Lanka leadership cannot allow the island-country to be the playfield of the fight between jihadi Islam and imperialist Western Christianity. And as one of the Sri Lankan analysts had mooted there is need for harmony among the many communities – religious, linguistic, ethnic. And there is a lesson in this for India also. The different communities in India have to live together to keep the fanatics out and the politicians with majoritarian worldviews. Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka and Hindu nationalism in India are of no help in fighting jihadi Islam. Though Western powers bear the moral responsibility of creating the demon of jihadi Islam, it does not serve any purpose in blaming them. Sri Lankan community leaders are showing the way how this menace of Islamic terrorism can be fought.

The Original ‘Accidental Prime Minister’

Pushed suddenly by fate and political compulsions into country’s chief executive’s chair, HD Deve Gowda had tried some positive stuff. He is now a reluctant retiree from politics

G Ulaganathan
G Ulaganathan

The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore and has worked with two major English dailies, the Indian Express and Deccan Herald. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and colleges and writes for a many publications, including NYT

Did Sanjay Baru get it wrong? Who is the ‘Accidental Prime Minister’? Dr Manmohan Singh? No, it is Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda who served as the 11th Prime Minister of India from 1 June 1996 to 21 April 1997, for a period of little more than 10 months. Gowda was born on 18 May 1933 in Haradanahalli, a village in Holenarasipura taluk, of the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore (now in Hassan, Karnataka) into a Vokkaliga family. His father was a farmer.
He often describes himself as `Mannina Maga’ (son of the soil). He has been a member of the Lok Sabha six times, out of which four terms were from Hassan.
In the 1996 general elections, Congress headed by PV Narasimha Rao lost decisively but no other party won enough seats to form a government. When the United Front (a conglomeration of non-Congress and non-BJP regional parties) decided to form the government at the Centre with the support of the Congress, Deve Gowda was unexpectedly chosen to head the government and became the 11th Prime Minister of India. Two of his significant achievements are the framing of the National Agro policy and solving the Farakka dam row. However, as MP how has his performance been this term?
He is one of the regulars in the House and he had taken part in debates whenever given a chance. Even at his age, he was prominently seen at all important events including R-Day and I-Day functions. “In Hassan he is the king. No one can take him on,” says Prasad Gowda, one of his party spokesmen. The partymen respect him and their devotion to him is almost total. He is regularly seen in Hassan, especially in his native place Holenarsipur as well. And he maintains close contact with his voters and like his friend and late DMK president Karunanidhi, remembers most of them by name.
Airfield Fighter
Hassan was a little known small town. Today it is a major city and well connected by good roads. One of the major projects, the brainchild of Deve Gowda has been the Hassan greenfield airport. It has been hanging in the air for the last two decades, but with a continuous push from the celebrity MP, the Civil Aviation Ministry last year directed the state government to acquire an additional 200 acres for the purpose. The district authority had already acquired 536 acres in 2007 for this.
The foundation stone was laid one-and-a-half decades ago near Bhuvanahalli, in the outskirts of Hassan city. Senior officials of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the Director General of Civil Aviation had visited the land earmarked for the airstrip but refused to clear the project citing technical reasons. In 2016, the then Deputy Commissioner had convened a meeting of landowners and revenue officials to fix the compensation to acquire additional land and had issued notices to farmers of Bhuvanahalli, Sankenahalli, Lakshmisagara, Thendihalli, Davalapura and G Milanahalli.
The Hassan business community is of the view that industries and tourism in the district would get a boost with the completion of a full-fledged airstrip. The farmers have demanded a better compensation rate and a job for one of the members of their families. S Siddarth, project engineer of Jupiter Aviation, says his company will start work on the project immediately after the state government hands over the land. Jupiter Aviation had signed an MoU with state govt to build airport under PPP mode.
The farmers have been demanding Rs 2 crore per acre, while the officers have offered a maximum of Rs 32 lakh per acre. The landowners have strongly opposed the rate offered by the government. BV Karigowda, a former legislator, says the price offered was insufficient even to purchase sites in the SM Krishna Layout, recently developed by Hassan Urban Development Authority.
Good & Bad
Out of the Rs 25 crore allocated to him under the MPLAD funds during this term, he has been able to utilise 50 per cent of funds. He has recommended works worth Rs 14.52 crore and almost 95 per cent of the money has been spent by the district authorities. Most of these have gone to infrastructure related works but a sizeable chunk has gone to Holenarsipur segment. As one drives through Hassan, one can notice that a lot of road works is being done but according to local people, the execution has been quite slow. On the face of it, many people here take pride in the fact that a former prime minister represents their constituency but there is also unhappiness over the lack of development, growing unemployment and farmers’ distress in the region.
Villagers in the district rue the fact that the region has not seen much development compared to Shivamogga and Bengaluru despite electing political heavyweight like Gowda as MP. Hassan, a JD(S) bastion, is dominated by the Vokkaliga community to which Deve Gowda belongs. “We are facing drinking water problems for the last 10 years. Because of poor rains, the groundwater level has gone down and the two borewells which 150 houses depend upon, are not working properly,” Vanjashri, who stays in Sathigala area of Sakleshpur constituency, says.
In some remote places, women have to walk about 2 km daily to fetch drinking water from small streams that flow nearby. Many feel disheartened that Deve Gowda has failed to address their concern despite getting elected multiple times from the region. “We had high expectation from Deve Gowda. He is known as ‘mannina maga’ (son of the soil). What has he done for poor farmers?” asks Malleshappa, who owns 15 acres of a coffee plantation in Sakleshpura.
“Pepper prices have crashed due to cheaper imports. If the situation continues, farmers will sell the agriculture land and look for jobs in cities. The price we get for the product does not cover the cost of production,” he stresses.
“Youth are getting educated from here but not getting jobs. They have to migrate to Bengaluru for jobs, where with a meagre salary they cannot afford a living. There are no industries here,” BJP candidate from Hassan Assembly constituency Pritam Gowda says.
Parched People
On the drinking water crisis, he says there is “lack of willingness” from incumbent JD(S) MLA to ensure people get a smooth supply of water. “Hemavathi river is just 15 kms away. They have taken water from this river to places like Tiptur, Tumkur and Arsikere through Hassan. Hassan people are not getting drinking water,” Pritam Gowda says.
Lack of water, unemployment, farmers in dire straits due to crash in prices and poor connectivity to Bengaluru are the main problems that have remained unsolved over the years. But the question everyone asks is whether Deve Gowda raised these issues in Parliament. And though he is a frequent visitor to the constituency, he has not appointed any trusted lieutenant to stand in for him when he is away. Even for the media, it is difficult to track his movements. His personal staff is not helpful and some of them behave as if he is still the prime minister.
Family Fundamentals
HD Gowda plays his cards close to his chest. Apart from ‘guiding’ his son Kumaraswamy to run state politics, he also has to take care of his ambitious family members.
But he surely knows time is running out for him. And now by all accounts family comes first for him. Son Kumaraswamy is state chief minister, another son Revanna is Public Works minister in the state cabinet, daughter-in-law Anitha Kumaraswamy is an MLA, two of his grandsons—Nikhil and Prajwal –are contesting the elections to become MPs, and so on.
The patriarch of the family can be satisfied that he has done his duty for them. But his voters and supporters are still unhappy. And, he knows fully well that there are “Miles to go” before he sleeps.

not letting the guard down

National security, external and internal, will be an issue of top priority for the in-coming government. It will be necessary to create a clear national security policy framework, and all political parties should be involved in the task

Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

THE new government at the Centre that will come in in the last week of May, be it the Narendra Modi-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) or a Rahul Gandhi-led Mahagathbandhan, has its tasks well cut out. However sweet may be the taste of victory for either of the camps, the challenges before the new dispensation aren’t too few to be ignored. Keeping aside the feeling of being in the seventh heaven (quite obvious after a hard-fought victory) the government would need to take stock of various urgent issues in key sectors India has been facing and hammer out immediate strategic and effective measures to redress them their root. Among the umpteen challenges that brook any delay, the question of the internal security of the country is of top-notch importance given the increasing incidents of terrorist strikes in India and in neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka of late.
Easter Sunday’s serial bomb blasts in Colombo that left more than 250 dead and 500 injured in the penultimate week of April has once again exposed the fragile nature of peace in this region. The fact that 13 or more Indian nationals were among the victims has only lent credence to the belief that India must not ever let its guard down on the issue of internal security. It assumes critical significance in view of intelligence inputs from none but the Lanka police chief 10 days before the incident about an impending terror attack on leading churches as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo. That the terrorists gave the High Commission a miss this time need not warm the cockles of Indian authorities as the strike during the Easter betrayed a high degree of planning and near flawless execution. Already, parallels are being drawn with the 26/11 Mumbai attack. With the Indian High Commission being in the list, it would be unwise to write off the hand of the plotters and operators of IS module based out of Pakistan.
The terrorists have struck at a politically turbulent time. India is busy with its seven-phase Lok Sabha polls; para-military forces have been deployed in huge numbers across the country to maintain law and order. Obviously, sealing and plugging the loopholes in the vast, vulnerable stretches of India besides the international border with Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, is indeed, an uphill task. On top of this, the 2019 general election campaign began with such issues as how terror outfits had been succeeding in breaching the national security and why it is extremely important to build an effective security network to thwart the terrorists’ game plan to destabilise India and its roaring economy. No wonder, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the run-up to the current Lok Sabha polls, has made this his major election plank despite Congress president Rahul Gandhi fiercely going hammer and tongs at Modi for blurring other burning issues like failure in creation of jobs and bringing the poor up from below the poverty level besides farm distress. In fact, the prime minister has sought to project the issue of national security in such a way that it would defang the remaining weapons in the opposition arsenal. He took great pains to impress upon the electorate that no other earlier government had handled cross-border terrorism as muscularly as the Modi government has so far done.
Interestingly, much though the Modi-Amit Shah duo raised their pitch on this issue, the issue of security and terrorism was found to be gradually fading away as the high octane seven-phase LS polls has got underway. And much to the chagrin and concern of the saffron block, such issues as development, unemployment and farmers’ plight etc., had suddenly started to hog the limelight. Because the BJP-bashers were aware that the record of the Modi government wasn’t that bright in these segments which is why attacking the incumbent BJP government on those fronts could yield dividends. This opposition-fuelled boat had been sailing harmlessly when it faced a sudden jolt midstream; the brutal serial terror attack by suspected radical Muslim fundamentalists (National Thowheed Jamath) in Sri Lanka mid-April seemed to have taken the wind out of the boat’s sail. And the issues of terror and terrorism, security and counter-insurgency measures are again back with a bang.
Obviously, the Easter tragedy is likely to play a big role in highlighting the serious threat the terror outfits pose to India, especially because the country has an open society which facilitates easy mixing of terrorists with the populace.
The lingering shadows of the February 2019 terror attack on a paramilitary convoy in Jammu & Kashmir’s Pulwama by a Jaish-e-Mohammed ‘fedayeen’ that left more than 45 jawans reduced to shreds of flesh and the subsequent air strike by the Indian Air Force quite deep inside Pakistan, are still fresh. Even though a war-like situation could be avoided with Pakistan, thanks to prompt release of the captured IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, the nationalist sentiments soared in the immediate aftermath. That the ruling BJP has been trying its best to use the sentiments to the hilt is passé. The tragedy in Sri Lanka is just a grim reminder of the urgent need for putting in place a tough and fool-proof security network to prevent a repeat of Pulwama or such other attacks.
The opposition also accused the BJP of focusing the electoral discourse solely on national security and conveniently excluding other equally important issues. A quick appraisal of the incidents the BJP leaders have been referring to in their campaign speeches will reveal and establish the fact that India is yet to create a proper protective shield around the vulnerable areas of the country, quite vast the territory might though be. The September 2016 commando raid across the Line of Control (LoC), the first by the Indian forces into Pakistan, the announcement of the test of an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon system dubbed as ‘Mission Shakti’, the 73-day stand-off with China at Doklam in 2017 (often advertised as the “biggest geostrategic victory”), the 1998 nuclear tests and the 1999 Kargil conflict among others are being cited by the BJP as examples of strong assertions towards counter-insurgency measures. Some of these incidents, however, at the same time, have exposed India’s vulnerability, and point to the need for further modernisation and equipping of the intelligence agencies with the required teeth to nip any threat to national security in the bud. Failure of NIA (National Investigation Agency) in solving some terror cases also bears out this need.
In view of this, it has almost become the sine qua non for political parties to desist from holding a partisan view on such a core issue as national security. Instead, the leading political parties, particularly the government at the centre that is expected to take over the reins in the last week of May 2019, must deliberate on the national security situation, the strategic environment and the state of institutions which are likely to contribute to framing an effective strategy and raising a guard on internal and external security situation of the country.
As intelligence experts meet and deliberate on ways and means to buttress the measures, it would be worthwhile to keep in mind that India’s security environment has its own peculiarity. First, India is still a developing country with a substantial number of people living below the poverty line; secondly, India’s geo-strategic location, historical hangovers, socio-cultural milieu, political and economic systems, and not the least, its external policies and world view offer a diversity of perspectives. Yet, India’s progress over the years has often suffered serious hiccups in the wake of various forms of politicised violence, triggering what the experts described as “a chronic crisis of national security.”
Internationally, the internal security situation is often perceived as the barometer of progress of a nation and India is no exception either. National security has thus become an integral component of India’s development process. The economic strides that India has so far made, it is often claimed, could have been much better had not India needed to up its spending on security measures on such a huge scale. There is no denying the fact that very few countries in the world face such a full spectrum of threats to their national security as India does. Leaving aside the external security threats that routinely emerge from neighbourhood far and near, four major internal security threats have seriously undermined the country’s efforts to become an economic superpower, at least in Asia; they are: militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, insurgency in the North-East of India, Left-wing extremism (Naxalites or Maoists) that bedevil some key states in the country, and of course the jihadist terrorism that may erupt any part of the country any time. At the same time, there are other threats that often tend to overlap with the already stated ones, namely drug-trafficking, counterfeit currencies, illegal migration, small arms proliferation, and the last but not the least, cyber warfare.
Interestingly, the threats have bared themselves in their own individual way in the affected states. Let us discuss the nature of such a threat or threats in West Bengal that would distinctly bear out how the nature of how it varies from other states. One security risk in Bengal that has kept entire India’s security apparatus on tenterhooks is that of fake currency which had once flooded the Indian market, raising a grave risk to the economy. Some villages in the twin districts of Malda and Murshidabad in North Bengal, close to the international border with Bangladesh, have already attained notoriety for harbouring the infamous currency smugglers.
The fake currency notes that originate in Pakistan, used to be smuggled to India through the porous Indo-Bangla border points. The 2016 demonetisation measure, though much criticised, has to some extent, been able to stem the trade for the time being. But what is still an area of awe and concern for both the security and media persons is huge tracts of fields in some select villages close to the international border in these districts where illegal cultivation of ganja or opium is rampant and where the rule of law is just a far cry. The situation is nearly akin to the mafia raj prevailing in the coal belts of Raniganj, Asansol and parts of Jharkhand. In Central India, the number of districts affected by Maoist extremism has been claimed to have decreased by around fifty per cent, down to around 90 from over 200 districts a few years back. But a deadly Maoist strike just before the first phase of the Lok Sabha poll that left two jawans dead again revealed chinks in the security network.
The security situation in the North-East region of India has improved significantly over the years, with fewer insurgent attacks now. Yet, chances of surprise ambushes on Indian security forces by the outlawed ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) and NSCN (Muivah faction) are not ruled out. The 73-day stand-off with China at Doklam in Sikkim has been a grim reminder to top security mandarins about the threat of aggression that persists from across the border. The same adversary had once humiliated India in 1962, leading to the secession of unchartered territory in Arunachal Pradesh to China. Surprisingly, none of the parties has made any mention of cyber threats despite the fact that India is identified as the third most vulnerable country, after the US and China, to cyber-attacks. The hackers made the best use of BJP’s own website, throwing it out of gear for several days in March.
Given the volatile situation in Jammu and Kashmir and other attendant threats, it would be highly improper to politicise the national security score card. Whoever comes to power at the centre, the new government must set in motion wide-ranging reforms in all key sectors by articulating a national security policy; it also must work together with all the political parties to forestall a serious security challenge without letting one’s guard down on the issue of national security and extremism.

Laws to be made and unmade

If India is to become a prosperous country, there is a pressing need for creating a conducive legal framework

virag gupta
virag gupta

Virag Gupta practices at the Supreme Court of India. He is a former IRS officer and has worked with Ernst & Young

ELECTIONS 2019 have focused around issues of core reform and for good governance in a ‘New India’. The incoming government will thus face gargantuan challenges to fulfil the ambitious promises made, which can only be done through long-haul reform in our legal framework. The Modi government had initiated this process by complying with the Orders of the Supreme Court. The Special Investigative Team on Black Money, the Special Committee on Interlinking of Rivers are decisions that the Government was forced to take.
The Government tried to control the hand which forced it to take these decisions but was checkmated with the National Judicial Appointments Commission being held unconstitutional. Resultantly, the Collegium system of appointment looks to have become a challenge that the Government is happy to shy away from. However, on the flip side, India’s ranking in the Ease of Doing Business saw a jump as the Parliament enacted the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, which has also been affirmed by the Apex Court. NDA enjoyed a brute majority in Lok Sabha but required the help of Opposition in Rajya Sabha. The composition of the Upper House is unlikely to change in a short time. It was interesting to see the Constitution Amendment Bill for reservation for economically weaker sections was passed within two days, but some other laws faced stiff opposition. To get the Upper House out of the picture, the Government labelled the Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill. The Supreme Court too affirmed the aspect of Aadhaar being a Money Bill, albeit with dissent from Justice Chandrachud.
Good governance needs a solid foundation of the rule of law. Law is effective when it is easy to understand and easy to find. It takes tough decisions to do that. In the election season, Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu has called Election Commission morally bankrupt and ineffective. The election reforms must be the first on the agenda of a new government for which various recommendations are made by the Law Commission and Election Commission. Will the newly-recruited Joint Secretaries from the lateral entry make their mark, and deliver on the following challenges?
The term of the 21st Law Commission ended on 31st August 2018. For the last eight months, we do not have any body to examine the laws and suggest changes. The 21st Commission too took some unusual steps like issuing a questionnaire on personal laws but failed to take it forward. The new Law Commission will have to look into the fact that most of its recommendations – sedition, simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and to the state legislatures, personal law -- are yet to be accepted by the Government.
The Government released the Draft Intermediary Rules, 2018, which has been described by the social media platforms as an existential threat. The rules mandate big companies to set up companies in India and have a nodal officer for 24x7 support with the Government. They have been asked to have in place systems for removal of illegal content from their platforms. Reports also came that the Government is seeking traceability of a message in WhatsApp. Later revelations in the British newspaper, The Guardian, revealed that Facebook had lobbied with politicians across the world, including India, to delay countries from having a data protection law. In India, the Government had promised the Data Law by 2017, but two years later, comments are being sought on the Justice Srikrishna Committee Report. A comprehensive data protection law is a must in this age. Otherwise, what good is a fundamental right to privacy?
E-Commerce is the highlight in Digital India, but India still relies on conventional systems for employment. The changes in the E-Commerce sector by the Government was a bold step. The Government mandated diversification in sales across platforms.
For instance, Cloudtail cannot sell only to Amazon. This step was a continuation from the earlier rule, which prohibited certain holding structures in subsidiary companies. The result has been an undying condemnation from the US companies as well as the Government. The business of Walmart and Amazon is huge, and this issue could well become a flashpoint in Indo-American trade relations.
The masterstroke of 10 per cent reservation on the basis of the economic quota has not found much space in the election campaign. The government has supported reservation in promotions for Scheduled Caste and Tribes, with Supreme Court clearing the decks for the same.
Similarly, demand for reservation in promotions for Other Backward Classes and Economic Weaker Sections is sure to crop up. The Lokpal Act of 2013 saw fruition in 2019 when Justice PC Ghose was appointed the Chairman of the Lokpal Committee. The Lokpal Committee in itself brought in a reservation of a different kind. Minimum 50 per cent of the members of the Lokpal Committee must be women, belonging to a minority, other backward classes or scheduled caste or tribe. As Lokpal is essentially a judicial authority, this unique reservation mechanism could gain traction in the mainstream higher judiciary as well.
Is a solution possible in the Court or outside it? The Supreme Court appointed Mediation Panel is working to find one and is regularly holding talks. BJP fuelled news of an imposed solution through an Ordinance, but all such talk fell flat. Nirmohi Akhara has claimed that Ram Janmbhoomi Nyas is based upon a fraudulent trust deed. An application seeking an enlargement of Mediation Panel and shift of venue to Delhi is also pending before the Apex Court. With a gag order in place, the news is not trickling by, but Ayodhya is surely ticking.
Is it time for Armed Forces Special Powers Act to be reviewed? What about Article 370 and 35A? The Government has desisted from stating anything in the Supreme Court. Assembly Elections in Jammu and Kashmir are likely to be held after the General Elections. Any elected State Government will be free to put its stand before the Apex Court. Or as the BJP has promised in its manifesto, will 35A and 370 be erased by a Connotational Amendment? It will be a long legal summer.
Goods and Services Tax has been criticised for having structural problems. Despite this, the Central Government has been able to smoothly run GST Council through coordination, the number of BJP Governments in the States, as well as the fact that there have been very few cases of penal action. However, with time, the belligerence may increase. Some states have seen a shortfall in revenue, while the feeling of contributing more than one’s share to another’s kitty may soon arise. The structural challenges in the GST will require amendments to the Constitution as well as the Act. Five years later, there will also be changes in revenue sharing mechanisms between Centre and State, which will require amendments in law.
The quashing of the RBI circular, directing mandatory insolvency proceedings by banks came as a shock to the Reserve Bank as well as the Government. Much of the non-recoverable loans of banks is in the infrastructure sector, which includes construction and power. The power companies had argued before the Court that Rs. 34,044 crores of their NPAs were due to non-payment of dues by DISCOMs, delayed response of the regulators, government policy changes and a failure to fulfil commitments by the government. With the circular now gone, the RBI is in the process of drafting another, albeit without the fundamental flaws the previous one had. Will this stand judicial scrutiny?
PM Narendra Modi, the biopic, was slated to be released in the middle of the election. The last-minute clearance by the Censor Board, a hearing in the Supreme Court days before the release, and a stay on publication by the Election Commission added to the drama. But what would have been the result if the producer had released the film on YouTube? Has the biographical web-series, “Modi - The Journey of a Common Man” released on the OTT platform Eros Now faced even comparable regulatory challenges? This is illustrative of the dichotomy of content regulation online and offline created by the inadequacy of the Cinematograph Act in the internet age. The Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is pending with the Standing Committee of the Rajya Sabha. In the present age, there is a larger debate on censorship as well as the need of censor board.
The parent law, i.e. the Telegraph Act and the Information Technology Act give powers to both Centre and States. Can the States no longer intercept communications? Or can they intercept only telephone communications? In the smartphone age, this would render interceptions meaningless. A tussle between Centre and States has started. The Ministry of Home Affairs brought out a notification under the Information Technology Act, mentioning the agencies that have been authorized for interception of messages over computer networks. The challenge to this snooping order is pending before the Supreme Court, and the Government has stated that only these agencies are now authorised to make interceptions.
The Supreme Court is the highest Court of the land and hears thousands of matters each year. The Supreme Court of the United States hears less than one hundred matters in a year. Our Supreme Court has Division Benches, causing a difference of opinion on a point in the same Court, the US Supreme Court sit en-banc. Congress in its manifesto has talked about restricting the Supreme Court to deciding questions of constitutional importance. It has promised to establish a new Court of Appeal, which will hear matters coming from the High Courts. Interestingly, the present Attorney General, who has been appointed by the NDA Government had earlier suggested the Court of Appeal. If the Congress comes to power, will it do so? Will the BJP take its Attorney General’s advice and do what the Congress has promised? Unlikely.
The Cyber Appellate Tribunal has remained headless since its inception. The National Human Rights Commission barely has any members left. The appointments in the Central Information Commission were forced through by the Apex Court. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has stated that there is no dispute that most of the Tribunals are not functioning. Himachal Pradesh BJP Government has questioned the need of an Administrative Tribunal in the State, and wants the cases to be heard directly in High Court. A number of Tribunals have been merged, but justice delivery has remained abysmally slow. The incoming Government must pay serious heed to tribunalisation and realize that justice delivery is at the core of faith in government, which is rather at a discount these days.
POLICE REFORMS- LAW AND ORDER The Supreme Court in Prakash Singh case has time and again directed the government to implement police reforms. The government in its laxity, and perhaps compulsions, have not been able to achieve much on this front. Expenditure on policing is just 0.7% of India’s GDP. The law and order situation in India is rather abysmal and brings disrepute to the country. The Global Peace Index Report of 2018 estimated that in 2017 crime and violence cost India 9 per cent of its GDP ($806 billion), directly (in terms of expenditure) and indirectly (in terms of loss of productivity). For the country to improve, policing will require a major overhaul and immediate consideration of the incoming government.
India was 142 in the Ease of Doing Business Rankings in 2014. In 2018, India was ranked 77. This performance was achievable due to a number of factors such as the methodology of rankings, laws in place, the performance of legal systems, and enforcement of laws. Prime Minister Modi has spoken about doing away with 1500 obsolete laws.
If India improves upon mechanisms to register property, pay taxes, enforce contracts, and resolve insolvency, it will spearhead its rise in the rankings. What if the results throw up a fractured mandate? Legislating will surely become a tough affair.

Look Back Look Forward

The new government that comes must learn from the blunders of the outgoing Modi government of 2014-2019, and avoid the Modi syndrome of centralization of power and decision-making, of running the economy like a business-owner. India must embrace ways of corporate management to tackle economic challenges

Alam Srinivas
Alam Srinivas

Alam Srinivas is a business journalist with nearly three decades behind him, working for The Times of India, India Today, Outlook, Financial Express and Business Today. He is the author of “Cricket Czars: Two Men who Changed the Gentleman’s Game”

FOR over two terms (of five years each), Narendra Modi ruled Gujarat like a CEO. At least that’s what experts claimed about his long reign as the chief minister, and that’s what Modi believed in. So, when he took over as the country’s prime minister in May 2014, he was convinced that running a national economy was like managing a business enterprise, a corporate conglomerate, and that this was the right way to do things. Unfortunately, his business lessons and experiences stemmed from his cultural roots, the manner in which the Indian entrepreneurs do dhandha.
Instead of following the professional approach of western companies, Modi adopted the traits of an Indian CEO, more like the family business-owner. Hence, his economic decisions were more akin to what a Gujarati entrepreneur or a Marwari would do, rather than a Bill Gates or Jack Welch. The Indian economy was run more like an Ambani or Adani empire, rather than an Intel, Amazon or Google. Since it was essentially a state-owned empire, the negatives of Socialism and Communism crept in. In effect, he combined the worst of all economic ‘isms’, including Capitalism.
Like a typical family businessman, Modi centralised the decision-making process, and surrounded himself with loyalists, whose raison d’etre was to nod their heads in agreement and say ‘yes sir’. Like an archetypal Indian CEO and owner, he used public money, from the exchequer, banks and state-owned companies, to fulfil his economic whims and fancies. Like a classic Marwari or Gujarati, he used the system, be it economic, social or political, to establish a monopoly. Like a characteristic businessman, his faith in ‘numbers’, whether real or false, was overpowering.
Within weeks after coming to power, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) became the most powerful body. All economic files were sent there, and all the decisions flowed from there. No minister, even those who held crucial portfolios such as oil and gas, power, and telecom, had much say. They merely followed the diktats from the top. Some of the senior ministers, like Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, had some freedom, but not when it came to important policies like the annual budget. Hence, not only were the decisions delayed, they turned out to be half-baked.
An example of this was the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Although the single-tax system was debated for years, by as many as three regimes, the final policy was a mess. Within weeks and months, it was changed and tweaked. There were too many rates, and the companies were saddled with too many irrational responsibilities. For example, the onus of paying the GST was put on the company that made the payments, rather than the receivers. Even today, GST is paid within a specific time after an invoice is raised, rather than after the money is received.
New acts, like the one to deal with benami transactions, were passed without much thought. In fact, the law on benami deals was useless because there were other laws to deal with the issue. More importantly, the problem with such transactions is that the government can deal with them only if it can pinpoint and trace them. The act had no mechanism to do this; it only presented the punishment in case the guilty were found. Hence, it has merely remained on paper, and few and rare actions were initiated by the relevant authorities under the new act.
Consider another example – the proposed privatization of the state-owned Air India. Normally, unless it is a distress sale, the price is low, or market demand is high, an asset is made attractive before it is sold. Even a fruit-seller washes and wipes his ware in a bid to woo customers. But the opposite happened in the case of the national airline. Its huge debt base was almost kept intact when it was put on the block. Similarly, the various assets were untangled, as if there was a deliberate policy to make it unattractive. The result: there was not a single bidder for it.
Both public institutions and public money were brazenly used by the prime minister, and PMO, to pursue personal economic agenda. Thus, some of the decisions displayed the wasteful use of the central revenues, and funds parked with the state-owned banks and insurance firms. There were no checks and balances. One man decided, and the others acquiesced. There were no debates and discussions. The prime minister’s wishes, even if well-intentioned, became the commands of the public servants. Hence, national interests were compromised at a huge loss to the nation.
Like the previous governments, the Modi regime used the autonomous government institutions to cover up for their mismanagement of the economy, and the over-optimistic revenue projections. The Reserve Bank of India was asked to cough up huge amounts, as the government decided that it had the right to access the surplus with the central bank. In February 2019, the central bank paid an additional Rs 28,000 crore, in addition to the Rs 40,000 crore it transferred earlier. These demands and payments had earlier led to the resignation of the former RBI Governor, Urjit Patel.
The public sector was similarly bled for the same and other reasons. Consider the example of the once-cash rich ONGC, the state-owned oil and gas explorer. As on March 31, 2017, the global giant had cash reserves of Rs 13,000crore. Within a year, they dipped by more than 90% to mere Rs 1,000 crore by March 31, 2018. More importantly, the company’s debt zoomed almost 25 times between March 31, 2015, and March 31, 2018. To be fair to Modi, a similar thing happened earlier during the UPA-II regime, when cash reserves slumped from over Rs 20,000 crore in 2011-12 to under Rs 3,000 crore in 2014-15. However, the debt reduced too.
Several factors were responsible for ONGC’s meager cash reserves and bloating debt in 2018. It was literally forced by the government to acquire domestic and global assets at huge, sometime higher-than-market, prices. Experts alleged that the oil giant paid too high a price to buy fields in Russia, only because of the bilateral deals personally inked by Modi and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Similarly, ONGC had to take over the ailing and controversial Gujarat State Petroleum, which ran up a huge debt and found no oil. In a bid to create an Indian oil MNC, for no reason except to score brownie points, ONGC acquired another state-owned oil company, Hindustan Petroleum, which was financed through loans.
One needs to also remember the long-term implications of some of the grand welfare schemes implemented by this government in a bid to create new vote banks. One of them is the insurance schemes for the poor and lower classes at cheap annual premiums. There is no doubt that they provide huge financial safety to the underprivileged. But it is the state-owned insurers, which will be left holding the baby, when the time comes for the huge pay-outs. By then, Modi will be history. Remember how the Indian business owners, like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi, as also scores of others, looted the various public sector banks!
Over the last four decades, ‘managing the system’ is a favourite phrase with the Indian entrepreneurs. The teasing, almost intriguing, the expression means how the businessmen can game the political, economic and social ecosystem to earn mega-profits by scuttling competition, creating huge entry barriers, and building monopolies. Modi did the same. As businessmen used their financial clout to tame politics and society, Modi exploited the economy to enhance his political clout. The former built business behemoths, and the latter a political empire.
Nothing illustrates this better than demonetization. Initially, the idea was to root out corruption through a ban on high-denomination notes, and the targets were the Rs 1,000 notes. But Modi saw that the move could kill his political opponents in a single stroke, if he also banned the Rs 500 notes. The reason: political parties, and especially the regional ones, store huge cash reserves to finance their elections. The ban on Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes could empty their moneybags, which it did. The result: a massive victory for Modi in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, held a few months after demonetization was announced in November 2016.
Similarly, experts contend that the linking of Aadhaar, or biometric information, to the mobile numbers, bank accounts, property registrations and a number of other things was an astute political move.
Such massive and overall linkages could have allowed the governments to go after any individual or institution that acted against it. As Edward Snowden explained in several speeches, the creation and collection of such metadata by governments enables them to link any person to any event, and thus take strong action against their enemies, both imagined and real.
Only the intervention of the Supreme Court, which said that individual privacy was a fundamental right, halted the linkages in several cases. However, Aadhaar can still be misused by the governments in the future. More judgments will be required from the apex court if the biometric details have to be used properly. For instance, they can be used effectively to ensure transparency and root out corruption in the various welfare schemes for the poor. They can also reduce duplications of names, and the existence of benami names in government schemes.
Most businessmen run after numbers, i.e. targets – for sales, revenues, profits, and share prices (if they are listed on the stock markets). In the current regime, quarterly numbers for listed companies are crucial. They have to be delivered quarter after quarter after quarter, without any respite. Hence, statistics and their use become an obsession with business-owners and CEOs. Their lives depend on them, and the numbers acquire a kind of God-like apparition. If the figures don’t show it, the financial state of the corporations is doubted by the investors.
Ever since he assumed office, Modi became consumed with, and subsumed by, numbers. Everything that he did, every decision he took, had to have a larger-than-life expanse. If financial inclusivity involved the opening of bank accounts for the poor, they had to be in terms of hundreds of millions. In this year’s Budget, the government announced that it had opened 340 million new accounts under its Jan Dhan programme. If insurance covers had to be sold to the poor, it should again be in hundreds of millions. If toilets had to be built, their numbers needed to be huge – this regime has built over 90 million toilets, and declared 550,000 villages defecation free.
The fixation with numbers entered the macro-economy. One of the first things that the Modi regime did was to change the formula to calculate the country’s GDP, only to bump up the numbers. Many experts, including Raghuram Rajan, the former RBI Governor, and Gita Gopinath, Chief Economist, World Bank, have questioned the new formula. Recently, the latter said, “There were important revisions that were made in 2015... That said there are still some issues that need to be fixed and this we have flagged before with respect to the deflator that is being used for estimating real GDP... this is something we have flagged in the past.”
When this mindset, a preoccupation with statistics, numbers, and targets percolates downwards, it can lead to disastrous results. For example, toilets were mindlessly constructed without any attention to whether they will be used or whether there was adequate water in the area, only to achieve the numbers. Bank accounts were opened where the deposits were less than Rs 10 each, and which were never operated, only to reach the targets. GDP figures were twisted and massaged, only to prove that India had the highest economic growth among the larger nations.
Clearly, the Indian CEO and Indian businessman approach to the national economy led to several failures. Modi’s methods worked in Gujarat, as they do work in smaller corporations. However, in the case of conglomerates and nations, the management needs to be decentralized, open, transparent, and professional. All the stakeholders need to benefit.

Missing The Tryst With Destiny

Uneducated, unskilled young women and men in villages and towns across the country tell the grim tale of missed opportunities and dying dreams as the demographic dividend eludes political leaders and policy-makers and India slips back into stifling air of smallness

Robin Keshaw
Robin Keshaw

Robin Keshaw is a development sector professional with rich experience in the domain of education, life skills and governance. He is a computer science graduate from BITS Pilani and has previously worked with Teach For India and CM office in Haryana.

I was walking through narrow alleys of Gosain Tola in Ranchi on a sultry April morning. The clock was about to strike 12, but the lanes and corners were bustling with children and the youth. Most of the 20+ youths were either huddled around mobile phones or playing cards. The adolescents were busy chitchatting and hurling abuses. The children were dancing around with sticks in their hands, while some of them were busy running after roosters. I found some of the young girls sitting outside their homes, again immersed in their mobile phones. Ideally, Gosain Tola should have been devoid of these folks on a Tuesday morning, they should have been at their jobs or in schools or colleges.
Out of curiosity, I asked a 12-something year old girl about her school. “Election ko lekar sirjee ne chhutti de di hai (The teacher has declared a leave due to elections)”, she chirped. Ranchi goes to vote on May 6th, twenty days from the day (April 16). I entered the home of Mariam-didi, a community volunteer in Gosain Tola and asked her about the youth of the community. “Nashe ne sabko barbad kar rakha hai, inko busy rakhne ke liye naukri hi nahi hai desh me (Drugs and substance abuse has jeopardised their youth, there are no jobs to keep them engaged)”. The grim situation in Gosain Tola is a representative sample of our country. Whether it’s Sangam Vihar in Delhi, Ragigudda in Bengaluru, or rural India, our children, and youth are peering into a bleak future.
It has been more than a decade since we have been hearing the proverbial drum of demographic dividend. Some of these facts are quoted so often that they are there at the tip of everyone’s tongue – India has more than 50 per cent of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65 per cent below the age of 35. The average age of the population in India would be 28 years by 2020 and is likely to peak to 37 years by 2050, which is the current average age of Chinese population. All these figures present quite a rosy picture of India’s destiny, although with a badgering ‘if’.
If all of the nearly 30 crore children in India have access to quality education, India can reap its demographic dividend. Currently, only 10 per cent of Indian students have access to higher education in our country. If all the 60-crore youth, under 25, have the opportunity to lead a positive and productive life, India can reap its demographic dividend. The labour force participation rate in India stood at a meagre 49.8 per cent in 2017-18, while the unemployment rate was reported to be at 6.1 per cent, which is reportedly highest in last 45 years. If this data doesn’t make you cringe, sample this – the data is from a leaked preliminary report which the Modi government has decided to withhold.
The story gets grimmer. In 2016, more than 15 lakh people applied for 1,500 vacancies with a public sector bank; more than 90 lakhs took entrance exams for fewer than 100,000 posts in the railways, and more than 19,000 applied for 114 jobs as municipal street-sweepers. Today, India is struggling to reap the benefits of its prized demographic dividend largely due to lack of jobs, inadequate spending in education, health, and infrastructure. However, that’s where the silver lining is. If the next government channelizes its energy to provide quality education to our children and relevant career skills and jobs to our youth, we shall achieve the great Indian demographic dream very soon.
India has come a long way from the initial days of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, when the real task in hand was to increase the enrolment in schools. The Gross Enrolment Ratio in primary education has increased from 95.7 per cent in 2000-01 to 99.2 per cent in 2015-16. Average annual dropout rate has decreased from 25.7 per cent in 2005-06 to 4.13 per cent in 2015-16. However, quality remains a big concern. The latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) by NGO Pratham highlights that only 27.8 per cent of the children in grade 5 and 44 per cent of the children in grade 8 can do a simple division. These figures are worrying. By Class 8, the last year of compulsory schooling in India, all children are expected to have mastered foundational skills.
Steve Rocha, national convener of Nine is Mine campaign, sees a large part of the problem in budget allocation. “It’s a simple question of priority. If the government is not spending enough on education, how can it expect our children to learn?” he asks. The campaign derived its name from the Millenium Development goals of 6 per cent for education and 3 per cent for health (now the demand has been increased to 5 per cent), a total of 9 per cent of GDP. “The two goals are a starting point for all other rights, and probably for the real development of our country”, says Rocha.
Currently, education remains one of the least valued at 3.5 per cent of total budgetary allocation. A clear non-negotiable for the next government is to drastically increase its spending on education. The implementation of Right to Education (RTE) Act has suffered heavily due to the step-motherly treatment to spending on education. As of 2017, only 8 per cent of the schools in India were RTE-compliant. This is abysmally low for a law which will complete a decade of its existence in April, 2020. RTE Act lays down minimum norms and standards relating to Pupil-Teacher-Ratios (number of children per teacher), classrooms, separate toilets for girls and boys, drinking water facility, number of school-working days, working hours of teachers, etc.
Khush Vachhrajani works for an NGO and oversees the implementation of specific provisions of RTE Act in Gujarat. “The onus of implementation of RTE provisions lies with state governments, while state governments keep blaming the central government for lack of funds. This is a cat-and-mouse blame game, which has been going on for years. The irony dies a thousand deaths, when despite the allocation of funds, expenditure has not been allocated towards meeting the targets of the Act. With the exception of 2010-11, for all other years the allocated budget could not be fully utilized”, he laments. The next government should prioritise the compliance with RTE Act across the states and should work in close coordination with the state governments to ensure the implementation.
It is said that in order to transform the education system, one needs to transform the teacher in a classroom. However, HRD ministry’s annual work plan, 2016-17, shows a deficit of more than 9 lakh teachers in the country. RTE Act creates several obligations on the government regarding the quantity and quality of teachers, which has been blatantly ignored by the previous government. Section 23(1) of the RTE Act provides that persons with minimum qualifications as laid down by the academic authority authorized by the Central Government (NCTE for this purpose) only shall be eligible for appointment as a teacher.
After the RTE Act 2009, the government had given time to all untrained teachers in the workforce to complete teacher training by 2015. However, many teachers remained untrained. As a consequence, an amendment bill was passed. According to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Bill, 2017, untrained teachers teaching students of class 1 to 8 under ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ will now get time till 2019 to complete their teacher’s training. We are still talking about the basics of teacher training, where they are supposed to complete the Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed) programme, which is a 2-year course. Prakash Javadekar, the then HRD minister had said while presenting the Bill, “…there are around 11 lakh teachers in total who are without proper qualification”.
“This is a joke being played on our children, which is not even hilarious”, says Geetika Arora, a teacher trainer associated with a non-profit organisation in Bengaluru. “I vividly remember the viral video of a teacher failing to pronounce apple in a government school. It sent a chill down the spine to think of the lakhs and lakhs of our children who are passing grades and knowing nothing. There is a huge skill and knowledge gap that exists in our teacher education system. It becomes imperative for the next government to invest in teacher training and upskill our teachers and ensure our children get the right knowledge”, she says with optimism.
As our children move into their adolescence, 14 years of age as per RTE, the government sheds its responsibility for their education. The government has been stubbornly resisting the extension of the RTE Act from 14 years to 18 years. The children in the age group of 14 to 18 years constitute 11 per cent (more than 11 crore) of India’s population. They form the conduit of entering the workforce, yet they are mostly neglected by the policymakers. In 2018, Pratham released a report titled ‘Beyond Basics’, which looks at rural youth in the 14-18 age group from the angle of activity, ability, awareness, and aspirations. The results are startling. Out of 100 children in Class 7, only half of them continue to study till Class 10. And only 25 per cent of them goes on to complete Class 12. Nearly 30 per cent of all youth are not enrolled in either a school or any other educational course. According to the ASER report, only 5 per cent of youth are “taking some type of vocational training or other courses”. It doesn’t require rocket science to understand why most of the adolescents in our country are on the streets while they ought to be doing something productive.
As per the HRD ministry data, out of the nearly 2.5 lakh secondary schools in India, only 6824 schools offer pre-vocational courses as well as vocational counselling to the students. This effectively means that more than 97 per cent of our students in government schools have little or no clue about their interest areas and the vocations and jobs available in the market. Under the erstwhile Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), HRD ministry runs a scheme for ‘vocationalisation of secondary and higher secondary education’. Students in class 9 to 12 can enroll into 100 job roles across 19 sectors viz logistics, retail, healthcare, etc. as part of their curriculum.
However, the implementation of this scheme has been shoddy. A vocational trainer (a contractual staff under the scheme) in Haryana, on condition of anonymity, said, “I have become a stooge for the principal and block officers. As there is no science teacher in the school, I am teaching grade 9 – 12 in the classroom”. The scheme is also plagued by ambiguity, lack of compliance, absence of strict monitoring and review as well as irregularities in payment. Vocational education has the true potential to change the skills landscape in India. The next HRD minister should take this up on a mission mode.
A battery of schemes had been launched by Modi government in the past five years to change the skills and jobs landscape in India – Skill India, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, Make in India, Digital India, Startup India and so on. Take Skill India for example. In July 2015, Modi launched the Skill India programme and announced the target to skill 400 million people by 2022. Goalposts were shifted multiple times due to lack of clarity and another target was highlighted in the speeches by PM and the ministers – skilling one crore people by 2020.
As on November 30, 2018, about 36.22 lakh candidates have been enrolled across the country. Out of total 33.93 lakh (approximately) trained candidates, 24.13 lakh have been trained under Short Term Training, 9.08 lakh under Recognition of Prior Learning and 0.72 lakh under Special Projects across the country in various sectors. Out of these, 10.09 lakh candidates have been reportedly placed across the country. The figures speak for themselves. To add to the scheme’s wound, India Today ‘unearthed a scam committed in the name of the scheme’. In its report, it highlighted that ‘several beneficiaries get conned by middlemen using the Centre’s flagship programme’ and ‘government records do not tally with the reality of what beneficiaries claim’.
Instead of creating a plethora of programmes for political gains, the next government should focus on the convergence of these schemes and robust monitoring processes to enable them on the ground. According to the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), 76 per cent of those who were placed after undergoing training in PMKVY (Pradhan Mantri Jaushal Vikas Yojana) got wage employment and only 24 per cent could set up their own businesses. According to Rajesh Agarwal, joint secretary in the skill development ministry, just 10,000 of all those trained under PMKVY in 2018 applied for MUDRA loans, meant for self-employment.
The naked truth in India is that there aren’t enough jobs. The focus of the skills programme should be to build an entrepreneurial spirit in our youth. Delhi government has launched an Entrepreneurship Mindset curriculum for students from class 9-12. The focus of the curriculum is to build necessary life skills focused on confidence, creativity, self-awareness, perseverance, decision-making, etc.
Manish Sisodia, education minister of Delhi, says, “Entrepreneurship curriculum is required because the trickle-down economy is fundamentally flawed. Corporations are rewarded, rightfully so, for running efficient operations, delivering more value to the marketplace with as minimum resources as possible. They do not and should not have the mandate to sustain jobs. What we need is a “bubble-up” economy driven by the needs of 1.3 billion people that is constantly reorganising to adapt to the new realities of the rapidly changing world.”
“Millions of engines of growth powered by individuals with an entrepreneurial mindset is the only long-term solution for unemployment and poverty”, he adds convincingly. The government at the Centre should take the leaf out of Delhi’s books and introduce such curriculum across the states. The school system should deliberately prepare our students with life skills and soft skills along with the vocational skills to equip them for the challenges ahead. “If we really want to help our young people thrive and flourish in the 21st century where we know change is coming at such a rapid pace, we need to build in them the resilience and skills to cope with that change. Therefore, we need to create an ecosystem where individuals, NGOs, governments need to come together and collaborate to integrate life skills education in all skill-based programs,” opines Vikram Bhat, a life skills expert and advisor to Manish Sisodia.
Indian industry regularly complains it cannot find workers with the required skills to be competitive. According to government data, less than 5 per cent of the workforce in India has undergone formal skills training as compared to 68 per cent in the UK, 75 per cent in Germany, and 52 per cent in the US. While skills availability is definitely an issue, the lack of job availability is a bigger problem. There weren’t enough jobs in India when the economy was growing at a world-beating annual rate of 8 per cent in the financial year of 2015. And having millions of young people unemployed, no matter what the growth rate, is a ticking time bomb.
The government needs a sectoral approach to tackle the unemployment problem. Agriculture constitutes 17.3 per cent of the country’s GDP, but it sustains over half of the country’s population. It grew at an abysmal rate of 2.1 per cent (projected) in the year 2018, less than half of what it grew in 2017. If India wants fewer people to depend on agriculture, it needs to create non-farm jobs. But even when India was growing at over 7 per cent between 2013 and 2015, the rise in non-farm jobs was only 1.3 per cent annually. The demand of traditional landed castes like the Patidars, Gujjars, Jats, Marathas and Kapus for job reservations must be seen as a symptom of the overburdened farm sector seeking an outlet in the urban jobs market.
More than 400 million Indians work in the exports sector, whose contribution to India’s GDP has nearly halved over the last five years to less than 20 per cent. Even as global trade improved, India failed to capitalise on it. Exports grew 12 per cent between April and November 2017, slower than Vietnam’s 24 per cent and Indonesia’s 16 per cent year-on-year. Within exports, the biggest employers such as textiles, electronic goods, gems & jewellery, leather, and agricultural products continue to struggle. GST and demonetisation have eaten away a large chunk of jobs, reportedly 50 lakhs job were lost due to demonetisation.
There are issues which need an immediate resolution to peak the employment rate. First and foremost, the government should build a credible, data-driven information system on employment. Unless this is done, the employment policies will continue to be made in isolation, divorced from the realistic demand-supply mechanism. Large scale industries and agriculture aren’t sustainable options for job growth in India, medium scale units are the only saving grace. To fuel their growth, the government should extensively focus on unambiguous labour laws and easy and transparent access to credit. Government should actively look to expand the base of government jobs as well. The staff selection bodies at the central as well as the state level are running sub-optimally, taking years to finalise the hiring process. There is an urgent need to decongest the ‘regulatory cholesterol’ in these bodies.
What I saw in the narrow lanes of Gosain Tola wasn’t an aberration, it’s a common story everywhere. These youth are at the disposal of the theatrics of the society, which isn’t bound by a common social thread. The recent spate of youth unrest in India, whether it be the university protests, Bhima Koregaon violence and to an extent, the lynchings, are really worrying symptoms.
Nikhila Henry, author of the book The Ferment, which features stories from across India of young people fighting the system said in an interview, “Young people in different parts of India feel a sense of restlessness as they face injustices. There are those whose lives are affected by these injustices, and then there are those who are angry that we have become an unjust society. I think both these groups of people are connected in more ways than they acknowledge — they are uniformly disconnected from our growth story. And they are not happy that the politicians and policy-makers are trying to maintain status-quo.”
The government which will take over in the sultry summer of Delhi will have to immediately deal with the rising tempers of the listless Indian youth. It might continue to ignore the predicament only at its own and, at the larger level, society’s peril. However, kicking the can down the road wouldn’t be an option as the anger simmers. A smart government should see the current imbroglio as an opportunity, an opportunity to reap the demographic dividend for which the window is really small.

India After May 23 - Two scenarios: What Modi will do; what others will do

The new government will not be a faceless one nor will it be a neutral bureaucratic entity. The victorious leader or parties will forge a new image and a new tone

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

It would be nice to say clearly as to who the winner in the ongoing Lok Sabha election would be. But the excitement lies in the uncertainty. Even an expansive Prime Minister Narendra Modi held himself back from saying the first thing he would do if he wins the election. He was, of course, certain that he would win but he felt that it was not right to declare beforehand his victory. The anti-Modi side is busy fighting the election and they cannot say what they would do if Lady Fortune smiles on them.
The new government would not, however, be thinking of facing the challenges confronting the country – economic and political. Not immediately. Even not at all. The challenges can wait. The politicians would want to make the most of the victory. They want to celebrate the victory. They want to trumpet that they are the victors.
We have to consider two scenarios, one a victory of Prime Minister Modi for a second time and how he would celebrate; the second the victory of the anti-Modi/anti-BJP parties who would go into a huddle to choose the prime minister, and who would then claim victory over the right-wing BJP as the victory of good or evil.
In May 2014, Mr Modi took everyone by surprise by inviting all the heads of state and government to his swearing-in ceremony on May 26, 2014. Mr Modi and the BJP were feeling expansive in their moment of victory. So he reached out to the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc) neighbourhood. It is unlikely that Mr Modi will repeat that gesture. But he would be planning something grandiose for his second swearing-in ceremony this May.
But what about the economic challenges? Even in 2014, he did not sit down to look at the state of the economy and finding relevant responses. The euphoria of his victory was such that it spread to the markets as well, and the BJP leaders proclaimed in the first six months after victory that the Indian economy has bounced back from the market lows of 2013 because the coming to power of Mr Modi and the BJP has restored the confidence of the markets. Two other developments took place. The international crude oil prices nosedived, and there was an increase in foreign funds flows into the Indian market. Modi government had used these two initial advantages to bolster its image and nothing more. The focus of the government was in bringing about ‘big changes’ and not be confined to smaller matters like quarterly and annual growth rates. But the big plans were quite vague and they did not become the stimulus factors that they were expected to be.
In 2019, Mr Modi and his government will not be in a hurry to attend to the pressing problems of the economy. He will spend more time on working out some big announcements for the economy as he did in the first six months after he took over as prime minister for the first time. It will be interesting to see whether PM Modi would press forward the big ticket social and economic changes that he had begun in first term in office like the Swachh Bharat Mission, Start Up India, Skill India and Make in India, or he would announce many more new schemes based on his own vision of a powerful and prosperous India.
The first decision that Mr Modi’s cabinet took in May 2014 was to set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the foreign bank accounts of Indians, much of which was considered to be a tax-evasion tactic. Mr Modi had declared war on black money by setting up the SIT. So, what is the dramatic thing that PM Modi would want to do at the beginning of his second term? He may want to transfer the Rs 6000 that he had promised to the farmers into their accounts. He would ask all the public sector banks to work out the modality. He is most likely to harp on his dream of New India by 2022, the 75th year of India’s independence. Dramatic policy and welfare package announcements should be expected from Mr Modi this time too, and he may keep the best part of the announcements to his Independence Day speech on August 15. It would be quite different in case of the anti-Modi and anti-BJP coalition coming to power. Apart from a long drawn out haggling for the post of the prime minister, and ministerial berths, time would be spent on hammering out a common minimum programme among the disparate parties arrayed against Mr Modi and the BJP. In the first few months, the anti-Modi, anti-BJP coalition would announce a huge relief package for distressed farmers across the country.
It is indeed the case that the real problems of the economy are not a point of reference to the political leaders. They bring in their own rhetorical and utopian vision and pursue it because the day-to-day workings of the economy would continue because the systemic momentum sustains it. But the best economic policies will be affected by the state of the economy in general. That is why, it becomes crucial to pay attention to what economy’s watchdogs are saying.
But whichever political coalition that will take over office in the last week of May will face this paradoxical situation: India economy will remain the fastest growing economy despite scaling down the rate from 7.2 per cent to 7 per cent according to the second advance estimates released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in February, even as the global growth rate will be 3.7 per cent in 2019 and 3.5 per cent in 2020. The relatively slow growth rate in China compared to that of India is because of the slowdown in the global economy, and this, in turn, will affect the global growth rate. India’s faster growth rate remains a local phenomenon and it is unlikely to give a push to the global economy. This is indeed a complicated situation, and no party has time to pay attention in the hustle-bustle and the heat and dust of election. But once the election is done and the results are announced, the irritating reality comes back to haunt political leaders, especially those who are in government. So, the victors in this election have a tough task ahead of them and the euphoria of victory may not be enough to formulate the responses to the economic challenge that awaits the new prime minister and the new finance minister.
The performance of the economy in Quarter 2 and 3 of 2018-19 is not too bright, but it need not be a dampener because the situation in Quarter 1 of 2020-21 might be different. There are some alarm signals in the second and third quarters as indicated in the Reserve Bank of India’s monthly report of April 2019 released on April 11. It says, “Domestic economic activity decelerated for the third consecutive quarter in Q3: 2018-19 due to a slowdown in consumption, both public and private.”
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has in its World Economic Outlook April 2019 is trying to show things as they are. In the foreword, Gita Gopinath, who is the IMF’s Economic Counsellor, states the case in plain terms. The world economic growth peaked at 4 per cent in 2017, fell to 3.6 per cent in 2018 and it is expected to fall to 3.3 per cent in 2019. The second half of 2019 could improve and the world growth rate could return to 3.6 per cent in 2020.
Gopinath points out that there are economic challenges which could dampen long-term prospects. She has identified rising inequality, weakening investment and rising protectionism in the trade as the main challenge to continued growth. There is an indication that Mr Modi is not really concerned about the issue of inequality because many right-wing Indian economists argue that removal of poverty is more important than reducing inequality. Mr Modi would want to attack poverty. There is confusion among the liberal and leftist economists about the issue of inequality. They believe there is a linkage between inequality and poverty, and that it is necessary to reduce inequality as a way of removing poverty. So, the non-Modi coalition’s prime minister will do many things to remove poverty while raging against growing inequality.
What Mr Modi or his rivals cannot handle is weakening investment because rhetoric is not of much help in this matter. Mr Modi and the BJP are thrilled that India attracts foreign investments though in the last five years, the impact of foreign investments on growth rates has not been established. The anti-Modi, non-Modi prime minister would want more foreign investments without realizing that the climate of investments itself has not been good. So, it is an issue that falls beyond their ken.
The issue of protectionism in trade is both an economic and political challenge. Mr Modi, like many right-wing politicians, is caught in a cleft of his own making. He would want a free trade arrangement as long as India enjoys the trade advantage. But it is not a popular issue when other countries are benefiting at the price of India. Mr Modi wants to expand India’s exports but he maintains strategic silence over the issue of rising imports. His Make in India project encourages exports, which is good, but it discourages imports which would mean that the Indian consumer will not have access to goods of his choice. This is indeed a tricky business.
The non-BJP, non-Modi prime minister would want to increase exports, minimize imports and maintain surplus trade balance, something that China has done over the last 40 years. But she would not how to do the rope trick of raising exports and keeping down imports.
These are economic challenges. But there are political challenges as well. It is argued that even if Mr Modi manages to return as prime minister for a second term, he would have to pay greater attention to political allies and smaller parties. The expectation is that the BJP would lose at least 100 seats compared to 2014 tally of 283 though it would remain the single largest party. That makes political management a difficult affair which requires diplomatic skills which Mr Modi does not possess, even according to his admirers.
Then there is the other issue about reservations in jobs, both for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes (OBCs), and now the economically weaker sections. There is the issue of the status of religious minorities, and the BJP and Mr Modi have not been much too comfortable with the idea of entertaining the identity claims of these religious minorities. Social harmony is a prerequisite for economic development and growth. So, Mr Modi has to come to terms with the reality of religious minorities.
The non-Modi prime minister might appear to be in the comfort zone in the matter of social harmony. But here too, the prime minister of a non-Modi hue has to deal with the challenge of settling competing claims.
The economic, political and social challenges that a newly-elected government would face post-May 23 may not be unique because they recur time and again because of India’s uneven development story. But the test of leadership lies in the quality of the response made by politicians.

Challenges Before The New govt

PARENTING is often described as the hardest job in the world. Prime Minister of India may run a close second. A crushing burden of responsibility rests on the leader of the 17th Lok Sabha, at a time when domestic and international pressures are at a peak.

Bhavdeep Kang
Bhavdeep Kang

Bhavdeep has worked for publications like The Times of India, The Telegraph, The Indian Express, India Today & Outlook. She has authored a book ‘Gurus: Stories of India’s Leading Babas’. She is presently freelancing for several publications -both print and digital

On the domestic front, the challenges ahead make the seven labours of Hercules look like a walk in the park: the agrarian crisis, unemployment, population growth, the ever-present ‘twin deficit’ problem and cash crunch. On the international front, the government must contend with an impending global slowdown and increasingly delicate geostrategic relations.
The chief elements of the farm crisis are: real farm incomes have plummeted, widening the gap between farm and non-farm incomes, price volatility in global markets has negatively impacted Indian farmers even as domestic price discovery mechanisms have failed to evolve, risk-proofing through public crop insurance has been unsuccessful, access to credit is skewed in favour of big farmers, post-harvest infrastructure is weak resulting in enormous wastage and middlemen run the show. All this, against a backdrop of increasing water stress and microclimatic shifts.
The The crisis has been decades in the making and had deepened in the last five years, despite the introduction of band-aid measures. Implementation issues dogged the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, the common agriculture market (eNAM) and the price deficiency payments scheme (intended to bridge the gap between minimum support price and open market rates).
The Earlier this year, the incumbent government was forced to introduce an income support scheme of Rs 6,000 a year per farm household (PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana). The shift from ‘price policy’ to ‘income policy’, according to farm policy analyst Devinder Sharma, was both an admission of failure and “a tectonic shift in economic thinking”.
The Such is the urgency of the problem that agriculture will have to be made an overriding priority. Solutions such as a per acre subsidy subsuming all other subsidies, a one-time (and never again) farm loan waiver for small debts and radical market reforms including overhauling the public distribution system are on the table, in addition to higher public investment. The pros and cons of each have already been studied intensively. Quick and informed decisions are possible without palming them off on committees.
The It doesn’t take an economist to figure out that government finances are under strain. Collections from GST have fallen short of budgeted targets, while direct tax receipts and disinvestment proceeds are lower than expected. So much so for government revenues. Expenses will be stretched by welfare schemes such as pension for unorganized sector workers, income support for farmers and so on. Meanwhile, the government will keep a wary eye on global oil prices, for fear of sudden ‘shocks’ that may lead to a ballooning import bill and renewed chuntering over the ‘twin deficit problem’. Energy security remains a huge worry that can only be addressed through ramping up domestic production, solar, nuclear and otherwise. In addition, the looming threat of a global slowdown which some pessimists have said will be “bigger than 2008”, is giving economists the heebie-jeebies.
The On the plus side, after several years marked by rising NPAs, credit crunch and excruciatingly slow resolution of cases under the insolvency & bankruptcy code, the Reserve Bank of India is hopeful that the corner has been turned. However, the momentum must be maintained. The sluggishness of private investment remains a great worry and building up confidence is vital, from the perspective of job creation.
The Unemployment has proved as big a challenge as agrarian distress and has just as much political traction. The only quick-fix solution offered so far is filling up government vacancies and creating more government jobs. At a time when state governments are facing an enormous resource crunch and seeking to whittle down rather than expand the size of their workforce, this is clearly pie-in-the-sky. The tourism, health, and education sectors have been touted as potential job creators and the government must examine whether it can increase investment and boost skill development in this regard. Infrastructure development creates income opportunities, so the momentum of the on-going projects must be maintained.
The The elephant in the room for most governments is population stabilisation. Few politicians have the courage to demand pro-active measures, above and beyond contraception, to bring down the fertility rate. The south has managed to do so quite effectively, but the north more than makes up for it! The resulting political tensions between north and south were partially managed by ensuring that the state-wise numerical strength of Lok Sabha seats was maintained, even while delimitation changed the shape of constituencies. For the central government, the problem lies in population-based fund allocation, which has already enraged the southern states.
The Moving on, the ineptitude of public delivery systems and inefficient institutions of governance continue to erode trust in government and political institutions, undermine inclusive growth and deny weaker sections their entitlements. India’s bloated and underperforming bureaucracy is censured the world over. Yet, successive governments have implemented finance commission awards, without enforcing accountability. The much-delayed administrative and police reforms should go forward. At the same time, radical innovations in participatory governance are called for.
The With growing urbanisation and infrastructure collapsing from population pressure, the problem of non-performing urban local bodies (ULBs) must be addressed. Enough research has been done on the link between the financial health of ULBs and the delivery of public services. Mandatory property taxes will go a long way in shoring up the finances of ULBs and enabling them to provide basic services. Residents’ Welfare Associations, too, must be empowered and given teeth, so as to demand accountability from public officials in a formal, structured manner.
The The government must be pro-active in public-facing services; at the same time, it must reduce human interface in areas where corruption is endemic. Disbursal of subsidies is one such area and scaling up direct benefit transfer is the obvious solution. Procurement of goods and services by government agencies is another. Most important of all is the Income Tax department, long regarded as a hotbed of corruption.
The Internal security has been relatively good, with the exception of Jammu & Kashmir and Gau-raksha- related violence. The government must continue efforts to reach a political solution in J&K, while reining in cow vigilantes. On the legislative side, many bills are pending: Triple Talaq, Citizenship and Women’s Reservation, to name a few. These are contentious matters that it will have to address on the floor of Parliament. The cessation of oil imports from Iran, as a result of US economic sanctions, underlined the importance of maintaining the balance of geopolitical relations in the region. Iran accounted for just over a tenth of India’s total oil imports. Of greater concern to India (despite US assurances) is its investment in the Chabahar corridor, which eases her trade access to Afghanistan. The US must be kept happy, but so must Russia, from the perspective of containing the Pakistan-China nexus and the Afghanistan policy.
The International pressure on Pakistan to stop the export of terror must be maintained, through effective juggling of relations between the US and Russia. Insurgency in the region, as evidenced by the recent bomb blasts in Sri Lanka which claimed 250 and more lives, is a matter of grave concern. In addition, continuing close cooperation with the US as a ‘major defense partner’, as also with Japan, is essential in containing China’s regional designs, particularly with Nepal tilting towards China. The latter continues to enjoy a healthy trade surplus vis-a-vis India, despite a reported dip in 2018-19 and this must be factored in.
The Above all, the government must bear in mind the advice attributed to French wit and philosopher Voltaire “Consider that great responsibility follows inseparably from great power”.


The rule that if a complaint is false the complainant would be penalised is unfair in the case of EVMs and VVPAATS

K P Fabian
K P Fabian

K. P. Fabian is an Indian Diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000, during which time he was posted to Madagascar, Austria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Canada, Finland, Qatar and Italy.

We are witnessing the periodical festival of democracy with 900 million of our fellow citizens entitled to vote in a million polling booths. However, the answer to the question is not easy. There are indications that the polling might not be free and fair. In a free and fair election, the voter should be able to examine her vote as recorded and to complain to the polling official in case of doubt without the fear of being sent to jail. This is not the case especially after the introduction of the EVM and a few years later of VVPAATS.
On 23rd April, Harekrishna Deka, former DGP of Assam and a famous writer, found that the VVPAAT did not record correctly his choice. However, he decided not to risk lodging a complaint as he could be sentenced to imprisonment up to six months under section 177 of the IPC if he is unable to 'prove' his complaint.
What is significant is that a younger man ran the risk that Deka avoided. The same day, Ebin Babu, 21, in Thiruvananthapuram, lodged a complaint. As he voiced his complaint he was admonished by the polling official of the possibility of his being arrested by police under section 177 of the IPC. Ebin persisted and filled up Form 49MA. Sometime later, Ebin voted again in the presence of the polling official and the representatives of the candidates. This time, the voting was recorded correctly and Ebin was handed over to the police.
A few logical questions arise. First, just because the EVM recorded the vote correctly at 12.45 a.m.it does not follow that it would have recorded it correctly in the first instance at 10.30 a.m. Second, there have been a number of complaints of the malfunctioning of EVMs. The media have reported that in Kerala alone there were 7 booths with malfunctioning EVMs in Alathur, 11 in Palakkad, 7 in Kasargod, and 10 in Pathanamthitta, to mention only some. Shashi Tharoor has remarked that it was “very curious” that “all the EVM malfunctions seem to benefit only one particular party” and that “all the malfunction somehow seems to go towards the lotus”. Till now, we have not come across any such complaint from BJP candidates anywhere in India. Obviously, this matter needs investigation. It is equally obvious that the EC has shown inertia, to put it mildly. The reader might recall that the Supreme Court had to remind the EC that it has teeth. The reader will also recall that the EC has deliberately refrained from taking action against the candidate Narendra Modi even as he violated the Model Code of Conduct repeatedly correctly calculating that he has impunity.
Apart from EC's inertia, the key question is whether and if so how the EVMs can be tampered with. Election Commission's categorical assertions reiterated from time to time do not amount to proof. Nor do they carry conviction. We know of a bank clerk who had amended the software in the bank making it mandatory for a few cents to be credited to his personal account every time a transaction was made. He amassed a lot of money before he was found out. In short, tampering is possible and the EC should prove it has not happened and it is not enough to assert that tampering is impossible.
The VVPAATS were introduced in 2013 as a check on 'malfunctioning' EVMs. Imagine putting a chip to the VVPAATS system that ensures the same result as in the EVM. In short, in a situation where both the EVM and the VVPAAT are tampered, there will be no way of finding that out. That Deka and Ebin could see that the VVPAAT had recorded wrongly their votes raises the possibility of simultaneous tampering of EVM and VVPAATS.
One or two questions more arise. Is it possible to tamper before the day of counting as in some cases there is a gap of more than a month between voting and counting? Do the representatives of the candidates have access on a 24/7 basis? Can any tampering be done during the counting? These questions have been raised but we have not come across any satisfactory answers so far from the Election Commission. The EC has been most reluctant to arrange for cross-verification between EVM counting and VVPAATS counting. It arranges for such verification only for a polling booth in an assembly constituency. In other words, out of one million polling booths, in the 2019 general election verification is done only in less than 5,000. This works out to less than 0.5%.
A group of three, including the author, filed a case in the Supreme Court. We argued that statistics required cross verification of at least 30 % and produced findings from eminent statisticians. Unfortunately for us, the opposition political parties also stepped in asking for 50% cross verification. The Court gave more time to the advocate of the political parties and ours hardly got anytime.
Let us focus on what can be done right now. First, a PIL should be filed in the Supreme Court to suspend the rule that prevents an honest voter from lodging a complaint. Once a complaint is made without waiting for filling up of forms the polling officer and representatives should rush to the spot and conduct as many numbers of trial voting as necessary. It is absurd to have made Ebin vote again after a time gap and then conclude that his complaint was baseless. If there were tampering in the manner suggested by us earlier, the second time Ebin voted his vote would have been recorded correctly.
Second, we need to review the decision taken to use EVMs. Technology can be useful, but technolatry, worship of technology, is foolish. Germany and some other countries in Europe have discontinued the use of EVMs. We need a national debate to figure out the way forward. Third, the EC should be woken up from its dogmatic slumber and asked to do its job by enforcing its Model Code of Conduct lest India becomes a laughing stock internationally.
(The author is a former diplomat)
Opinion expressed is the personal view of the write and do not reflect the views of the news portal.

  • First, just because the EVM recorded the vote correctly at 12.45 a.m.it does not follow that it would have recorded it correctly in the first instance at 10.30 a.m. Second, there have been a number of complaints of the malfunctioning of EVMs.
  • We need to review the decision taken to use EVMs. Technology can be useful, but technolatry, worship of technology, is foolish. Germany and some other countries in Europe have discontinued the use of EVMs. We need a national debate to figure out the way forward.

Mamata’s Move: Glamour Gambit

True to her style of fielding star power to stem the factionalism within and add a touch of glamour quotient to the list of Lok Sabha membership aspirants, Banerjee has roped in two greenhorns to go one up on her main rival – the BJP

Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

They were once part of the Tollywood ‘Girls’ Gang’, very intimate and fast friends indeed; however, they have made long strides in the last one decade, attaining glamour and stardom. Even though some of the ‘Gang’ members have ‘defected’ recently to pursue individual careers, ties among them are still rock solid. One of them was recently spotted in the birthday bash of another, partied till late at night. Hardly did a pair of the Gang members know that they would be required to play a bigger role very soon beyond the vortex of Tollywood and reel life.
Guess the duo we are talking about. Yes, you’ve got them correct – Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan, a pair of new trump cards that West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo pulled out of her wizard hat. True to her style of fielding star power to stem the factionalism within and add a touch of glamour quotient to the list of Lok Sabha membership aspirants, Banerjee has roped in these two greenhorns to go one up on her main rival – the Bharatiya Janata Party. That she has been nursing a desire to be a kingmaker at the last moment in this year’s parliamentary polls, is quite well-known.
Hence, the manner in which she has dropped eight sitting nominees (and two others defected to the BJP), reveals a special game-plan to make the ground slippery for the saffron party.
Leaving aside the first mover advantage (TMC first unveiled the list of candidates for all the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal), the big takeaway from the list of Mamata Banerjee is the elaborate behind-the-door-strategy of Didi to emerge victorious in her challenge to win 42 out of 42. Let us take a closer look into it and her apparently inane thought bubbles make for a rib-tickling narrative.
Nearly eight years into power, that TMC has been riven with intense factionalism over a wide swathe of the state, is now fait accompli. It is not that Didi has taken this decision of fielding Mimi and Nusrat on the spur of the moment; both the Tollywood stars have been regulars to several big meetings of the party. And Mamata Banerjee had obviously been closely observing as well as advising them on sundry things laced with dual meaning for some time now before zeroing on to field them. It was only after being absolutely confident of their unquestionable allegiance to her that she condescended to nominate them. That they would be subject to widespread criticism from the opposition of being political greenhorns, did not deter her from going ahead.
Secondly, the TMC supremo, who used to know her district party leaders like the back of her own hand, must have kept a close tab on areas where there has been an unabated spurt in intra-party rivalry (and at some places, even killings). Jadavpur in the southern fringe of Kolkata and Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district bordering Bangladesh are the two vulnerable areas where the party has been bedevilled with this menace, necessitating umpteen warnings in vain from the top leadership. The depleting base of the party in Bhangar, an assembly constituency of Jadavpur, and rise of the BJP in the Basirhat-Bongaon region of North 24 Parganas district had been posing a serious concern, leaving Didi with hardly any choice to select someone from the party who would be acceptable to all the factions.
After Prof Sugata Bose, the sitting Trinamool MP from Jadavpur, expressed his unwillingness to recontest pleading lack of consent from the university he teaches abroad, Didi was toying with the idea of fielding a ‘safe’ candidate who could bulldoze over all factions and yet has acceptability to the commoners irrespective of the party colour. At the same time, the chief minister could ill-afford to ignore the fact that it was from this constituency in Kolkata that she had shot to fame (got the tag of ‘giant killer’, to be more precise) defeating CPIM veteran and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee during the heyday of the Left rule. Hence, she could hardly take any risk that would lay bare the chinks further, endangering the prospect of the party.
There were two or three other names, all Tollywood heroines, that were in wide circulation since last year end who were tipped to be inducted into the party; prominent among them include June Maliah and Indrani Halder. However, what tilted the scale in favour of Mimi and Nusrat is, perhaps, their glamour power and the present peak form in sharp contrast to Maliah and Halder. In fact, Mamata’s spectacular decision to field this pair of stars put the BJP completely on the wrong foot. It is immaterial whether the saffron party would concede it or not, the fact remains that the BJP was particularly very hopeful to cash in on the bitter factionalism in TMC in Basirhat.
But Didi’s selection of Nusrat at Basirhat has made it quite an uphill task for the BJP to make a sizeable dent in the anti-TMC vote bank. First, Basirhat is on the Indo-Bangladesh border in North 24 Parganas district where the minority population is distinctly high compared to Hindus, even though many Hindus were from erstwhile East Pakistan. Nusrat Jahan’s current form and glamour will, in all probability, make a dent in the minds of Hindu voters as well. The claim of TMC not indulging in wooing minorities is already passe though. The BJP nominee Samik Bhattacharya will require to tide over the glamour wave as well as the game of the minority card played by the TMC. In Jadavpur, once a Left stronghold that gave way to the TMC storm in the 2011 assembly poll, the CPIM has slowly begun to regain lost ground. The selection of former Calcutta Corporation mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya as its nominee by the CPIM leadership here has been described as an intelligent move by the political experts. Because, there was wide speculation that the BJP might field from Jadavpur respected fashion designer Agnimitra Paul who was shortly slated to join the party. And if Paul would have got the nomination from here, the anti-TMC vote will be split between Paul and Bhattacharya and the latter might have a very thin chance of victory.
Be that as it may, Mimi’s chances have simply brightened up, in a twist of the tale, the BJP state leadership, reportedly peeved over one of the statements of Paul, delayed her joining. Instead, after the BJP announced the candidature of Anupam Hazra, a TMC defectee from Jadavpur; Hazra was elected from Bolpur in Shantiniketan on a Trinamool Congress ticket in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll. Now, in the changed scenario, the electoral fight of Mimi, the Tollywood heroine of TMC, has become quite easier in absence of Paul. Mimi stands a fair chance of making her maiden entry into parliament unless of course Trinamool incurs heavy anti-incumbency wrath.
That there has been a high anti-incumbency air sweeping across the state, is a fact which has been causing concern in the TMC ranks and which has been a cause for increasing assault by the BJP in the Trinamool turf. However, the real test lies in making the electorate booth-bound; for the BJP, it is really a formidable challenge to turn the anti-incumbency in its favour while for the TMC, it is a bitter battle to stem the anti-incumbency factor in the bud itself. Yet, it is a difficult task for both the parties. The whys are pretty simple. With several TMC leaders making a beeline to the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and growing dissatisfaction over the selection of candidates, discontent seems to be brewing both in the BJP and Mamata Banerjee’s party.
BJP’s Mukul Roy, once the number two in the Trinamool Congress, has started inducting “disgruntled” leaders from his former party, including elected representatives, into the saffron party’s fold. Resentment in the TMC camp came to the fore after it announced its list of 42 candidates for the Lok Sabha polls. The party dropped 10 MPs and brought in 18 new faces. Sitting MPs from seats such as Cooch Behar, Basirhat, Jhargram, Midnapore, Bolpur, Bishnupur and Krishnanagar were dropped from this year’s TMC candidate list.
The BJP has made steady inroads in these places over the last five years, largely due to the infighting within the TMC’s local leadership. Local TMC leaders who had been with the party for several years were overlooked in many seats in favour of film stars including greenhorns, and those joining from the Congress and the Left parties. After MPs Soumitra Khan and Anupam Hazra, TMC leader and four-time MLA Arjun Singh, also a Lok Sabha MP aspirant, were denied ticket from Barrackpore, they switched over to the BJP, received saffron tickets. That the grassroots BJP workers were in no mood to welcome the ‘turncoats’ was evident when several of them resorted to violence in Cooch Behar in North Bengal after a local TMC leader Nisith Pramanik was given the Lok Sabha ticket after he walked into the BJP camp prior to polls.
The ripple of discontent over the candidate nomination affected the Trinamool too. The party’s South Dinajpur district chief Biplab Mitra had openly expressed his displeasure over re-nomination of Arpita Ghosh from Balurghat Lok Sabha seat. “I had informed the party that people of Balurghat are not happy with Ghosh’s performance. Her victory cannot be guaranteed this time.” Ghosh, a theatre activist who had been part of Mamata Banerjee’s intellectual brigade during her fight against the Left Front government claimed she is hardly daunted by the spectre of defeat as long as she enjoys the TMC supremo’s blessings. In Cooch Behar, the TMC has replaced its sitting MP Partha Pratim Ray with a minister in the erstwhile Left Front government, Paresh Chandra Adhikary, who joined the ruling party last year. Although Ray declined to comment, the BJP tried in vain to woo him into its fold. “Why was Adhikary given ticket? Does our district unit lack good leaders to contest the Lok Sabha polls? This decision has not sent out a good message to the rank and file of the party,” a senior TMC district leader said, adding that the BJP would definitely exploit these fissures in the party.
The situation is more or less the same in Malda North parliamentary seat where former Congress MP Mausam Benazir Noor, who crossed over to the TMC, has been nominated. In at least three other seats, Congress MLAs who had switched over to the TMC in the past one year were given tickets instead of old timers. In Murshidabad Lok Sabha seat, TMC’s youth leader Shamik Hossain, a key organisational man and a ticket aspirant, was overlooked in favour of former Congress MLA Abu Taher, who had switched over to the ruling party last year. In fact, more than 17 Congress MLAs and three legislators of the Left Front had switched over to the TMC since the last assembly elections in West Bengal in 2016. “It’s good that the TMC is getting a dose of its own medicine. As you sow, so shall you reap. It is the TMC which has ensured the growth of the BJP in Bengal by finishing off secular forces like the Congress and the CPI(M),” state Congress president Somen Mitra quipped.
The Mukul Roy factor: Last but not the least, once the second-in-command in Trinamool Congress and now one of the leading names in the state BJP, Mukul Roy might queer the pitch for his former political boss in a way that may not be quite palatable. During her stint as the opposition leader (during the CPI(M)-led Left Front regime), Mamata Banerjee had penned a book “Slaughter of Democracy” where she demanded deployment of central forces in all polling booths across the state. She had also dispatched a clutch of letters to the Election Commission detailing the reason behind her demand to declare all booths ‘sensitive’ in the Left-ruled West Bengal. After his defection to BJP nearly couple of years back, Roy thought it was an opportune moment to hand over a copy of the book and photocopies of those letters to the Election Commission, triggering a row in the inner circles of TMC.
Even as the TMC leaders strongly denounced the move of Roy, claiming that the state of democracy during the Left Front rule and that of the Trinamool Congress government could hardly be compared, the wily BJP leader wasted little time and ensured deployment of the paramilitary forces in every sensitive area across the state. While the Left leaders felt piqued at the TMC leaders’ cacophony against the demand for deployment of central forces, it is too early to predict that the presence of these forces could really alter the ‘game of thrones’ in West Bengal scheduled to go to polls in all the seven phases.

Foreign Flounderings

Lacking in any sense of historical perspective, the Modi government has lost valuable friends like Nepal and yielded unenviable space to Pakistan, China and the US

Sankar Ray
Sankar Ray

Sankar Ray is a senior journalist who has worked in various news and current affairs magazines, has spawned scores of good journalists and has in-depth knowledge of global issues, especially Left politics in India and abroad

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi made five visits to Nepal between August 2014 and September 2018. He was accompanied by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and External Affairs secretary Sujatha Singh, but without Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj. The then Prime Minister of Nepal, Sushil Koirala, welcomed Modi at the Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. Afterward, Modi visited the Pashupatinath Temple where he offered prayers.
Gestures from top political leaders of Nepal, crossing party lines, were explicit. Koirala, who represented the Nepali Congress apart, the then chairman of Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) Pushpa Kamal Dahal and chairman CPN (United Marxist Leninist) Khadga Prasad Oli, the present PM met with him with an open mind. The then Foreign minister of Nepal Mahendra Bahadur Pandey had struck am emotional tone: “Modi is result-oriented and gives priority to economic prosperity. He wants to consolidate ties with Nepal”, believing that the new government in New Delhi, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party that got absolute majority in the 543-member Lower House of the Parliament after 25 years, was genuinely interested in implementing the ‘neighbourhood first policy.’
Off Mask
There is no confirmation as yet whether the ₹ 10,000 crore India had promised Nepal has been disbursed. The hidden motive of Modi, more committed to rightwing Hindu nationalism than the first BJP premier of India, the late Atal Behari Vajpayee, is now almost open. In his last visit in September 2018, he inaugurated the first cross-border rail link between the two countries, Jainagar in Bihar to Janakpur in Nepal, spanning 29 kilometres.
But critics, especially in academic circles, snap fingers at the Indian PM for the latter’s keenness to buck up pro-Indian elements in Nepal slanted towards the Sangh Parivar the Madhesis.
Modi’s visit was to participate in a major Hindu festival if not mainly at a temple dedicated to ‘goddess’ Sita in Janakpur, the heartland of Madhesis of Nepal and named after the mythical King Janaka of Mithila and father of Sita. Modi aspired to lead a symbolic ‘baraat’ or wedding procession up to Janaki Mandir in Janakpur, believed to have been the home Sita, along with some BJP leaders in tow, a strategic gesture ahead of the Lok Sabha elections keeping in mind the voters of states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar bordering Nepal.
Dr Pramod Jaiswal, senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, and Nepali by birth, questioned Modi’s intention ingenuously in an article in mid-May 2018: “Modi’s desire to start his visit from Janakpur in the Madhesi-majority Terai region had two motivating elements to it.
“First, the government in Kathmandu had cancelled his visit to Janakpur and the Muktinath temple in northern Nepal during his second visit in 2014. Second, Janakpur is both the putative birthplace of Sita and, as the temporary capital of Province 2, important to the Madhesi plains people’s longstanding demand for proportional representation in the Nepalese parliament through a constitutional amendment, which New Delhi has pushed for through diplomatic pressure and direct economic interference.
Choking Nepal
“India had actively backed the 135-day blockade that had frozen essential cross-border trade from September 2015 to February 2016 (a week after the constitution was promulgated). This time round, Kathmandu allowed Modi to not only visit both venues but also to use them to attempt to endear himself to this Hindu-majority country riven by anti-India – and specifically anti-Modi – protests.”
The friendliness in the attitude of Kathmandu towards New Delhi suffered a diplomatic fracture during the second NDA period. The gap that became yawning was a boon for Beijing. Modi’s hyperbolic promise of beginning a new chapter in Indo-Nepal diplomacy proved to be a pious platitude.
On the contrary, China has slowly and steadily been dislodging India as a friend of Nepal. Bejing has extended its hand to the land-locked state taking advantage of a combined communist party in power Nepal Communist Party, formed out of merger of Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center).
Belting India
Beijing and Kathmandu inked an MoU on Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative to enhance connectivity of ports, roads, railways, aviation and communications in the framework of the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network.
New Delhi questioned whether the trans-Himalayan railway up to Kathmandu is techno- economically viable, given the reality that it has to traverse through several tunnels, construction of which will be costly, to make the railway reach the lower mountains and plains, let alone the high seismic risks. The pro-Maoist rulers paid no heed, as they emotionally appended to the Communist Party of China that has been ruling the People’s Republic of China for 68 years.
Already, the Chinese Qinghai-Tibet railway is operational up to Shigatse (Xigaze) and is expected to soon reach the Nepal border (Rasuwagadi) in Kerung (Gyirong). From Kerung it will be a 100-km-long railway to Kathmandu. A combined transportation system of rail and truck will substantially reduce the journey. The entire journey takes only 10 days, much less than the 35 days it takes through the maritime route via Kolkata. The rail route through Kerung will hugely provide a boost to Sino-Nepal trade and commerce.
Sonar Bangla Lost
Look at Bangladesh whose people saw China under Mao Zedong as their enemy was befriended by post-Mao China. A take-off in this bilateral friendship was the groundwork for cooperation, linked to the visit of the Chinese President Xi in mid- October 2016, when Bangladesh and China signed 27 deals and memorandum of understandings, covering financing of infrastructure, energy, information and communication projects, 15 agreements and MoUs and 12 loan and mutual agreements, according to the then foreign secretary of Bangladesh, Md Shahidul Haque. The two countries agreed to work together in counterterrorism partnership as well. There had already been a robust military tie as well. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Bangladesh by that time became the largest buyer of Chinese arms, second only to Pakistan. Bangladesh accounted for 20 per cent of all the Chinese arms export during the past five years ended 2016. Unnerved, as if woken up under compulsion, the Modi government signed a $4.5 billion concessional line of credit for 17 projects in the infrastructure and power sector in favour of Bangladesh during the visit of Bangladesh PM Sk Hasina Wazed to New Delhi in April 2017.
Another $500 million credit line was extended for defence equipment plus 13 business-to-business agreements for approximately $9 million were inked with select few Indian business houses.
Tourist Modi
But Modi’s irrepressible penchant to see the world as the Indian premier seemed too lavish to keep the national exchequer on pins and needles.
The gross expenditure incurred by the foreign trips during his five-year term (2014-19) is no less than Rs 7,266.94 crore, including the related publicity spend. But the results have been mostly negative, if not destructive, as bilateral relations with none of the neighbouring countries – Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka – let alone Pakistan show signs of camaraderie.
Officials who call the shots at the foreign policy leave no nerve unstrained to discover new digits in diplomacy, citing fragments of apparent strides reflected in economic deals with Japan, a few Middle East countries , Maldives and the like.
Jap Issues
Even deals for economic co-operation, MoUs have not all ensured sustainable efficacy. Take the reinvigorated economic and financial cooperation with Japan that pledged an investment of ₹ 33.8 billion in government and private sector investments over five years, following Modi’s meeting his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe.
Japan has already invested in the $90 billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor that envisages setting up of new cities, industrial parks, ports and airports, aside from a 1,483 km high-speed rail and road line. Tokyo is genuinely keen on implementing Modi’s dream project, the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train service, for which the first tranche of committed Official Development Assistance loan of Japanese ¥ 89,547 million (₹5,500 crore ) has been released.
The funding body, Japan International Cooperation Agency, agreed to 80 per cent of investment cost as soft loan. But there are doubts about whether the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (alone having absolute majority in the 542-member Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Parliament), have done the spadework for its implementation.
The National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited, constituted to build it, is yet to acquire the essential professionalism to take on the challenge. It has to legally acquire around 1,400 hectares of land in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Of this nearly 1,120 hectares are privately owned and approximately 6,000 land owners are to be compensated.
Some 1,000 farmers, mostly of Surat, petitioned the Gujarat High Court stating that they don’t want to give their land for the bullet train project. Moreover, the JICA set out guidelines for setting up of a committee for environmental and social impact assessments.
The farmers have alleged that no such committee has yet been constituted. As a result, release of the second tranche of credit is in a limbo. And the JICA has started pulling up the NHSRCL, although the latter tries to negate such an impression and asserts that it is committed to take care of the interests of the affected farmers, adding that all necessary steps with regard to submission of various reports such as social impact assessment, environment impact assessment and indigenous people plan, have been submitted to JICA.
Basic Faults
One can’t miss some basic fault lines in Modi’s external affairs policy-in-practice, let alone the awkward concept of keeping the Minister of EA confined to South Block and the PM seeing the world resembling a government-paid joyride.
The questions that arise are many: Did Modi define national interest or articulate a strategic vision, or even enunciate his media-hyped ‘neighbourhood policy? The answer is a simple NO. Instead, the world around witnessed gradual decimation of the prestigious independent foreign policy. There was showbiz summitry, coupled with and subservience to Uncle Sam. But there was a lot of opportunities that the NDA-2 could have seized for breaking new ground like ‘stitching together a coalition of rimland states in the east to ring-fence China.’ Shamelessly, the Modi government walked into the US trap of weakening the non-aligned foreign policy. Which was why the 2 X 2 talks between the USA and India took place in the beginning of September 2018 in New Delhi, ostensibly to ramp up strategic relations but it helped the US penetrate — horizontally and vertically — India’s most secret communications and command and control networks, including the Strategic Forces Command overseeing nuclear security. The US side was represented by its Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim while on the Indian side was the comparatively soft-spoken and most often side-lined Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and the garrulous and completely ineffective but theatrical Nirmala Sitharaman, Union Defence Minister. The latter signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement, an emblem of subservience.
Balakot Blunders
The NDA too has been more committed to belligerence than a peaceful approach, overtly with Pakistan and covertly with Nepal. Strangely – if not ludicrously enough – after the Balakot strike in the wee hours of 26 February, it was not the defence secretary Sanjay Mitra, but the external affairs secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale who briefed the media (on condition of not taking questions). The latter said, “In an intelligence-led operation in the early hours of today, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammad) in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated. This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri), brother-in-law of Masood Azhar Chief of JeM”.
He claimed it was a ‘non-military preemptive action… specifically targeted at the JeM camp’, contrary to the news from the spot by the Reuters and video footages in the social media. Furthermore, the notion that ‘a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated’ was a matter of suspicion for the international media.
The CEO of MoEA reminds me of Dr Henri Kissinger, National Security Advisor to the former US President Richard Milhous Nixon. “Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.” I don’t know how Kissinger would have reacted had he been asked to comment on Gokhale willingly agreeing to poke his nose into defence affairs at the cost of his credibility.

Facts of an Unequal World: Differences Between Income And Wealth

World economists worried over advanced economies and emerging economies struggling for prosperity and stability

SA Raghu
SA Raghu

The author is a banking and economics commentator based in Chennai. He is an economist and CFA by training and his professional career of over 30 years has spanned central banking, project financing and banking technology. He writes for financial newspapers on banking, economics and finance

Raghuram Rajan, former RBI Governor, has brought the capitalism-inequality debate to centre-stage with his new book, “The Third Pillar How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind”, in which he says capitalism is breaking down because the economic and political system was not providing equal opportunities to people. Critics of capitalism have long held that markets were responsible for creating inequality, but since governments have also proved incapable, all forms of systems are being viewed with scepticism today. But Rajan’s book is not so much about inequalities as it is about addressing how local communities could be strengthened to act as an effective check against a rampaging State and markets which have combined to bring capitalism to a crisis. On inequality itself, it was Thomas Piketty who famously propounded in his pathbreaking work that much of the inequality of wealth in capitalist societies results from inequalities of inheritance, through a self-fulfilling process – wealth inequality leads to differences in education, economic power and on to further inequalities in income. He argued that the rich grew richer because returns from wealth grew faster than national incomes, with the inequalities made worse by inheritance. Wealth in these economies is mostly of the financial kind and the rich get richer from the holding of wealth rather than from the fruits of labour.
Though income inequality reports use GDP data to derive distributions of income and inequality, it would be simplistic to draw any inferences from merely comparing inequality data across nations, because economies vary in structures and in the nature of growth. If we consider the data of the USA and India, this will be clear. According to the World Inequality Report 2018, inequality in the USA was extremely high at the top-most levels of the population groups – average share of income of the top 1% of adults in 2014 was 20%, as compared with the bottom 50% (12.5%). Furthermore, a large portion (about 65%) of the incomes came from capital (interest, dividends, retained earnings and rents) while it was less than 10% for the bottom 90%. The growth rate of financial wealth outpaced that of national incomes, helped by booming markets.
The US economy is also significantly ‘financialised’, with banking and financial services contributing over 30% of its GDP. It is easy to see where the moral outrage comes from- the perception of finance as a rent-seeking activity and its appropriation by a small minority. The most visible form is the ‘marketization’, the continuous creation and trading of financial assets to pander to the wealthy (bank loans into tradable securities are probably the least toxic), but the greater concern is the spread of financialisation to non-finance sectors. The corporate sector is now driven by stock market valuations and shareholder interests, with excessive managerial compensation linked to stock prices, which offers perverse incentives for rent-seeking than risk taking. Financialisation also crept into households – we can recall how American homeowners at the height of the sub-prime mortgage crisis were lured into taking advantage of rising home values and ultra-low interest rates by converting their houses into virtual ATMs. The rich had their hedge funds and other new securities that were continuously being created to meet their demands.
Even without being capitalist, India also ranks high among countries with income inequality – at 54%, the share in total income of the top 10% of India’s population was higher than even that of the USA (47%) as per the report. The bottom 50% shared only 15% of the income, which in fact is higher than those of China and Russia at the higher quantiles. The inequalities in our economy have more to do with the nature of economic growth, its components and the structural characteristics of our labour markets rather than capitalism and markets. Our employment data is notoriously outdated and unreliable and even what we have is unflattering- the labour force participation rate at 52% is among the lowest in the world, due to the extremely low participation of women in employment (73% of the labour force is male). This virtually renders the debate on unemployment numbers meaningless – when over 48% of working age people do not participate in the job market, it is irrelevant whether the actual level of unemployment is 4% or 6%. The significance of employment is with relation to incomes and demand, which leads us to another structural issue – the nature of employment – nearly 50% of the labour force is self-employed and about 33% are contractually employed which leaves less than 20% in the formal wage earning category. Without taking away from the merits of the type of labour, a low sized formal market is usually the cause of low wages, cited by many as the real issue and not unemployment per se. Piketty also says that such a small sized formal sector leads to tax ratios being low which seems self-evident. The sectoral GDP and employment data shows this up more starkly- the tertiary sector (trade, transport, finance, insurance and real estate) contributes over 42% of total value added to GDP, but employs only a small proportion of formal labour, while agriculture and the primary sector, while contributing a small proportion to GDP(less than 20%) has a large self-employed segment, but in reality an euphemism for disguised unemployment, given the low value added in this sector.
As for solutions, taxation is often an effective tool where the cause of excessive inequality is financialisation; in fact, the declining progressivity in tax rates was said to be one of the causes for the rise in inequality in the USA; tax cuts left the wealthy and the corporates with money, but that was not spent productively as intended and instead went to aggravate economic inequalities. In India, current taxation levels leave little scope for tinkering and besides benefits from lower taxes often accrue to only a small section.
Raghuram Rajan’s prescription for India is a leap out of the middle-income trap into a higher orbit of wealth and prosperity to tackle the issues of poverty and inequality. This would require a broad-based economic growth that embraces a larger formal labour participation which would make for lesser inequalities, but this is easier said. Which is probably why populist schemes such as a minimum basic income always catch the fancy of politicians. In fact, for long now, most economies have been practising some form of a markets-for-the rich and welfarism-for-the-less-privileged approach, but the sustainability of such models is coming unstuck, manifest in the growing unrest everywhere.
The Congress party in India has also jumped into the fray and come up with its catchily named NYAY scheme; while this may not be a proper universal basic income scheme, the guarantee of Rs. 6,000 to every family that earns less than Rs 12,000 per month if the household is a member of the poorest 20% of all households in the population, has all the ingredients. Raghuram Rajan apparently was consulted on NYAY and he seemed to favour it as it could build capabilities, but his own general views on minimum basic income schemes are slightly different. He feels that minimum income schemes can be hugely resource-intensive, calling for high levels of taxes at a time when the clamour is to reduce them. Secondly, he feels cash transfers should be considered only if it was genuinely not possible to create meaningful jobs, as otherwise they could rob people of the dignity of labour; in fact, such schemes could prevent the creation of new jobs by offering perverse incentives to remain unemployed. By no stretch of imagination can we claim that we have reached the limits of meaningful job creation in India, but given the notorious incompetence of Governments, the appeal of money for nothing schemes will be hard to resist, fiscal constraints notwithstanding.

Environment Ministry Is A National Shame

Historically, our traditions have been designed in a way to protect and conserve environment. The current dispensation has propagandised recovering the ‘lost glory’. Ironically, the government has done more damage to the environment through its flawed policies and vested interests

Mahendra Pandey
Mahendra Pandey

The author is an environmentalist, environmental activist and freelance writer on social issues

We are the certainly worst country in the world on the basis of environmental performance. Our country always remains choked with toxic fumes, rivers are not only polluted but have gone to a toxic level, the government remains silent over noise, amidst chanting of SWACHH BHARAT our cities overflow with garbage, industries kill protesters with the help of government and saints are fasting and dying for the cause of NAMAMI GANGE.
The BJP’s 2014 election manifesto had listed environmental management under ‘industry’. It was no accident. The mandate was clear: remove “hurdles” in the way of unsustainable growth. In the past year, several key changes have been affected in environmental legislation that’ll have a ripple effect in 2019 and many years to come.
In The Name Of Vikaas
Since coming into power in 2014, the BJP government has emphasised the need for speedy clearances, removal of red tape and bottlenecks. It formed a committee to suggest amendments in the six environmental laws of the country that form the bedrock of all regulations – Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981; and Indian Forest Act 1927.
However, with the move being intensely opposed by experts, activists, the government never implemented the changes fully. The past year, the last before the government completes its tenure, saw changes in the laws governing India’s environment, from its fragile coastlines to those that protect the vulnerable forest-dwelling populations.
Although critics have argued that these changes amount to diluting India’s robust framework of environmental regulations for a vision of development that is often exclusive, a senior official of the environment ministry disagreed. The official said, “These laws are often too strict. Sustainable development doesn’t mean ‘no development’. These changes have all been implemented while keeping in mind different shareholders.” After the environment ministry amended coastal zone rules to give relief to projects that had begun in the coastal areas without required clearances, environmentalists warned of dire consequences.
First issued in 1991, under the Environment Protection Act 1986, the notification last year revamped regulatory norms to make it easier to construct along the coastline for development activities like tourism and real estate. However, environmentalists warned that these would give violators a lease of life, and lead to considerable damage along the coastlines. Last year, the government made another bid to ease environmental regulations, stipulating that construction projects that are less than 50,000 square metres don’t require green clearance and, thus, will be allowed to progress without authorities issuing permissions after the check of environmental conditions. The building and construction sector is governed under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2006 under which any project of more than 20,000 square metres requires permission.
In December 2016, the MoEF introduced a new system wherein projects up to 300,000 square metres would not need the mandatory EC after state authorities integrated environmental conditions with building bye-laws. But this was challenged in January 2018 at the NGT as “a ploy to circumvent the provisions of environmental assessment”.
The environment ministry notified the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) rules 2018 to ensure proper utilisation of Rs 660 billion for the plantation of trees across India.
However, environmentalists and civil society groups argued that the rules ignore the rights of forest dwellers and tribes and that the new rules are against the existing laws that safeguard their right to self-governance in scheduled areas and forest rights. Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh has also criticised the rules stating that they are in violation of assurances that were given in the Parliament in 2016 by the then environment minister Anil Dave.
In a bid to bring uniformity in terms and conditions for environmental clearances, the MoEF released standard environment clearance conditions for 25 industrial sectors including major ones like coal mines, oil and gas exploration and hydropower projects.
Often criticised for being soft on industry, the ministry maintained that this would bring transparency while also being in line with the government’s overall policy of simplifying rules and speeding up the process for the growth of industries. But environmentalists have remained wary, pointing out that simplicity often comes at a cost and that speed and efficiency doesn’t necessarily mean rigorous science to back the environmental impact of projects.
Dark Times, Darker Waters
Polluted river stretches increases to 351, as against 302 in 2015 According to a recent assessment by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), there are 351 polluted river stretches in the country with 45 of them being critically polluted.
Although a greater focus is given to the Ganga river clean-up due to its cultural significance, the assessment revealed that there are far more polluted rivers than the Ganga in the country. Nearly one-third of the polluted river stretches are in Maharashtra, Assam and Gujarat. The assessment has highlighted four significant stretches of pollution which includes the Mithi river—Powai to Dharavi; the Godavari—Someshwar to Rahed; the Sabarmati—Kheroj to Vautha; and the Hindon—Saharanpur to Ghaziabad.
Most Polluted Cities In The World
Twenty-two of the world’s 30 worst cities for air pollution are in India, according to a new report, with Delhi again ranked the world’s most polluted capital. The Greenpeace and AirVisual analysis of air pollution readings from 3,000 cities around the world found that 64% exceed the World Health Organization’s annual exposure guideline for PM2.5 fine particulate matter – tiny airborne particles, about a 40th of the width of a human hair, that are linked to a wide range of health problems.
Every single measured city in the Middle East and Africa exceeds the WHO guidelines, as well as 99% of cities in South Asia and 89% in East Asia. Since many cities, particularly in Africa, do not have up-to-date public air quality information, the actual number of cities exceeding PM2.5 thresholds is expected to be much higher, the report authors said. The report is based on 2018 air quality data from public monitoring sources, such as government monitoring networks, supplemented with validated data from outdoor IQAir AirVisual monitors operated by private individuals and organisations. India dominates the top segment of the list. The tech hub of Gurugram, a city just to the south-west of Delhi which was previously known as Gurgaon, ranked the most polluted in the world with an average of more than 135 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre (µg/m3) throughout the year. Delhi is ranked 11th.
Faisalabad in Pakistan is ranked third with 130 (µg/m3), with Lahore 10th. Dhaka in Bangladesh is ranked 17th. The only other country to feature in the top 30 is China, which appears five times, including Hotan in the western Xinjiang province (eighth) and the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar (19th). The highest-ranking capital cities are Delhi, Dhaka and Kabul in Afghanistan (52nd). The Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, is the most polluted European city with an annual average of 38.4 µg/m3. London is the 48th most polluted capital with 12.0 µg/m3 and Washington DC 56th with 9.2 µg/m3. “Air pollution steals our livelihoods and our futures, but we can change that,” said Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
Swachh Bharat or a Garbage Country
Barely 35,600 metric tonnes (MT) or a quarter of the 1.43 lakh MT of garbage generated every day in Indian cities gets processed. The remaining three-quarters about 1.1 lakh MT are dumped in the open. Only eight of 35 states process more than half the daily garbage generated in their cities and not a single one has achieved 100% processing.
State-wise data on the website of the urban affairs ministry shows that states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand don’t process even 10% of their municipal garbage while Arunachal Pradesh and Dadra & Nagar Haveli don’t process municipal garbage at all. Jammu & Kashmir processes a mere 1%. Chhattisgarh (74%) tops the list and is one of only four states that process more than 60% of municipal garbage. Telangana (67%), Sikkim (66%) and Goa (62%) are the others in this category. Delhi processes 55% of its daily garbage. There are about 84,000 municipal wards in India spread across states and 61,846 or almost three-quarters of these wards have achieved 100% door-to-door garbage collection, according to the website. Yet, without proper disposal facilities, this makes little difference. Municipal bodies in Maharashtra generate maximum garbage - 22,570 MT daily - followed by Tamil Nadu (15,437 MT), Uttar Pradesh (15,288 MT), Delhi (10,500 MT), Gujarat (10,145 MT) and Karnataka (10,000 MT).
Municipal bodies are dumping waste on to landfill sites, which are overflowing their capacity and polluting the surrounding land, groundwater and air. According to the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), cities are now running out of land on which to dump their waste and have begun throwing it in the ‘backyards’ of smaller towns, suburbs and villages.
We Indians are destined for premature death – either due to pollution or due to protests for a clean environment. The government and Environmental Minister do not see any pollution or environmental degradation. We are certainly the only country in the world which makes tall claims on international gatherings on one hand and does ease of doing business at the cost of environmental degradation on the other.

Political Films Are Neo-Agitprop to Influence Voters

Movies have traditionally been the source of entertainment in India. Movies like Rang De Basanti, Raajneeti, etc had some undertone of politics, but they were largely neutral. The trend has changed recently, with more and more filmmakers creating movies centred on an identity or an ideology, backed overtly by the political class

Geeta Singh
Geeta Singh

Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian

Recently a trailer of the official biopic on PM Narendra Modi was released on T-Series, the number one YouTube handle in the world, to pull maximum views. The biopic ‘PM Narendra Modi’ is based on the life of Modi and is slated to release around the Lok Sabha elections. The film is directed by ‘biopic expert’ Omung Kumar who has made ‘Sarabjit’ and ‘Mary Kom’ earlier and produced by journalist-turned-producer Sandip Ssingh. But the first phase of polls will commence from 11th April so the producer changed the date.
The film will release in 3 languages before general elections to gain maximum advantage. For a change of the date Sandeep Ssingh said in a statement, “People have great expectations and curiosity, so we do not want them to wait for long. This is the story of 1.3 billion people and I do not want people to wait to see it.” The protagonist Vivek Oberoi, whose father Suresh Oberoi is a BJP member and is also one of the producers, has taken up nine different looks with the help of prosthetics makeup to narrate the life of Modi. Although, Vivek Oberoi does a poor take of Modi in the trailer. He tries to get Modi’s mannerisms, but try is all he does.
The Saffron Blessing
Along with Vivek Oberoi, Manoj Joshi will be seen in the role of Amit Shah. As per sources, Sandeep Ssingh started working on this ambitious project after demonetisation in 2016. Earlier Paresh Rawal wanted to portray Modi, in fact, he had commented in the media that nobody could play the role of Narendra Modi better than him. But things did not turn out well and he was replaced by Vivek Oberoi. Then production started in early January again, and the movie raced towards completion because it has to release before polls. As per Mid-Day, a former Election Commissioner noted that the film’s release indirectly violates the model code of conduct since it has the blessings of BJP leaders. Though BJP is not directly involved with the production, it was launched in Mumbai by BJP leader and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. He even tweeted, “film is set to create history.” But then, Sandeep Ssingh defended the film, saying that BJP had nothing to do with film ‘PM Narendra Modi’. “Since we are making a film on the sitting PM, we are requesting people who admire him to come as chief guests,” Ssingh said.
Along with a biopic, a web series on PM Narendra Modi will also be available in April to watch just before elections. Umesh Shukla, the director of movies ‘Oh My God’ and ‘102 Not Out’ made a ten-part series titled Modi on Narendra Modi. The series will cover Modi’s life from childhood to his teenage and youth to becoming PM. Umesh Shukla has produced this along with Ashish Wagh. Actors Faisal Khan, Ashish Sharma and Mahesh Thakur play different stages of Modi’s life. The web series will stream on Eros Now from April 11 to May 19, which is also the duration of the seven phases of polling for the Lok Sabha election.
More The Merrier
Last year, 32 minute short film ‘Chalo Jeete Hai’, directed by Mangesh Hadawale and presented by Aanand L Rai and Mahaveer Jain, was released. Produced by Bhushan Kumar of T-Series, the film is based on the early life of Modi and shows how he is inspired by Swami Vivekananda and the empathy he exhibits towards the poor while growing up in Vadnagar in Gujarat. The short film has its world premiere on Star Network and its OTT platform Hotstar. And later it was screened at the Rajya Sabha and hailed by a group of ministers including Piyush Goyal and Ravi Shankar Prasad.
These are not only films that are promoting and hailing Modi. ‘Mere Pyare Prime Minister’ is another flick that promotes the cleanliness drive of Modi government. Released on 15th March, directed by Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, the film tells a story of a mother and son who live in Mumbai slum. Amidst many hardships of life, the film focuses on the problem of open defecation and sanitation problems. It is a social-drama featuring Anjali Patil and Makrand Deshpande. But before its release, the film faced a dispute with a budding writer Manoj Marita related to the credit of film writing. Director Rakesh Mehra is accused of taking the story and script from the new writer Manoj Marita and adding his name to it. The matter was taken to the court later. The controversy caused a delay in releasing the film also. The film flopped badly at the box office. Before its release, trade analysts speculated around Rs 1 crore of the collection in the first weekend but the film collected just 18 lakhs only. The total collection reached just Rs 30 lakhs.
On social media platforms many other films, full length and short, based on PM Modi released. ‘Har Har Modi’ made by Pahlaj Nihalani and ‘Narendra Modi - The Ocean of Dreams’ are some of the films. Other than Hindi, there are a couple of films available in Gujarati too that tell the story of PM Modi. ‘Namo Saune Gamo’ released in 2014 is one such film. Interestingly PM Modi released the poster of the film.
Election fever is growing fast in the country and films are also playing vital role in propaganda and promoting the ideologies of different political parties. In the age of propaganda, not only in Bollywood but in Southern film industry also, political parties want to take advantage of cinema and want to revive the sentiments of the electorate through political biopics. At the same time, parties want to transfuse their ideology through the films in today’s youth. Hence, viewers will watch more than a dozen political biopics being released or announced in the 2019 pre-poll season which seems like an unconventional trend.
Telugu Tryst With Biopics
In Andhra Pradesh, before polls, biopic fever is on edge. The trailer of controversial Telugu film ‘Lakshmi’s NTR’ has gone viral with a catchy hashtag #NTRtrueSTORY and has been watched more than 46 lakh times in just 24 hours. Within a week more than 79 lakh views were already there on YouTube for the trailer. One can judge the curiosity of the audience about the film that within an hour of being released online on 13th February, it was seen more than five and a half million times. Director Ram Gopal Varma is directing this controversial biopic based on the life of late Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR) who was an actor before entering politics. Actor P Vijay Kumar is portraying the role of NTR. The film ran into controversy when an MLA SV Mohan Reddy reportedly filed a complaint against Ram Gopal Varma for the song in the film for defaming AP CM Chandrababu Naidu. On the other hand, Ram Gopal Varma wants to trigger sensation before its release, so he has publicly promised to reveal the untold truth about the late actor-turned-politician. As per the sources, the film is based on some factual events related to NTR’s last days. Reacting to this, the leaders of Telugu Desam Party have accused Ram Gopal Varma and his movie’s producer Rakesh Reddy of maligning and misrepresenting Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu who is son-in-law of NTR.
Well, adding to this, film buffs would experience the other truth of the life of NTR by his another biopic, which is somehow official one too. Sixth son of NTR, N Balakrishna (NBK), who is also MLA from Hindupur assembly, made his father’s biopic in two parts. While actor Balakrishna himself essays the role of his father NTR, Vidya Balan plays the role of NTR’s wife Basavatarakam and popular Telugu star Rana Daggubati has been roped in to portray N Chandrababu Naidu in the film. The first part of two-part biopic ‘NTR Kathanayakudu’ that focusses mainly on NTR’s acting career released worldwide in January. And the second part titled ‘NTR Mahanayakudu’ released on 22nd February that narrates NTR’s political journey. Director Krish Jagarlamudi tried to recreate the campaign part very well and Balakrishna portrayed older NTR with ease and finesse. There are references how NTR understood the need to connect with people and did not rely merely on his charm from cinema to turn the tables at the elections. Before release, the viewers expressed enormous expectations but both films received mixed responses. A section of people pointed out that the film glorified NT Rama Rao and failed to showcase his flaws. They called it a propaganda film for portraying Chandrababu Naidu in a favourable light.
Another important political biopic which has generated a buzz in Andhra Pradesh was ‘Yatra’ based on the padyatra of political leader YS Rajasekhara Reddy. ‘Yatra’ may not be called as proper biopic because it is more event-based covering padyatra in larger part. Worldwide the movie has been released in 970 theatres. Noted Malayalam actor Mammootty played YSR in this movie. Mahi V Raghav has scripted and directed this movie.
In ‘Yatra’ the story is recreated in such a manner to conjure up the vague memories of YSR in people’s mind. It was notable that YSR had managed to come to power after a long haul through walkathon that led him to become the chief minister in 2004. ‘Yatra’ was blatant political propaganda and in fact, it did not conceal its purpose. The introductory and closing scenes are generously laced with photographs and video footage of YSR. The film may provide notable support to his son and politician YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in gaining support from voters during elections. Jagan is banking on the popularity of his father.
Telangana people missed the chance to watch a biopic on KCR. Last year a biographical picture titled ‘Udyama Simham’ based on Telangana chief minister Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) was also slated to release. Directed by Alluri Krishnam Raju, the KCR’s biopic was to release before the assembly elections held. But for some unknown and undisclosed reasons, the film was not released.
Amma Magic On The Screen
In Tamil Nadu, at least four political dramas on the late AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa are in pipeline. One is in the form of web series. Filmmaker Gautham Menon is working on it. While in Tamil cinema, audience will get an opportunity to see the movie ‘Thalaivi’, a biopic on the life of actor-turned-politician Jayalalithaa. On her 71st birth anniversary on 24th February, the first look of the film was revealed. The film will go on the floor in April. Filmmaker-director AL Vijay who will direct this biopic says that it took him more than 20 drafts to lock the final version of the script. ‘Baahubali’ series writer K Vijayendra Prasad, who is also writing the script of the film based on RSS, has been brought on board to pen the script.
However, this is not the only biopic. Two more Jayalalithaa’s biographical films are in the offing. One titled as ‘The Iron Lady’ will debut A Priyadarshini as director. Actress Nithya Menen will play the role of Jayalalithaa in this film. The film will be released in Hindi also along with Tamil and Telugu versions to garner national buzz. The producers want to release the movie next year. Another biographical movie ‘Thaai: Puratchi Thalaivi’ on Jayalalitha has been planned by producer Adithya Bhardwaj. On all these biopics, director Vijay commented ‘Thalaivi’ will be the official biopic of Jayalalithaa. He revealed that they have also taken permission from Jayalalithaa’s nephew Deepak.
RaGa’s Raag Too
Interestingly, If BJP is manipulating cinema for its propaganda and to influence electoral choices, so too does Congress. A biopic on Congress President Rahul Gandhi is on cards as well. The title of the movie will be ‘My Name is RaGa’. As per sources, this movie has no intentions to glorify Rahul or demystify him. “It’s the story of coming back of a human being who had been ridiculously attacked, anyone who has fearlessly confronted defeat and failure can relate to this story. In that sense, I don’t want to call this a biopic, it’s a narrative of any man who becomes unstoppable after he wins over a catastrophic life,” director Rupesh Paul said in a statement. But its trailer does not put an impressive mark on viewers.
Ye Public Hai, Ye Sab Jaanti Hai
In January, two unusual propaganda films – ‘Thackeray’ and ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ released. ‘Thackeray’, a biopic on Shiv Sena supremo Bala Saheb Thackeray, had actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui portraying the role of Bal Thackeray. It is a completely political promotional movie produced by Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena Member of Parliament and directed by Abhijit Panse, a former Sena member who’s now with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. ‘Thackeray’ made with around Rs 30 crore budget was a disaster on box office. It only did well in Mumbai territory. The overall collection was around Rs 19 crores only. The same fate befell the film ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, based on Sanjaya Baru’s book on former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s years in power, directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte. His father Ratnakar Gutte, a prominent sugar baron of Parbhani, had contested the 2014 Assembly elections as a BJP-alliance candidate but lost to the Nationalist Congress Party. It was termed as a propaganda film because ruling BJP promoted the trailer through their official Twitter account. At the domestic box office, the film collected only Rs 21 crores.
Like ‘Indu Sarkar’ and ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, another movie ‘The Tashkent Files’ is in the pipeline that will create controversy. The first-look poster of suspense thriller was unveiled before Holi announcing that the film will hit theatres on 12th April. Directed by Vivek Agnihotri, whose last film ‘Buddha in a Traffic Jam’ was based on the Naxal-intelligentsia nexus, ‘The Tashkent Files’ is based on the mysterious death of India’s second prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent (formerly a part of USSR, now in Uzbekistan) in 1966. The film concentrates on the Tashkent conspiracy, whilst also highlighting how Shastri, regarded by many as India’s first economic reformer who introduced several steps which led to many reforms like the White Revolution, was “seen as a hurdle to some forces”.
‘An Insignificant Man’, a documentary on Aam Aadmi Party head Arvind Kejriwal, had a nationwide theatrical release in November 2018. Directed by Khushboo Ranka, the film did not catch any buzz in India though it received a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival. It has gone to major festivals across the world including the BFI London Film Festival & Busan International Film Festival.
Filmy Furore
On the other hand, satire and sarcasm are also seen in cinematic creativity like director Anik Dutta’s film ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ and ‘Halahal’. ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ has been ‘unofficially’ banned after its theatrical release. The film was withdrawn from almost all multiplexes and single-screen halls in the state within 10 days of its release. Then its producers had to seek judicial help to exhibit their film. They went to court alleging that the Mamata Banerjee-led state government had ordered an unofficial ban on the film. The court passed the interim order based on a plea by the producers of the film. ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ irked the state government because it criticises political parties, including Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, BJP and CPI(M). Another recent controversial blockbuster was actor Vijay’s political action film ‘Sarkar’ that ran into trouble with the state’s ruling party AIADMK over its depiction of the late politician Jayalalithaa and her welfare schemes. Movie’s posters were vandalized, theatres witnessed violent protests, and the producer of the film, Sun Pictures, was forced to delete certain controversial scenes that depicted freebies given by a political party being thrown into the fire. One thing from this act also became clear that political parties cannot tolerate any satire on them.
In the backdrop of Vyapam Scam, a film ‘Halahal’ is made that will reveal the scam of college admissions and government recruitments involving several politicians, businessmen and civil servants in Madhya Pradesh. Produced by Zeishan Quadri, who was scriptwriter of ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, and directed by Randeep Jha, the film is more fictional though inspired by true events. “It is more or less a fictional story because we have fictionalised a lot but the backdrop is real,” Zeishan Quadri said. The movie is mainly shot in Amroha in Uttar Pradesh. The makers have planned to release the film on digital streaming platform instead of theatrical release.
However, the box office report of these movies points out that people are not really keen to watch these political biopics. Whereas, on the other hand, political biopics and saffron have become the new season of Bollywood, so masses will watch more biopics in coming days. As per sources, the latest to join the bandwagon are movies on RSS and Nitin Gadkari. Movies definitely help political leaders make headlines and these days films are becoming neo agitprops to spread the message before the polls.


On 2nd October, 2014, Swachh Bharat Mission was launched as a nationwide movement to clean India and make it Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2019, 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. It was PM Modi’s pet project and he infused lots of funds for the mission. Much water has flown since, quite literally as well, but nothing substantial has been achieved till date. This will also go down in the annals of history as a monumental governance failure.

Sandeep Pandey
Sandeep Pandey

Sandeep Pandey is a social activist. He co-founded Asha for Education with Dr. Deepak Gupta and V.J.P Srivastava while working on his Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar

A high profile Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is on with the objective of providing toilets to every household in India. However, the scheme is marred by high expenditure on publicity and low achievements on ground. The government has not been able to make it corruption free either. In the end we’re likely to pollute our drinking water sources because of promotion of a faulty design. Government has finally resorted to publicity as it falls woefully short of its target of making India Open Defecation Free. Conspicuous by absence is the mention of role of sanitation workers in keeping India clean, all of whom belong to a particular Scheduled Caste.
Mahatma Gandhi has been a victim of this campaign, termed a people’s movement by the Prime Minister, as it appears that he didn’t have any other substantial contribution to make to the idea of India. Narendra Modi wants Gandhi to be known only for sanitation, not for truth, non-violence, satyagraha or communal harmony. For Swachh Bharat Mission is only about physical cleanliness and not about cleansing oneself of hatred, intolerance and parochial thinking.
The Number Game
In Gram Panchayat Uttar Kondh of Block Sandila in Hardoi district of Uttar Pradesh, with a population of over six hundred families only 310 toilets have been constructed. Only 50 of these families got the stipulated Rs 12,000 in their bank accounts to get these toilets made.
The Gram Pradhan took upon himself the responsibility of getting the toilets made in around 260 households by engaging a contractor which is against the norms laid down by the government for implementation of this scheme. Out of the 310 toilets made only 160 are in usable condition, 50 can’t be used because they have been constructed away from habitation and there is no water available near the toilets. In others either the soak pits have not been constructed or there is no door, making it difficult for women to use it. Eight households had built their own toilets before it became a government programme. 300 families in this Gram Sabha (GS) remain without a toilet but still the village has been declared ODF.
In Gram Pradhan (GP) Goni of neighbouring Block Bharawan of Hardoi district, 684 toilets have been shown to be constructed. 350 of these were constructed under SBM. The remaining were supposed to be constructed as part of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana for which every family gets Rs. 1,20,000 including the Rs 12,000 for the toilet. However, in this GS not a single family which has built their houses as part of PMAY, has built its accompanying toilet. 100 families in the village have been left out of the sanitation and housing schemes. Of the 350 toilets constructed, in reality only about 200 are in use.
In GP Sua Gada of Bharawan Block there are about 600 families. 499 toilets have been made as part of SBM, of which 300 are in use but 50 are incomplete. 6 households had constructed their own toilets. In GP Lalamau Mawai of the same Block there are 300 families residing. 93 toilets have been shown to be built but actually only 50 are constructed. 200 families have been left out of SBM.
In GP Bengalput, also of Bharawan Block 283 toilets have been shown to be constructed, of which 260 have been actually made. 100 of these are in use, 160 are incomplete with either no soak pits built or with no doors. Out of approximately 400 families which reside in this GS about 100 have been left out of SBM.
In GP Rampur Atwa of the same Block out of 394 families residing here, 13 already had their own toilets and 236 got toilets made under the SBM. However, only about half of them are in use. A requisition for 182 more toilets has been made to the Block office. The target for Bharawan Block in 2017-18 was 14,283 toilets which was achieved but for 2018-19 it was 4,743 toilets for which half the amount, Rs 6,000 per toilet, is still awaited.
In GP Maharajganj Dheri of Block Moth in Jhansi district of UP two firms, Shamni Traders and Bitiya Enterprises, have been made payments by cheque for construction of toilets from the Gram Panchayat account against the norms, instead of crediting Rs 12,000 to each beneficiary’s bank account. A complaint to this effect was made to the District Magistrate on 21 December, 2018, however, no action has been taken so far. Out of 100 toilets shown to have been built by these two firms 43 toilets are non-existent.
Bida is the President of her Gram Panchayat’s Monitoring Committee of GP Kamlapuri, Block Palia in district Lakhimpur Khiri of UP. She took upon herself the responsibility of getting toilets made for villagers. She borrowed cement, iron rods, morang and bajri worth Rs 1,80,000 and bricks worth Rs 88,000 to get 60 toilets built in her Gram Sabha. Now she is finding it difficult to get these payments made from either the Gram Panchayat or the Block Office.
A 2011 baseline survey has been used to achieve the target of Open Defecation Free. As a result even after Villages and Blocks are being declared Open Defecation Free, a number of households are left out to defecate in open. The hurry to achieve ODF and corruption are yielding sub-standard quality of construction, a reason why people are not using the toilets even after they have been shown to be constructed. One solution fits all approach of the government with respect to SBM seems to have miserably failed.
Where’s The Money, Honey?
In spite of proclaiming himself as Chowkidar, Narendra Modi’s government has not been able to arrest the prevalent corruption in government schemes in the form of commissions. If anything, the rates have gone up. In SBM, the Gram Pradhans and government officials, bypassing the instruction of transferring Rs 12,000 to individual accounts of beneficiaries, have preferred to get centralised construction done in the name of efficiency and meeting the targets. A supplier from Barabanki, Uttam Nirman Kendra, which has provided about 400 pre-fabricated ferrocement toilets to GPs in Barabanki and Faizabad disticts of UP reported that Rs. 1,000 was being taken for every toilet by Gram Pradhans when these toilets were procured.
Gram Pradhan of Rampur Atwa in Hardoi, Rajeshwari, belonging to a SC community, complained that while she had to pay a small bribe at the Block office to get people from her GS registered for receiving toilets, there were middlemen who were taking money from people for supposedly getting them included in list of beneficiaries.
The Comedy Of Errors
Irony is that government has not cared to provide toilets to some of the lowest level workers in SBM working as volunteers without any honorarium whose task is to motivate others to build toilets for themselves. They have been provided with a torch, a whistle and a cap to keep an eye on people defecating in open. Members of Gram Panchayat level monitoring committees from district Lakhimpur Khiri, Shankaria and Hema Malini from Dhakia, Janewmati from Bhuda, Ramawati from Bisenpuri, Ishwari, Baldev, Anjali, Sushmawati, Rinki, Sharda, Sheela from Bhanpuri Khajuria, Guddi from Lalpur Dhaka, Barsati, Savitri, Sunita, Ria, Sabrunnisa from Kamlapuri, Sushila, Sarita, Sandhya of Krishnanagar Bhojhia, Jagdish from Murarkheda, Nirmala Devi from Krishnanagar all from Block Palia are some such examples of torch bearers of this scheme who don’t own a toilet themselves.
A number of these members of Monitoring Committees have also filed application under the Right to Information Act, 2005, asking the Prime Minister’s Office as to why they are not being given any honorarium whereas everybody above them, in the hierarchy of people implementing the SBM, is receiving a salary or working because of financial incentives. It is a strange people’s movement where except for people at the very bottom, rest everybody is working as a professional, receiving financial rewards.
Pitching The Wrong Pit
As brand ambassadors of SBM Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar have been promoting twin soak or leach pit toilets whereas in areas like UP and Bihar where water table is quite high there is a danger of ground water getting polluted because of this design. Any drinking water source should be at least 50 feet away from the soak pit. There should be a gap of 6 feet between the bottom of the soak pit, which is un-plastered or earthen, and the ground water table.
Engineering Professor GD Agrawal, who was known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand after he became an ascetic in 2011 and who gave up his life after fasting for 112 days last year demanding an uninterrupted flow of and clean Ganga, used to say that Ganga river basin area ‘floats’ over water. Hence, toilets being promoted by the government pose a real danger to the ground water. In such areas the safer design is septic tank. But everybody who has got anything to do with SBM is parroting promotion of soak pit design. Few wise people, like 5-6 families in GS Rampur Atwa of Hardoi supplemented the Rs 12,000 received from government and have built septic tanks with their toilets. However, there have been cases where people who built septic tank design were denied the Rs 12,000 grant as their design was not according to government approved specifications. Expert Ashok Jain says that 55% of India is unfit for the twin soak pit design.
In the end we may end up creating more mess by polluting substantial portion of ground water and then will have to invent another scheme to clean the ground water. This is a classic example of how modern development, in trying to solve one problem, creates further problems.
Desperate Times And Desperate Measures
As the next general elections approach, the government, having realized that it cannot meet the target of making usable toilets for everybody, is now engaged in massive wall painting exercise across the country to create an impression that a vibrant SBM is going on whereas one can see garbage strewn over at many places and people defecating in open still in large numbers.
The exorbitant publicity budget is a mockery of the people who still have to defecate in open, for the same money could have been used to build some more toilets. The government is holding the people guilty for defecating in open whereas the reality is that there are simply no toilets available for vast majority of people.
Gimmicky Government
Prime Minister Narendra Modi famously washed the feet of five sanitation workers on 24th February, 2019, during the Ardh Kumbh at Allahabad, now known as Prayagraj, as a mark of respect to their contribution to ensuring cleanliness during the month and a half long event. However, the need to undertake this exercise arose probably because there was a protest going on of sanitation workers during the event itself demanding minimum wages and better working conditions. A well known activist-poet from Allahabad Anshu Malviya was arrested on 8 February by Crime Branch of Police and threatened with imposition of National Security Act on him because he was at the forefront of organising the sanitation workers. After a protest by activists and sanitation workers he was finally released after midnight from a local police station.
Sanitation workers were getting Rs 295 per day as daily wages whereas they desired Rs 600, according to a minimum monthly honorarium of Rs 18,000, which is being demanded by national level trade unions.
Moreover, sanitation workers continue to die while inside sewer lines. On 10th November, 2018 Dinesh Paswan and Vikas Paswan died in an accident inside a sewer line in Chowkaghat locality of Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Narendra Modi, while Satyendra Paswan suffered a leg fracture. The district administration or the government did not take responsibility and instead the contractor Pankaj Srivastava was made to pay the compensation. The case was registered at Chetganj Police Station. The SBM has failed to mention the contribution of sanitation workers, all of whom belong without fail to a Scheduled Caste community, or to do anything to improve their working and living conditions. The act of Narendra Modi washing the feet of sanitation workers, which overwhelmed the basic demands of workers, seem to be motivated more by the forthcoming elections than any real regard for their basic rights - a respectable income, safe working conditions, education for their children, health care for their families and an insurance against accident.

No Dramatic Change In The PM’s Constituency

There is not much to write home about Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency in 2019. There are vocal supporters and vocal critics, more vocal critics now than there were in 2014. But there is an air of fear all over. Shopkeepers praise Modi and they lament that there is not much business. Academics refuse to speak on record. People complain there is an ugly sales pitch and culture is reduced to kitsch. But they do not lay the blame at the door of Modi. Those who grumble against him end up voting for him. Varanasi has no alternative to Modi

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

If Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to win his second term from Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency without much challenge, what then is there to write about the place? Surprisingly, there is much to write about. There is heated debate about the Modi impact on the ancient city.
The cab driver draws our attention to the widened roads, to the new lamp-posts in the city though he falls silent as we run into a traffic jam. There are more cars, more autorickshaws. What was there in April 2014 and which had disappeared in March 2019 are the rickshaws. The electric-rickshaws have taken their place. Both the autorickshaw and the electric-rickshaw drivers still fear the lathi-wielding policemen because they know they get a blow on their vehicles and on their arms before they are asked anything. But the police appeared more restrained.
Common, collective muteness
The only bit of change that can be seen is between Lalita Ghat and the Vishwanath temple, where scores of buildings have been demolished after paying generous compensation amounting to crores of rupees to the owners. There is rubble all around. The tourists use the uneven, muddy pathway as though it is beneath their pious dignity even to ask the reason for the broken houses standing all around them and numerous temples standing in the dug-up place. At one of the tea-stalls where the local wits gather mornings and evenings, there is heated debate about the rights and wrongs of it. But nothing more.
The surprising thing is that the demolition and reconstruction work had begun a few months ago, and no one is bothered whether it will be an issue in the election. The residents and shopkeepers who have been displaced murmur their disapproval and their displeasure but they have moved to their newly-assigned points without much ado. The few who argue against the demolition as violating the character of the city have not approached the courts nor have they tried to win public support for their cause. They say in a resigned note that the government will do what it wants to, and there is no way of stopping it.
A policeman at one of the checkpoints to the Vishwanath temple when asked what he feels about the changes says that it is Lord Vishwanath who rules the city, and all others are mere wayfarers, including political leaders. His ambiguous answer leaves the impression that he is not a cheerleader of candidate Modi in Varanasi.
Brewing hatred
You walk through the rubble and razed homes, and then through small clearance and again through the narrow lanes to the Vishwanath temple from Lalita Ghat. The talk is that the lanes will soon be history and that the temple will be visible from the Lalita Ghat, and the riverfront will be seen from the temple. On the way, one can see the domes of the Gyanvapi mosque built during Aurangzeb’s reign after the old temple structure had been demolished around 1669. The present Vishwanath temple was built in 1780 by Rani Ahalyabai of Holkar in Madhya Pradesh. It remains a flashpoint between the two communities of Hindus and Muslims, but it lies latent and rarely does it flare up. One of the conspiracy theories doing the rounds in Varanasi is that the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) along with its affiliate, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), will be raking up the issue and create an Ayodhya-like situation once the structures around the temple and mosque are cleared and an open ground is created.
Sanitising the past
The ghats have been partially cleaned and the Ganga is not yet satisfactorily clean even in Varanasi, and Hindu pilgrims ride to the other bank where the water is relatively clean to take their holy dip. But the waterfront buildings which had come up in the lasts two centuries still stand. But there does not seem to be an urban renovation and restoration plan that will preserve the old architectural styles of the city marking the passing of centuries while building new ones. Urban and historical aesthetics does not seem to bother the local authorities or the state government. Says haveli-turned-inn owner who is also a former academic in visual arts that the Mughal style buildings and paintings in Benaras are disappearing and it is a huge cultural loss to the historic city. There is an awareness and concern about the historic heritage of Varanasi, which seems to elude the politicians, including its current Member of Parliament (MP), Prime Minister Modi.
The attempt to introduce bigger cruise boats in the river has been opposed by the boatmen, who belong to the community of Mallas, and boatman Vishnu narrated that Prime Minister Modi had promised that he would protect the interests of the boatmen of Varanasi. Vishnu blamed Chief Minister Adityanath and Union Waterways Minister Nitin Gadkari for attempting to bring in the big cruise boats to Varanasi.
No one is blaming Modi for not transforming Varanasi into a smart city. But the city is changing on its own and at its own pace. One of the interesting examples of how it is transforming itself can be seen in the name of the Western style confectionary called Chocolate Heaven on one side of the road and an Indian style sweets shop called Ksheersagar on the other side. There was already a McDonalds in Varanasi in 2014 and the eating joints have only grown. There is the Sparrow Café near Assi Ghat where home-prepared food is advertised.
When scholars sing
But there is also fear hanging in the air, whether it is the garrulous salesmen in the saree shops or academics who love to hold forth. The saree salesmen say that Modi has done a lot of good and that he is going to win and when pressed to answer how their business was doing, they would start grumbling that the sales have gone down. But they cannot bring themselves to blame Modi’s economic policies.
They clam up, and their eulogy for the prime minister is buried in their silence. The academics are more self-conscious of the situation. They speak only on condition of anonymity and they are not unqualified critics of all that the Modi government has done. They believe that some of the programmes, especially the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, are more broad-based than their predecessors, the Indira Awas Yojana in PMAY’s case. But they agree that there has not been any radical change in the quality of life of the marginalized sections of society. There are more concerned with the growing intolerance in the campus and outside. If they were to speak their mind and they would be in trouble if they were identified. They see the rise and rise of right-wing Hindu ideology, and they think it is worse than the intolerance displayed by the dominant Leftist ideologues in the campus in their heyday.
One of them says that all top positions in the universities and educational institutions are entrusted to committed RSS folk. But there is a difference. For example, the former vice-chancellor of Benares Hindu University (BHU) was a proud RSS man who also boasted that he did no research after his M.A. But even the BJP government – the BHU is a central university – found it difficult to support him in the job, and he was replaced by a right-wing academic with distinction in science. Asked about the interference of BJP in campus politics, a local office-bearer said that the party kept away from it. But he said that government does interfere in the campus. “Government toh government hai (Government is government)”, he exclaimed. This is the story of Modi raj in Varanasi.

Modi in Parliament Not a parliamentarian

Never engaged in debate, never answered questions, never made statements after his record foreign visits. He used Parliament to give longish speeches on formal occasions like the Reply to the Motion of Thanks to the Address of President to the Joint Session of Parliament

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

2014 looks a long time ago. But on May 20, 2014, when he entered Parliament House, Narendra Modi made the dramatic gesture of genuflecting at the steps of the main entrance. In the Central Hall where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentary party meeting, where he was formally elected the leader, he talked in an emotional manner about responding to the needs of the poor. In his first speech in Lok Sabha, he declared that rivalries ended once the election results were announced and that members of the Lok Sabha from all parties need to work together for the country. He also sounded a note of uncharacteristic humility when he said that he was a first-time member of the House and if he were to make any mistakes, he needs the indulgence of the more experienced members.
Curiously, he spoke in the two Houses of Parliament only on formal occasions. He spoke in the Motion of Thanks to the Address of the President to the Two Houses of Parliament, where he held forth in various degrees of persuasion and denunciation, especially as the five-year term rolled on, he was expansive in asserting the vision and achievements of his government and generally dismissive of the opposition. He spoke on special occasions like the Constitution Day on November 26, 2016, the day the Constitution of India was adopted in 1949 and which also coincided with the year of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary, at the midnight joint session of parliament on the on the occasion of the rolling out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), a major tax reform, on the 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement in August 9, 2017, reply to the no-confidence motion brought by Telugu Desam Party (TDP) on July 20, 2018. The only time in five years that Modi had intervened pro-actively was on December 4, 2014, when he asked Rajya Sabha to accept the apology of first time Member of Parliament and Minister of State for Food Processing, Sadhvi Nikunj Jyoti, who referred to the Muslims in objectionable language.
There was an uproar in the House, and Modi interjected. He said, “unhone Kshama maangi aur mai maanta hoon ki Kshama maangne ke baad is sadan mein itne varisht log baithe hai, itne anubhavi log baithe hai ki Kshama ke prati unka bhaav kya rahtaa hai, ham us se bhali-bhaanti parichit hai…mein sadan se aagrah karoonga, prarthana karoonga ki jab mantriji ne Kshama maangi hai aur ham sab ke liye yeh ek Sandesh bhi hai, aage se ham bhi, sabhi log in saare Do’s and Don’t’s ke vishay mein koi maryaadaayein na tode aur mein sadan se aagrah karoonga ki ham desh hit mein apne kaarya ko aura age badhaaye.’ (She has sought forgiveness and I feel that after she has sought forgiveness in the House where the veterans are sitting, and so many experienced people are sitting that they know what is meant by the seeking of forgiveness, I would request and I would beseech that after the minister has sought forgiveness and it is a message for all of us, that even we, all of us that no one should break the Do’s and Don’t’s of conventions and I request the House that it should get back to the work of doing what is good for the country and take it forward.) This intervention needed to be quoted because it is the only time he intervened in Parliament. It does not show his usual aggression. The prime minister sought to strike a calming note but he has done